totheletter DNA

totheletter DNA

We provide DNA testing of artefacts from your passed loved-ones to enhance your genealogical researc


We want to underline what we definitely DON'T do here at totheletter DNA.

We sometimes get requests to attempt DNA retrieval from an anonymous letter, or from an envelope to determine if there is a biological link between the customer and the sender. We do not accept these types of cases.

Anonymous letters are a definite no-go. The only way we would accept a case in the second example above is where the sender was a relative recognised by law e.g. the adopted child and the DNA of their (adopted) parent. We do not undertake testing except for customers undertaking research of family members for genealogy purposes. We consider each case very carefully to satisfy ourselves it meets our criteria. Customers must also accept our Terms and Conditions before placing an order with us.

There was an interesting post on DNA Detectives yesterday where commenting was turned off before we had a chance to do so, so we'd like to follow up here. A person stated they had received an anonymous letter and had submitted the envelope to a lab. They stated the lab had retrieved DNA from the envelope.

We'd like to make it clear we would not take on a case such as this as it would contravene our T&Cs.


It's a while since we last posted, but work on artefacts continues unabated. We expect to be up to date on all our current orders before the end of May and are notifying customers of the outcome of their extractions / Pass 1s and Pass 2s as we speak.

The lab will be taking a break during June which is motivating us to get everything neat and tidy. If you have any questions about your particular case, and have not heard before 27 May, you are welcome to email us.

We are now offering a lower priced Pass 2 Whole Genome Sequencing, depending on the quality of the DNA after Pass 1. We offer either 40GB or 80GB sequencing. If the DNA is good, we can get away with 40GB. The price for 40GB is $200USD less than 80GB.

We've also mentioned before, but if you email us and don't hear back, please check in with us. We occasionally have customers email saying they never heard back from us. We then search through our emails and find we have replied (of course!) - and for some reason it has not got through to them at their end. (Check your junk / spam box first :) )

Feel free to email us at [email protected] with any questions.


Happy New Year to all, and here's hoping it's a goodie!

We are back on board in the lab and have just kicked off 2024 by providing three customers with autosomal DNA files pertaining to their loved ones. And that includes our CEO Joscelyn, who just took delivery of an atDNA file for her grandfather (who passed away over 20 years ago). We obtained the DNA from his harmonica, which had been buried in the bottom of her uncle's filing cabinet. She was a little worried the DNA might pertain to her uncle (married to her biological aunt) - but GEDmatch shows matches to Grandfather's two daughters, so it's an exciting day here at totheletter DNA!

We are looking forward to working with our esteemed customers this year!


Another year down and it's been a good one! Highlights have been getting results for two very long-term special customers - CC and JS (JS I know you're waiting for the final file but it's with our bioinformatician as we speak).

The lab has the extraction as good as we can get it for the foreseeable future. We had hoped to have an agreement in place with FamilyTreeDNA by now but there have been changes there that have led to a loss of momentum on this issue. We will continue to chip away at this. In relation to loading files to other databases, we remind our customers that they need to conform to any database's Terms and Conditions.

Good news is that we've introduced a step in our process where we assess how much whole genome sequencing is required for a specific sample. This means that for some cases we can offer a reduced amount of sequencing which sees the cost come down by a few hundred $$. We advise you of this on a case-by-case basis and currently provide a discount code for those that need less sequencing. We'll be offering this as a standard option when checking out in 2024.

Our work brings us into contact with many wonderful people from all areas of the globe. It's a delight to work with you all.

Thank you all for your custom and we look forward to 2024!


For our clients waiting for a status update, we have a number of cases moving through the lab right now. We expect we'll be able to contact you within the fortnight with news. If you haven't heard from us by then, feel free to email or message.

The lab deals with all sorts of processes including handling our artefacts, so sometimes cases move through the system more slowly than we would like. Thank you for your patience!


