And they can be sure that their supposed family members are related to them because instead of using old documents, people will locate their relatives through DNA tests.
The Generations Network, parent company of Provo-based Ancestry.com, has joined with Sorenson Genomics of Salt Lake City, a provider of DNA testing services, in a move that will unite families through science.
"This is a big step for us, combining our collection of online family trees with the expertise from Sorenson Genomics," said Tim Sullivan, chief executive of The Generations Network.
Ancestry.com will begin selling self-test kits online, allowing customers to swab the inside of their cheeks. The swab containing DNA will be forwarded to Sorenson Genomics, which will determine the customer's genetic profile.
That profile will then be uploaded to Ancestry.com's database, where it will be compared with approximately 5,000 genetic profiles already online. If the company discovers a genetic
relationship, it will notify the customer and arrange a meeting - if both sides agree.
Customers can choose among several privacy settings, including one where they remain anonymous, but still publicize their DNA results.
"We believe most people will choose to share their information," Sullivan, said. "Genealogical research often is a collaborative effort, and we have more than 20,000 people a day uploading information about their family trees."
People will be able to chose between two DNA kits, which will allow individuals to attain either paternal or maternal lineage results.
Sullivan estimates the testing kits will be priced somewhere between $100 and $200 each. Customers can pay for the kits through the Ancestry Web site, which will be revamped when the service becomes available sometime before August.
Individuals interested in buying a kit can do so without signing up at Ancestry.com.
"The kit is great for people who have hit a dead end in their geneology searches or have found that their paper records have ended," said Brett Folkman vice president of strategy and business development for Generations Network.
"By submitting their DNA into the database and collaborating with other members, they'll be able to find a lot of family members they didn't know about," Folkman said.
Sullivan said Ancestry.com hopes the new service will be popular enough that the company can expand its data base.
* STEVEN OBERBECK contributed to this report.