I was heartbroken to learn that only about 200,000 of the more than a million kits at GEDmatch have opted in to helping law enforcement (LE). This means that most of the cases that were solved before the opt in requirement went into effect last year could not be solved today.
Dear reader, I am asking you to review the kits you have at GEDmatch and contact any cousins of yours who are not yet helping law enforcement. You might also ask relatives whose kits you do not manage if they are opted in. If you know of deceased relatives who would help if they could, send their obituary and kit number to support (there is now a form for that!) to opt them in.
Here is the email I am sending to all my hesitant cousins tonight and to many of my one-to-many matches whom I had been in touch with before. Feel free to use any of all of it in your own messages. [UPDATE: I have been accused of being too manipulative in the message below. Probably true, apologies to those I offended, but I do feel very strongly about this issue. Please reach out to your matches and relatives who have not opted in and use whatever words you prefer.]
Dear cousin —–,
I am writing to ask a favor of you. I am asking you to be a responsible citizen and bravely opt in to allowing law enforcement (LE) to compare the DNA of victims and criminals to your DNA kit at GEDmatch.com. LE cannot see your actual DNA, only the parts that match, if there are any, to the person they are looking for. Since I manage your kit, I only need you to respond yes to this message and I will take care of it for you.
[replace that sentance with this one when you do not manage their kit]
To opt in you need to log into GEDmatch, accept the new terms, and then click the police icon next to your kit number; here is a blog post explaining how https://blog.kittycooper.com/2019/05/please-opt-in-at-gedmatch/ (towards the bottom).
It broke my heart to learn that cases like finding the killer of Tanya Van Cuylenborg and Jay Cook, solving the identities of Jane and John Does (unknown deceased victims), or clearing a falsely imprisoned man like Christopher Tapp would probably not happen today because not enough people have opted in at GEDmatch (click any underlined words to read more about those cases).
The rules have changed so that informed consent is needed before law enforcement (LE) can compare the DNA kits of victims or criminals to yours to see if they are related to you. If they are, the tools of genetic genealogy can be used to triangulate the pedigrees to identify the family of the person of interest. This is only treated as a tip. The actual DNA of the suspect is then collected by LE from their discarded trash and compared to the crime scene DNA. [UPDATED:] Your DNA test usually remains anonymous in this process.
If you have any family members who are violent criminals, do you really want to protect them? This consent is only for violent crimes: perpetrators and victims. Please say yes, and thank you again so very much for testing your DNA which has enhanced my family research enormously.
Love cousin Kitty
UPDATE: I did not make it clear in the above post that you need to click the police icon in your list of DNA kits to opt in to let law enforcement compare their kits to yours.
So if your kit listing in the left column looks like this, click the word POLICE if you want to opt in:
One further point is that you can look up the kits of your relatives in the DNA File Diagnostic Utility to check if they have opted in. If they have not, no browbeating please, gentle persuasion or accept their decision…
I couldn’t agree more with you! I also shared this!
Thks Kitty I am hoping this will make a difference…
Have a great time at RootsTech!
I opted in last year when asked to. Have had trouble all round with email genealogy sites and then gedmatch itself, signing up for 6 months in April last year to give it a fair uninterrupted go. More problems rather than less so asked myself was it because I opted in thus slowing our ordinary genealogy/dna searches so now I don’t suggest to anyone to have a DNA test or anything, had to let all sub go as people either did not respond, or could not respond. I don’t know why I just keep trying hitting my head against these brick walls and believe me I have sought lots of help and find others are having many similar problems. Is it going to keep getting worse before it gets better? Thank-you for providing space for yet another grizzle, just hope you have patience enough to read it.
Hello Kitty, Sent my first reply today off before I had all of these interesting comments; I could not be sure it even went so giving it this second chance in case it was required to read these other comments first. They are very helpful and I shall follow some up as it would be a sacrifice to give up these interests, although really too time consuming and expensive. I cannot see why those who wish to help law enforcement can’t just go direct to such an agency and not have to go via our family history, genealogical and DNA sites? I believe that in US blood donors are paid whereas in Australia it is/was voluntary and not all are/were accepted. The idea is that if one is not paid it is only given for the right reasons and not as could be in this case another avenue for manipulation by those who give, store, test and use, use whether by accident or on purpose. Mary
Yes it would be a shame to give up the time consuming and sometimes expensive interest in DNA that is just so very interessting. I did a post on getting your match to respond and I also link to Blaine’s post on that topic here:
A number of people are looking into a database for LE but at the moment genealogy has been amazingly helpful. Most of us do not know when a 3rd/4th cousin has vanished or committed a crime which is why DNA combined with trees in a genealogy site is so useful to LE.
Please try to understand the reluctance of foreigners to make data available to American law enforcement. I was originally opted in to access to LE but my husband and I withdrew our consent when access was given to a small town police force in Florida with just a local warrant. I manage a large number of kits for people in Canada, the UK and Australia and I would not consider asking them to make their DNA data available to American authorities. Many Canadians are quite anxious as it is about how much of our personal data is stored in the United States.
Linda, I do understand.