Haven't heard back from us? Please check your junk or spam mail - our reply may be there. A lady recently enquired regarding a hairbrush, and we replied same day. She later came back to us asking if we could respond to her - we again replied and haven't heard back. So check your folders if you have expected to hear back from us but haven't.

Alternatively, send us a FaceBook message and we can reply to you there (and at least let you know there is a problem with the mail!).


* Update - we have edited this post as we are continuing discussions with FamilyTree DNA. We will provide an update here when we have further news.

8th July 2018 was the first time we were asked by a customer about uploading our files to databases other than GEDmatch. Below is our response to that enquiry back then:

“If MyHeritage or FamilyTree DNA (FTDNA) had a compatible database, the file we generate could potentially (technically) be uploaded to their databases. Without a formal agreement with those companies in place we do not support it. This is because we believe it would be good business practice for us to advise and agree such an arrangement with those companies beforehand.”

Since writing that five years ago, our fundamental position has not changed, and we have continued to advise customers of this position. As stated in our Terms and Conditions (T&Cs) we provide our customers with a GEDmatch-compatible autosomal DNA file and (where whole genome sequencing has taken place) the associated FASTQ file. The customer owns their data, not totheletter DNA, and what they do with that data is their prerogative. We do not condone or encourage contravening T&Cs of our own or any other company.


My name is Joscelyn McBain, and I am CEO of totheletter DNA. I’d like to publicly address some questions that have been raised this week about totheletter DNA’s history and approach. I am happy to answer here any questions this post may raise. There will be two posts – this one with the history of the company, and a separate post regarding uploads to databases other than GEDmatch.

I’d like to talk about why I set up the company. In 2018 I had been living in Jakarta, Indonesia for two years and was about to return to Australia. I was an avid genealogist with family mysteries to solve – like so many genealogists. I wanted a new challenge from my previous career as an IT consultant. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could obtain DNA from artefacts from deceased ancestors to assist with solving DNA mysteries! No one else was doing it, and so it began.

I invested my savings in this project. I turned to the experts in DNA – Illumina, Thermo Fisher, the Australian Genome Research Facility, and the Garvan Institute, amongst others. I undertook projects with AGRF and Garvan in Australia, and Cellmark and Eurofins in the UK. I wasn’t a scientist, but these organisations knew their stuff. Everyone agreed “sure, it can be done” – but there was no end-to-end pipeline in place, and not surprisingly, it wasn’t a simple task. Surely I could make this happen!

We had successes right from the start (I would not have been plugging away for this long if we had not). Those successes were just enough to keep persevering. Early on we approached MyHeritage in the hope of being able to offer their customers artefact testing. We did that too soon – and unfortunately it was announced to the public earlier than it should have been. Having said that, MyHeritage was extremely professional to work with and it is regretful that our early optimism was premature, and I feel I let them down.

For every customer in our early years that did not get the result they had hoped, we refunded their payment in full. We even stopped taking orders for a year while we worked to get the best pipeline possible in place.

It is always a challenge to get useable DNA from an artefact. We make a point of advising our customers of the risks. We will never be able to offer a high success rate – that is unrealistic – many artefacts simply do not contain useable DNA. We are not in the business of setting unrealistic expectations with our clients. What we do offer is a guarantee that if there is useable DNA in their artefact, we will be able to generate an autosomal DNA file that is suitable for upload to GEDmatch.

After much work and many highs and lows typical of any start-up, we are now able to achieve consistent results and have a robust pipeline in place. I wonder who else might take up this work except as a “pro bono” extension of a bigger lab, and whether it is worth continuing in the face of the hurdles I have faced. But for the time being we will continue to do so, as our successes and dare I say the joy we have brought to our customers make it all worthwhile.

Meanwhile we are continuing to work to reduce our costs and improve results as and when new technologies emerge.


We’ve been quiet, but it’s not because there’s nothing happening!

