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Yes and no

DNA is so often a matter of bad news mixed in with the good, isn’t it? And this past week’s news out of Salt Lake City has been no exception.

The bad news

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first:

There isn’t going to be a chromosome browser at AncestryDNA.

This very simple tool for comparing autosomal DNA — the type we all inherit from both of our parents and that helps us find cousins to work with on our family histories1 — is a staple of the features of two of the genetic genealogy DNA testing companies (23andMe and Family Tree DNA) and perhaps the single most commonly used tool by genetic genealogists.

Now this is not exactly a surprise that we’re not going to get one at AncestryDNA. Their staff has never been sold on it, has hemmed and hawed when pressed on it, has offered all kinds of arguments why it poses problems.

But finally somebody came flat out and simply said no. And it’s somebody who’s in a position to know.

One of the speakers at the Association of Professional Genealogists’ Professional Management Conference in Salt Lake City this past week was Howard Hochhauser. His title at Ancestry: Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer.2

He offered some of the usual reasons AncestryDNA’s team offers when asked about the chromosome browser, and echoed science officer Catherine Ball’s privacy concerns — the argument that if you and I match, and you know what segment we match on, and you know that segment carries the marker for a disease, you know I have that marker. (Apparently the notion that I might be perfectly willing to allow that level of disclosure by opting in hasn’t occurred to the AncestryDNA decision makers…

But Hochhauser went beyond where AncestryDNA usually goes when asked about this and simply said no. It isn’t going to happen. The resources they’d need to devote to making a chromosome browser available are resources they want to spend for other things, like growing the database.

No surprise, and frankly I’d prefer getting a flat-out truthful answer rather than the hemming and hawing — but it’s still disappointing.

The good news

The good news is that an ad hoc committee of genetic genealogists who have been working to complete an ethical code for integrating DNA testing into our genealogical research has finished the first phase of its task and has released the first-ever set of comprehensive ethical standards for DNA testing for genealogy.

genethicsThe draft standards were released for public comment in 2014, more than 75 comments were received, reviewed and — where appropriate — incorporated into the final version, and it’s now available online and as a downloadable PDF at GeneticGenealogyStandards.com.

That announcement came yesterday at the first-ever Colloquium of the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) when Blaine T. Bettinger, who blogs as The Genetic Genealogist, presented a paper on the topic.

Bettinger has spearheaded the effort, along with CeCe Moore, David Bachinsky, Traci Barela, Katherine Borges, Angie Bush, Melinde Lutz Byrne, Shannon S Christmas, George T. Cicila, Michael Hait, Tim Janzen, James M Owston, Ana Oquendo Pabón, Ugo Perego, Steven C. Perkins, Ann Turner, Debbie Parker Wayne, and Jennifer Zinck.

The standards are “intended to provide standards and best practices for the genealogical community to follow when purchasing, recommending, sharing, or writing about the results of DNA testing for ancestry.”3 They’re not designed to replace good personal judgment. The code expressly notes that it remains “ultimately the responsibility of those taking a genetic genealogy test (“tester”) to understand and consider these standards before ordering or agreeing to take any genetic genealogy test.”

The standard provide a number of clear mandates:

• Testing is undertaken only with the informed consent of the person tested.

• Those tested understand that DNA testing “can reveal unexpected information about the tester and his or her immediate family, ancestors, and/or descendants. For example, both DNA test results and traditional genealogical records can reveal misattributed parentage, adoption, health information, previously unknown family members, and errors in well-researched family trees, among other unexpected outcomes.”

• Information about another’s test results is shared only with the other’s consent.4

These and all the provisions of the standards are entirely consistent with the best practices of genealogists on all ethical issues,5 and — for what it’s worth — carry The Legal Genealogist‘s unqualified support.


SOURCES

  1. See ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Autosomal DNA,” rev. 11 Jan 2015.
  2. “LEADERSHIP: Meet the Ancestry.com management team,” Ancestry.com (ttp://corporate.ancestry.com : accessed 10 Jan 2015).
  3. “Genetic Genealogy Standards,” GeneticGenealogyStandards.com (http://www.geneticgenealogystandards.com/ : accessed 10 Jan 2015).
  4. Ibid.
  5. See e.g. “Standards for Sharing Information with Others,” 2000, PDF, National Genealogical Society (http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/ : accessed 10 Jan 2015).
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