Why I Dropped Out of the Facebook group ‘DNA Detectives’

(and I won’t return)

First a few facts. I chose to leave this Facebook group. The group did not drop me, nor had I yet been ‘suspended.’ I decided to leave the group, because it seemed to me that this Facebook Group is managed in an unfriendly, member-limiting, even counter-productive, manner and its allowed interests are too narrow and rigid.

All such groups, on and off Facebook, have ‘administrators’, and often a ‘committee’ of administrators. These administrators have the power to set the rules of admission and conduct. It’s THEIR group, and their rules. Second, everyone in this country has a right to an opinion about groups-it falls under ‘Free Speech,’ and each individual has his or her own experiences with a group, good, bad, indifferent, usually a mix. We have our right to free speech and opinions but not always within private groups, even on a public social media platform. We all have minor disagreements with other people, but how they are resolved is another matter. Within private Facebook groups, dispute resolution, disagreements, etc. are under the committee and administrators who set the rules, interpret, or reinterpret them, and they have the right to determine ‘punishments,’ and drop people from the group at will. They are not required to allow non-administrators to justify or defend themselves and can punish or drop any person at will. Again, it’s their group.

Next, there are NO certification programs for ‘genetic genealogists.’ Anyone can call himself or herself one with very little formal education of any kind. Even a ‘genealogist’ can be or be not degreed–and the degree is really just a certificate that can be earned in 7 or 15 weeks, with very little coursework. Yet, many of either and both will consider themselves professionals and experts, and expect respect and deference as such. There are still plenty of university professors in history that consider genealogy or ‘family history’ to be as well related to ‘real history,’ as astrology is to astronomy, but that opinion is seldom heard or understood outside of the universities.

Although I am dropping out of the DNA Detectives Facebook group, I still recommend it for one category of family history researchers. If you know nothing about genetics, DNA tests analysis, and you were adopted, or your mother, being human, had a marriage that wasn’t going well at the time and you are looking for the identity of your real birth father, this group can help. It can help finding a birth grandmother or grandfather also. The less a person knows about the subject, and the more dependent he/she is on others in their quest, the better the DNA Detectives Facebook group works for them. It also works pretty well for those who have a little knowledge but really want someone else to do most of the work in organizing DNA database matches and finding the identity of a missing RECENT ancestor (parent, grandparent or maybe a great-grandparent). However, one more caveat, they can be more helpful if the missing ancestor was U.S. born and likewise his or her parents, and less help for others, for example, a heavily East European or Latin America area of the U.S. This group works best with long-time in the U.S. and otherwise UK ancestry. But then, most of the data bases anyone uses are heavy with U.S., UK, and to a lesser extent, otherwise west European, ancestors.

DNA Detectives Facebook group is also NOT a discussion group, though the ‘company’ claims to be a ‘community for all your genetic needs.’ The company and the FB group seem to diverge a bit, though even the company description can be interpreted to understand ‘the community’ is their employees, approved representatives in their public outreach, and their selected experts–some real, some not as much. DNA Detectives Facebook Group is a question-and-answer group focused on a narrow range of genetic topics, and not genealogy as a whole. The admins and search angels expect to be the only experts dispensing answers to any questions. Their assumption seems to generally be that if you are in this group, it’s because you know little or nothing and are there to do nothing but learn and get the admins and their approved experts/search angels’ advice, direction and help. Again, this group is really mostly for complete babes in the woods who are looking for missing birth parents or missing grandparents and not much else.

Some Facebook groups have more rules than others and are far more limiting in what topics can be discussed and what can be said and how. I personally found DNA Detectives to be one of the more extreme groups that I have encountered, but other people may be just fine with a lot of rules and limitations and like more structure in their lives and don’t mind being strictly led or directed even in what seems like minor ways. They may not mind not being able to justify or defend themselves–as just part of being in that group–it’s their rules and processes. They may find having all one’s postings being monitored by persons looking for and expecting infractions to be helpful to fit in, better.

For me, however, my clearly worsening relations with the administrators were beginning to remind me of the stories I heard from Hungarian cousins about their life under the Nazis and Russian regimes, as well as my own personal experience 70 years ago in a strict religion-run private primary school where first grade was managed and taught by a nun others referred to as ‘Sister Mary Battleaxe.’ Sister Mary Battleaxe believed all children were born complete sinners and ignorant savages who all (or almost all) needed harsh scoldings and punishment daily if our souls were ever to be saved and we were to become good little unquestioning Christian soldiers. I spent most of first grade in the principal’s, Sister Mary Alma’s class–she taught 7th grade. She and I had quickly become good friends and by the end of the year, I had learned to read and finish all the 7th grade readers and a lot more advanced English grammar than I otherwise would have had I been under Sister Mary Battleaxe in regular first grade. We were also already discussing theology and the contradictions between the Gospels and the way the Catholic church treated women and girls in the mid-20th century. Unfortunately, I found no ‘Sister Mary Alma’–a friendly principal in DNA Detectives.

If you do have some understanding of genetics, and are an average or better researcher and just want to learn how to categorize your matches to sort out maternal and paternal lines better, you don’t need this group. There are plenty of other groups, websites, books and individuals who can counsel you on doing better sorting and analysis and where you can discuss a lot more about genetics and research-documentation family history, together, as many people now do full, good, family history research and analysis. Again, this group is really for the newest and least knowledgeable about using DNA test analysis to help find recent missing ancestors for family trees. Learning how to find and analyze historical documents to add to or corroborate your genetic analysis is not a topic for this group and you will find little help on that, here, except an occasional referral to some other group–sometimes done with a punitive warning.

