Tag Archive | Adoption Success Stories

Can ethnicity help with unknown parentage?

Recently ethnicity was a major factor in figuring out the family of the mystery father of an Australian women of mixed heritage: Chinese, Italian, and English/Irish. We still need some help, so any Australian readers please read to the end.

Elana’s ethnicty on Ancestry after the update, before she had lots more Italian

This case is unusual because for those of us with primarily European ancestry, the ethnicity predictions from the various DNA test companies are not accurate enough to be a significant aid with figuring out unknown parentage situations. For one thing, our ancestors moved around more than you might expect, and for another, the science is just not exact enough yet.

Too often I get a panicked email or comment from someone who is worried that Daddy is not their dad, or perhaps grandad is not, because their ethnicity predictions show no German or French or Bulgarian which he was and where is that Norwegian from? To which I respond, check your matches, if you have matches to cousins from his family, all is well, it’s just the inaccuracy of ethnicity predictions. North Europeans and South Europeans are fairly distinct from each other, but countries as we know them today did not exist in the far past.

Comparing ethnicities for Elana (left) and her mother (right) at Ancestry

In Elana’s case, having East Asian and Southern European in addition to the usual Australian British mix, actually gave us some different and potentially useful data to work with. Her mother seemed entirely English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish, a frequent blend for an Australian. She remembers that Elana’s father said he was part Maori and that his name was Bob. There is no Maori in her results shown above (it usually looks Polynesian), so likely he was just trying to make himself seem exotic and interesting.

Elana’s best matches at ancestry were almost all maternal (yes this is a squashed image)

Since Elana’s mother tested also, we could see that Elana had no close matches that were not listed as “Mother’s side” on Ancestry which made the search very difficult. Her paternal matches consisted of only one 3rd cousin, an American of Italian ancestry, and lots of 4th cousins, quite a few with trees, and most of the closer ones were of Italian descent, in spite of only 7% Italian listed in her Ancestry ethnicity.

One possibility for so few paternal matches was related parents. We checked that by uploading to GEDmatch.com (click here for my post on related parents) and that was not the case. The other more likely explanation was very few of her father’s relatives had tested. For example, Elana had only one very distant Asian match in spite of her father clearly having half that heritage.

Since we could see both Elana’s ethnicity and her mother’s it was easy to tell that Elana’s unknown father was half Chinese/Korean with an Italian (great) grandparent. These were her initial percentages before the recent update at Ancestry:

65% England/Scotland/Wales (so her father will have about 15%)
16% Korea and Northern China
12% China
7% Italy

I asked Elana to also test at 23andme and to upload her Ancestry results to MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA as well. Still no luck finding close paternal matches.

 

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Another Unusual DNA Adoptee Case

Janice was searching for her biological father. Her Ancestry DNA test had found what looked to be an aunt or half aunt, “ Sally,” and also a half uncle, “Trevor,” who did not match each other, both about 20 years older than Janice. So likely each of them was related to one parent of the unknown father. This could be easy! But wait…

Display from Ancestry Beta match view: Note that the common ancestor with Sally came after adding her tree

Notice the difference in matching DNA and that they are both listed as 1st-2nd cousins. Yet both are in the range for half aunt/uncle (500-1446 cM). Although other relationships, like first cousin were possible, they did not fit the known facts or the matching to common relatives. Trevor’s second cousins shared with Janice were all showing as third or fourth cousins to her, suggesting one generation of difference. The same was true for Sally’s closer cousins: her firsts were coming up as Janice’s seconds.

Trevor, born 1945, had just discovered via his Ancestry test that the father who had raised him was not his biological dad. His dad was actually his stepfather; he had adopted him when marrying Trevor’s mother. Sadly she was no longer available to tell Trevor who his birth father really was and the father of record did not fit the DNA evidence.

Sally knew that her mother had given birth to a boy in 1944 that had been adopted out. This child was not the son of the man she later married; his father was unknown. Sally had tested her DNA hoping to find her half brother and was excited to have found his daughter!

How Sally and Trevor are related to Janice

The problem here is that since Janice’s father is that adopted half brother, there may be no way to track him down. The best I could do for Janice was to find Trevor’s dad and Janice’s paternal grandfather via DNA. Since he had deep American roots it took less than four hours! That is of my time, but actually a day and a half of elapsed time.

Here is how it was done.
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Automatic Clustering from Genetic Affairs

My genealogy groups are buzzing with excitement about a new tool from Genetic Affairs to automate the clustering of your DNA matches. This takes the Leeds method concept to another level.

Everyone is posting pretty cluster pictures like the one below that I made for my perfect cousin, the star of many of my blog posts. This is a table where each DNA match is listed on the top and side; then if they match each other, the box is colored in with the color for that cluster. The chart is sorted by cluster. The idea is that each colored cluster shows descendants from a probable great grandparent couple of yours.