Obtaining DNA from an envelope or stamp and generating an autosomal DNA file that provides genuine matches on GEDmatch is no small feat. Nevertheless, we’ve been bringing successful outcomes to many of our customers, each one a small miracle in itself. We are often dealing with sub-1 nanogram of DNA - keep in mind when you submit your own fresh swab or saliva to one of the big DNA family genealogy companies they have a base requirement of 200 nanograms of DNA - that’s a big difference!

We deal with each case with care and compassion. Our desire to achieve a successful outcome for our customers is only slightly less than the customer’s own. We believe our customers can attest to our commitment to do our very best with your relative’s artefact.

And don’t forget, if you have your relative’s hairbrush and the roots are on some of the hairs, we have a good chance of a successful outcome. We are not at this point accepting hair locks - until we can offer a consistent positive outcome to customers we’re holding off - but we are working towards that as well.

Our company has now been around for five years. Our key drivers moving forward are to improve results and to reduce our costs, and therefore our charge to our customers. We take a very small percentage of what our customers pay - we are very much motivated by a desire to bring you a successful outcome, rather than make profits for ourselves. When our costs come down, we will pass that on to our customers. Our extraction process has been refined to get the best possible DNA sample at this point in time. As far as our results go, we have a solid, repeatable process in place. Contact us today if you’d like to know more.


Very interesting paper available to the public regarding the ethics of studying ancient DNA. Here is the link to the article co-authored by anthropologist Alyssa Bader et al in the 2022 Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics. Link is below:


We’re wrapping up 2022 with all our clients now up to date on their sample status. Our lab will be closing over the holiday period and new orders will be processed in the New Year.

We’ve had a good year and have achieved results of which we are proud. We now have a solid process in place for our samples from receipt to finalisation with turnaround times much faster.

We obtained useable human DNA* from an 1880s birth caul. We found useable human DNA in envelopes from the 1950s. One of our customers was finally provided with an autosomal DNA file for her relative after sticking with us for three years. And we have delighted in providing other happy customers with an autosomal DNA file from their deceased relative for upload to GEDmatch.

We are always working to improve our outcomes for our clients and hope to introduce some new techniques in 2023 to achieve that. We are always happy to discuss client questions via [email protected], so email us if you are considering submitting a sample.

Happy holidays to our wonderful customers and their families.

*sufficient to generate an autosomal DNA file that generates valid matches on GEDmatch.


We are happy to say we’ve finally got our processes running as we expect, although turnaround times continue to be slower than we’d like. We are working to improve that.

We are finding DNA in almost all of the envelope / stamp samples we process - around nine in every ten. Of any ten that go to Pass 1 (our quality check), we are able to progress to Whole Genome Sequencing in a quarter of them.

We hope this information assists our customers when weighing up whether to place an artefact with us.

We had previously offered a “second extraction” on an artefact where the first try had not yielded sufficient DNA. Due to honing our extraction process we won’t need to do this moving forward - our first attempt is our best effort and we maximise what we can yield in the first step.

Our artefacts that we are successfully getting results with include envelopes and stamps and hair. We are processing more hair samples as we speak and expect to provide further detail on age, condition and level of success shortly.

As always we welcome enquiries at [email protected].


We are happy to update that we've cleared most of our backlog. We've written to all our customers and advised them of the outcome of their extractions.

We have a proprietary protocol that is delivering great (unprecedented) results on our extractions.

We are also now processing FFPE-based samples (after extraction in our lab) at FamilyTree DNA on their microarray technology. So if you have a deceased family member that was in a medical facility at some point and you're interested in obtaining their DNA, this might be a route of interest. Email us for more information at [email protected].


We have been working through challenges to our workflow including shortages of reagents - but everything is looking back on track. Please keep in mind we are a small outfit without the clout of bigger labs. But we are 100% committed to doing everything we can to get the best outcome for your particular case.

We will be emailing all our customers with an update on their order today and tomorrow - in most cases it will be an update on the delivery timeframe.

And we are happy to take enquiries about your particular order at any time, so email us at [email protected] with any questions or concerns.

