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2018 DNA retrospective

Here we are, in the last days of 2018, so it’s time to stop for a moment, and reflect as part of a year-end review.

As has been true in other recent years, this has been a pretty amazing year for DNA testing and its use in genealogy.

Not long ago, people would shake their heads in bewilderment at the very thought of trying to use DNA testing to help link people together who should be linked, or unlink them when they really shouldn’t be.

Today? Even the police are using techniques developed by genealogists for genealogists to identify crime suspects and crime victims.

But the fact is, it’s still a developing field, and all kinds of issues continue to come up, as shown by this year’s top posts.

Top DNA posts

So… here on this DNA Sunday — the day before Christmas Eve 2018 — we pause to review the top DNA stories for the year.

Big steps forward at MyHeritageDNA (January 14)
“MyHeritage did two things this past week that put it right into the mix with other genealogical DNA testing companies. It greatly improved its matching system — and it added a chromosome browser.”

The bull in the DNA china shop (April 29)
“The past few days have been tough ones for those genealogists who — like The Legal Genealogist — love the ability to integrate DNA results into family history. It’s been even tougher for those of us who love the utility of the website GEDmatch in doing so — and I am among GEDmatch’s biggest fans.”

Artifact testing on its way (November 4)
“It’s the Next Big Thing in DNA testing: the ability to extract DNA from artifacts like envelopes and stamps with saliva from relatives who’ve been gone for decades, and extend our DNA research farther into the past than we can using just the tests of those living today.”

The worth of the test (February 25)
“In other words, what we think we know about our ethnicity — and what we actually can find out even at the broadest continental level where the reliability is highest — can be very different. But ethnicity estimates are hardly the only reason — not even the major reason — to do DNA testing. The two big reasons to do it are: (1) to confirm what we think we know; and (2) to connect with cousins we otherwise wouldn’t know.”

AncestryDNA ethnicity estimates updated (September 12)
“At 11:59.59 a.m. PDT today, The Legal Genealogist was 49% British, 31% Scandinavian and 20% miscellaneous “low confidence regions.” At noon, I was 66% England, Wales & Northwestern Europe, 19% Germanic Europe, 7% Norwegian, 6% Swedish and 2% Irish and Scottish.”

Time to paint (April 8)
“With literally hundreds of new matches appearing every week for those of us who’ve done widespread autosomal DNA testing, finding time to get the most out of those matches may be the hardest thing of all. And even finding the time to use the tools available today to work with those matches can be a challenge. Enter DNA Painter, Grand Prize winner of this year’s RootsTech Innovation Contest, developed by British web and applications developer Jonny Perl.”

The rules of DNA testing (August 5)
“Here’s the bottom line: none of the testing companies permit law enforcement agents to upload data to their databases in the absence of appropriate legal oversight and with full disclosure of the nature of the upload. Nobody but nobody — not the police and not a genealogist working for or with the police — is allowed to upload a sample surreptitiously or using an alias or pretending that the sample is just another ordinary tester.”

The price of sharing (May 27)
“But now… now we find that to get the very most from this new tool… we may end up working together with a group we had no idea we’d end up sharing with: the police and other governmental authorities. And with the aim of finding our family for an altogether different purpose than bringing a family together.”

When you ask… (May 6)
“As with all of our research that discloses information about living people, the hallmark of ethical DNA testing is informed consent. It’s an ethical imperative for us as genealogists using genetic evidence in our research that we never ever sneak a DNA sample from someone who refuses to undergo testing — we test and we ask our cousins to test only with informed consent.”

It’s not for us to choose (June 24)
“Nothing could or should be clearer from both a legal and an ethical standpoint than this essential truism: the data, the test, the results all belong to the person who tested, whose DNA was examined.”

On to 2019… with end-of-year side-trips still to come through some other top posts…

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