July 21, 2011

D.A.R. Needs a Wakeup Call re DNA Evidence

Recently I read in the Washington Post about an application for acceptance into the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) lineage society. The first application was refused so the individual resubmitted using DNA results as part of the proof required. The DAR refused to accept it saying they do not accept DNA results as evidence of relationships.

This attitude puzzles me. Why would a society or organization that is supposed to be dedicated to finding the truth of relationships rule out a piece of that evidence? DNA testing is a piece of the puzzle. It's not the final answer but surely it counts towards finding the answer.

If census records, vital statistics and other documented life events  carry weight towards proving a relationship from Person A to Person B, it seems to me that excluding DNA evidence is extremely short-sighted.


Kudos to those lineage societies who do allow DNA testing as part of the submission process. Shouldn't all lineage societies keep up with technology and embrace new methods of finding the truth about our ancestors and our descent? I'm not saying the DAR was wrong to refuse the original applicaton, but I am saying they need to keep up with emerging technologies and allow DNA to be part of the proof submitted by an applicant.

17 comments:

Tracy said...

I couldn't agree more. I likely will not be able to prove my connection to three Patriot ancestors without the Y-DNA results taken by my father and his uncle, proving that they are 100% matched on 37 markers. Because of my grandfather's name change (and lack of documents I can find to prove it), DNA was my next option. It makes me wonder how many people have gotten into a lineage society based upon paper documentation but DNA results might tell a different story. Then what would the society do?

Claudia's Genealogy Blog said...

It sounds like the powers that be at the DAR are like ostriches with their heads in the sand.

Becky Higgins said...

Reference Tracy's comment:"It makes me wonder how many people have gotten into a lineage society based upon paper documentation but DNA results might tell a different story."
Could be they're afraid to accept DNA for that very reason.

Barbara Poole said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Genealogy Blogger said...

Barbara, you misunderstood my post. Nowhere did I say that DNA should be a REQUIREMENT. I said it should be allowed as another piece of evidence IF an applicant chose to submit it.

I don't think the fact that DAR may be made up of older individuals is a legitimate reason to not keep up with evolving technology.

I have not done a study on it but my understanding is that SAR allows DNA evidence in an application.

DAR is doing a disservice to their members in my opinion.But it's only an opinion, which is what a blog is all about.

Michael Hait said...

One potential reason for the difference between the SAR's policy vs. the DAR's policy (and I am not a representative of either organization and do not know for a fact) could be the very nature of DNA testing and the membership of these organizations. Presumably, we are talking about Y-DNA, which is the only DNA testing method with a sample size sufficient for proving identity of ancestors. Y-DNA only exists in men, so no DAR applicant (women) is able to submit their own DNA test as evidence. They may be able to submit a close male relative, but that is not usually in the direct line from the Revolutionary ancestor to the applicant. Applicants to the SAR, on the other hand, can submit their own tests.

Cindy Parnell said...

As a DAR member who has done over 40 member applications I know that the organization may well take DNA evidence someday, when it is ready and able to process it correctly. Right now the organization is finishing putting all of its existing application lineages on an on-line database; a multi-year project intended to aid new applicants. This involves over 800,000 proven lineages! Next, DAR is starting to enter the millions of evidentiary supporting documents and records on-line, too, all with the purpose of aiding applicants in more easily proving their lineage through DAR.org . (All of this is done wihin the rules of privacy laws.) The use of DNA proof may follow, since DAR is open to many methods of solid proof, they just aren't ready to handle DNA yet, and will want to do it right. Remember, DAR is an all volunteer service organization receiving over 1000 applications each month, and has to prepare and set-up all new projects with the help of donations. Give them a break, huh?

Anonymous said...

I think Michael makes a good point. It would certainly depend on what generation the applicant wanted to use the DNA. In the past some women wanted to use a woman who was the mother of a patriot but who was a sibling of their own ancestor. Also known as a collateral ancestor. We have been very busy entering all the applications from 1890s to present day into a database. So NSDAR is getting with modern technology. Give them time to do things in an orderly fashion, please.

Genealogy Blogger said...

Cindy, you've given some very well-thought out and logical reasons why DAR might not be accepting DNA results.

If only the official spokesperson for DAR had spoken as rationally as you! Her words (quoted in the Washington Post article) about not being able to use DNA unless you dug up the dead ancestor only showed her lack of knowledge of how DNA testing works. She also made it sound as if DAR is absolutely dead-set against allowing DNA as a piece of the overall submission documentation.

