If you’re wondering how to use DNA to help an adoptee find biological relatives, you’ll want to follow this case study series written by Hazel, our FamilyLocket intern. Nicole and I met Hazel at the RootsTech 2019 media dinner. We were impressed with her background in research and jumped at the chance to offer her an internship – the last step in receiving her degree in Family History-Genealogy through Brigham Young University. During her studies, Hazel did a research project using DNA to find her grandmother’s biological father. This summer she’ll be sharing how she did it in this case study series. If you’ve been wanting to do a similar project, following a case study can help show you what to do. Enjoy part 1 in this series by Hazel!
Do you have a family member or close friend who was adopted and wants help finding their biological family? As a genealogist, you can use your research and analytical skills to help them in this journey. This post is the first in my series on how I used DNA testing to find my grandma’s biological father. I will walk you step-by-step through the research process and make suggestions for how you can do this research on your own.
As with any genealogy project, the first step is to create a research objective. It is very important to make an objective and stick to it with DNA projects because you may find another exciting question while you’re researching the first case. Having a research objective will remind you stay on track and tackle one project at a time.
After you create your research objective and decide which type of DNA test to use (YDNA, mtDNA, or atDNA), you will need to decide who the best person is to test. Most people enjoy taking a DNA test for themselves, but depending on your research question, you might consider asking a family member to test instead.
Testing the adoptee is the best-case scenario, but is not possible for many cases. A general rule of thumb is to test the living person who is most closely related to the individual in your research question. Since DNA is lost at every generation, there is generally more shared DNA between individuals with a closer familial relationship. You will have more success if you test the closest relative to the focus individual.
If you are using an atDNA test and there is not a close family member to test or if the focus individual is many generations back, you might consider testing multiple people. Since DNA is passed on randomly, descendants will each have different sections and amounts of DNA in common with the focus individual. Testing many descendants, even if they are all the same relation to the focus individual, can be a good strategy.
The research objective that I created for finding my grandma’s biological father was “The objective of this research project is use autosomal DNA testing and traditional research to identify the biological father of Jeanie Lorainne Fekke, born Stephanie Lorainne Lang on 6 January 1943 in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah. Jeanie’s biological mother was Lois Lee, and her adopted mother was Edna Maleski, both of San Diego County, California.”
At this point, it was necessary to identify all potential test-takers. Since Jeanie is my maternal grandmother, this was fairly simple for me to do.
The closest living genetic relatives to Jeanie are her daughters, Kathy and Sherry. Kathy agreed to take a DNA test in hopes of finding her mother’s biological father. My sister and I also took DNA tests, but since Kathy is more closely related to Jeanie, her test results are more useful than ours. Sherry, Connor, and Sean were not asked to take DNA tests at this time due to cost constraints, but they would all be good test candidates as-well.
When possible, testing a child or sibling is the preferred route for autosomal DNA tests. Uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren are also good candidates. Remember, Y-DNA tests can only be taken by males, and the results are only for their direct-male line. mtDNA tests can be taken by men or women, but the results are only for the direct-female line. You may have to think creatively when finding candidates for Y-DNA or mtDNA tests!
Do you have an adoption case, brick wall, or just want to confirm the research that you have already done? Any of those cases would be great projects in which to learn how to use DNA testing.
In the next posts in my series, I will explain how Kathy’s shared matches on Ancestry DNA and third-party tools were used to find six possibilities for Jeanie’s father.
To read the other posts in the series, click below:
Part 2: Shared centiMorgans and DNA Research Logs
Part 3: Identifying a Familial Cluster
Part 4: Combining Traditional Research with DNA Analysis
Part 5: Using Multiple Databases
Nice job, Hazel. Your writing is clear and your use of Research Like a Pro will resonate with your readers. Good luck in your career. Judith
Thank you, Judith.