DNA: to share or not to share?

4 years ago

In my last column I wrote that DNA testing has become common and prices have dropped in the last decade, making the tests affordable for everyone. But before testing know there are issues involved in the process.  

Your DNA sample will be compared with thousands of other people’s DNA.  This creates a massive database that can be searched for relatives. These databases are now assisting law enforcement agencies to compare DNA recovered at crime scenes with all in the company’s database.  If a close match is found this helps identify and catch criminals. Some people feel this is an invasion of their privacy and some DNA testing companies allow people to withhold their DNA in criminal searches unless they personally give their permission.

There are two sides to this issue.  First, is your right to privacy and how your DNA is used.  The second is that withholding DNA could allow a rapist, murderer, or child abuser to escape detection.  For me this is an ethical matter. I would never forgive myself if I refused to allow my DNA to be matched and a murderer, serial rapist, or child molester continued to commit crimes because I withheld my DNA.  This means if you’re related to me, don’t be naughty. I can understand how some people value privacy and feel their DNA should be private. The decisions are up to you but you should consider this before having your DNA tested.

If you want to explore DNA in all its aspects for genealogists you should mark your calendar for the Sept. 13-14 Maine Genealogical Society conference, to be held in Portland in conjunction with the Maine Historical Society and the Maine Irish Heritage Center.  

You can attend either day.  If you stay at the conference hotel (special pricing for registrants) there will be free shuttles to and from the downtown locations on Friday.  Friday’s lineup offers free admission to the MHS and the Irish Heritage center for research. Specialists will be on duty to offer help. An Intermediate DNA workshop will be held at MHS in the afternoon, but there is a fee and you must be registered for Saturday’s conference to attend.  There will be an evening reception and the annual MGS meeting. 

On Saturday the conference offers national keynote speakers in the morning and two breakout sessions in the afternoon, along with a panel discussion.   Topics include solving genealogical problems with autosomal DNA, DNA testing company tools, Native American DNA, common DNA mistakes, overlooked X chromosome matches, DNA ethics, and introduction to chromosome matching.  Lunch is included. 

This is a wonderful opportunity to delve into DNA on all levels from beginner upwards and take advantage of learning from experts.  For complete information on the schedule, speakers, and to register go to www.MaineRoots.Org.  

If DNA is a already a passion for you or a giant question mark concerning what it’s all about, this is a terrific chance to explore the subject.  I do hope to see you there.

Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft.  Nancy holds a MA in History from UM and lives in DF with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. Reader emails are welcome at nbattick@roadrunner.com.