As a genealogist I am aware of the ethical and moral implications of my research. When dealing with people, both the living and the dead, there are certain obligations that genealogists ascribe to in their work. This can be a fine line at times but the general acceptance is that one does not use genealogical data for reasons other than for the purpose of establishing ancestral lines of descent.
Essential genealogy seeks to establish the origins of ones family. Sir Arthur Wagner in his English Genealogy (1983) identifies four aspects of genealogy, status, record, name, and continuity. In other words, genealogy is more than simply linking parents and offspring. Genealogy involves linking the present to the distant past through a historical and traceable line of decent.
Uncovering the past has become popular with many commercial ancestry websites who are busy promoting the cause. However, I have experienced a number of errors and historical inaccuracies on these sites when researching my own family and wonder as to what procedures are in place with regarding accuracy.
While I have any number of reservations about the use of commercial ancestry websites, including the fact that US law enforcements agencies are endeavouring to access the DNA records held by such sites, I note with an increasing sense of unease that the apparent popularity of DNA testing is now something of a ghost ship. The results of DNA testing are being used for purposes other than genealogy.
Commercial ancestry sites and ancestry social media sites are now the target of these ghost ships, people accessing these websites and the DNA data they hold for personal reasons and self interests.
The result is that DNA testing has now become a method of choice utilised by those who have been adopted to seek out their parents, or for parents to seek out the children they have allowed to be adopted. As one Facebook contributor recently noted concerning ancestry sites,
‘It now a one stop shop for adoptees to find family quickly …’
In seeking to tell our own ‘story’ through genealogy it is obvious that these sites are now being used by adoptees in order to tell ‘their own story’. I can understand the need. But it is opportune to keep in mind that commercial ancestry websites, which heavily advertising the use of their data base and their DNA records, do not carry out any ‘checks and balances’ for the accuracy of the data people upload into these sites.
Apart from the issues surrounding DNA testing itself it is highly unlikely that those who have engaged in the DNA testing procedure on ancestry sites have consider that their data might be accessed for purposes which has little, is anything, to do with genealogy. Remember, utilising DNA testing means you are engaging, directly or indirectly, with people who are living and who may not wish to be involved in the process.
Furthermore, taking a DNA test itself will not tell you the origins of your family. All it can tell you, on the balance of probabilities and the size of the database, is where those same genetic attributes ‘might’ have come from.