Friday, September 21, 2012

Identity keys in the genealogical domain

A new kind of personal identity key has come into existence over the last few years. I refer to it as your Y-key, pronounced to rhyme with "crikey". It's a unique identifier that is used in DNA testing in the genealogical domain. A Y-key points to an individual's set of Y-chromosome marker values stored in a global database.

For the moment, since few individuals have bothered to obtain their Y-chromosome marker values, the keys are quite short. For example, my own Y-key is a short string of five alphanumeric characters: RJ6XS. Click here to access the database, created by the Family Tree DNA company. For the moment, it's the only Y-chromosome database of which I'm aware. Anybody who knows that my Y-key is RJ6XS can rapidly access my set of 67 marker values.

Once Y-keys became a commonplace phenomenon, messages of the following kind could be used in genealogical contexts:

My Y-key is RJ6XS.

Can anybody tell me if a Y-key exists for Winston Churchill?

Please send me your mother's Y-key.

The latter example raises an obvious question: What is the sense of a Y-key in the case of a female individual? Well, it's simply the Y-key of her father or her brothers.

In years to come, I would imagine that Y-keys will become as commonplace as social security numbers. But they will only ever concern a small minority of people: namely, those who are interested in genealogy.

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