DNA Testing the Recently Deceased

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

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

What can you do?

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

Swabbing the dead

Swabbing the Deceased

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

For genealogy, you have two options.

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

Caveats and Alternatives

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

Ordering

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

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

Three Data Bases in One Test

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

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

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on the link to one of the vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genographic Project Prepares to Shut Down Consumer Data Base

Today, on the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project page, we find this announcement:

Genographic end

This is a sad day indeed.

  • Effective May 31, 2019, you can no longer purchase Genographic kits.
  • If you currently have an unsubmitted kit, you may still be able to submit it for processing. See this link for more information about your specific kit.
  • The Genographic website will be taken down December. 31, 2020. Your results will be available for viewing until then, but not after that date.
  • Data will be maintained internally by the Genographic project for scientific analysis, but will not be otherwise available to consumers. Miguel Vilar with the Genographic Project assures me that the underlying scientific research will continue.

Please Transfer Your DNA Results

The original Genographic project had two primary goals. The first being to obtain your own results, and the second being to participate in research.

If you are one of the 997,222 people in 140 countries around the world who tested, you may be able to transfer your results.

Depending on which version of the Genographic test you’ve taken, you can still preserve at least some of the benefit, for yourself and to scientific research.

Family Tree DNA Genographic transfer

Note that only Y and mitochondrial DNA results can be transferred, because that’s all that was tested. How much information can be transferred is a function of which level test you initially took, meaning the version 1 or version 2 test.

According to the Family Tree DNA Learning Center, people who transfer their results also qualify for a $39 Family Finder kit, which is the lowest price I’ve ever seen anyplace for an autosomal DNA test.

  • If you tested within the US in November 2016 or after, you tested on the Helix platform and your results cannot be transferred to Family Tree DNA.

If you have already tested your Y (males only) and mitochondrial DNA at Family Tree DNA, there is no need to transfer Genographic data. Family Tree DNA information will be more complete.

Salvage as Much as Possible

As a National Geographic Society Genographic Project Affiliate Researcher and long-time supporter, I’m utterly heartsick to see this day.

Please transfer what you can to salvage as much as possible. We already lost the Sorenson data base, Ancestry’s Y and mitochondrial DNA data base along with YSearch and MitoSearch. How much Y and mitochondrial DNA information, critical to genealogists and the history of humanity, has been lost forever?

Let’s not lose the Genographic Project information too. Please salvage as much as possible by transferring – and spread the word.

Please feel free to repost or preprint this article.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on the link to one of the vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

 Genealogy Research

MyHeritage Expands DNA Testing to Include (Optional) Health Information

Recently, I received news that MyHeritage is now offering a DNA test for genealogy that can also be utilized to obtain health information. I had some questions about the service and reached out to MyHeritage, so after I share their announcement, I’ll provide the information I received from MyHeritage.

The MyHeritage Health service is different from the services currently provided by either 23andMe or, individually, Promethease, by uploading your file.

MyHeritage Health and Ancestry.png

The text of the MyHeritage announcement e-mail follows below:

The new test provides comprehensive health reports that can empower future health and lifestyle choices. It is a superset of the current MyHeritage DNA test and includes its pillar features: a percentage breakdown of ethnic origins and matching to relatives through shared DNA. MyHeritage is now the only global consumer DNA company to offer an extensive health and ancestry product in dozens of languages. The two tests will be offered on our website side by side.

The new test provides health reports that show users their risk of developing or carrying genetic conditions. Reports include conditions where single genes contribute to the risk, such as hereditary breast cancer, late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and late-onset Parkinson’s disease; conditions associated with multiple genes, such as heart disease, and type 2 diabetes; and carrier status reports on conditions that can be passed down from a couple to their children, such as Tay-Sachs disease and cystic fibrosis.

Learn more about the MyHeritage DNA Health + Ancestry test by reading the press release and the blog post.

For an overview of the new test, you are invited to view the “About MyHeritage DNA Health + Ancestry Test” video. This video has a separate version for US users.

The MyHeritage DNA Health + Ancestry kit is available at the price of $199 + shipping on the MyHeritage DNA website. Users who have already purchased the genealogical (ancestry-only) MyHeritage DNA test can upgrade to receive health reports for $120. The new health kit is available globally except in a few countries that do not allow health-related consumer genetic testing.

Privacy is our top priority. All health data is protected by state-of-the-art encryption. Health report data is secured using additional password protection and is so secure that even MyHeritage employees cannot access it. MyHeritage has never licensed or sold user data, and has committed to never do so without explicit user consent. MyHeritage is the only consumer DNA company that has pledged to never sell data to insurance companies. It also applies a strict policy to prohibit the use of its DNA services by law enforcement agencies.

There’s more detail in the MyHeritage press release:

In total, MyHeritage’s Health+Ancestry test covers one of the most extensive ranges of conditions offered by an at-home DNA test: 11 Genetic Risk Reports, including a hereditary breast cancer (BRCA) report that tests 10 pathogenic variants; 3 Polygenic Risk Reports; and 15 Carrier Status Reports.

The World Health Organization identifies cardiovascular disease as the number one cause of death globally. This makes MyHeritage’s unique report for heart disease risk particularly beneficial. This report is based on a cutting-edge method called Polygenic Risk Score that examines hundreds, and in some cases thousands of variants across the entire genome.

In addition to heart disease, the Health+Ancestry product also includes a Polygenic Risk Score for type 2 diabetes, a condition that has significantly increased in prevalence in recent decades and now affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide and 40% of Americans within their lifetime. MyHeritage is also unique in providing a third Polygenic Risk Score for breast cancer, which delivers a risk assessment for breast cancer when none of the BRCA variants that MyHeritage tests for are found. MyHeritage is currently the only major home DNA testing company to offer Polygenic Risk Reports for multiple conditions, and more Polygenic Risk Reports will be added shortly after the product’s initial release. The three initial Polygenic Risk Reports support only populations with European ancestry, but the company has begun conducting research to allow the polygenic reports to cover a broader spectrum of populations in the future.

The list of conditions and genes reported can be found here.

The unique aspect of the MyHeritage Health test is that they include diseases or conditions that are polygenic, meaning that multiple locations on multiple genes are taken into consideration in combination to create the report.

From the MyHeritage blog, for people in the US:

In the United States, we work with an independent network of physicians called PWNHealth, which supervises this new service and provides clinical oversight.

As with our current genealogical DNA kit, activation is required to associate the kit with the individual who is taking the test. With the MyHeritage DNA Health + Ancestry kit, activation must be done by the user who took the DNA test and it includes an additional step: completing a personal and family health history questionnaire. This ensures that users receive the reports that are appropriate for them. In the United States, an independent physician will review each health history questionnaire, approve the processing of the test, and evaluate all health reports before they are released. When a report indicates an increased risk for a specific condition, the physician will further determine whether genetic counseling is advised. If genetic counseling is recommended, a phone or video consultation with a genetic counselor from PWNHealth is included at no additional cost.

In the United States, the physician oversight and genetic counseling is an important benefit of the MyHeritage DNA Ancestry + Health test. This ensures that users will not be on their own when interpreting the results, in cases where the results indicate increased risk and the physician considers genetic counseling to be essential. In other words, our test provides access to experts who can help people understand their results, which our major competitor does not provide.

I personally feel that the physician oversight and access to a counselor is extremely important. I greatly appreciate that the counselor is included free in cases that merit that level of attention.

Of course, having taken the 23andMe test and utilized Promethease, I’m curious what the MyHeritage information might reveal that wasn’t covered in either of those others. In particular, my father had heart disease and my sister died of a heart attack, so I’m particularly concerned about heart health.

Questions, Answers and Things to Note

  • If you transferred your DNA to MyHeritage from any vendor, you’ll need to test on the MyHeritage chip in order to receive the health reports.
  • The health part of the test is not available to residents of NY, NH and RI due to their state laws. Sorry folks.
  • If you tested your DNA at MyHeritage, you are eligible for an upgrade to the Health product for the price of $120 by signing on to your account here and clicking on the Health tab. If you do not see the $120 upgrade option, that means that you are not eligible for the upgrade because you either haven’t tested yet, or you transferred your DNA file from another vendor.

