Adoptees: Using DNA and Social Media to Find Your Birth Parents

About 18 months ago, I was contacted by an adoptee who had been trying to find her birth parents since 1984.  To start your search at the age of 30 and keep up the hunt for another 30 years must be the ultimate feeling of resignation and wonder.  Yet thanks to the emerging science of using DNA by adoptees, and a creative use of Social Media, I am thrilled to say that she now knows who her birth mother is and has 5 new siblings.  The icing on the cake is that she also knows her lineage brings her to the Sokolov region of the Czech Republic. 

How did we do it?

We were presented with the only documents that she had gathered over the years – the original birth certificate from Chicago, adoption papers and a letter from Catholic Charities.  The OBC had a mother’s name, but the father’s name was filled in with the words “legally omitted”.  The other small clues given to us by Catholic Charities were that the mother was 23 years old, from a small town in Wisconsin and of Czech descent; while the birth father was of Irish descent.  That was all I had to work with.

Thus, I began by setting up a tree and searching for quite some time to find any females born in Wisconsin with the given name from the OBC.  After finding a few candidates with this name, sadly I was able to locate all of them and cross them off the list.  It became apparent that some facts within the OBC were falsified, if not all of them (which is very common).  The address on the Birth Certificate didn’t help us either because it led us back to a former location for Catholic Charities.  These dead ends meant that DNA was more important than ever.

So we patiently waited to get her DNA results back from, which confirmed that 44% of her DNA was Eastern Europe, 20% Ireland and 15% Western Europe.  However, the closest match was a 3rd – 4th cousin.  3rd cousin matches means you probably share the same 2x Great Grandparent, and 4th cousins mean you probably share the same 3x Great Grandparent.  Because that takes us back over 150 years, you then must forward reconstruct the tree on all branches to find a candidate for a parent.  With limited clues, and the daunting # of branches, this makes it difficult to pinpoint a family of interest. 

After waiting an entire year, we finally got a 2nd cousin match.  Now it gets interesting because as I set up the tree for this match, it became clear this person was 100% Czech from the Chicago area.  I was on a roll, setting up all branches and building it back with helpful records from the Cook County Illinois area – Naturalizations, online vital indexes, Chicago Tribune Obits, and more.  But as I got back to the 1930 era (when the birth mother was born), I found one Great Uncle to our match that was living in a very small town in Wisconsin (population was less than 1000).   And this Great Uncle had a daughter born in 1928, who was of high interest.  All fitting to our Catholic Charity clues.  If this is our mother, we know this DNA match is a perfect 2nd cousin match to the adoptee.

Since this family was the only one found living in a small town in Wisconsin, I urged our adoptee to reach out to the children of this woman of interest.  I found the birth mother’s obituary that named her children and spouses.  Thus, I was able to locate a daughter thru Facebook.  It is thru this initial contact that she began to communicate with the family.  Eventually, they offered to take a DNA test so we could determine a relationship.  When the results arrived, Ancestry predicted a “Close – 1st Cousin” Match.  To confirm these findings, I downloaded the Raw DNA for both the adoptee and the potential sister, and then uploaded it to GEDMATCH where we performed a 1 to 1 comparison.  The results showed that they shared 29% of their DNA.  This is a perfect range for sisters that share one parent. 

It is only because of the generosity of this potential sister that we were able to confirm the birth mother.  Now this part of the journey is over for the adoptee and a new journey begins to get to know her new-found family.  

And oh yes, we still need to find the birth father.  The search never truly ends……………