How to Prepare DNA Research Reports for Sharing
After you write about your DNA research results, you may want to share your report. What should you do to prepare your report for sharing and/or publication? When your research includes living people and their DNA match information, how does that impact the steps you take? There are several considerations, including private vs. public sharing, permission, and safeguards against separation.
Once your document is ready to share, how do you post it? Ancestry trees, the FamilySearch Family Tree, and personal websites are simple and effective.
Private Sharing vs. Public Sharing
What kind of sharing do you plan to do?
Private sharing is emailing the report privately to a client, relative, reviewer, presenting to a small group, or sharing within a small closed group.
Public sharing is posting the report on your website/blog, on the FamilySearch Family Tree, your Ancestry tree, or presenting a recorded presentation, and so forth. Anytime you post an article online for the public to see, that constitutes publication. Formal publication in a book or journal is similar to posting your report or article online. It is out there, available for the public to read.
Read more about the Board for Certification of Genealogists’ (BCG) views on private sharing and publication at their DNA frequently asked questions page: DNA Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).
If you plan to share privately, you may not need permission from your DNA test takers. In the case of a client report and sharing within a small closed group of reviewers, no permission is needed. The client already has access to their match list and so you are not revealing information they don’t already have. The small closed group of reviewers will agree not to share the living people’s info they see. If you are sharing with close family members who already have access to the match lists, the same applies – no permission is needed.
If you are emailing your report to multiple distant cousins however, be cautious. You don’t know what they might do with that report. They don’t have access to the match lists you are using, and unless they agree not to share the document, who knows where it will end up. It would be ethical in this instance to privatize the DNA matches in the report or get their permission. To learn more about privatizing DNA reports, read Robin Wirthlin’s article here: Privatizing DNA Research Reports for Publication.
To get permission from matches used in your report or written conclusion, it’s a good idea to message them a succinct request that mentions how they are related to the ancestor in the report. They may not have each branch of their family tree memorized back to the ancestor you are interested in. When I messaged several of my matches all at once with a stock message asking for permission to use their name and match info in my Barsheba Tharp proof argument, some responded that they weren’t sure who the Tharp ancestor was in their tree. They said, “is this on the Harris line?” and “I looked in my tree and didn’t see Lewis Tharp.” As I messaged them back, I realized that I had extended their trees for them and in my haste to message them (over 25 matches) I hadn’t taken the time to explain their connection to the Tharps. What I learned from this is to establish communication with them before the permission is needed. This will help them understand the DNA connection and set the stage for asking for their permission.
When I sent permission requests, several had follow-up questions about what data I would use and how it would be published. For matches at Ancestry, I stated that I wanted to use their name, their ancestry back to the common ancestor, and the amount of DNA they share with other descendants in the study. For matches where segment data is used, you can specify that you’d like to use chromosome information and possibly their GEDmatch kit #, if applicable.
About one third of the matches I contacted responded to the first message. All who responded gave permission. Some wanted just their initials used. Another 1/3 responded after I sent them additional messages and reminders. I said “I’m not sure if you got my first message, so I’m sending another to see if you had thought about my request.” Several responded that they had forgotten to message me back, or that they hadn’t got my first message because they don’t log in to Ancestry very often. I got great response rates at 23andMe and MyHeritage. One very key match to the proof argument responded after 4 messages. He said he had been busy and then sick. Some were dubious about my conclusion, not understanding DNA methodology. I send them a copy of my privatized report by email and then they were happy to provide permission. I recommend sending a privatized draft of your report to DNA matches. This allows them to see how their name and information will appear in the final product.
If a match has responded that they don’t want to be included, we should respect their wishes and not use them, even privatized. For those who are unresponsive to messages, we can still use them but we need to privatize their information.
You may want to provide a “permission to use” form for the participants of your DNA study to sign and return. This document typically outlines the ways you would like to use their DNA information. Jill Morelli states in her National Genealogical Society Quarterly article, “DNA Helps Identify “Molly” (Frisch/Lancour) Morelli’s Father,” that each of the test takers who granted permission individually signed “Permission to Use” on a certain date and the documents are in her files.1 Other DNA articles in the NGSQ simply state, “all test-takers in this article granted permission for the results to be used here,” or similar.2 I spoke with Nancy Wehner, CG, author of “Parents for Richard M. Vaughan (1844-1921) of Howell County, Missouri,” who shared that she sends her donors a formal permission document. They need to initial several paragraphs, check off various permissions, and sign and date.3 She keeps these forms in her computer files and backs them up to the cloud.