MyHeritage Health.png

  • To order a new DNA+Health test or upgrade, click here. Current subscribers after signing on will see the new Health tab beside the DNA tab.

MyHeritage DNA tab.png

  • If you order a DNA kit without ordering through the Health tab, you’ll receive an Ancestry only test, but you can still upgrade for the $120 later, so don’t worry.

Occasionally, you can save a few $$ by ordering the initial genealogy-only MyHeritage DNA kit on sale, like for the current price of $59, then wait until your results are back and order the upgrade for $120, for a total of $179 – representing a $20 savings over the $199 price for the Ancestry+Health kit. Now is a great time to order!

  • The upgrade or purchase of the Health test provides initial health information for the first year, but after year 1, if you want updated health information as it becomes available, a health subscription costs $99 per year.

MyHeritage Health subscription.png

I was confused about exactly what the $99 Health Subscription covers, so I asked MyHeritage if I already have a full subscription (which I do, love, and you can try for free), would I still need to purchase the $99 Health Subscription?

I received the following reply:

Yes, you would still need the $99 Health Subscription, if you wish to gain access to all new Genetic Risk and Carrier Status Reports as they are released, beyond those you will get in your initial health results. None of the current subscriptions negates the need for the additional Health subscription for receiving health updates.

However, the Health Subscription will also unlock the advanced MyHeritage DNA genealogical features (see https://blog.myheritage.com/2018/12/starting-today-new-dna-upload-policy/) such as AutoClusters and Theory of Family Relativity.

So, a non-genealogist who buys the new MyHeritage DNA Health+Ancestry kit and adds the health subscription will not need to buy another type of subscription to unlock the advanced MyHeritage DNA genealogical features.

What’s Next?

MyHeritage Kit.jpg

I literally have my new MyHeritage DNA kit in my hands (because I transferred by DNA from another vendor initially) and I’m getting ready to swab.

After I receive my results, I’ll write a comparison about my MyHeritage health results as compared to my 23andMe results.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on the link to one of the vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

GedMatch Implements Required Opt-In for Law Enforcement Matching

GedMatch has provided an autosomal suite of tools for genealogists that isn’t offered elsewhere for several years now. Their basic service is free but their advanced tools, known at Tier 1, are subscription. GedMatch is comprised of two individuals, Curtis Rogers and his partner. I know them both and have for years.

Every serious genealogist uses or has used GedMatch because it’s the only place that provides the unique blend of tools they offer. In addition to testing at or transferring to multiple vendors, GedMatch is an integral part of fishing in every pond.

However, GedMatch has been under fire for a year.

Law Enforcement Kit Matching

In April 2018, GedMatch made news, and eventually the New York Times, when the database was utilized to catch the Golden State Killer (GSK). I wrote about that here.

GedMatch felt that they were unable to stop the uploading of forensic kits, meaning kits created from evidence left at crime scenes, so they chose to embrace working with law enforcement to catch violent criminals and identify victims whose DNA is obtained from their remains.

How often does this really work?

In the fall of 2018, a paper titled Re-dentification of genomic data using long range familiar searches was published by Yaniv Erlich et al and stated:

“Here, we leveraged genomic data of 600,000 individuals tested with consumer genomics to investigate the power of such long-range familial searches. We project that half of the searches with European-descent individuals will result with a third cousin or closer match and will provide a search space small enough to permit re-identification using common demographic identifiers. Moreover, in the near future, virtually any European-descent US person could be implicated by this technique.”

This certainly gives law enforcement reason to believe that if they could upload evidence kits from violent crime scenes and victims, that they could be identified. The cases solved since that time have proven the paper’s statement to be accurate.

Legally, this is known as “probable cause” and would provide law enforcement with a valid reason to petition the court for a search warrant to order that forensic kits be allowed to be uploaded to identify murderers and rapists. It’s likely that they can be identified, which would justify the issuance of a search warrant.

A few months later, in January 2019, Family Tree DNA began allowing law enforcement to upload kits of murderers, rapists and cases of abduction in addition to deceased unidentified victims after screening and approval on a case by case basis. The Family Tree DNA Law Enforcement Guide is here and their Law Enforcement FAQ is here.

I don’t think a comprehensive list exists of the cases solved since GSK, but I know it’s in excess of 30. Not all solved cases have been revealed at this point.

The Kerfuffle

Within the genetic genealogy community, allowing law enforcement to upload DNA kits in order to identify the perpetrators of crimes and unidentified victims has caused an uproar, to put it mildly. Said another way, it has divided the community in half in an ugly way with both sides feeling they are on morally sound and superior ground.

Although surveys published in this academic article show that more than 90% of people are in favor, some of the genetic genealogy community influencers feel otherwise and specifically, that without every person in the data base giving individual consent for this type of matching, that law enforcement matching is unethical. Some are reasonable and will discuss the situation civilly, and others, not so much.

I disagree, in part, because other types of searches such as for biological parents that can have devastating consequences are viewed in another light entirely with many of these same people employed in the search for unknown parents. These searches using the exact same techniques and databases have resulted in destroyed families and murders.

In one case, Michael Lacopo’s mother murdered her father after Michael identified the father using DNA. You can read Michael’s story, here. There are also other very ugly incidents that I’m not at liberty to discuss.

Law enforcement searches for matches to identify criminals, on the other hand, lead to the apprehension of violent offenders.

I shared my opinion in the article, Things That Need To Be Said: Victims, Murder and Judgement.

Every time a new case is solved and hits the news, the outrage begins anew, culminating this past week when Curtis Rogers allowed law enforcement to utilize GedMatch for the identification of a person who broke into a church in Utah and assaulted the elderly 71 year old organist who was practicing in the church alone, strangling her from behind and leaving her for dead. You can read about the assault here.

Had the organist died, it would have been within the GedMatch guidelines, but because she did not, this was technically a breach of the GedMatch terms of service – although in one place their guidelines said “violent crimes” and from my perspective, there is no question that this event qualifies. Thank goodness the 17 year old perpetrator has been identified and is being dealt with before he actually does kill someone.

Regardless, this episode in addition to other recently solved cases culminated with a number of community “influencers” removing both GedMatch and Family Tree DNA from presentations and openly discouraging the use of both companies on Facebook, in blog articles and in other venues. In other words, a boycott and censure, effectively.

Some of the “influencers” have been repeatedly working with BuzzFeed, as in this Buzzfeed story about the Utah case, yet others called for a more balanced approach that would not destroy the resources, companies and community built over the last two decades. Shannon Christmas wrote a balanced article here as did Maurice Gleeson here.

What Happened?

Yesterday, GedMatch sent e-mails to law enforcement providers and a few others, stating that they were changing their terms of service. The contents of the e-mail have been posted on social media, but I’m not comfortable publishing the exact verbiage, other than to say that GedMatch has proceeded, both initially and now, with the best interests of everyone at heart.

Curtis Rogers is concerned that the extreme paralytic division and resulting polarization  is in essence threatening genetic genealogy as a whole.

Extrapolating from that, if the “influencers” manage to kill GedMatch and Family Tree DNA, not only will the community have lost incredibly important resources that are not and cannot be duplicated elsewhere, law enforcement will have lost extremely valuable resources for identifying both criminals and victims. In other words, everyone loses.

Therefore, GedMatch has implemented a new opt-in policy for law enforcement matching.

GedMatch’s New Opt-In Policy

Effective immediately, GedMatch has set all kits, of everyone in their database, to opt-out, meaning that now no kits at all can be used for matching by law enforcement unless users specifically opt-in. Here’s the GedMatch announcement on their webpage after you sign in.

GedMatch LE opt in change.png

This means that if you are at GedMatch, no kits in your account can now be utilized for law enforcement matching. This is clearly a devastating blow to law enforcement, in part because every database is biased towards whatever the default value is. People either don’t read or don’t bother to make changes. Many have abandoned their accounts or died.

GedMatch has already added an opt-in capability meaning that everyone will have to select “opt-in” to make their kit available for law enforcement matching.

The new GedMatch new Terms of Service are here.

