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 5 million tests 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:
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?
So much to report, teach me to take a vacation! Ancestry.com has a new database: Social security applications and claims index, and DNAgedcom has a new tool to report your ancestry DNA total cMs, and I missed mentioning the Ancestry DNA sale at $79 instead of the usual $99 because it ends tonight. Hopefully there will be another one soon.
I tried looking for my uncle in the index and it found him quickly. It listed his birthplace and parents names, useful information.
To learn more about the U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index read this post from Randy Seaver: http://www.geneamusings.com/2015/07/new-ancestrycom-database-us-social.html – I recommend following his blog for news about databases added to familysearch and ancestry plus many good genealogy articles.
I hope to review the DNAgedcom ancestry client soon. It requires a subscription which seems fair as increased usage is bound to be costing them money and it is hard for these free sites to exist on donations alone. I like this trend whereby you can subscribe to a site like DNAgedcom or GEDmatch and get extra functionality but there is still plenty of good stuff available for free.
Disclaimer: I am an affiliate of Ancestry.com and profit slightly when you click my links, see my footer here for all my affiliations.
You do not have to be an adoptee to benefit from a class on DNAadoption.com – they have several one day classes which are introductions, explaining how to use your results, tailored to each specific vendor. They also have a longer basics course and many more advanced courses.
Diane, Tim Janzen, and Kitty at the 2013 Rootstech
The inimitable Diane Harman-Hoog wrote a blog post today announcing the two year anniversary of their classes. Along with Karin Corbeil and Rob Warthen, Diane has taken DNA adoption searches into the electronic age with online courses and much more information available on that site. The many success stories bring tears to my eyes. A few are here – http://www.dnaadoption.com/index.php?page=reunions and more can be found in the archives of the DNAadoption yahoo group.
I got to meet Diane at the 2013 Rootstech conference along with expert genetic genealogist Tim Janzen and many other wonderful people I had corresponded with via email. Needless to say I keep going back to that conference; of course, the location next to the great genealogy library in Salt Lake City has something to do with that also!
Rob Warthen has written some wonderful tools that benefit all of us genetic genealogists that are hosted over at DNAgedcom.com and are linked to from the DNA adoption site.