DNA Q&A: Testing a Watchband for DNA

By David A. Fryxell

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Q: My father passed away years ago. Can I do a DNA test for him with his watchband?

A: We turned to the experts at Family Tree DNA for an answer.
According to company vice president Max Blankfeld, the likelihood of obtaining good Y-DNA from an old watchband for genealogical analysis is low, especially if the person died quite a while ago and any sweat on the band has dried up. A forensics lab could try to extract the DNA, but the cost would end up being very high, with no guaranteed results. Moreover, if other people ever touched that watchband, before or after the person died, any DNA that’s retrieved might not be from your father. “The bottom line is that we don’t recommend using the watchband,” Blankfeld says.

But don’t give up hope just yet. Did your father have a brother? A nephew? Cousins with the same surname? Testing one of these people would be a better option. If you have no living male relatives from that line, a toothbrush, electric shaver or hearing aid would be a better bet than a watchband. (Of course, any such object should be handled only wearing gloves to reduce the risk of contamination.) There would be a charge for forensic extraction, in addition to the cost of a Y-DNA test.

From the July 2010 Family Tree Magazine.