The GEDmatch website has had several owners since it was established in 2010. Its sale in 2019 caused quite a stir amongst both members and the wider genealogical community.
This article looks at who owns GEDmatch now, and who was behind its creation.
Who Owns GEDmatch?
Verogen, a San Diego forensic genetics firm, announced in December 2019 that they purchased GEDmatch for an undisclosed sum. Verogen was established in 2017 by Illumina, the DNA sequencing specialists, in partnership with Telegraph Hill Partners, an investment company.
Does Illumina sound familiar? If you’ve bought a DNA kit from one of the big consumer testing companies, you may have seen their name.
Ancestry, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, and MyHeritage all use Illumina’s chip technologies to process the DNA kits they sell to consumers. The consumer market has been a major focus for Illumina, but the rate of growth has slowed in recent years.
Illumina And Forensics
Illumina also sells technology, software, and services to the forensic labs of law enforcement agencies. The company had a dedicated department for forensics with specialist staff. When Illumina spun off Verogen as a separate entity, it transferred this department and the staff to the new company.
Why did Illumina split off their forensic operations? I think the answer is clear when you browse their website. Their current focus is on genetic aspects of health and disease. This market should be more lucrative than the budgets of police departments.
But the company didn’t want to waste the forensic products and expertise they’d already established. The first CEO of Verogen, Kirk Malloy, had been with Illumina for 13 years. The Verogen Chief Scientific Officer, Cydne Holt, had run the forensic department at Illumina.
Telegraph Hill Partners (THP)
Illumina had over $2 billion in cash reserves when it spun off Verogen. Even so, the genetics company chose to partner with a venture capital firm, Telegraph Hill Partners.
Some GEDmatch customers were concerned that the involvement of an investment firm would see a hike in prices. But GEDmatch still has an extensive collection of free tools. And the paid tier is still only $10 a month.
Who Created GEDmatch?
GEDmatch was launched in 2010 by Curtis Rogers, a businessman, and John Olson, an engineer. Rogers was a hobby genealogist looking for automated ways to compare and match family trees. He enlisted Olson for technical help, and they created the GEDmatch website for fellow enthusiasts.
Curtis Rogers had formed an interest in genealogy in his teens when researching his family tree. He went on to a business career with the likes of Hellmans and the Quaker Oats brand. When he retired, he renewed his interest in family research.
The FamilyTreeDNA website was one of the research tools that Curtis used. The site lets groups of people research a single surname using multiple family trees. Curtis got frustrated with the manual effort of comparing different trees for common entries. He was sure it could be automated but needed help with the programming side.
Another member of the Rogers group recommended John Olson. John was a transport engineer with programming skills. The two men collaborated to automate the mapping and matching of family trees in the Rogers project.
Eventually, Rogers and Olson decided to make their software available to all genealogy enthusiasts. Rogers registered the GEDmatch.com domain in 2010 and opened the website to the public.
The Growth Of GEDmatch
Why “GEDmatch”? The name was a play on GEDCOM, which is a common file format for family trees. It’s a soft “g” as in genealogical. (It took me a while to realize I was pronouncing it wrong).
As the GEDmatch website became more and more popular, Rogers was working on it full time. Olson was joined by several volunteer programmers to expand the tools offered.
The main cost was running the servers that power the website. This kind of cost increases with the volume of users and data.
The $10 paid tier kept the lights on. I’d been a user since 2017 and noticed from time to time that the site would display all the symptoms of being overloaded. But then, so does Ancestry.
Why Was GEDmatch Sold?
This link will take you to a copy of the email sent out by Curtis Rogers to GEDmatch members after the sale. I’ll summarize it here with a quote:
This sale took place only because I know it is a big step forward for GEDmatch, its users, and the genetic genealogical community.Curtis Rogers, email to members
The letter mentions that Verogen would be in a better position to regulate access by law enforcement. Let’s put this into context.
By this time, GEDmatch had become worldwide news through its use in catching the Golden Gate Killer. Rogers and his site were now under scrutiny from massive media organizations.
His co-founder, John Olson, had this to say to the New York Times in 2018:
I feel like I’m on a high-speed ride with no way to steer.New York Times
Of the two founders, it was mostly Curtis Rogers who was in the media spotlight. He had to address some very complex issues of privacy and co-operation with law enforcement.
At first, Rogers had been appalled by criminal investigators using his website without consulting with him. But his views changed toward accepting controlled access. Even so, expecting a small group of volunteer programers to implement a robust system would be a tall order.
Personally, I think that GEDmatch was sold partly to jump off that high-speed ride.
More About GEDmatch?
Now you know who owns GEDmatch, you may have more questions about the genealogy site.
If you’ve uploaded your DNA, you’re bound to notice differences in your results on GEDmatch and your original testing site. This article is on whether GEDmatch is accurate.
And if you haven’t already done so, here’s a tutorial on how to upload your DNA to GEDmatch.
You can check out our full collection of GEDmatch articles here.
Ownership Of DNA Testing Companies
We have a number of articles on the ownership of the big consumer DNA testing companies: