Saturday, August 19, 2017

Genetic Genealogy Forums Online Etiquette Guide


Genetic genealogy forums online — Facebook groups; Anthrogenica; 23andMe community, etc — is the layperson's vast laboratory where we hash out our results, research, discoveries, journeys, family heirlooms, difficulties, disappointments and debates. It's a social place were we can obsess over DNA with lusty abandon. 

But sometimes a few bad apples spoil the whole experience. Some people's obtuse behavior in genetic genealogy forums online (GGFO) can be disruptive, offensive and lead to detriment and disaster. So in the interest of fostering better behavior, communication, cooperative collaboration, as well as a safe and objective environment to learn, teach and/or exchange knowledge, I came up with these 50 Golden GGFO etiquette rules (or suggestions), which is also available on the ISOGG Genetic Genealogy Mailing List: 

[King Genome's Tip: Download a copy (pdf) of Genetic Genealogy Standards and use together with this list.]

1. When you first join a GGFO, BEFORE YOU POST ANYTHING OR COMMENT you MUST take time to (a) read the forum's rules AND (b) review what others post, including topics and comments. If you're unsure of what to post then ask an administrator/moderator for assistance. If you don't agree with the rules of the forum then leave immediately. 

2. If you believe genetic genealogy is a fake science or you have no trust in DNA testing then please do us all a favor and remove yourself immediately. You should know that no matter what you believe, DNA is a real, evolving and advancing science and GGFO are designed to facilitate the progress.

3. Genetic genealogists and traditional genealogists should not wage a war with each other in a GGFO based on which method or field is better. Both are inextricably intertwined and should be used together — along with your collaborative efforts — for the best results.

4.  Absolutely NO political and religious badgering, soapboxing, hate-mongering, race baiting, trolling or any such capricious behavior. GGFO are unequivocally not the place for such discourse and banter. Go blow your steam off somewhere else.

5. Stop misusing socio-cultural ethnic labels and antiquated racial social constructs as genetic genealogy and population genetics terms for ethnicity. There is NO such thing as "African-American DNA" so avoid using the term. You should not be referring to African-Americans as Negroes except in a historic context. Also do not use Negroid, Caucasoid, and Mongoloid to make racial distinction between populations or ethnic groups. Yes, it is opprobrious. GGFO are not breeding grounds for racism, prejudice, bigotry miscegenation, superiority complexes, or ignorance. 

6. Never romanticize or minimize slavery, the Holocaust, Trail of Tears, or other horrific historic events because it's offensive. If you have a reasonable inquiry or discussion point around these events, be sure to carefully think about what you post before you hit that "Submit" button. 

7. If you're in a private, secret or closed GGFO, do NOT publicly share or post on social media other people's posts, photos, DNA results, comments or any personal information, etc, without that person's expressed permission  —  actually you shouldn't even ask. Private, secret or closed GGFO privacy settings are that way for a good reason. 

NEVER discuss living people's personal identifying information (ie name, address, city, birthday) within or outside of a GGFO. There are many crazy people and identity thieves lurking around, and we don't need you helping them out.

9. If someone reveals that he/she is an adoptee, foundling, foster child, donor, etc in a private, secret or closed GGFO, please refrain from revealing any of this information or "outing" the person publicly. Further if the this person posts information or photos about a non-biological relative, it's NOT up to you to discuss their relationship or adoption status, nor make any biological distinction between their relatives. It's tacky, spiteful and frankly none of your business.

10. If someone reveals that he/she is adopted or looking for a biological relative in a GGFO do not insert yourself into the situation by playing match-maker unless you're a qualified professional or search angel. Your heroic efforts may actually cause irreversible detriment to the situation.

11. If a GGFO member posts something about their new relatives/genetic matches, you must refrain from asking this GGFO member about contacting their new relative/genetic match, or to provide you with the relative/match's name, GEDmatch kit number, or any information that the GGFO member did not provide in the original post. Your overzealous behavior is meddlesome and could scare off people new to the world of genetic genealogy. 

12. Respect copyright, trademarks and ownership rights of images, content and resources when posting in a GGFO.  Give credit and recitation where necessary or as mandated by law for any content you post. You could get in a lot of legal trouble for infringing upon someone's ownership rights. 

13. Do not inundate GGFOs with a whole bunch of posts about yourself, your family, or your DNA results. Also don't make everyone else's topic about yourself, your family or your DNA results. Doing so makes you appear either rude, narcissistic or psychotic. The hard truth is people are usually tired of you, your family and your DNA results after you initially post about them. 
Also keep posts about your family, DNA results, photos, genetic relative matching information and related inquires confined to ONE topic. And while you're at it, do NOT highjack other people's threads by making totally irrelevant comments.

