This is the second in a series of blog posts on the journey an adoptee takes to find their birth parents. You can read the first blog post here.
(All names will be changed to protect privacy)
The DNA Results Are In!
Well, actually Renee’s DNA results came in back in late July, but I’m a bit behind on this post. But let’s pretend they just came in. DNA results are always a very very exciting moment for me and the tester, who has been waiting what feels like too long. It’s like coming downstairs on Christmas morning and seeing all those shiny presents placed under the tree.
First Things First
As much as I want to dig into the DNA and get started with a search, I hold myself back in order to make sure I do the most important things first. The very first thing I do is look at how high the DNA matches are. This will tell me what we’re in for—easy or hard. In Renee’s case, she has two in the 200cM range (possible 2nd cousins), as well as some 100 cM and 90 cM matches. This isn’t bad, but one always wishes for at least one or more 300 cM+ match to make things even easier.
Second, I take a quick look at ethnicity. Ethnicity is not a slam dunk indicator of anything, but it can be helpful in some cases. For instance, I worked with a client whose mother was NW European and her was father 100% Italian. I was able to separate her DNA matches by ethnicity into maternal vs paternal buckets. Another client’s father was Black and mother was NW European. Again, It’s easy to separate maternal vs paternal in a case like this, especially when both parents are unknown. But a word of caution here. Ethnicity isn’t always this exact. It’s very easy to have a Black cousin who is related to you through your European mother. It’s easy to have someone who is mostly Italian related to you on your NW European side. So you have to be very careful and follow your DNA groups as your guide. (See the Leeds Method below).
I already knew Renee was of African-American descent, so I didn’t expect to see anything distinctive that would allow me to sort by ethnicity. It is common for African-Americans to have a mix of African, European, Native American, or other ethnicities. In Renee’s case, she has a high amount of various African country ethnicities, so this would be the same as someone of all NW European descent trying to use their ethnicity to discover family information. It’s a rather impossible task because there’s nothing distinctive to work with.
Sort Those Matches!
Before DNA matches can be of any great use to me, I need to sort them into family groups. I used to use my own sorting method, but in the last year I adopted the Leeds Method which is more precise and leads to a better chance of having 4 grand parent groups. You can read more about the Leeds Method on my colleague, Dana Leeds’ blog here.
Using the Leeds Method, I clustered Renee’s DNA matches into groups using the Ancestry colored dots system as markers. Happily, I did get 4 distinct DNA groups, but also picked up a couple of smaller groups. This happens often, especially in cases when one of your ancestors remarried or in cases when one of their children, also your ancestor, was born out of wedlock.
Build That Tree!
Now I’m ready to get started. I begin with the first DNA group and look for a shared ancestral couple. I quickly did that for the first group and discovered Renee is descended from a rather well known couple, Green and Harriet Conley. How cool is that! The Conley Family has an incredible history and even has their own website.
Now that I have one ancestral couple, I repeat this method for the other DNA groups. The great hope is I will find one child of one group’s couple who married a child of another group’s couple. This is where Renee fits into the tree.
This is a very simplified explanation of the work because sometimes it’s this easy, but more often than not, it’s not. Often, it’s hard to find the ancestral couple for a group. The DNA matches might not have trees or may have inaccurate trees. They may not have their trees built out far enough. In that last case, I have to build their trees out further looking for that common couple. Sometimes I have to build their tree starting with only one or two names. That can take a while.
I’m pleased to say I found the ancestral couple for all 4 main DNA groups. It took me a good deal of time, but I got there.
What I do next is a story for the next blog post.
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