The admins and search angels had no idea who I was, anything about my background and didn’t care to learn or ask. They also didn’t want you to ask them questions, especially related to their punitive warnings and interpretations of rules that may or may not be well worded and clear. Between the admins and ‘student’ members, there appears to me to be little or no friendly two-way communication. As I said, their expectations and assumptions are for a particular group, and they prefer to be the experts for them. I was not what they expected nor wanted. My greatest flaw was I was slow to realize this, and I should have left a lot sooner.

I had only two questions, difficult ones, to present to the group and otherwise had the badly mistaken hope that my 50 years of research experience and history and anthropology degrees might be useful to someone.

These naive hopes were quickly and mercilessly crushed by the DNA Detectives Facebook Group administrators. My first post, a question, was deleted as ‘too sensitive a subject for some and maybe more a documents related question than a DNA question.

The second question was about finding the biological father of my youngest half-sister, who I had determined was partly East European and probably had one line that more recently emigrated. Worse, whomever he was, he also had another line that was of good old UK origin long-time in the U.S.–and related to my mother and two if not three or four of us half-sisters. Endogamy is always an extra complication not just in identifying unknown ancestors–but also their exact relationships. My sister also was of two minds about her family history and only on a few databases. She did not care to be on all of them. I was looking for any additional tips on this unusual combination of issues.

This post/question was also mercilessly, but humorously crushed. One of the coteries of ‘search angels’, told me they were certain I had not looked everywhere, or had not analyzed what I had thoroughly enough, and she was equally sure that she could find him.

Right. To quickly summarize this, I knew and could prove with documentation a lot more than she could and she missed several key genetic facts I’d already found. She ended up admitting she could not solve this problem and said I needed more close matches for my sister and that my sister needed to be on more databases. She missed the two instances of endogamy, and knew nothing about some critical history of East Europe, ethnic neighborhoods of the U.S., and who even had the best databases for East/Southeast Europeans.

Later I found a German language area family history research–and discussion-group elsewhere on Facebook. This group covers everything that was once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, plus all the ‘German’ principalities and even to some extent the Netherlands, and that proved more helpful. There are real discussions among the members of both genetic analysis and documentation. We now know which line of my East European cousin relates most closely to my half-sister, but not the individual within the line yet. We may never know because the line is from Ukraine and besides the losses of people in World War II, Stalin had massacred many people for several of his own reasons. My cousin’s immediate ancestor in this line was from a refugee twig of the family. Even he did not know much about this line. Unfortunately, a lot of my father’s and my half-sister’s father’s relatives were killed in two world wars or by dictators and left too few, if any, descendants and almost none have ever tested with any of the DNA testing sites, and not the ones most commonly used by the ‘search angels’ on DNA Detectives.

This DNA Detectives group is also very strict about language use. They insist on exclusive use of very limited interpretations of terms instead of all possible non- profane, technically correct terminology and not when used in describing several situations, especially when expressed as feelings about a situation by a victim. My sister had expressed her feelings about her father to me–and many others–using a very accurate term. Unfortunately, in DNA Detectives, the admins only accept use of that term to describe a narrow, clinical situation. One connotation only is acceptable. Others will earn people scoldings and punitive warnings. I got the feeling the admins would get along well with the Stanford University ‘language police group’ that recently decided even using the word ‘American’ was offensive, among other similar surprises. The Stanford University language police were laughed at and derided so much that they scrapped their language monitoring program proposal. Although Stanford University is a private university and the DNA Detectives Facebook group is a private group, there are no other similarities, certainly not in behavior.

My only two questions went nowhere, and I was learning plain, direct speaking was often unwelcome, but, unwisely, I stayed in the group, thinking, well maybe I can give some advice or help to someone else so long as it was short, to the point, and, I thought, kind. Do NOT offer help, ever, unless you have been accepted into their coterie of ‘search angels,’ and always defer to any admin in any discussion but be very careful HOW you defer to the admin. For example: do not use your experience or what you’ve seen happen on the group to suggest to someone that admins might suggest they inquire in a different, side group as what is being said may be construed as more documents rather than DNA related. You are likely to be seen as usurping the privileges of an admin. Then, worse, yet, If you even SAY, ‘ok, that you are deferring to that admin’, while you are physically leaving the discussion and finding something else to do with a friendly more useful FB group, that stated deferral itself can get you judged as insolent and earn another quick punitive warning.

Once an admin intervenes in your exchange with another group member, and criticizes your comment, you are damned. You are expected to never type one more word, not one. Just leave and ideally, don’t return. Drop the group. Don’t think that eventually you’ll be accepted and fit in. You won’t, ever, be acceptable. Once I fully understood these arbitrary policies, I simply left the group and ended my membership and quit following it.

From what I observed and experienced, it seemed to be that once an admin or more had ‘warned’ a person more than once, even if the warnings occurred across months, she consulted with the others and they collectively decided that this person whom they have warned more than once doesn’t really belong. They then monitor the trouble-person’s every post and look for reasons to drop him/her–or drive that person away, and there will eventually be little, sometimes automated ‘messages’ that say they are monitoring this person’s posts, constantly. Communist China or the Russian FSB would admire this process and the automated messages.

Just remember, DNA Detectives is a privately owned group and it is their group, and no one else’s. Yes, they can do everything I just described. If you receive more than one warning, and especially if you start seeing the automated monitoring messages, leave, immediately. Then, don’t ever go back and be careful who you refer to this group. Even then, suggest to your friends that they just ask simple, only genetic family history analysis questions, including the very basics of how to do it themselves, or better yet, just ask for a search angel and after they get the answer, leave, and don’t return. Consider the group as a private, very limited question and answer consulting group–something like the old ‘Ask Jeeves.’ This is genetic genealogy ‘Jeeves,’ except it’s a group, not a question and and answer website, and there are fewer, in-the-group, experts, and they can behave in a less friendly manner.

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