14. Do not join a GGFO with the expectation that its members or administrators will solve your mysteries, or act as a personal genetic genealogy servant for your every question. In general this behavior turns others off. No one is obligated to help you. 

15. Do NOT volunteer the services of those with genetic genealogy expertise nor refer people to them without first contacting them for availability via private or business e-mail. If you do refer someone please be sure their inquiry is clear, they provide any valid evidence to buttress their claims, and perhaps most importantly if the expert is available and charge fees. 

16. Do not attempt to chastise an administrator or moderator publicly. If you have any feedback or concerns about the GGFO or the way a GGFO is run, please send the administrator or moderator a private email or message. 

17. Make sure your questions and inquiries are well thought-out and expressed clearly. Do not write in a vague, nondescript or rhetorical manner. Think before you post dammit. 

18. Do NOT "shout-out"  members in a GGFO (ie tagging their name in a post)  especially administrators, moderators, possible relatives, genetic genealogists, scientific experts, etc. It comes across as demanding, pushy and rude. It's more proper to contact the person by private message or e-mail first. If you don't get a response then you must realize that some of these people are extremely busy. Just be prepared to get no response at all and to find your answers another way. 

19. If you post other people's DNA results in a GGFO, please REDACT the person's name, photo images, and GEDmatch kit number unless you have expressed permission to do otherwise by the owner of the results. You MUST respect people's privacy. 

20. If someone in a GGFO refers you to a valid study, blog or link, please take time to read the information before responding again, unless you've questions about the material. Otherwise you're really being unfair to everyone else, and people will soon be unwilling to help you. In genetic genealogy, reading and studying is fundamentally required. 

21. If you've expertise in a certain area of genetic genealogy, don't bring condescending, bullying, narcissistic and obnoxious attitudes into a GGFOs. Members could be at different levels of proficiency and expertise so please criticize constructively, and be aware of your tone. Otherwise people will eventually start ignoring you even if you're correct.

22. Do NOT pretend to be an expert in a GGFO or try to misapply expertise as your own, even if you have scientific expertise in another field. Do NOT borrow people's information posted anywhere and claim it as your own. The genetic genealogy experts have been at this for a long time, and they KNOW when you're pretending to be something that you're not. Everyone starts somewhere and works up from there. Pay your dues!

23. In general do not post your GEDmatch numbers and questions, or other 3rd-party tool results in a GGFO without first checking to see if there's a dedicated topics for the information.  You should inquire about it before you go flashing your GEDmatch or other 3rd-party tool information all over the place. 

24. Do not lower the GEDmatch sharing threshold (below 7cM / 700 SNPs) to force a match and insist that you're related to another fellow GGFP member. If the glove doesn't fit you must acquit. 

25. Do NOT post
 old, outdated, controversial articles and repetitive posts about the same subject, especially those making far-fetched hypothesis, conspiracy theories, or unsubstantiated claimsIt's all fake news and will be frowned upon by your peers. You should simply check the date and sources of material before you post.  

26. Stop saying you or your family member is "full-blooded" anything ethnically in a GGFO. These blood quantum claims do not jibe well with DNA inheritance. And you raise the ire of every person of that ethnic group or tribe alive or dead, present or past. Just say that you or your relative is/was of "[insert ethnic population] descent or ancestry." Saying "my great-grandmother was of Cherokee descent" sounds more accurate than "my great-grandmother was full-blooded Cherokee," the latter of which has led to disappointment.

27. Do NOT try to police or badger other members for expressing interest in their own genetic ancestry, joining a tribe, or claiming kinship to a population/ethnic group/tribe, even if you belong to that particular population/ethnic group/tribe. You're not a spokesperson or ambassador for referenced genetic ancestry, ethnic group or tribe. You're also not an expert just because you visited or lived among a particular population especially if you can't produce any peer-reviewed scientific, academic or archaeological research or genetic testing that you've actually performed when you were among them. Get over yourself.

28. When a member posts a question, and it has been adequately answered or addressed, you don't have to repeat the same answer, especially if your answer adds nothing new or informative. We have enough "broken records" to sift through already. 

29. Do not repeatedly post that you're related to a certain ethnicity, ethnic group, population or a celebrity just because one of your genetic relatives matches them. You could very well be related to the side of your genetic relative's family that is NOT connected to that ethnicity, ethnic group, population or celebrity. For a deeper discussion see my blog on Ethnicity Chromosome Mapping.

