Yesterday was a very very happy day. Thanks to DNA testing, an 82 year old man who thought he had no kids, now has two wonderful adult children plus grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Merry Christmas Billy (my pseudonym for him)! Here is the story.
An accomplished and successful Florida business woman, let’s call her Cheryl, discovered at her father’s funeral that he was not her biological dad. His relatives told her and were not particularly nice about it. Cheryl knew that her dad, let’s call him Larry, had married her mom when she was three months along, but Cheryl had not known that Larry had a paternity test done and knew that she was not his child. He loved her mom very much, so chose to love and cherish Cheryl as his daughter. They were always quite close.
Her mother was long gone and could not be asked. In disbelief, Cheryl took the Ancestry DNA test to confirm or deny this tale. She also got her half brother, her mother’s son from an earlier marriage, to test. That way she could separate out the matches on her mother’s side from those from her Dad’s line.
Her DNA results had no matches to anyone in Larry’s family, which disappointed her, even though it was not a surprise now. However she found what looked to be a half brother, let’s call him Joe, an adoptee born and raised in Australia. Her other paternal side matches, two second cousins, and several third cousins, all had roots in a small town along the Mississippi River. Surprisingly. the second cousins had no ancestors in common with any of the others. So Cheryl contacted me for help back in early October.
The DNAgedcom site was created to provide tools for adoptees using DNA to search for biological family but it is also very useful for those of us working on our family’s genealogy. Down with those brick walls!
Richard Weiss of DNAadoption.com did a very informative talk for our local genealogy group recently and as always, I learned a few things. Click here for that presentation which I uploaded to slides.com for him. In the next few weeks there will be a voice over version on DNAgedcom; I will add that link at the bottom of this article when it is ready.
There are two terrific free web sites created by volunteers that have tools to use with your test results that are often confused with each other: GEDmatch and DNAgedcom:
- GEDmatch is a place to upload your DNA results and GEDcoms and compare those to possible cousins and your family. Click here for my many posts on that wonderful site.
- DNAgedcom; is a place to upload your match comparison results, not the DNA results, and work many tools on them. You can even upload your match results from GEDmatch!
The key to successful use of DNAgedcom is to get a paid membership for at least a month and download their client program, DNA Gedcom Client (DGC), to collect data from the sites where you tested.
The feature that I have used the most as a genealogist is the collection of all the segments that every person I share with at 23andme.com shares with each other. Of course now that there is automated triangulation at 23andme, this is less important. Click for a good article at segmentology on that 23andme feature and also click here for this article of mine about the new 23andme experience which discusses it towards the end.
There are two main types of analyses you can do at DNAgedcom:
- Tree comparisons
- Segment data analysis
DGC can collect the tree data from Ancestry.com with ease. I use the fast version, 4th cousins only for most cases and then follow with Gworks for the analysis. If you are lucky, you may never need to look at segment data at all to solve your mystery.
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.”