Please Opt-In

We are much better as a society with the likes of John Miller, identified through GedMatch, who raped and murdered 7 year old April Tinsley put behind bars where he can’t damage anyone else. DNA identification has also provided closure to many families whose relatives have been missing for years, such as Audrey Lee Cook and Donna Prudhomme who were killed in the 1980s and whose remains were identified using the Family Tree DNA database.

I hope everyone will opt-in, and quickly, so we can rebuild the data base available to law enforcement for matching.

GedMatch LE opt out.png

Viewing the list of kits that I manage on GedMatch, you can see that my kit is listed with a red X through police BY DEFAULT, even though I never made that selection. Your default is “NO” as well.

Clicking on the pencil enables viewing and changing my profile.

Enable Law Enforcement Matching

Here are the steps necessary to enable law enforcement matching.

GedMatch profile.png

Update – note that I’m told that the options above, with LE and no LE have been positionally swapped – so please read, not just follow my pattern.

Notice my default status is “Public, no LE access.” LE means law enforcement.

GedMatch LE opt in.png

In order to change my status, I must BOTH click the radio button that says “Public, with LE access” AND click Change.

This is a 2-step process and if you forget to click change, you’ll think you enabled LE matching, but you didn’t.

Other options include:

  • “No public access” at all, which means that you cannot utilize the kit for matching
  • “Research” which means you can use the kit for matching, but no one else can see your results in their match list.

After the change, your kit should show the status as “Yes, opt-in LE access,” shown at left, below.

GedMatch opt in success.png

Please take the time to change your kits to “Public, with LE access” at GedMatch to enable matching to law enforcement kits to get the criminals off our streets and identify victims, providing closure to families.

Family Tree DNA

Please also upload your kits to Family Tree DNA for the same reason. At Family Tree DNA, currently if you are in the US you are opted in automatically, and if you are in an EU country you were opted-out automatically due to GDPR regulations. EU users since March 12th when the initial opt-out occurred should check their status. You can change either option after signing in by clicking on “Manage Personal Information,” then “Privacy and Sharing.”

The DNA file transfer and matching are both free. Here are instructions.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on the link to one of the vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

DNA Day Prices and Vendors’ Best Features

DNA Day always produces great sales at the DNA testing companies. Here’s a breakdown of the prices available this week and the best autosomal feature of each vendor.

Company Regular Price Sale Price Ethnicity Matching to other testers Additional Tools Best Feature
FamilyTreeDNA – Family Finder *1 *2 79 49 Yes Yes Yes Maternal and paternal bucketing of matches without parents testing
MyHeritageDNA *5 79 59 Yes Yes Yes Theories of Family Relativity, triangulation
AncestryDNA *2 *6 99 69 Yes Yes Yes Data base size
23andMe Ancestry *3 99 99 Yes Yes Yes Ethnicity breakdown by chromosome segment
LivingDNA *4 99 59 Yes No *4 No Focus on British Isles

*1 – Family Tree DNA also sells both Y and mitochondrial DNA tests. For information on sale prices for those products, please see this article.

*2 – Sale ends April 25th.

*3 – The 23andme Ancestry plus Health test is on sale here for $169 versus the normal price of $199. Sale ends May 13th. Free shipping.

*4 – Sale expiration date not provided. LivingDNA’s matching has been in a very preliminary stage for months, and while I feel confident that eventually they will have viable matching, today matching should not be considered in a purchase decision.

*5 – Sale ends April 28th. Free shipping with purchase of 2 or more kits.

*6 – Free shipping through Amazon on Ancestry test at this link.

Test yourself and close family members (parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc.), especially the older generations, to make full use of the tools and matching.

Fishing in all the ponds either directly or by transfer assures that you don’t miss that critical match.

Many of these prices only last 2 more days.

Enjoy!

DNA Day Sale at Family Tree DNA

Family-Tree-DNA logo

Every year we look forward to Family Tree DNA’s DNA Day sale which starts today and ends April 25th.

This year, virtually everything is on sale – single tests, bundles of different tests, upgrades and even SNP packs for Y DNA testers.

For those who need a primer on the different kinds of tests, the article 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy is a quick read.

DNA Day 2019 single tests

Bundles are great values.

DNA Day 2019 bundles.png

If you’ve already taken a Y DNA test, now’s the time to upgrade!

DNA Day 2019 upgrades.png

I wrote about the Big Y-500 to Big Y-700 upgrade and what to expect here.

Know what you want already?

Click here to order!

If you’re a new customer, purchase from the main page.

If you already have an account, sign in and click on “Add Ons and Upgrades” at the top right above the banner on your personal page.

DNA Day 2019 upgrade button.png

Even SNP Packs for Advanced Y Testers are on Sale

Please note that if you have taken or upgrade to the Big Y test, you don’t need to purchase a SNP pack.

SNP packs are an upgrade for those men who have already tested Y DNA STR panels 12, 25, 37, 67 or 111 who seek to verify haplogroup branches on the Y tree without taking the Big Y test. The good news is that SNP packs are less expensive than the Big Y. The bad news is that SNP packs test only a fraction of the available SNPs and they make no new discoveries. If you’re uncertain about what to purchase, I would recommend talking to your surname or haplogroup administrator about your goals for testing.

My personal preference is for the Big Y-700 because of the advanced testing capabilities, the additional STR markers, additional matches and the fact that discoveries can be made with the Big Y test. In other words, new SNPs, meaning potential new haplogroups can be discovered with the Big Y, while SNP packs test existing SNPs to place a person further down on the tree.

If you’re interested in SNP packs, they are almost never on sale, but they are now.

DNA Day 2019 SNP pack.png

If you want to order a SNP pack, click here to sign on to your account, then click on the blue upgrade button beside your Y DNA results.

DNA Day 2019 Y upgrade button.png

Next, you’ll see several selections, so click on “Buy Now” under Advanced Tests.

DNA Day 2019 advanced test.png

Next, select SNP Pack.

DNA Day 2019 SNP pack select.png

Then choose the appropriate SNP pack for your haplogroup and testing goals.

No matter which tests you select, you’ll be enjoying the results and new matches soon!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on the link to one of the vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay, but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

Smarmy Upstart DNA Websites – Just Say NO!

Twice now in the last month or so, new websites that promise to provide customers with a different “better” view of their ethnicity, including ancient DNA, have popped up.

I’m not providing the links to these sites, because I do NOT want to drive any curiosity traffic there.

In both cases, the pages about the website or supposed “company” did not provide any information about the individuals behind the service.

Neither did a google search of their supposed name or LLC name.

In one case, the physical address given was illegitimate. In the newest case, this week, no address, not even a country, was disclosed.

A check of the website registration shows that it’s new and the owner’s ID is hidden.

In both cases, an e-mail sent to the address provided asking about who was behind the company and where they were located remains unanswered.

Please keep in mind that these omissions are violations of GDPR in Europe, yet there was no caveat about not accepting clients whose results fall under GDPR auspices which suggests these companies willfully disrespect regulations.

Of course, the first thing that happened was that people saw these new attractive-looking “tests” and uploaded their data immediately – then excitedly reported the results on Facebook, encouraging others to do the same.

Please, please, put the brakes on and think first.

Think, Please

Let’s look at this objectively.

The first thing the newest site does is require your e-mail address to sign up.

Off the bat, they’ve harvested that information.

Then, you upload your DNA file to some unknown person, in some unknown place.

Now they’ve also harvested your DNA.

What are they going to do with your DNA file, ultimately?

Is it going to China? Is it being sold to unknown entities? How would you know and what recourse would you have?

no free lunch

Seriously, what anonymous person would do this “for free, for fun”?

Without knowing who is behind this type of product, how would you as a consumer ever begin to evaluate their competence to provide this service? Why would you even begin to trust them if they hide their identity? This should be your first clue that something isn’t right.

Next, you discover that to see the “analysis” that you have to pay.

You’re sending your credit card number to someone you don’t know.

Now, they’ve harvested your credit card. So far, they have your e-mail, your DNA and your credit card information.

With that, you are entirely identifiable and scammable.

Those “Nigerian Princes” of yesteryear have stepped up their game with much better bait.

But, It’s Safe Because of the Lock…

No, a little lock in the url only means that communications to and from the site is encrypted, it’s not an endorsement or commentary on the legitimacy of what you are purchasing or the website owner.

