RIP Sorenson – A Crushing Loss

The genetic genealogy community suffered a crushing loss this week.

The Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation data base of Y and mitochondrial results, complete with pedigree charts, owned by Ancestry.com, has been removed.  Here is the statement by Ancestry currently appearing on the www.smgf.org website.

smgf rip

This is a grievous loss for the genetic genealogy community.  The site was rich with information and since Ancestry took their own Y and mtDNA data base offline in the fall of 2014, was one of only two remaining Y and mitochondrial comparison sources.

YSearch and MitoSearch remain, today, funded by Family Tree DNA.  Outside of Family Tree DNA itself, these are now the only publicly available comparison data base.

Sorenson held over 100,000 samples of DNA and was linked to pedigree charts of those who contributed their DNA for processing.  One of the earliest data bases, many contributors to Sorenson have passed away today, and their Y and mtDNA information was only available at Sorenson.

While Ancestry did not say specifically, the public relations nightmare surrounding a police case recently has obviously spurred Ancestry to take this action.

Unfortunately, the tabloid reporting in this horribly biased and intentionally inflammatory article was posted and repeated within the genealogy community, even by some well-known individuals, without vetting for facts.  The sky was not falling, until this happened, and well….now we know that the sky falling actually does look like…because it has.

For the truth of the matter, please see Judy Russell’s articles here and here.  Judy Russell, who writes as The Legal Genealogist, is a genealogist with a law degree.  I can’t add anything to what Judy had to say about the facts and circumstances in this case.

What I can say is that the combination of shoddy journalism and rumor-mongering, for lack of any other term, has put Ancestry in a no-win position.  The only way for them to make this situation “go away” is to do exactly what they have done.  Now there is no data base, no way to compare DNA, for anyone, and therefore, nothing to talk about.  This will never happen to them again.  There will be no more negative publicity, at least not about this.  Their problem is solved.  Ours is not.

We are the losers in all of this.  And it’s a grievous loss.  One that cannot be replaced.

And as angry as I was, and still am, at Ancestry for destroying their own data base in October of 2014, I can hardly blame them for this move – as much as I don’t like it.  They don’t sell the Y and mitochondrial DNA testing products anymore – and there is no upside to them as a corporation to continue to support a philanthropic data base that was at the root of the public relations nightmare they have recently endured.

Having said that, I am hopeful that other arrangements can be made.  There is a group of individuals speaking with the folks at Ancestry this week to determine if there are any other options available and to discuss alternatives.

52 thoughts on “RIP Sorenson – A Crushing Loss

    • Yes, the old BYU study was incorporated into the SMGF database. If your sample was tested, it would have appeared *anonymously* in the online database. Because of that restriction, it would have taken some trial and error to figure out your results, unless you had tested your Y or mtDNA elsewhere. In that case, it would have been possible to enter your results as a query.

  1. This is such a shame. I don’t believe this particular situation had to devolve into a PR disaster for ancestry.com. A good media relations team should have sprung into action and dealt with the problem, fighting sensationalism with facts. They could have taken control of the story. Major corporations have dealt with far worse PR headaches without tarnishing their brand. Rather than destroy the database, they should fire their PR team and hire more capable professionals.

  2. As often happens in our society, some group spins a news item into a misleading story, most likely in an attempt to manipulate as many folks as they can.

  3. I sure wish there was a way to purchase a DNA test from Ancestry based on the sample my late grandmother submitted to Sorenson !!

  4. I think Ancestry is using the PR incident as a convenient excuse to shutter the site. I don’t imagine it was generating business for their other sites and hasn’t fit into their business plan since dropping Y-DNA testing several years ago.

    I worry that FTDNA will hit next with a DNA horror story. In the effort to solve a decades old murder case, some police department will upload DNA markers for a “Mr. Richard ‘Dick’ Tracy” and search for family matches to the suspect.

