A genetic genealogy DNA test will compare your DNA to that of everyone else who has done the same test. You get a list of genetic relatives ranked by how much DNA you have in common.
Now that the databases are so huge, many adoptees are getting close matches to parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and first or second cousins. By contacting such close relatives, you may be able to identify your birth family quite quickly.
Even if you are not that lucky, there are proven methods to work from distant cousin matches to your immediate birth family.
Read on for a recommended plan of action. Following the prescribed order will minimize your costs…only ordering additional tests if they are needed.
Join GAGP at Family Tree DNA and Order the Right DNA Test(s)
Go to the Global Adoptee Genealogy Project at Family Tree DNA (FTDNA). Click the JOIN button superimposed over the tree on the top right side. Then click the link that says “Purchase a Test to Join This Project.”
Scroll down through the ordering options. If you are female, just order the inexpensive Family Finder test. If you are a male with an unknown birth father, we suggest you scroll further down and order the Combined test called Family Finder + Y-DNA37.
The additional test of a man’s Y chromosome can identify the surname of the biological father about one third of the time and may prove to be useful in other ways. Proceed to Checkout and pay for the test(s) with a credit or debit card. You will receive a test kit in the mail.
NOTE: Y-DNA testing is a bit more expensive than Family Finder. But by ordering through the GAGP Project, you will get the lowest price available.
Watch for and Read the Welcome Message from GAGP
You will soon receive an email from FTDNA with the subject: Welcome to the Global Adoptee Genealogy Project. Read the entire message carefully and begin to explore the many useful links provided in the message. Also see our DNA Resources page for a summary of these and other useful links.
For now, focus on the educational links. Links to supplemental analysis tools won’t mean anything until you have your own data to process.
Explore Your Results at Family Tree DNA
Once your test results are ready (usually 2-4 weeks after you send in your sample), you will receive an email from Family Tree DNA with a kit number and password. Use those identifiers to log into your private account.
NOTE: No reports are sent by postal mail. That’s because your results are not stagnant. Your list of matches will grow over time as more people are tested.
Explore the various buttons on your myFTDNA page. Family Finder Matches will take you to a list of men and women who are related to you through some branch of your biological family tree. Check the Relationship Range for your top matches. You could get lucky and discover a close relative. Or you might only have matches with distant cousins.
Men who ordered the Y-DNA test should also check Y-DNA Matches to look for other men who share a direct paternal line ancestor. If one surname shows up multiple times or has a genetic distance of zero, that MIGHT be the surname of your biological father…an important clue.
Also check myOrigins to see how your ethnic make-up breaks down into regions and ethnicities. Be sure to click Expand All. For most adoptees this report will be fascinating. In some cases knowing your ethnic make-up can also be a clue to your birth family.
There are many ways to analyze your results. Explore all the visible buttons, links and icons. To learn more about what things mean, point your cursor to Resources at the top and then click Learning Center. Explore by topic of interest.
Begin to Communicate with Search Angels and Other Testers
Now that you have some actual DNA matches, it’s time to seek help. The volunteer administrators for GAGP are too busy to reach out to new members. You have to reach out to them and others, introduce yourself, and ask questions. There are three ways to do this:
- The DNA Detectives Group on Facebook
- The DNA Adoption Mailing List on Yahoo
- The GAGP Activity Feed from within your FTDNA account
If needed, a GAGP administrator will be able to review your actual test results through their project interface. In any case the members of these private groups can provide inspiration, advice and moral support. Many of them are adoptees who have already completed their search and you can benefit from their experiences.
Find Additional Matches and Analysis Tools at GEDMatch.com
If you have not solved your adoption mystery through FTDNA matches alone, you will need to expand your reach.
On your myFTDNA page look below the Family Finder buttons and click the link to Download Raw Data. On the next page choose Build 36 Raw Data Concatenated. Save the compressed zip file to a known location on your computer…but do NOT open it. The expanded file will be huge and meaningless to you.
Go to GEDMatch.com and register for a free account. In the File Uploads section click the link marked FTDNA Concatenated DNA File and follow directions to upload the zip file you just saved. Once you are notified that your data has been processed, begin to explore the various GEDMatch analysis tools. Most tools are free; but a few advanced tools require a subscription.
GEDMatch accepts transfers from all the autosomal DNA tests. When you do the “One-to-Many” matches analysis, your DNA will be compared to many additional people who have uploaded their data from the other tests.
For GEDMatch-sepcific help join the GEDMatch Users Group on Facebook.
Order Additional DNA Tests, If Needed
Unfortunately, only a fraction of autosomal DNA testers upload their data to GEDMatch. The only way you can compare your DNA to 100% of the people who have done an autosomal DNA test is to get into every database.
ADDITIONAL NOTE: For 23andMe you will have a choice of an Ancestry-only version or a more expensive Health + Ancestry version.
You can try these two tests one at a time to be cautious with your spending. Or you can order both of them at the same time. For many adoptees it will be critically important to ultimately be in all three databases.
That’s because finding your birth family is MUCH easier with a close match than working from distant cousin matches. Therefore, you should exhaust every possibility of finding a close match.
If “fishing in all three ponds” still doesn’t uncover a relative who is a second cousin or closer, then you need to start working the methodology outlined on the DNAAdoption.com web site.
See our DNA Resources page for links to additional tools and educational materials that can guide you and help ensure your success.