Today started early for me. One of those mornings where you wake up feeling refreshed, but you know it’s far too early to get up because it’s still not light outside. But it did allow me to finish the book I was reading by Barbara Rae Venture called I Know Who You Are: How an Amateur DNA Sleuth Unmasked the Golden State Killer and Changed Crime Fighting Forever.
I wanted to read this because Barbara started out like me, working on adoption and unknown parentage cases, and ended up being the person who solved the Golden State Killer Case. I’ve followed this case since April 24, 2018, when it was announced that Investigative Genetic Genealogy had solved this 1970’s cold case. This case and those of CeCe Moore and others have started an entirely new industry and use for consumer DNA kits.
Likened to the “Wild West,” this new use of consumer DNA to solve crimes and how companies like Family Tree DNA and GEDMatch were changing their Terms of Service to suit themselves (all after the fact, I might add) created a debate inside and outside the genealogy community.
Myself, I felt that when I put my DNA on GEDMatch many years ago, I was already leaving myself open because it was a free, open-source site, and let’s face it, nothing is ever really free. But I was more upset about Family Tree DNA’s handling of this because they betrayed me. After all, they’d taken my money and then provided mine and other people’s DNA to law enforcement without asking first and giving us the option to decide. Going against their own Terms of Service (TOS) at the time. No wonder we have trust issues now.
I also wanted to read this book to see Barbara’s spin on her upload and use of MyHeritage’s data which came out in, I believe, 2021 after Joseph DeAngelo had admitted to his crimes. At the time, I was sure that this was against MyHeritage’s TOS as I understood them (but perhaps this came about after they’d discovered what she’d done). But when I heard this in 2021, I understood why the Founder and CEO of MyHeritage, Gilad Japhet , was so adamant at RootsTech in 2019 that MyHeritage did not work with law enforcement.
I won’t ruin it for you; you’ll have to read the book as I did to learn all the details.
I will say that I do think that the use of DNA for cold cases is a good thing, and I do have my personal DNA set to be used for law enforcement. I took down all the other kits I manage for my family unless they agreed to have their kits used that way. Although it doesn’t make that much of a difference because I have my own DNA on the sites.
Perhaps I’m naive, but I’m hoping that we, the consumers, can be protected, so we know how our DNA is used. If we choose to help solve crimes, then we can upload our raw data to the appropriate databases because crimes need to be solved, and crimes are being solved every day. One thing I do know is that often the police don’t even have the real criminal on their radar as a suspect, so in reality, solving cases this way saves time and money and protects people from being wrongly accused.
But I also know its use has affected the number of DNA kits sold. Before 2018, the number of matches I received was much higher than now. That’s disappointing when you are trying to solve an old family mystery or unknown parentage case and don’t have terrific matches.
We’ve come a long way since 2018, but this is just the beginning. We still need to work through the ethical dilemmas, and you know that sides will still be taken. That’s a good thing because the world does need watchdogs to prevent the misuse of our DNA now and in the future.
Note: The post above contains affiliate links. This means I make a small percentage of the sales via these links. This does not INCREASE the price you pay as a consumer. This is a supplement to my income so I can continue to support this blog and make donations to the Alzheimer’s’ Society.
This topic is something that I discussed at the January 2023 Alberta Genealogical Society’s Edmonton DNA Special Interest Group, but I am aware that Leah Larkin has just posted her thoughts on this book, and she has also posted about a new organization that I was not aware of, and you can learn more about that HERE.