  5. According to the Ancestry.com statement, “There are no plans to destroy the DNA that was contributed, but have no plans to make the service available in the future.”
    Further down you state you are angry at Ancestry for destroying their own database in October 2014. Which is it, Removed or destroyed? Does it exist elsewhere? Since it has been clearly stated in Judy Russell’s articles that the special markers the Police and Crime Labs look for is not present in Genealogical DNA specimens, why the panic, and a rush to remove or destroy. The destruction of such a database could be considered a criminal act in itself. I hope it has not been totally destroyed, and can be restored for Genealogical purposes.

    • The data base is not available to the public or the testers, so it no longer exists in terms of availability in any capacity. There has been a group who has been working with Ancestry since last fall in an attempt to encourage them to consider bringing their own database back online. I suspect that is no longer even open for discussion at this point.

  6. My closest Y-DNA match was found on SMGF. In my search for the identity of my paternal grandfather I was surprised, and happy, to have found such a close match as it helped pin down the nationality. I feel sorry for those just entering the genealogical search as they have one less tool at their disposal.

    • Finding my paternal grandfather is my problem too, unfortunately I was my fathers only living child, and a female. Plus I have no one at all that can submit a Y-DNA test, my father had no full siblings either, and he and all his half brothers (different father) are all deceased. It is so disheartening to hear of DNA databases being destroyed or with-held.

  7. In actuality, based on a LONG history of buying out sites and software and then ‘doing away with’ them, this was probably the plan ancestry.com had for SMGF all along, but now they can mask it under all the recent hoopla. Anything ancestry takes over, I fully expect to go away within 2 years..that’s just been their history unfortunately–buy up and do away with the competition seems to be the way they work. 😦

    • The data base is not available to anyone for searching. It has been removed from public availability, or even personal availability for anyone who has tested. In essence, the public data base has been destroyed. Does it exist in an archive or on backup tapes. I’m sure it does. I’ve been involved with Ancestry in the discussions of what opportunities might exist for bringing the data back online, but to date we had heard of no plan. I’m sure this recent development with the Sorenson data base speaks volumes about the possibility of bringing their own data base back online in some format. I will be speaking with them again this week, probably later today.

    • After receiving an email from Ancestry saying the Sorenson DNA tests were retired in 2012 after allowing members 10 months to download their results, I received this follow up information today.

      ‘ We apologize for the confusion. We hope to clarify this issue. The old tests from Sorenson have been destroyed and are no longer available. There is no way to retrieve that information.

      We hope you have a nice day.

      If you need additional assistance, please feel free to reply to this message or call us at 1-800-ANCESTRY (1-800-262-3787) between the hours of 9am to 11pm EST, seven days a week.

      Sincerely,

      Jeannette
      Customer Solutions Associate
      Ancestry’

      I was originally able to review my password protected results through Sorenson. I never received any information that they had been sold on, and now retired.

  8. It’s getting closer and closer to me finding a new hobby. One that ancestry won’t buy. Although I use ancestry a lot, I don’t want it to be the only source for documentation; not when they make up documents from a conglomeration of family trees.

  9. Sad. I had blood drawn in Salt Lake City for the project. It was my first DNA test. Many more have followed.

    • My sister and I had the Sorenson project blood drawn in Salt Lake City. It was our first DNA test too, and we were hoping to see the results also. I am saddened this will not be available to us because of the take over of Ancestry.com. If it becomes available will they contact us individually and let us know? Is there some place we can
      give them our updated addresses?

  10. Sorenson did two of my family members. When they turned their reports over to Ancestry I could get in touch with them to give me my reports. I tried many times and my e-mails were never answered. I had forgotten my pas word on one of them. So, those were lost. They did them free but I think I paid 50.00 each for the reports.

