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DNA Q&A: All About GEDmatch

By Family Tree Editors Premium

What happened to GEDmatch?

GEDmatch unwittingly began an affiliation with law enforcement agencies in April 2018, when authorities used its free database to find the Golden State Killer. And since then, GEDmatch has embraced its new role as a tool for identifying criminals, ostensibly sealing its relationship with law enforcement in a December 2019 partnership with Verogen, a forensic DNA testing company.

It’s anyone’s guess what the acquisition means for the future of GEDmatch. But in the time since GEDmatch began cooperating with law enforcement, users have had a few opportunities to take use of their data into their own hands. And now, they have a choice to make about how they want GEDmatch to use their data—if they want GEDmatch to use their data at all:

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Option One: Delete Your Data

When you first heard about GEDmatch’s policy on opening its database to law enforcement in 2018, you had the chance to delete your data. You had that same opportunity in early 2019, when GEDmatch was used in a case of assault that technically fell outside the stated allowed use of its database for law enforcement. At either point, you had the opportunity to withdraw your data from the site, or continue to allow it.

In fact, you always have that choice. After all, once your DNA is deleted from a database, it is gone gone. Likewise, you’ve always had the opportunity to remain in the database, upload the DNA of family members, and encourage others to do the same.

Option Two: Remain Opted Out of Law Enforcement Usage

In May 2019, GEDmatch changed its policy regarding law enforcement. At the time, everyone in GEDmatch was opted out of law enforcement searches. With a keystroke, GEDmatch took the size of its database of nearly 3 million kits available to law enforcement down to zero.

Passionate members of the genealogy community waged an aggressive “opt in” campaign to try to build that database back up to a useful level. And this was another opportunity to take control of your own data, as you had to manually opt back in to allow law enforcement to access your data for matching.

This decision (or indecision, if you haven’t ever opted-in) still stands with the acquisition. If you did not opt-in, Verogen will not have access to your data for law enforcement purposes. In a press release, Verogen CEO Brett Williams said, “Our users have the absolute right to choose whether they want to share their information with law enforcement by opting in.”

Option Three: Opt In

If you’re comfortable with your information being used by law enforcement, you can log in and opt in.

Note, though you have to accept GEDmatch’s new terms and conditions in order to log in and use the site, agreeing to these terms does not opt you in to law enforcement searching. The two are entirely separate. Agreeing just gives you access to the site as you once had.

Regardless of your decision, this latest news from GEDmatch highlights the importance of communicating these changes to your friends and family who have uploaded to the site. Make sure that they have an opportunity to actively manage their own DNA.

The acquisition is also a reminder that all companies have the right to take their business in the direction they see fit. So read all of the Terms and Conditions to determine how it relates to your genetic data.

Answer provided by Diahan Southard

Q: Do I need GEDmatch?

A: There are traditionally three reasons people use GEDmatch: to find new matches, to use the tools, and to see segment data.

In the early days of autosomal DNA testing we had only three companies in play: AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA and 23andMe. If you wanted to compare your results with someone who had tested at a different company, of just see if you had matches in a different company, you had to actually test at that company. Back when prices were $200 or $300 per test, that could get really pricey really fast. But then GEDmatch entered the scene in 2010 and offered us a FREE way to see matches who had tested at other companies. As long as you didn’t mind the rigmarole of downloading your data from one company, and uploading it into GEDmatch, it provided the perfect solution to our problem.

However, now that testing prices have plummeted, to even as low as $49 per test, testing at multiple companies is not necessarily out of budget. For those who still don’t want to shell out the extra cash, you can transfer into Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage and Living DNA and have full access to your match list for free! This means if you test at AncestryDNA or 23andMe, then transfer to the three just mentioned, you can be in 4 of the 5 genetic genealogy databases for just under $100.

But even if you aren’t in all of the companies, will you find new matches at GEDmatch? It is unlikely. If someone was genetic genealogist enough to transfer to GEDmatch, it is very likely that they also transferred to either FTDNA, MyHeritage or LivingDNA as well, right? So you can just find them at those companies without using GEDmatch.

But what about the tools?

GEDmatch does have a couple tools you won’t find in your testing company. A powerful tool for those seeking unknown parents (or others just out of curiosity) is the Are My Parents Related tool. GEDmatch also provides lots of different views of your ethnicity based on different algorithms. You can also discover what color your eyes are likely to be (in case you don’t have a mirror).

The biggest tool genetic genealogists feel they need from GEDmatch is the segment data that AncestryDNA is not providing. Aside from the fact that you don’t actually need segment data to determine a relationship, in order to get it you have to also convince all of your DNA cousins at Ancestry to transfer to GEDmatch as well.

So, while GEDmatch used to be a great place to meet and greet new cousins, much like the drive-in, its day has passed. Currently GEDmatch has a very different purpose: to help solve violent crimes. Regardless of your position on this topic, it is very important that we reeducate everyone in the community about the new purpose of GEDmatch, just to be clear about what new users are signing up for.

Answer provided by Diahan Southard

How do I use GEDmatch?

A: You’ve spent money on a DNA test for yourself and possibly one or more relatives, but what do you do with those results once you’ve got them? How can you wring every bit of knowledge out of those results and get the most for your money?

Third-party tools (many of which are free) give genealogists more ways of exploring and analyzing their DNA test results. DNA expert and author of The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy Blaine Bettinger shares three ways you can analyze your results with GEDmatch, one of the most commonly used genetic genealogy tools.

1. Find genetic cousins in the GEDmatch database.

Unless you’ve tested at all three testing companies (23andMe, AncestryDNA, and Family Tree DNA), your DNA isn’t being compared to all test-takers. GEDmatch, however, has thousands of test results from each of the testing companies, allowing your DNA to be compared to the DNA of those who had their DNA tested by other companies. After you’ve uploaded your own raw data to GEDmatch, you can compare your DNA to all those test-takers and (hopefully) identify even more genetic cousins.

2. Identify shared segments of DNA.

Not all the genetic genealogy testing companies provide information about shared segments. Each shared segment at GEDmatch, however, can be identified by chromosome number, start location, stop location, and total size. This can be helpful for genealogists interested in chromosome mapping and triangulation.

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3. Analyze your DNA with other ethnicity calculators.

Biogeographical estimates, also called “ethnicity” estimates, aren’t an exact determination of your genealogical ethnicity. Instead, these calculations are just estimates based on imperfect modern-day populations. Accordingly, you shouldn’t take these estimates to the bank.Instead, look for patterns or trends among multiple ethnicity calculators at the testing companies and at GEDmatch, and focus on estimates at the continental level (Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe), which tend to be more accurate.

Answer provided by Blaine Bettinger

Related Reads

Think of GEDmatch as a matchmaking service for all your possible cousin connections. Use these five steps to analyze your DNA with this third-party tool.

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