That Florida warrant is why GEDmatch needed a more professional organization with lawyers who could fight warrents in charge of our data.
However your DNA is not your credit card information nor is is very useful to anyone outside of your DNA relatives unless you have a cousin who is a criminal. That is just my opinion and you are entitled to yours.
My credit card was compromised a few days ago. The bank canceled it immediately, issued a new one, and we won’t be charged. No harm and minimal inconvenience. On the other hand, once our DNA data is stolen or sold to another entity, we can never get that privacy back.
Thanks, Kitty. I think that the statement should be “American law enforcement”. I am assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that Canadian law enforcement will not have access. And I certainly hope that it is not law enforcement in Iran, Syria etc. It’s a slippery slope.
I agree with helping law enforcement. I am becoming more interested in identifying remains, than catching criminals. With the large homeless and people whose families are now dispersed all over the world, it seems there may be more need to help identify those who pass with no ID.
Let’s bring closure to families missing a member, too.
Exactly, closure. If only people could read some of the thankful emails gedmatch has received … hmm maybe I will ask
The business behavior of GEDmatch and Verogen have led me, who initially opted-in, to change that to out-out or to pull the kits entirely. Cutis Roger’s decision to bypass published policy was, at the very least, unethical. I accepted his effort to reconcile with our community. My subsequent experience with the team involved a research project and an agreement, which did not disclose the secret Verogen discussions. After the Verogen acquisition they went radio silent and then simply walked away from the agreement after a several months of intense work by myself. They made no mention about how they handled my work products, but I learned they are working with others who might capitalize on it. They acted well within an acceptable legal framework, but they lost my trust. I support the mission of helping LE, but am exploring other strategies.
I am so sorry this happened to your work with them. Your timing was apparently not best for them but absolutely they should have informed you.
Our lives are full of dilemmas.
Opting in is an exchange.
We give up something of value for something of value.
Is what we receive of greater value than what we give up?
The challenge is assigning the correct weight or value to what we lose and what we gain.
What does it cost me personally to opt in?
Do the benefits to our community outweigh my personal fears?
What is it worth to me to have a chance to play a crucial role in freeing an innocent man?
Is it important to me to do my part exposing police and prosecutor misconduct?
Can I tolerate the risk of opting in if it stops a serial rapist?
How will I feel if I opt in and stop a serial killer?
How will I feel if I don’t opt in and a five years later a close relative of mine opts in and that kit leads to a quick identification of a serial killer?
How many murders committed in those five years justify withholding my kit from law enforcement?
One? Oh, for sure.
Five? Well maybe I could have opted in.
Probably best to completely remove my kit to avoid the humiliation my family will suffer if anyone finds out I withheld critical information that would have saved lives.
Or step up and do the right thing.
Might be the easiest contribution to society we ever make.
thank you Joseph, beautifully put
I manage 14 kits on Gedmatch. I opted in 3 of the kits: myself, my deceased mother, and my father’s deceased 1st cousin. I do not plan to ask my other relatives to opt in. The 3 kits I have opted in should be sufficient for LE needs.
I think you ought to offer them the possibility of opting in.
I personally called all my close relatives on the phone and emailed the less close ones when this all happened last year. Answered their questions. Opted in the ones who agreed but not all did.
My cousins have many different lines from our shared lines, often with no other close relatives tested, so I thought it was important.
It was the discovery of how few have opted in that prompted this post.
I am a retired deputy sheriff so I’m sure you know what my opinion is. You are going to get a lot of flack for this post but just know that I support it 100%. I think you explained it quite well and if the person doesn’t want to support law enforcement they are free to not opt-in but hopefully they will.
I am being tarred and feathered in a FaceBook group by a number of prominent genealogists. Oh well. Apparently my personal letter to my cousins is “too manipulative,” yup, guilty.
I wrote my post because I was so upset that so many cases will not be solved unless more people opt in at GEDmatch. My thought was to encourage people to reach out to their matches and relatives many of whom have not even logged in over the past year and probaby don’t even know about this controversy.
I agree with Michele. Though the language is clearly an attempt to persuade, it does inform, and I think it’s overreacting to call it “emotional blackmail.”
Thought you’d like to know that Blaine Bettinger just posted this on Facebook about this website: This is absolutely NOT the way to ask your relatives to opt-in to GEDmatch for law enforcement use of your DNA. This is horrifying, it is emotional manipulation to try to force matches and cousins into opting-in. You and your cousins need INFORMED CONSENT BEFORE opting in, which requires information about the pros and cons and then making your own (or their own) informed decision. You are a good person if you opt in, and you are a good person if you opt out; it is entirely up to YOU regardless of the outcome. You are NOT protecting criminals by failing to opt in; that is purely emotional blackmail. You should be free to make your own decision based on what YOU think is the best use of YOUR DNA.
He has a point, perhaps it is too manipulative
as I say above, my plan was to encourage people to reach out to their matches and relatives many of whom have not even logged in over the past year and probaby don’t even know about this controversy.