Forensic genetic genealogy using microarrays for the identification of human remains: The need for good quality samples – A pilot study 09/03/2022

We are still running behind schedule with our extractions, we are sorry to advise. We are processing them in order of receipt and will be in touch as soon as completed to let our customers know how their sample has fared. We apologise for the delay (due to a lab refurb) and do not expect such a lengthy wait will happen again moving forward.

For those with an interest in the science, totheletter DNA was happy to be a co-author on this research paper just published in the Forensic Science Journal. The article can be viewed in full until 26 April 2022.

Forensic genetic genealogy using microarrays for the identification of human remains: The need for good quality samples – A pilot study The successful application of forensic genetic genealogy (FGG) to identify Jane and John Doe cases in the United States has raised the prospect of usi…


Spam folder!

We are finding a few enquiries going to our Spam folder. We do check there every so often, but please follow up if you have not heard back from us within a week of sending us an enquiry - with a private message via this page or from another email address.

People are asking about turn-around times. Our maximum wait period from receipt of your item to letting you know if we've found any DNA at all is eight weeks. We hope as we get into the groove that the timeframe will be around four weeks. From there, if we've found DNA, it's another (up to) eight weeks to determine if human, useable DNA is present. Then we require another eight weeks to process the DNA and provide you with the data / DNA file.

Having said that, we have had the holiday period recently and the lab is undergoing a complete refurb. Therefore the current orders with us are taking a bit longer. We do expect however to be adhering to the eight week period in most cases.

Thanks all for your support and email us if you have any questions at [email protected].

Scientists Settled a Century-Old Family Drama Using DNA From Postcards 05/01/2022

Happy New Year to everyone!

An interesting article that deals with our very business!

Scientists Settled a Century-Old Family Drama Using DNA From Postcards Swiss forensic geneticists analyzed DNA recovered from postage stamps dating back to World War I and solved a century-old paternity puzzle.


We will advise our non USA-based customers when their sample has arrived in the lab in the US. For all customers, if an extended period has passed and we have not received your sample we will contact you to chase up. Otherwise you can expect we have received it. Please email us if you have any concerns.

The holiday season is now upon us and we will wind down for two weeks in the beginning of January. We expect to be contacting customers before the end of January with an answer to the question "is there DNA in my sample".

Wishing you all a very safe and happy holiday season!


Can we hold a DNA extraction in the lab for an extended period?

We certainly can. If useable DNA has been found, it is no problem for us to hold onto the DNA sample until you wish to progress further.


For our Australian customers and some other countries - have you heard of Guthrie Cards? You may recall that every baby in Australia has a heel prick of blood taken at birth, and a blood sample is retained. Each state has different retention requirements for these cards.

Do you have a deceased loved-one whose Guthrie Card may still exist? These are quite easy to extract DNA from. You may need to contact the hospital where they were born firstly, or ask them to point you in the right direction for more information.

If you can track them down we can process them. In most cases microarray processing will be an option depending on our quality checks.


We are now accepting orders again. Our aim has been to improve our technical protocol, as well as reduce the initial cost to customers for extractions.

Our pricing has been updated as well as our processes.

The key points are:

In the first instance, please send us an email with a photo and history of your artefact/s. totheletter DNA must confirm we will accept your artefact in writing via email before you can place an order. You must also read, understand and accept our terms and conditions. You will not be able to check out without doing so.

If you have already had confirmation from us, you can submit an order at our Buy - Extraction page here:

If you have already submitted an artefact to us and are not sure of the status, please email us at [email protected].

The process:

Our first step is to determine if any DNA at all is present in your artefact. The cost for this is $165USD.

Our second step is to determine if the DNA is human, and whether sufficient DNA is present for further process. We can advise at this point whether male DNA is present. The cost for this step is $395USD.

In the majority of cases, whole genome sequencing (WGS) will be the only option. We will only recommend this step if we have confidence the sample will be successful. The cost for WGS is $1600USD. This includes the generation of an autosomal DNA file that is suitable for upload to GEDmatch, as well as the full WGS BAM file and haplogroup data.