My blog post was my thoughts based on what she had to say.

But your points make good sense. I would like to see DAR move ahead with this and it would be comforting to hear something official about their future intentions regarding DNA tests as documention.

Kate Cann said...

Two points -

1. DAR is NOT an ALL volunteer organization. The Genealogy Dept who proof the applications are PAID staff members of NSDAR.

2. A woman can easily use Y-chromosome results for her application. All she needs to do is prove her kinship to the male whose results are being submitted.

Mountain Mama said...

I think it is also important to notice that the reason the application was rejected was due to the unaddressed question of their ancestor (with a not uncommon name) actually being the patriot that served. I can be a proven descendant of John Doe, but without proof that my John Doe was the person who provided some kind of service, it doesn't matter.

In my understanding of DNA testing, one could prove that a person was likely related, but still not prove the actual linage. I understand that is one of the concerns DAR has.

Genealogy Blogger said...

Mountain Mama - the point is NOT that the application was rejected.

The point is that DNA is not allowed by the DAR as PART of the submission process.

Whether or not the application is rejected or accepted is not what is being question

It is the refusal of DAR to accept that DNA is a valid part of any documentation.

DNA would not automatically grant the applicant acceptance. It is a piece of the puzzle. And as a piece of the puzzle it should be allowed to be included.

Cindy Parnell said...

Kate Cann is partially right. The genealogists who review the member applications are employees who, I understand, have only a short amount of time (for the first pass) to review each application for correctness. Initial member applications are actually reviewed and submitted by chapter officers who ARE volunteers and, though trained in document usage are not, at this time, equipped to know if DNA results make proven matches. Also, supplemental applications (for existing members) are often reviewed by trained volunteers, not employees. As to Kate's second point, it does seem as though Y-DNA would be the easiest way to prove an applicant's father's line, for example, once a tie to the father is proven in other ways. How many matching markers, though, would be needed to establish proof? The whole application system will probably need to be enhanced to properly address DNA evidence.

Carole Alden said...

Michael said, They may be able to submit a close male relative, but that is not usually in the direct line from the Revolutionary ancestor to the applicant. I just had my uncle tested. From his father to my Revolutionary Soldier is six generations and with large families, it doesn't seem that it would be hard to have some more males. Go side ways to your cousins.

dustypepper said...

LETS PUT THIS LIKE IT IS DNA DOES NOT A MARRIAGE PROVE. DNA PROVE A FAMILIAR RELATIONSHIP BUT DAR WANT PROOF OF THE MARRIAGE THE BIRTH AND DEATH TO PROVE THE LINEAGE OF THE PERSON ASKING TO JOIN THRU TO HER REV WAR ANCESTOR . PROOFS ARE CHURCH RECORDS OF MARRIAGE BAPTISM BIRTH CERTIFICATES DEATH CERTIFICATES MARRIAGE CERTIFICATES, CEMETERY RECORD, WILLS DEED. CENSUS PROVE MORE THAN DNA CAN EVER PROVE FOR THE LINEAGE

Susan said...

DNA may be useful in looking to the answers in a family line, but to use it as proof of relationship is going to be tricky. As has been pointed out, it is women who are applying for membership, and the Y-DNA lines are what is required to show that the patriot is an ancestor. So a woman would have to submit the Y-DNA of a male relative in the line, prove the relationship through DNA to that person, and then be able to confirm without question that the line goes back to the patriot, whose DNA will not be available. If autosomal DNA were to be used it could not prove a direct line, as the DNA could really connect to any indicated direction. I would think the best use of the DNA testing would be to help the applicant to know if the line is likely correct, and then to get to work on the paperwork. I am not objecting to DNA being used as proof, but I think if it is done, it will be the exception rather than the rule. There are very good paper trails in place for many patriots.

Michael Hait said...

I forgot to also add in my earlier comment that the current testing of Y-DNA does not prove descent from a specific ancestor. What a Y-DNA test actually proves is genetic similarity to another tester. One can use this as evidence of descent from a specific family, but not as proof. Furthermore, a Y-DNA match does not prove descent from a specific individual. One simply cannot prove with DNA evidence alone, that one is descended from Patriot X and not X's brother, uncle, father, or paternal male cousin. All of these people would share the same Y-DNA as Patriot X, which introduces doubt as to the veracity of the DNA evidence.