During the past year or so, I have been reading and studying about genealogical DNA testing. Of course, I do not have degrees in any related subjects, but as a trial attorney, I have spent my adult life learning enough about a variety of subjects to represent clients in serious litigation issues from airplane crashes to complex real estate transactions. So I am not an expert. Were I still practicing law and faced with a court case involving the DNA issues, I would advise my client to hire an expert witness. But in order to prepare for a trial, I would have to understand enough about the subject to ask intelligent questions and perhaps discredit an opposing party’s DNA expert. I think I have gotten to that point in my understanding. I feel that I have a basic understanding of both the strengths and weaknesses of genealogical DNA testing and if confronted with a complex issue, I can find documentation and explanations for possible issues that might arise.
One disturbing issue with genealogical DNA testing is the mixed results obtained by genealogical researchers when the results of tests from different DNA testing companies are compared. It is not necessarily an issue with the accuracy of the testing processes, but it does raise some serious concerns about the methodology and reporting processes between the different companies. Were I faced with a litigation issue based on a claim from an opposing party involving the results of DNA test, I would immediate request that another test be taken from a different company and I would expect that the results would be different enough to greatly weaken any claims being made on the basis of only one test from one company.
Genealogical research involves the process of examining historical records for information about ancestral origins. Relationships are discovered through existing documentation pertaining to deceased ancestors. Much of the time, the available documentation is insufficient to be conclusive. The goal of genealogical research, in the main part, is to adequately identify ancestral lines with sufficient documentation to convince ourselves and others of the validity of the conclusions reached. Where there is insufficient documentation, conflicting opinions as to the identity and validity of the ancestral conclusions are common and expected. It is also not uncommon for genealogical researchers to have greatly varying degrees of expertise in both in researching records and in reaching valid conclusions from the existing records. In addition, the larger, worldwide, genealogical community contains a great number of adherents to genealogy and family history that have only a very casual understanding of the historical research nature of the subject.
By adding DNA testing to the mix of genealogical research, we are in a real sense, increasing the level of complexity beyond the capability of most of the casual participants. Not only is the pursuit of genealogy complex, but by adding in another, perhaps an even more complex process of determining relationships, we have surpassed the interest and ability of nearly everyone. By making DNA testing a popular and faddish practice, we have imposed yet another level of obfustication and confusion on the larger genealogical community.
My basis for making these conclusions comes from the increasing number of commentaries on the results obtained from multiple DNA tests taken by the same individual. I am not going to list all of the online commentaries about the difficulties experienced in interpreting and comparing multiple DNA tests, but one excellent analysis comparing three tests of the same individual is the following:
Comparing admixture results from AncestryDNA, 23andMe and Family Tree DNA by Debbie Kennett.
My MyHeritage DNA Results Have Come In by Louis Kessler