How It's Going at the Gene@Event2020 - La Maison de Généalogie
On Fire and Food

The Growth of Recreational DNA Testing in France

Illegitimate children

There are times when we do wish that our Internet service providers (as they so inappropriately like to term themselves) had a face, a person at a desk in an office, windowless or not, for then we should be able to place a pistol on the desk in front of said person and urge an act of honour as we leave and shut the door behind us. Alas, we will never hear that shot of honour behind the door and no provider will ever accept responsibility for the failure to provide. So, we are back at our post, posting on The FGB, but cannot say for how long.

We have worked our way though most of the presentations given at La Semaine virtuelle de la généalogie. As ever with such events, virtual or not, quality varies. We shall focus on a subject of interest not only to those outside of France, but increasingly within this country, DNA testing for genealogy. We do this in part in response to a fiery comment which Monsieur Pierre Gendreau-Hétu left on our post announcing the programme of the Semaine virtuelle de la généalogie and which we reproduce here:

 

"This program shows how spaced out French genealogy is. I'm sorry to break the news, but genetic genealogy has been solving longstanding problems for two decades now! The best strategy the FFG has come up with is to close the conference with guardians of the French orthodoxy regarding DNA data: attention danger! The grand guignol show is not over yet, unfortunately. (Sigh.) Pauvre France! Rich archives combine so powerfully with yDNA data, and amazing results keep coming day in day out in countries likes Scotland, Ireland, Switzerland..... What a French waste in the name of state control! Olivier Henno, commissioner to the French Senate committee on bioethics, assessed the number of tests ordered by French citizens and came up with the figure of one million kits. In 2019. Yet the FFG will still look the other way. This behavior belongs to a bird that is not the rooster. This is called denial and is unworthy of a scientific field. In the meantime, English-speaking universities (Leicester, Strathclyde, etc.) have made genetic genealogy mainstream. France, pays des Lumières? Not in genealogy at any rate. Obscurantism stole the show. France is left with good archival research nonetheless, for sure, even though one can only dream of what could be if it were enhanced with genetics. Just like looking for a treasure without using a metal detector..."

 

Monsieur Gendreau-Hétu certainly has a point (and he makes  some more in the comments section at the end of this post); there was but one presentation on what the French law terms "recreational DNA testing", given by Brigitte Billard, one of France's more interesting bloggers on genealogy Though the lone talk, it was very interesting. Her entire presentation, "5 questions à vous poser avant de faire un test ADN" (5 questions to ask yourself before taking a DNA test) can still be seen online. We summarize and comment here.

The overall tenor of the talk seems to be one of stern warning. Before taking a DNA test for the purpose of genealogy, one must know that :

  • Such "recreational "DNA testing is illegal in France
  • The fine for such test taking can be up to 3500 euros
  • Prosecution seems never to have occurred
  • If you are seeking a specific ancestor or person, the DNA test will not be enough; traditional genealogical research will be necessary
  • You may have to ask all of your relatives to test their DNA as well, which could lead to ethical issues
  • It could be expensive
  • The privacy of those who test will not be protected to European standards, as corporate headquarters and laboratories of the more popular DNA kit producers are not in Europe
  • All those who test must be prepared to cope with a possibly traumatic discovery of a family secret (e.g. the discovery that a male relative fathered numerous children unbeknownst to his family)

Madame Billard, after such severe and well-informed discouragement, ends on a chirpy and positive note, that DNA testing can lead to some very fun genealogy. There is probably no better explanation of the French situation concerning genetic genealogy at this time than Madame Billard's talk.

To quell Monsieur Gendreau-Hétu's fears that the French are falling behind in the DNA game, there are, as Madame Billard pointed out, many, many YouTube videos of French people taking such tests. Most are quite humourous. Most contain someone being surprised at the test results showing no "French blood". This, in turn resulted in a clip being added to one of them in which a trusted geneticist had to explain that "there is no such thing as French blood" just people who  have lived in France for a long time. Here are links to just a few:

 

  • A dashing young man who took a test because he wondered if his slightly narrow eyes might not mean that he had oriental ancestors.
  • A charming young pair claiming to be shocked by their test results. (Surely the use of the word is a marketing ploy or are we so jaded in this life that what shocked them seems quite inane to us?)
  • A whole troupe of journalists who took their tests and read their results at the same time. (A bit disturbing, this one, with smugness on the parts of those feeling "more French" and suppressed fury on the part of one who did not like her ethnicity one bit. Unsurprisingly, this is where the geneticist steps in.)

 

There are dozens more. It is, clearly, quite the fashion to break this particular law in France and to be oh, so surprised at the results. We suspect that this is a barn door that will never be locked again, whatever laws may be passed. 

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

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