11 January 2012

Unexpected use of DNA

Note: Personal opinions follow.

There is a heated discussion going on right now in the genetic genealogy community. After a story was aired on a local television station, Dick Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter carried the story to genealogists.The discussion spilled over into the general public after CNN and London’s Daily Mail carried the story.

Police asked for assistance from a well-known forensic and genetic genealogist in analyzing a DNA sample from a 1991, King County, Washington, case where a sixteen year old girl was murdered. Some of the information, as reported, is incorrect. Other blog articles and comments in the online stories above are correcting some of those errors. No matter how carefully a knowledgeable person tries to phrase probabilities with DNA results, those explanations are difficult for the less-experienced to understand. Even if a reporter gets it right, editors make changes without truly understanding how the meaning of the words were changed, headline writers are trying to catch your attention with the most sensational phrasing. And readers can get something different than either the expert, the reporter, or the editor meant to convey.

Genealogy DNA project administrators are worried relatives will resist testing for genealogical purposes if they think their DNA results will be used by the police when the DNA tester is not remotely related to a crime.

Some see this as another incidence of government agencies trampling our rights to privacy and freedom from unwarranted search and seizure.

Here are some facts to consider:
For the most part, people making comments online have no detailed information about what was actually done — how many markers were tested, how closely did they match, exactly what was done. Without understanding these undisclosed facts of the investigation no real evaluation of the process can be made.

We don't know enough about the DNA markers used for genealogy and exactly what matches mean. Some projects have testers who match exactly on 67 or more markers when we know they don't have a common ancestor within the last several hundred years. That same project can also include testers showing two mutations likely occurred between a father and a son. One DNA project administrator reported three mutations between a father-son pair that tested.

Genealogical DNA databases are NOT representative of the population at large. DNA databases include only those who have self-selected themselves for testing.

Those self-selectors can provide any information they want about names and ancestors. Many provide no information at all. Some may have provided alias information just because they wanted to protect themselves from possible misuse of their DNA results. I'm not recommending this. If more people do this the databases will become useless for genealogical purposes. But this severely impacts any conclusions drawn by law enforcement based on self-provided, unverified data in genealogical databases.
Ever since Dolly was cloned, even before, there have been discussions about how science and technology have moved far beyond our laws. We do need to update our laws and define what is legal and what is not. Recent laws like GINA and the California SB 559 are a start. We need more. Some of us have been worried about and fighting to keep the government from restricting our right to access our own DNA test results without unnecessary regulation and interference by those who think they know better than we do. This current controversy could exacerbate the regulation situation — or make it irrelevant if no one tests anymore because they worry about the police getting their DNA data.

Why is it we never seem to be proactive in solving issues instead of panicking and being reactive? There will always be those who will violate the accepted rules, but we should document the rules to provide guidance for those who want to know what is right and what is wrong.

My personal opinion is that I have no problem with police doing any DNA tests they want on convicted felons or on someone they have REASONABLY concluded is a suspect. I am against blanket DNA testing to try to narrow down an investigation to possible suspects. I am against using medical and genealogical databases for criminal investigations. I suspect my relatives and friends who are involved with police work might disagree with me.

When and if we ever learn enough about DNA so that we can be sure the guilty person is the only one who will be caught in a net, I might change my mind. Today there are too many unknowns to put what we have learned about relationships from genealogical DNA testing to use nabbing suspected criminals.

Note: I did not include links to DNA projects or mail-lists to document my statements above. In this paranoid environment that does not seem prudent. And I'll leave it to the mathematicians to post the supporting statistics now under discussion by genetic genealogists.

Related Stories:

Does DNA Link 1991 Killing to Colonial Era Family? by Blaine Bettinger of The Genetic Genealogist offers a commmon sense way of looking at this issue. He may convince me that it is acceptable to use medical and genealogical databases for criminal investigations.

Added 12 January 2012:

Using Public Y-DNA Profiles to Track Down Criminals: Would You? by CeCe Moore of Your Genetic Genealogist asks "If one of your loved ones was murdered and you believed that you could identify the guilty party using the same resources that we use for our hobby...wouldn't you?" and offers supporting arguments.

Added 14 January 2012:

"The Mayflower criminal registry," by John Hawks of John Hawks weblog brings up issues we should discuss as affordable whole-genome research becomes a reality.

