Tuesday, 5 August 2014

US genealogists embrace DNA evidence

Two recent blog posts indicate a changing attitude to the use of DNA evidence in the US professional genealogy community.

The Legal Genealogist, Judy Russell (JR), a trustee of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, posted DNA and the GPS.  It poses the question

“Can it be that DNA is part of the Genealogical Proof Standard’s first element: the requirement of a reasonably exhaustive search?”
and answers it
"we need to consider it (DNA evidence), each and every time we are putting together a research plan to try to solve a genealogical question."
JR's post delves into circumstances which might exclude DNA evidence on the grounds that it goes beyond the reasonably exhaustive search condition on the Genealogical Proof Standard.

One of the commenters to the blog post expressed the view that
"When applying for professional certifications in genealogy today, I would be in favour of penalizing applicants if DNA could have helped solve a problem that they leave unresolved, and they don’t recommend it."
The second blog post is Methodology Monday with Elizabeth Shown Mills, the FAN club and DNA by Harold Henderson (HH) on his Midwest Microhistory blog.

It's a comment on an article "Testing the FAN Principle against DNA: Zilphy (Watts) Price Cooksey Cooksey of Georgia and Mississippi"by Elizabeth Shown Mills in volume 102 (June 2014): 129-152 of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

HH reflects on the paucity of articles that use DNA evidence in the NGSQ and opines that:
"The more high-quality peer-reviewed articles we have, the easier it will be for us to learn more about how these two streams of evidence can converge. We need more people crossing the documentary-DNA line from both sides."
While waiting for NGSQ to catch up it would be wise to check out articles published elsewhere, maybe even outside the bounds of the territory patrolled by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, one is mentioned in a comment, and the many cases where DNA evidence has been used to breakdown the brickwall of adoption without the benefit of high-quality peer review.

The statement in the blog post that
THE DNA EVIDENCE COULDN'T EVEN HAVE BEEN COLLECTED WITHOUT DOCUMENTARY EVIDENCE SUGGESTING WHO TO TEST,
(it does appear in bold all caps in the blog post) is seemingly oblivious to cases where DNA test have provided the lead needed to identify lines for investigating documentary evidence which might otherwise be considered beyond reasonably exhaustive.

It's encouraging to see DNA being increasingly given its due by professionals as a legitimate source of genealogical evidence.

Is it too much to hope that one day genealogists will acknowledge that adhering to the GPS does not mean that a case is proved, rather that best professional practices were followed, and that the confidence in a conclusion should be routinely quantified by a probabilistic statement?

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