This post was written to help beginners in DNA searching and family tree building who eventually want to make contact with their DNA family matches
I often see questions pertaining to people starting out, asking what companies they should do a DNA kit from, how to find a birth parents, birth families, or lost relatives given up for adoption.
I am going to share the path I took when I decided to start my journey into DNA kits and researching families trees for myself, as well as, my wife’s birth family that gave her up for adoption.
The following is strictly my opinion. You will find as you read this, and when you share it with others, that their opinions may differ. That is OK. In the end, only you can decide what is best for you.
STEP 1 – Do these two home DNA kit tests
I recommend doing two DNA home kits. One with the Ancestry company and one with the 23andme company. If you can only afford one, choose the one you like better, and get it done, and plan to do the second one as soon as you have the funds.
Ancestry – has the largest database of DNA kit sample members. If you are looking for matches, Ancestry is the most popular. Their DNA analysis is not as far reaching as some of the other companies so if you are looking to see what percentage you are of each ancestry culture, it will not give you as much as the others. However, Ancestry also have lots of records (census, birth, death, etc…from around the world) and has many many family trees already created by their members that you can search for your ancestors too). Ancestry also have a family tree building program that works with their records. Like all other companies, this company provides you with a list of your DNA matches, but you have to have a membership to be able to contact them and view their family trees (if they have trees).
23andme – I found that the 23andme kits analysis to be the most fun. They give a much more detailed analysis of the DNA (like a 0.2% of something that would not come up in other tests). 23andme also clearly identifies your Maternal and Paternal Haplogroup (it is like a genetic cue in your DNA to help you identify your families line). Not all the companies do this. You also get a list of DNA matches, and you are free to contact them and send them messages. There are no family trees on 23andme, but if you have one, you can link it in the appropriate fields so your DNA matches can look at it.
Now if you decide to pay for testing with another company, that is your choice, but make sure that company does not have the option of uploading your DNA RAW DATA. If the other company you are looking at DOES allow for uploading your DNA RAW DATA instead of paying for their own DNA kit, please read Step 6.
Once you do one or both these DNA kits, create your accounts on their respective sites, now begins the wait (anywhere from 4-8 weeks) for the results to get to you. BUT, this is no time to lay back and sit on your thumbs. You got WORK to do! See Step 2.
STEP 2 Build Your Family Tree(s)
Build your family tree. Now, sign up for the Ancestry account and pay your fee and start building your family tree! Yes, now, right now.
If you were adopted and you do not know either of your birth parents, that is OK. Build a tree using your adoptive family. If you know only one birth parent and not the other, create the half of your tree of your known birth parent. Just get creating.
THE POINT is to LEARN TO USE THE SYSTEM. This is going to be VERY IMPORTANT when we get to a later step. Learn how to upload photos, how to attach records to existing relatives, how to look at “hints” to further your tree, how to look at the trees of people that might be distant relatives of yours, and very importantly, how to quickly copy over information from someone else’s tree to yours. (This particular skill is going to become SUPER necessary in the later steps). There is no substitute for experience, and building your tree (more than one if you have one for your adoptive family, and one for your birth family) is the way to get it. Ancestry also offers you the ability to create more than one tree for your different branches and needs, and to make your “working draft” trees private.
There are a number of youtube videos that were created to help you use the different tools on Ancestry to build your tree. You have 4-8 weeks to learn how to use the system so that when you find yourself a DNA match, you will already have an idea of what to look for if they also already have a tree.
Are there other companies you can build a family tree with? Sure! But, they do not have the largest database of potential DNA matches, and they do not have the largest database of records from around the world either. So I just recommend sticking with Ancestry for now.
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STEP 3 Find Your Support Groups
Once you have a good handle on your tree (hopefully you have put aside enough time to dedicate to learning how the system works). It is now time to join as many online support groups and in person support groups as you can find. There are a number on Facebook. Do a search for DNA, Adoption, Family, Search, etc… a few that you might like are:
- Search Squad https://www.facebook.com/groups/searchelpers/ ,
- AncestryDNA GEDmatch 23andMe FTDNA MyHeritage Genealogy LivingDNA https://www.facebook.com/groups/1502875546688746/
- Genealogy! Just Ask! https://www.facebook.com/groups/GenealogyJustAsk/
There are LOTS more. If you are looking for someone from a very particular country or city, you simply find a Facebook group for that country or city. For Example:
- Italy Genealogical Research https://www.facebook.com/Italy-Genealogical-Research-1611856535779886/
- Calabria (City) Italy Genealogy https://www.facebook.com/groups/689104204468306/
These will be your support groups when you have questions, when you are feeling low, when you get blocked and when you are feeling discouraged. In some cases you might even meet people that can help you along, AND you might find some of your DNA matches.
