DNA2Tree: Build Trees from DNA Matches

Since I do not have an iPad, iPhone or any other Apple device, I could not evaluate this product. It sounds like a real game changer for adoptee searches! Like the DNAgedcom.com client, it finds common ancestors and can make cluster charts. However it goes a step further and shows you the common ancestors for each cluster and can build those ancestor’s trees for you! Here is a guest post from a beta tester. – Kitty

DNA2Tree: New Adoptee Search Software by Jason Schneir

There are approximately 120,000 adoptions each year. When these adoptees become adults a substantial percentage want to find out more about their biological parents. Unfortunately, state privacy laws often stand in the way of identifying and learning about their biological relatives.

DNA testing has proved a boon to adoptees wishing to find their biological family. In the best case an adoptee is tested and the adoptee’s biological family is also tested. For those lucky individuals, finding their biological relative is just a matter of looking at their match list and seeing a close match. No skill is needed.

For the majority of adoptees, close biological family is not DNA tested. Fortunately, there are DNA search techniques that can find biological parents from other tested relatives. Unfortunately, this methodology takes considerable skill and practice. For that reason, many adoptees find a geeky friend, search angel, or paid genetic genealogist to help them.

In December 2018, my wife Beth and I joined SearchAngels.org and watched every video we could find on using DNA search techniques to find an adoptee’s parents. We were excited to have the opportunity to help adoptees, but were very nervous about whether we could be successful. To our great joy, we solved over ten adoptee search angel cases in our first four months. Beth worked with me on most of my cases – especially the successful ones! A key element contributing to our success was a new IOS app, DNA2Tree, which runs on an Apple iPhone.

Screeen Shot from SearchAngels.org – the Adoptee Searches page on the Services menu

We chose our first case carefully in the hope it would be easy. There was a first cousin match and the mother was already found – we just needed to find the father. Almost immediately our simple case fell apart and the complexities began to mount.

The first step in a DNA search is to find a Most Recent Common Ancestor/Ancestral couple (MRCA) which is shared by a number of the adoptee’s matches. When there is a shared ancestor or ancestral couple a few generations back, then one of the adoptee’s parents (father or mother) is descended from them. Sometimes you can just eyeball the trees of some good matches (e.g. first cousin) and find the MRCA. This time I couldn’t and, on our very first case, we were stuck!

The SearchAngels.org organization made available to us a video showing how to exhaustively search for the MRCA using spreadsheets and excel functions. After five hours of concentrated effort Beth and I finally found an MRCA. By the end we were praying for one!

Unfortunately, the MRCA did not incorporate the first cousin match that had motivated us to choose this case in the first place. We put out a request for help from a more experienced search angel. In about thirty minutes this angel had noticed that the first cousin tree had the wrong father in it. Once we fixed this, we saw that the MRCA we had labored so hard on now incorporated the first cousin match and we were on our way to solving our first case!

This first experience made us realize that sometimes finding the MRCA can take multiple hours of exhausting unpleasant work with spreadsheets and excel. Thus when I got an email about being a Beta tester for DNA2Tree, Beth and I jumped at the opportunity.

Home Screen for DNA2Tree

DNA2Tree runs as an app on any recent model iPhone or iPad (iOS 11.4 or greater). At the push of a button DNA2Tree logs into your Ancestry account and downloads ten or more pages of matches. Then you push another button and you now have 5, 10, or even 20 MRCAs. Suddenly finding the MRCA was a complete non-issue and we could concentrate on finding the adoptee’s parents and not the boring, exhausting, and time-consuming process of finding MRCAs.

Example of MRCA listing, note the match names are shown on the right

One of the nice things about being a member of Search Angels is learning from more experienced Angels. One important lesson we learned was to use graphics in our trees to indicate what was going on. A special graphic for the MRCA, for the direct path (lineage) to the DNA, for individuals that have been tested (DNA matches), for people with no children, and so on, are a great aid in looking at a tree. This is particularly important after several months have passed to show you what you did. The graphics are also helpful to explain to the adoptee what was done to find their parent.

