When DNA Detective (DD) Carol Rolnick showed a family network diagram at her presentation last Saturday a voice suddenly piped up from the back of the room. Amazed, she looked up and said, “Sean?” A foundling whose case she had recently solved had flown in from Texas to come and surprise her. They had never met in person before. He saw on FaceBook that she was speaking in Carlsbad, so he got on a plane. Wow.
Sean left, Teri (a DIG organizer) center, Carol (surprised) right, photo by Kimber Motsinger
What a treat for us at our North County DIG (DNA Interest Group) meeting! Not only did we get Carol’s presentation but we got to hear the story of this case from both her and Sean. She mentioned that she has a special place in her heart for foundlings. They took turns explaining how she used DNA to solve this mystery of a 4 year old boy abandoned so many years ago in a motel room with his 2 year old brother. They knew their first names and not much else.
Sean was absolutely compelling when he spoke. Not a dry eye in the house. Preparation for his book tour?
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.
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?
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.”