Genealogy, Identity Theft and Equifax Update

Yesterday, I wrote about the Equifax breach and how genealogy can be tied to that breach in the article, Equifax Data Breach, Genealogy and You.

It appears that some folks may not realize how the combination of the Equifax breach AND your genealogy info can be tied together to compromise your online and financial security. I should have given a specific example. This is really, really important, so I’m writing an update today.

This situation is WAY MORE IMPORTANT than your genealogy itself.

I cannot believe those words just came out of my mouth.

It has also come to my attention that banks and other institutions may not use the same types of security smeasures around the world, so people outside of the US may not be familiar with how we do business here.  However, in the past day, this breach has extended beyond the US, so please, read on no matter where you live, even if you read yesterday’s article carefully.  There’s more you need to know today.

This breach doesn’t just relate to existing credit card accounts and establishing new accounts, but relates to your bank accounts, tax refunds and government services that you might apply for in the future, including Social Security and Medicare benefits. You don’t want some crook stealing your identity, filing for your taxes and applying for benefits, which means you can’t.

The Perfect Storm

Here’s an example of how this breach creates the “perfect storm,” for the crooks anyway, which is your worse nightmare come true.

In just three steps, made much easier by Equifax (thanks), your money can be gone.

Step 1 – In the Equifax breach, your social security number and address (along with other personal information like account numbers) was part of the information that was stolen.

Step 2 – Let’s say that at your bank, you use your social security number or your old street address as your password. Through the Equifax breach, the crooks now have that info, so they try both of those and voila, now they have progressed to your security questions, because the bank was smart enough to realize that the sign-in request was not coming from your home computer.

Step 3 – Let’s say you have established two security questions at the bank. Your questions are your mother’s maiden name, which is freely available in your family tree, and your grandmother’s birth location, which is also available in the same source.

Poof – the crook is in and your money is gone.

Yesterday, when setting up a credit freeze at one of the three credit reporting sites, six of the 8 security questions I could select from were genealogy related and readily available in online trees – surnames, middle names and birth locations.  Obviously, they don’t know about online trees and how easy it is to obtain that information – and they need to fix that security loophole. Even if you don’t have an online tree, you may well be in someone else’s.

Security Questions

In some cases, security questions can be selected by you. Don’t just pick the easy ones you can remember. Pick something that absolutely CANNOT be found online in any way associated with you. Your first pet’s name, for example.

However, if your first pet was a goldfish named Goldie that you accidentally flushed down the toilet and you published a blog article about that traumatic event – that’s not a good choice either.

Your first boyfriend’s name? Did you marry him or someone with the same first name? Then not that either.

So, what to do if you don’t get to select your security question and it’s something like your mother’s maiden name?

Lie.

Yep, tell a lie. It’s OK. Your children will thank you when you don’t have to live with them when you’re old and impoverished because your money was all stolen and your social security benefits too.

Make something up – but remember your lie or write it down someplace safe (i.e. not on a yellow sticky postit in the bottom of your keyboard at work) – because your access to your own account is tied to that information.

Passwords

There’s all kinds of advice on password selection. Strong passwords require a lengthy string including upper and lower case of both alpha and numeric characters.

Of course, you can’t possibly remember these passwords, so you will write them down and that too can be stolen. But, chances are that password in your house is less likely to be compromised than information associated with you available online – at least in my house.

Password cracker software runs through thousands of possibilities in the blink of an eye. That’s why most sites today lock your account after some number of erroneous tries. Bummer if you’ve just made a mistake.

Don’t use the same password for multiple sites either. If a crook compromises one location, the first thing they are going to try is a second location.

Storing your password list in your cell phone probably isn’t such a good idea either. Someone asked about password “safes” offered by some vendors. I’ve never used them. Think about how attractive those would be for hackers. Use at your own risk.

Worse yet, personally identifying information, like what was obtained from the Equifax breach, is used to reset passwords, so you can easily see how a crook could use info they have obtained from Equifax to reset your passwords.

If your bank and brokerage accounts offer something called two factor authentication, that might be a good option. Two factor authentication requires information plus something you physically have, generally meaning your phone. Access to your account then requires both the password and pin or token issued from something physically in your possession. Yes, I know this is a huge pain. But having your identity stolen is a bigger pain that never ends and thanks to Equifax, more than half of the country is now at a much higher risk than ever before.

Back to the Equifax Breach

In addition to what I wrote in yesterday’s article, you need to know the following things:

  • Even if the Equifax site tells you that your data has “probably” not been breached, don’t believe them.  It has been discovered and reported by multiple news agencies (along with my personal experience) that if you enter the same data, exactly the same way, multiple times, the Equifax story changes relative to whether or not your data was breached. Do not take comfort if the site tells you that your data has not been breached. I don’t think they actually have a clue. Assume that it has been breached and take appropriate measures.
  • Even if your credit has supposedly not been breached but your spouses has, much of your account information is the same, so consider your account breached too.
  • Equifax says that this breach now extends to some people in the UK and Canada, but no further information has been provided. For safety’s sake, assume you are one of these people whose accounts have been breached.
  • Equifax originally required you to waive your rights to join a class action suit in order to take advantage of their free credit monitoring for a year if they tell you your data has been breached. They have now recanted that position and their website now says the following as of noon today:

Options for Protecting Yourself

Because the Equifax breach has such long-term and permanent ramifications, meaning that while you can change things like your e-mail address and close a credit card account, you can’t easily change things like your name, address and social security number. Those are much more difficult and together, readily identify you as you – or the crook as you.

So, you need to accomplish multiple goals:

  • Know if fraudulent activity has taken place
  • Monitor to know if fraudulent activity is taking place
  • Prevent crooks from obtaining credit in your name by using the credit reporting services
  • Prevent bank accounts and other financial accounts from being compromised
  • Protect your assets like tax returns, social security and other benefits for which you may today or someday be eligible

The bad news – there is no one single way to do all of this, so you’re going to have to make some decisions and take multiple steps.

I’ve compiled information in the following chart. Please keep in mind, I’m not a lawyer nor a CPA – so please educate yourself and only use this as a guideline – not gospel. Plus, things change and right now, Equifax is changing their story daily – and it takes days to sign up for their credit monitoring service. I was able to freeze my account yesterday.

In the article, Equifax Data Breach, Genealogy and You, I discussed Credit Monitoring Services, Credit Reports, Fraud Alerts and Credit freezes, sometimes called security freezes. The chart below represents my understanding of how these services work together to protect consumers.

Safety Goals Credit Report Credit Monitoring Service Fraud Alert Credit Freeze Comment
Has fraudulent activity already taken place? Free once yearly for all 3 services, Equifax, Experian and Transunion Typically a paid service that provides credit reports to you periodically. Sometimes provided for free when your data is known to have been involved in a breach. Does not report past events Does not report past events
Monitor to know if fraudulent activity is taking place No, only deals with events that have already taken place No, only deals with events that have already taken place Free service for 90 days that requires a lender to contact you to verify your identity before issuing credit in your name.   You must renew every 90 days. Allows consumers to freeze their credit.   Consumer must unfreeze when they are applying for new credit, then refreeze. You must freeze at all 3 agencies for this to be effective.
Prevent crooks from obtaining credit in your name through credit reporting services No, only deals with events that have already taken place No, only deals with events that have already taken place Yes, but expires and consumer must renew every 90 days Yes, doesn’t expire but you have to remove freeze when you want new credit.  Must freeze at all 3 agencies to be effective.
Prevent bank accounts and other financial accounts from being compromised Not related to bank accounts Not related to bank accounts Not related to bank accounts Not related to bank accounts Use strong passwords, change passwords often, do not use  security questions where answers can be found publicly or in credit reports, read the links below to know what to look for
Protect your assets like tax returns, social security, etc. Not related to this type of protection Not related to this type of protection Not related to this type of protection Not related to this type of protection Stay hyper-vigilant, file as soon as possible, read the links below to know what to look for

Additional Resources

You can read what the IRS says about identity protection at this link:

https://www.irs.gov/identity-theft-fraud-scams/identity-protection

Here’s what the Social Security Administrations says about identity theft:

https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10064.pdf

God forbid you ever really do need to change your social security number:

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0248-do-you-need-new-social-security-number

Here’s the FTC’s document about identity theft, what to do, how to report identity theft and a recovery plan.

https://identitytheft.gov/

From the FTC, signs and signals of identity theft.

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/identity-theft

Again from the FTC, a scam alerts site.

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts

Please note that this situation is fluid. Educate yourself and follow this in a credible news source for developments that may change your remediation plans.

Thank you to people commenting on the original article and providing additional, useful information.

Grandma’s Legacy

I apologize to my readers for this diversion these past few days with identity theft combined with genealogy. Unfortunately, because genealogists do share and as humans, we are inclined to use information we readily know, that means we’re vulnerable to the crooks – because our genealogy information is near and dear to us, and we remember it easily.

Fortunately, this is easy to fix by not utilizing our genealogy information that we so readily know.

I do love genealogy, particularly genetic genealogy, and I have absolutely no intention of giving it up. I am, however, now more vigilant. I’ve changed my personal security questions, or the answers, so that my family tree and blog articles don’t give me away.

I will be making sure that information from the past hundred years is marked as private. It not only puts me at risk, it puts anyone else in that same line of descent at risk too.

Keep in mind, there’s nothing you can do about someone else’s tree online that may include your grandmother’s birth location. This means that my preventative measure of making the last hundred years private in my tree may amount to closing the barn door after the cow has left.

