Next Friday I am doing a workshop at the SCGS Jamboree in Burbank on using the tools at DNAGedcom and GEDmatch to solve unknown parentage cases. Since I like to have slides that are screenshots for my attendees, I decided to grab a few images using the latest and greatest GWorks on a missing father search case whose maternal half brother’s results were just in.
The basic technique for finding an unknown parent is to search the trees of close DNA matches looking for an ancestral couple shared among many of them. Build the tree down from that couple until someone is in the right place at the right time. The more you know about the unknown person(s) the easier this is. See the top of this post of mine for a summary – http://blog.kittycooper.com/2017/01/a-jewish-adoptee-finds-his-birth-family/
It has been a while since I used DNAGedcom. Why? Because now that Ancestry.com DNA has over 4 million testers, many adoptees get lucky and as soon as their DNA results are posted, they have enough good matches to figure out who at least one birth parent is. Also the use of a mirror tree with a second cousin’s information can often identify the family branch they are looking for (see http://www.borninneworleans.com/how-to/what-is-a-mirror-tree/ for that technique).
However when there are only third and fourth cousin matches, the remarkable tools at DNAGedcom.com can help you solve your mystery, but it is not intuitive or easy. It works best for folk with deep American roots, since that is the most tested population at Ancestry.com.
GWorks is a tool at DNAGedcom designed to automate comparing the people in all the different trees of your DNA matches. With an inexpensive subscription, you can use their “client” to aggregate the results from each different testing site and the people in the trees at ancestry. You can also manually upload Gedcoms which are easy to generate from ahnentafel lists (for that technique see http://blog.kittycooper.com/2016/10/text-to-Gedcom-using-ahnen2ged/ ). Then you get GWorks to compare all those trees looking for common people.
Much to my amazement, as I took screenshots of the GWorks process using my case, I was suddenly able to solve it! And he had NO good paternal side matches! It was all from the trees of fourth cousins. And done in two days using GWorks. (OK, once I saw that I had it, I stayed up until 2:00 am building the tree, I admit it, still…)
So how did I do this?
Some books are hard to put down. The Foundling: The True Story of a Kidnapping, a Family Secret, and My Search for the Real Me was one of those books for me, maybe that is because I love working with DNA and genealogy and have helped a few adoptees myself. Perhaps it is because I know Cece Moore and the DNA detectives, so I heard about this from the sidelines. However I think it is really because it is such a deeply personal and compelling exploration of Paul’s journey.
Can you imagine filling out a form at the doctor’s office and having to leave the family medical history blank? Or feeling like the odd person out at family gatherings because you are so different from everyone else? These are common feelings for adoptees and Paul, with his co-author Alex Tresniowski, made them come alive for me.
The Paul Fronczak kidnapping was a famous case of a baby stolen from a hospital by a fake nurse. Two years later the FBI found an abandoned toddler in New Jersey that they thought was Paul and he was given to the Fronczaks to raise. This was long before DNA technology could be used. Fifty years later a DNA test proved that Paul was not the stolen baby.
The legendary journalist George Knapp from the Las Vegas I-team took on this story (next episode coming on April 28) and it soon went national. 20/20 made it famous. Ancestry.com and separately Cece Moore and her DNA detectives took on the DNA exploration.
The toughest adoption cases to solve in these days of DNA testing are the foundlings. With no names and just a location, only DNA can give an answer and even that is dependent on the luck of close relatives having tested.
Don’t click the Continue Reading unless you are ready for spoilers, just get the book!
This is the story of how I helped a Jewish adoptee find his birth family using DNA testing.
DNAadoption.com helps adoptees with DNA, including classes
First, here is a simplified explanation of the technique that an adoptee uses to find his birth parents using DNA:
- Do an autosomal test at each of the main companies. Once the results are in …
- Look through the family trees of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th cousin DNA matches for a common ancestral couple or two.
- Build private, unsearchable family trees down from each common couple to find someone in the right place at the right time.
- Get other people on those lines to test when their results will narrow it down some more.
- Males can also do a Y DNA test which might give them a surname if there are any close matches.
Obviously the more you know about the birth parents the easier this is. For more details on this technique see http://dnaadoption.com/index.php?page=methodology-for-autosomal-results or sign up for a class there.
Sadly these DNA search methods do not work well for adoptees from endogamous populations, such as Ashkenazi Jews (AJ) because everyone in that group shares as much DNA with each other as a 4th or 5th cousin. Even worse, most Jewish family trees stop at the grandparents or great grandparents because they do not continue across the ocean. Another problem is that even second cousins can have different Americanizations of their original surnames and let’s not forget that surnames are very recent in this population, about 1815 for most.
That is why there are so very few jewish adoptee successes, so I am celebrating this one with a blog post.
The DNA Search Story
I got an inquiry from, let’s call him Roger Stein, an adoptee curious about his birth parents who matched a cousin of mine at GEDmatch. GEDmatch is a site where you can compare tests done at different companies. His story follows, with all the names changed for privacy. If you do not want the DNA details just skip to the section titled “Contact.”