In case you haven’t heard, the investigators in the “Golden State Killer” case used DNA found at several murder scenes to capture the criminal. This person’s DNA was not already in the criminal justice system. Instead, the investigators utilized tools similar to those used by genetic genealogists to identify relatives and ultimately identify the murder suspect. Dick Eastman’s blog, “DNA that Cracked the ‘Golden State Killer’ Case came from Genealogy Websites” contains more information on the use of the DNA including links to two news articles on the topic. The Time Magazine article “How Did They Catch the Golden State Killer” also discusses the work of the investigators.
This use of genetic genealogy has been a hot topic on various Facebook groups. As with every issue in society today, there are multiple viewpoints on the issue. I have read many of these posts and comments and can understand the poster’s concern.
I haven’t formed a firm opinion either way, but I would like to share my thinking about the issue.
- I spit into a test tube to have my DNA tested at Ancestry. This test is called an autosomal DNA test. These autosomal tests do not sequence the entire length of the DNA. Instead they test for an identified set of markers helpful for proving relationship. These are not the same set of markers that forensic scientists test for in criminal investigations. (See DNA Testing vs. Codis, Criminal Database by Emily Aulicino, Genetic Genealogy)
- I have been researching my family history for forty years. I’m not sure exactly when I first started sharing my research online, but my original site was at Yahoo’s GeoCities: http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/3208/geneal.htm [My site is cited by Steve Shook in his site: Silvernale-Shook Genealogy.] Over the years, my data has been shared on a variety of sites: GeoCities, RootsWeb, Family History Hosting, and thru my RootsMagic site.
- I have a public, searchable family tree on Ancestry called Heartland Genealogy. I’m not sure when I uploaded my first tree, but it was quite a few years ago. I have freely shared Gedcom files with other researchers and sites. My data was contributed to various projects included One World Tree and Ancestral file.
- Ancestry privatizes information for living people in trees. In addition, I rarely add a living person to my online tree at Ancestry. Nor do I include living people in Gedcom files or in my RootsMagic upload. Since this is true of most genealogists, I’m fairly certain that the criminal investigators had to go to a lot of work to identify the suspect’s family. This work likely included digging thru newspaper articles and public records.
- With my DNA I have LOTS of cousin matches (over 1200 pages worth). We all have a lot of relatives — and we are all related.
- I recently made a connection with a granddaughter of a first cousin that was unknown to the family. Without DNA testing, we would not have found each other and I would have never been able to share my grandparents story with her!
We can’t put DNA technology back in the bottle and pretend we don’t have this ability. Thus, the discussions need to continue on how this technology can and will be utilized.