DNA & Your Portfolio

DNA EamesShould you include DNA evidence into your Research Report, Case Study or Kinship Determination Project (KDP) of your portfolio for Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG)? The short answer is “it depends.”

In 2017 at the Southern California Genealogical Society (SCGS) Jamboree, Annette Burke Lyttle and I agreed that the field was changing as fast as was the expectation of inclusion in the portfolio submissions. For the research report, the client drives the request; for the Case Study, DNA evidence may or may not be appropriate; but for the KDP, DNA evidence may be critical. Either way, you may need to write why you did or didn’t utilize the evidence DNA provides.

Fast forward to the ProGen lunch at Jamboree 2018. A number of us, including Blaine Bettinger, discussed the topic of when DNA evidence is not appropriate or cannot be included. We identified a number of reasons why you wouldn’t include DNA evidence in your portfolio:

  1. too many generations back
  2. it wasn’t necessary
  3. the client didn’t request DNA analysis (for the Research Report)
  4. the test takers refused to give permission to publish
  5. the critical test takers refused to test

For my portfolio, my client did not request it for the Research Report and my proof argument was set six generations back from living test takers. I included a statement as to why it was inappropriate for my Case Study, but I ignored it in my KDP! I no longer think that I would be given “a pass” on my KDP.

Here are my thoughts and the summary of thoughts of others in this fast moving field.

  1. DNA is evidence; not a conclusion. Having a DNA match is just a clue; think of it as an index response to a certain parameters and now you are seeking the original!
  2. A confirmed DNA match is direct evidence that there is a relationship; it is indirect evidence of the specific relationship between two people. I find the Shared cM Project 3.0 tool v2 at DNA Painter extremely helpful in narrowing down my options given a set amount of DNA.
  3. You still must verify the paper trail of both your line and that of the test taker. To provide proof, we must have two independent sources of primary evidence not in conflict supporting the research question or indirect evidence of sufficient weight to draw a specific conclusion.[1] One piece of evidence cannot stand alone, even DNA.
  4. DNA’s inclusion, or not, into your writing is your decision, as an applicant, just like every other type of evidence. Ask yourself the question–“Would DNA evidence be additive to my argument?” Just like you would scan the all sources that might be helpful, and pursue those that have a high likelihood of answering your research question, the same is true for DNA data and its analysis.
  5. DNA deserves the same level of scrutiny and healthy skepticism you would give any piece of evidence.
  6. A review and application of the proposed Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) modifications to the rubrics might be reasonable for your portfolio even if they don’t pass.[2]

And you haven’t even started the analysis of the data yet! Have you mapped the chromosomes and separated the mother and father’s contribution? Is the match on the side of the equation where it supports the hypothesis? Are there other tests you should obtain? Have you considered endogamy or pedigree collapse (and do you know the difference)? Have you correlated (triangulated) the shared matches? These are just some of the questions you should consider. This is not a comprehensive list as I am no expert.

Every genealogist should have a working knowledge of the types of evidence that could assist in the resolution of the problem, whether it be probate records, court minutes, jury duty lists or DNA. We must assess whether collection and analysis of DNA would contribute to resolution of our research question or not.

This post focused on the proofs of the Case Study, requests of a “client” and within the KDP, because it is unlikely that the other elements of the portfolio would require the applicant to provide DNA evidence. It is possible however, that your research plan contained within the Document Work might include a DNA component.

The year 2017 was my year to advance my personal knowledge of DNA to the intermediate level (whatever that is!). I started at 0, so the goal was a low bar!  I also realize that with the field changing as fast as it is, that my education could not stop on 31 December 2017. Here is what I have done to date:

  • attended the Jamboree DNA Day 2017. Also attended general sessions on DNA at Jamboree 2017, NGS 2018 and Jamboree 2018.
  • took Blaine Bettinger’s workshop on “Third Party Tools” (GEDmatch and others);
  • upgraded my Y-dna kits to Family Finder at Family Tree DNA (FTDNA);
  • embraced the International Society of Genetic Genealogy‘s Genetic Genealogy Standards;
  • Pursued obtaining written permissions of all the kits I manage;
  • moved raw data of the kits I administer (and have permission) to FTDNA and My Heritage ($);
  • loaded the kits with permissions to GEDmatch and DNAgedcom Client ($);
  • learned visual phasing and DNA Painter. I can now map my chromosomes.
  • Attended a 4.5 day Institute for Genealogical and Historical Research (IGHR) on DNA Analysis given by Karen Stanbary.
  • Worked on and solved the identity problem of my husband’s grandfather. I also  submitted the article to the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ), which they have accepted. No word yet on publication date.
  • set up GenomeMate Pro (GMP) and migrated my data. I still don’t know how to use the analytical tools. GMP is now “on my radar” to obtain some comfort level in its use in 2018.)
  • Attended numerous webinars, etc. on the topic (An outstanding presentation on the ethics of DNA is behind the member wall of Association of Professional Genealogy. [3])
  • Engaged in numerous conversations with others to improve my understanding
  • developed a presentation to help those who tested at Ancestry, but do not know how to read their results. The title is “I got my Ancestry Results! Now What?”
  • developed a presentation on “Finding a Father for Molly,” my husband’s grandfather. I did a beta test of the presentation and got many constructive comments.

So, educate yourself about DNA in whatever manner that works for you. Assess whether DNA evidence is additive to your portfolio. When writing, keep in mind that not all problems can be solved with DNA and no problem can be solved with ONLY DNA.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: I am writing proposals to various genealogical societies for webinars and to conferences for presentations.  I have been honored to have been selected to all I have applied, including the New England Regional Genealogical Conference (Midwest girl meets New England!). I am doing more all day seminars around the country this year than I have in the past. Coming up: San Luis Obispo, Colorado, Omaha, and Fox Valley (IL).

[1] Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof, (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013) p. 23-24.
[2] Board for Certification of Genealogists, “Proposed DNA Standards,” BCG Springboard, (https://bcgcertification.org/proposed-dna-standards-for-public-comment/  : accessed 23 July 2018). Public comment is only open until 23 July 2018. 
[3] Blaine Bettinger & Karen Stanbary, webinar “Genetic Genealogy for Professionals: DNA Client Expectations, Client Contracts, Surprising Results” Association of Professional Genealogists, 19 February 2018. This session is behind a member wall.


One comment on “DNA & Your Portfolio

  1. Dana Leeds says:

    Jill, I love how you devoted a year to increasing your knowledge of DNA. And, congrats on the article!!!

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