If something goes wrong, you don’t even have a legitimate business name, address or identity of a person. You have no idea who to complain about, which is most likely the entire goal. If they are offshore, out of the reach of the law where you live, you can complain all day long and there’s nothing that can be done.

Nothing. NADA. You’re toast.

Stop.

Just stop.

Think.

Evaluate.

Before providing any information to a company, do your homework. Take a few minutes and research before jumping into the fire.

Stay with the major testing companies that are known and respected entities in the community. A new, anonymous, overnight upstart isn’t going to provide a better analysis than a company with population geneticists working to provide a quality user experience.

Any legitimate startup is going to be telling you WHO they are and WHY they are qualified – not intentionally remaining in the shade.

Unfortunately, bad experiences tend to tar good companies providing similar products with the same brush and we clearly don’t want that to happen.

Don’t set yourself up to become victimized, parted with both your money and your DNA due to your curiosity and love of genetic genealogy.

Please, stop and think.

If it sounds too good to be true, especially if it’s coming from an anonymous knight in shining armor from an unknown kingdom, it probably is.

DNA Testing and Transfers – What’s Your Strategy?

The landscape of genetic genealogy is forever morphing.

I’m providing a quick update as to which vendors support file transfers from which other vendors in a handy matrix.

Come join in the fun!

Testing and Transfer Strategy

Using the following chart, you can easily plan a testing and transfer strategy.

DNA Vendor Transfer Chart 2019

Click on image to enlarge.

Caveats and footnotes as follows:

1. After May 2016, the Ancestry test is only partly compatible, meaning you receive your closest matches (about 20-25% of the total) but won’t receive distant matches due to chip incompatibility. However, beginning in April 2019, when Family Tree DNA implemented the Illumina GSA chip, Ancestry files are receiving all matches.

2. The 23andMe December 2010 (V3) version is fully compatible. December 2013-August 2017 (V4) and August 2017 (V5) tests are partly compatible meaning you receive your closest matches (about 20-25% of the total) but won’t receive distant matches due to chip incompatibility. However, beginning in April 2019, when Family Tree DNA implemented the Illumina GSA chip, 23andMe V4 and V5 files are receiving all matches.
3. GedMatch has been working to resolve autosomal matching issues between vendor’s chips. Patience is a key word.
4. LivingDNA does not yet have full blown matching (I have one match), which has been in the testing phase for months, and has recently changed chip vendors.
5. Customer must extract the file using a file utility before it can be uploaded. LivingDNA indicates that they are working on a simpler solution.
6. Files transferred to LivingDNA must be in build 37 format.
4-12-2019 update – please note that MyHeritage does not accept 23andMe V2 files, only V3, V4 and V5.

Recommendations

My recommendations are as follows, and why:

Transfer Costs

Autosomal transfers and matching are free at the vendors who accept transfers, but payment for advanced tools is required.

  • Family Tree DNA – $19 one-time unlock fee for advanced tools
  • MyHeritage – $29 one-time fee for advanced tools
  • GedMatch – many tools free, but for Tier 1 advanced tools, $10 per month

All great values!

Please note that as vendors change testing chips and file formats, other vendors who accept transfers will need time to adapt. I know it’s frustrating sometimes, but it’s a sign that technology is moving forward. The good news is that after the wait, if there is one, you’ll have a brand new group of genealogy matches – many holding clues for you to decipher.

I’m in all of the databases, so see you there.

Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on the link to one of the vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay, but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

Things That Need To Be Said: Adoption, Adultery, Coercion, Rape and DNA

doesn't add up

What happens when DNA results don’t add up?

Recently I wrote about how to distinguish genetically if two people are full or half siblings. Sometimes people who thought they were full siblings turn out only to be half siblings, and it’s a painful discovery.

What do people immediately assume when a father turns out not to be who he’s expected to be?

What’s the first thought that jumped into your head?

Somebody was cheating, yes?!!

And that somebody was obviously the female who became pregnant, right?

Now she’s caught thanks to DNA.

Hold on.

Not so fast.

Mis-attributed Parentage

I’ve seen a lot of discussion recently about NPEs, Non-Parental Events, also known as mis-attributed paternity (MPE,) undocumented adoptions and probably other terms too.

In essence, when the expected father turns out not to be the biological father. I suspect that the uptick in discussion is a direct result of the significant number of people DNA testing today.

For the most part, when there were few autosomal testers, unless someone failed to match against the known close family members who had already tested, the situation remained largely undiscovered.

However, today with more and more testers, it’s common for people to have several close matches, which makes the absence of a first or second cousin, aunt, uncle, sibling or parent match stand out like a sore thumb – throbbing painfully and demanding answers.

And of course, when a child and parent don’t match, it’s immediately evident to all parties concerned. And, it’s excruciating.

When DNA test results arrive and reveal unexpected surprises, it can be quite uncomfortable and will throw your world into a tailspin. And that’s, um, let’s just say putting it mildly.

It’s disconcerting enough when you don’t match to a couple – which implies an adoption of some sort. When you match half of the couple, that’s a horse of a different color.

Typically, a half match will mean that you match the female’s side of the family, but not the male’s.

It’s particularly difficult when a father or grandfather is not who the family believes that person to be. You probably knew them and if not, other family members did.

The first thing that springs to mind is that someone was “cheating” on their spouse. And that someone was your mother or grandmother – another person you know and love.

To make matters even more awkward, one or both of the couple involved may still be living.

Infidelity

Infidelity is probably not the first thing that should be considered in situations like these. Let’s look at this from the other perspective. How might this have happened if the female wasn’t unfaithful?

I’ve worked with genetic genealogy cases, including these types of surprises for 19 years now, and the truth is sometimes quite different.

Aside from infidelity which is really the last possibility we should consider, there other scenarios that are at least as likely, in no particular order:

  • Infertility/sperm donation
  • Adoption, either legal (through the courts) or someone, possibly a family member, taking a child to raise
  • Sexual Assault – meaning rape
  • Coercion
  • Agreed-upon lifestyle

Furthermore, even if the event that led to the pregnancy was consensual, people can and do make what they later consider to be errors in judgement, especially when alcohol is involved. Anyone here never make a mistake? Didn’t think so.

Looking back, it’s difficult to be too harsh because you wouldn’t be who you are and your siblings wouldn’t be who they are if those long-ago events had unfolded differently. Our ancestors, including our parents, weren’t saints. Many women stayed in “bad” marriages which may have made an emotional respite look particularly attractive.

I try very hard to stay away from moral judgement without knowing the full story – and most of the time – that’s something we will never know for one of many reasons.

Let’s start out by looking at some potential reasons for a parental mismatch that don’t involve infidelity, meaning deception.

Infertility, Sperm Donation, Lifestyle and Adoption

Fertility issues have plagued couples ever since there have been couples. Adoption speaks for itself, but many adoptions were hidden from children and family members -and often remain so until a DNA result exposes the secret.

If the father that raised the person isn’t the biological father, the mother may or may not be the biological mother.

Some adoptions are uni-parental, meaning a step-father adopts the child. This happened often. Historically, this is especially prevalent in situations where the mother had the first child without being married and the family was attempting to protect both the mother and the child from the social condemnation and stigma of illegitimacy, or “bastardry” as it was called in the legal records at one time. It’s no wonder that no one talked about this and the situation was treated as a dark secret. Conversely, in some historical cases, I think that at the time “everyone knew,” but didn’t discuss it, and there was no reason to record the information.

However, when working with more contemporary adoption records, it may appear that both parents adopted the child, when in fact only one was not the biological parent. Michigan is one of those states. In order for the step-father to adopt a child, the mother must give up her parental rights and the couple adopts the child together. If you’re thinking this is going to play havoc with future genealogists, you’re right, it is.

Without that legal adoption information, genetically it “looks” like the mother is the mother, but the father isn’t the father – and a uni-parental adoption is NOT the first thing that comes to mind. Infidelity is.

If DNA results indicate that the mother is the mother but the man she was married to at the time is not the biological father, it’s certainly possible that sperm donation was utilized. The first successful pregnancy from frozen semen occurred in 1953, meaning the resulting children could be retirement age today.

