Imagine reading a genealogical article and discovering that your name has been published along with your DNA information and conclusions about your ancestors. How would you feel? How would you react?
Some people may not mind if their private information is published. In contrast, others – probably a majority – don’t appreciate their names, parents’ names, grandparents’ names, etc., published for anyone to see. It is about privacy and ethics.
Privacy and Ethics
We value privacy in our DNA test results. We want DNA testing companies to safeguard our information and protect it from the granted exposure without our permission. We have likely had conversations with relatives and friends who vow never to take a DNA test because they don’t want their test results to fall into the wrong hands.
If we value the information and family connections we learn from our DNA matches, then we need to safeguard their identities and DNA match information like we would our own. In my previous blog post about DNA research reports, I wrote, “Remember that you must ask permission of the DNA matches to share their information. If permission is not expressly granted, you must privatize the names of living people and/or DNA match pseudonyms if you are publishing or posting the information online.”
The Genetic Genealogy Standards[i]
The Genetic Genealogy Standards were written to guide us all as we work with our DNA results and family, friends, and clients’ DNA results. As we follow the standards, we can be assured that we are maintaining ethical and privacy requirements using the field’s best practices.
Standard 8: Sharing Results
Genealogists respect all limitations on reviewing and sharing DNA test results imposed at the request of the tester. For example, genealogists do not share or otherwise reveal DNA test results (beyond the tools offered by the testing company) or other personal information (name, address, or email) without the written or oral consent of the tester.
Standard 9 Scholarship
When lecturing or writing about genetic genealogy, genealogists respect the privacy of others. Genealogists privatize or redact the names of living genetic matches from presentations unless the genetic matches have given prior permission or made their results publicly available. Genealogists share DNA test results of living individuals in a work of scholarship only if the tester has given permission or has previously made those results publicly available. Genealogists may confidentially share an individual’s DNA test results with an editor and/or peer-reviewer of a work of scholarship. Genealogists also disclose any professional relationship they have with a for-profit DNA testing company or service when lecturing or writing about genetic genealogy. [Emphasis added]
Genealogy Standard 57 of the Board for the Certification of Genealogists (BCG) gives guidelines about respecting living people’s privacy and their DNA test results.[ii] A researcher must only share DNA data if there is written consent from the DNA tester.
Not only is safeguarding your DNA matches’ privacy the right thing to do, but there may also be legal ramifications.[iii]
You may need to privatize the first two generations for publication, especially when the generation above the DNA test taker is still living. In a few genealogy classes, I’ve heard that “the dead have no privacy,” but I think it is good to err on the side of caution. Genealogists know how to trace the descendants of a specific ancestor, so they may figure out who the people are through research. The point is that we want to be respectful and ethical and protect the privacy of other DNA test-takers.
Don’t use a DNA test taker’s initials, instead use a pseudonym or write [Private] so that the initials don’t lead to the test taker’s identification. Other possible ways to recognize a person who does not give express consent for you to identify them are the following:
– Male or Female and Surname, i.e., Male Frazer or Female Schultz[iv]
– The direct line ancestor’s name and a number, i.e., Gladys 1 or Benjamin 2
– Assign numbers to the DNA test taker and write Test taker 1, Test taker 10, etc.[v]
– Descendant A, B, C, etc.[vi]
– John Smith’s grandson, or Jane Simpson’s granddaughter[vii]
– Anonymous 1, Anonymous 2[viii]
– Pseudonym for first name[ix]
Under the chart illustrating family connections, add citations to indicate where you learned the information. Again, if permission has not been granted to share the DNA match’s name or a living person’s name, privatize the name.
“Ethnicity Estimate for A,” AncestryDNA (https://dna.ancestry.com/ethnicity : viewed 21 August 2020), 68% England, Wales, & Northwestern Europe, 28% Ireland & Scotland, 2% Norway, 2% Nigeria.
“Y-DNA Haplotree Report for Test Taker 1,” Family Tree DNA (https://www.familytreedna.com/my/y-dna-haplotree : viewed 21 August 2020), predicted haplogroup I-M253.
“Family Finder Matches for Pearl 1,” Family Tree DNA (https://www.familytreedna.com/my/familyfinder : viewed 21 August 2020), predicted 2nd cousin-3rd cousin match sharing 211 cMs to Opal 3.
“DNA Relatives for Pearl 1,”23andMe (https://you.23andme.com/tools/relatives : viewed 21 August 2020), predicted 2nd cousin match sharing 2.82 % in 9 segments to James 1.
Remember to get permission from your DNA matches and other living people to publish their names. If you don’t have permission, follow best practices by privatizing DNA matches, and you’ll be doing DNA research like a pro!
[ii] Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, 2nd Edition, (Nashville, Tennessee : Ancestry.com, 2019), 32.
[iii] Judy G. Russell, “Forming consent,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 15 Dec 2019).
[iv] LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson, “Parents for Isaac Garrett of Laurens County, South Carolina: DNA Corroborates Oral Tradition,” NGSQ 108 (June 2020): 85-112.
[v] Melinda Daffin Henningfield. “A Family for Mary (Jones) Hobbs Clark of Carroll County, Arkansas.” NGSQ 107 (March 2019): 5-30.
[vi] Jones, Thomas W. “Too Few Sources to Solve a Family Mystery? Some Greenfields in Central and Western New York.” NGSQ 103 (June 2015): 85–110.
[vii] Morelli, Jill. “DNA Helps Identify “Molly” (Frisch/Lancour) Morelli’s Father.” NGSQ 106 (December 2018): 293-306.
[viii] Fein, Mara. “A Family for Melville Adolphus Fawcett.” NGSQ 104 (June 2016): 107–124.
[ix] Wayne Shepheard “Finding Birth Parents: Success and Not-So-Much,” Crossroads, Vol. 14, No. 4 (Fall 2019), 24-28.