Citing Correspondence through 23andMe

 
 
 
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eevande
eevande's picture
Citing Correspondence through 23andMe

I am trying to determine how to cite correspondence that I received from a person through 23andMe's private messaging system. The messages also come to my email address, and since our initial messages, I know the person's private email and name, but the two emails I will be citing were from when we were still writing through 23andMe.

I had such a nice message all written up a few days ago, but it was one that got lost in the server failure (I'm sure that was much more frustrating to you than to me - and I wondered why I was getting no answer).

Would I cite this as an email with a note that it is through the private messaging system? Would I cite the email that came from 23andMe to my email address? If I did the latter, who would the sender be?

 

 

EE
EE's picture

eevander, thanks for reposting. Our apologies for the inconvenience.

We're going to answer your question with three questions of our own:

  1. If you were using Outlook or G-mail would you feel a need to identify the server or message system through which the e-mail was conveyed?
  2. If not, why would 23andMe's messaging system differ?
  3. Using 3.42 as models, do you see elements that you think don't fit?



 

The Editor

eevande
eevande's picture

Rather than a name and email address, we may or may not have a name of the sender, we do have a username, and we have no email address. So if we specify the username of the sender, we have to specify the system. If it is a question of privacy, such as on AncestryDNA and 23andMe matches, then without permission, we ethically may not even be able to use the username. Of items in model 3.42, in this situation we are left with only the recipient, date, subject, and that it was an email (and the elements after the subject). Certainly, even with standard emails, we may not know the sender's name, not have permission to use the email address, and not know where the sender lives. So I am not sure how to answer this. My return questions are these:

1) How would I handle a situation where a person's name cannot be used or is not known, and the email address/username is private? At this point, we are at Anonymous, e-address withheld.
2) If it is a situation where a username is used, wouldn't the messaging system need to be specified (as I mentioned in the paragraph above)?
3) Does "E-ADDRESS" in the model apply to a username as well as an email address?

 

EE
EE's picture

eevande, given that the issue of genetic privacy is the source of your quandary, let’s begin with a look at the relevant provisions of the Genetic Genealogy Standards (http://www.geneticgenealogystandards.com/).

6. Privacy. Genealogists only test with companies that respect and protect the privacy of testers. However, genealogists understand that complete anonymity of DNA tests results can never be guaranteed.

7. Access by Third Parties. Genealogists understand that once DNA test results are made publicly available, they can be freely accessed, copied, and analyzed by a third party without permission. For example, DNA test results published on a DNA project website are publicly available.

8. Sharing Results. Genealogists respect all limitations on reviewing and sharing DNA test results imposed at the request of the tester. For example, genealogists do not share or otherwise reveal DNA test results (beyond the tools offered by the testing company) or other personal information (name, address, or email) without the written or oral consent of the tester.

9. Scholarship. When lecturing or writing about genetic genealogy, genealogists respect the privacy of others. Genealogists privatize or redact the names of living genetic matches from presentations unless the genetic matches have given prior permission or made their results publicly available. Genealogists share DNA test results of living individuals in a work of scholarship only if the tester has given permission or has previously made those results publicly available. Genealogists may confidentially share an individual’s DNA test results with an editor and/or peer-reviewer of a work of scholarship. …

These, essentially, are the same standards that apply to all our research. If someone publishes a statement, we’re free to quote from it. If someone makes statements in private correspondence that we want to use as evidence, we cannot ethically publish the private statements or publish details that would connect them personally to those assertions or opinions.  We may (and should)  create citations in our private research notes, but we may not publish them. If someone’s correspondence provides evidence we want to use and they do not give permission, then we have to find an alternate form of evidence.

Genetic evidence works the same way for those who do historical research. So let’s look at your issues:

  • The other 23AndMe tester has publicly identified her/himself under a pseudonym.
  • That leaves you free to identify the writer by the pseudonym, but not the name (if you know it)
  • Presumably, from your No. 1 above, you have asked the person for permission to use his/her real identity and email address in your research notes and the person has said no.

Therefore, we are left with two issues:

  1. Constructing a citation for private use, with details you can never publish;
  2. Finding usable evidence elsewhere—which might be found by (a) using known facts to documentary research that would lead to the evidence; or (b) finding a related tester who is willing to be a part of your study.

To construct that citation, let's look at the first citation sample provided under 3.42:

       1.  Kay Haviland Freilich, Wayne, Pennsylvania [(E-ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE),] to Ann Carter Fleming, e-mail, 14 November 2003, “Elusive 1870 census entry,” Personal Correspondence Folder, Fleming Research Files; privately held by Fleming, [(E-ADDRESS), & STREET ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Chesterfield, Missouri, 2015.