Check your local libraries and places of worship for local genealogy groups that meet in person to research together and support each others. If one does not exist, then consider starting one in your area.
When you do join them, they will all ask you if you have done any DNA tests yet, and if you have a family tree. Which brings us to your next Step
STEP 4 Copy over the info of your closest DNA matches
OK, at this point, you have your family tree built with Ancestry and at least one (or both) of your DNA results from Ancestry and 23andme have come in.
The FIRST thing you do is look at your DNA Matches. You are looking for 2nd cousins, 1st cousins and closer relatives. If you find ANY in your DNA matches list, copy and paste all the information they have into a document on your computer/device and then add it to your main tree, or working draft trees.
DO NOT MAKE CONTACT. DO NOT SEND THEM ANY EMAILS
It is more important to get their info FIRST before you make contact JUST IN CASE, they decide to BLOCK YOU. You simply do not know how they will react. They could welcome you with open arms and share lots of personal family history details, or they might in fact not want to deal with what you could potentially represent. For example, if you are the product of an affair, your half-siblings might not care to know the child that they believe might have been the cause for the break down of their parents marriage. Children are born innocent of the circumstances that created them, but we are dealing with emotions of people that perhaps never learned to cope with difficult truths.
If these close relatives have family trees that you can visit, again copy over their family tree info into your working draft trees. HURRY UP! If your close DNA matches decide to block you before you make contact, you could lose this lead on your goal forever.
Do this for every close DNA match you have.
If you have no close DNA Matches so far, go to STEP 6
If you have completed the STEP 5 for your close DNA Matches, go on to STEP 5
STEP 5: Social Media Search of Close Matches
The Social Media Search of Close Matches. Social media (esp sites like Facebook and Instagram) have been a treasure for those who are interested in seeking DNA relatives. Even if the specific birth parent is keeping a very low profile in life and staying off social media, chances are very high that one of their close relatives IS on social media posting photos of their family, and sharing information like birthday wishes with your common DNA matches, and their locations (all of which is information that you are seeking).
See if you can find those close DNA matches on social media. Type their names into the search. If you can, see if some of your DNA matches are siblings or part of the same family cluster, and see if you can find people with the same names that are linked on social media together to help you identify they are in fact the DNA cousins you are looking for.
Online records and existing trees can help you find all the dead relatives. DNA Matches and social media can give you all the living ones. In fact, when people post a memorial of a dead relative, you can use that information as well to look up the obituary of that relatives as obituaries often mention the names of family members.
Take all of the info you find, copy it over into your tree (photos, birth dates, dates of death, home town locations, dates of marriage, etc…). This is where the family tree building skills really come in handy. You already copied over the trees of your close DNA matches and now are supplementing the family tree with information from social media.
You are doing ALL of this BEFORE you make contact with any of your close matches. If your matches are friendly with you, great, you got a head start. If your close matches block you out and even block you from their social media accounts, you ALREADY have all the info you could have gotten.
If you have completed both STEP 5 and STEP 6 for your close DNA relatives, move on to STEP 6
STEP 6: Uploading your DNA Raw Data to find more DNA Matches
OK, so maybe you got no close DNA matches yet with Ancestry and 23andme. It happens.
Or you did, and collected all their info from family trees and social media.
Do you contact them yet?
Well, you COULD if you really wanted to (in that case, skip ahead and read STEP 7)
If you want to cover ALL your bases before you make contact, then complete STEP 6 first.
Now we move on to get you even MORE DNA Matches. Both Ancestry and 23andme give people the option of DOWNLOADING their DNA as RAW DATA. Basically they take their DNA information of you, and compile it into a PDF file. All your DNA info is broken down into text. They give you the download so that you can UPLOAD it to other sites to find more DNA Matches
There are DNA companies that offer customers two services. One is they offer for you to do a DNA test kit (which you have to pay for), and the second is they they allow you to simply UPLOAD your RAW DNA DATA.