© 2012, Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, All Rights Reserved

10 January 2012

Courthouse Love - or Not

Many genealogists say they love old courthouses. See Betty Lou Malesky's "Genealogy Today: My romance with courthouses" article in the Green Valley (Arizona) News. Or Nancy Hendrickson's "Courthouse Genealogy" post on her Ancestor News blog.

Am I the only one who hates visiting the sweltering (or freezing, it's always one or the other), moldy, dusty, dirty, crowded (almost every Texas courthouse is crowded with researchers looking for the owners of mineral rights), sometimes unorganized storage places we relegate our most historical documents to?

Don't get me wrong. I LOVE the records. I LOVE the information I get from those records. I LOVE analyzing the information and correlating it with other information to solve kinship problems. I'm learning to love writing it all up, trying to achieve a "soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion"1 that others can agree with. Or straighten me out if they think I am wrong.

I'm grateful courthouses still exist and allow me to access the records that have never been microfilmed or digitized. That is how I found proof of a marriage between my third-great-grandparents in my Parker line even though the marriage records were lost in a courthouse fire in 18742 and they never appeared together on a census record where a relationship was directly stated. The Commissioner's Court records, unfilmed, undigitized, unindexed, requiring a page-by-page reading of old, faded handwriting, allowed me to find proof of a marriage (details to be documented in a forthcoming publication).

Many new researchers only know about records available online. Good researchers soon learn about records they can borrow on microfilm. Better researchers learn about records only available locally in courthouses, libraries, and archives. I HAVE to go to the courthouse and local facilities because I know information I need is only available there. But I don't love it.

I understand the thrill of holding the actual piece of paper my ancestor held in her hands when she signed it. I understand the thrill of finding evidence supporting a conclusion for which there is no document explicitly stating the relationship. But I also remember the lady who told me she spent months and months being treated for a fungal infection she got in her hands and forearms while she was going through some moldy, old documents in a Catholic archive in Mexico. Ugh.

Preserving our history and heritage is important. We shouldn't have to search for it in dungeons or dig it out of dumpsters after a court clerk's office has decided all those old documents aren't needed anymore.3 And it shouldn't require exposure to fungal infections or sneezing attacks to learn about our history.

1. Christine Rose, Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case, 3d ed. (San Jose, California: CR Publications, 2009), 3.

See also: Christine Rose, Courthouse Research for Family Historians: Your Guide to Genealogical Treasures (San Jose, California: CR Publications, 2004).

2. Imogene Kinard Kennedy and J. Leon Kennedy, Genealogical Records in Texas, (Baltimore, Maryland: Clearfield/GPC, 1987), 136; record destruction confirmed during my own visits to the county clerk's office between 2005 and 2010.

3. Erin, McKeon, "200-year-old documents come to light," (Nacogdoches, Texas) Daily Sentinel, 5 March 2010, p. 1A; DailySentinel.com (http://dailysentinel.com/news/article_b160f492-2808-11df-9f63-001cc4c03286.html : subscription required for access, 10 January 2011).

Disclosure: Links in the citations above go to Heritage Books. I have no vested interest in Heritage Books and receive no favors or compensation for providing these links. I like to support those in the genealogical community whenever I can. Craig R. Scott, CG, owner of Heritage Books, is a friend who publishes new genealogical book titles and sells books in addition to those he publishes.

© 2012, Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, All Rights Reserved

08 January 2012

How to Save Your Raw DNA Data at 23andMe

I just went through the process to download all of my family's data from 23andMe to be sure I have the most current information saved on my computer.

Here are the steps you need to perform to download your data. You may also want to print some or all of these pages for future reference. Using an image grabbing tool like TechSmith's SnagIt can also be useful for capturing some of these pages. SnagIt can grab an entire Web page including parts that require scrolling to view on the screen.

1. Login to your 23andMe account.

2. Click "Account > Browse Raw Data" in the top navbar.

3. Click "Download raw data."

4. Click the "See a log of updates and changes to the raw data download" link in the center of the page. Save the revision history as your current raw data file is likely different than one you saved earlier. Then go back to the "Download Raw Data" page.

5. Enter both your password and your secret answer. If your account is used for multiple tests, select one tester in the "Profile." Select "All DNA" as the Data set. Navigate to the folder where you wish to save the file, rename the file if desired, click "Save."

7. Click "Relative Finder" in the left navbar. Scroll to the end of the displayed list and click "Download Results." Navigate to the folder where you wish to save the file, rename the file if desired, click "Save."

