Adoptees and others with unknown parentage can use DNA testing to find and connect with their biological families or to learn more about where their ancestors came from.
DNA testing won’t always provide adoptees with a quick answer to finding their biological roots, but with some traditional genealogy research and DNA testing, many have found success! If you’re wondering how to find your birth parents through DNA, this article can help you get started.
First Step—Taking a DNA Test
If you wish to connect with your biological family or determine an unknown parent, consider taking an autosomal DNA test. An autosomal DNA test can be taken by males or females and may provide you with DNA matches within 5 to 6 generations on both your biological mother and father’s sides of the family.
What’s a DNA match? A DNA match, sometimes referred to as a “cousin match,” is the result of your DNA data being compared to other people’s DNA data to identify matching segments of chromosomes that indicate a family relationship. How closely you are related depends on how much DNA you and another person share.
Second Step—Consider Taking a Test from More Than One Company
The major DNA testing companies help compare your DNA to the DNA of other people who have tested with the same company. For this reason, many genetic genealogists suggest adoptees upload their DNA file to other DNA websites, when possible, or test with multiple DNA companies. If you test with more than one company, your DNA will be matched to a bigger pool of potential relatives.
Third Step—Review of DNA Matches
Once your DNA has gone through the testing process, most companies will provide you with a DNA match list. Reviewing your DNA matches is the next step. Although you may not find a parent match in your match list, you will possibly have a half-sibling match, a close cousin match, or a more distant cousin match. Though a close match of second-cousin or closer is ideal, an adoptee may still be successful in connecting with his or her biological family while learning more about more distant DNA matches.
Some of the DNA cousin matches may have additional information available for you to review online. Additional information may include family surnames, places of origin, or even a family pedigree with names, dates, and places.
Fourth Step—Reaching Out
The fourth step is to reach out to your DNA matches via the testing website’s message system. When using DNA testing to find your biological family, consider the following before reaching out to them.
- Your DNA match may not know how to help you determine your birth parents or immediate family.
- Your birth and subsequent adoption may have been kept a secret from other members of the birth parents’ families.
- Your birth family may not wish to make a connection.
With these and many other things to consider, what are adoptees to do when they are ready to take the next step and reach out to their biological family? For inspiration, here is Jillian’s story of finding and reaching out to her birth father’s family after taking a DNA test.
Jillian was adopted at birth, and her main purpose in DNA testing was to learn about her ancestors and where they came from and to be able to put together a family tree of some sort. But she thought that if she found her birth parents in the process “that would be great.”
Jillian tested her DNA but found the process of analyzing her DNA matches overwhelming. She enlisted the help of a professional genealogist. DNA match lists from multiple testing companies were the key to finding her family. In no time, the genealogist located a few first-cousin matches and one of several responded.
The first cousin did not have a family tree already, but using traditional genealogical research, they were able to build one. Then, with the limited adoption information Jillian knew, they determined that Jillian’s biological father was likely one of the uncles of her newfound cousin. Jillian’s first cousin tried to help other cousins test their DNA to determine who specifically was Jillian’s father, but not all of the cousins were willing to test.
Although Jillian still does not know which of the uncles is her own birth father, she has been able to exchange family pictures and stories with her first cousin. Just recently, her cousin sent some of their grandmother’s Ukranian recipes for Jillian to try. “I will never taste the pierogies my grandmother made,” Jillian said, “but I can connect with her when I make them myself.”
Hope and Support for Adoptees
Many stories show happy reunions of biological families through DNA matching, but not all stories end in the same way. Many adoptees wishing for a similar story of their own may be disappointed with how their search for their biological family ends.
If you are looking for support after not having an ideal reunion, learning that your birth family doesn’t want to connect, or discovering an unknown parent, many community groups can help, including the following:
- NPE Gateway
- DNA Secrets
- Watershed DNA
- Donor Conception Network
- NPE Fellowship
- ISOGG Unexpected Results wiki page
These groups can provide guidance, sympathy, and support. They can also advise on how to approach other family members sensitively, as your current and newfound family members may also be affected.
Whether you meet your immediate birth family or not, DNA testing can offer you a way to learn more about your genetic history and where your family comes from. You can begin building your own unique part of your family tree for free on FamilySearch.org, before and after you take a DNA test.
Learn more about FamilySearch’s shared online tree and how it can help you learn about your family, collaborate with cousins and other family members, and do much more!
More about DNA Testing
Compare options for DNA testing and find answers to DNA questions on FamilySearch.org.