With DNA2Tree you just choose an MRCA from a list, press a button, and a tree complete with beautiful graphics suddenly appears in your Ancestry account.

Extract from a screenshot of an Ancestry Tree created by DNA2tree

Usually, we meet with the adoptee on the phone before beginning the project. It is not unusual for the adoptee to already have made herculean efforts to find their parents using instructions on the Internet but finally, in frustration, contact SearchAngels.org. Often the adoptees tell me that the brick wall for them was the MRCA – they couldn’t find one.

After we get off the phone with the adoptee I pull out my iPhone and in fifteen minutes I have multiple MRCAs and three to five trees that I can use to find the adoptee’s parents. It’s like magic. Finding that many MRCAs and creating the associated trees would take ten hours or more to do by hand.

We try to choose MRCAs with certain characteristics. Trees with a common ancestor in the mid-1800s go back far enough so you can build up a sufficient number of generations to reach the father’s or mother’s age but not so far back that you have a lot more generations of offspring than is necessary. Also, with a common ancestor in the mid-1800s you can make use of the last released census – 1940. The bottom line is that with DNA2Tree you not only get an MRCA easily, but you have the luxury of choosing from among multiple MRCAs the one that will be easiest to solve.

Screenshot of DNA2Tree Searching through your matches for the MRCA

In theory I should only need two trees – one for the adoptees father and one for the adoptees mother. However, I find that some trees either don’t work or are very hard to solve. Sometimes we can figure out why a particular MRCA tree is hard to solve and sometimes we can’t. The causes include errors in the family trees provided by cousins and lack of available information about offspring. In any case, we usually try three to five trees at the same time and give up on any that run into problems.

So with the advent of DNA2Tree are the 100 volunteer search angels, who solved over 250 cases last year, sitting in the sun drinking Pina Coladas while DNA2Tree does all the work? No.

Most of our time solving a case is now spent finding descendants, especially living descendants. Finding descendants encompasses finding obituaries and news articles, searching ancestry, interviewing cousins, studying adoption documents, finding living descendant’s phone numbers and addresses.

The difficulty of finding descendants can vary from time consuming to impossible. It’s tough. We don’t even have a blender or Pina Colada mix. Nevertheless, if you have basic genealogy skills, are a logical thinker, like solving puzzles, and enjoy helping people you too could be a Search Angel. In the last four months Beth and I have solved ten cases and the gratitude and happiness expressed by some of our adoptees has moved us literally to tears … well Beth cried, being a man I of course did not, but it was really moving.

Click here for the link to install it on an Apple device. Plus here is a how to video from the creator of DNA2tree:

Editor’s note, I may have to rush out and buy a used Ipad so I can use this tool! Thank you Jason for this post.

UPDATE 9 May 2019: For support and questions about this product go to the website DNAdreamers.com

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42 thoughts on “DNA2Tree: Build Trees from DNA Matches

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  1. Kitty, What an uplifting blog today. I can become a Search Angel, help an adoptee, and add to my rudimentary skills Win, Win,Win. Thank You. Carol

  2. Hello!
    This is a very interesting subject. I’m wondering if this can be used for Ancestry DNA project groups who share unknown common ancestors. My group is completely stumped. Its called the Britt

  3. Just tried it – very sceptical at first but thought it was worth a whirl.
    WOW!!

    Its amazing (and I’m not adopted but it’s still amazing) 😉

    There’s obvious limitations in the info Ancestry supplies but this very quickly makes the most of it.

  4. This app requires a subscription. It costs $19.99 for 1 month, and $199.99 for 12 months. It seems that one should be sure that it is going to be useful before committing to this expense.

    • This is David Neal and I am the developer of DNA2Tree.

      One correction. The price for 12 months is $119.99 not $199.00, which works out to be $10.00 per month. This annual subscription is a 50% discount from the monthly $19.99 subscription.