The gray boxes show where people match others outside the cluster which can often happen when families intermarry more than once or when they are first cousins enough times removed to have been in the second or third cousin group by DNA but are related to more than one set of great grandparents.

Automated clustering is useful because it puts your DNA relatives who are related to each other into visual groups so that you can quickly see which line a new match is related on. The picture is pretty but the workhorses are the charts for each cluster shown below that image when you scroll down. Here is the privatized one for my “perfect” cousin showing our MUNSON cluster.

Each name can be clicked to go to that Ancestry match page plus much useful additional information is shown next to the username: how many cMs shared, how many matches shared in the whole group, cluster number, how many people in their tree, and the notes you made for that match.

The image and charts are from the HTML file which arrived via email from Genetic Affairs after I requested automated clustering for my cousin’s Ancestry profile, which is shared with me there. You have to save the html file to your computer and then click on it to view it. When it first comes up, it is a mish-mosh sorted by name, but then it resorts itself by cluster. Fun to watch. Click here for the step by step of how to use this tool from the Intrepid Sleuth. It can also cluster matches from other sites like 23andme.

I decided to try it on an unknown father case I had not gotten around to working on yet, to see if it succeeded in speeding up the process and it did, to under an hour! A new record.

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Not always a happy ending

Most of the unknown parentage cases I have worked on have had very happy endings and I have enjoyed reporting on them here and in my presentations. Sadly it is not always like that.

My observations from the many cases I have been involved with is that the fathers who never knew are frequently delighted; while the mothers who gave up the child often want to pretend it never happened.

There are at least two cases in my files where the overly young parents, gave up their child, later got married, and were happy to have that child back in their lives. However I have another case where although they later got married, they subsequently divorced and are not acknowledging their son.

A 1960s diary

There are also a few cases where the father claims to not even have known the mother of the child. That does not necessarily stop him from being delighted to have a new daughter or son.

Some fathers are not so welcoming. The first case I ever helped out on was a DNA cousin, early in the days of testing, so I did not know she could be more distant than the reported 4th cousin. Regardless, I was happy to help. She lives in the next town over and came to my house to meet me. I did not realize what an emotional moment it would be for her, meeting her first ever biological relative. Subsequently her birth state opened their records, so she found her late mother’s family. With the extra information from her mother’s diary and her Ancestry test, I was able to find her birth dad, my distant relative. However he said in an email response to her, “Sorry, but I have no recall of a [her mother’s name].” Since the story was one of being taken advantage of when drunk at a party, my cousin chose not to pursue this.

Another genetic cousin who turned up early in my DNA explorations was also more distant than I realized, a double sixth cousin. Eventually I suggested he test at Ancestry where he found a paternal half sister born days apart from him. I found their Dad, my distant cousin, and called him, but he wanted no part of DNA testing. His reason was that he was protecting his known daughter who was going through a tough time and besides he was always “good,” never stepped out. Luckily a few months later that very same daughter did an Ancestry DNA test and is thrilled to have a half sister (she had no sisters) and another brother.

The case that broke my heart was a recent one involving two war babies.

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An Endogamous Success Story

It is difficult to solve adoption cases in endogamous communities because everyone will share the same 4th and 5th grandparents, often multiple times, so the methodology for finding a birth parent from 3rd and 4th cousin matches just does not work. You have to wait for a few second cousin or closer matches.

Tessa was looking for her unknown biological father. Her mother had given her a name, Rudy Padilla, and said he was perhaps Mexican. I ran a GWorks for her which I showed in my lecture about unknown parentage at the SCGS Jamboree. This is the full story.

The Compare Trees at DNAgedcom from GWorks for Tessa

I had never seen ancestors who were in 30-40 trees before! How can that be? Perhaps endogamy? Then I looked at the names and recognized many of the surnames. These are the Spanish soldiers who were among the earliest European settlers of New Mexico.

New Mexico in 1824 from Wikipedia, click image for the article (see *map credits)

These soldiers who came to the Southwest in the 1600s and 1700s mostly had to take Pueblo women as brides or not get married. A few brought wives with them from Mexico of presumed Spanish descent. For many years these Spanish “first families” of New Mexico hid the native part of their roots. Now many are proud of this heritage. Click here for an article about that which mentions the New Mexican woman in those Ancestry ads who discovered her Native American roots with DNA. By the way, Tessa shows 17% Native American at Ancestry.

I told Tessa that success finding her dad could take a very long time since she would need to wait for close matches, but to please upload to MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA to look for more relatives. She had tested at both 23andMe and Ancestry DNA.
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