In the last few months, I have helped solve five out of six unknown parentage cases in just a few weeks from mainly third and fourth cousin matches. How? By using the GWorks automation from DNAgedcom combined with AncestryDNA results. These searches used to take many months, even years, with much tedious spreadsheeting and segment analysis. What has changed?
Well, Ancestry.com now has a database of over 10 million tests [number updated on 5 aug 2018] plus software to connect trees and DNA. This can make the search easy for Americans without having to use the segment data.
My attempt to explain the technique I use of combining GWorks with mirror trees met with glazed eyes in my Adoption workshop last June. I thought my previous write-up was pretty clear but I have not heard back from anyone saying that it had worked for them. So I am trying again with this post today.
In an unknown parentage search, the object is to find a common ancestral couple among your DNA matches and build a tree of their descendants until you find someone in the right place at the right time. It seems pretty obvious to me that an automated way to compare trees is best; followed by surname frequencies to check for the spouses, in order to figure out which lines to follow. So why does everyone tune out when I try to explain how to do that with GWorks? Too many steps? Too geeky?
By using GWorks to find a likely ancestral couple, I have been able to build down to the grandparents or great grandparents of the adoptee fairly quickly. Then I build the trees back in time for each child’s spouse to find the most likely line. At this point I start using “mirror” or research trees.
Here is the step-by-step approach:
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!
The i4GG genetic genealogy conference is coming to San Diego next weekend and it features a track for adoptees as well as one for genealogists. For those of you who want to hear me speak, I will be doing a talk about the tools at GEDmatch on Saturday morning.
DNA testing has broken many brick walls for family historians and has been a miracle for the adopted, helping them find their biological families where traditional methods have failed.
Cece Moore, the i4gg conference organizer, has pioneered this field and has developed a methodology that succeeds over and over again. She described this in her cameo appearance on a recent Dr. Oz episode that featured an adoptee who found her birth family with Cece’s help. Click the image to the left to go to the online clip of the episode.
A simple explanation of the methodology is as follows. An adoptee tests their autosomal DNA at all three major companies (see my DNA testing page) and then uploads those results to all the free third party sites as well. Sometimes they get lucky and find a close family member who has tested and who is willing to help. More often they must look at the family trees of their 2nd and 3rd cousin matches to see what ancestors are in common. Once a shared ancestral couple is found, they build a family tree forward in time, looking to see if one of the couple’s descendants was in the right place at the right time to be the adoptee’s parent.
To learn more about this methodology come to the conference, or buy the videos of it, or go to DNAadoption.com or join DNA detectives at Facebook and read through the files there. Or do all of those things.
I can only imagine the pain of not knowing your family’s medical history or origins or why your mother gave you up for adoption.
DNA testing has reunited many adoptees with their birth families. Some get lucky and find their biological parents within days of their test results. Others work on it for years before succeeding. There are some wonderful reunion stories at DNAadoption.com – Trish’s story moved me to tears, as did many of the others. That web site has a tried and true methodology and classes for using DNA in these searches.
Richard Hill, an adoptee who found his biological roots, has just published an excellent two page summary of how to use DNA testing for adoptees. A great starting point, it is available at http://www.dna-testing-adviser.com/support-files/seven-guidelines-for-adoptees.pdf
Also if you have not read his autobiographical story of his search, I highly recommend it; click on image at the left to get that book from Amazon. It reads like a good mystery novel.
Times have changed now and for many it is no longer an embarrassment to have a child out of wedlock. These days an adoption can be open, which solves the medical and ancestry issues for the adoptee (see http://www.adoptionhelp.org/qa/what-open-adoption ). But back in the 1950s and 1960s, being unmarried and pregnant was a huge social stigma, so many of those women still want to hide that fact today.