Before “official” sperm donation, let’s just say that sometimes couples took care of the issue themselves, in the old-fashioned way. You may discover evidence of the result without understanding the situation. That’s just not something couples shared with other people for a wide variety of reasons – but I know of at least two separate situations where this occurred and was known within the immediate family. In one case, the mutually agreed upon “donor” was the man’s brother.

This also touches upon an open lifestyle situation – meaning that the couple agreed to have an non-monogamous sexual relationship of some form. “Key parties” in my parent’s generation are legendary – a form of adult spin-the-bottle. In my circle of friends, someone discovered this “recreational event” was occurring at their parents’ parties and let’s just say we teens discussed it endlessly. We vacillated between being horrified and entranced. Don’t expect to find grandma discussing this at the holiday table – but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Our ancestors were human too. Customs and taboos revolving around sexual relationships are cultural and vary by time and place. “Rules” are created by people, and people are always breaking the rules. Some things never change.

The above scenarios represent a range of perfectly legitimate reasons why a DNA result may not reflect the parent of record but don’t represent wrongdoing or betrayal by either party. It’s just that today, we don’t have that background information – our only view is through the genetic results and we have to infer the rest.

Of course, there are other much more unpleasant scenarios that need to be considered too.

Rape

Rape is pretty straightforward, or at least it seems so on the surface, but even rape may hold darker secrets. Rape can be a violent crime, meaning the “in the alley” type of rape where a woman doesn’t know her assailant. However, that’s not the most common rape scenario.

In the majority of cases the female knows her rapist. He might be a boyfriend, or even more disconcerting, a family member. And she may not have been old enough to consent, even if the assault wasn’t overtly violent.

She may never have “told” because of fear, misplaced shame, she didn’t think she would be believed or for fear that her situation would become worse, not better. She may also have been threatened, implicitly or explicitly.

She may have been too young or naïve to understand that while she was “seduced,” she was not responsible and she was not able at her young age to give consent. Many adult seducers tell their underage victims that they love them and if they tell, they will both get in trouble for their “love.” Often the seducer aka rapist inflicts guilt on the young female for “enjoying it.” Often the rapist will “treat” their victim to make them feel special. Oprah Winfrey’s rapist, her 19 year old cousin, bought 9 year old Oprah an ice cream cone afterwards.

If just reading these words makes you uncomfortable, welcome to a peek inside the world of being a victim.

Coercion

A middle ground is coercion, where the female doesn’t really have the ability to say no, or she was deceived or pressured into doing something she didn’t freely want, understand or consent to do.

The most poignant example I can think of is a slave woman. Could a slave realistically say “no”? If not, maybe she simply didn’t physically resist because resistance was futile and would only result in her being whipped as well. “Not resisting” under these circumstances is not at all the same as freely given consent.

I know women personally that have yielded or “agreed” to sexual relationships to keep their jobs, especially if they were raising children alone. That’s coercion, plain and simple, where one person holds power over the other. Most women (and some men) have experienced something similar.

In my own case, I refused the advances of an older male supervisor when I was in my 90-day probationary period at a well-paying civil service job (post office) when I was in college. The result is exactly what you might expect, I was let go before my 90 day probationary period ended.

Did I regret my decision? Not one bit, but I was also furious with no possible recourse. I did report the fact that the supervisor arrived uninvited and unwelcome at my home when my husband was working, along with his behavior, but of course, nothing at all was done – except me being punished by being let go. The supervisor denied everything. To be clear, I was not raped, but it was either “put out or lose your job.”

I was married with a child. I needed that job, but I was not entirely dependent on it for the family income. Not to mention, I’m incredibly tenacious (nice word for stubborn) and threatening me is exactly how NOT to get what you want.

What would have happened to an unmarried woman with a child who was entirely dependent on that job? This situation is not the exception and vulnerable women are often targeted and preyed upon.

Women also know and knew then that victims were often blamed, so women didn’t and don’t volunteer for a second humiliation on top of what has already happened. Justice is and was seldom served.

Pregnancy

I know these are uncomfortable thoughts and rape is an incredibly ugly word, but the conclusion that your ancestor, a woman you know and love, “cheated” shouldn’t be considered simply because it’s easier to ponder than the fact that she might have been raped, coerced or been intoxicated.

Setting aside the topic of rape and coercion for a minute, the reality is that women drank socially – our mothers and our grandmothers. Even being raised Baptist, I did and drank too much more than once.

Men/boys know/knew that a woman who had a few drinks was much easier to seduce that one that was stone cold sober. The mother and grandmother you knew years later may have been somewhat different than a younger version of that person. Children are often a driving motivation to “settle down.”

When sexual relationships occur that result in pregnancy, whether it’s consensual or not, it’s always the female who physically carries the evidence in an undeniable way, and the associated societal burden as well. How many times have you hear about “fallen women” but never about “fallen men.” The stigma is unfairly place on women, and often women alone. For example, men are forgiven for being drunk and no one even gives it a second thought, but women are cast as harlots – especially if they carry the evidence publicly by being pregnant and then having an illegitimate child. That evidence lasts forever and is a daily reminder for all who would condemn and shame her.

Retrospectively, we should never, ever assume that a female chose to “cheat” as the first presumption. If anything, it should be our last consideration.

We need to approach the memory of our ancestors, including our parents, with the presumption of innocence and an attitude of compassion. We also need to consider the distinct possibility of sexual assault. Rape.

Let’s Talk About Sexual Assault

The incidence of sexual assault is notoriously difficult to measure. Many times the shame or other surrounding circumstances prevent or highly discourage females from reporting rapes.

Before recent years when it was sometimes possible for a female to obtain work that paid enough to support herself and children, an unmarried or divorced woman was assured of both social rejection and devastating poverty.

To report a rape was to be ostracized from family, from church, and possibly from your spouse. People asked if you encouraged the rape or “asked for it,” perhaps by drinking or dressing “provocatively” – and what was deemed to be provocative varied with the culture and times.

1920s bathing suit

For example, this swimsuit was considered very provocative in the 1920s. Today, this outfit doesn’t even merit a second look in America, but in some parts of the world, women still can’t reveal their faces for fear of “provoking” men. In other words, if a man raped a woman who wore this outfit, it was HER fault for tempting him, not his fault for raping her.

Was this woman advertising that she wanted sex or “asking to be raped?” If she was advertising for sex, then why would a man even need to rape her? The logic fails here, but sometimes provocation is the justification for rape. That insulting to women and men both.

Victorian swimsuits

Here’s the google result for “provocative swimsuit in Victorian times.” While styles that are considered provocative have changed, the way women are perceived who would dare to be “provocative” hasn’t. There is no excuse for rape.

Full stop.

A Second Victimization

If you are raped and report the incident, you are interviewed (often by men) about the intimate details, asked if you enjoyed it and if you climaxed. The woman is always suspect.

Both spoken and unspoken words twice victimize the woman – then and now.

Until and unless you report the rape, no one but you and the rapist knows about the first victimization. After a woman reports a rape, everyone knows about the public humiliation – forever – that public humiliation and its aftereffects never go away. Once out of the bottle, that stinking genie is permanently affixed to the female. The males often go un-apprehended and when apprehended, only minimally punished. By way of example, hundreds of thousands of rape kits lay unprocessed in police departments around the country. Many have been misplaced and lost. If this doesn’t say, “We don’t care,” I don’t know what does.

In my own personal circle, a female child, and I mean a pre-teen, was blamed when her rapist lost his job in the school system as a result of her reporting the rape to the police and to the school. The rapist’s wife, amazingly, didn’t leave him, even though they had children the same age. It was widely known in the community that the rape had been reported. As a result, THE CHILD RAPE VICTIM WAS BLAMED by the rapist’s family and bullied by his and other children in the neighborhood and at school!

Then, to add insult to injury, the rapist wasn’t even convicted because the young victim became too terrified to testify after what happened to her at school, even though there was conclusive medical evidence. The rape victim’s family wound up selling their home and moving in order to protect the child from further damage.

If you think this is rare, it isn’t.