Note: This saves all of your matches, not just the ones currently displayed on the page. One problem with using this data later is that many of the 23andMe testers have no name listed. You also won't have any way to contact these matches if you no longer have a 23andMe account. See prior post with links to 23andMe position statements to decide if you need a lifetime subscription to 23andMe.

8. Click "Ancestry Labs" in the left navbar then "Ancestry Finder" on the next page.

Scroll to the end of the displayed list and click "Download [name]'s Ancestry Finder matches (csv)." Navigate to the folder where you wish to save the file, rename the file if desired, click "Save." This saves all of your matches, not just the ones currently displayed on the page. The note in step seven applies here, too.

9. While logged in, save a consolidated health report by entering the URL https://www.23andme.com/you/health/printable/ into your browser and saving the resulting PDF file. Navigate to the folder where you wish to save the file, rename the file if desired, click "Save."

10. Check your inbox for all messages. Some of these may be from cousins you haven't met yet that you'd like to correspond with while you still have a 23andMe account.

11. Browse the other pages available to you and print or capture any data you may be interested in.

Note: repeat the process above for each profile if you have tested multiple people on one account.

Hat tip to Ann Turner, co-author of Trace Your Roots with DNA (Rodale Press, 2004) for her post to the ISOGG group list reminding users to save the Ancestry and Relative Finder data and consolidated health report. Ann also let everyone know the monthly subscription fees being discussed during this recent controversy apply only to those who tested with the V3 chip when the new terms of service were introduced. A 23andMe press release indicates
Customers who purchase the 23andMe Personal Genome Service™ on or after Wednesday, November 24th will have their DNA tested on the new version of the array.

23andMe has combined Illumina's HumanOmniExpress [V3] array with significant customization to create a more comprehensive testing platform.
So if you tested before November 24, 2010, you tested on the V2 version of the Illumina chip. You probably already have a lifetime subscription and much of the current controversy does not apply to you.

© 2012, Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, All Rights Reserved

Speaking on DNA - 9 Jan 2012, Newton, Texas

I will be presenting an introduction to using DNA testing for genealogy at the Deep East Texas Archaeological Society meeting.

Date: Monday, January 9, at 7:00 p.m., The society serves refreshment at 6:30 p.m. before the meeting starts

Place: Newton County Museum History Center and Genealogical Library, 213 E. Court St., Newton, Texas

This 30-minute session is a basic introduction to how to use Y-DNA, mitochondrial DNA, and autosomal DNA testing for genealogical research purposes.

I gave this shortened version of the presentation at the Texas General Land Office, Save Texas History seminar last October. I was able to do the full 90-minute version at the Texas State Genealogical Society conference in November. Last July I was able to present an all-day seminar at the North Texas Genealogical Society in Wichita Falls. There is so much information to convey on how to use DNA for genealogy that you can fill up an entire week if everyone could make that much time to listen and learn. Check out my website for more information on the different DNA sessions and reference information on how to use your own DNA results.

© 2012, Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, All Rights Reserved

23andMe Policy Updates and DNA Testing Company Recommendations

A few weeks ago I wrote on 23andMe's service changes — DNA Access Policy Changes Bad for Genealogists. There has been a discussion in the 23andMe forums, on most of the DNA mail lists, and a petition was created by well-known genetic genealogist Larry Vick to allow consumers of 23andMe's product to voice opinions and needs.

Anne Wojcicki, co-founder and CEO of 23andMe, responded today. Each customer will need to determine if the current policy will meet your needs or not. 23andMe tried to make significant changes with no discernible consideration of customer needs. Because of this I am not yet ready to give whole-hearted recommendations to genetic genealogists to test there unless you really want the medical and health data provided by 23andMe.

Until this controversy I was a happy customer of both 23andMe and Family Tree DNA. For the time being, I will continue to recommend Family Tree DNA for those interested in DNA testing for genealogical purposes. The founders of Family Tree DNA are genealogists and have the same passion we do. I trust them more to do what will work for genealogists. Not to say I agree with every decision made by Family Tree DNA either, but their business decisions have been more along the lines of prioritizing where to put resources (Ysearch updates or X chromosome browser) as opposed to eliminating access to customers.

