Tag Archive | success stories

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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Another Triangulation Success, Another Etne Cousin

So what is the opposite of the saying when it rains it pours? How about the sun is not only shining but there are rainbows!

When you keep extensive spreadsheets that include the common ancestor for segments of DNA that triangulate, you sometimes have quick success with a new DNA relative.

I recently shared my Norwegian 3rd cousin’s kit with Shelley on 23andme. She has a large X match with him that I am still working on. His maternal side from Rogaland is not related to me that I know of.

Naturally I always compare a new DNA relative to everyone else possible. I was surprised to discover that she shares a small bit of DNA with my Dad and my brother that triangulates with a known fourth cousin and her sister. Synchronicity … these are the same cousins mentioned in my previous post about my X segment from Ve and Fatland.

Etne Fjord, VE farm at distant left

Etne Fjord, Ve farm at very distant left hand side

So I emailed Shelley and told her that she shares a small (6cM) segment that we know comes to us from our ancestor Aamund Bjørnson Tvedten (Ve) 1772-1842 so perhaps we share one of his ancestors. She replied back, all excited, wow my great-grandmother is Anna Wee (Ve).

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DNA testing finds some more Skjold cousins

Hans Martin Gunderson

Hans Martin Gunderson

The randomness of DNA inheritance always amazes me. My Norwegian-American father seems to have inherited more DNA from his Skjold grandad, “Dada,” than his Wold grandma, “Mormor.” Dad shares more than the expected amount of DNA with 3rd and 4th and double 4th cousins on his Skjold line. Of course this could also be explained by the slight endogamy in the area they come from, Etne, Hordaland. By comparison, Dad shares no DNA with a Wold 3rd cousin once removed and only a small amount with her mother. He shares more with a few other Wold cousins but it tends to be less than the expected amount with the more distant cousins on that line.

Recently I found two new Skjold cousins via DNA testing, Maria and Irene.

On Ancestry.com, a 3rd cousin match appeared for my brother which turned out to be a real 3rd cousin, a Gundersen relative who is descended from Dada’s sister Margareta. Her son who immigrated to Brooklyn, Hans Martin Gundersen, is pictured on the left.

On 23andme.com, I found a new 3rd-4th cousin on Dad’s list, who was found to be from another branch of our Holland relatives. The Hollands descend from Dada’s Aunt Mette (see my post with her portrait). My father’s newly found 3rd cousin twice removed shares 1.10% of her DNA with him: 4 segments totaling 84cM. This is on the high side, more like a second cousin once removed (click here for the article at ISOGG about the expected amounts of shared DNA).

So read on for the details of how I figured out the actual relationships with my new cousins.

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A Success with my DNA Spreadsheet

The other day I got an email from Katy, a new close cousin match for my Dad at family tree DNA, a 2nd to 4th cousin. I went and looked at where she matched Dad and saw two quite large segments,  34.47 cM and 18.87 cM. So I added those segments to Dad’s master spreadsheet and saw that the smaller one overlapped an 11.9 cM match with a known 3rd cousin on my WOLD line. But he was tested only at 23andme so I could not compare them. However because I am tested at both, as well as Dad, I could use the comparison with me to determine if they matched each other (see my post on alternate triangulation) and yes we all matched. So I wrote Katy back that she looked to be related on my WOLD line and she replied oh yes, my grandmother was a Wold!

My Gg-grandparents Jorgen and Anna Wold from another cousin

My great-great-grandparents Jorgen and Anna Wold

Her grandmother was the granddaughter of my great-great-grandparents whose pictures are shown above. So they are her gg-grandparents too, making us 3rd cousins and my Dad her 2nd cousin once removed. I had received these photos from another 3rd cousin some time ago. My family no longer had those pictures. One delightful thing about finding new 3rd and 4th cousins is that they often have photographs and stories of ancestors that are new to you.

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