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Kimberly Powell

How Do I Ask a Perfect Stranger for Their DNA?

By January 15, 2008

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I have a dilemma. I'm female. Well, actually it's my female blood that is the issue. The CRISP Family DNA Project has been calling my name for years, but my CRISP ancestor was female - my great grandmother Pattie Lucy Crisp, to be exact. Because the Y-DNA being tested for the CRISP project is passed down only from father to son, I have to go back to her father - Mack Marion CRISP, to obtain the necessary DNA. He died back in 1931, so that's a bit of a problem...

Some of you may remember the story that appeared in The New York Times last April describing the great lengths that some genealogists will go to to obtain DNA for their family research. To be honest, it is completely rational to expect a stranger to act with some suspicion when asked for his DNA. Our DNA holds the key to our identity after all. How do we know what a "stranger" might do with it? That information about our genetic predisposition to certain diseases might not somehow end up in the hands of our insurance company, for example?

It's hard enough to explain DNA testing to the relatives who know me. I have several who would probably view it with suspicion, and might only participate in such a project out of love and trust in me. So how do I go about convincing a complete stranger (albeit a related stranger) to send me a cheek swab? My great grandmother Pattie Crisp Owens had a brother named Claude Mancil Crisp, but my research indicates that he only had a daughter. So to get the necessary DNA I have to go back to the male descendants of Pattie's half-brothers (Mack married three times), or the male descendants of Mack's brothers. I've located a few likely candidates, but have yet to work up the nerve to contact them to ask them to participate in the Crisp DNA Project. How do I ask them without scaring them off? These Crisp strangers might not even have an interest in genealogy and have likely never heard of "geneatology." Do I call them? Write them a letter? Make contact in person? I'll offer to pay for the testing of course. But I would still prefer that they not think of me as a nutcase.

Of course, going that far back and sideways in my family tree assumes that Mack Crisp is really my great, great grandfather (not that I have any reason to assume that he is not)...but that's not something I'm going to worry about right now. Instead I'll keep thinking about the best way to ask for that DNA. A whole file drawer full of research on the CRISP family is waiting for this next piece of the puzzle.

Hmmm... Maybe one of those Crisp descendants will read this blog post and contact me to volunteer. I can always dream that it could be so easy!

Comments
January 15, 2008 at 1:28 pm
(1) Gregg says:

I have recently found the need to ask the same question for my mother’s Skinner line which I have been researching for quite some time. I found a distant cousin, actually my mother’s cousin’s grandson. We first shared some basic information, then hooked him on the family tree. Gave him some possible and documented historical figure connections, then after some time, hit him up with the DNA prospect – which, he heartily agreed to. So, I guess my “advice” would be to develop a relationship first with sharing the general ancestral information, then start discussing the new DNA possibilities once that “bond” has been formed. Once an interest is sparked, then hit him up with the “$24,000 Question” – “Can we get a swab of your cheek skin?”

Good luck!

January 16, 2008 at 12:55 am
(2) Hal says:

I’ve done it. I’ve written to my third cousin and his wife over the years, although we’ve never met. Our fathers grew up together about 80 years ago in Wyoming. No problems. Also tried a fourth cousin I’d never talked to. Very friendly over the phone. Never answered my emails. I suspect he has some religious problems with the theory (evolution vs creation). However a 90 year old fourth cousin once removed was very receptive and easy to get. I wasn’t clear enough that I was paying for it, and the poor guy almost had heart failure when he saw the cost. Other than that, no problems.

Most of them think genealogy is nuts any way and they are happy to have such an easy way to keep a cousin happy.

Call. It’s hard to say no over the telephone.

Hal

January 18, 2008 at 5:00 pm
(3) Thomas MacEntee says:

It almost becomes a CSI case doesn’t it? I mean, just like cold calling possible relatives and the fear of coming off like some nutcase or scam artist, it does take nerve to ask for the swab sample.

Too bad we couldn’t just ask the person to meet for coffee at Starbucks and then confiscate their empty cup. Oh that it were that easy!

January 21, 2008 at 5:33 pm
(4) Carole Jones says:

We’ve got people in Boston doing research on many of my aunts and uncles(including some of their kids and their kids) who died of a certain heart condition by using blood samples from the kids and spit! Yes, I said spit for the Dna of people who live too far away. We want to prevent future generations from dying of Cardio Myopathy. And no one yet has said NO.

January 21, 2008 at 9:09 pm
(5) E. Marc Stacer says:

Take DNA coming at you in any form its offered. . . Let me share my happening just befor christams this year. . I got an e-mail ( I thought it was “Spam”dam near dumped it ) asking the question if I knew this mans name . . . Yup thats my daddys name (and there only one named Like that that Ive found in my 71 years) so I e-mailed back then got a phone call from this man in texas asking me about my daddy and I ansures best I could him being dead since 1953. . and he sent me some pictures of him self. . I loooked at the pictures and looked at daddy hanging on the wall. . .Oh daddy what have you done :) :) any he was questioning because of his mother whos maiden name was the same as mine. . But she never knew her daddy he left before she was born. . .any the long and the short of it this man wondered if I would be willing to do a DNA test between him and me casue he hadnt told his moma what he was about to do. . .So he FEdexed the DNA package he had already put his in the circle so I squirted out mine and gave to to the Fedex Lady while she watched the whole deal got a call about a week later and it was this man down in texas again and he said how are you dowing “Uncle MArc” and we chatted a while tell it sunk in. . Turns out his moma is my half sister adnshe like I didnt know we even were alive and boy didnt that turn out to be a shinning monment when we meet (shes 7 years older then I. . .and her features and mine both carry my daddys face and red hair and yup daddy did it cause the DNA doesnt lie. and thank god for that so if you ever have a chance let the DNA work for you. . .
Marc

January 23, 2008 at 2:45 am
(6) Alice says:

Well, I’ve also been researching my gggrandfather, Elihu Crisp. I knew of no close male descendents, so resorted to desperate measures. I used a very unusual way to find a third cousin who has the Crisp y-DNA line. I used Classmates.com to find him. I was able to contact him through the email service. There’s more detail to the story, but suffice it to say, I still don’t know if he has had the testing. He had mentioned on his Classmates page that he was interested in genealogy, so I felt fairly comfortable in telling him about the y-DNA. I think he is very suspicious and/or busy, so have sort of given up on him. In the meantime, I am working on locating another potential y-DNA donor. I don’t know who Elihu Crisp’s parents were, but have used a process of elimination and believe his father was Tillman Crisp. A male descendant could possibly clear that up.

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