Another person told me about their step-father who raped them beginning when they were pre-kindergarten and continuing the entire time they were in grade school. He then began to rape his kindergarten age biological daughter as well. What did the mother do when the older child repeatedly told her what was happening? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

This story isn’t rare either as I’ve personally heard various permutations from MANY women, not just one or two – although most are too embarrassed and humiliated even years later to discuss this topic with other than a trusted friend – if even then. I’m truly stunned at the overwhelming number of women (and some men) with horrible secrets like this in their past – and also at how they have survived and thrived in spite of what happened. Care to guess how many rapists of the many women who have shared their experiences with me were prosecuted? One. Just one.

It’s no wonder why adult women were and are very hesitant to come forth following sexual assault. A rape is humiliating and demeaning. The victim is physically forced into doing something they don’t want to do, don’t understand, or they are for some reason unable to consent to or refuse, such as being underage or drugged. They feel filthy and vile after the rapist is done with them. Unclean, unworthy. Sometimes the male thinks her humiliation is funny. Sometimes they take pictures and tell their friends, who think it’s funny too.

Rapists are seldom prosecuted and convicted and whey they are, the process is extremely traumatic for an adult, let alone a terrified child. When men are convicted, they often receive slap-on-the-wrist sentences, such as Brock Turner, a college student who received a 6 month sentence for 3 separate charges stemming from a violent sexual assault, but only served 3 months jail time – this as his father complained about the length of the sentence by saying that it was a “steep price to pay for 20 minutes of fun.” Seriously?

And that’s today, not half a century or more ago when sexuality was much more of a taboo subject. I distinctly remember being told that “nice women” only had sex to reproduce and that if you had sex before marriage, you were “tarnished goods” and no one would ever want you. Nice boys only married virgins. “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” Any of this sound familiar?

Elizabeth Smart – “Better to be Dead”

Elizabeth Smart, kidnapped in 2002 at age 14, held and repeatedly raped for 9 months, said that she didn’t attempt an escape for multiple reasons. First, survival mode kicked in, but on a John Hopkins University panel on May 6, 2016, Elizabeth said that one of the factors deterring her from escaping was that she felt so utterly worthless after being raped. She told the panel members:

“I remember in school one time, I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence and she said, ‘Imagine you’re a stick of gum. When you engage in sex, that’s like getting chewed, and if you do that lots of times, you’re going to become an old piece of gum and who is going to want you after that?”

As a result, Elizabeth considered suicide after rape, because, “I felt it would be better to be dead than to continue living being a rape victim.”

On CBS News in 2018, Elizabeth said, “For years after I was rescued, I didn’t want anyone to know what had happened. … Truthfully, I think I was ashamed and I was embarrassed. I didn’t want people to know that I’d been raped.”

And this was in the 2000s, not a generation ago, or two, or three or more.

For rape victims, there’s no undoing what happened. Just press forward and make the best of things. The only decision left is whether or not to subject yourself to either private or public scrutiny, possible rejection, disbelief and ridicule. If it’s bad today, it was worse when your mother or grandmother was of reproductive age. Women didn’t even have the right to vote a century ago, and very few if any women were able to support themselves without a man – either their father or husband. They needed to protect their relationships with men and their families, regardless of the personal cost. Many still do today.

When I asked a (now-deceased) women who endured repeated rapes by a close male relative in the 1940s and 50s why she never spoke out, she said, “What choice did I have? I had 5 children that needed to eat. My husband would have divorced me and I had no skills to get a job. He (the rapist) knew that and laughed about it. He delighted in the fact that I could do nothing and tortured me with it until he finally died.” I hope she danced on his grave.

If one of those children turned out to be the child of the rapist, the woman would never have known then because she was having sex with her husband as well. If discovered genetically today, it would look like she cheated on her husband – but she didn’t.

If you think this can’t possibly be your family, think again.

Sexual Assault is More Common Than You Might Think

Consider the following statistics:

  • RAINN, a nonprofit organization focused on helping victims of rape, abuse and incest states that 90% of rape victim are female. For purposes of genealogy, of course, males who are raped don’t become pregnant with the rapist’s child.
  • RAINN’s statistics don’t include children under 12, but they report that in 1993, 4.3 assaults per 1000 people occurred. If you extrapolate this to the 1990 census where the US population was 248,709,873, that means that 1,069,452 rapes occurred in the US that year, and of those, just under 1 million rapes occurred to women. According to the census bureau, in 1990, the US had 127,470,455 females of all ages. Looking at the distribution, it appears that if you subtracted both females under 15 and over 55, about half of the female population would have been between 15 and 55, or the prime rape ages. Assuming then that about 60 million women were the primary rape targets, and of those, 1.5 million or one 3% are raped every year, that means every women 15-55 has a 3% chance of being raped each year, assuming there are no women raped more than once. If you’re at risk from age 15 to 55, or roughly 40 years, at 3% chance per year, it’s no wonder that the rape statistics are so high. However, if rapes of females under 15 were included, the numbers would be much higher.
  • RAINN also reports that of 1000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free, so rapists remain free to rape again – and do.
  • RAINN says that sexual violence has fallen by half in the last 20 years, meaning that before 1998, women were even more likely to be assaulted.
  • The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NDVRC) says that one in five women will be raped at some point in their lives. Look around at 4 of your female friends or co-workers. If it’s not you, it’s one of them – and that’s just the women who report the rapes. Most don’t.
  • 80% of women know the rapist. That means that reporting the incident is going to cause drama within their family or social circle.
  • It’s even worse for children. Yes, I said worse. One in four girls will be sexually assaulted before they are 18 years of age.
  • According to the NSVRC, 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police. According to FiveThirtyEight, 77% are not reported to police. A 1992 report titled Rape in America, A Report to the Nation reported that 84% of rapes are not reported. Personally, from discussions recently among women friends, I’d say it’s well into the 90% range, which means the estimates of how many women are actually raped, extrapolated from the reported statistics, are significantly low.
  • This paper from February 2018 on the National Study of Sexual Harassment and Assault states that 51% of women report being sexually touched in an unwelcome way. 81% of women report some form of sexual harassment or assault in their lifetime.
  • The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 18.3% of US woman have been raped and 19% of college women have experienced sexual assault or rape. In Native American tribes the incidence is much higher. In 2012, the New York Times reported that in a report by the Alaskan Federation of Natives, the rate of sexual violence in rural villages is as much as 12 times the national rate. Women in Alaska and among other tribes suggest that few, if any, female relatives or friends have escaped sexual violence.
  • The Justice Department reports in 2016 that 1 in 5 college women report sexual assault, with half being rape. 21% of female graduates have been sexually assaulted while in college. Of course, this doesn’t speak to anytime before or after college.
  • The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Assault Survey from the CDC surveys in 2010 and 2011 states that about 19% of women have been a victim of attempted or completed rape in their lifetimes.
  • The Department of Justice says that from 2006 to 2010, the percentage of unreported rape was 65%.
  • This article provides statistics about on-campus rapes and this article about rape frequency in general.

If you’re feeling a bit uneasy now, and you’re thinking of your own mother and grandmother and sister and aunt – and you’ve just realized that of those 4 women, chances are that at least one of them has been raped, and possibly more, you’re probably right. Just because they never told you, or anyone, doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. In fact, if it did happen, it’s unlikely you ever heard about it, because they probably told NO ONE. Not then and they won’t now.

No one wants to think about that possibility. But if you wonder why a child was placed for adoption, why a child was raised by grandparents, or why a Y DNA test doesn’t match the paternal surname line, especially if the mother seemed so normal and there was no hint of a domestic or relationship issue – sexual assault in one form or another may well be the answer.

Sometimes a rape is the reason behind an adoption, and rekindling that trauma may be why some biological mothers don’t welcome contact with children. Those that do may not be willing to divulge the identity, if known, of the rapist for fear of being victimized yet again by the adult child being anxious to connect with the rapist. The rapist of course would deny the rape, so the mother once again has to risk disbelief and relive the trauma and issues she thought she put behind her decades ago. Who wants to know anything about a man that violated you decades ago – and very likely got away with it. Mothers who are not forthcoming aren’t always simply being obstinate – they may have very legitimate reasons.

Adoption wasn’t always the solution women sought. Many women raised those children inside of marriages, never revealing (at least not to the child) that they were not the biological child of their husband.

