Adoption Reunion and DNA

>> Saturday, June 16, 2012

I have been postponing writing on this subject for some time until I decided just how to handle this. I have been recruited to work on DNA matching for adoptees. This is a pretty complicated issue. It is not just a matter of get a DNA test, find your birth parents.

For those without computer skills and the ability or willingness to grasp scientific concepts this is a major hurdle to overcome. Part of the problem is that there are only a few very overworked search angels doing this. There are two yahoogroups - AdoptionDNA and DNA-Newbie that can help answer questions and guide you but for the timid this can be overwhelming,

Several of us have been pressuring the DNA testing companies to supply more tools and interpretations of the data. Some are coming and I have no doubt that in the future there will be more tools. However, as of today they are not there.

The tests I have been working with are tests on autosomal DNA. For this I recommend testing with FamilyTree DNA. There are two major companies involved in the testing, is also entering the field. You do not want to just choose the cheapest available company for this. You want one that has a significantly large database of testers to match your test against. I choose Family Tree DNA, despite the fact that they have a smaller database than 23andme for the following reason which I feel is significant. Many of the testers in 23andme are there for medical predictor tests and are not interested in responding to adoptees looking for ancestry information. It can be very frustrating to see that you have matches to people and to not be able to get them to respond to give you the information you need to make any connection. You will definitely get more matches there, but I suggest testing with Family Tree DNA first.  A test costs about $300 They occasionally go on sale. A male adoptee can try a Y-DNA test and/or a Family Finder test which tests autosomal DNA. A female can have the Family Finder test. Y-DNA only passes from male to male, but autosomal is passed by both sexes,. This is on the cutting edge of DNA science and there are still lots of things to work out. If you have Ashkenazi heritage, then the results can be less clear. The autosomal testing which I work with , identifies "cousins" who are related. This is a bit of a misnomer as one would expect one cousin to be related to another. This is not always the case. "Cousins" are labeled with a degree of distance prediction which can range from 1st cousin on up. Anything past 4th cousin can be problematical as the reliabilty decreases with distance.

The idea is that one takes two cousins who are related to you and to each other and who share significantly long DNA segments on the same chromosome. After securing a family tree (which rules out other adoptees for the most part), then you look for common ancestors (intersections) on these trees. Theoretically you then trace down the possible descendants from there and find your line. This is very difficult (read impossible) if you have no information on your parentage at all. Also most of these ancestries are further back than the prediction so a fourth cousin, which is most probable, is probably a 5th or 6th cousin in actuality. This means that the common ancestor is in the 17th or 18th century. In these days, there were usually very big families so tracing down the branches is most difficult. Many family trees cannot be extended fully to this era..

Here is the good news. More will be coming and you can in fact collect family information that will be of use then and that helps you understand your ancestry now.

I am working on several cases, currently with two of them, I have a target (a family name or enough information on the person that I may be fortunate enough to identify them). I am going to discuss a different search where I do not have any of this information.

This search involves a woman from Texas who has no confirmed birth information. Her birth information is missing or falsified. We are not even 100% sure of the birth date. So far I have been able to identify the family line from one side of her family (we think it is the maternal side, there is no way to predict from the data). We are looking for those we think may be closer relatives for additional DNA testing to confirm this. On this side of the family we had two predicted second cousins which helped us zero in on the line. On the other side of the family,we have mostly 3rd and 4th cousins so we are only able to identify ancestors so far. Matches come  in all the time, so this will change. In the meantime, I have been able to construct a family tree of hundreds of ancestors. She now knows that her family mostly came to this country from England to Isle of Wight or Henrico County Virginia. They remained there for a generation or two and spread out into the rest of Virginia and North Carolina. Many of these ancestors followed Daniel Boone up into Kentucky. These were mostly the second or younger sons who did not inherit the plantations. Her relatives then came from Kentucky and Virginia to Texas to settle yet another frontier.

For this adoptee, this has been a big deal. She says it proves that she did not drop from the sky. It gives her a deeper identity.

This is the result of several hundred hours of research. It is not easy, but this sort of information is there. If these are your expectations, please test and go for it. The more people who test, the more possibility we have of matches. I recently found out that my brother had done the health testing at 23andme and predictably was not answering relationship queries. I am taking care of that and also making sure that our extensive New England genealogy is available for matching. Results from 23andme can be ported to ftDNA for a fee so I am doing that. This is definitely the wave of the future and you can get it on it if you are open to learning and have the right expectations.


The Role of DNA in Birth Family Searches

>> Thursday, February 23, 2012

Many adoptees who had exhausted other avenues for finding birth families, have been turning to DNA testing. The science is still new but can give important clues as to one's heritage. In additional to identifying people who are different degrees of "cousin" matches, it also can give the adoptee information on ethic heritage as well.

The two largest DNA companies for this purpose are FTDNA and 23andme. For this, it is beneficial to have a company that has a lot of tests recorded so that your DNA can be matched with as many others as possible. Recent tools have been developed that let you use the information from one of these services in the other. Since each service checks on on different markers, the results will be different and a comparison the two sets of results can be beneficial. 

After testing and getting results joining a forum, such as the yahoo group AdoptionDNA can be helpful as advice is freely shared among members of the group.

As more testing is done, your results are updated so over time you get more and more information. Either of these services can advise you as to what tests you should get.

You will expect to see results come back with indications of 2nd, 3rd, 4th cousins, etc. Also important is the length. Regarding FTDNA results, both the TOTAL amount of shared DNA and the LONGEST BLOCK are important, but it is the longest block that is more indicative of a more recent connection.  For example, a person could have lots of little pieces of shared DNA, depending on how DNA combines over many years-many generations, but not any large shared block, so the most recent common shared ancestor may not be as recent. A larger shared block of DNA means a more recent shared common ancestor.  Usually a longest shared block of over 10-12.cM is considered most significant for considering a closer common connection. 

There are a number of online tutorials to help you understand how this works and the folks on the forum will also help guide you through this. 

Exploring these relationships is a lot of work, but when you have no more information, it is another avenue to explore.


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