I’ve frozen my credit, meaning I’ll have to unfreeze it when I apply for a loan someday for a new car. Maybe that means because of the inconvenience I’ll spend less. Hey, there has to be a silver lining someplace.

Here’s what I don’t want, for either you or me. I don’t want my legacy to be the grandma who had everything stolen and had to go and sleep on the park bench….you get the drift.

I hope you’ve found this helpful, and I sincerely hope I never feel compelled to write about something this serious again.

Let’s do everything we can to prevent that so we can get back to genetic genealogy. All of this bother is interrupting my research time!

Caveat

Again, I’m not a lawyer or a CPA. I have no ties to the financial industry except for being a consumer. Use at your own discretion. Educate yourself. Consider this a resource, not gospel.  Follow this developing story and make course corrections as needed. Changes are occurring rapidly. Presume the worst. It’s better than presuming the best and being wrong.

Equifax Data Breach, Genealogy and You

What, you may be asking, does the Equifax data breach this week have to do with genealogy?

The answer is actually twofold.

  1. Everyone who works with genealogy now lives in a technology world – or you wouldn’t be reading this.
  2. People tend to use pieces of information to secure accounts – like their mother’s maiden name, their address, birth location and other pieces of data that they can remember. Don’t. Just Don’t. I’m begging you!

And please, please read this article, even though it’s not specifically about genealogy. I spent 30 years in the technology industry, and believe me, if your identity is stolen or your finances compromised, it WILL interfere with your genealogy research, big time.

The Breach

I don’t normally discuss news items, but this security issue is mammoth, the largest breach ever, and could potentially destroy your credit and compromise your identity, either or both.

What’s worse yet, the breach itself occurred mid-May through July, Equifax discovered it on July 29th, but consumers weren’t notified until September 7th, 5 weeks and 5 days later, and then only in the news, not personally. That means that the crooks have had between 6 weeks and 4 months to use or to sell, or just hold your information to sell later.

You can read more about the breach here and here as well as a New York Times article with an update and additional instructions this morning, here.

Please do read those articles to understand the magnitude of this issue. The breach affects more than 143 million people, mostly Americans, with an additional 209,000 credit card numbers stolen as well, along with 182,000 “dispute documents” with additional information.

The US has about 260 million adults, so roughly 55% of the adult population has been affected by this breach. In other words, there is more than a 50% chance that your personal information, enough to file a tax return on your behalf and claim your return, among other things, is among thieves right now, on the black market.

And no, I’m not exaggerating.

Not. One. Bit!

AND, that’s just how many account records are known to be compromised. Equifax may not know the full extent of the breach.

If your spouse’s records are compromised, and yours aren’t, you may think one of you is safe.  But guess again – because your life, credit and resulting misery is inextricably linked together.

If one is breached, both are breached. Period. So the actual breach numbers may actually be closer to 100%, based on “breach by marriage.”

My husband and I have been working on this issue all day today (and no, we didn’t have anything better to do, thank you for asking) and discovered that our shared account numbers are listed, with both names, of course.  My accounts are his, and vice versa. Initially, only one of our Equifax accounts was reported as breached, which would have provided a false sense of security for one of us, until we looked closely.

However, later today, both accounts were reported as breached.

What Was Taken?

Equifax and other credit reporting agencies routinely track your credit history, including account numbers, as well as identifying personal information.

Information about consumers stolen from Equifax includes or may include:

  • Name and Addresses (current and old)
  • Credit History including balances and balance available
  • Account Numbers
  • Social security numbers (the hottest most desirable piece of your information for crooks)
  • Birth dates
  • Driver’s license numbers

The aspect that make this breach so serious is that it includes multiple pieces of information that should be unique to identifying you – such as your birthdate and social security number.  You can’t change those or get new ones to protect yourself – and the crooks know that.

Additional information in your file that Equifax has not said was or was not compromised includes:

  • Employer and position (current and former)
  • Employment dates
  • Phone numbers
  • Spouses name

I would presume that this too was compromised.

If you think your information isn’t at Equifax, you’re wrong, because Equifax, as well as the other credit reporting services, routinely gather identifying and financial information about everyone.

How Do I Find Out About My Information?

Equifax has set up both a telephone hotline (that is, *surprise*, entirely jammed) and a website for you to enter a partial social security number along with your surname to determine if your account was compromised.

https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/

Click on the tab at the top of the page that says “Potential Impact.”

If your data is not known to be part of the breach, you see a notice to that affect, but note that the wording is not definitive. It says:

“Based on the information provided, we believe that your personal information was not impacted by this incident.”

However, and this is a HUGE HOWEVER, when I tried this a second time, to be sure of the wording for this article, I got the opposite result for the same person, which said,

“Based on the information provided, we believe that your personal information may have been impacted by this incident.”

Bottom line, I don’t think Equifax knows for sure and their system appears to be flawed, so ASSUME YOUR DATA HAS BEEN BREACHED.

If your information is known to be part of the breach, you are given the option for free credit monitoring, BUT, you must remember to return to the site on a specific date to begin credit monitoring. Personally, I think they should be required to provide this service AT A MINIMUM for everyone, but they are not. Neither are they making it easy.

Equifax provides you with a date that you must return to their website to set up credit monitoring service. Mine was September 11th. You have to remember. They aren’t going to remind you. This credit monitoring service is initially free, but becomes a chargeable service at some point in the future AND you have to relinquish your right to sue in order to obtain this free service. So yes, strings are attached.

Furthermore, a free year of monitoring won’t help you in the future, beyond year 1, when the crooks still have your data. The crooks know this and may simply wait for a year to begin using the information. You must assume your data base been breached permanently and act accordingly.

Worse yet, a free year of monitoring at Equifax, or even permanent monitoring at Equifax won’t help you at the other reporting agencies.  The crooks can and will take your valuable information and simply use it elsewhere.

What Is Credit Reporting and Monitoring?

Credit reporting companies like Equifax gather information about you and your credit, including open and closed accounts, so that when you apply for a loan, the loan originator (the bank for example) only has to call one of three credit reporting services to obtain your information and verify that you are a good credit risk – instead of calling each of your current and past creditors individually.

Equifax is one of those services, along with Experian and Transunion.

A credit monitoring service, offered by a credit reporting company life Equifax, reports activity to you when it occurs on your account. That means if someone applies for a new credit card in your name, you are notified. That does NOT mean that the transaction is prevented. This also does nothing to stop other fraudulent activities, such as filing for your tax refund, running up medical bills in your name or charging items on an existing credit card.

Or, worse yet, using your information in your stolen Equifax account information to attempt to hack your passwords at banks, Paypal, etc.

There are other options for consumers, in addition to or instead of a credit monitoring service, such as a credit freeze or a fraud alert, which we’ll discuss just as soon as we talk about passwords and security questions.

Don’t Use Familiar Records as Part of Your Password or Security

Using information about you that is publicly available, or available in your credit report allows the crooks to crack your passwords much easier. And yes I’m referring here to passwords for financial accounts like bank accounts, retirement and investment accounts and Paypal.

DO NOT USE:

• Your mother’s maiden name
• Your address
• Your previous address
• A pet’s or child’s name or any name that can be found publicly, on any service like Intellus or social media platform like Facebook
• A hobby that is discussed publicly in any way (so genealogy, DNA, genetic genealogy, quilting and gardening words are all out for me)
• The name of a school that you attended
• Your, your parents’ or grandparents’ birth locations
• A date such as a birthday or an anniversary
• Pretty much anything you can remember easily

Let’s look at steps you need to take to protect yourself.

Twelve Fourteen Steps to Protect Yourself Right NOW!!!

Yes, I added two more steps because it’s critical to protect yourself and your family, now. Please complete ALL of these steps to secure yourself.

First, check the Equifax site to see if your information is known to be breached. Regardless of their answer, assume that it has been.

https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/

Click on the Potential Impact tab.

Second, order a free credit report, which you can do once yearly, from Annual Credit Report at the link below. Do NOT fall for scam sites that offer free reporting or your credit score.

https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action

Order a report from all 3 credit reporting companies to be sure that no fraudulent activity has taken place to date and that your report is accurate.

Unfortunately, and somewhat maddeningly, when we attempted to order our free credit report online for Equifax, the process has changed and we now have to fill out a form.  Yes, I know their system is probably overwhelmed by this, BUT, making receiving a free credit report to which the consumer is entitled at a time like this difficult is reprehensible.  Do whatever you have to do to obtain your reports, because this breach is incredibly serious.  Do not be deterred.

Third, while credit monitoring only tells you what has already taken place, placing a fraud alert on your account means that a lender must contact you to verify your identity before issuing credit in your name. However, this can only be done for 90 days when it expires. You must renew it every 90 days at Equifax, Transunion and Experian, all three. Again, the results of this breach will be very real for years, so 90 days isn’t going to help you if you forget to call and put the alert on your account every 90 days.

Fourth, put a credit freeze on your account. A credit freeze actually freezes your account at the credit reporting agencies, meaning that if you are going to apply for credit, you have to go into your credit account and unlock your account with your pin to unfreeze the account, then refreeze it when you are done applying for new credit. The credit freeze service isn’t free in every state, but typically costs under $10, if anything, and is a whole lot less than the headaches you could have otherwise. Be sure to freeze your credit at all 3 credit reporting companies. This is what I’m doing. You can read more about this process here.

Fifth, many credit cards have an option to notify you when charges are made on your account through text messaging before the end of the month when your bill is sent. Visit your credit card provider to see if this option is available, enabling you to catch fraudulent credit card activity immediately instead of later when your bill arrives.

Sixth, monitor your credit card bills closely. Look back over your accounts since April. You might want to close any accounts you don’t need or use anymore.

