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Ethical dilemmas with DNA testing

‘I only did a DNA test to find out my ethnicity, what can go wrong?’


This session will look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of DNA testing, and potential ethical dilemmas including non-genealogical use of DNA. Direct to consumer DNA testing is anew service, and could even be seen as a marketing hook, with the promise of revealing where you are ‘from.’ But what are the companies actually testing - ethnicity/ race/ ancestry/ heritage/ where people lived? Whilst finding unknown ethnicities can be ‘gold dust’ for adopted people, ethnicity results can affect identity, notions of heritage and notions of homelands. The results can be upsetting for some people with unexpected ethnicities. Ethnicity inheritance is somewhat random and can raise (unfounded) doubts about paternity.

You can download your DNA data, and then upload it to the (mostly) free-to-use website GEDmatch, which compares the main DNA testing websites, and gives more insights. However, non-genealogical uses of DNAhave been revealed. Law enforcement have utilised DNA and online trees, utilising forensic genetic genealogy, leading to the now notorious case of the arrest of the ‘Golden State Killer.’ This divided the genealogy community and raised many questions and worries about privacy and confidentiality. Data available in GEDmatch can often identify a 3rd cousin or closer in 90% of the population. Many of us have never met 3rd cousins, they are considered distant family, and there may be little ‘loyalty’ to them. So, do the ends justify the means? (Investigative genetic genealogy leading to convictions). How can we take advantage of new technologies while maintaining an ethical approach? This session should enable attendees to think critically about the impact of their decisions.

Can't make this time? Book anyway as this talk will be recorded and available to watch for 2 weeks. 

About the speaker: Dr Penny Walters lectures internationally and writes articles about a variety of genealogy topics: ethical dilemmas in genealogy; the psychology of searching; adoption; black British heritage; mixing DNA results with a paper trail; diaspora; Irish heritage. Penny is the author of 'Ethical Dilemmas in Genealogy' (2019) and 'The Psychology of Searching' (2020), both available on Amazon in kindle or paperback.

New to Zoom and would like to attend the course but not sure how it works? Do contact us if you would like to arrange a free taster session.

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