Now here is the kicker…
Ancestry and 23andme will allow you to DOWNLOAD your raw DNA Data to upload to other companies, BUT Ancestry and 23andme FORBID you from uploading your RAW DNA Data from other companies to them.
Do you see why I recommend paying for the DNA test from those two and not the others?
Once you download your RAW DNA Date from either Ancestry or 23andme, I would suggest that you upload it to the following 3 sites:
- FamilyTreeDNA https://www.familytreedna.com/
- GedMatch https://www.gedmatch.com/login1.php
- MyHeritage https://www.myheritage.com/
Each company is GREAT, and they each have different services that you might want to pay for later. They all have their positives (for example, in some countries one of those companies might be way more popular than either Ancestry and 23andme, so if you are looking for International DNA Matches they are great) However, for right now, all you are seeking are close DNA Matches and if you have exhausted your close DNA matches on the first two DNA companies, this is the next logical step.
Once you upload your raw DNA data, and it gets processed (could take a few days for each company to process them and find your DNA matches), see if you have any CLOSE DNA Matches. If you do, follow through on STEP 5 and 6.
STEP 7: Make Contact with your DNA Matches
OK, you built up your main family tree, and even your private working draft trees of all your close DNA relatives. You have gone on to social media and collected even more information to fill up your trees. You are signed up for a number of online support groups, or in person support groups. You are now ready to make contact.
Making contact has to be done gently. Remember, you do not know what you represent to the people you reach out to. You might be the BIG SECRET that someone has been terrified of coming out for YEARS. You might be why someone has been lying to their family for decades.
When you make contact, send an email with a simple message: “Hi, I see that (site) says we are (relation). I would like to talk to you to see how we might actually be connected”
Reach out and see what kind of reaction you get. Some may not answer right away, some may not answer at all. Focus on the ones that DO answer and form a gentle relationship with them.
Keep in mind that some people are very naive about how communication on the site work, and some just lose interest in DNA family search finding. No matter what happens, NEVER lose your temper and never assume that someone is intentionally ignoring you. They just might not ever have access to their online profiles anymore.
In time, if you are not getting the answers you see, then move to trying to connect with your DNA relatives online on social media.
Remember, go gently.
If do you start getting blocked here and there, then your messages can be more dating and to the point. If that is what it takes to flush out the people who are the only ones to give you an answer, then you have to decide just how daring you want to be.
One last point, most people are open to speaking as long as you are respectful.
Then there are going to be those that not only demand no contact from you (for any reason), but they may also start to threaten you with legal action or direct violence if you contact to try to connect to members of your extended DNA family.
Here is the info I sought from a lawyer on this matter, BUT keep in mind that laws change from territory to territory, so see your own lawyer to confirm this.
1-any ADULT has the right to reach out and try to connect with any other ADULT. Adult as defined as a person who is the age of majority (21+ in most places)
2-if one adult does not want to be contacted, they may state so, and if they do, do not contact them again
3-No adult can stop you for connecting any other adult. So if your 2nd cousin tells you NOT to contact anyone else in the family, be aware they have no right to tell you that. It is up to each INDIVIDUAL adult to make that request from you personally. This is so you are giving each person a chance to know you are not
4-Never agree that you will not contact anyone. Tell the person threatening you that you have the right to contact any adult DNA match you have and that you will do so if you choose too.
I hope it does not come to this, but it has happened. Not everyone is ready to face the truth and accountability of their past. And those same people will try to block you, and even threaten to harm you to keep their bubble of lies safe.
Tread carefully and be nice,
but always commit to the process to find the truth. Which brings us too….
STEP 8: Time, Money and Truth Mindset
Get used to the idea that you will have to spend money. Even if you do all the research yourself, there are certain basic costs that you will simply have to pay out. Waiting on the generosity of others to pay for your DNA kits and so on, means that you will be waiting a LONG TIME to get the answers you seek. The costs are not *that* expensive, and you can cover the costs by cutting down your existing expenses for a couple of months, earning a little extra cash, or a combination of both. So go ahead and ask people to chip in for your birthday or holiday or special day gifts and wait if you want to. DNA does not wait for you, and the people you are looking for are human and do not live forever either. Nothing worse than finally finding the person you were seeking only to discover they died 3 months before you found them.