Seventh, change your passwords on existing accounts, everyplace, just in case, especially any that include any piece of information that even MIGHT be held in a credit report or public location.

DO NOT use any type of identifying information such as your place of birth, mother or grandmother’s maiden name, or anything else that is in any way publicly available on a social media site, your tree at a genealogy site or anything else that can in any way be associated with you.

Eighth, at tax time, file your return immediately, as soon as possible. Guaranteed, if the crooks target you, they’ll file as soon as they can and you won’t find out you’ve been scammed until the IRS tells you that they already processed your refund and it’s long gone.

Ninth, be sure, absolutely positive, that your spouse takes these steps too, because if they are exposed, so are you!

Tenth, help family members that are not technologically savvy to be sure they are protected. The elderly are often targets.

Eleventh, this could not have happened at a worse time with hurricane Harvey in Houston and Irma positioned to strike Florida. Be sure family members in those locations who are distracted presently are aware that this security issue occurred, that their data may well have been breached, and that they need to take action – sooner rather than later.

Twelfth, take action NOW. Delay may well mean money – yours – gone – in someone else’s hands.

• Thirteenth, check your children’s names and social security numbers at the credit agencies.  Social security numbers of children are considered high value items, because they last so much longer. Young children shouldn’t be in the system, but teenagers, you never know and much better safe than sorry.

Fourtheenth, never ignore what seems like a “mistake” on a credit report, such as a misspelled name or an extraneous address.  On my husband’s report, his name was misspelled, only slightly, in one “odd” entry and it turns out that someone had run up bills in his name in another state.  When the creditor attempted to collect by contacting my husband, that’s when my husband discovered the issue. This also pertains to reported unpaid medical bills on your credit report.  I know of someone who supposedly had a baby and was billed by the hospital for an exorbitant amount after her identity was stolen.

You can visit the Federal Trade Commission site to learn more about identity theft and how to protect yourself.

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft

Ok, when you’re done with all that, feel free to resume genealogy research!

However, from here forward, you can never be complacent or really rest easy, because your identity truly is in jeopardy, forever.

Please note that these actions may not be the only actions you’ll need to take to keep yourself safe, now, or over time.  This story and the ramifications are still developing.  Please educate yourself and follow credible news sources.

Family Tree DNA New Privacy Settings

As you may or may not have noticed, Family Tree DNA recently implemented more options in the privacy and sharing section of everyone’s personal DNA page.  That’s both the good news and the bad news.

Recent queries from group participants as to why their results were not showing in projects after they joined sent me on a quest to find out why.  The answer is that the new privacy and security settings at Family Tree DNA now default to a setting on new kit purchases that causes new participants results to not show in projects.  Another symptom is that as a project administrator, you’ll be able to see the participants results in your project, but you won’t be able to see their results in other projects they have joined when trying to help them with something like understanding haplogroup project grouping assignments.

In today’s more litigious society, giving people these types of options is not only a good thing, it’s necessary.  Now the bad news.  In the past, when you joined a project, your DNA results were automatically being shared on the project page, if the project had a public page.  That was the point of joining a project and is what everyone has come to expect.

privacy and sharing not sharing

Please note that people who were already clients when these new options were added, so who had already joined projects and were sharing, were not set to the default of not sharing, and were set to the value of sharing.  So if you were previously in a project and your results were being displayed, they still are.  This only affects new kit purchases.  Based on a kit I purchased on March 31, 2015, this new feature was implemented sometime after the middle of February and before the end of March, but I don’t know exactly when.

As more and more people purchase these kits with the default option set to not sharing, more and more administrators are finding themselves being asked why results are not showing up in projects…and asking themselves this same question.  The answer is, of course, that the defaults are now set for not sharing – but no one knows that.  The participants are not ASKED this question and they have no idea THAT this is happening, that there is a problem…or that they need to DO anything to rectify the situation.

Furthermore, most administrators aren’t aware of this either.  What this means, is that kits purchased since this change was made are NOT SHARING, but no one is aware of that until they stumble over it by accident.

Therefore, as interested parties and project administrators, we need to inform our participants of this default selection and that it needs to be changed.  Please feel free to share this article to accomplish this goal.

I very much hope that Family Tree DNA will implement a stepped process with options and educational “balloon boxes” so that both new participants and people whose results are now set to “not share” will be able to make selection choices when they set their account up or when they join projects.  Testers need to understand what they are being asked to select, why, and how their selections will affect their results and experience, both today and into the future.  Defaulting to not sharing is counter-productive and I fear that new testers will inadvertently be eliminated from project matching and grouping when that wasn’t their intention at all.

So, let’s take a look at the newest Family Tree DNA privacy and sharing options and how they affect participants, projects and project administrators.

Privacy and Sharing

You reach the privacy and sharing options by clicking on the “Manage Personal Information” link in the “Your Account” box to the left of your personal page at Family Tree DNA.

privacy and sharing

By clicking on the orange link, you’ll see the following Account Settings.

privacy and sharing profile

While you’re here, you may want to update your profile information.

On all selections, don’t forget to click on SAVE, or it won’t.

privacy and sharing save

Now, let’s move on to the privacy and sharing tab, to the far right of the options on the tab at the top.  Privacy and sharing options are divided into three sections.

privacy and sharing tab2

The selections greyed out on the right are the current default settings when you purchase a new kit.  There are no instructions or step-through dialogue boxes to help participants understand how these selections will affect who can see their results, and how that will affect their experience with DNA testing.

Needless to say, the power of DNA testing is sharing ancestral and genealogical information.  Otherwise, there is truly no reason to test.  Family Tree DNA has recently implemented changes which allow participants to select various levels of sharing.

Unfortunately, the default settings are in essence “off” for project sharing, once someone joins a project, which creates a great deal of confusion for participants and project administrators alike.

Participants presume their results are being shared, just the like results of the people they match.  Project administrators have no idea that the participants results aren’t being displayed in the projects, and when they discover that little tidbit, they have no idea why the results aren’t being displayed – because they always were before.

The Privacy and Sharing options are divided into three sections, My Profile, My DNA Results and Account Access

Let’s look at these one section at a time.

My Profile

Who can view my Most Distant Ancestor?

Default Setting:  Only You

This means that no one you match can see your most distant ancestor.

Options:  Share my Most Distant Ancestor with other people in projects that I’ve joined.

Creating an exception.

It appears that you can select to share within all projects (that you’ve joined), but elect to omit some projects, or you can select to not share with all projects, but to elect to share with only select projects.

privacy and sharing most distant ancestor

Note that I manage several kits with the same surname.  The default for both existing and new accounts is “only you”.  I checked and the most distant ancestor does show in both projects and matching when the “only you” selection is selected.  I suspect this is a bug, but currently, it’s how this option is functioning.  If this options starts functioning as it appears that it is supposed to, all of a sudden, your most distant ancestor information may disappear.  If so, this is why and this option needs to be changed to “share with other people in projects.”

Of course, this entire question presumes you’ve entered your most distant ancestor information.

Please enter your most distant ancestor for both your male paternal (father’s surname) line and your matrilineal (mother’s mother’s mother’s) line on the Genealogy Tab, under Most Distant Ancestors, shown below.

privacy and sharing most distant ancestor setup

If you don’t enter this information, your “Most Distant Ancestor” won’t be listed in projects, example below, so if other people from this line are looking to see if their line has tested, that information won’t be available to them.

privacy and sharing project

Furthermore, if your information isn’t there, it can’t and won’t be displayed to your matches.  You certainly want that information from your matches, so be sure to provide it for your matches to see as well.  In the example below, the first person did not complete this information, but the second person did.  As it turns out, they both descend from the same ancestor, but the person matching them can’t tell, because one person doesn’t have their Most Distant Ancestor listed.

privacy and sharing match

Who can see me in project member lists?

Default:  Project Administrators

Options:

privacy and sharing project member list

This selection works in tandem with how the project administrators of various projects you may have joined choose to implement the project display.  In other words, if the project isn’t public, then the “anyone” option is meaningless, because the public won’t be able to see the project at all.

hap q front page

Fortunately, most projects are publicly displayed.

The next question about this option is what, exactly, and where is a project member list?

When you visit any project, you will see a front page.  On that page, you will see several options relating to that project.  In the Kvochick project, there are 5 members.  If you click on the 5 members, that should display the list of the names of project members.

kvochick dna page

The default setting is only for project administrators to see the names.  In this case, your name would not appear in this list if clicked on by anyone other than the project administrator.

The second option would be for project members only, and the third option would be for the general public.

Please note that as of the writing of this article, I tested several projects and none had clickable numbers, so this option does not appear to be implemented at this time.

My DNA Results

Who can view my ethnic breakdown in myOrigins?

Default:  Project Administrators

Options:

privacy and sharing myorigins

Your two options are to share with your matches, or not share with your matches.  Do not share is the default.

Here is an example of people who are sharing ethnic results in myOrigins.  If you are not sharing, your name would not appear on this list for your matches on the bottom left.

privacy and sharing myorigins example

Lastly, the only ethnicity that is shared with your matches is an ethnicity they have as well.  In this case, the participant only has European ethnicity, so that is the only portion of his matches ethnicity that is shown to him.

Who can view my DNA results in group projects?

This new option is the one causing havoc with administrators and projects.

Default:  Make my mtDNA and Y-DNA private.  It will only be shown to people in my project.

Options:  Make my mtDNA and Y-DNA public.

privacy and sharing group projects

I strongly, strongly suggest that you make this selection public.  Let me give you an example of why.

Let’s say I’m a female, and I want to know if my paternal line has tested.  I would check the appropriate surname project.