30. When you first take a DNA test, please do not post about the processing or wait times every step of the way unless there is a dedicated "Waiting" topic for such purposes. It's far better and exciting to post your results when they become available. 

31. Please refrain from making unwanted sexual advances to other members of a GGFO.  GGFO are not dating and pick-up sites, nor for seeking incestuous relationships. And if someone makes an unwanted sexual advance to you in an GGFO or by personally contacting you, please notify your administrators IMMEDIATELY. Also report and block the person, and if necessary contact your local authorities. Never let anything like this slide.

32. When making a comment that is two 0r more sentences long, please do not break up the comment by making a series comments. In other words if you have a 5-sentence paragraph, do not create a separate comment for each sentence. It clogs up the space

33. It's often said there are no stupid questions in genetic genealogy. However there are actually stupid questions when the answer is clearly obvious. For example if someone posts "there is sale at AncestryDNA, why would you ask, "where is the sale?" Please take to time to read what is posted. Duh!

34. If you work for or represent a DNA company in any way please make it publicly known in a GGFO, instead of pretending to be a consumer in order to promote the interests of the DNA company. It is misleading and extremely unethical.  

35. If you're approved to join a large or popular GGFO, you don't have to post "Thanks for the add." Your thanks is by joining the forum, observing the rules, and being respectful. This is OK for smaller groups and those that require such greetings. 

36. If you administer or moderate a GGFO, you don't need to announce each new member's presence. They already know they're welcome once you let them join. And how can members communicate if the forum is cluttered with your "welcome to the club" announcements? 

37. Do NOT type in ALL CAPS in a GGFO. The problem here is some readers can't determine if you're yelling, angry, computer illiterate or have a disability. If due to the latter then you should privately inform the moderator/administrator.

38. Before you ask a question pertaining to your results, tools or genetic genealogy, first check to see if the question has been previously raised and/or answered. 

39. Do NOT flood GGFO with photos of your family, especially youth, teens and elderly. There's some unsavory people out there who could be downloading your photos for their own malicious intent and purposes. 

40. When a DNA company releases a new tool or update — and it affects all customers please don't flood the GGFO with your new or updated results until you see whether there is a dedicated topic for it. Otherwise these posts go "viral" and can destroy the GGFO

41. Do NOT ask a GGFO to guess your ethnicity based on a photo, unless there is a dedicated topic for it. In general phenotypes are not a reliable indicator of your genetic ancestry. These posts are fun but can turn malignant and cause the GGFO's demise. 

42. Do NOT complain about a reputable DNA company without first contacting the DNA company's customer service to resolve the issue.  This  behavior is commonly known as grandstanding. Now if you're not satisfied post-customer service contact then by all means sound off and complain. 

43. If you belong to a GGFO and have the capability to add or invite numerous members at one time, please inform the persons you're about to add as well as the administrators or moderators about your actions. 

44. If someone adds you to a GGFO without your knowledge, which is inconsiderate, please don't make a post asking, "Why was I added to this group?" If you don't know how you got there, neither do we. And if for some reason you don't want to be in the group simply remove yourself. And while you're at it tell the person who added you to please ask first.

45. If you're a frequent poster of genetic genealogy information (ie blogs) in a GGFO, make sure you first review and read what you're about to post to ensure the link is not spam or gibberish. It's also a good idea to explain what you're posting, and for that you'll also have to actually read the material.

46.  Do NOT form cliques or become a hype-men for your favorite GGFO member. It causes detriment to the environment and prevents effective communication.

47. If you're conducting a survey or doing research for academic or marketing purposes, or for any reason beyond the confines of GGFO, do not solicit responses without first informing the administrator AND the GGFO members.

48. Please do not bring negative experiences you've had in another GGFO to every new one you join. Leave that musty baggage behind and bring some fresh luggage. 

49. Please keep all disagreements civil. It's OK to disagree and the best arguments are made on the merits and with compelling evidence.

50. Treat others as you wish to be treated. It's the universal golden rule. 



  1. Thank you very much for taking the time to do this. I am just getting used to doing searches of our family genealogy.

  2. Yep - good rules. Gonna have to watch my own behaviour too since I see a few points where I could have done better by not posting!

  3. Excellent, no less. I shall make great use of this document. Thank you, TL.

  4. Excellent TL, I will share if it is okay? Its a great outline. Thank you

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