Q: What is GEDmatch?

A: GEDmatch is a free genetic genealogy service that is not affiliated with any of the direct-to-consumer (DTC) DNA testing companies, but which accepts data from all of them. GEDmatch allows users to compare their autosomal DNA (atDNA) results to people who have tested with companies other than their own. For example, it allows users who have tested with Ancestry to compare their results to someone who has tested with 23&Me. There are also many analysis tools on GEDmatch that are not found elsewhere.

Upload to GEDmatch is voluntary. DTC companies do not automatically upload data from their clients. Most GEDmatch tools are free, but the site offers access to additional tools for $10/month as part of its Tier 1 option.

Please be sure to read the terms of service and site policy at GEDmatch to make sure you are comfortable with them. Users should consider that even though GEDmatch was created for genealogical research, it can and has been used for other purposes.

Q: Why can’t DDP upload the DNA of Does to 23andMe, Ancestry, and MyHeritage to find more matches?

A: None of these DTC testing companies allow submission of forensic cases for testing or for upload to their customer databases. It is therefore necessary to work with an independent lab to generate DTC-like data to upload to GEDmatchPro and FTDNA.

Q: Can we submit a case for consideration? What is the process for taking on a case?

A: DDP encourages case submissions from the public. Please email us if you have a case you’d like to see us work on.

When we receive a suggested case from the public, we will assess whether or not the case falls within our mission, and then we will reach out to the agency of record to offer our assistance.

We’ve received so many requests we cannot reply to each one, so we apologize if your suggestion has gone unanswered. It helps to know which cases are of interest so we can assess which ones will more likely benefit from our work, and to predict which cases are more likely to be funded through a Doe-Nate campaign.

Please note that we depend on agencies to work with us – we cannot take on a case without their partnership.  We strive to have a diverse case load – balancing the “easy” ones with those that are more difficult, the popular with the unknown. Between donations and agency funding we’re hoping to maintain this balance.

The list of cases that have been suggested to us by the public is extensive and heartbreaking. Each story is a tragedy that we hope we can solve. Even  so, there is no guarantee that we will accept a case. And even if we do, there is no guarantee that we will be able to bring it to a successful end.

We thank you for your suggestions, your interest, and your ongoing support. Our dream – like yours – is to see the list of John and Jane Does shrink, and one day disappear. No one should die without a name.

Q: Do you take on cases where the Doe is believed to be under 18?

A: We do, and we have! We only turn down “baby Doe” cases where the mother is clearly a person of interest, since she would not have reported her baby or young child missing, although there are other organizations that do take on these cases. So it’s not the age, it’s the likely circumstances – e.g. if the mother was also found dead, we would certainly take them both on.

Q: What are the challenges you face in making an identification?

A: Assuming the DNA passes an initial quality check (QC), later QC or sequencing steps may indicate the sample is not likely to produce data of sufficient quality to upload to GEDmatchPro and FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA). The most common issue is that the sample is heavily contaminated with outside DNA, generally bacterial DNA. This reduces the amount of usable human DNA sequencing data produced. It’s also possible that the quantity of unique human DNA molecules in the sample is so low, that it won’t provide adequate coverage of the genome.

Even if the sequencing results are good enough to produce data that can be uploaded to GEDmatchPro and FTDNA, the matching algorithms may not produce reliable matches. To address this issue, we have developed ways of distinguishing matches that are probably true from matches that are probably false.

The Doe may also come from a population that is not well-represented in the database – for example, Native Americans, African Americans and Asians are not well-represented. Another possibility is that a Doe or their family might be recent immigrants from a country where DNA testing is not available or not popular.

Additionally, unknown/misattributed parentage, adoption, and other familial events make building the tree significantly more difficult. If a Doe is descended from an endogamous population, our relationship estimates might be inflated and can make matches appear to be more closely related than they actually are. Matches can be related to the Doe–or even other matches!–in more than one way, making it difficult to sort out which ancestors are actually our Doe’s.

We have no control over whether the DNA on a case is contaminated or degraded. But the limitations imposed by database size may eventually disappear; the GEDmatch database is growing as fast as the Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) company databases are growing both domestically and overseas.

Anyone who has tested at a DTC testing company can upload their results to GEDmatch and FTDNA. Increasing the records in these databases not only increases the chance that we will have success with identifying our Does, it also benefits adoptees searching for their birth families and law enforcement agencies trying to solve violent crimes.

Q: Will the GEDmatch and FTDNA kit numbers of the John and Jane Does be made public?

A: No. For privacy reasons, our kits are marked “Research”. Our Does are never visible to others. Our John and Jane Does are entitled to their privacy.

Q: What happens to DNA during “library construction?”

A: The DNA is first fragmented to allow for massively parallel sequencing. The ends are then “tagged” with adapters to create a DNA library. These adaptors act as “barcodes” if more than one sample is to be sequenced at one time. The library then undergoes amplification to create many more copies of each fragment in preparation for sequencing.

Q:  What does sequencing involve?

A: Sequencing involves reading every base pair of a DNA fragment.