In this case, let’s say I’m looking to see if any descendants of John Harrold (Herrell, Harrell, Harrald) who died in 1825 in Wilkes County, NC have tested.

When people share their results, you will be able to find out if your line has tested.

You can see in the example below that my Harrold line is group 7 in the Harrell project, so I now know my line has tested, and I can see my haplogroup designation and Y markers for John’s line.

privacy and sharing Harrell

If none of these John Harrold descendants had elected to share, then I would never be able to find this information.  If you’re looking for any of your ancestral surnames, you won’t be able to find those lines either – if the people who test don’t share.  If people who are looking to test don’t see their ancestral line, they will think there is no one to compare to, and they may be discouraged from testing.  This is certainly not what we want.

The problem today is that people who purchase tests don’t know they aren’t sharing – they assume they are.  Before these new privacy options became available, by default, if you joined a project, you WERE sharing.  Now, new participants aren’t sharing – even though they joined the project – unless they change their options.

Furthermore, if you are a project member, let’s say of the Harrell project, and one of the administrators is trying to help you understand your results in a haplogroup project, the Harrell administrator can’t see your results in the haplogroup project either – so we can’t help you.

PLEASE, PLEASE MAKE THE PROJECT RESULTS PUBLIC UNLESS YOU HAVE A COMPELLING REASON NOT TO DO SO. 

To not share this information defeats the entire purpose of DNA testing.

The most information that any project at Family Tree DNA can reveal is the kit number, surname (only) of tester, paternal (or maternal) most distant ancestor name, country of origin, haplogroup and the DNA markers (Y 12-111 and mtDNA HVR1 and HVR2 only) for which the individual has tested.  Below, a sample project is shown with the maximum amount of information categories shown (except I’ve truncated the markers shown to the right for space reasons.)

privacy and sharing most shown

To review the project setting, by default, only project members who are signed into their account and looking at the project can view your data.  Anyone who is not a project member and not signed into their account cannot see your data in the project

If you select public, anyone looking at the public project page can see your results, like the example above – assuming that the project itself is public.  This is only valid for Y and mtDNA HVR1 and HVR2 data, as mitochondrial DNA coding region and autosomal DNA results are never displayed publicly.

Who can view my mtDNA Coding Region mutations?

Default:  Only you.

Options:

Privacy and sharing mtDNA coding

If you have tested at the mitochondrial full sequence level, you will have tested the full HVR1, HVR2 and coding regions.  While the HVR1 and HVR2 regions are not currently known to reveal medical conditions, the coding region has the potential to carry some medical information.  Therefore, your coding region is NEVER displayed publicly, in a project.  Displaying the coding region is not an option.  If you elect to share your coding region mutations privately, that is up to you.

However, in order for mitochondrial DNA project administrators to correctly group you in mitochondrial DNA projects, they must be able to see your coding region results to know where your mutations fall.

Therefore, you can authorize project administrators to view the coding region results, by project.  In the example above, the individual is only a member of one project.  In order to authorize the Estes project administrator to view the coding region, click the box and then Save.

Account Access

How much access to Project Administrators have to my account?

Default:  Limited

Options:

privacy and sharing project admin access

What do the various authorization levels allow?  Here’s the list.

privacy and sharing admin access

If you have given an administrator full access to your account, which means you have given them your kit number and password, they have full access to everything and that supercedes these options.

Who has full access to my account?

Default:  Only You

Options:  Give the administrator your kit number and password.

privacy and sharing admin full access

Obviously, if you have privately e-mailed your kit number and password to an admin or anyone, Family Tree DNA has no way of knowing or tracking that.

Genealogy Tab

You will find a few more options that affect how your Family Tree is displayed on the Genealogy tab.

privacy and sharing genealogy tab

If you have uploaded a GEDCOM file or completed a family tree online at Family Tree DNA, who can be seen in your tree, and by whom, is controlled by this setting.

Having an entirely private tree is the same as having no tree and is not useful to anyone, so I really have no idea why someone would do this.

Of course, you can always see which of your matches has a tree available and can click on the pedigree icon to view your matches tree, if they authorize matches to view their tree.  On the example below of a Y DNA matching page, the first two participants do have a family tree, as indicated by the little blue pedigree icon, and the third individual does not.

privacy and sharing pedigree

I encourage everyone to either upload your GEDCOM file or create a family tree online at Family Tree DNA.  You can do either by clicking on the Family Tree Link on your myFTDNA menu at the top left of your personal page.

privacy and sharing upload gedcom

Including a family tree makes finding a common ancestor so much easier.  Genetic genealogy is all about sharing and collaboration – and finding those ancestors!

Public Search

Family Tree DNA recently implemented a public search function that allows public searches of online trees and GEDCOMS.

Why would someone search like this?  To see if people from their genealogocal lines have tested.  In other words, people wondering if they should test.  Allowing your tree to be seen publicly is in essence, cousin bait – of course you want them to test – the more the merrier and the better chance you have of breaking down those brick walls.

privacy and sharing search box

Below is an example of how your tree privacy selection, made under the Genealogy Tab above, impacts what can be seen by a public search.

privacy and sharing search

As an example, I did a public search for my ancestor, Jotham Brown.  Sure enough, there are several people at Family Tree DNA who have good ole Jotham in their trees.  That’s great – because it means I have a chance of matching some of them using the Family Finder test.

In the results above, you can see the three options for how trees are listed:

  • Entirely private such that you need to test and will only see the tree if you match
  • Public tree noted by the name of the owner
  • Tree included but noted as private member – which just means the name of the tree owner is not displayed

You can see the actual trees of both the public and private trees that are shown with clickable links.  You cannot see the tree of the private family tree with no link.

Clicking on the trees shows you the following example, depending on the tree display options you’ve selected.  The tree below has selected to mask living people and people deceased within a hundred years.

privacy and sharing tree2

Both trees labeled with a source and private member trees are shown, but with the privacy screening you’ve selected.  The only difference I’ve been able to find between those two options is that the source tree name is given for the public trees, and is not for the private member trees.  However, there is no contact information for the public trees (or any trees), so this is not a way to contact other genealogists.  You can only contact them if you have a match through DNA testing.

The third option is that completely private trees are only shown to matches.  These are noted as a private family tree and the searcher is instructed to purchase a Family Finder test to see if they match.  That is, after all, the goal!!!

privacy and sharing search2

Hopefully this search function will encourage more people to test.  After all, other people who descend from their ancestor are in the data base!

Summary

Privacy settings have changed and we have to figure out the best way to work with the new features.

Let’s make sure our new participants understand their settings and what needs to be changed in order to have their results displayed in the manner they desire.

As always, the way to obtain the best genetic genealogy experience is by sharing.  That’s what collaborative research and crowd-sourcing is all about.  Everyone shares individually and the power of the group is what gives genetic genealogy its awesome results.

So, the 4 key elements for successful sharing are to:

  • Set your project sharing status to public, not private.
  • Enter your most distant ancestor information
  • Share your most distant ancestor information with matches and projects
  • Upload your GEDCOM file or create a family tree at Family Tree DNA

Mitochondrial DNA Projects – Full Sequence Authorization Changes

For people who administer DNA projects that include mitochondrial DNA results – and those who participate – a change in the location of settings at Family Tree DNA will necessitate updating instructions to participants to enable sharing of their full sequence results with project administrators. If the administrators can’t view the results, they can’t group participants appropriately.

This change only pertains to allowing administrators to view the results, and does not allow displaying of full sequence results.  In other words, Family Tree DNA didn’t add or take anything away – they just moved the furniture – in this case, into another room.  However, it’s a little difficult to find without a map – so that’s what I’m giving you.

Whatever a participant’s options were set to previously, they haven’t changed – just the location of those options has changed.  So if a participant has already authorized sharing (viewing) with project administrators, they don’t need to do anything.  This change only pertains to those who need to authorize administrator viewing.

Here are instructions to enable full sequence viewing utilizing the new page layout.

On your personal page, click on the Manage Personal Information link. This hasn’t changed.

full sequence1 v2

The setting to enable full sequence viewing by project used to be under Account Settings, then Match and E-Mail Settings, but now the option is located on the “Privacy and Sharing” tab, all the way to the right.

full sequence2

Look under “My DNA Results” at the question, “Who can view my mtDNA Coding Region mutations?” To the right will be either the words “Only You” or “Some Project Administrators” or “Project Administrators,” based on y our current settings.  Click on whatever words are there – in the example below, click on “some project administrators.”

full sequence3

By clicking on those words, you will display the list of projects that you have joined and you can then enable the project administrators to see your full sequence results.

full sequence4 v2

Check the box of the appropriate project(s) to enable the project administrators to view the full sequence results. Then, remember to click on the orange SAVE button to save, or it won’t.

If project administrators have included instructions on their project pages for participants to enable full sequence viewing, those instructions will need to be updated immediately. Feel free to utilize these instructions.

Hide and Seek at 23andMe, DNA Relatives Consent, Opt-In, Opt-Out and Close Relatives

To say that the matching policies at 23andMe are confusing is an understatement. Of course, that would imply that we could figure out what those policies are, this week, exactly.  What I have been able to discern is that there is widespread confusion about the entire topic.  This is my attempt to figure out which end is up, and who can see whom, under what circumstances.  I feel like this is a high-tech game of Hide and Seek, a game customers should not have to be playing.

hide and seek

On October 17, 2014, I received this e-mail for one of the 23andMe accounts that I manage. I did not receive it for any of the other accounts that I manage at 23andMe.

