Does Your Cousin’s DNA Make You a Suspect?

Estimated-Number-of-Genealogists-English-Speaking-CountriesAn article by Gavin Phillips in the MakeUseOf web site caught my eye for several reasons. The primary thrust of the article shows how the growth of alternate private genealogy databases has understandably piqued the interest of law enforcement agencies. Investigators now often use a technique known as familial searching, a technique that seeks to identify a potential suspect’s surname through DNA analysis focusing on the Y-chromosome. As a result, individuals lose their right of defense against self-incrimination simply because a male relative’s DNA information held by private businesses is easily available to law enforcement officials on a “fishing expedition.”

Privacy advocates have long warned against the creation of giant, centralized genetic databases.

Several other items are mentioned in the same article:

The article claims that the United States has an estimated 7,930,000 genealogists, the United Kingdom has 1,593,000 while Canada has 880,000. Author Gavin Phillips also gives numbers for Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland but neglects to mention the source of those numbers. Are they believable? I don’t know.

He also states that websites 23andMe and both have over one million customers, while MyHeritage boasts over 80 million.

I do wish that Gavin Phillips had provided source citations for his numbers.

You can read the article at


Shame we can’t trust SCOTUS to treat DNA results as protected under the Fifth Amendment.
On some of the stats, they are easily findable through a quick search online. For the estimates, hard to say as they could be generated using stat analysis which could be highly reliable to highly suspect. Where I see a big issue is when somebody has a false positive DNA relationship match and the police assuming it’s a true positive. Kind of like what happened to the guy the police thought was a match that led them to DNA fishing a while back. Had the judge, police, or prosecutor known enough about DNA, they would have known it shouldn’t have been used in that case.


I have posted several comments, at various places , addressing this and related issues. I learned the scoffing of my judgment many times over. The chickens are coming home to roost .


Let us assume the figures are right, and let us assume that every one of the genealogists has submitted a DNA sample, is a 2.5% sample of the population sufficient to make this a significant tool for criminal investigation?
Assuming it is sufficient, do we need to worry unless we are guilty?


According to Gavin Phillips’ article, the figures for the numbers of genealogists come from GenealogyInTime Magazine … there’s a link at the bottom of his article:
Although reading that article suggests it’s a bit of a “finger in the air” guesstimate of a maximum of 1 in every 40 people in English speaking countries …


I personally went into handing over my DNA expecting that at some point the government would manage to get it for their own purposes. Since I don’t expect to commit any crimes, I’m not overly concerned. If my descendants or family decide they will commit crimes, shame on them and justice should be provided to whomever they harmed. Facebook, twitter and other social media is also used to find criminals. No one seems to be concerned about that. Genealogy is more about research than just DNA. DNA is one tool in a genealogist’s toolbox, but not the only tool. Research must be done to prove that information is correct and to place people into the tree. Anyone using DNA testing to fill in a tree is not a proper genealogist.


“the growth of alternate private genealogy databases has understandably piqued the interest of law enforcement agencies. ”
Then I suggest they read The Legal Genealogist, in particular,
The blog starts (and thanks to Judy G Russell):
“In the brouhaha last year [2015] about law enforcement trying to use genealogical DNA information to solve a very old, very nasty murder case, The Legal Genealogist made one prediction:
Law enforcement wouldn’t do it very much again, since it was a very complicated and very expensive failure.”
The point is that the DNA tests used for genealogy are not the same as the tests used for crime detection. She finishes (nearly) with “The fact simply is that using genetic genealogy tests isn’t easy for the police. Our tests are so different from what the police need for a criminal case that, quite frankly, the police don’t particularly want our results”.


Subscribers of Ancestry websites, per the financials at Ancestry’s web site, totaled approximately

2,115,000 as of December 31, 2014, compared to
2,140,000 as of December 31, 2013.

Also, when “counting” genealogists, does one count those on “vacation”. I have been involved in genealogy since 1970, but not full-time. I’ve had times were loves gained and lost, and family duties, and job requirements have taken me out of action, sometimes for years. Now that I am retired, I am, so far, full-time. But, I was never full-time while I was working.


We’re going to rehash this AGAIN? This is just like picking up my favorite magazines and every July is the backyard shed issue, every January is the rotate your dewormers, every April is refresh your home after a long winter. Is it now going to be the March genealogy topic of law enforcement using genetic genealogy tests to find criminals? As has been pointed out over and over, the two tests are not the same. This is a topic for the National Enquirer.

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