Archive for November 2018

Obtaining your Deceased Ancestor's DNA could soon become a reality

Category: DNA

Postcard written in 1909 by my great-grandmother, Florence Smale
Postcard written in 1909 by my great-grandmother, Florence Smale, to her sister's sister-in-law, Edith Browning, nee Martin


A few months ago Living DNA announced they had successfully extracted DNA from a stamp on an old envelope which enabled a person who was abandoned as a baby to identify her father.

Although we haven't heard any more from Living DNA about when this may become generally available, there is a company in Australia which is now offering a similar service called totheletter DNA -

MyHeritage also recently announced...

"MyHeritage will soon be able, through a partnership with a specialist company, to process the DNA from stamps and old envelopes and then link the DNA to the ancestor, providing you with DNA results for your deceased ancestors, right on MyHeritage."

It remains to be seen if their partner is totheletter DNA.


The totheletter DNA service is expensive ($781.50 AUD, approximately £445 for each artifact). If enough DNA is not available after the extraction process has taken place, a large proportion of the fee is refundable:

However, cost and the possibility of the lack of a useable sample aren't the only factors to take into consideration. Here are some other things to think about...
  • Currently the DNA raw data file can only be uploaded to GEDmatch Genesis for comparison with others who have tested their DNA. This may well change in the future if artifact testing becomes more popular.

  • So far, the service is limited to items which would have been licked such as envelopes with the seal intact and stamps.

  • The DNA might not belong to the person you expect. The sender of the letter may have asked the post master or a friend to lick the item.

  • There may be no DNA on the item if a sponge was used to wet the stamp or envelope.

  • The envelope or stamp you send in cannot be used a second time so you may want to wait a while to see how the technology develops before submitting that one and only postcard you have which your great-grandmother sent to her friend.

  • Scan your item before sending it as it won't be returned to you in the same condition.


There are potentially exciting times ahead. If the cost reduces in the future and the technology proves successful then we need to be identifying and preserving our artifacts right now.

Denise May Levenick, aka The Family Curator, makes the following recommendations on her blog (
  • Identify potential items for DNA testing and isolate from other items. Wear white cotton or nitrile gloves to avoid further contamination.

  • Place the individual item in an acid-free paper folder or envelope. Avoid plastic.

  • If possible, store this envelope inside an archival box or a metal file drawer to further protect from handling and temperature fluctuations. This location should be inside your home where temperature and humidity doesn't change dramatically. Keep dry.

  • Handling and cross-contamination.

  • Freezing.

  • Moisture.

  • Heat.

TIP: If you don't have an archival folder or envelope, sandwich the letter and envelope between two sheets of acid-free resume paper (available at most office-supply stores). Place everything in a standard file folder or large envelope and store as directed above.


You may not think you have any viable items from your ancestors but it's worth getting in touch with your known relatives to see whether they are sitting on a letter or postcard written by your mutual great-grandfather. The DNA of a full sibling of your direct ancestor is equally as useful as that of your own direct relative as their parents would still be your direct ancestors.

If you know of anyone to whom your ancestor may have written, then you might try to contact their living relatives to see whether they have any correspondence from your ancestor.

Another strategy is to look up family trees online to see whether you can identify descendants of a mutual ancestor. It may be that they have a suitable artifact they'd be willing to have tested. You might also consider sharing the cost between interested relatives who would benefit from the extracted DNA.


If you're reading this and you are in possession of an item which may be suitable for genealogical DNA testing and which may have been sent by one of my (and perhaps your) relatives, please preserve the item as best you can and do get in touch with me. I have no immediate plans to test at the current prices but it might be something to look into in the future.

If nothing else, it's always interesting to discover personal family items which you didn't know existed so I'd like to take this opportunity to say if you have any correspondence, documents, photographs or objects connected to my family, I'd love to see (and, if possible, scan or photograph) them so please do contact me. It doesn't matter if they can't be used for DNA extraction, it all adds to the story of the family and that's a good enough reason in itself.

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