Project consent forms – examples shared at the ISOGG Wiki
Informed Publication Agreement – Jill Morelli’s form modified from Blaine Bettinger’s informed consent agreement, shared with permission
PERMISSION TO USE DNA RESEARCH RESULTS IN PUBLICATIONS AND IN LECTURES Template – Melinda Daffin Henningfield’s form, shared with permission
Safeguards Against Separation
Genealogy Standards, standard 8 and 74, suggest taking measures to be sure that your writing and the documentation that goes with it don’t get separated as your work is shared.4 One of the most important ways to do this is to include your citations as footnotes on each page instead of end notes. If an excerpt of your report or proof argument are shared, those reading it will still be able to see where the information in the report came from. Another safeguard is to include a footer with the page number and total number of pages. This lets people know that there is a longer report that this excerpt they were given came from. You may also want to include a header that includes your name and email address so future readers of the report will know who to contact for the rest of the document.
You may also want to add a copyright notice to your report, along with contact information. This will enable readers to reach you about permission to use excerpts from your document.
Saving as a PDF
To prepare your document for sharing, you may want to save it as a PDF. This makes it easy for anyone to read it. Almost everyone has the correct software to view a PDF file – on their mobile device, tablet, or computer. It is more difficult for others to read a Word document. Saving as a PDF also makes it harder for others to edit the document, which you hold the copyright to. Others should not be editing it without your permission. In Word, you can easily save a document as a PDF by clicking File > Save As > then changing the file type to PDF from the drop-down list. If you are using Google Docs to write your document, you can save that as a PDF in a similar way. Click File > Download > PDF Document.
If you have a two separate files that you need to merge into one PDF, such as a report and a file including record attachments, you may want to use a PDF editor to help with that. For some ideas, see Best free PDF editors 2020: edit PDF documents the easy way.
Sharing Assembled Research Results
You have a PDF ready with assembled research results (whether a report, proof argument, or family history) and want to share publicly. How do you post it so others can review your conclusions? One simple option is adding it as a document in your public member tree at Ancestry.com.
Ancestry Public Member Trees
Your file must be 15 MB or fewer. I have one long report that is 6 MB (37 pages, 12 of which were images of records) but the rest are well under 15 MB. If your report is getting too long and spans many generations, you might be able to split it into multiple documents by generation. If your document is over 15 MB, you may want to change your saving settings to a smaller size. For step-by-step instructions for adding a PDF document to your Ancestry tree, see the following Ancestry support article: Uploading Photos or Documents. Basically you go to the profile of the person in your tree that you want to attach to, go to their gallery, then click upload. When you upload a document, you are allowed to add a title, date, place, and comment/description. You can also link the document additional people in your tree. You may want to include a source citation in the description so others understand who created the report, when it was written, and so forth. This will also help them cite your report. Be sure that you are ready to share – once this is shared at Ancestry, others can download it, save it, copy it to their tree, and so forth.
You can do the same at FamilySearch. One benefit of uploading your document to the FamilySearch Family Tree is the collaborative nature of the tree. Instead of Ancestry’s multiplicity of user created trees, FamilySearch’s tree’s goal is to have just one profile for each person in the world’s family tree, allowing for better collaboration and sharing. This is the perfect place to share your research results.
FamilySearch Family Tree
To add a PDF file to a person on FamilySearch, go to the person in the tree. Click “Memories” then scroll to documents and click “upload document.” You can upload files up to 15 MB in size. For full directions, see the FamilySearch help center article here: How do I upload memories to FamilySearch? On this help page, be sure to read the submission agreement which discusses the fact that you retain copyright for your submitted documents and other concerns. Like Ancestry, you can add a title, date, place, description, and attach to multiple people in tree (using their name and then linking to the person with their personal ID number). You can also add the document to an album.
Posting On Your Blog or Website
Another simple and effective option for publicly sharing your assembled research results is to upload the document to your personal website or blog. If you don’t have a website or blog, you can create a simple and free one using WordPress.com, Wix.com, Weebly.com, Squarespace.com, Blogger.com, and a host of other providers. One advantage to this is more control over the document. You could then link to your website in Ancestry trees, FamilySearch public tree, and in future reports you write.
Good luck as you prepare your DNA research results for sharing!
1. Jill Morelli, “DNA Helps Identify “Molly” (Frisch/Lancour) Morelli’s Father,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 106 (December 2018): 293-306. See the author’s biography and acknowledgements which precede the first footnote.
2. Nancy Niles Wehner, “Parents for Richard M. Vaughan (1844-1921) of Howell County, Missouri,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 105 (June 2017): 139-48. See also Victor S. Dunn, “Determining Origin with Negative and Indirect Evidence: Cylus H. Feagans of Virginia and West Virginia,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 105 (March 2017): 5-18. Also Mara Fein, “A Family for Melville Adolphus Fawcett,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 104 (June 2016): 107–124.
3. Wehner, “Parents for Richard M. Vaughan (1844-1921) of Howell County, Missouri,” 139-48.
4. Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards 2nd Ed. (Nashville: Ancestry.com, 2019), 9.