Ancestry’s “Your DNA Sample Has Been Destroyed” Email

Many AncestryDNA customers received an email from Ancestry stating that their DNA sample has been destroyed, as requested – but they did not make any request.

This email is generating a significant amount of confusion and angst.

  • These customers did NOT request that their DNA sample be destroyed.
  • Many people weren’t even aware that their sample had been retained. It’s not clear that their samples have/had been retained at this point.
  • Furthermore, many of these customers either have not signed up for the Human Diversity Project, or weren’t aware that they had.

Please note that destroying your DNA sample is NOT the same thing as removing or deleting your DNA RESULTS. The DNA sample is what is left over in the spit vial after processing. Your results would be unaffected. Deleting your results is an entirely separate and disconnected process not being discussed here.

Not an April Fools Joke

Yes, I know this is April 1st, but this is not an April Fool’s Joke, nor is it spam or a phishing attempt. The return email address seems quite legitimate, the same as other Ancestry communications, and Ancestry is aware that it was sent.

This appears to be an erroneous email issue. We have no idea what subgroup of customers received this email. Don’t you just hate it when your email system goes rogue like that:)

Several people have contacted Ancestry support and have been told a number of things:

  • It’s an erroneous email and Ancestry is having problems with their email system.
  • Their sample has NOT been destroyed.
  • Ancestry cannot tell them which sample is being referenced, for people who manage multiple samples.
  • Ancestry will get back with them.

I should also mention that this is not the first time this exact same thing has happened. Someone forwarded me this same email last fall.

It’s unclear whether any samples were actually destroyed, although I suspect this truly is simply an email issue.

However, as a consumer, it really doesn’t matter because there is nothing you can do with your stored sample at Ancestry anyway. No upgrades are or ever were available. Ancestry already destroyed their Y and mitochondrial DNA database in 2014, so that kind of testing clearly isn’t going to happen.

Sample Storage

Currently, during the kit activation process, you consent or do not consent to DNA sample storage.

You, the customer, cannot access this archived DNA for any reason, and there are no product upgrades. Ancestry’s short-lived health product required a new sample for processing.

There is no reason that benefits the customer to allow Ancestry to archive their DNA. If you opt-in to Ancestry’s Human Diversity Project, Ancestry will retain your DNA sample for additional processing.

You must explicitly choose to archive or not during kit activation.

It wasn’t always this way. For a long time, there was a question about whether or not the customer’s DNA sample was actually retained after processing. I’m still not sure about mine, because I was one of the earliest testers before the current options had been put in place. Here’s my 2012 consent process. In 2015, when Ancestry began monetizing our DNA, Judy Russell wrote about that here and I wrote about it here.

I should request the destruction of my DNA samples after this settles down and see what happens.

Hmmm…this could be confusing. For people who DID request the destruction of their DNA sample, and received this email, how do they know if their sample has actually been destroyed or if the email is erroneous? But I digress…

Opting-In or Out of the Human Diversity Project

Unless you opted-in to the “Human Diversity Project” which is Ancestry’s research project where they sell either your DNA or access to your DNA to collaborators or partners for unspecified research, there is no reason for Ancestry to retain your actual DNA sample.

Their email confirmed that their Human Diversity Project research partners perform additional processing on your DNA sample.

You can check or change your research consent settings under the “Settings” gear on the far right of your DNA page.

You can opt-in or out at any time, but if your DNA is already being used in a project when you change your mind, revocation of consent is not retroactive. Your DNA just won’t be used for any future research initiatives.

Here’s Ancestry’s Informed Consent document discussing the Human Diversity Project that everyone considering that option should read, thoroughly. Understand that you will not be notified if or when your sample is being used, nor what the research is for. I would be a lot more comfortable if customers could opt-in for specific research subjects/projects and it wasn’t just a “black box” of consent. Personally, I want to know where my DNA is and what it’s being used for.

If you have questions about any of this, please contact Ancestry support for clarification.

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