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We provide DNA testing of ancestral keepsakes for genealogists.  This type of testing generally involves two phases:  Quantification and Sequencing.

PHASE 1 (quantification):

Quantification (typically shorthanded as “Quant”) involves three main processes.

First, the lab identifies sites of possible DNA.  With envelopes, this is usually the back flap and/or stamp.  With a hat, it might be a band.  With a razor, it might be the blade.  With a t-shirt, it might be cloth under the arm.  With an earring, it might be a post.  With curlers, it might be strands of hair.  With shoes, it might be an inside sole.

Second, the lab extracts the potential DNA.  Through experience and experimentation, lab personnel have identified the best means of extracting DNA from various items.  Some methods (such as envelopes) are proprietary.  Others have developed over years of working in crime labs.  Some extractions require additional equipment.  For example, extracting DNA from a tooth may require use of the lab’s Qiagen TissueLyser.  A t-shirt might require use of the M-Vac System.  More information is found on our Pricing page.

Third, the extracted DNA is quantified (“quant” for short).  This process measures the amount and quality of usable DNA.  This tells you whether it is worthwhile to proceed to Phase 2, sequencing.  Through Next Generation Sequencing, the new Illumina FGx Forensic Genome System (“FGx”) can produce profiles from much smaller and more degraded samples than ever before.  Full genealogical profiles can be produced from sample sizes as small as .5 nanograms, and in some cases even less.

PHASE 2 (sequencing):

If Phase I (Quant) has produced enough usable DNA, the next stage is sequencing that DNA.  Sequencing is the process that produces the DNA profile.  We use Illumina’s FGx Forensic Genome System (“FGx”).  The FGx has been recognized by authorities – including the FBI and scholars – as the best sequencing equipment in the world for small and degraded DNA samples.  It is exclusively distributed by Verogen who, in 2019, bought GEDmatch.com. GEDmatch is a popular DNA database to which genealogists can upload profiles to compare with other researchers’ profiles. For example, someone who tests with Ancestry.com, MyHeritage, or 23andMe can upload those profiles to GEDmatch.

The FGx can simultaneously produce autosomal, mitochondrial, Y-STR, and X-STR profiles.  Of most interest to genealogists will be the autosomal profiles, which are the profiles that would be uploaded to GEDmatch.  After Verogen bought GEDmatch, it conducted research to create a formula to produce the best result on GEDmatch.  The human genome contains millions of Single-Nucleotide Polymorphisms (“SNPs,” pronounced “snips”).  Only a fraction of these SNPs are useful in producing genealogical information; the rest are “junk” and can be disregarded for genealogical purposes.  Until Verogen bought GEDmatch, it was a bit of a guessing game as to which SNPs are most effective in producing useful genealogical information.  For example, although there is overlap, Ancestry.com, MyHeritage, and 23andMe’s tests all target different SNPs. (That’s why it is sometimes important to test at all of the different services.)

Verogen’s purchase of GEDmatch added a new dimension.  By studying GEDmatch’s database, Verogen was able to develop a targeted list of SNPs it concluded are most effective for GEDmatch.  Rather than sequence a whole genome and then carve out the “junk” SNPs, the FGx’s genealogical panel will be targeted:  The FGx will focus on specific SNPs that GEDmatch’s owner believes are the best ones to upload to GEDmatch.

Mitochrondrial, Y-STR, and X-STR profiles cannot be uploaded to GEDmatch at this time.  However, some researchers have developed databases for these types of profiles, especially Y-STR.

WHAT CAN BE TESTED

Theoretically, anything can be tested.  However, some items are more likely to have usable DNA then others.  Questions about many specific items are answered in the FAQ.  Examples include:

  • Envelopes
  • Clothing (unwashed)
  • Hats
  • Jewelry (earrings, necklace, bracelet, rings)
  • Eyeglasses, hearing aids, toothbrushes, false teeth
  • Tissue and medical samples
  • Pipes and cigarette butts
  • Hair
  • Shoes
  • Wallet and belt
  • Teeth

As we learned at RootsTech, people have a wide range of artifacts.  See the FAQ.  When considering DNA testing, ask yourself:  Was this primarily used by my ancestor?  How much has it been handled by others?  Am I willing to let it be damaged?

RISKS

There are substantial risks in DNA testing of artifacts.  These include:

  • There may be little or no usable DNA.  This might be because DNA used to be present but has degraded, perhaps because the item was stored under adverse conditions such as a hot attic or is too old. Or it could be because the original owner was not a “shedder,” or was ill, and did not leave measurable DNA.  (Many of us know people who had to take a DNA test more than once to get a result.)

  • The DNA might not belong to your ancestor.  A mail carrier might have licked the envelope.  A neighbor might have licked the stamp, or used a sponge.  Someone else might have handled an item extensively after the original owner. For example, my stepfather had a favorite cowboy hat, but all the grandkids played with it for years.  (One advantage of the FGx is that it can distinguish between 2 autosomal profiles from the same sample, so if two different people licked the back flap and stamp, we could produce separate profiles for each person.)

  • Your item may be destroyed.  Envelope flaps will be destroyed, and in some cases stamps also.  Clothing might be.  Jewelry probably wouldn’t be.  We can give our best guess before you send it in.
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