Using DNA testing and public genealogical databases, members of a non-profit group called the "DNA Doe Project" have helped police identify a woman found dead in Toronto's Trinity-Bellwoods park in the spring of 2020. The woman was not carrying identification when she was found, CBC News reports, and police made little headway trying to find out who she was using sketches released to the public.
"Police gave the organization a sample of the woman's DNA and they began the work of cross-referencing it on GEDmatch, an online service that compares results on popular genetic testing websites such as 23andMe and Ancestry.ca," reporter Trevor Dunn explains, noting that the case represents the first time Toronto police turned to the genetic genealogy approach in a non-criminal setting where an individual died of natural causes.
By reaching out to potential relatives revealed through their use of genetic testing services, the investigators quickly found individuals who knew the missing woman. They were then able to confirm her identity using photos and dental records.
While the method offered answers for police and family members, at least one legal expert cautions that it also highlights potential privacy concerns that can arise for individuals who use direct-to-consumer genetic testing services.
For its part, though, the DNA Doe Project "said the case shows how beneficial it can be for people to voluntarily upload their DNA profiles from sites like Ancestry and 23andMe to a public database," Ryan Rocca says in Global News report.