Q: What happens after the DNA has been sequenced?

A: The electronic versions of the fragments are reassembled into an electronic version of the original genome by mapping them to a human reference genome. SNPs are then called using imputation-based calling algorithms. The data is then filtered to create DTC-like files that are uploaded to GEDmatchPro and FTDNA.

Q: What happens next?

A: Because sequencing coverage from Jane and John Does can be very low, Doe ethnicity reports must be interpreted with caution, as should a Doe’s list of their DNA matches. It is also possible that ghost matches may appear on a Doe’s list as artifacts of GEDmatch’s matching algorithms that were designed to work with fresh DNA. However, as an essential part of our proof-of-concept studies over the last year, we have developed means to assess the reliability of GEDmatch output under less than optimal conditions.

Once we upload our Doe’s data to GEDmatch and have performed diagnostics on the results, we begin the sometimes long process of building family trees and triangulating DNA segments – tasks that are well-known to those of us who have worked on adoption searches.

Analysis can take hours or months. It’s like a multi-dimensional Sudoku puzzle!

Q: What is a DNA match?

A: In the context used at DNA Doe Project, a DNA match is any person who shares a segment of DNA with a Doe we are working on. Typically the threshold to be considered a match is greater than 7 centimorgans of shared DNA, but we usually do not work on or build out a match unless it is more than 20 centimorgans. Most matches will be distant cousins, sharing common ancestors with our Doe in the 1800s or earlier, and often further back than the genealogical record goes. However, every DNA match is important, especially to our Does who have fewer DNA matches in the databases we use.

Q: What if a Doe’s DNA matches don’t have family trees?

A: This happens all the time in genetic genealogy research. Many DNA-cousins have unfortunately not posted their family trees. Therein lies the challenge! We use a variety of techniques to identify matches and to research their families: Google, Facebook, newspaper articles and online obituaries are just a few.  If we cannot find a family tree for a match, we build our own. We rarely contact matches or their family members.

If we still hit a brick wall, we expand our search and look at the DNA relatives the mystery match has in common with our Doe. Do any of them have trees? Can we figure out how those people are related to the mystery match based on the amount of shared DNA? Sometimes we just look at the match’s own list of DNA relatives. Perhaps a parent has tested, or an aunt. If so, we Google that person and use them as a new starting point to identify the mystery match.

If the mystery match appears to be a second cousin or better to our Doe, it is well worth the effort to identify them and build their tree. Second cousins share great-grandparents. Our Doe only has four sets, so knowing one of them could help us break the case!

Q: I have already done a DNA test on Ancestry/23&Me. Can’t you use that?

A: DNA Doe Project and other forensic genetic genealogy organizations do not have the ability to view DNA matches in databases except for GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA. If you have completed a direct-to-consumer DNA test, you can help us solve cases by uploading to GEDmatch! Find out how here

Q: Does the company own my DNA if I upload to GEDmatch?

A: No company can ever own your DNA. We always recommend that you read the terms of service for any site with which you are sharing private information, including GEDmatch.

Q: Do you take suspect identification cases?

A: We do not work on forensic genetic genealogy cases attempting to identify the suspect of a violent crime from a DNA sample; our mission is only to identify human remains. However, in the homicide victim cases we take on, identifying the victim might provide leads in the criminal investigation.

Q: How can I help?

A: There are so many ways to help DNA Doe Project! We are a nonprofit organization and your support means the world to us.

The easiest way to assist in our work is to follow us on social media and share the stories of our John and Jane Does. A number of our cases have been solved because a family member or loved one of the Doe saw their picture in the news or social media. Sharing our cases truly makes an impact!

Second, you may upload your DNA profile to GEDmatch. Doing so helps us to have more matches for our Does. Going the extra mile and adding a GEDCOM family tree is even more helpful!

Finally, consider making a donation to DNA Doe Project. We accept donations through PayPal, Facebook, Amazon Smile and CashApp. You may also consider a birthday fundraiser or giving Tuesday fundraiser on Facebook to take your donation one step further.

Q: What happens to donations that go to DDP?

A: Donations from the public help to fund lab fees for agencies, as well as our organizational operating costs.

Costs of lab work to complete genetic genealogy can be prohibitively expensive for law enforcement agencies and medical examiner offices. At DNA Doe Project, we never turn down a case due to lack of funding. If an agency sends us a case but is unable to afford the costs, we will instead raise funds on their behalf or use donations from our general fund.

In regards to operating costs, we have a handful of contract staff at DNA Doe Project who oversee the operations of our nonprofit organization. Their stipends are covered by our donors and as a result, we are able to scale our operations to take on more cases.

Donations to case-specific funds go first to that case and then are applied to other cases if that case is fully funded. Donations to our general fund go to cases and/or operating costs as needed.

Q: Do you need volunteers?

A: With a team of more than 60 genetic genealogists, we aren’t looking to add to our team at this time. However, we occasionally require volunteers with extraordinary or special skills. You can fill out our volunteer application here.

Q: What if I have a question that wasn’t answered on this page?

A: Please contact us and we’ll get you the answers you need!