When I clicked on the “can’t miss it” red block in the e-mail, it did absolutely nothing. However, by clicking on the “view as a web page” link, clicking on the “Confirm your DNA Relatives participation” took me to the 23andMe signon screen.

I signed in, but was not taken to the account in question. When I switched to that account, this is what I saw – in essence, a second warning.

hide and seek2

I was not allowed to proceed further until I clicked on yes or no.

Of course, this begs the question of why my other accounts weren’t asked the same question. With the exception of one, they are sharing in DNA Relatives too.

It also made me wonder about the sharing with Close Relatives option.

I decided to check the DNA Relatives Option information in the Privacy/Consent settings, but there was nothing further.  You can visit your consent options by clicking on the down arrow by your name, shown on the upper right hand corner of the screen shot below, and selecting “account settings.”

hide and seek3

So, what the heck happened to the close relatives option?

It seems that 23andMe discontinued the “close relatives” opt-in or opt-out, according to their June blog article, below.

hide and seek4hide and seek5

At this point, if you had not ‘opted out’ then it was assumed that you had in effect ‘opted in’ and all of your matches including your close relatives would be shown.

But then the VOX article was published in September and the proverbial stuff hit the fan.

The day of the expected default opt-in change, based on the June announcement (above), 23and Me posted a retraction of the June article, on their community forum, below.

Dear Community,

We made a change from what we promised and I want to apologize. We promised that the roughly 350,000 customers that had not consented to see Close Relatives in our DNA Relatives feature would be automatically opted in at the end of a 30 day notification period. I understand that that was extremely exciting for many of you to have so much data potentially come your way. It was unfortunately a mistake that we promised that.

I do not think it was ever the right call to promise that we would automatically opt-in those customers. Core to our philosophy is customer choice and empowerment through data. The Close Relatives features can potentially give a customer life changing information, like the existence of an unknown sibling or the knowledge that a relative is not biologically related to them. Customers need to make their own deliberate and informed decision if they want this information. It is 23andMe’s responsibility to make sure our customers have a choice and that they understand the potential implications.

The timing of the change is unfortunate and I apologize the announcement came late on a Friday night at the end of the 30 day period. The article in Vox made me and others look into the language in the consent form and that is when I learned about the proposed changes coming to the DNA Relatives community. As 23andMe has moved from being a start up to a bigger and more mature company, I am not involved in every decision. This is a decision that should have come to my attention but it did not. We will learn from that. 23andMe is hiring a Chief Privacy Officer and that too will help us avoid these types of mistakes in the future. We are also already planning to evolve the consent process to make it simpler and more clear for customers.

Going forward, we will continue to prompt the customers that have not made a choice about Close Relatives to make a choice. We understand how important that is to you. We will do a mix of emails to these customers and pop-up prompts at login to get customers to make a choice.

I apologize again for the disappointment and for not having clearly communicated the reason for reversing course. 23andMe continues to grow and pioneer the way we think about consumers exploring their DNA. While we continue to innovate we may also err along the way. We can only promise that we will always listen to and do right by you, our customer, and will never fear having to redirect our course when it is the right thing to do.

Sincerely, Anne Wojcicki

So, now it appears that unless someone has specifically ‘opted in’ to DNA Relatives as a whole, they are automatically ‘opted out,’ a 180 degree reversal.  Of course, if you were one of those 350,000 customers who received a notification about opting out, and did nothing, so that you could be opted in at the end of the 30 days referenced above, you would be thoroughly confused because you THINK you’re now opted in.

23andMe has a habit of posting information on their Forum which members must actively check, instead of sending e-mails to their customers or posting this kind of information on their blog that is sent by subscription. One of the forum followers was kind enough to point out this recent posting detailing changes that have occurred in October and the 23andMe policy moving forward.

hide and seek6hide and seek7It’s signed, Chistine on behalf of the 23andMe Product Team

I can find nothing on the current customer pages providing any information about these decisions or the match status of DNA Relatives/Close Relatives.

Furthermore, 23andMe is now asking some, but not everyone, who are opted in for DNA Relatives if they are sure. My account that was asked tested in 2010, so was not caught in the 2014 selection option confusion.

I feel that this methodology discourages many people from participation. It infers that there is something frightening that you ‘ought to be’ concerned about – especially if you are asked about the same topic several times.

In summary, here is, I think, what we know, as of October 16, 2014.

  • Everyone will have to make a specific choice to opt-in to DNA Relatives, one way or another, after testing.  If you don’t specifically opt-in, you are opted out.  Consent to test apparently doesn’t count as consent for DNA Relatives.
  • Clients prior to June 5, 2014 who were opted in to DNA Relatives but out of Close Relatives will be prompted to select an opt-in with close relatives included, or an opt-out entirely.
  • Clients prior to June 5, 2014, who did opt-in to participate in DNA Relatives, but did not have any selection to make about “Close Relatives” will be required to confirm that they want to continue in DNA Relatives before they can proceed to see their matches. This is apparently the e-mail that I received for one of my kits. It’s still a mystery why I never received it for the others who tested even earlier and clearly before the “Close Relatives” option existed.
  • Clients between June 5, 2014 and October 16, 2014 who were automatically opted in to DNA Relatives with close relatives included will also be prompted to confirm their participation in DNA Relatives and until they do confirm that option, they will not be visible nor able to view close relatives.
  • New customers will be prompted to opt-in or opt-out of DNA Relatives and opt-in will no longer be the default.
  • Participation in DNA Relatives will now include close relatives and that will not be a separate option.

I’m very glad to see that everyone who opts in to DNA Relatives includes close relatives. To do it any other way is not only confusing, it’s more than a little disingenuous, especially given that someone may not realize why their close matches aren’t showing.  I had more than one client have a panic attack when their family member wasn’t showing as a match, especially when they were expecting to see a parent or sibling.  In my opinion, having to enable the “close relatives” option caused huge problems and wholly unwarranted stress.  If it’s truly gone, never to return, I’m very glad and applaud 23andMe for that decision.

The bad news is that many of the 350,000 people referred to in the September community forum posting are still anonymous, and they many not even realize it. Many probably presumed, quite logically, that because they were taking a DNA test that included matches, that they would receive matches without having to do anything further.  Furthermore, they received the 30 day notification that they would be opted in if they did nothing, so they expected to be opted in.  But they aren’t.

Currently, at 23andMe, you have to jump through more hoops to obtain your genealogy results than you did (when they were providing health information) to obtain your health results.  I hope that the message provided to people who are making the “Opt In – Opt Out” decision can be worded a little more encouragingly and present both sides of the risk/reward coin.  I would hate for their entire response to be fear based due to the tone of the selection message and the fact that they have to answer this question repeatedly – like the dreaded Alzheimer’s health question – back when 23andMe was providing health results.

Here, let me give you an example vignette:

Hi, 23andMe, I’d like to test for genealogy matches.

Great, send me $99 and you’re on the way.

Spit…mail….waiting…waiting…

Good news, your results are back.  Do you want to opt into DNA Relatives?  You know you could find out information about your family that is upsetting to you?  It could change your family relations?

Really?  Hmmm…I think I want to see.  That’s why I tested.

Another e-mail:  Are you sure, really positive that you want to remain in DNA Relatives?  You know, you could find out really upsetting information.  You can see other close relatives and they can see you.

Geeze, I don’t know….maybe not…I’ll wait till I sign on next time to deal with this.

Signing on next time….

Do you want to opt-in to DNA Relatives?  You know, you could find out some really disturbing and upsetting things about your family?  It could change your relationship with your family members.

After repeating this warning several times, it begins to appear like 23andMe is discouraging your participation, not informing you of risks and rewards.  There is no upside mentioned, only repeated negatively framed warnings.  Given that genealogy/ancestry is the only reason for the consumer to purchase this product right now, this approach seems a bit counter-intuitive and overkill.  In the least, the warning should be given up front, during the purchase process, and then not constantly repeated.

However, given that 23andMe is still gathering your health information and utilizing it in their medical research, even if you opt-out or don’t opt-in to DNA Relatives, assuming you haven’t opted out of medical research as well, warning you up front would discourage a sale and would prevent them from collecting your genetic data.  In essence, 23andMe doesn’t care one bit whether you opt-in or opt-out of DNA Relatives, but they care a whole lot about your money and your participation in medical research.

The constant changes and hoopla are confusing people and frightening some. Others are becoming too discouraged by a lack of positive genealogical results to continue.

23andMe was first in the game with consumer autosomal testing, but their ever-changing policies have become and remain confusing. They have done nothing to clarify publicly, leaving everyone uncertain and a little reluctant.

23andMe entered the genealogy marketspace, but they seem to be focused on protecting people from genealogy matches. This seems almost like a conflict of interest, or may be better stated, a Kobayashi Maru, or no-win situation. It seems that the health testing aspect is causing 23andMe to adopt such restrictive procedures that it’s making the genealogy aspect of their product increasingly restrictive and difficult.  I’m sure this is reflective of their primary goal, which is medicine, and the fact that genealogists just happened to be interested in genetics as a tool was, for them, a happy accident that provided a source for test subjects.  Genealogy is not something 23andMe is primarily interested in.  I’m sure they aren’t making things difficult intentionally, but the net effect is far from encouraging.