Logical substitutions would be these:

"ShyUser" (Genetic tester who wishes to remain anonymous) to E. Evande, message communicated via 23AndMe e-mail, 14 July 2016, “My Answer to Your Inquiry,” Personal Correspondence Folder, Evande Genetic Research Files; privately held by E. Evande (MyEmail@serviceprovider.com, [STREET ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Wherever, MyState, 2016.

You might also, more precisesly for your own records, cite it this way:

"ShyUser" (Genetic tester who wishes to remain anonymous) to E. Evande, message communicated via 23AndMe e-mail (https://www.23andme.com/user/messages/131e672e5e2236e03be), 14 July 2016, “My Answer to Your Inquiry,” Personal Correspondence Folder, Evande Genetic Research Files; privately held by E. Evande (MyEmail@serviceprovider.com, [STREET ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Wherever, MyState, 2016.

 

The Editor

eevande
eevande's picture

Yes, the issue of genetic privacy is the source of one of my quandaries, but there is a little more which I will describe.

This post was originally intended to focus on two non-DNA-related emails that I received through 23andMe from a now-known cousin. That clarification got lost from my brain to my fingers when I typed it the second time after the server crash.

I don’t know if this is relevant, but here is the course of events:

3 Oct 2014 - 17 Oct 2014: M and I communicate via 23andMe until M shares a personal email address with me.
17 Oct 2014 - present: M and I communicate via regular email.

What I need to use in my writing at this time is from the early 23andMe messages.

I have permission from M to use information from our communications, as well as M’s name and identifying information, but as you pointed out, Genetic Genealogy Standard #9 tell me that I can’t use that information in those citations without permission. I have that.

Even though now I know M’s name, email address, location, and have various permissions from M, would I, for the 23andMe messages, cite M as I knew M then, or would I cite M as the sender using M's name and location as I know it now?

If you could help with the answer to my italicized [redundant] question, I might be able to breathe easier.

EE
EE's picture

eevande, EE would cite the original messages as suggested above, with one alteration. Immediately after the pseudonym, we would put the known name in square editorial brackets. You'll find examples and discussions in EE at 12.11, 14.16 and elsewhere. 

Incidentally, square brackets (as opposed to parentheses) are a punctuation mark that says: "I'm adding in here what the original doesn't say."

The Editor

eevande
eevande's picture

Thank you. Here is what I have come up with.

Source list entry:

[Smith, Jane]. “My Answer to Your Inquiry.” 23andMe e-mail from "JJS237" [Jane Smith] to E. Evande. 14 July 2016. Privately held by E. Evande. (MyEmail@serviceprovider.com), [STREET ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Wherever, MyState, 2016.

First note:
 

1. "JJS237" [Jane Smith] to E. Evande, message communicated via 23andMe e-mail, 14 July 2016, “Radabaugh Family Surname and DNA Match,” Jane Smith Correspondence Folder, Radabaugh Family Research Files; privately held by E. Evande (eevande@serviceprovider.com), [STREET ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Wherever, MyState, 2016.

Subsequent notes:

2. [Smith] to Evande, 23andMe e-mail, 14 July 2016.

 

eevande
eevande's picture

The email address in the source list entry should match the one in the first note.

mooredan
mooredan's picture

Similar issues are present in other online messaging systems, such as ancestry.com's Message Center.

I'm going to leverage eevande's format (thanks!) for a RootsMagic source template, but add to it one of the essential items as described in EE section 3.41 Correspondence: "state why the letter deserves to be considered an authority for the historical information it provides."

Here's what I came up with for a message that I have received:

Source list entry: Rourke, Jo. "Elizabeth Tombs, daughter of Mathew & Frances Crozier Tomb." Ancestry.com e-message from [member name for private use], to Daniel Moore. 2 February 2017. Privately held by Moore, [member name & address for private use], Tigard, Oregon. 2017.

First Reference Note: Jo Rourke, Como, Colorado, [member name for private use], to Daniel Moore, E-message communicated via ancestry.com message center, 2 February 2017, "Elizabeth Tombs, daughter of Mathew & Frances Crozier Tomb"; privately held by Moore, [e-mail & address for private use], Tigard, Oregon, 2017. Jo Rourke is the great granddaughter of Francis Bishop and provides information based upon family history and personal research.

Subsequent Note: Rourke to Moore, e-message, 2 February 2017.

 

Dan Moore

Tigard, Oregon

EE
EE's picture

Good thinking, Dan!

The Editor

EE
EE's picture

Good thinking, Dan!

The Editor