In the case that WGS fails - which is always a possibility, we will refund the WGS charge to the customer except for our processing and handling costs. While this means there is still a significant expense for the customer, it is some compensation for an unsuccessful outcome.

If microarray genotyping is an option, we will discuss this with you personally, including pricing. We expect a small number of artefacts will be suitable for microarray.

We welcome enquiries at [email protected]


We've had a number of emails asking whether we have a record of people who've previously made enquiries. We certainly do! When we open up orders again, we'll be able to check whether we've heard from you previously (assuming you use the same email address).

Our new pricing will be published shortly. We'll also be contacting those who have DNA in our lab over the next few weeks with the options available to them.


We have been working away in the background over the last months to be able to offer our customers a more robust protocol for your precious artefact. We can never guarantee that we will find DNA - there may be no DNA in your artefact to be found! But to date, it has been a challenge (even if we do find DNA) to know how well that DNA is going to process “downstream” to generate a DNA file that can be uploaded to GEDmatch.

New three-phase approach:

1. Extraction - is DNA found? If no DNA is found, this is the end of the process.

2. Quality check - is the DNA useable? (it may be bacterial DNA - we need to know if there is human DNA, and if there is enough human DNA to process further). If the DNA is not useable, this is the end of the process.

3. Process the DNA to generate a DNA file.

At each point the customer will be advised of the outcome and asked if they wish to continue, if the sample justifies it. The customer will pay for each stage, rather than the full cost upfront.

Prioritising customers:

Our intention is to offer this service firstly to our customers who currently have DNA in our lab at close to cost-price.

We will then offer the service to all customers who have made an enquiry with us to date but have not been able to place an order due to orders being on hold.

We will then offer our service to new customers.


We are working on our new pricing and it will be published over the next month.

More info:

Please email us at [email protected] with any questions, or post here!

Your DNA Guide 25/05/2021

What’s going on behind the scenes at totheletter DNA?

We receive enquiries about our services every day from interested clients. We advise them that we are working on improving our process to get better results before we take their orders again.

There have been advancements and we anticipate accepting orders again before the end of the year.

We expect to offer three tiers of service, which will provide a path to genealogical data from artefacts, depending on the quality and quantity of DNA found in an artefact. Clients will always have the options specific to their case presented to them after extraction. They can then decide whether they wish to proceed down the recommended path(s), or not.

Clients are always welcome to email us for an update or with questions about their specific case. Sometimes we advise them about alternate paths that may be useful to them, including using tools such as Kevin Borland’s tools at Borland Genetics ( Borland Genetics Users Group or services from companies such as Diahan Southard's Your DNA Guide ( Your DNA Guide. Both are definitely worth checking out!

We appreciate the ongoing support of our customers and hope you and your loved ones are staying safe and well.

Your DNA Guide Your DNA guide provides educational resources for anyone who has had a DNA test for ethnicity or genealogy purposes. We explain your DNA results in plain English.

Who we are

We are a team of professional historians, researchers and scientists with a passion for genealogy, using DNA to grow family trees even further.

Advancements in DNA testing means that we can extract DNA from artefacts including envelopes, postcards with stamp/s, aerogrammes, hair brushes and other artefacts from your loved ones who have passed away, to enable genealogical DNA testing (genotyping).

We also provide genetic genealogy services to coroners and other organisations, both in Australia and world-wide.

Items are tested in a National Association of Testing Authorities, Australia (NATA)-accredited laboratory in the field of Biological Testing. NATA is Australia’s national body for the accreditation of laboratories throughout Australia. The laboratory operates in compliance with the international standard ISO/IEC 17025:2005.


Opening Hours

Monday 08:00 - 18:00
Tuesday 08:00 - 18:00
Wednesday 08:00 - 18:00
Thursday 08:00 - 18:00
Friday 08:00 - 18:00