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June 14, 2020
Product Reviews

The Genetic Detective: 5 Things to Know Before Watching

The Genetic Detective is a new TV series from ABC. What is genetic genealogy? How does DNA data help solve a crime? Is my data safe?
By
Tomohiro Takano

About The Genetic Detective

The Genetic Detective is a new series that follows the adventures of investigative genetic genealogist CeCe Moore. CeCe, a professional DNA ancestry researcher, uses the newest advancements in DNA technology to help investigators solve decades-old cold cases. Moore’s work includes solving cold cases all over North America using her unique research skills.


The Genetic Detective is a part of a growing genre of TV shows showing advanced techniques police use to solve crimes. The Genetic Detective is part of the ABC News network primetime lineup, or you can tune in on Hulu any time you want! 

Who is CeCe Moore?

CeCe Moore is a family tree and genetic genealogy hobbyist-turned-expert who used her genetic relationship research skills to help police identify victims and perpetrators using crime scene DNA data. CeCe also runs the site Your Genetic Genealogist - a blog that explains genetic genealogy in lay-terms and allows you to follow along with her latest research. 


While CeCe once used her skill to help people identify their ancestors, she realized that the tools provided by GEDmatch.com could also be used for crime-solving. The first episode - The Case of the Missing Lovebirds - covers her first assignment from a police department, with each subsequent episode covering one of the many exciting cold cases CeCe has been apart of. 


You can learn more about CeCe Moore in this interview article by FamilyTreeDNA and in this interview conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

What Is Genetic Genealogy?

DNA is inherited. This is a very important fact that allows the field of genetic genealogy to exist. When you submit your DNA to companies like 23andMe or Ancestry, they measure over 700,000 individual components of your genetic code. Since DNA is inherited, if you share a large portion of these points with another person you are likely related to them. 


The study of genetic genealogy uses advancements in DNA sequencing technology to analyze relationships between people. While researchers use a number of tools, a free resource appeared online in the early 2000s: GEDmatch.com. This website allows users to upload their DNA data and compare it directly to millions of other users. Professional genetic genealogists use GEDmatch and a wide variety of other tools to help people find their family members, prove ancestral relationships, identify birth parents or adoptees, and even solve cold cases - like the infamous Golden State Killer case. 


However, the field is very new and is still very accessible to amateurs! If you would like to try your hand at genetic genealogy, check out our blog post on how to use GEDmatch, then head to GEDmatch.com to get started!

How Does Law Enforcement Use Genetic Genealogy to Solve a Cold Case?

Contrary to popular belief, law enforcement officials are not using genetic genealogy alone to find and convict criminals. In fact, genetic genealogy often provides only a lead. Detectives must engage in lots of police work to finish the cases and collect enough evidence to convict. 


In general, genetic genealogy uses a straight-forward method of generating leads in cold cases. First, a DNA sample is required. Many cold cases have DNA samples - but there are no direct matches in the FBI’s CODIS database. Genetic genealogists can take the DNA data and compare it to millions of people online. This can help them identify the unknown suspect’s family members.


From there, the suspect can sometimes be identified directly based on public records. In this case, the police follow up with the suspect and obtain a DNA sample. If the sample is a match to the unknown suspect - the police have found their guy! However, sometimes there are thousands of matches and genetic genealogists must use complex tools and reasoning to narrow down the suspects for the police to investigate. 


Genetic genealogy has led to hundreds of cold cases being closed. CeCe Moore contributed to the arrest of William Talbot by Seattle’s Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office (for the double homicide of Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg). She also helped identify who killed Angie Dodge in Idaho, a crime perpetrated by multiple individuals. Episode 2 - Hunt for the Runaway Killer - covers the captivating story of the Sherri and Megan Scherer cold case. 


If you would like to learn more about how law enforcement has used genetic genealogy to solve cold cases, check out these articles by the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post!

Should I be scared? Is my DNA data safe?

If you or a family member committed a serious violent crime - you probably should be scared. As of this writing, there are no legal challenges to the validity of using genetic genealogy to identify unknown suspects who left their DNA at a crime scene. With millions of people contributing their DNA to databases, genetic genealogy greatly improves the investigator’s chances of solving the crime. 


However, if you are a law-abiding citizen the only real threat is that in some dystopian future DNA data will be used to identify government dissenters to enforce a militarized police state. Since this basic premise would require the complete disregard of many human rights laws, country constitutions, and standard policing procedures, this premise is at best a conspiracy theory. 


In other words, it’s unlikely that contributing your DNA will ever help convict you - unless you commit a very heinous, violent crime. 


Many people are embracing genetic genealogy as a way to more effectively bring violent criminals to justice. GEDmatch was recently acquired by Verogen, a company specializing in criminal forensics consulting. If you feel like contributing to law enforcement efforts is a good thing - you’re not alone!


More than half of all Americans are actually very willing to contribute their genetic data to databanks that help investigators! At the same time, you can protect your DNA data by opting out of adding your data to police database searches. That being said, a judge can still order your data subpoenaed - an order even the largest DNA testing companies must comply with. 

How Can I Contribute to Solving Crimes?

Crimes from places all over the world - Vancouver, New York, Indiana, Idaho Falls, Missouri, and many other places - have already been solved using contributions of DNA from the community.


There are two great websites you can contribute to if you want to help police officers use DNA data to solve cold cases. 

GEDmatch

By uploading your data to GEDmatch, you are contributing your data to one of the largest genetic databases openly available to law enforcement. GEDmatch was instrumental in solving many high-profile cold cases already, and will likely be at the forefront of many other cases being solved. Plus, GEDmatch has helped exonerate people who have been falsely accused when the real murderers are caught!

DNASolves

Unlike GEDmatch, DNASolves is a database built for the sole purpose of catching criminals. Users can contribute their data to DNASolves and instantly be added to a growing database of users that want DNA technology to make policing more efficient and trust-worthy. DNA evidence has been a growing field for decades - and genetic genealogy provides a new and amazing technology for identifying unknown DNA samples.


Did you get 23andMe, AncestryDNA, or MyHeritage results back? Upload your raw DNA data to access 25+ traits for free at Genomelink!
Tomohiro Takano
Tomohiro Takano
Co-Founder and CEO