Tuesday, April 22, 2014

We Also Collect and Preserve

Yesterday I asked readers if you were a genetic fisher or genetic genealogist. Right after I made that post it occurred to me that there is another important activity for DNA testers. We also collect and preserve or at least we should. 

Oral History

In her awesome keynote at RootsTech in February, The Legal Genealogist Judy Russell reminded us how quickly important pieces of our family histories can vanish. She quoted NARA archivist, Aaron Holt.
“It only takes three generations to lose a piece of oral family history. It must be purposely and accurately repeated over and over again through the generations to be preserved for [future genealogists.]”

She then forcefully drove the point home:
Think about that.Without a real effort to pass down our family stories purposely and accurately, the richness and depth they add to our family history can be lost in just three generations.From grandparent to child to grandchild. That’s just three generations. Things that were absolutely critical in the lives of our own great grandparents — even our own grandparents — could be utterly unknown to us today. 

DNA Test Records

Thomas Jones, also at this year's RootsTech, reminded us that collecting as much DNA from family members -- particularly the older generation -- is as important to preserving our family histories purposefully and accurately as is collecting the oral histories only they can share. Dr Jones suggested that our DNA collection should be limited only by our budgets and that reports of these tests should be preserved for future historians of our families.

Testing Alone Is NOT Enough

Almost all of the DNA testing by our family members has been done in the last decade. Most of it in the last half decade. However, there are already examples in most extended families of close relatives who have tested but are no longer alive. Who has access to the reports of these tests? How long will it be before no one really can interpret those test reports within the context of histories of the families to whom they belong? We may soon be losing access to DNA test reports from family members almost as quickly as we seem to loose access to other family stories.

There are at least two separate and distinct issues at play here. One is physical/digital access the test reports and the other is legal access. Both require purposeful advanced planning.

Do you record the URL, record ID/kit number and password for all of your DNA test reports with your will, trust or other instructions to the administrator of your estate? Why not? Have you spelled out who should have access to these reports? Have you helped family members to document their wishes on these matters?

To my knowledge FTDNA is the only testing company that has acknowledged this ticking time bomb. Filling out this form is not strenuous and does not take a lot of time. So Dr D prescribes you take Nike's advice and Just do it! 

Perhaps The Legal Genealogist can spell this out clearer than I just did. Help Judy!


  1. We are actually having this problem right now! Siegfried Frederick Kiemle passed away in 2013. His wife Ruth doesn't know how to get a hold of his DNA and FTDNA has told me too bad.

  2. Dear Descendant,
    There may be a way to recover access IF you have access to the old email account of the person who tested. All you need are his kit # and password. Both of these should have been in an email sent to Siegfried (or whoever's email was associated with the test) back at the time the test was taken. Since that time numerous emails have been sent to him as new matches occurred and these may continue to come. Often the kit # is included in these notices. The kit # may also be on any "certificate" that he got by snail mail if he got one. If he joined any projects his # may be there.

    Once you have the kit # AND access to the email account associated with his test, start to log in by entering his kit #. Then click on "Forgot Your Password?" There are several options but they require that you have access to the "primary email account' that was used by Siegfried. This is where FTDNA will send a response back to.you.

    Good luck!