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DNA and ethical standards

In December 2013, co-editors Thomas W. Jones and Melinde Lutz Byrne of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly lamented in an editorial that:

When genealogists began to apply DNA test results to family history, they had the opportunity and responsibility to set standards — not for laboratory procedures, but for acceptable linkages to individuals: documentation, ethics, and interpretation. It was an opportunity missed.1

No longer.

The opportunity is here, it is now, and it is ours to take.

DNA.stdsAs The Legal Genealogist said in Friday’s presentation to the National Genealogical Society conference in Richmond, an ad hoc group of the best and brightest of the genetic genealogy community has been engaged for months in the process of developing ethical standards for our field. Those of us who knew this was coming expected it by summer — and it’s happened faster than we expected!

The committee has “worked for the past several months to develop a draft of genetic genealogy standards. The document is intended to provide ethical and usage standards for the genealogical community to follow when purchasing, recommending, sharing, or writing about the results of DNA testing for ancestry.”2

Led by people like Blaine T. Bettinger, a lawyer, genetic genealogist and author of The Genetic Genealogist blog, and CeCe Moore, a genetic genealogist and author of Your Genetic Genealogist blog, the group includes representatives of the genetic genealogy community, the forensic genealogy community, scientists and traditional genealogists, and has sought wide input from as many different viewpoints as possible.

Now it’s time for us all to have our say.

Every one of us who has ever taken a DNA test, asked a cousin to test, thought about testing, administered a DNA project — we need to read these draft standards and speak up:

• where do we agree with the committee’s recommendations;
• where do we disagree;
• and, perhaps most importantly, where might we see an issue that the committee hasn’t yet addressed?

The draft — which may only be downloaded for your own use, and not copied or redistributed to others — can be reviewed at a site set up by the committee: Genetic Genealogy Standards. Although the title says the draft is available for comment from May 15 through June 15, it is available now.

There’s a link at the left for the Document, and another link for Comment. The comment area may look small when you open that page, but you can write your comments offline and paste them into that box, and it’ll accept them as long as you’re not writing a tome the size of War and Peace.

The draft covers ethical standards for the use of genetic genealogy test results ranging from issues of consent to scholarship, and standards for the interpretation of genetic genealogy test results ranging from the different types of tests to a “to-be-arranged” entry for citing DNA test results.

Take a careful look.

Think about how you’ve used DNA testing … and how you want it to be used, now and in the future.

And speak up.

Together, we can make sure this opportunity is not missed.


  1. Melinde Lutz Byrne and Thomas W. Jones, Editors’ Corner: DNA Standards, National Genealogical Society Quarterly 101 (December 2013): 243.
  2. Genetic Genealogy Standards, “Public Comment Period (May 15, 2014 – June 15, 2014)” ( : accessed 12 May 2014).
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