I’m finding that their protections are barriers and the required steps are confusing for customers and self-defeating for genealogy, and they are, unfortunately, cumulative hurdles:

  • Having to specifically opt-in to DNA Relatives, even after consenting to test when purchasing the product which includes matching
  • Having to request to communicate with other participants
  • Having to request to “share DNA”
  • Having to confirm that yes, you really did want to ‘opt in’ to DNA Relatives
  • About a 10% communication request response rate
  • Most of the 10% of the people who do respond know little, if anything, about their genealogy, nor are they terribly interested
  • Having to utilize the 23andMe corporate message system instead of communicate with your matches via e-mail
  • Match limit at 1000 people unless you are communicating with more than that number. After 1000, matches fall off your list.
  • Their terrible trees. Yes, I realize they have recently partnered with My Heritage, but as Judy Russell says, we’ll see.
  • The misleading (health and ancestry) notation in a sharing request which frightens people as to why you want their health information, causing people to decline to share
  • Constant change about who you are/aren’t seeing as matches and why
  • Confusing and conflicting opt-in, opt-out information delivered on four different platforms; e-mail, on your personal page, their blog and their community forum.  In essence, this means that almost everyone except the most dedicated 23andMe follower misses at least part of the information.

23andMe is approaching the point where the pain level of participation is at the threshold of no longer being worthwhile except for extraordinary cases like adoptions where the participant is desperate for any possible crumb.

I thought more about this situation, and I believe that the underlying problem is a fundamental disconnect in the focus of the two groups.  23andMe’s corporate focus is and always has been health related research, compilation and manipulation of genomic “big data.”   Taking a look at their recent American Association of Human Genetics papers is a good yardstick of their corporate focus.  Not one paper mentions the genealogical aspect of their business, and even the paper that does indirectly help genealogists by reducing false positive identical-by-descent segments is presented from a medical perspective.  In essence, the genealogy community is a source for DNA for 23andMe.  They aren’t focused on genealogy or interested in serving this community.  That’s neither good nor bad…it’s just the way it is.

The genealogy community, on the other hand, is frustrated by the increasingly long list of confusing hurdles at 23andMe that people who test for genealogy must navigate before they can reap any of the potential benefits of matching for genealogical purposes.  Each successive hurdle reduces the number of people who complete the course and those who make it to the end are either the died in the wool genealogists who have tested elsewhere anyway or people with little or no knowledge of their genealogy.  Worst case, people who test at 23andMe for genealogy will leave with a bad taste in their mouth and never test again because, frankly, it’s neither easy nor fun.

We don’t know exactly how many people haven’t opted-in for DNA Relatives, but we can surmise some based on their publicly released information.  In the September retraction, 23andMe said that there were 350,000 who had not opted in, or out.  We don’t know how many have actively opted out.  In their ASHG abstract, they mention that 550,000 have consented for research.  That tells us that less than half of their clients are opted in for DNA Relatives, or about 200,000 (assuming no one opted out), or perhaps less now with the recent “are you sure” messages like I received.  Given that only 10% of the people who DO actively opt-in for DNA Relatives respond to inquiries, that’s a whole lot of people not clearing the hurdles for one reason or another.  Of their entire data base of 550,000, only about 20,000 people clear the hurdles and engage, or about 3.5%. That means that there are 530,000, or more if you include the unknown number of opt-outs, who don’t clear the hurdles.

I hope 23andMe gets their cumulative act together relative to genealogy customers. You’d think with genealogy customers being their only source of corporate revenue right now (except for government grants and venture capital), that they would be bending over backwards to make the genealogy related products and processes straightforward, accessible and easy to use.  Now would be a great time for some positive changes!

Navigating 23andMe for Genealogy

When I was young, there was a local woman who was extremely unhappy with her husband’s late night carousing.  He would come home “a bit tipsy” as well, and tried to sneak in unnoticed by leaving the lights off.  She was tired of it, so she got even, er, um, I mean, created a learning moment.

She rearranged all of the furniture and you had to walk through the living room to get to the bedroom.  About 3AM, she heard a huge crash.

Well, that’s what 23andMe did a few weeks ago.  I know they think they improved their website, but they didn’t.  And what they’ve done is cause a huge amount of work for those of us who assist others who have tested at 23andMe.  People can’t find the genealogy tools.  They both renamed them and relocated them and we didn’t even get any new features in the deal.  Where features were located wasn’t intuitive before, and they still aren’t, but now they are in different unintuitive places than they were before.  In other words, stumble, thump, crash – the lights are out and someone’s home.

So, as a matter of self-defense, I’m writing this blog about the basics of how to navigate the 23andMe site and how to utilize their genealogy tools.  It’s easy to miss opportunities if you don’t understand the nuances of their system, and they do have some great tools, by whatever name they call them.

We’re only interested in the genetic genealogy aspect, so we’re not discussing how to navigate the rest of their site.  Yes, there is more to the site than genealogy:)

The sign-on screen still looks the same.  After that, it’s all different.

First, remember that if you manage multiple kits, 23andMe decides which one is your default and you may not come up as “yourself.”  You can solve that by flying over your name in the upper right hand corner and then clicking on “switch profiles.”  I surely wish they would let you select and save your selection permanently.  You have to switch profiles every time you sign on.

Making Yourself Visible

The second thing you need to make sure of is that you ARE sharing, that people can see you.

Fly over the gear on the left hand side of the page at the top.  You’ll see the Settings option, click on that, then look through the options there, but specifically the “Privacy/Consent” tab.

nav 23andme gear

I’ve had people who could not figure out why they never received any invitations and their friends couldn’t find them, and it’s because their selections precluded sharing or did not allow people to search for them.

Here’s part of the Setting page, but you’ll want to review all of the information under your various settings tabs.

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The main page has several panel buttons across the top.  Not all are shown below.  The two we are going to be interested in are the “DNA Relatives” and the “Ancestry Composition.”

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If you want a quick overview of all of your genealogy information at 23andMe, you can click on the “My Ancestry Overview” button, but that’s not where the meat is – it’s  more like an appetizer.

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Here’s an example of the overview page.  Hint, the 4% Scandinavian showing is NOT your results, just the “cover page.”

Ancestry Composition – Ethnic Percentages

Click on Ancestry Composition.

You’ll see your own results in a circle chart.

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You can toggle the “standard” estimate to speculative or conservative in the drop down box at the upper right.  You can also change this circle to “chromosome view” which is really interesting.  The bar graph shows me that the two locations with identifiable Native American ancestry are found on my chromosomes 1 and 2.

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If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I took this information and ran with it.  Here’s the link to “The Autosomal Me” series.

If you’re interested in taking this further and trying to identify your lines that match up with different ethnic admixtures, take a look at the series, especially Part 4, “The Autosomal Me, Testing Company Results.”  You’ll need to utilize some special download techniques and tools found outside of 23andMe, such as www.dnagedcom.com and you’ll also be utilizing www.gedmatch.com as well.  What 23andMe provides you in this category is just the beginning.

Finding Matches

There are four ways to find and select people at 23andMe to invite to share their DNA with you.  23andMe is different than Family Tree DNA.  At Family Tree DNA, you are testing FOR genealogy, nothing else, so when you sign your authorization and consent for comparison, it speaks only to genealogy data, not medical data.  So everyone at Family Tree DNA is sharing unless they specifically elect not to.  23andMe also provides health information and many who tested for health traits are not interested in genealogy, so in order to share any information at 23andMe, you must invite them to share and they must agree.

Of course, 23andMe shows you a thumbnail of who you match, but there are several ways to refine and be selective about this process.

Searching for Specific People

If you know who you want to invite to match, enter their e-mail address, their name, their surname or their nickname at 23andMe in the main site search box.  If they have allowed searching and have tested at 23andMe, a link to request sharing will be shown, similar to the screen below.

Finding People with Common Surnames

First of all, to find people whose surnames include those in your family tree as well, in the general site search box, type in the surname you’re hunting for. Let’s hope it’s not Smith.

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The results of that search in all categories on the 23andMe site are shown, and you can click on any of the categories for more information.  In my case, I see that there are more than 100 people whose information includes Estes.  I can click on any of the links that say “invite so-and-so” to invite them to share with me.  I always customize the message.  Many people don’t reply to “generic” messages that don’t say why someone is asking to compare.

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Finding Genetic Matches

To see whose DNA you match, click on Family and Friends, then on DNA Relatives.

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The first person on your list, is you.  This is a good sanity check to be sure you’re comparing the right profile and not your cousins when you thought it was your own.

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Next you’ll see your closest matches.  These folks I’m most closely related to are my “Blessed Cousin Circle” who graciously provided their DNA so I could utilize it to figure how who matched whom.  Like a huge family puzzle, with no picture on the box cover.

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On down the list a ways are folks who I match but with whom I’m not yet sharing.  Geeze, guess I’d better try to fix that!

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Looking down the list, I see that few have included much information, which is sometimes an indication that they’re either not interested or don’t know a lot about their genealogy.  But look, there’s one with quite a bit of information near the bottom of the list.  Great.  But wait….oh no….I’ve already sent an invitation and never heard back.  That’s OK though, because I can send another message by clicking on “View” and then “Compose.”  Again, I always include a personal message.  Some people include links to their family trees in these messages as well.

Searching for Surnames within Genetic Matches

Let’s say I want to be more specific and I want to target people on my match list that have a specific surname.  I want to see who among my genetic matches also shares the Bolton surname in a genealogical line.

In the “search matches” box at the top of the list of names, I entered Bolton, my father’s mother’s maiden name.

The list returned is small.  The first person, Stacy, is my cousin and I know her genealogy quite well, so that surname match is expected.  But I don’t’ know the second person, Janet, and I need to investigate this further.

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Remember, this is a surname search of those who match genetically.  Even though Janet and I share a common surname and some DNA, our match may NOT be through the Bolton line.  In fact, it could be on my mother’s side instead.

