WHO IS THIS PRODUCT FOR?
This product extracts DNA data from an envelope, postcard with stamp/s or aerogramme sealed by your relative who is no longer living, for the purposes of genealogical research into your family tree.
If you wish to test a living person, you should use a commercial genealogy testing site such as Ancestry or MyHeritage, or a laboratory in the case of paternity testing, etc.
We do not accept anonymous letters for DNA extraction.
WHAT CAN YOU TEST?
We specialise in envelopes, postcards with stamp/s and aerogrammes. We currently do not test other items (e.g. a lock of hair with root attached or blood-soaked item) but as at February 2019, we are actively exploring this. Please contact us if you have a specific requirement for further information.
WHAT IS THE BASIC PROCESS?
You email us a photo of the front and back of the item
If we confirm the item appears suitable for extraction:
You store the item in a cool, dry place until we advise you to send the item to us
You order "Find DNA" on our buy page and send us the item
If we extract sufficient DNA, we generate an autosomal DNA raw text file* from the item's DNA (if not, your remaining payment minus return postage, and payment gateway fees and charges is returned to you)
We prefer to send the file to you via email, but can also forward it to you on a USB when we return the remainder of your envelope to you.
We can also upload the file to a genealogy database (GEDmatch GENESIS) where you can then look at matches with the DNA file. You will need a GEDmatch account so we can transfer ownership of the file to you. You can also upload the file yourself.
*The autosomal DNA raw text file looks at around 650,000 SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) in your DNA.
WHERE DOES THE DNA COME FROM ON THE ENVELOPE?
DNA can be found under the stamp and where the envelope or aerogramme has been sealed. If an envelope, it should have been opened at the top or side of the envelope, rather than along the seal.
The more area available for sampling, the better results we get. An ideal sample will have an intact flap, or a number of stamps.
We ask you to send a photo of the front and back of the item to info@totheletterDNA.com in the first instance so we can assess the condition of the item and its suitability for further testing. We are happy to look at any number of your samples to identify the best item.
HOW DO I KNOW WHO LICKED THE STAMP OR ENVELOPE?
You can't know for sure who sealed the item. Of course, you will hope that it is the person who wrote the letter. But it may be that someone else sealed the item on their behalf.
In older times, people might use a third person to write a letter for them, particularly if they could not read or write. Or perhaps they asked their spouse or the post office worker to seal the item for them. A post office sponge, rather than saliva, may have been used. The fact that the item may not have been sealed by who you hope is a risk you need to be aware of.
When uploading the results to a genealogy database, a comparison with your DNA results will enable the establishment of the most likely relationship between you and the item DNA (such as great grandparent), and whether the person is male or female. From that, you can make a likely determination that the DNA belongs to the person you envisaged.
WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF SUCCESS?
Not everyone produces enough DNA in their saliva to enable testing, even in the optimum of conditions. DNA may degrade over time or can be affected by contamination. In any case, we are always dealing with very small amounts of DNA when extracting from an envelope or stamp. It cannot be compared to the ease of simply putting saliva in a tube and testing. The extraction process is hands-on and labour-intensive.
The great thing about envelopes, stamps and aerogrammes is that if DNA is indeed present, it is sealed between the gum of the envelope seal or stamp.
HOW MANY ITEMS SHOULD I SEND IF I HAVE MORE THAN ONE?
Some customers have asked if we can test a second sample if the first extraction is not successful. If you have more than one sample and are sending from outside Australia, it makes sense to send the other sample/s you wish to be tested (after our visual assessment) at the same time (saving on postage and time). You have two choices:
Pay for an extra extraction/s at checkout. This will mean that all the samples you provide will be run through the extraction process at the same time. The benefit of this approach is that you will not have to wait for the next batch to be processed if your first extraction has not worked. The risk is that your first extraction may be successful, and you will have paid for two extractions. In this case we will select the best result (quantity and quality) to progress to genotyping. All your sample/s will be returned when the process is complete.
Send more than one sample, but wait until the first extraction has been undertaken. If not successful, we will advise you and ask you to pay the extraction fee for the progression of your further sample/s in the next batch. All your samples will be returned when the process is complete. The disadvantage with this approach is that you may have a longer waiting period for the process to complete, but avoid paying a potentially unnecessary extraction fee.
We do not mix samples across two or more envelopes or stamps, to reduce the risk that another person may have sealed the second item.
DO I NEED TO HAVE DONE A DNA TEST?
Not necessarily, although we imagine our service will appeal to people who are actively involved in genealogy, and therefore are likely to have already tested. You will need to have done so if you wish to compare the results of the DNA from our process to your own.