      This monthly price is right in line with other tools in this space:
      1) DNAGedcom’s Silver subscriptions is $5.00/month or $50.00 per year
      2) GedMatch Tier 1 subscription is $10.00/month
      3) Genetic Affairs costs per search and on their website they suggest that the monthly cost will be in the range of $1.00-$10.00 per month. But there is no cap and some reviewers have suggested it could cost more if you have lots of accounts you are frequently checking at each of the 3 supported DNA testing sites.

      I admire what the developers of each of these tools have built and they have inspired me to take the plunge into this space. I encourage everyone to subscribe to as many of these services as they can. There is unique value at each of them. And we all need to support independent software developers.

      email: davidneal@dnadreamers.com
      website: http://www.dnadreamers.com

      • David Neal, I am sorry that I had a typo when I put in the price for 12 months. My point mainly was that it would be nice to have some sort of trial to see whether it was worth the investment.

        • Hi Vernon,

          Thanks for that clarification.

          The dilemma I face in offering a trial version is that potential customers who are just working on their own tree could easily obtain all the value of the product during the trial period and then have zero incentive to go back and pay for it. And I really don’t like trial versions that turn into paid subscriptions unless you take action to cancel it.

          I am willing to offer my personal money back guarantee. If you subscribe for 1 month and after that period believe that you did not get $20 of value I will send you a full refund via PayPal.

          I only ask ask one thing of you. At the end of the month you come back here and share with others your experience – good or bad. If it was good that would be helpful for others to hear. If it wasn’t good it will be helpful for me to hear so I can work to make the product better.

          My email address is davidneal@dnadreamers.com

          David Neal

          • Hi David,
            Thanks for your response.
            I understand your concern about someone taking advantage of a trial offer to do the one project that they have.
            I suppose that could be the case for an adoptee who might not have any further needs once they had found their biological parents.
            My potential use would be more about using it for more general genealogy, such as trying to figure out my Smith brick wall. I am not sure how valuable it would be for that, especially because I seem to have very few matches. I only have 219 4th cousin or closer matches, and all but a handful seem to have very limited or non-existent trees. I suspect that the app would have a difficult time with that situation.
            The other concern that I have is that it is limited to Ancestry. It would be more useful if it could be extended to other testing companies, especially MyHeritage.
            I watched your video and it does seem that for some people it would be very useful, but I am not sure that it would be for me.

  5. Do you upload your DNA matches from ancestry to the app? If not how does the app get you DNA matches? ty

  6. This app looks amazing but the price seems quite high to me. I know it does a lot but when you start adding up all the fees for testing, tools, apps, blogs, memberships, etc., it’s getting awful expensive on my end to hunt biological families for people for free. I’m doing more “search angel” type of work than genealogy on my own tree. There comes a point, since I do not work, that I may have to make some choices and I really would hate to quit helping people.

  7. Ouch $30.99 a month when I start the app up, a pretty steep subscription price. Lets hope that changes. Good luck to those that can afford such a commitment.

    • What country App Store are you using? The subscription price for one month should be $19.99 (USD).

      The price for 12 months is $119.99 which works out to be $10.00 per month.

      • I found the same -$30.99 per month for Australia. Yearly would come down to $14.99/month but $179.99/year is a lot to commit to. I manage multiple kits but still a big outlay… will think about it.

        • This is all due to the current conversion rate of AUD to USD. Keep an eye on currency conversions until the 2 currencies become more equal.

    • Same issue in Canada. $28 Cdn per month. Ouch. $160 Cdn per year. Sometimes, I wish I lived in the U.S. The problem is I have no idea what this app can do, and I am hesitant to shell out the cash after doing a DNA test on almost every platform available, have an Ancestry account and still nothing after one year into my adoption search.

      All the best with the app. I hope it works out .