So as a quick check, since I manage my Cousin Stacy’s DNA account, and she is related through my father, I’m going to see if she matches Janet too. If so, then that means the match is from my father’s line, and could well be the Bolton family.  This technique is called triangulation.

Stacy does not match Janet, so that means that more genealogy work is in order to see if the Henry Bolton (1759-1846) ancestral line is our common line. It could simply be that Stacy and Janet are too far removed from a common ancestor and Bolton is the correct genealogy line, but they don’t share a large enough segment of DNA to show up on each other’s lists.

The other potential issue is that either Stacy or Janet is over their 1000 match limit imposed by 23andMe, so they might actually match each other, but have fallen off the match list.  This is becoming a larger and larger issue.  I’m over that limit as are most people who have Jewish heritage and many who carry colonial American genealogy.  So far, 23andMe has declined to address this growing issue.  It makes drawing any conclusions from this type of triangulation impossible through a vendor-imposed handicap.

Composite Surnames

On the DNA Relatives Page, click on the surname link in the upper right hand corner.  What this shows you are the number of the various surnames on your list as compared to how rare they are in the general population.  This is your signal that something is up, so to speak, and it might be your lucky day.

My most “enriched” surname is Vannoy.  This means that it appears 7 times in my match list, including as one of my own historical surnames, and it’s quite rare otherwise, which is why the 98 on the enrichment bar and the fact that is it is my more prevalent rare surname.

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Looking down the list, this implies that maybe Henley is one of my family names that I’m not aware of.  Maybe I should contact the Henley matches and see if there is anything in common between them, genealogically, and if I have any dead ends where their ancestors are located.  Maybe I should see if their DNA and mine overlaps in any common location.  The easiest way to do that would be to use the downloaded spreadsheet via www.dnagedcom.com because then we can see everyone who matches those segments of DNA, including those who have tested at Family Tree DNA because I’ve downloaded that file into my spreadsheet as well.

You can click on the surname and your matches will be displayed, including ones you’re sharing with and ones you aren’t.  In this case, I clicked on McNeil and discovered my matches are all my cousins, so nothing new to be discovered here.

I did notice that not all my surnames are present.  For example, Estes is missing.  I’m not sure how 23andMe selects the names to include, and there is no “page help,” so I’m just glad for the ones that are present on the list.

Chromosome Comparison Tool

Ok, now that you’ve found matches and they are sharing with you, what’s next?  The next tool is the chromosome comparison tool, found under Family and Friends, then Family Traits.

This tool allows you to compare any two people on your list of matches, including the X chromosome which is inherited differently and can be a very important genealogy hint.

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Here’s  a comparison of me and my cousin, Cheryl.  Her father and my grandfather were brothers, so we share quite a bit of DNA.  And because I know where it comes from, genealogically, anyone who matches both of us on these segments shares our ancestry too.  No, you can’t do that “compare all” function at 23andMe, but your downloaded spreadsheet will handle that quite nicely.

Update:  Venice points out that Family Traits does one thing that Family Inheritance: Advanced doesn’t do – it identifies fully identical segments vs. half identical segments.  Most segments between genetic relatives are half identical, but (full) siblings will have a fair amount that’s fully identical.  Family Traits also shows the locations of the centromeres and other low-data zones.

Family Inheritance, Advanced

Under the Ancestry Tools tab, there is one more tool I want to discuss briefly.  Unfortunately, it’s not as useful as it could be because of the way it has been implemented.

This tool allows you to compare yourself with up to three other kits whom you match, except for public matches.  Unfortunately, I have several public matches and I’d love to be able to do this comparison.  For example, I’d like to compare myself to my cousin Stacy and Janet, but because Janet is a public match, she’s not available on my list:(

Update:  Kitty has found a way to allow for Public match comparisons.  “To offer to share with a public person you have to click on their name at the left to go to their profile and then click the words Invite (name) to share genomes located at the top right.”  Thank you Kitty!

Red Herring Matches

Let’s use Family Inheritance Advanced as an example of two people who match me on the same segment, but are from opposite sides of my family.  I know when we talk about this, people secretly say to themselves, “yea, but how often does that really happen, I mean, what are the chances.?”  Well, here’s the answer.  Better chances that winning the lottery, for sure, and I mean the scratch off tickets where you win a dollar!

My cousins Stacy and Cheryl are from Dad’s and Mom’s side of the family, respectively.  We know they don’t share common ancestry, but look, they both match me on four of the same segments.

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How is this possible, you ask.  Remember, I have two halves of each chromosome, one from Mom and one from Dad.  It just so happens that Cheryl and Stacy both match me on the same segment, but they are actually matching two different sides of my chromosome.

Now let’s prove this to the doubting Thomas’s out there.

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Here is the comparison of Cheryl and Stacy directly to each other.  They do have one small matching segment, 6 cM, so on the small side.  But they don’t match each other on any of the segments where I match both of them.

If they did match each other and me on the same locations, it would mean that we three have common ancestry.  This is another example of triangulation.

The fact that they match each other on one segment could also mean they have distant common ancestry, which could be from one of our common lines or a line that I don’t share with them, or it could mean they have an identical by state (IBS) segment, meaning they come from a common population someplace hundreds to thousands of years ago.

The real message here is that you can never, ever, assume.  We all know about assume, and if you do, it will.  In this case, assuming would have been easy if you didn’t have the big picture, because both of these family lines contain Millers from Ohio living in close proximity in the 1800s.  However these Miller lines have been proven not to be the same lines (via Yline testing) and therefore, any assumptions would have been incorrect, despite the suggestive location and in-common names. Furthermore, one Miller line married into my cousin Stacy’s line after our common ancestor, so is not blood related to me.  But conclusions are easy to jump to, especially for excited or inexperienced genetic genealogists.  It’s tempting even for those of us who are fairly seasoned now, but after you’ve been burned a few times, you do learn some modicum of restraint!

Downloading Your Raw Data

Downloading your raw data is not the same thing as using www.dnagedcom.com to download your chromosome start and stop locations for your matches.  Your raw data is just that, raw data.

It looks like this and it’s thousands and thousands of lines long. It’s your actual values at different DNA locations.  The rsid is the location on the reference human genome, followed by the chromosome number, the position address on that chromosome, and the nucleotide given to you by each of your parents.

# rsid  chromosome position    genotype

rs3094315    1        742429         AA

It’s doesn’t mean anything in this format, but after analyzing it using complex software, this information, combined, can tell you who you match, your ethnicity and more, of course.  You’ll want to do a couple of things with your raw data file.

First, use this link to download it.  They’ve hidden the link well on their site.  I can never find it, so I just keep this link handy.

https://www.23andme.com/you/download/

Consider uploading your raw data to www.gedmatch.com.  It’s a donation site (meaning free but donations accepted) created for genetic genealogists by genetic genealogists and it has a lot more tools than any of the testing companies alone.  Think of it as a genetic genealogy sandbox.  One of the benefits is that people from all 3 testing companies, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA and Ancestry.com can upload their data and compare to each other.  The down side is that many people don’t know about GedMatch and don’t utilize it.

Last, consider transferring your results to Family Tree DNA.  At Family Tree DNA, the people who test are interested in genealogy – they are genealogists or their family members.  You are much more likely to receive responses to inquiries and you don’t have to invite people and wait for acceptance.  Even when people don’t reply to your inquiries at Family Tree DNA, you can still utilize the comparison tools to compare up to any 5 of matches, seeing where they match you and each other.  I’ve utilized this tool numerous times, an example of which you can find in the Davenport article and the Autosomal Basics article.  To transfer your results to Family Tree DNA for $99, which is less than retesting, click on this link, then click on “Products.”

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Then scroll down to “Third Party” and the product you’re looking for is “Transfer Relative Finder” which used to be the name of the 23andMe products before they rearranged the furniture.nav 23andme 18

Happy swimming in the genetic genealogy pools. Let’s hope you meet some family there!

No (DNA) Bullying

No Bullying

There are hardly any hobbies that hold more passion than genealogy.  Once hooked by the bug, most people never retire and one of the things they worry about passing down to their family are their genealogy records – even if the family of today isn’t terribly interested.

So it’s easy to understand the degree of passion and enthusiasm, but sometimes this passion can kind of go astray and it crosses the line from something positive to something not nearly so nice.

Genetic genealogy is the latest tool in the genealogists’ arsenal, but it introduces some new challenges and unfortunately, with the increased number of people testing, we’re seeing some examples of what I consider bullying – for DNA, for identification and for information.

Bullying is unwelcome aggressive behavior that involves repeated threats, physical or electronic contact or a real or perceived imbalance of power.  Generally, the victim feels they can’t make it stop.  This has become especially prevalent in the cyber age.  And bullying is not just about kids.

I’m going to look at 3 types of situations.  It’s easy to see both perspectives, but bullying by any other name is still bullying, even though the bully probably doesn’t see it that way.  Guaranteed, the recipient does.

You’ve Got the DNA I Need

Let’s say that Aunt Gladys is the last person alive in a particular line who can provide DNA to represent that line.  But Aunt Gladys, for whatever reason, doesn’t want to test.  It’s fine to discuss this, to talk about her concerns, and perhaps you can find a solution to address them, like testing anonymously.

But let’s say that Aunt Gladys simply says “no,” end of story.  What then?

Yes, Aunt Gladys carries the information that you need, but it’s HER DNA that needs to be tested, and if she says no, then her decision should be respected, as difficult as it may be and as unreasonable as it may seem.  Maybe Aunt Gladys knows something you don’t – like she is adopted or some other secret that she does not wish to reveal.  Badgering Aunt Gladys from this point forward is going to do nothing other than cause hard feelings and make Aunt Gladys want to avoid you.