  11. The writer here says “the tabloid reporting in THIS horribly biased and intentionally inflammatory article was posted and repeated within the genealogy community, even by some well-known individuals, without vetting for facts.” A link takes us to the “terrible” article published in the New Orleans Advocate. Another link takes us to “responsible” reporting by Judy Russell. However, Judy says the Advocate article was accurate. She writes, “[t]he story ran in the New Orleans Advocate this past week, and you can read it online. The reporter, Jim Mustian, did a pretty good job of explaining just what happened in this case.” So the problem was not with bad journalism, but with panic and overreaction to what Judy explains should be a relatively rare event. This is a different kettle of fish entirely.

    • Here is a letter that I sent to Sorenso, in response to the “We regret….” below.

      To whom it may concern:
      Some time ago my wife and I provided our DNA samples to Sorenson while living near the Woodridge, Illinois Ward. I believe that it was about 15 to 25 years ago.
      Because Sorenson broke the agreement by selling our DNA to another entity which they were not suppose to do, they broke the agreement between us; and were forced to provide my wife and me access to the results of our DNA testing.
      Now the same thing has happened again. The new possessor of our DNA has closed all access to our own DNA and the results of the testing. We were not inform that the website containing our DNA information had been shut down, preventing us from accessing our information. What right did Sorenson have in selling our DNA to an organization that has no right of ownership of our DNA or the test results. Sorenson never obtained permission from us to do so. Our DNA and test results do not belong to them nor did it belong to Sorenson. It belongs to me, my wife and thousands of other around the world. I was never given any notice by Sorenson, that our DNA and the testing results were going to be sold to a for profit organization without my permission.
      The for profit organization never informed us that they going to shut down the web site containing our DNA results either. How could Sorenson justify what they have done? I am upset that all these things have transpired; and the rights of all those that contributed their DNA have been trampled on. I believe that it is incumbent upon all those involved in this needless intrusion our rights of ownership and privacy be resolved in a timely, fair, just, and equitable manner.
      Feeling violated, I’m,

      Richard Jacobs
      10222 Tanwood Ave
      Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70809-3235

      Cell: 225-803-7885
      mrjcbs.w5wpz@gmail.com;

      We regret to inform you the site you have accessed is no longer available.
      Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF) was founded in 2000 with the philanthropic goal of helping connect mankind. It was the organization’s goal through the sharing of genetic data, to show how the similarities we possess are greater than our differences. The site was created in the spirit of openness and it is in that spirit AncestryDNA purchased the DNA assets from SMGF to further its mission and support the intentions on which it was founded. Unfortunately, it has come to our attention the site has been used for purposes other than that which it was intended, forcing us to cease operations of the site.
      We understand the site has been a helpful resource for genealogists and plan to advance the original vision of Mr. Sorenson by continuing to develop tools like ethnicity estimates, matching, DNA Circles, and New Ancestor Discoveries, which are connecting mankind. There are no plans to destroy the DNA that was contributed, but have no plans to make the service available in the future.
      Ancestry is committed to helping people understand their family’s unique story and through AncestryDNA, make new discoveries about their family’s past and cultural roots. Like the original founders of SMGF, Ancestry also believes one can have a better understanding of who we are and where we come from. Through our continued work on family history and DNA, we will encourage the same mission of SMGF in hopes of making the world a smaller, more relatable place.

