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Linking trees and DNA

Big news on the genetic genealogy front today — an announcement from MyHeritage that it has partnered with 23andMe to provide a tie-in between the DNA information of 23andMe and the family trees and matching technology of MyHeritage starting early next year.

MH23andMeAccording to MyHeritage:

23andMe will provide its 750,000+ customers special access to MyHeritage’s family tree tools and matching technologies directly from its website. Eventually they will replace 23andMe’s own family tree editor. 23andMe’s customers will enjoy automated family history discoveries by MyHeritage such as Smart Matches™ and Record Matches, bringing them significant new opportunities to grow their family trees and to enrich their family history. This will be directly beneficial to all users of MyHeritage as well.

MyHeritage users will be able to purchase 23andMe’s Personal Genome Service® in addition to the DNA tests already offered by MyHeritage that are powered by MyHeritage’s other DNA partner, Family Tree DNA. The product integration that is planned between MyHeritage and 23andMe will take this a step further by allowing the use of DNA to prove or disprove matches found by MyHeritage; and the use of MyHeritage trees, records and matching to attempt to map better connections found by DNA.

The 23andMe Personal Genome Service® is a comprehensive genetic scan that analyzes saliva samples, enabling users to gain deeper insights into their genetics and ancestry.

MyHeritage and 23andMe plan to have the first phase of integration completed by early 2015.1

A press release issued jointly by MyHeritage and 23andMe2 adds these comments from the two companies:

• “We believe this collaboration with MyHeritage will offer our customers a vastly improved opportunity to build their family tree and discover new connections,” said Andy Page, President of 23andMe. “Given MyHeritage’s technology leadership in the ancestry space and vast global reach, we are excited about the value this relationship will bring to our customers around the world.”

• “Combining genealogy with DNA-based ancestry is the next evolution in uncovering family history,” said Gilad Japhet, Founder and CEO of MyHeritage. “DNA testing can connect you to relatives you never knew existed, who descend from shared ancestors centuries ago, but family trees and historical records are critical to map and fully understand these connections. We have great respect for 23andMe’s technology and values, and its pioneering approach to genetics represents strong potential value for our users in the future.”

What does this mean for genetic genealogy?

The Legal Genealogist loves it. Because I get to give my favorite answer:

It depends.

Matching DNA results to well-documented family trees is the ultimate goal of genetic genealogy. We all hope to see that happen. But the operative phrase here is “well-documented family trees” — if the paper-trail research is wrong, linking the DNA results to the wrong people poses a serious risk of adding what looks like a scientific imprimatur to what is essentially genealogical garbage.

And we all know what happens then. It’s known as GIGO: garbage in, garbage out.

How much integration there will be between the DNA data of 23andMe on one hand and the family trees of MyHeritage on the other hand is yet unknown… and what system will be in place to correct an erroneous assignment of a link between two people to a particular line based on an erroneous paper trail is also unknown.

Properly used, properly understood, a system to verify family trees through DNA is a Good Thing.

Otherwise, well… remember GIGO.


SOURCES

  1. MyHeritage Announces Major Collaboration with 23andMe,” MyHeritage Blog, posted 21 Oct 2014 (http://blog.myheritage.com/ : accessed 21 Oct 2014).
  2. See “23andMe and MyHeritage Announce Strategic Collaboration and Product Integration,BusinessWire, posted 21 Oct 2014 (http://www.businesswire.com/ : accessed 21 Oct 2014).
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