Tag Archive | law enforcement

Important Changes at GEDmatch

If you have not logged into GEDmatch recently, please do so and either accept the new terms and conditions or don’t. Unless you are clearly USA based*, your kits will not be visible to your relatives any more unless you accept. I have linked to numerous other blogs at the end of this article to help you make your choice. I recommend reading either the one from Roberta Estes or EU users, the one from Debbie Kennett. Both look carefully at the new terms and conditions which are not very different from before.

Frankly, I was surprised by the panic expressed last week by some in the genetic genealogy world on FaceBook due to the sale of our beloved GEDmatch DNA tools site to a forensic science company. Personally, I hate knee jerk reactions so I did some research into this company, Verogen, as well as communicated extensively with Curtis Rodgers, one of the GEDmatch founders, and Kim Mohr, a spokesperson for Verogen.

To remind you all, GEDmatch is the best place to compare DNA tests done at different companies to each other or just to see the actual chromosome locations shared by two Ancestry testers. While both Family Tree DNA (ftDNA) and MyHeritage accept uploads of tests from other companies so you can compare on those sites, neither has the extensive tools of GEDmatch. FtDNA compares down to very small segments which can be useful in a family project but leads to inaccurate relationship estimates. MyHeritage does not show the X chromosome and neither company shows the fully identical segments (FIRs) that full siblings will have, which can be so helpful (click here).

The DNA Applications menu at GEDmatch

GEDmatch has many useful additional tools, such as “People who match both or 1 of 2 kits ,” an “Are your parents related?” test, the ability to see who matches you on a specific segment, being able to check for full siblings rather than half, and automated triangulation, to name a few of my favorites (click those words to go to that post when I did one or click here for my more general GEDmatch articles). Plus it has GEDCOM comparison utilities. Compare yours to all the ones in the database or to just one other.

GEDmatch became a center of controversy when it was discovered that genetic genealogist Barbara Rae-Venter, working with law enforcement (LE). had solved the Golden State Killer case (click here) using that site. Since that time, there have been more controversies around law enforcement’s use of the site and many overblown scare articles in the press. Personally if my DNA outs a distant cousin who is a murderer or rapist, that’s fine with me. Genetic genealogy techniques are used as a tip; no one is arrested without getting their DNA from discarded materials and seeing if it is a match to the crime scene. I know some people are afraid of the possibility of false arrests, but that just does not happen with these modern techniques. You can, as before, choose to opt out of allowing LE to see your results on GEDmatch when looking for cousin matches to the dna of the perp or the unidentified victim.

In recent months, there have been more problems, news stories and controversies, including a Florida search warrant being granted. One has to feel for the two retired hobbyists who founded GEDmatch to help in their research and ultimately help us all, keeping most of the features free. Clearly getting the site owned and managed by a more professional group would be of great advantage to the users. Curtis spent several months looking for the right partner that would respect the original misson of GEDmatch and yet deal appropriately with LE, the EU, and security issues. He and the programmers, the two Johns, will continue to work on the site as consultants.

So who or what is Verogen? Two years ago this company was spun off from Illumina (the maker of the chips and machines that all the consumer oriented DNA testing companies use to sequence your DNA). It has 50 plus employees and plans to continue growing. Their office is in a small office park near UCSD here in San Diego. Continue reading

Please Opt In at GEDmatch

In these modern divisive times, even the genetic genealogy community has been torn into two camps. Is it modern nature to react with emotion rather than thought? With the “are you with us or them”? Is this what overuse of social media has done to us? I can see both sides of the issue. Some of you may wonder what I am even talking about ….

Cece Moore on Dr Phil explaining how she uses DNA to find criminals (click image to go to that site for the article and video)

The problem has arisen because Law Enforcement (LE) has been using DNA and genealogy databases to help find violent criminals and to resolve many old and cold cases like the Golden State Killer (GSK) case. They are using the techniques and tools that were developed for breaking genealogical brick walls and helping adoptees find their biological families. Personally, I applaud this usage and the closure it brings to the families of the victims. A dear 4th cousin of mine lived in fear during her adolescent years in Sacramento because of the GSK.

However the issues of concern for many genealogists are privacy and consent. Frankly, I think you should not test your DNA if privacy is a worry of yours. So many people have tested now that you can be easily identified if you do it too. My son and two nephews have chosen not test for that reason.

How about consent? Consider the site GEDmatch.com, which was developed to let people compare their DNA tests with testers from other companies, as well as provide many helpful additional tools. If you uploaded your DNA there in the past, had you given your consent for this usage? After the GSK case. I marked all the kits I control as research until each person had responded with permission to open it up. Most were happy with the thought that their DNA might out a distant cousin who was a criminal. Polls show that 90% of Americans are OK with this too.

I have been asking everyone again since GEDmatch now has an specific opt in on each kit for LE usage of those test results in comparisons. There is also an opt in for whether the link to your WIKItree compact tree should show. Both are important. Until many more people have opted in, the benefit of the database for LE is very limited.

Why the opt in now? Why is the genetic genealogy community so divided? What happened?
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How to find a killer using DNA and genealogy

It was only a matter of time before the methodologies and technologies that have been developed to break genealogical brick walls and find unknown birth parents were used to identify victims and criminals. The use of DNA and genealogy to solve the horrific Golden State killer case has been sensationalized in the media for several days now. I even got a few calls from reporters as a DNA and GEDmatch expert. Also, just two weeks ago an unknown murder victim from 30 years ago, found in Florida, was finally identified from a DNA cousin match on a genealogy site.

Some of my friends and cousins are worried about the possible invasion of their DNA test privacy. Most just want to understand how this can be done, so I will try to explain that in this post. At the end of this post I will include links to other genetic genealogy blog posts that have wrestled with the issues raised.

You share about 98.5% of your DNA with this fellow

Although I have sympathy with the concerns of people who fear false identification using DNA techniques, this is not my fear. The methodology used gets to a pool of possibles whose actual DNA is then collected and compared. I have confidence in that technology. My fear is that my cousins will stop testing their DNA to help my family projects or stop uploading their tests to my favorite tools site, GEDmatch, where the DNA test results from different companies can be compared.

Click here for an article at the LA Times which went into more of the technical details of the Golden State killer case for us genetic genealogists and here for a lengthy video interview with investigator Paul Holes on how it was done.

Let me start my article by reminding all of you that every human’s DNA is about 99% the same as every other human and about 98.5% the same as a chimpanzee. The companies who test your personal genome only test a small sample of that differing 1%. To put it in numbers, our genomes have about 3 billion base pairs and the tests cover about 700,000 of those, which comes out to about .02% of your genome. Not enough to clone you or worry about, in my opinion.

Next let me remind you that uploading your DNA results from Ancestry or 23andme or wherever you tested to GEDmatch does not expose even that little bit of your DNA to the public. What happens is that your “DNA cousins” will match long sections of your data, called segments, and they can see which locations on which chromosome(s) are the same between the two of you. Therefore they know what your actual DNA code is only on those pieces they share with you. When they match you in the GEDmatch database, they can see your email address, name or pseudonym, and your kit number. With that kit number they can see what color your eyes are, what ethnicities various calculators give, and who else you match. If you have connected a family tree to your DNA they can also see the non-living people in your tree. But they have to match your DNA significantly to see any of that! Click here for an article I wrote addressing privacy worries at GEDmatch

So how do you get from there to a killer?
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