Monday, May 18, 2020

The 1929 Envelope From Penza

Seventeen months ago, I wrote at some length about a company which can take DNA samples from old envelopes - whether from the sealed flaps or the stamps - for use in genealogy. I have nine envelopes that were sent in the 1920s from Penza Russia, where my great-grandfather and namesake was living, to my grandmother's brother in Brooklyn. I scanned the envelopes and the company - totheletter DNA in Brisbane Australia - thought that three of them looked suitable for DNA extraction.
The process is two-fold. First they extract the DNA, then if that is successful, they test it and upload it to GEDmatch. Of course, I have no idea if my great-grandfather is the person who sealed the envelope. That could have been done for instance by his second wife, who is not my great-grandmother. Or her daughter. Or the post office worker.

A few months ago, I decided to give it a try, using the May 1929 letter.

This morning, I received the report on the extraction. Here it is in full.

Hi Israel

We’ve finally received the results from the lab. We only found a minute amount of DNA in your sample. This will not be suitable for further processing at this time.

We’ve attached two images below - one of what a fresh DNA sample would look like during a quality check, and your sample. You  can see the images are quite different. We would not expect DNA from an old envelope to ever look like the fresh sample, but nevertheless we would expect to see some “bumps”.

We are working on a solution to process very low yield / quality samples which we hope to have in place by the end of the year. Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) is currently an option, but is very expensive and still carries the risk of failing. Our solution will aim to bridge the gap between microarray technology (the much cheaper option, which would have been used when you did your own DNA testing at a company such as and WGS.

What we can do when we have our solution ready, is to process this sample at some point to see if we do get any data out of it. I really can’t provide you with an estimate of the chances of success. The fact that there was such minimal DNA in your sample makes it challenging.

I’m sorry we weren’t able to get a better result with your envelope, but I hope we will be able to help you in the future. Please do ask if you have any questions.

Thank you for your support and we wish you well during this time.

Kind regards
This is what a fresh sample looks like:

And this is what ours looks like:
Definitely not good enough.
I am certainly not going for the very expensive Whole Genome Sequencing. I could try another of my samples, but the rest of the batch was not encouraging.

Hi Israel

We had 17 samples. Five had no DNA at all. The rest could potentially be successful via Whole Genome Sequencing but we are reluctant to recommend that when the stakes are high i.e. it is very expensive, and we may still not get a useable result. We expect to overcome this with our solution we are working on right now. If it were available today, we would recommend running your sample on it.

Kind regards
So I shall take Joscelyn's advice and wait until they have completeed their new process which is currently under development. Even then, I might try an extraction from a second envelope to increase the chances of success.

I like to say that sometimes "no" is also an answer. But sometimes "no" tells you nothing at all.

So that's the story.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry to hear it didn't work. Getting a great grandfather's raw DNA would be a spectacular advance for you in your anmzing research. Hopefully soon.