You may think you’re “just discussing” but from her perspective, you may be bullying.  Now, it’s OK to beg and cry once, but if you’re slipped into the realm of “if you don’t test, I’ll tell Uncle Harvey that you scratched his car back in 1953,” you’ve stepped over that line.

Won’t Answer E-Mails

I can’t tell you how often I hear this story.  “I match with person XYZ and they won’t share their information.”  Most of the time, they won’t answer e-mails.  And the question follows, of course, as to why they tested in the first place.

These tests have been around for a number of years now.  Many people have died or moved or the purpose of the test was fulfilled and they aren’t interested beyond that.  Think of your Aunt Gladys.  If you did convince her to test, it wouldn’t be for her, but for you and she certainly would not be interested in answering random e-mails.

There could be a number of reasons, depending on the testing company used, that someone might not answer.  In particular, many people test at 23andMe for health reasons.  It doesn’t matter to them if you’re a first cousin or any other relation, they simply aren’t interested or don’t have the answers for you.

It’s alright to send 2 or 3 e-mails to someone.  E-mails do get lost sometimes.  But beyond that, you’ve put yourself into the nuisance category.  But you can be even worse than a nuisance.

I know of one case where someone googled the e-mail of their contact, discovered the person was a doctor, and called them at the office.  That is over the line into cyber-stalking.  If they wanted to answer the e-mail, they would have.  If they don’t want to, their decision needs to be respected.

I Know You Know

This situation can get even uglier.  I’ve heard of two or three situations recently.  One was at Ancestry where someone had a DNA match and their trees matched as well.  At first the contact was cordial, but then it deteriorated into one person insisting that the other person had information they weren’t divulging and from there it deteriorated even further.

This is a hobby.  It’s supposed to be fun.  This is not 7th grade.

Adoptions

However, there are other situations much more volatile and potentially serious. In some cases, often in adoptions, people don’t want contact.  Sometimes it’s the parent and sometimes it’s the adoptee.  But those aren’t the only people involved.  There are sometimes half-siblings that are found or cousins.

For the adoptees and the parents, there are laws in each state that govern the release of their legal paperwork to protect both parties.  Either party can opt out at any time.

But for inadvertently discovered family connections, this isn’t true.  Think of the person who doesn’t know they are adopted, for example, who discovers a half-sibling and through that half sibling their biological mother.  Neither person may welcome or be prepared for this discovery or contact.

Imagine this at the dinner table with the family gathered, “Hey guess what, I got a half-sibling match today on my DNA.  I wonder if that’s some kind of mistake.  How could that be?”

So if you match someone as a half sibling or a cousin, and they don’t want to continue the conversation, be kind and respectful, and leave the door open to them if they change their mind in the future.  Pushing them can only be hurtful and nonproductive.

Dirty Old (and Formerly Young) Men

And then, there’s the case of the family pervert.  Every family seems to have one.  But it’s not always who you think it is.  By the very nature of being a pervert, they hide their actions – and they can be very, very good at it.  Practice makes perfect.

Let’s say that Jane likes genealogy, but she was molested as a child by Cousin Fred.  Some of the family knows about this, and some don’t believe it.  The family was split by this incident, but it was years in the past now.  Jane wants nothing to do with Fred’s side of the family.

(By the way, if you think this doesn’t happen, it does.  About 20% of woman have been raped, 30% of them by family members (incest), many more molested, and children often by relatives or close family friends.  15% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 12.  Many childhood cases are never prosecuted because the children are too young to testify.  Perverts and pedophiles don’t wear t-shirts announcing such or have a “P” tattooed on their forehead.  Often family members find it hard to believe and don’t, regardless of the evidence, casting the victimized child in the position of being a liar and “troublemaker.”  Need convincing?  Think of what Ariel Castro’s family said and how well he hid his dark side and the Boston bombers’ family comments about their innocence in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.)

Jane’s an adult now and DNA tests.  She has a match and discovers that it’s on Fred’s side of the family.  Jane tells the person that she doesn’t want anything to do with that side of the family, has no genealogy information and wants no contact.  The match doesn’t believe Jane and then becomes insistent, then demanding, then accusatory, then threatening.

This is clearly over the line.  Jane said she didn’t want any continued contact.  That should have been the end of the discussion.

But let’s say this one gets worse.  Let’s say that because of this, Cousin Fred wakes up and decides that Jane is interesting again and begins to stalk Jane, and her children……

Does this make you shake in your shoes?  It should.  Criminals not only aren’t always playing with a full deck, but don’t play by any of the same rules as the rest of us.  Cousin Fred might just be very grateful for that information about Jane and view it as a wonderful “opportunity,” provided by his “supportive” family member who has now endangered both Jane and her children.

Who’s Yer Daddy?

In another recent situation, John discovered by DNA testing that he is not the biological child of his father.  He subsequently discovered that his mother was raped by another male, married to another close family member.  When John discovered that information, he promptly lost interest in genealogy altogether.

A year or so later, John matched someone closely who was insistent that he provide them with how he was related to them.  John knew, but he did not feel that it was any of their business and he certainly did not want to explain any of the situation to the perpetrator’s family member, who, by the way, had already mentioned what a good person the perpetrator was.  However, the person continued to harass and badger John until he changed his e-mail address.

I so wanted to ask these people, “What part of “NO” don’t you understand?”

Mama’s Baby, Daddy’s Maybe

In one final example, adoptees often make contact with their birth mother first, and then, if at all, with their birth father.  Sometimes the birth mothers are not cooperative with the (now adult) child about the identity of their father.  Often, this is horribly frustrating to the adoptee.  In at least one case, I know of a birth mother who would never tell, leaving the child an envelope when she died.  The child was just sure the father’s name was in the envelope, but it was not.  I can only imagine that level of disappointment.

Why would someone be so reticent to divulge this information?  The primary reasons seem to be that either the mother doesn’t know due to a variety of circumstances that can range from intoxication to rape, the woman never told the father that she had a baby and placed the child for adoption, the father was abusive and the mother was/is afraid of him/his family, the father was married, or the father was a relative, which means not only might the father still be alive, the mother may still have a relationship of some type with him.  The mother may have lied for years to protect herself, and in doing so, protected the father as well.

Clearly, this situation has a lot of potential to “shift” a lot of lives and not always in positive ways.  One woman didn’t want to make contact with her child other than one time because she had never told her husband of 30 years that she had a child before their marriage.  One woman made contact, but did not want to divulge that the child’s father was her older brother, still alive.  Victims often keep the secrets of their attackers out of misplaced shame and guilt.  Think Oprah here.  Mother may not be simply being stubborn, but acting like the victim she is and trying to preserve whatever shreds of dignity are left to her.  She may also be embarrassed by a lapse in judgment.  One adoptee realized when counting forward from her birth date that she was conceived right at New Years and when she realized that, she figured out that her mother, who drank heavily when she was younger, probably did not know who her father was, and didn’t want to admit that.

As frustrating as this is for the adoptee, the birth mother does have the right not to have her life turned upside down.  Badgering her will only result in losing the potential for a relationship from the current time forward.  Being respectful, understanding and gentle may open the door for future information.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

I can hear Aretha now.

If you haven’t walked a mile in their moccasins, so to speak, you can’t possibly know the situation of the person on the other end of your request for DNA or information.  Don’t make the mistake of stepping over the line from excitement into bully behavior.

Think of the potential situations the person on the other end may be dealing with.  Ultimately, if they say no, then no it is and no should be enough without an explanation of why.  Generally bullying doesn’t work anyway, because someone who feels like you are threatening them or being too aggressive will clam right up and it will be that proverbial cold day in Hades before they tell you anything.  It’s important to keep communications from sounding like you’re demanding or entitled.  My mother always said “you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”  I always found that very irritating, probably because I needed to hear it just then – but regardless – it’s true.

Keep in mind, genetic genealogy is about genealogy.  It’s a hobby.   It’s fun.  If it becomes otherwise and puts people at jeopardy, then we need to take a step back and take a deep breath.

Most people don’t mean to cross the line into bullying.  They just get excited and sometimes desperate.  Hopefully this discussion will help us all be more aware of where the polite line is in communicating with our family members and matches.

If you are the victim of information bullying, cyber-stalking or someone puts you in an uncomfortable situation, there are steps you can take to remedy the situation.  Most bullying sites are directed at adolescents, but the advice still applies.

If you know you don’t want contact initially, then make your accounts anonymous or don’t respond to requests.  If you realize that you don’t want contact after the initial contact, for whatever reason, say so.  After that, do not engage in communications with someone who is attempting to bully you.  If they threaten you or threaten to reveal information or your identity if you don’t give them information or do something, that action falls into the blackmail realm, which a crime.  Complying with a threat to protect yourself or your family generally only results in more of the same.  You are not dealing with a nice person.  At this point, you are way beyond genealogy and your own internal “danger” sign should be flashing bright neon red.

If disengaging does not take care of the problem, save all messages/contacts and contact your attorney who may advise you to contact the police or the FBI if the problem crosses state lines.  Depending on what state you/they live in and exactly what they have done, you may have a variety of options if they won’t stop, especially if they do something that does in fact manage to turn your life upside down and/or a crime is involved, like blackmail.  Of course, this is akin to closing the barn door after the cow leaves.  Hopefully, the person causing the problem is simply an over-zealous genealogist, means you no harm, realizes what they have done or are doing, and will get a grip and compose themselves long before this point.

Bullying of course is not because of DNA or unique to genetic genealogy, but the new products introduce new social situations that we have not previously had tools to discover nor the opportunity to address in quite the same way.