An Adoptee’s Search Part Three: How We Solve It
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An Adoptee’s Search Part Three: How We Solve It

This is the third in a series of blog posts on the journey an adoptee takes to find their birth parents. Read the first post here. Read the second post here.

(All names will be changed to protect privacy)

How We Solve It

From the previous blog post (linked above), you will know I have made good progress on Renee’s search. I have identified all the main ancestral couples from the DNA groups. These 4 sets of couples will hopefully represent great grandparents, but I won’t know until I narrow things down using a mirror tree I create. That’s the next step to solving a birth parent search.

Narrow It Down

To narrow down to Renee’s birth parents, I have to work with each of these four couples in the mirror tree I’m building. First, I find all their children, using records, and add them to the tree. Then I find the spouses of those children. If I’m lucky, I get an aha moment and see a familiar surname for one of the spouses—one that represents another DNA group.

Sometimes, however, I’m a generation off to start with and need to work my way down in the tree. It all depends on how high your DNA matches are. I want to stop for a minute to remind you to keep track of how high your DNA matches are, what the amount of cM means in relationship to you, and where you might fit into their tree. For all possible relationships for amount of cM, see the Shared CM Project’s autochart at DNA Painter. I use this chart almost daily because I love how it works and it gives me a visual to work with.

What exactly do I mean to keep track of your amount of shared DNA? If you share 250cM with a person, it’s likely a second cousin, so you likely share their great grandparents. This isn’t always true, but you’ll be in the right area of the tree. If a person shares 150 cM with you, however, you know you need to look a little further out on their tree for the common couple. This is more likely a 3rd cousin, but could be a 2nd cousin once removed. Keep an eye on where in their tree you should be looking. But because you don’t know exactly where yet, you might end up being a generation or two off and may need to build up or down one or two generations in your mirror tree.

This was the case in the first DNA group I worked with. I was one generation too far out and needed to build down another generation. This was because the top DNA match was 133cM, so I had to start with the 2nd great grandparents. But I later discovered this entire DNA group represented the next generation down and this match ended up actually being a half 1C1R. 

When It Doesn’t Just Pop

Unfortunately, I did the process and nothing shouted at me. So the next thing is to repeat the process for the other 3 DNA groups. I find the children and the spouses of the children and add them to the mirror tree. This often allows me to come in the back door so to speak. Often, I don’t find a marriage through the husband of a couple, but when working with the wife in her DNA group, the marriage record appears. I have no idea why, but I try to use every tool at my disposal.

If this doesn’t work, I go up or down another generation to see if I can find a surname belonging to one of spouses that also appears in another DNA group. I got lucky though and quickly found that DNA Group B and DNA Group C each had a child of the ancestral couple who married each other. If these groups represent the great grandparents, a child of that marriage is the birth parent. But that didn’t end up being the case here.

Age Matters

In addition to keeping the amount of shared DNA in mind, you also have to keep in mind how old your DNA matches are in relation to you. This matters because it can mean one or more generations of family separate you from an equal relationship. We call these unequal relationships removes—as in 2nd cousin once removed, 1st cousin once removed and so on.

If your DNA match is 68 years old, and you’re 24 years old, there are probably one or two generations between you which will cause a removed relationship. Because Renee is younger than many of her DNA matches, this has been the case with quite a few matches. That 133 cM match mentioned above? He turned out to be a 1C1R. He’s older than Renee. But not only that, he’s descended from a different mother of the shared couple, which makes him a half 1C1R. Talk about complicated!

Because of this, I’m still another generation off and I’m out of DNA groups (at least as far as the 4 main ones). This is where those smaller DNA groups I mentioned in blog post 2 come in. I need to find a child of the Group B/Group C couple who married someone who is represented by one of those smaller DNA groups. 

But We Had a Problem

We ended up with a major problem. Renee’s great grandfather (relationship now known for certain), had 12 children with two different wives! That’s a lot of kids and spouses to look at. Not to mention, these kids were born from 1940 on, which means finding the list of kids is extremely difficult (no census records after 1940) and their spouses even more difficult. I managed to get the list of kids, but the spouses not so much.

But We Had a Huge Breakthrough

Every once in a while a huge breakthrough comes in that turns everything on its axis. A potential half sister DNA match came in at 23andMe. Renee has her DNA at all the major players (My Heritage, Ancestry, FTDNA, Living DNA, and 23andMe) for this very reason—so we can pick up any big matches that might pop up. In this case it was huge and it was monumental. The match did end up being her half sister. She was a maternal sister and thankfully knew who their birth mother was. And because I had done all of that hard work mentioned up above to build out the mirror tree, when I heard the name, I knew exactly who she was and she was already in the tree. Bingo! The maternal side is now figured out, but even better, the tree is already built.

The Other Side

I have repeated the above process of narrowing things down to discover the birth father. Renee had talked to her top Ancestry match, who shared 221, to find out who her father was because he wasn’t in the tree. Sometimes matches will share and many times not. In this case she did share the information and I was able to further build out her tree. I quickly saw her father’s surname was the same as Renee’s higher matches at 23andMe, so they were likely related. Once I had this information, I was then able to find a child of DNA Group A who married a child of DNA Group D. It was through that 221 DNA match’s father Renee is related. Thank goodness for the new information or we would have been horribly stuck. 

And by the way, that 221cM match ended up being a 1/2 1C1R also. She is a half cousin to the birth father. How can 133 and 221 both be 1/2 1C1R relationships when the numbers are so different? It’s the luck of the DNA draw. They are both in an acceptable range for this relationship although the 221 is more common an amount of shared DNA.

But once again we’re at a tough point because there’s lots of kids of this newly found couple and they were born after 1940. When I get stuck here, the next thing I can do to get more information is reach out to a DNA match or close family member recently identified—perhaps one of the kids of a couple. So I’m off to speak to Renee about this and see if we can’t get her birth father figured out this week. Having the adoptee communicate with DNA matches is a huge piece to this whole process and Renee’s willingness to do so has been a game changer as you read above.

Until next time…

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