In the past few weeks, I have spent considerable time contacting DNA matches in 23andMe as first steps towards looking for verifiable connections. As I go through this process, I know there must be an easier way to leverage all the work we as individual 23andMe users are doing on the site. For my day job I deal in knowledge management and let me tell ya – there is a lot of knowledge yet to be managed in 23andMe and it gave me an idea.
Currently, when 23andMe has identified someone with whom I share a DNA segment with, time is spent between myself and my match to share our family tree information in the search for shared ancestry. Sometimes, it may be possible to verify the exact relationship and other times it may not pan out. Many factors must be considered when evaluating the shared DNA and for the lucky ones, those relationships can be determined. For example, Randy Majors describes an inspiring success story in verifying a common ancestral couple (his 6th great-grandparents) with a 23andMe match. For the sake of argument, let’s pretend that I too were descended from his 6th great-grandparents and had the same DNA segment match as he and his distant cousin. As the process now stands, despite the fact that Randy and his distant cousin KNOW their shared DNA segment came from that couple, the only way I would be able to find out would be to contact Randy & the distant cousin (assuming they both showed up as matches for me) and go through the long and tedious process of comparing information and/or doing triangulation.
This is where my idea comes in:
- what if after Randy & the distant cousin confirm this couple as the origin of their shared DNA they were able to “tag” that DNA segment with information and metadata about the couple and add that information to the 23andMe website so that it could be USED BY OTHERS.
- what if everyone who confirmed relationships could tag DNA segments to specific individuals — imagine how genea-rich with information 23andMe would become!
- what if when I logged into 23andMe I were presented with names/dates/locations of specific people based on computer aggregation and analysis of all the “tags” that successful matches had been able to identify and associate with DNA segments.
Thus, for the next person who matches Randy at that segment, 23andMe would be able to show them the match to Randy at that location, but also be able show information about the people from which Randy inherited the DNA. Would that not be awesome!
Of course there are issues to be considered but ultimately I do think genetic genealogy needs to head in this direction and I would like for it to happen sooner rather than later. Let’s leverage the knowledge of the 23andMe user database and combine it with computing power to facilitate the tagging and presentation to others. They already do it for health traits and conditions so why not for genealogy?
A natural question that comes to my mind is who would do this first? 23andMe has an obvious health focus and I wonder how committed they are to the genealogy aspect of DNA testing. But, Ancestry.com is now getting into the autosomal DNA testing game
and Ancestry.com already has the technology to allow users to tag specific individuals across their massive database of records. Imagine them making it happen with DNA
. For this reason, I know that as soon as I can, I will be making sure I get my DNA info in the Ancestry database also. Think of the potential!!!
What do you think of this idea?