Sunday, March 1, 2020

Should We Develop A Genetic Genealogy Strategy For Future Testing Advancements?

When it comes to autosomal DNA testing, the smart advice is to test your eldest living family members.

None of us are going to be around forever. Life is short and we must gather, while it's available, the irreplaceable spit data that can provide deeper insights into our family's history.

But how do we prepare for future advancements in genetic genealogical testing?

Surely the autosomal testing that currently dominates (e.g. AncestryDNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage, and FTDNA) won't be here for the duration. Something new and presumably better (meaning technologically more advanced) will eventually bound onto the scene replacing the current iteration of autosomal tests.

In preparation for that anticipated new product, should genetic genealogists act now to preserve their eldest family's data, so it can be examined by whatever newfangled test comes to market?

DNA storage for genealogical purposes is possible. One company, FamilyTree DNA, stores customers' DNA samples (purportedly for 25 years). To my knowledge, none of the other genealogically-focused providers currently offer this service.

Is a smart strategy to test older relatives with companies like FamilyTree DNA to preserve a copy of their DNA sample? This way, when new technology is available (and affordable), the sample can be examined by the latest test.

It seems prudent to be forward thinking with our DNA testing strategies both now and in the years ahead - particularly when our eldest family members may no longer be around to provide testing samples.

On the surface, this seems quite sensible. But we haven't even touched on the ethical considerations of preserving and testing DNA samples of family members after they've passed away. Clearly, it's a complicated issue that requires measured consideration.

I'm curious what others think about the matter and what steps, if any, you're undertaking to protect samples for future testing.

What's your take on developing a genetic genealogy strategy for future testing advancements? What other considerations should come into play?


  1. I wish genetic genealogy was about 3 decades older. I am the senior generation, but I would have loved to have had DNA samples from my parents and grandparents. The best plan is still to test one's oldest living relatives first. I've taken the autosomal and mtDNA tests, as has my husband and he's also done the Y-DNA 111.

    1. It sounds like you and your husband have done what can be done to have samples that are preserved for the future.

      With respect to your parents and our ancestors who have passed, I am curious to see how DNA artifact testing evolves in the coming years. Will it become increasingly easier to obtain samples from sealed envelopes or licked stamps? I've even seen some speculation that hair (without the follicle) could yield helpful information. But for now I think it's science fiction still teetering on reality and mainstream.

  2. Interesting question. I am so skeptical of DNA testing as a research tool that I haven't really worried about this. In some ways I think the privacy concerns outweigh the benefits of genealogical benefits. For people searching for birth parents or siblings, the benefits may outweigh those concerns (although if birth families don't want to be found, then perhaps they don't.) But using DNA to find some ninth cousin, twice removed seems less important than protecting someone's privacy from government or corporate intrusions.

    1. I 100% agree that privacy is and must remain the top priority.

      But, of course, I'm a proponent of DNA testing (it's how I learned my grandfather was the product of an extramarital relationship and introduced me to my Kirks). Without it, my family tree would look very different. If I had more research time to dedicate to other lines, I know it could help me identify ancestors quite near in time. For me, it's been a mission critical tool.

    2. I am not suggesting at all that DNA can't be an important tool for some people's research. I know that for many it can be. I just haven't had that good fortune. But even so, I do worry about surveillance by third parties who will use this information for all kinds of purposes, some good, some evil. I don't know how we control that.

    3. I hear you and share your concerns for privacy, Amy. It's one of the growing concerns in the digital age.