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Keepsake DNA Services

We provide DNA testing of ancestral keepsakes for genealogists.  This type of testing generally involves two phases:  Preliminary DNA testing (Phase 1) and DNA Sequencing (Phase 2) to generate a genetic genealogy profile for database upload.


PHASE 1 (Preliminary DNA testing):

Preliminary DNA testing consists of three parts

1) Sampling (if necessary)

2) DNA extraction

3) DNA Quantification 

First, the lab identifies the best locations for possible DNA and takes a sample (swab/cutting etc.) of that material.  Some examples of this are as follows:

Envelopes: Cutting of the back flap and/or stamp. 

Hat: Swabbing of the interior band.

Shirt: Swabbing and/or cutting of material under the arm. 

Earring: Swabbing of post/clasp.

Shoes: Swabbing of interior sole.

Some specific sample types also require pre-processing to obtain enough DNA to move forward.  For teeth and/or bones, a special instrument called the Qiagen Tissuelyser II is used to very carefully pulverize the material into a powder before it can move on in the process.


Biological material trapped in porous materials like clothing or hats may be collected with a specialized tool called the MVAC that can obtain much more DNA than traditional methods.

Second, the lab extracts the potential DNA.  This is essentially "popping" the cells that are collected, pulling the DNA out and washing away all the non-DNA cellular "debris". Through experience and experimentation, lab personnel have identified the best means of extracting DNA from various items.  Some methods (such as envelopes) are proprietary.  Others have developed over years of working in crime labs.  

Third, the extracted DNA is quantified (“quant” for short).  This process measures three things: the total amount of DNA obtained, how much of that DNA is male and the general quality of the DNA.  This allows the lab to determine (with consultation with you, our client) whether it is worthwhile to proceed to Phase 2, DNA sequencing.  At this stage you will receive a Preliminary DNA report documenting these results and all laboratory case documentation these results were based upon.  We aim to be very transparent!

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PHASE 2 (sequencing):


If Phase I (Quant) has produced enough usable DNA, the next stage is sequencing that DNA.  The DNA that we have obtained from phase 1 is run on one of two DNA sequencing instruments that precisely identifies the specific DNA "code" for each sample.  That DNA "code" is then transformed into a specific output file that is comprised of tens to hundreds of thousands of genealogy informative Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs, pronounced "snips").  These genetic genealogy SNPs are identified and documented in a electronic file that is compatible with GEDMatch and/or Family Tree DNA genetic genealogy databases. 


We use two different techniques/instruments to generate this DNA Sequencing information:  

The Verogen MiSeq FGx Forensic Sequencing System (targeted sequencing).










The Illumina Novaseq 6000 DNA Sequencer (whole genome sequencing). 





These two instruments have been widely recognized by authorities as the best sequencing equipment in the world and allow us to provide our clients with two different options for DNA sequencing depending on their circumstance.

Targeted Seqencing, utilizing the Verogen FGx Forensic Sequencing is a less expensive, but truly robust option.  The instrument is exclusively distributed by Verogen who, in 2019, bought GEDmatch is a popular DNA database to which genealogists can upload profiles to compare with other researchers’ profiles. For example, someone who tests with, MyHeritage, or 23andMe can upload those profiles to GEDmatch.

 After Verogen bought GEDmatch, it conducted research to create a formula to produce the best result on GEDmatch.  The human genome contains millions of Single-Nucleotide Polymorphisms (“SNPs,” pronounced “snips”).  Only a fraction of these SNPs are useful in producing genealogical information; the rest are less powerful and/or considered“junk” and can be disregarded for genealogical purposes.  Until Verogen bought GEDmatch, it was a bit of a guessing game as to which SNPs are most effective in producing useful genealogical information.  For example, although there is overlap,, MyHeritage, and 23andMe’s tests all target different SNPs. (That’s why it is sometimes important to test at all of the different services.)

Verogen’s purchase of GEDmatch added a new dimension.  By studying GEDmatch’s database, Verogen was able to develop a targeted list of SNPs it concluded are most effective for GEDmatch.  Rather than sequence a whole genome and then carve out the “junk” SNPs, the FGx’s genealogical panel will be targeted:  The FGx will focus on specific SNPs that GEDmatch’s owner believes are the best ones to upload to GEDmatch.

The drawback?  Quite simply, the "Targeted SNP" approach only utilizes 10,230 SNPs.  This can sometimes not be as powerful for genetic genealogy research as is needed.  The assay, called the Verogen Kintelligence kit, is reliably successful to, at maximum, the 2nd or possibly 3rd cousin level of connection.  For some clients who are searching for far deeper roots, this may not be as powerful as they need.

Whole Genome Sequencing

Whole Genome Sequencing does exactly what it's name describes, generating a DNA sequence of the entire genome (the parts of the DNA molecule that contains all of the information for a person to develop and grow).  We utilize ancient DNA laboratory techniques to maximize the ability to get a usable result from the oldest and most minimal DNA samples.

This technique, when successful generated hundreds of thousands of genetic genealogy SNPs that can be used to search against genealogy databases like GEDMatch.  This provides up to 700,000 genealogy related SNPs, the most comprehensive genetic genealogy profile that we can provide for genealogical research.

While this technique is more expensive, it is often the one chosen by our clients to maximize the depth of matches to extended family members and deeper genealogical information.

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Theoretically, anything can be tested.  However, some items are more likely to have usable DNA than others.  Questions about many specific items are answered in the FAQ.  Examples include:

  • Envelopes

  • Clothing (unwashed)

  • Hats

  • Jewelry (earrings, necklace, bracelet, rings)

  • Eyeglasses, hearing aids, toothbrushes, false teeth

  • Tissue and medical samples

  • Pipes and cigarette butts

  • Hair

  • Shoes

  • Wallet and belt

  • Teeth


We have realized from our interaction with you in the community, at conferences (RootsTech) and in general inquires that there is a wide range of artifacts that may need testing and noone that has the ability to do so until now!  See the FAQ.  When considering DNA testing, ask yourself:  Was this primarily used by my ancestor?  How much has it been handled by others?  Am I willing to let it be damaged?



There are substantial risks in DNA testing of artifacts.  These include:

  • There may be little or no usable DNA.  This might be because DNA used to be present but has degraded, perhaps because the item was stored under adverse conditions such as a hot attic or is too old. Or it could be because the original owner was not a “shedder,” or was ill, and did not leave measurable DNA.  (Many of us know people who had to take a DNA test more than once to get a result.)

  • The DNA might not belong to your ancestor.  A mail carrier might have licked the envelope.  A neighbor might have licked the stamp, or used a sponge.  Someone else might have handled an item extensively after the original owner. For example, my stepfather had a favorite cowboy hat, but all the grandkids played with it for years.  (One advantage of the FGx is that it can distinguish between 2 autosomal profiles from the same sample, so if two different people licked the back flap and stamp, we could produce separate profiles for each person.)

  • Portions of your item may be destroyed.  Envelope flaps will be destroyed, and in some cases stamps also.  Clothing might be.  Jewelry probably wouldn’t be.  We can give our best guess before you send it in.

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