Can Genetic Testing Be Done on My Late Mother’s Hair?

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Dear Professor Gates:

Is there a DNA test that can be done on hair that will lead to the same genetic ancestry-test results as those derived from saliva? I have hair from my deceased mother that I wish to have analyzed for this purpose. —Gwendolyn Knotts


You aren’t the only reader of this column who has wondered about that possibility. I have previously covered in this column how to collect a DNA specimen from someone who is recently deceased, but to answer your question specifically about hair, I turned to genetic genealogist CeCe Moore for her insights. Her reply:

Unfortunately, at this time there is no company offering genealogy DNA testing from a hair sample. 23andMe and AncestryDNA exclusively accept saliva for their DNA tests and the only sample FamilyTreeDNA will accept as an alternative to their cheek swab is a blood sample.  

If the hair you have from your deceased mother has roots attached, then there is a good possibility that you will be able to use that in the future. Please store it in a cool, dry place in a paper envelope (not plastic) and refrain from handling it to avoid contamination. If it is only cut hair, then its usefulness for genealogy DNA testing will likely continue to be very limited, at least for the foreseeable future.

My mantra when it comes to DNA is “Never say never,” so hold on to it either way, just in case.

There have been amazing advances in genetic testing in recent years, so I concur with Moore: Store that lock of hair carefully and check back periodically with the testing services she mentioned.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and founding director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He is also chairman of The Root. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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This answer was provided in consultation with genetic genealogist CeCe Moore of the DNA