Tag Archive | adoptees

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.

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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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Solving unknown parentage cases with DNA

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 10 million tests [number updated on 5 aug 2018] 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:

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The Foundling, a Compelling Story

Some books are hard to put down. The Foundling: The True Story of a Kidnapping, a Family Secret, and My Search for the Real Me was one of those books for me, maybe that is because I love working with DNA and genealogy and have helped a few adoptees myself. Perhaps it is because I know Cece Moore and the DNA detectives, so I heard about this from the sidelines. However I think it is really because it is such a deeply personal and compelling exploration of Paul’s journey.

Can you imagine filling out a form at the doctor’s office and having to leave the family medical history blank? Or feeling like the odd person out at family gatherings because you are so different from everyone else? These are common feelings for adoptees and Paul, with his co-author Alex Tresniowski, made them come alive for me.

The Paul Fronczak kidnapping was a famous case of a baby stolen from a hospital by a fake nurse. Two years later the FBI found an abandoned toddler in New Jersey that they thought was Paul and he was given to the Fronczaks to raise. This was long before DNA technology could be used. Fifty years later a DNA test proved that Paul was not the stolen baby.

The legendary journalist George Knapp from the Las Vegas I-team took on this story (next episode coming on April 28) and it soon went national. 20/20 made it famous. Ancestry.com and separately Cece Moore and her DNA detectives took on the DNA exploration.

The toughest adoption cases to solve in these days of DNA testing are the foundlings. With no names and just a location, only DNA can give an answer and even that is dependent on the luck of close relatives having tested.

Don’t click the Continue Reading unless you are ready for spoilers, just get the book!
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A DNA conference and a Methodology for Adoptees

The i4GG genetic genealogy conference is coming to San Diego next weekend and it features a track for adoptees as well as one for genealogists. For those of you who want to hear me speak, I will be doing a talk about the tools at GEDmatch on Saturday morning.

DNA testing has broken many brick walls for family historians and has been a miracle for the adopted, helping them find their biological families where traditional methods have failed.

drozcece3Cece Moore, the i4gg conference organizer, has pioneered this field and has developed a methodology that succeeds over and over again. She described this in her cameo appearance on a recent Dr. Oz episode that featured an adoptee who found her birth family with Cece’s help. Click the image to the left to go to the online clip of the episode.

A simple explanation of the methodology is as follows. An adoptee tests their autosomal DNA at all three major companies (see my DNA testing page) and then uploads those results to all the free third party sites as well. Sometimes they get lucky and find a close family member who has tested and who is willing to help. More often they must look at the family trees of their 2nd and 3rd cousin matches to see what ancestors are in common. Once a shared ancestral couple is found, they build a family tree forward in time, looking to see if one of the couple’s descendants was in the right place at the right time to be the adoptee’s parent.

To learn more about this methodology come to the conference, or buy the videos of it, or go to DNAadoption.com or join DNA detectives at Facebook and read through the files there. Or do all of those things.
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