© 2012, Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, All Rights Reserved

07 January 2012

RootsTech 2012 - Be sure you check the right schedule to avoid disappointment

Wow. After reviewing the schedule posted by several bloggers yesterday, I just wrote and was about to post a scathing post on what seemed to be the less technical nature of the RootsTech 2012 conference. I was so disappointed I couldn't go to RootsTech in 2011 that I made sure I could attend the 2012 conference. After checking the schedule of presentations linked by one blogger I was disappointed in the 2012 offerings. Then I discovered there are multiple schedules.

The RootsTech 2012 User Schedule shows the sessions of most interest to genealogists who are not developers or programmers.

The RootsTech 2012 Developer Schedule shows the sessions of most interest to developers, programmers, and hard-core techies.

The RootsTech 2012 Schedule shows all of the sessions.

The blog link I clicked on was the user schedule. I take back all of the bad thoughts I was thinking about the dumbing down (or tech-ing down) of RootsTech before I found the Developer Schedule. Be sure you are looking at the full schedule or the link for the topics you are most interested in.

I will say I really prefer the way the schedule pages worked yesterday. I could click on a title and a summary opened up on the same page. Clicking all of the titles got a schedule and summary of each topic all on one Web page. Now clicking any title takes you to a separate Web page just for that session. It gives a lot more information on the session and the speaker. But I liked seeing the summary on the schedule page as opposed just to speakers, titles, and times.

I am excited again and will post more about RootsTech after I attend the conference. I hope I am not disappointed and don't think I will be.

© 2012, Debbie Parker Wayne, All Rights Reserved

06 January 2012

Review: The Big Genealogy Blog Book by Amy Coffin

A while back I purchased the PDF version of my colleague Amy Coffin's new e-book, The Big Genealogy Blog Book. Amy's recent post on her We Tree Genealogy Blog has links to several other formats and places to purchase the book which costs only $2.99.

The book consists of the following sections:
Chapter 1 – Why Start a Genealogy Blog?
Chapter 2 – 6 Blogging Myths
Chapter 3 – Tips for Writing Good Blog Posts
Chapter 4 – How to Get More Blog Readers
Chapter 5 – How to Get More Blog Comments and Mentions
Chapter 6 – Quality Control: A Blogger’s Checklist
Chapter 7 – Jump Start Your Genealogy Blog: 52 Ideas, 52 Weeks
Chapter 8 – 52 Weeks to Better Genealogy
Chapter 9 – 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History
Chapter 10 – 25 Great Topics for Genealogy Society Blogs
Chapter 11 – 20 Blog Topics for Professional Genealogists
Parting Thoughts

I bought the book because I'd like to make by own blog better. I got a lot of good ideas and now just need to make time to implement those ideas. I also like to support someone who does a lot to help our genealogical community with technical blog posts as well as old-school research tips. Amy's blog was one of the first I started following regularly and still read. Her humor is contagious and comes through in every post.

Amy's book does not give step-by-step instructions on creating a blog, but gives you links to existing guidance based on the blogging platform you choose. She does explain things you should consider as you create your blog, determine which widgets and options to include, and post articles.

Most of the book discusses interesting topics to write about. Even if you don't plan to write a word, these ideas can be useful. Your research will benefit from trying out some of the suggestions given. No law says you have to write a blog post after you learn a new technique or tool. But these are great topics to write about if you do have a blog or if you write for a society newsletter. And if you follow "52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History" you'll have a wonderful personal history to hand off to your descendants. I'll bet there are some topics in Amy's list you would never think to include if you just sit down to write your own history.

My only disappointment is that some really technical things aren't covered like automatic links between a blog, Facebook, and Twitter. These topics don't actually fit the genealogy topic of the book. I was just hoping someone who already knows the ins and outs of this process would save me the time it will take to search for and learn this on my own. Maybe this would make a good blog post or a topic for a future book.

Disclosure: Amy and I are both members of the Lone Star Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists. We've shared some good times at genealogy conferences and chapter events.

© 2012, Debbie Parker Wayne, All Rights Reserved

02 January 2012

Family Tree DNA Sale Ending January 7th

Family Tree DNA's home page indicates a sale is now running through January 7th. I can't tell if all of the end-of-year-sale prices have been extended because the page displayed after clicking on "Learn more" still shows a 12/31 sale end date. But if you click on "Products" in the top navigation bar it looks like all of the sale prices have been extended.

If you didn't get your DNA test order placed by December 31st, check out the prices.

© 2011, Debbie Parker Wayne, All Rights Reserved