Today, with more and more people taking autosomal DNA tests, a biologically unrelated father or grandfather becomes painfully obvious pretty quickly to a genealogist.

While it’s extremely unpleasant to think what might have happened to your mother or your gray-haired loving grandmother when she was younger, it’s also wrong, dead wrong, to presume that she willfully cheated. Chances are at least equal that she had no or little choice in the matter. Many, many women who weren’t actually forcibly raped were heavily coerced or drugged.

What Do We Say?

So full siblings aren’t full siblings after all or the expected father isn’t the father.

Now that the secret has been revealed, at least to you, what do you say, and to whom?

There is no single answer, and no easy one either.

In part, what you say to whom depends of the level of investment of the person or people who tested. If they aren’t interested in the results, in essence, having tested “for you,” you may decide that in the interest of causing no pain and doing no damage, not to reveal the discrepancy.

Often people who ask someone to test will inform the tester in advance that the results can hold surprises – although no one ever expects they will be the one. Asking in advance if they want to know if “surprises” are discovered may also help direct your actions.

I never disclosed the information when I discovered that my half-brother was not my biological brother when he was terminally ill. Revealing that information would only have caused him pain, and there was absolutely no reason to do that.

I invested in genealogy, including genetic genealogy for fun, not to hurt anyone. My own personal guiding creed is “do no harm.”

Every situation is different and you will simply have to let the individual circumstances and your heart be your guide.

Having said that, how do YOU process this information which has the potential to be disturbing on several levels – not the least of which is that as a genealogist, you may have invested years in researching the wrong tree.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer for that either. Some people reach out for counseling to help them over the rough patch.

The Benefit of the Doubt

I would suggest taking the high road and giving the female in question the benefit of the doubt unless you have actual evidence to suggest otherwise.

Please don’t pass judgement on her morality or character from the distance of decades when you can’t understand the circumstances, don’t have all of the information and she can’t defend herself.

If I have to make an error in judgement, let it be on the side of assuming the best, not the worst. Choices were few and none of them good for rape survivors. Our mothers, grandmothers and female ancestors did the best they could in the time when they lived and with the resources available to them at that time.

What she did or did not do then bears no reflection whatsoever on her love for her children, or you.

What your ancestors did or didn’t do also bears no reflection on you, today. Their actions and choices are not a curse that travels through generations.

If you loved them before, they haven’t changed. Continue to love them, with perhaps renewed or increased appreciation for their pain and the trials they faced in their lifetime.

What you discovered changed, not them. Be sure to place that discovery into historical and societal context and practice genealogical benevolence and kindness. What appear to be “lies” today may have been protection for the vulnerable then. Never assume and certainly not the worst.

Remember, you would not be here or would not be who you are if history had taken a different turn. And you’re awesome!

You, my friend, ARE the rest of their story.

Things That Need To Be Said: Victims, Murder, and Judgement

moccasin

Unfortunately, the events that have unfolded during the last few months relative to using genetic genealogy data bases in order to identify murder victims and perpetrators of those murders have divided the genetic genealogy community.

Polls show that most people are in favor of this usage, some polls approaching 90% in favor. Within the community, the opinion is divided, with many of the leaders on opposite ends of the spectrum for various reasons.

I’d like to discuss this division and the inherent judgement – as rationally and as unemotionally as this topic can be.

I’m not going to list cases or examples. There have been many since the first case identified through genetic genealogy, the Golden State Killer, broke in May of 2018. At that time, the GSK case was plastered all over every news outlet, but today the announcements are less dramatic, approaching routine, often only covered in the local news. I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. These cases have become normalized in the same way that discovering unknown parents or siblings has in the past couple of years. It’s a daily unremarkable occurrence now – unless it happens to you of course.

GedMatch was utilized to solve the earliest cases.

In late January, Family Tree DNA announced that they too are allowing law enforcement uploading, implementing a more restrictive approach than GedMatch wherein controlled, pre-screened and registered forensic samples can be upload after approval by law enforcement for matching and will be tracked internally by Family Tree DNA. These cases all involve violent crimes meaning unidentified victims, murder and rape. You can read their Law Enforcement FAQ here and their Law Enforcement Policy here. As opposed to early click-bait news articles, Family Tree DNA has not and never did “turn over” their data base to the FBI and neither did GedMatch. Forensic kits work the same way everyone else’s kits work – and nothing more. Please also note that this matching and identification process is the exact same process created several years ago within the community to identify unknown parents.

Ancestry, 23andMe and MyHeritage do not support law enforcement matching.

If you don’t want your kit utilized for law enforcement matching. You can opt out of matching at GedMatch by selecting the “research” option where you can see matches to the kit, but other people can’t see you.

At Family Tree DNA, all European Union customers are now automatically opted out but can opt-in, and all non-EU customers have the option of opting out by turning off law enforcement matching if they don’t want their kits to show as a match to law enforcement kits.

I don’t think there’s a soul alive that will argue that we don’t want rapists and murderers apprehended and off the streets. We individually and as a society want them to be identified and held accountable for their crimes. In some cases, the perpetrators are living freely and don’t appear to have committed additional crimes, but still, they need to pay for what they did. Depriving another human of their life or raping them is simply not acceptable. That’s how the justice system in the US works and the job of law enforcement to find those who break the law and bring them to justice.

Another aspect of forensic DNA matching that has gone largely unmentioned is that if a person is wrongly convicted of a violent crime, and DNA evidence from the scene remains, DNA matching can also exonerate the innocent. DNA matching technology has improved dramatically in the past decades, moving from the 26 CODIS markers to the 700,000+ SNP markers utilized today for genealogy matching.

The Great Divide

However, the great divide is whether or not law enforcement should be allowed to upload forensic samples extracted from the victim or taken from other evidence at the crime scene (such as blood or semen, for example) to genetic genealogy data bases in order to identify these people – and in what circumstances.

In a recently solved case, a live-born baby abandoned intentionally to freeze to death by his mother in a ditch in 1981, in the northern US, in February, was identified which also identified the parents. This case has illuminated a huge divide in the community.

It has also surfaced something I had never really thought about, illustrating why we need to attempt to remain free from judgement, as much as possible. By this, I mean that we need to listen to the points of all parties involved, weigh what they are saying and try to understand their perspective. That doesn’t mean we need to change our minds, but we do need to see if the “opposing counsel” has points that need to be considered. Unfortunately, when it’s a topic we feel strongly about, it’s so easy to rush to judgement.

Sometimes the problem is a lack of education or understanding.

The Legal Process

It recently came to light from a discussion that someone outside the US had no comprehension of how the US law enforcement process works. In the US, there are three distinct stages:

  • Investigation and gathering of evidence – This is where DNA matching is BUT ONE CLUE in the investigatory steps of whether a crime occurred and who should be charged. When the investigators are finished, they may arrest someone, book them into jail, and send the paperwork to the prosecutor who will decide what charges, if any, are to be filed against that person.
  • Prosecution – From the time the charges are filed, the prosecutor’s job is to present the evidence to the court that a crime was committed along with any extenuating circumstances. The attorney for the accused person presents the evidence to favor them, such as an alibi, an insanity plea, or evidence that they are somehow mentally incapacitated.
  • Courts -. While they are awaiting trial, the judge will decide if the person arrested can post bail in order to be released from jail while awaiting their trial date. Different factors are taken into consideration. Whether or not they are a flight risk and the severity of the crime rank high among the criteria. Ultimately the person is either convicted or found not guilty of the charges. If they are found not guilty, it’s all over. If they either plead guilty or are found guilty of some or all of the crimes with which they were charged, then the sentencing phase begins wherein the judge decides what punishment fits the crime and considers any extenuating circumstances. For example, when someone is found guilty but insane, they won’t serve time in prison, but will be remanded to a psychiatric facility for treatment instead. Many factors are involved with sentencing including victims’ statements, statements from the families of the victims, extenuating circumstances and any requests for leniency.

The person from outside the US thought that the DNA evidence automatically just convicted the person. Even people in the US may be reacting emotionally, without understanding the steps in the legal process designed to be as fair and equitable as possible.