GEDmatch now requires consent for LE matching, but it’s not *informed* consent. For consent to be informed, the subject needs to be given objective information about the pros and cons. Suggested text for such an informed consent document is here: https://thednageek.com/petition-to-implement-informed-consent-at-gedmatch/
Leah, Can you not rewrite that into simple English for the non DNA person? It would be nice to have a better message to send to relatives who have no clue what this is all about and perhaps are overly reliant on my opinion.
Do you think the pros and cons in the blog post are too confusing?
When Gedmatch was owned by gedmatch I was only too pleased to cooperate with law enforcement. HOWEVER, when I read the description of Verogen and how they work with law enforcement I became concerned – concerned because I fear that Verogen will charge competing law enforcement agencies and make a huge profit from it. As a result, I have never logged into gedmatch again, and my kits are now hidden, as I understand it. Verogen will not profit from the DNA kits I manage. If I’ve misunderstood, please let me know, as I support the unfettered use of the DNA data for law enforcement purposes.
Hey Terri, good to hear from you.
Yes, I think you have misunderstood.
My take from discussions with the principals is that the hobbyists who were running GEDmatch could not cope with the search warrants, publicity, etc., so were looking for a “white knight” to take over that aspect and protect the interests of GEDmatch users properly while they continued to do the programming. That is why Verogen.
Personally I think the muckrakers have gone to town with their accusations about Verogen. I researched Verogen, emailed with them, and am satisfied with their custodianship of GEDmatch so read my blog post about that
I wrote this post because I was so upset that so many cases will not be solved unless more people opt in
Teri, Verogen is a for-profit company and my guess is that they paid at least seven figures for GEDmatch. They will absolutely be looking to recoup that expense somehow.
What a shame that more have not opted in. It saddens me to think that many cases will never be solved because so few people have opted in. I suspect that most of these are due to disinterest, lack of knowledge, etc. rather than any moral decision. All the kits that I manage have opted in. Keep up the good work and continue to remind the genealogy community.
As a irresponsible and apparently not brave citizen I’m almost without words. Almost.
It is your right to post what you wish here. You are free to browbeat, harangue and manipulate your relatives and friends to the best of your abilities. Your LIVING relatives and friends. The idea that you would even suggest that we start clipping obituaries in order to opt in the dead takes my breath away. You are seriously suggesting we turn GEDmatch support of law enforcement into the free for all contest we now have at FindAGrave? I am so very, very disappointed in you.
And I am disappointed the tone of your comment. Did you miss where I said “If you know of deceased relatives who would help if they could,” when all this first happened I contacted my relatives carefully.
You are right that this message that I sent to the remaining few was too manipulative. I will think about how to express how I feel in a more balanced way. Because I do feel very strongly about this.
Part of why so few have opted in, is that many have not even logged in to gedmatch since this controversy started. Their email addresses may even bounce.
My purpose here was to get devoted users of GEDmatch to reach out to relatives and matches to get them to consider opting in.
Thanks, Kitty, for an excellent blog post.
You’re right. The muckrakers HAVE gone to town against Verogen, and pretty much dna testing in general. “Hair on Fire” and all that, speculating what-ifs every time they post. Keep up your good work and message!
This is stunningly irresponsible and manipulative. I warn my family, clients, students and listeners of the pros and cons of GEDmatch membership. I tell them to read up, and that their consent should be informed, not guilted out of them.
The black community has numerous reasons to fear and resent LE having access to their DNA – planted evidence, malicious prosecutions, and wrongful convictions are a way of life in Black America. Ignoring this is the height of white privilege. It’s an embarrassment to the genealogy community.
I removed my kit and my family’s kits after learning of the SECOND breach of contract from GEDmatch’s original ownership. I informed all I knew. They did as they saw fit. I would never be so arrogant as to attempt to emotionally blackmail anyone into doing anything with their genetic material, especially communities vulnerable to targeted abuse by the criminal justice system.
This unscrupulous approach to DNA usage is a breach of ethics, and morally opprobrius. The police need to focus on testing backlogged rape kits; legislators need to catch up with balancing individual privacy and the public interest in laws governing DNA tests for subjects of LE interest; and genealogists, forensic and otherwise, need to get on with the business of finding and restoring families. Guilt and manipulation have no home in genealogy.
Please, please, please choose to opt-in. It is true none of us want to see anyone we know arrested, but if we had more people opt-in we would see more crimes solved. Remember that someone has suffered, most likely in a way you have no idea of what that suffering was like, so think of the victims. Maybe if everyone would opt-in, we wouldn’t see as much crime. Why do we continue to support criminals and not the victims? Think of all the abducted children and their families. I would love to see everyone opt-in, and also when a child is born we should also take DNA along with those footprint and handprints taken. I have opted in, and have encouraged all that I know that have DNA testest to do the same thing.
For those of you who actually read my blog post, rather than relying on the opinions of others about it, you might want to read my updates.
I use the word UPDATE: (and include a date if it is not right away) when I add information to an existing post. There is one towards the top (an apology to those who took offense) and another at the bottom where I show how to look up whether a cousin is opted in.
I stand by my determination to help the law id criminals and victims but my thoughts on how to get more people to opt in are my own opinions. You do not need to agree with me and I am now closing comments (something I never do!) because this has become so contentious.