Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Astonishing New iPhone App: Lick It DNA

Lick It DNA by Tongue in Cheek Swab“There’s an app for that.” Now there is an app that will perform a DNA test for you. It is free. It only takes seconds. And no additional hardware is needed. All you do is lick your phone. Really. I remember being similarly dismissive when someone told me there was an app to take your pulse. But that turned out to be true, too. Well, prepare to be astonished.

Lick It DNA is a recently released iPhone 6 app from Tongue In Cheek Swab, Inc. “It is easy to say that this is the most innovative app, ever,” said company president, Averyll Nabal. All you do is lick the screen, wait several moments, and the app gives you a view into your deep ancestry.

But you must have an iPhone 6. Nabal happened upon the idea when she started using the iPhone 6’s Retina HD Display with Apple’s new ResearchKit. ResearchKit is an open source technology Apple developed to encourage the creation of medical apps on the iPhone. (See “Now Everybody Can Do Their Part to Advance Medical Research” at She realized the display could be used to read a person’s DNA.

The breakthrough is not so unbelievable once you understand the chemistry. Sequences of nucleotides in our DNA are programmed to produce proteins. While DNA nucleotides are too small to resolve without expensive lab equipment, proteins are much larger. Different protein molecules have fairly unique electromagnetic signatures because protein molecules are asymmetric. If you can identify the proteins, you can deduce the DNA that produced them.

That’s where the iPhone 6 HD Retina display comes in. When you touch a capacitive touch screen, the phone registers differences in electromagnetic fields at each pixel of the display. Previous displays lacked the resolution to accurately detect something as small as a protein molecule. But the iPhone 6 has the necessary resolution and ResearchKit provides access to pixel-by-pixel measurements of the electromagnetic field.

A big hurdle faced by Lick It DNA was starting its database from scratch. It takes a large database for a DNA company to accurately predict deep ethnicity. The app description warns, “During our beta phase, ethnicity estimates may change each time you run the app. Over time, your results will get better and better. Check back often. As an early adopter, your results will always be free.”

“We’re getting over 5,000 downloads a day so it won’t be long before we top a million samples,” said Nabal.

The app utilizes the phone’s built in GPS to determine the location of the person providing the sample. I’m guessing that they use that data to try and determine what DNA belongs with what place. If that’s true, they may have problems with highly mobile populations, mass migrations, and melting pot localities. And they are going to need a really large database from all over the world. But at the rate they are going, that just may happen.

I showed the app to a friend, Scott Ward, who knows a lot about biochemistry. He was not impressed.

“The resolution of these displays is still not enough to detect any but the longest of STRs (short tandem repeats),” Scott said. STRs are repeated sequences of DNA nucleotides called markers. Each marker has a value indicating the number of times the sequence is repeated. The closer two people are related, the more alike their markers are. “To be big enough to be detected, a marker would have to have a value of at least 20 and there are few genealogically useful markers that long. This will never be anything more than a toy.”

Still, you can’t beat free. Download the app from the Apple iTunes Store.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

NARA Suspends Scanning Operation

A NARA staff member retrieves documents at the Lee's Summit, Missouri location.On 16 March 2015, Twitter user “RM Cooper” posted, “Ancestry’s doing a digitization project with our WW2 records. Person caught ‘improperly handling/attempting to destroy’ attachments to WW2 registration records. Ancestry canned them and they’ve been barred from NARA. So they’ve suspended those projects while they attempt to assess what’s been done and how/if they can fix it…I just hope it was an isolated incident and the person didn’t really get to destroy anything.”

In a copyrighted story on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch website, Tim O’Neil reported that the employee was behind in productivity and attempted to catch up by throwing away some records. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) staff recovered all the lost records. NARA suspended projects at five sites, including the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, where the incident occurred. NARA has since allowed to resume operations at two sites.

You can read O’Neil’s entire article on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch website.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Last Day for #NGS2015GEN Discount

Don’t forget. Today is the last day to get a discount for this year’s annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. The conference is 13-16 May 2015 in St. Charles, Missouri. Early bird registration saves money. For more information see page 15 of the registration brochure.

The AncestryInsider is an official blogger for the NGS 2015 Family History Conference.

Monday Mailbox: Home Access to HeritageQuest

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

We can no longer get Heritage Quest at home on our computer.  We must go to the Library to check Heritage Quest.  That is a real loss for those who are homebound.

Gwen Boyer Bjorkman

Dear Gwen,

This may have been a misunderstanding by your library. Have them check with ProQuest and they will find they can still offer HeritageQuest for home access. Only the Ancestry Library Edition is prohibited from home access.

Or this may have been a temporary problem.

---The Ancestry Insider

Friday, March 27, 2015

Darned Wonderful Color Images

A scanner company recently published an interview with FamilySearch’s Michael Benson, an imaging services operations Manager in their Record Division. Some interesting tidbits:

  • The Genealogical Society of Utah, as FamilySearch used to be called, helped pioneer standards in the microfilm industry.
  • They are using nextScan FlexScan microfilm scanners when they can digitize microfilm on site in archives.
  • In one case FamilySearch is utilizing a volunteer who uses his motorhome as a mobile scanning center.
  • They recently adopted the Nikon D800 digital camera for taking color images.

Read the entire article on the nextScan website.

I’m glad that FamilySearch is moving towards color. Color is an important part of genealogical record analysis. Take this marriage license from (Click to see a larger image.)


What can be learned from the colors in this certificate that would have been lost if this had been photographed in black and white?

As long as we’re in analysis mode, what parts of Percival and Alberta’s story does this record tell that could easily be overlooked? As with any record, the more you understand about a place, the more you can pull out of its records. is also using color cameras. Take a look at this example. What can be learned from the colors?

Color image from collection "U.S., Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1925-1963"

Can you imagine how awesome it would be if FamilySearch, or, or NARA went back to the early, extant Federal Censuses and re-photographed them in color? All those out-of-focus, or overwritten names brought back to life in vivid color? Wow. How can I convince one of you to do this?

But I digress…

Darned, wonderful color images!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

NGS 2015 Conference Official Blogger (#NGS2015GEN)

imageI’m pleased to announce that I get to help promote the 2015 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society as an official blogger! The conference is 13-16 May 2015 in St. Charles, Missouri. The early bird registration deadline is fast approaching: this Monday, 30 March 2015. Early bird registration saves money. For more information see page 15 of the registration brochure.

It looks to me like even more urgent than the early bird registration deadline is accommodations. Eight of nine conference hotels are sold out (at conference rate). I don’t know how many rooms were available at each property, but I surmise that a lot of people have already registered for the conference. I’d get registered while the registerin’s good.

For more information, visit

P.S. Another official blogger, Jen Baldwin, has done something cool. She’s put together a Flipboard “magazine” which aggregates posts about the conference (flagged with #NGS2015GEN). See it at