Tag Archive | success stories

DNA makes a Merry Christmas

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.

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Using Ancestry DNA hints to prove and disprove ancestors

With over 4 million DNA tests, the Ancestry database has reached a tipping point where any tester with American ancestry will get some good cousin matches. How do these help prove an ancestral line? Well when your DNA matches multiple people descended from the same ancestral line, you can have some confidence in that part of your tree. Conversely, if you have no matches on a line, there may be a problem.

On your DNA home page, the center panel summarizes your match count. It shows the number of predicted 4th cousins or closer as well as the number of starred and green leaf ancestors. You can add stars to matches for whatever reason you wish. Only you and anyone you share your DNA results with can see them. Ancestry will indicate each DNA match that also has a tree match with you by using a green leaf.

Ancestry DNA Home Page Center Panels (words in red are mine)

Notice the big difference in the number of cousins between those with 19th and 20th century immigrant ancestors like my family and those with deep American ancestry. Also foreigners like my Norwegian cousin will have very few, while Jewish testers will have incredibly high numbers due to endogamy.

DNA Matches Page

Click on the green View All DNA Matches button to get to your DNA matches page. Or click on the starred or green leaf matches to see just those matches. On your match list page, every DNA match who also has a matching ancestor to you in their tree is marked with a green leaf indicating a hint.

When there is a green leaf, clicking on the View Match button will take you to a page that will show you a picture of the expected relationship pathway (images of that on page 2 of this article).

Many times matches with no tree will actually have a tree that is just not connected to their DNA. You can see that on the view match page. There you can select it in the dropdown menu, as shown below, to get the usual sideways display with a surname list. Sometimes you can even figure out where they fit in from it.

I like to make Ancestry do the work of checking my assumptions by adding the tentative line to the tree connected to the DNA test. I put a “??” as the suffix when I am trying out a set of ancestors so that anyone copying my tree is warned that it is a test. Strange characters in the suffix box do not seem to affect the matching. Another perhaps better solution is to make your tree private while you experiment. Or to use a second small private tree that you connect your results to when trying out a possible ancestral line. You can change what tree and who your DNA is connected to on the DNA settings page. Get there from the button with a gear on the top right of your DNA home page.

Here are some examples of my experiments.
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My Adoption workshop and a success with GWorks

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?

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A Jewish Adoptee Finds His Birth Family

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:

  1. Do an autosomal test at each of the main companies. Once the results are in …
  2. Look through the family trees of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th cousin DNA matches for a common ancestral couple or two.
  3. Build private, unsearchable family trees down from each common couple to find someone in the right place at the right time.
  4. Get other people on those lines to test when their results will narrow it down some more.
  5. 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.”
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An elusive 2nd cousin match at Ancestry DNA

When you are a genealogist with an extensive family tree and you get a 2nd cousin match at Ancestry DNA, you expect to be able to find the relationship fairly easily. Never mind that this is my 2nd cousin’s once removed MM’s kit and that the new match has no tree, surely such a close match will want be in touch and know more?

2ndcuzmatch

The second cousin match (red arrow is mine showing where to click)

So I clicked on the View Match button. Sometimes there is is tree or two listed on the full match page that is just not connected to the DNA kit. No luck. Next I clicked on Shared Matches tab to see the matches MM had in common with this new cousin named A. The more relatives you have identified at AncestryDNA, the more useful this feature is.

viewmatch

Red arrow added by me to show where Shared Matches is

MM has my brother and a number of known Goodsell relatives in her match list at ancestry. MM’s paternal grandfather, Charley Wold, is the brother of my Wold great-grandmother Maren. He married MM’s grandmother Martha Goodsell, among a number of other wives. We have lots of Wold relatives who have tested their DNA, but all at other companies.

The shared matches showed that the new 2nd cousin A was in common with several Goodsell relatives but not a match to my brother’s kit. Now I lost interest since A was most probably not my relative. A second cousin on the Goodsell side would be descended from the parents of Martha, so I put this match aside for another day. However it is best to contact treeless folk as soon as possible after their data comes in, while they are still logging in and looking at their results.

There are a few reasons people don’t have trees. The main two are that they are adopted or that they did the test just to see their ancestry composition. So I always craft a careful message that lets an adoptee know that I am willing to help, but hopefully does not scare off those less interested in genealogy.

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