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Artefact FAQS

WHO IS THIS PRODUCT FOR?

This product extracts DNA data from artefacts from your relative who is no longer living, for the purposes of genealogical research into your family tree. Artefacts include envelopes, postcard with stamp/s or aerogrammes, as well as hair, razors, spectacles and other items.

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 or artefacts from living persons.

what do i actually get?

If DNA is found, and genotyping is an option, the DNA data is contained in an autosomal DNA (atDNA) text file that can be uploaded to GEDmatch.

If you prefer Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS), or that is your only option, we can generate an atDNA file that can also be uploaded to GEDmatch. We can also provide you with the WGS data in full, which includes mtDNA data and Y-DNA data in the case of males.

WHAT CAN YOU TEST?

We specialise in envelopes, postcards with stamp/s and aerogrammes. We are now offering other artefact testing but this may be at a greater cost than envelopes, stamps and aerogrammes, depending on the complexity and degree of manual handling required. Please contact us at info@totheletterDNA.com 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 further assessment:

    • You store the item in a cool, dry place and handle with surgical gloves until you wish to place an order

    • You order on our buy page and send us the item*

  • Your can either prepare the item yourself at home and send us the portion for further assessment. If you prefer, we can prepare the item for extraction and the remainder will be returned to you via registered post, or for non-standard artefacts as agreed during the visual inspection process

  • If the assessment and QC process identifies that suitable DNA is present, we will advise you of your options, which will be to maintain the DNA in the lab (for up to five years with a possibility of extension), or either genotyping or Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS), depending on the suitability of the DNA found

  • We will advise you of wait times, as we process samples in batches

  • If you wish to progress to genotyping or WGS, you will be asked to place a further order for that service

  • For genotyping, we will provide you with the autosomal DNA file via email

  • You can then upload the atDNA file to GEDmatch.

*We will advise you if your order can be placed as a standard order, or whether due to the artefact type further payment is necessary. Further payment will only apply to the extraction process and return of the item to the customer - all other pricing is the same as a standard artefact.

The atDNA file looks at around 650,000 SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) in your DNA.

WHERE DOES THE DNA COME FROM ON an 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.

What about other artefacts?

Hair with roots may provide autosomal DNA, whereas a lock of hair may only offer mitochondrial DNA. A razor may have skin trapped under the blades, and teeth may have DNA captured in the centre of the tooth under the enamel. In the case of these types of artefacts, we will discuss your individual case with you at the time of visual inspection.

HOW DO I KNOW WHO LICKED a 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 almost always dealing with very small amounts of DNA when extracting from an artefact from a deceased person. It cannot be compared to the ease of simply putting saliva in a tube and testing. The process is hands-on and labour-intensive.

HOW MANY ITEMS SHOULD I SEND IF I HAVE MORE THAN ONE?

Some customers have asked if we can test a second sample from the same or another deceased relative at the same time. If you have more than one sample, 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 will pay for the extra assessment/s at checkout.

In the case of the second sample being from the same person, the risk you run is that we will find DNA in the first sample, so the second assessment would not have been required (although it will still be performed if you have paid for it).

Do you mix DNA from the flap and stamp?

We do not mix samples across two or more envelopes or stamps, or with an envelope flap and the stamp on the same envelope, to reduce the risk that one person may have licked the flap and another the stamp.

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 are only currently able to use the GEDMatch database to upload the autosomal DNA raw text files that we generate. GEDMatch has now merged the original GEDMatch database with GEDMatch Genesis, and is again called GEDMatch.

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 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 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 assessment cost which you will pay, regardless of success. This fee will cover the consumables and labour. 

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. For genotyping, we have found that more recent samples have a higher chance of success.

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 “News” 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 if you have requested and paid for this. Our preference is for you to prepare the sample at home according to our guidelines here.

In the case of envelopes, normally the full flap or stamp/s will be removed. There is a postage cost to return your item to you, which is done via registered post.

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE DNA SAMPLE AFTER YOU’VE DONE THE TEST?

If we successfully extract DNA from your item and it is suitable for genotyping or WGS, any remaining DNA sample is stored in the lab for three months after the testing date. We will most likely have to use all the sample in the genotyping process, leaving no remaining DNA. If there is remaining DNA, 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 you upload the results to GEDmatch, you will select the appropriate Terms of Service, and your relative can now be matched to others in the database. You can use a pseudonym if you wish so your data is not associated with your name.

HOW ACCURATE ARE THE RESULTS?

If DNA is extracted and successfully genotyped / WGS, 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?

We will advise you of expected wait times during the visual inspection phase. As we process in batches, your sample may have to wait until sufficient samples are available to process. This can be circumvented but there would be extra cost to the customer.

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.

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.