23 May 2018

DNA Analysis Standards

20 June 2018: Updated link to DNA standards survey page.

This is part of a series on Genealogy Standards for using DNA. This series represents the opinions and interpretation of the proposed standards by this author and does not necessarily reflect BCG’s official position. The proposed standards are not being addressed in numerical order, but all articles will be linked. For other parts in the series see

Way back in 2013 an Ad hoc committee formed to develop genetic genealogy standards. Those standards were released in January 2015 and are available at http://geneticgenealogystandards.com/.1 These standards are recommended by many organizations and by most speakers covering DNA topics

Those original standards primarily deal with ethical issues. The plan was to eventually add technical standards with more details on depth of testing, resolution of tests, and many other critical elements of using DNA test results to answer genealogical questions. As with so many other things, life got in the way and the additional work was never completed.

In the intervening years, we have learned a lot more about using DNA test results effectively and how varied and "random" the results can be from one family to another. Real life results do not always match the statistical average predictions. By definition, an "average" is the typical result in a data set, but that means there are real results on either side of that average. This leads to many questions. How many men need to be tested in a Y-DNA line to prove or disprove a theory? How many markers should be tested? How many markers can differ? How big should an X-DNA segment be before you spend time searching for the common ancestor who passed it down to the people living today? There is no definitive answer to these questions. Many variables will affect the answer for a specific family under investigation although there are some general guidelines to consider.

Many of us think we need defined standards for using DNA evidence to reach a genealogical conclusion even though there is no "magic number" answer to many questions. What should a thorough researcher do when incorporating DNA evidence into a genealogical conclusion? What do you look for other than the name of the same ancestor when analyzing another person's family tree? How do you document the analysis?

Years ago researchers had similar questions related to documentary research. The community responded with books to provide guidance to researchers. A selected list includes Genealogy as Pastime and Profession in 1930 and revised in 1968,2 Genealogical Research: Methods and Sources in 1960 and revised in 1980,3 Genealogical Evidence in 1979,4 Genealogical Standards of Evidence in 2010,5 and Elements of Genealogical Analysis in 2014.6

[Added: Mea culpa. I left off one of the best and newest books: Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (now Falls Church, VA: National Genealogical Society, 2013). And don't forget the analysis chapters at the beginning of Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained, 3d. ed. (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publ. Co., 2015).]

The Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) published The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual in 2000.7 This was reorganized, updated, and published as Genealogy Standards in 2014.8 These standards reflect best practices for the genealogical research community, not just those applying for BCG credentials. Some genealogists think these standards are all we need—that we do not need more specifics for DNA.

My colleague, Harold Henderson, CG, makes an excellent point as to why DNA standards should also be spelled out (paraphrased and used with permission): A highly competent genealogist would be able to formulate standards based only on the elements of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS).9 By expanding the concepts of the GPS into the Genealogy Standards, BCG saved time for us all. Each researcher can understand the fine points of performing quality documentary research without having to recreate the standards. Defined DNA Standards provide the same service for those seeking to incorporate DNA analysis.

DNA standards will help members of the general community
  • Researchers adding DNA analysis to their skill set
  • Authors incorporating DNA evidence
  • DNA test takers and those requesting others to take tests
  • Instructors teaching others to analyze DNA test results

DNA standards will also provide benefits for BCG
  • Applicants and those renewing credentials will know what is expected when incorporating DNA
  • BCG judges will all be judging to the same published standards for DNA
  • Updated Genealogy Standards will reflect the current state of research (we have been using DNA for genealogy for over twenty years now and testing has increased exponentially in recent years)

The BCG Genetic Genealogy Committee has drafted a set of DNA Standards that reflect the practices of some of the most experienced genealogists using DNA today. BCG is surveying the community for input on these proposed standards. Some current Genealogy Standards are modified and expanded to more clearly define the needs when using DNA. New DNA Standards address DNA testing, interpreting DNA test results, identifying shared ancestry, accessing test results, and integrating DNA and documentary evidence. These standards are focused to provide specific guidance yet broad enough to allow for differing family composition and random factors encountered with DNA.

You can participate in the survey and provide your opinion through a Google Docs survey linked from https://bcgcertification.org/proposed-dna-standards-for-public-comment/. Please leave comments by 23 July 2018 explaining your agreement or disagreement with the proposed standards. Comments will be used to modify the standards as needed before acceptance and publication. There is also a link from which you can download a PDF file with the proposed standards.

Feel free to leave comments here, but only comments submitted through the official portal above will be considered by the committee.

1. Genetic Genealogy Standards Committee, Genetic Genealogy Standards, http://geneticgenealogystandards.com/.
2. Donald Lines Jacobus, Genealogy as Pastime and Profession (1930, revised 1968; reprint, Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing, 1999).
3. Genealogical Research: Methods and Sources, 2 vols. (Vienna, Virginia: American Society of Genealogists, 1980-1983).
4. Noel C. Stevenson, Genealogical Evidence: A Guide to the Standard of Proof Relating to Pedigrees, Ancestry, Heirship and Family History (Laguna Hills, California: Aegean Park Press, 1979).
5. Brenda Dougall Merriman, Genealogical Standards of Evidence (Toronto: Ontario Genealogical Society, 2010).
6. Robert Charles Anderson, Elements of Genealogical Analysis: How to Maximize Your Research Using the Great Migration Study Project Method (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2014).
7. BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Washington, DC: Board for Certification of Genealogists, 2000).
8. Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, 50th anniversary ed. (Nashville, Tennessee: Turner Publ., 2014; https://bcgcertification.org/product/bcg-genealogy-standards/).
9. Board for Certification of Genealogists, "Ethics and Standards," scroll down to "Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS)" (https://bcgcertification.org/ethics/ethics-standards/).

Full disclosure:

I have held Certified Genealogist® credentials from BCG since September 2010. I helped form the BCG Genetic Genealogy Committee to discuss DNA standards. I resigned from the committee due to personal commitments, but have continued to participate as an adviser, reviewer, and in other ways. I support the adoption of standards to be used when incorporating DNA analysis into a genealogical conclusion.

I support BCG seeking input on the proposed standards from the greater genealogical community using DNA. I see this as a positive step to ensure newly adopted standards will meet the needs of the entire research community. No matter what is adopted, updates will certainly be needed just as research methodology and documentary research standards have evolved over the decades.

All statements made in this blog are the opinion of the post author. This blog is not sponsored by any entity other than Debbie Parker Wayne nor is it supported through free or reduced price access to items discussed unless so indicated in the blog post. Hot links to other sites are provided as a courtesy to the reader and are not an endorsement of the other entities except as clearly stated in the narrative.

To cite this blog post:
Debbie Parker Wayne, "DNA Analysis Standards," Deb's Delvings, 23 May 2018 (http://debsdelvings.blogspot.com/ : accessed [date]).

© 2018, Debbie Parker Wayne, Certified Genealogist®, All Rights Reserved

No comments:

Post a Comment