Wednesday, June 24, 2015

On the Other Hand

After unloading my frustration, yesterday, over lack of progress on my DNA test results—not just for myself, but for my husband and my brother, as well—I need to interject some balance to my observations.

I am reminded of an analysis I read once, years ago, considering the political and social aftermath of the invention we know as the fax machine. Given that the fax machine enabled people to bypass the conventional gatekeepers of business and politics, it could become a powerful tool in getting a lone message out to multiplied numbers of people with very little effort.

Despite its evident selling point, the gizmo also had its drawbacks. The article I was reading mentioned the dilemma faced by the cutting-edge techno-fan when considering purchase of such a device: if you are the only one who owns such a contraption, to whom will you dispatch your faxes?

One fax machine is useless. The invention only becomes useful after there are two.

We've since developed a world of other technology gadgets which follow suit on that rule. Come to think of it, we've actually faced that dilemma long before the arrival of the fax machine, as well. Just consider how useless it would be to be the only person in the world owning a telephone.

Despite its bad rap, technology often connects people, just as much as it seems to isolate and alienate them. Imagine being the only person in the world on Facebook. Or using email.

Some tasks just require two parties. A sender and a receiver.

Likewise, as I seek matches to my DNA test results, I'm faced with that same technology conundrum: it takes two people to make a match.

Of course, this DNA testing isn't quite so easy a matter as having two people test to find a match. You and I and everyone else know the key is in who is doing the testing. But, as very few of us are acquainted with our fourth through sixth cousins—those thousands of them out in the wide world—we have little to no idea how many people it will take, before we can connect with a bona fide genetic match.

Reader Intense Guy made the observation yesterday,
...the country has 300,000,000 people in it—and only a very small number have done the "DNA testing." The odds of a jackpot would seem to me to be about 1 in 50,000 or perhaps even worse.
It seems the key, then, is to turn advocates for genetic genealogy into evangelists for DNA testing. It seems a reasonable conclusion. The more people out there who have joined in on the genetic genealogy bandwagon, the merrier.

On the other hand, how likely is it that the average person will rush out and kiss goodbye their hard-earned cash, along with their test-tube encapsulated spit? We've got everyone from seniors who just can't afford it to swinging singles who are afraid a paternity suit might catch up with them. Add to the mix the uninterested, uninformed, and undocumented. Plus preppers and the paranoid and conspiracy theorists, oh my!

It seems there are thousands of reasons why a person might not want to have his or her DNA bottled up and put on the record. Anywhere.

Still, promoters of genetic genealogy—and genealogy in general—have taken the opportunity to spread the message far and wide. Of course, I've heard the message at genealogy conferences. Television programs popularizing genealogical research have helped, as well. And it sure doesn't hurt when well-known promoters like A.J. Jacobs garner live crowds—his Global Family Reunion reportedly had four thousand in attendance at the grounds of the former New York World's Fair a couple weeks ago. You can be sure those joining in that family reunion heard some amazing stories about genetic genealogy results.

I only wish there was a way—a widespread way—for each of us as individuals to spread the word within our own microcosms. I'd love to be able to say to someone, "Hey, if you're related to the Tilsons (or the McClellans, or the Booths), do this DNA test and let's see if we're connected," and receive a favorable response.

Instead of having to stoop down to pick up the poor willing soul who's just been knocked out by sticker shock.


  1. This is another one of your well written posts! I guess I fall into the "tin foil hat" crowd myself -

    The bit about the fax machine struck home with me. My father was one of the early proponents of faxing - and he had trouble getting his father to accept it in the office - I think if my grandfather had had his way - they would have been using messenger boys on horses (or bicycles) until the day he retired. :)

    1. What a conceptual struggle that must have been back then, Iggy! I can't imagine an office, back then, without a fax machine! I suppose the thinking is, whatever their system was, if it worked without the new machine, why fix what wasn't broken?

      Still, some technological developments have been such work horses, I can't imagine getting business done without them. I know I could never have been the one woman show my small business was, back in the 1980s, if it weren't for my (now very rudimentary) computer.

      Though I read that thought about the fax machine many years ago, it crystalized that concept in my mind: we may pride ourselves on having the "machine"--whatever that technological invention might be--when in reality, what we've just been sold is not a new invention, but only half of that machine. It really doesn't deliver until there are at least two of them.

  2. I know the testing is important to you, especially since you don't have a whole bunch of cousins. I have many many cousins and second cousins and third for us it isn't as important....howerver I wish that some "Foundation" would make it one of their tax deductions for those who want to discover their genetic relatives. :)

    1. ...and we were so pleased with ourselves when we went to see my husband's cousin's kids and grandkids, back in Kansas, and realized that our daughter was visiting with her second cousins, once removed! Third cousins? I'm impressed, Far Side!

      Yes, definitely, that "Foundation" idea is exactly what I'd love to see. I think of it as donations for the development of the science. Of course, we aren't supposed to count a donation as tax deductible if we receive the benefit, ourselves, but something like that could definitely be a way for those who can afford it to help out others who'd like to test, but certainly can't afford it.


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