      Ancestry.com Launches new AncestryDNA Service: The Next Generation of DNA Science Poised to Enrich Family History Research
      Affordable DNA Test Combines Depth of Ancestry.com Family History Database with An Extensive Collection of DNA Samples to Open New Doors to Family Discovery
      Ancestry.com (Nasdaq: ACOM), today announced the launch of its highly anticipated AncestryDNA™ service, a new affordable DNA test that enables purchasers of the DNA test and subscribers of Ancestry.com to combine new state-of-the-art DNA science with the world’s largest online family history resource and a broad global database of DNA samples.
      The new DNA test analyzes a person’s genome at over 700,000 marker locations, cross referencing an extensive worldwide DNA database with the aim of providing exciting insights into their ethnic backgrounds and helping them find distant cousins who may hold the keys to exciting family history discoveries.  By combining these genetic matches with Ancestry.com’s 34 million family trees and 9 billion records, AncestryDNA intends to provide a differentiated experience that helps find common ancestors dating back as far as the middle 18th Century.
      “We’ve worked hard at Ancestry.com for more than a year building, testing, and reinventing our approach to genetic genealogy,” said Tim Sullivan, President and Chief Executive Officer of Ancestry.com. “We think AncestryDNA has created a unique and engaging experience that will provide existing Ancestry.com subscribers with an entirely new way to make amazing discoveries about their family history.  We are excited to be making AncestryDNA available to loyal Ancestry.com subscribers first…but we look forward to eventually opening up this service to everyone.  We think it will allow us to extend our mission to help people discover, preserve, and share their family history to an even greater audience.”
      AncestryDNA helps determine geographic and ethnic origins by comparing test-takers’ unique DNA signatures to the DNA of people from across the globe – drawn from the preeminent collection of DNA samples assembled by the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation. The current version of the test includes 20 worldwide geographical and ethnic categories, including six regions in Europe, five regions in Africa, and Native American.
      “We think the newest DNA technology will dramatically change family history research. For the experienced genealogist it will help break down brick walls and for the casual family historian it will make it easier than ever to get started,” said Ken Chahine, Ph.D., J.D. Senior Vice President and General Manager of Ancestry.com DNA, LLC. “While the science is cutting edge, the new online experience is simpler and more intuitive than ever before. We’ve already had overwhelming response and positive feedback from beta users as they discover relatives and uncover the treasures their ancestors passed down through DNA.  DNA picks up where the paper trail leaves off. Genomic science can extend family history research into parts of the world where few paper records are available.”
      Interest in exploring family history is rising quickly, especially on the scientific front, and that interest extends all the way back to the “old country,” wherever it may be. In fact, 56 percent of Americans recently surveyed by Harris Interactive are interested in taking a DNA genealogy test, up from 42 percent less than a year ago*. What’s more, people’s family history interests reach back beyond arrival in America – nearly two in three respondents told Harris that learning about pre-U.S. family members is one of the most important benefits of researching family history.
      Pricing and Availability
      Due to very strong early interest and demand, AncestryDNA will initially be made available by invitation-only to Ancestry.com subscribers for $99, with the expectation that the service will be made available to the general public later this year. To learn more about AncestryDNA, or to sign up to be notified once it’s available, please visitwww.ancestrydna.com.
      In preparing to bring AncestryDNA to market with the best science and a broad set of research assets, AncestryDNA has organized a distinguished and independent Science Advisory Board and has also acquired access to DNA samples, many of which had been assembled by the non-profit Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation.  AncestryDNA will be offered through Ancestry.com DNA, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Ancestry.com.
      Science Advisory Board
      With the continued focus on developing a solid DNA platform that stays ahead of the genetic genealogy trends, AncestryDNA has assembled a well-respected Scientific Advisory Board that can advise the company on best practices in the emerging field of DNA and genomic testing. The board consists of:
      ·         Carlos D. Bustamante, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Genetics at Stanford University School of Medicine
      ·         Mark J. Daly, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Medicine Harvard Medical SchoolCenter for Human Genetics
      ·         John Novembre, Ph.D., Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Los Angeles
      ·         Jeffrey R. Botkin, M.D., M.P.H., Professor of Pediatrics and Medical Ethics, Associate Vice President for Research, University of Utah
      ·         Philip Awadalla, Ph.D., Director of the CARTaGENE BioBank, Saint Justine Hospital, Montreal, Canada
      Addition of DNA Assets from the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation
      In March, Ancestry.com DNA, LLC acquired access to an extensive collection of DNA assets from Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, a non-profit organization. Founded by molecular genealogy pioneer, James LeVoy Sorenson, this organization has been dedicated to building the world’s foremost collection of DNA samples and corresponding genealogical information. Over the last 12 years, the Sorenson Foundation collected a one-of-a-kind DNA database of tens of thousands of DNA samples with documented family histories in more than 100 countries on six continents. This DNA database gives AncestryDNA test-takers an expanded family history genetic resource, and should enable new levels of discovery about people’s family backgrounds.
      Jim Sorensen, President of Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation added, “We are pleased to bring this far reaching, unique DNA collection to AncestryDNA. My father, James L. Sorenson, envisioned creating a genetic map of the peoples of the world that shows relationships shared by the entire human family and with the shared vision and resources of AncestryDNA his legacy will greatly expand. We are confident in the capabilities and dedication of the team to realize the potential of genetic genealogy faster than anyone else in the field. We see this as a great benefit to consumers as well as the scientific community by combining some of the best science with the leader in family history.”