This is Intensely Emotional

Over the last several weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to talk individually with many community members. I’ve come to realize that these cases bring to the surface issues of rape, murder, incest, parental abandonment and child abuse (including sexual) by parents and family members that people continue to love anyway. Needless to say, this situation creates extremely conflicting emotions and resurrects long-buried pain for many.

Almost everyone I’ve talked to has their own intensely personal and oftentimes gut-wrenching reason for feeling the way they do about the situation at hand. The revelations have been as astounding as they have been heartbreaking and are a true testament to the triumph of the human spirit. People can and do survive, but not unscarred. Most people hide those scars – sometimes from everybody and sometimes forever.

When I hear their stories, I suddenly understand WHY they personally feel the way they do, even if I don’t agree. It takes the edge off of the purely academic discussion of the technicalities of why or why not these data bases should or should not be utilized.

Suffice it to say, that cow has left the barn. They are being utilized and probably were before we knew it. It’s much better to have a process in place and consumer knowledge that it’s occurring, allowing people to make their own participation decisions.

Do I wish this process had been handled a bit differently? Yes, certainly, but this is literally the frontier – the leading bleeding edge. I’m afraid that if someone hadn’t taken the bull by the horns, it would never have happened because the topic would have been debated into oblivion. There is simply no way to achieve an agreement from polar opposite yes/no positions involving topics this emotional.

I’m actually surprised that this didn’t happen sooner, because the technology has been available for years.

There are some people who stand to benefit personally from one position or the other or have an ax to grind. After eliminating anyone with obvious opportunistic motivations or bias from the mix, the rest of the people have a very valid reason for feeling the way they do. People’s feelings can’t be right or wrong – whether or not I agree with them.

We don’t need to demonize the individual to disagree. It’s OK to disagree without attacking others and still respect them as individuals and remain on speaking terms. Perhaps the understanding we gain will even deepen our appreciation for them and what they have endured. Agreement isn’t required for that to happen.

It benefits us all to row in the same direction, together. We have the same love, genetic genealogy.

My Own Perspective

I am a supporter of utilizing the tools at our disposal for identifying the victims and perpetrators of violent crimes, defined as rape and murder. I would personally be comfortable adding aggravated assault in cases such as where an 80+ year old woman was beaten nearly to death in a robbery, but that’s not my call to make.

For now, I would be happy to simply process the backlog of the hundreds of thousands of rape kits that have never been tested and identify the plethora of cold case unknown murder victims that include many children.

This is very personal to me for a variety of reasons. I’m going to share one of them with you.

Here’s where I take the deep breath.

My child was kidnapped more than 30 years ago and was missing for several weeks. Even today, just thinking about or typing this, I can feel my chest tighten, my heart rate elevate and my blood pressure rise. There are simply no adequate words.

My child was one of the lucky ones, “recovered” several weeks later in another state roughly 1000 miles away.

The word terror doesn’t even begin to describe my emotions.

There was not one minute of one day that I didn’t very clearly know that my child might never come home.

That my child might already be dead, buried in some shallow grave I would never find.

Or with animals gnawing on their tiny body.

Maybe starving.

Maybe hurt but not dead…yet.

Maybe floating bloated in some river someplace.

Or, that they might be being used in the child pornography industry or even worse, tortured in snuff movies. (If you don’t know what that is, just trust me and don’t google it.)

If you sit down for one minute, put yourself in my position and think about this as your own child, or grandchild, you will understand fully why I fully support the use of genetic genealogy databases for the identification of victims and those who victimize.

Even if I didn’t support this position, it’s a done deal now. It’s already been happening for almost a year.

In the case of the mother who abandoned the baby to die in the freezing cold – if there are extenuating circumstances that should be considered in terms of the mother’s behavior or mental condition, they will be revealed at the trial and taken into consideration.

If a rapist or murderer should receive leniency or be judged mentally incompetent in other cases, that evidence too will come before the judge. Let’s not conflate the investigation and gathering of information and evidence stage with the prosecution and sentencing after a perpetrator either pleaded guilty or was found guilty. We should NOT stop investigating and identifying victims and perpetrators because some of the people who committed these crimes might have extenuating circumstances. The evidence must stand on its own – all of it, together as a whole.

Here’s the important part. Without the genetic genealogy data bases, the victims and perpetrators of these cold cases would never be identified. My child could have been one those bodies. I will never forget. Every time a new victim is identified, I’m grateful all over again that it’s not my child but so glad for the families to finally have closure.

At the same time, as we talk to and read what our fellow genetic genealogists have to say, we must realize that while they aren’t telling you their personal story, many of which are simply far too intimate and painful to divulge, they have them just the same and those experiences inform their opinions. They may be writing or speaking from a place of great sorrow and betrayal, from a place of anger or from a place of healing – but they are speaking from an extremely personal space. All you are hearing is their opinion based on things you don’t understand.

It’s possible to empathize, and still disagree.

I can tell you with no hesitation whatsoever that if my child had not been found, I would go to the literal ends of the earth for the identification of their body AND for the conviction of their kidnapper/murderer.

Every time I read about an unidentified body, I remember those days, so seared into my memory that I can never forget.

So seared in that I still, to this day, have nightmares and wake up terrified – awake for the rest of the night.

So seared into my brain that 3+ decades later I still can’t even talk or write about this without crying. I don’t mean an escaped tear – I mean full on tears-streaming-down-my-face embarrassing ugly-crying.

Every.  Single.  Time.

So seared into my memory that today I still utterly despise the kidnapper with every ounce of my being.

That said, I was truly one of the lucky ones, as was my child.

I can’t offer these less fortunate families their family member back, bring their child back to life or un-rape them, but I can help to offer them closure and justice by including my DNA in both data bases. I fervently hope my DNA can help.

At this point with the technology and data bases available, it would be negligent of law enforcement NOT to utilize the available tools to identify victims and their murderers. As a society, why would be not embrace this opportunity so long as people have the opportunity not to participate if they wish?

In or Out?

My DNA absolutely stays in the databases.

I was rather shocked at first, last May when the GSK case first broke, and I didn’t know what to think, truthfully. Over the ensuing months, my position has become clear in my own mind, especially as I’ve seen the results pour forth.

My biggest regret is the division within the community that this has caused.

My fear is the knee-jerk over-regulation that may follow based on inaccurate reporting, fear and a rush to “do something.”

It’s Your Decision

As strongly as I feel about this topic, I encourage everyone to listen to the different perspectives and not stand in judgement of the people voicing those opinions. We don’t know what that walk in their moccasins looked like. It may have been and may still be torturous. We often move on, only to have the thin scab ripped off when emotional situations involving the most primal bond of nature, mothers and their entirely dependent babies, rape and murder surface.

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been individually affected by these horrific crimes, meaning rape or murder – either personally or someone within their family. If you think your family is exempt, it’s probably because the victim has never divulged what happened.

When all is said and done, you’ll need to make your own personal decision about how to handle your DNA according to your life’s journey, conscience and moral compass. You can leave it in the data bases if it’s already there, transfer it in to both to support law enforcement matching, or you can opt out entirely. Make the decision that’s right for you. The good news is that with an off-on toggle switch, you can change your mind in either direction at any time.

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Please note that I am a member of the Citizen’s Panel formed in late February by Family Tree DNA to provide feedback on ethics and policy questions. I provided a list of questions, concerns and suggestions to Family Tree DNA after their initial law enforcement announcement in late January and before their recent update on March 12th. The Citizen’s Panel is an entirely volunteer (uncompensated) position and I serve along with:

  • Katherine Borges – Director of ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogy)
  • Kenyatta Berry – Professional genealogist, host of PBS’s Genealogy Road Show
  • Dr. Maurice Gleeson – Genetic genealogist, speaker and organizer of the Genetic Genealogy Conference in Ireland, and FamilyTreeDNA volunteer Group Project Administrator
  • Dr. Tim Janzen – Family Practice physician, long-time genealogist, genetic genealogy lecturer for Oregon’s local ISOGG group and other genetic genealogy conferences, and FamilyTreeDNA volunteer Group Project Administrator
  • Amy McGuire – Lawyer and Leon Jaworski Professor of Biomedical Ethics and Director of the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the Baylor College of Medicine
  • Bob McLaren – An early adopter of genetic genealogy and FamilyTreeDNA volunteer Group Project Administrator

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