On Cold Cases And Plague Victims

For those who are not aware [1], I am a particular fan of Genetic Genealogy.  Like many people, I greatly enjoy finding out my relationship with such obscure people as a 1360 Netherlands Plague Victim, and finding out that quite a few other people who are total strangers to me are also distant cousins.  Like most people, I relish my royal ancestry, even when that ancestry is hard to understand, such as being connected to Grand Princes of Kiev (presumably through shared Swedish DNA), Portuguese royalty (on both sides of my family for rulers in the 19th century, a real mystery there), as well some truly odd figures such as Ramesses III of Egypt, Fath Ali Shah Qajar of Persia, Nurhaci of the Qing dynasty, and Muhammad ibn Saud.  I am sure there are stories there, but I would not know how to begin to solve them as would be the family connection with Mayer Amschel Rothschild from my father’s side of the family, not exactly the most popular family to be related to.

It can be a comforting if strange thing to find that one is connected to the same people in the ancient and medieval and modern world.  What does it mean to be particularly closely related to Marat, assassinated French revolutionary?  How many generations is one removed from Sting, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, or Oetzi the Iceman (all people I share recognizable segments of paternal DNA with), along with George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Nikola Tesla, and Martin Luther, more happily?  It’s unclear what sort of importance it has to be connected to famous historical figures, although it certainly does make history far more interesting when one can see the fact that people who make history are one’s distant cousins and that there are surely fascinating stories to explain how it is that we are all connected to each other.

Yet there are less beneficial sides to being connected to each other.  As someone who is fond of cold cases [2], over and over again one sees a few patterns that relate to cold cases that have recently been solved.  Some kind of rape/murder happened a long time ago and the leads went cold and the physical evidence was not definitive enough.  Yet thanks to the example of the successful solution of the Golden State murders, the police are able to obtain DNA from the victim/crime scene and then use genetic genealogy from hobbyists like myself to narrow a list of possible suspects and then go snooping about for DNA traces that can confirm the match.  One would think that a great many cold cases are ripe for this sort of solution assuming that the physical evidence has been stored properly over the course of years or even decades, and one wonders whether the rapid rise of DNA testing and genetic genealogy has affected the behavior of criminals yet.  If it has it, it should at some point given the effect that it has already had on the solving of criminal cases.

There are other implications too.  It is clear that there are uses of genetic information that are of great interest to ordinary people.  Knowing that one is related to famous and important people, for example, is something that is of at least some interest to a great many people (myself certainly included), and a great many people would be interested to know about what their genetic information says about their ideal diet or some of that nature.  But who else benefits from these things?  Is it possible that genetic information could be voluntarily given away to companies that can then sell it to others and that genetic screening for various problems will be a problem that people have to deal with without being able to understand what sort of information is known about them, and how it would affect aspects of their lives like insurance or employment.  Never forget that we are not the only people who are interested in knowing more about ourselves, but other people are interested in knowing more about us, and their interests are not always the same as our own.

[1] See, for example:




[2] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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