Now, before I go into any further details, here is an approximate cost you can expect to spend in your first year in your first steps:
- Ancestry DNA kit: 100$ USD (for one DNA kit, for one person)
- Ancestry Monthly Membership: 35$ USD a month (12 months is 420$ a year)
- 23andme DNA kit: 100$ USD (for one DNA kit, for one person)
- Another Ancestry Monthly Membership: 35$ USD a month (12 months is 420$ a year)
- Factor in at least 3 more kits at your own cost to test others to confirm what you find ($300 USD likely in your second year)
- Factor in monthly or yearly subscriptions to services (like Newspapers.com) to help you with specific research
These amounts are rounded, and do not factor in conversion rates for different currencies, and do not factor in timely and seasonal specials.
This is your basic cost for the first year (a total of 620$ USD)
Deal with it.
I do not mean to come across as harsh, but the services you seek are not free, and you may as well just eat the cost and get started. I have never run into anyone that said they were glad they waited to start their journey. In most cases, the biggest regret people have is waiting so long that the birth relatives they were searching for, or the one that would have accepted them fully, have died before the connection was made.
A last note about the costs. Each DNA kit company, and membership service has sales and specials throughout the year. If you wait until a special to save money the good news is you will save on the money, the bad news is that you will be buying kits when most people buy kits, and you will be submitting kits when others submit their kits. This might be longer wait times to get your results in. (Could turn 4 weeks into 6 weeks). Add to that if you only buy your kits during holiday specials, you are also dealing with holiday schedules that could turn a 6 week wait into an 8 week wait (postal employees and the employees doing your DNA analysis want to spend the holidays with their families too). So consider, just spending the money and buying the kits asap and having the kit analysed during their slow period.
Warning: Personally, I am suspicious of anyone in the Genealogy field that tries to hide the actual costs of DNA kits, memberships and services and hyper focuses on the sales prices and “alternative” means of services because the prices might “intimidate” possible client sign ups. If you run into such a person, beware their ethics.
Next is to consider the amount of TIME this will take. Plan to give up your hobbies for the next 3 months. Every spare evening and weekend you have will be dedicated to this. You can find whoever it is you are looking for in a few months with a combination of hard work and some luck. There will be opportunities that come (like matching with a 1st cousin with a large and open tree) that can easily be missed (1st cousin blocks you and marks their tree “private” to all visitors because you were adopted out they do not want to be the one to open this can of worms). In between the time you discover your 1st cousin and the time you get blocked, you may have a few short hours to copy over their information into one of your working draft trees. You NEED to put in the time to learn the tree building system and the time to focus on this.
You have to prepare yourself that you might not like the truth you learn about the family you are seeking. You could be a product of an affair. You could be the product of young love that were too immature to properly take care of you and give you a good life. You could be the result of some kind of violence. You could have been wanted by one birth parent but rejected by the other. You could have been told lies all of your life about who you were related to. You could find out that the man who raised you and loved you is not actually your father and that you were passed off as his child. You could find out that you were illegally adopted or stolen from a loving family. You might discover that your birth family are criminals, or were involved in some horrible acts in history. If you are going to commit to this process, you have a commitment to the TRUTH, no matter what that truth might turn out to be.
For this reason, take every story you hear on your journey with a grain of salt, and until you find the confirmed answers you seek, you do not let any of those stories stop you. I have heard stories of mothers telling their children that their birth fathers were “bad men” or “rapists” to try and prevent her children from searching for the birth family…only to discover that their mother’s lied to hide the fact that they were involved in consensual but secret relationships their parents would not have approved of. This is just an example of some of the worst lies I have come across, and you can well imagine what other kinds of lies you may have to shift through. The point is, unless you commitment to knowing the truth, no matter how bad it might be, you might be allowing people you love to block you.
DNA DOES NOT LIE. You will find out things you might not have even considered.
You might not like what you discover, but DNA will never lie to you.
Learn to handle and cope with the truth to help you on this journey.
COMMIT to the process.
The time and the money and the dedication to truth are necessary. I have had to console too many people that did not focus on getting it done before they got blocked out of finding the information that would have given them closure. I had to console too many people that were not ready for the truth and stopped before confirming the stories they were told to scare them away from completing their journey. I had to back away from helping some people that simply were not willing to cut their excess spending so they could just pay for what they needed to get done.
I hope this has helped you find your truth.