Few journeys in the world of genealogy are as poignant and challenging as an individual searching for his or her biological family. While all people who pursue genealogy experience some sense of self-discovery and emotion, researchers solving “unknown parentage” questions produce even more passion. With the world of genetic genealogy exploding in popularity over the last four years, these genealogical mysteries are being solved almost daily thanks to consumer tests like AncestryDNA.
Testament to this is the fact that, to date, there are more than 6 million people in the AncestryDNA community, making it the largest database of personal genetic data. Because of this, many families are reconnecting and individuals are finding closure thanks to the vast AncestryDNA network. With the high level of interest in genetic genealogy, many people who were previously hesitant to take the plunge are wondering what is involved in this type of research. If one of your research goals is to solve an unknown parentage mystery, here are some tips to help you get started on your journey.
- Once you receive your AncestryDNA results, catalog and assess your matches. This is one of the most important steps when you begin to do DNA research. You want to keep a personal record of DNA matches for posterity and also to help with analysis. Start by creating a spreadsheet or catalog for your DNA matches that includes the following information:
- User name.
- Amount of shared DNA (measured in centimorgans). This information can be obtained by clicking on the info icon on a match’s profile.
- The predicted relationship between you and your match.
- Note whether a tree is attached to your match’s DNA results. It is also worthwhile going to their Ancestry profile page to see if they have a private tree.
- Make note of surnames included in the tree.
- Shared matches, which can be found by clicking on the “Shared Matches” button. This will allow you to identify groups of matches, which will better organize your research.
- Create a match tree. One of the most important steps in working with DNA is to visualize connections between the matches. Groups of matches are often related through a common ancestral couple, so it’s a good idea to chart these out. This will help you in your research as you envision theories for the identity of a biological relative. There are a number of programs that can do this, but I suggest Lucidchart, because it’s simple, intuitive, and cleanly presents your match tree.
- Carefully weigh all the evidence (both DNA and non-DNA). Success in unknown parentage research does not rely solely on DNA analysis. Traditional genealogical research and documents can provide crucial evidence. Depending on the state, adoptees may be able to obtain an original birth certificate or non-identifying information about their parents from an adoption agency. Another example would be looking at a common ancestral couple. As you do so, you’ll want to obtain all the documents pertaining to that family and their children, because online trees can miss these crucial details.
- Be prepared for contact. This can be the most difficult part of the journey. It’s exciting when research solves the mystery, but then what does the person do when they decide to make contact with a biological parent or other members of their biological family? More important than the method of establishing contact is the mindset going into it. We are all human and need to recognize that our contact may elicit diverse reactions.
AncestryProGenealogists works with hundreds of clients every year to solve these types of cases. These projects go to ProGen’s unknown parentage team, a group of expert genetic genealogists and researchers. We are just as passionate about finding biological family as our clients are. Over the next few months, members of the AncestryProGenealogists unknown parentage team will share some of our client journeys (and some of our own) to showcase the profound impact AncestryDNA has had on many test-takers’ lives.