      • Richard, Thank you for sharing the response. I’m gravely saddened that they have no plans to make this information available in the future. I bet Mr. Sorenson is rolling over in his grave, over and over.

  12. It seems like there must be some way to make them to turn a resource like that over to a non-profit group to take care of it. That should have been a requirement when they sold the rights to it. Sad.

  13. I, too, had SMGF done. Just after Ancestry took over, I had my results manually transferred to my tree at Ancestry. Then they took my access to it away. thankfully, I Did print out most of my matches and my ‘genome’. I also contacted every one of my matches through Ancestry mail, so I have all of their names and some contact.

    Everything this “New” Ancestry company touches, disappears.

    Thanks for keeping us updated. It was your article that had me contact Ancestry to get my SMGF info before it disappeared.

    Cousin Cathee.

  14. It is very sad that ancestry threw away my DNA in 2014 and in 2015 threw away my family tree I had there for years. They are idiots.

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  19. I’m planning to send the following letter to Sorenson and would appreciate your comments before I do. It is not perfect, but I think that is at least a start.
    Also, I bet if all of us threatened to take Sorenson and Ancestry to small claims court there would be some interesting events occurring in the genetic family history community.
    Remember, Ancestry claims to have not only our DNA, but also our paper genealogy, that they are using for their databases.
    Anyhow, here is my letter that I will send unless someone comes up with something better. We need to develop a similar letter for ancestry.

    TO:
    Sorenson Genomics, LLC
    2511 South West Temple
    Salt Lake City, UT 84115
    Phone: (801) 462-1400
    Fax: (801) 462-1404

    To whom it may concern:
    Some time ago my wife and I provided our DNA samples to Sorenson while living near the Woodridge, Illinois Ward. I believe that it was about 15 to 25 years ago.
    Because Sorenson broke the agreement by selling our DNA to another entity which they were not suppose to do, they broke the agreement between us; and were forced to provide my wife and me access to the results of our DNA testing.
    Now the same thing has happened again. The new possessor of our DNA has closed all access to our own DNA and the results of the testing. We were not inform that the website containing our DNA information had been shut down, preventing us from accessing our information. What right did Sorenson have in selling our DNA to an organization that has no right of ownership of our DNA or the test results. Sorenson never obtained permission from us to do so. Our DNA and test results do not belong to them nor did it belong to Sorenson. It belongs to me, my wife and thousands of other around the world. I was never given any notice by Sorenson, that our DNA and the testing results were going to be sold to a for profit organization without my permission.
    The for profit organization never informed us that they going to shut down the web site containing our DNA results either. How could Sorenson justify what they have done? I am upset that all these things have transpired; and the rights of all those that contributed their DNA have been trampled on. I believe that it is incumbent upon all those involved in this needless intrusion our rights of ownership and privacy be resolved in a timely, fair, just, and equitable manner.
    Feeling violated, I’m,

    Richard Jacobs
    Tanwood Ave
    Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70809-3235

    Cell:
    mrjcbs.w5wpz@gmail.com;

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