DNA Testing the Recently Deceased

No one really want to think about this, but it happens.

You’ve always meant to DNA test someone, and they’ve agreed, but either you didn’t order the kit, or the kit is far away from where they passed away.

What can you do?

Take heart, all is not lost. You have two options.

Swabbing the dead

Swabbing the Deceased

Some funeral homes work with companies for DNA preservation and other services, but these services do not provide you with genealogy results from any of the major vendors and are processed by the lab associated with the company whose kit the funeral home is selling.

For genealogy, you have two options.

  1. Call Family Tree DNA (713-868-1438 9-5 CST) and have them overnight you a swab kit. The funeral director can swab the inside of their cheek and generally, funeral directors do a great job. You may want to ask for extra vials to be included in the overnight package, just in case. This is your last (and only) chance.
  2. If you don’t have time or aren’t in a location where you can receive an overnight delivery, purchase an Identigene paternity test kit at any CVS or similar drugstore. That kit will cost you about $27 for the kit alone, but the kit contains sterile swabs and a sterile pouch for inserting the swabs after swabbing the inside of the cheek. DO NOT SEND THE SWABS TO IDENTIGENE. Instead, call Family Tree DNA and explain that you are sending the Identigene swabs to their lab for processing. They will provide you with instructions and you must obtain approval before sending non-standard swabs for processing.

Caveats and Alternatives

  • Cheek swabbing must occur before embalming because embalming fluid interferes with DNA processing, per Dr. Connie Bormans, lab director at GenebyGene.
  • Per my friendly mortician, if you’re desperate and embalming has occurred, another area where some have achieved swabbing success is the crease behind the ear lobe where skin cells tend to become trapped if the body has not already been cleaned in that area. At this point, you have nothing to lose by trying.
  • Please note that sometimes “overnight” is not actually overnight. I attempted to overnight something across the Memorial Day weekend and “overnight” in that case was actually Friday to Tuesday for all carriers. If you are in a pickle, be aware of delivery constraints surrounding weekends, holidays and perhaps a very remote location.

Ordering

After the kit is returned to Family Tree DNA for processing, you can order the regular suite of tests. I would suggest that you order all the tests you actually want initially, because the quantity and/or quality of the DNA sample may be questionable.

In other words, later upgrades may not be successful. I had that situation occur with my aunt’s mitochondrial DNA test results. The initial mtPlus test was successful, but her sample could not be upgraded to either the mitochondrial full sequence or Family Finder.

Three Data Bases in One Test

While you can’t obtain a spit sample from a deceased person for other autosomal tests, you can transfer the person’s autosomal DNA results to both GedMatch and MyHeritage for additional matching after processing.

Hopefully you’ll never find yourself in this difficult situation, but if you do, you have options.

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17 thoughts on “DNA Testing the Recently Deceased

  1. This is really gross and a violation of the dead person unless they have given their consent prior to death

    • Please note that I said “and they agreed.” However, after death, the next of kin gets to make decisions.

  2. I had purchased a kit to test my husband prior to one Christmas. He had been ill for some time but I didn’t press him to take the test, afraid that it would seem like I was in a hurry.

    When he entered the hospital not long after the new year had begun, the test was the last thing on my mind. Later, in the funeral home, I remembered the test. Since we has decided on cremation years earlier there was no problem with embalming fluid, but thank goodness I remembered.

    The attendant was happy to do the cheek swab for me, a final gift from my husband.

    There was no problem reported due to all the medications and procedures that had occurred, and some months later I was able to have the number of original marker test results expanded.

    I will always be grateful that test kit was on hand.

    • I keep extra kits on hand. That’s worked great when a relative decides they want to take the test and we do the test immediately without having to wait on an order to come in.

  3. A friend’s mother recently passed away in Washington state at the age of 96 and the funeral home offered to do a blood DNA test for $500. She asked me if she should get it done and I said no, as she had already tested her mother’s autosomal and mtDNA at FTDNA. Do you know if this is a common practice now for funeral homes and who might be doing this type of testing?
    Thanks.

    • There are several companies. And yes, that’s the price I’ve seen. You can google for the names of some. None provide genealogy info though.

    • I know they are still working on it, but it hasn’t gone terribly smoothly. This has been an issue for years now.

  4. This would have been nice to know 3 years ago when my Mother passed away. I had already done my Dad’s dna kit but my Mother suffered from low spit because of being given too much radiation while being treated for CLL.My sister did save some tissues used by my Mother…any chance they can be tested?

    • Try Genebase.com they do forensic dna testing. Call them and they will send special packaging and instructions. Usually just autosomal though.

      • Do you receive the file to upload elsewhere? What chip do they use? I’m wondering about compatibility.

  5. I’m waiting to test my father (if possible) from his false teeth I’ve had in his container he kept them in when that technology comes about. He died in Jan 2008. I so wish I’d had him tested before he died. It was early DNA for the genealogical sites. I did have my mother tested before she died. I thank her every time I log in and work her matches.

  6. I’m waiting for an Ancestry test to arrive. My Dad tested several years ago through Family Tree DNA, but I would really like to have him do an Ancestry test as well. Big problem, he is 90 and doesn’t have much spit. Have you had any experience with the artificial spit that’s been posted on some Facebook threads?

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