We genotype the DNA using Illumina's Global Screening Array (GSA). This is often referred to as the “V5” chip in genealogy terms, based on Build 37.
We are only currently able to use the GEDMatch Genesis database to upload the autosomal DNA raw text files that we generate. GEDMatch has now merged the original GEDMatch database with GEDMatch Genesis.
WHY DON’T YOU PROVIDE A REPORT ON MY MATCHES?
We originally proposed to provide our customers with a report on their matches in the GEDmatch Genesis database. We are no longer doing so.
All our customers have different stories and requirements - for example, the DNA may belong to a person who is not related to the customer by blood (e.g. a mother-in-law). We therefore prefer to leave it to our customers to analyse their results. We have found that the majority of our customers do not require the report in any case. Our commitment is to provide you with the autosomal DNA raw text file that has passed the quality checks (defined by Illumina) to ensure the integrity of the data.
We can certainly help with analysis of matches on a case-by-case basis if required.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
See our buy page for pricing information.
DO I GET A REFUND IF YOU DON’T FIND ANY DNA?
There is an extraction cost which you will pay, regardless of success. This fee will cover the consumables used and a percentage of our labour. We have kept the price to you as low as possible and do not make a profit on this part of the process.
If insufficient DNA is found, the remaining funds will be returned to you through the payment method you used minus your payment gateway's fees and charges, plus postage if you wish your sample to be returned. These will be detailed in your refund notice. Please note that if you are not making a payment in Australian dollars, the funds will be returned to you at the exchange rate applied by your payment gateway applicable on the day the funds are returned, and fees and charges incurred in the refund process. These will all be made clear to you at the time of refund.
HOW OLD CAN THE LETTER BE?
The older the item, the higher the likelihood that the DNA has degraded, depending on its exposure to sunlight, moisture and other variables. DNA is however, relatively stable in the right conditions.
We will test any envelope, postcard with stamp/s or aerogramme you wish, regardless of age.
HOW DO I KNOW YOU HAVE RECEIVED MY ITEM?
We will send you a confirmation email.
HOW will you keep me informed?
We will contact you directly via email with information specific to your sample. We will also provide you with a batch number when we receive your sample. General updates regarding the batch will be posted on our FaceBook page totheletter DNA, and on this site under the “Results” page.
DO I NEED TO SEND THE ACTUAL LETTER?
No, please do not send the letter, just the envelope.
DO I GET MY ITEM BACK?
We will return what is left of the item to you when the process is complete. Normally the full flap or stamp/s will be removed. This means there will be some damage to your item. There is a postage cost to return your item to you, which is done via registered post. This cost is available on our buy page.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE DNA SAMPLE AFTER YOU’VE DONE THE TEST?
If we successfully extract DNA from your item suitable for genotyping, any remaining DNA sample is stored in the lab for three months after the testing date. We often have to use all the sample in the genotyping process, leaving no remaining DNA. If there is, the sample is destroyed, in line with the laboratory's standard operating procedures.
After we have provided you with the autosomal DNA raw text file, we do not keep your file on our servers - it is deleted permanently.
WHAT ABOUT PRIVACY?
The results of the item testing and DNA file are shared only with you. Your item progresses through the lab with a sample number only (not your identifying details).
If we (or you) upload the results to the matching database, the data is in the public arena. You can use a pseudonym if you wish so your data is not associated with your name.
If we upload the file on your behalf, you can request and provide a pseudonym to be used.
HOW ACCURATE ARE THE RESULTS?
If DNA is extracted and successfully genotyped, the results are very accurate. There is the potential, however, that the DNA belongs to the person who sealed the item, rather than the person who wrote the letter (see "How do I know who licked the stamp or envelope?" above).
DO THE RESULTS SHOW ETHNICITY?
We load your results to a database which enables you to view ethnicity estimates.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?
In the future, we aim to finalise our end to end processing time in around ten to twelve weeks from receipt of the item.
ARE ALL ENVELOPES SUITABLE?
No. Self stick envelopes are not suitable. Self stick stamps are also not suitable. Postcards without stamps are also not suitable.
It is preferable that envelopes have been opened with a letter opener or similar at the top or side of the envelope, rather than along the seal.
DOES IT MATTER WHERE I AM LOCATED?
No. If you are located overseas, we will ask that you send your item via registered post or through a company with a tracking system. We cannot accept any responsibility for any item that is not sent in this manner.
We will also return your item via registered post, unless you advise us otherwise.
ARE THERE ANY ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS?
We abide by the International Society of Genetic Genealogy ethics and standards. For more information, click here.
I HAVE MORE QUESTIONS!
Click here to contact us.