  8. I was so excited about this I popped right on and tried it! Just off hand I will say that the app is easy to get going on. The DNA matches loaded quickly and easily.
    The common ancestors section came up quickly and easily and was very accurate when compared to what I’ve slaved over for the last 18 months.
    The clusters fell right in where they should by family line.
    My only hang up is the family tree details page…I’m unsure how it’s supposed to work. You can build a tree or a graph for people on your Common Ancestors page. I tried to build a tree but it showed my mom being a sibling with a man born in the 1880s. Mom was born in 1938. The graph part wasn’t much better. I’m sure it’s just user error so I’ll need to practice.
    Over all, the little bit I did was easy and seemed to be very accurate.

  9. Im adopted. I was able to find my birthmother using DNA, search records and a name given to me from my adopted mom.

    This App held promise for finding my birthfather who will be more difficult to find since I have zero information. My birthmother doesn’t remember his name (it was the free love era of 1969) and the name she gave the hospital doesnt make sense with my DNA. My birthfather’s family is Italian based on my DNA / matches and there are dozens and dozens of Italian decedents to weed through.

    I went through and selected my paternal matches as ‘favorites’ so I could isolate these from my maternal matches in the App.

    Unfortunately, while I definitely see the same surnames popping up in my own research, those same surnames did NOT show up in the tree produced from this App. In fact, I only got two hits.

    Any clue why?

    I paid and downloaded the app. It was very quick to retrieve the data and display the results. Unfortunately,

    • Hi Cindy,

      Email me at davidneal@dnadreamers.com and I should be able to help.

      In general (and for others), if you are not getting very many hits you can increase the number of pages (try 10, 15, etc,) and decrease the minimum birth year from 1800 to 1750, 1700, etc. This should increase the number of common ancestors found.

  10. Thanks for the quick response. Great tip! I selected 8 pages and a 1500 date. That bumped me to about 18 hits. I still have questions so will also send you an email. Thanks again!

  11. I just bought the subscription and downloaded the app on my i-phone 7. It doesn’t seem to be following the video…and, my downloads are all on top of each other and not very readable. Tell me how to mark “favorites” on the new Ancestry DNA page. Is that a star? My sister is adopted and we have her birth mother and most of that tree and now we are working on the dad, so I’d like to be able to eliminate the mom side as much as possible.

  12. Looks like a slick new tool and exciting venture into the tech space to offer solutions. Will you be developing the app to run on windows pc in the near future? I would really like to try this as I am working on unraveling a line with 4 cousin and greater matches only, but I am hesitant to run out and purchase an ipad just to use this app when I rarely use the 2 other android tablets I own.

    • Hi Erin,

      I have just engaged a summer grad student to do a port of DNA2Tree to Android. Hopefully this effort will be successful and we will have a new supported platform in the fall. We will look at other platforms as go along.

      David

  13. I am in huge hope of this coming to Androids!! I have emailed them, thank you Kitty for posting this!

    I am adopted as many others are. My problem is not understanding DNAGEDCOM-Paid for 2 months and got nowhere, and DNAPAINTER (no $) just when I think I know what I’m doing and I don’t..lol

  14. I sprung for a one month subscription and now O have a pile of information which shows no common ancestors with my own assumptions. I am more confused than ever. The app seems good and relatively fast. You can mess around with multiple matches but in the end, my closest matches have no trees and there are multiple adoptions in my ancestors, so I am just lost. I will experiment with the app for a month and then continue on.

    • Like any other automation, it is only as good as the trees of your matches. One advantage of using DNAgedcom is that you can scrape trees from multiple sites and the unlinked ones and add those GEDcoms to your profile there …

  15. David:
    This looks fabulous. I am a person who has done about 10-12 “Angel” searches in the past 3 years – as favors. Often, I have found that it takes a week out of my life to do this the old way. Last year, I was able to do a maternal tree for someone but had to refer to the greater capacity of “Search Angels” to do the paternal line which they did. In that case, I was stumped by the issue of a semi-endogamous community. How does this app work in that situation?
    Laurie

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