looking for dna matches to my mother's mother, who was adopted.

+9 votes
in Genealogy Help by Jan Nelson G2G Crew (670 points)
edited by Ellen Smith

3 Answers

+9 votes

Hi, Jan. I'd guess that one in 10 people who have contacted me about my autosomal DNA are seeking information about an adoption or known non-paternal event. I know it isn't easy, and that the search can be daunting. One thing I hope we all do is commit to always responding to DNA inquiries...even if we don't think we can help--or that the contact can help us--it's important to the person writing. So, please folks, always at least respond.

One thing that might help you immediately, Jan, is to create a GEDmatch account and upload your raw data from FTDNA. Not only does that give you a chance to have your data available to match against people who have taken tests from different companies, it gives you and others the ability to do a deeper dive into how and where the DNA matches. Vital for anyone doing atDNA research, but especially so for adoptees. And be sure, if you use a different username on GEDmatch, to give it permission to link to your WikiTree compact tree.

If either of your parents is living, a DNA test should be job number one. Even if your mother is deceased, you can still create a simulation of her genome if you have you father's test data, a process called phasing. That would help you screen matches to your kit to make sure they're on the correct side of the family.

Next, make a list of known, living relatives who would carry your mother's DNA; they might carry you father's, also, but you aren't after your father's line, so uncles/aunts and cousins on his side aren't the target. Prioritize the list by proximity of relationship: your mother's brothers/sisters first, their children second, and so on. What you're wanting to do is get others to take a DNA test so that you'll have enough information to do what's called "triangulation": getting enough data from multiple sources to build the bigger picture. Your DNA alone is often not enough in a search for an adopted grandparent because you're carrying, on average, only about 25% of her DNA. You'll want more relatives on that side of the family tested in order to get a better picture of that other 75%.

Also, if it were me, I'd create a WikiTree profile for your grandmother and include what facts you know. A good rule of thumb is the ol' "Five Ws," or "Burke's Pentad:" who, what, why, when, where. Explain that your grandmother was adopted; facts about location, timeframe, hospital/orphanage, whatever you know; and what steps, including DNA, you've taken in the search. That will give people wanting to help a thumbnail view: save everyone time and may foster a Eureka! moment. Who knows?

Last is simply a list of a few links that might prove informative. You've probably looked through them all, but....


by Edison Williams G2G6 Pilot (222k points)
+6 votes
Jan, I don't have an answer for you, but wanted to provide a story which might offer some encouragement.

I've been corresponding with a gentleman whose mother was adopted in 1914.  He has been searching for her birth parents for over 50 years. Through research he has collected over the years, along with DNA testing he was able to locate the birth father.  He also had narrowed down his search for the birth mother to three individuals.

Earlier this year I finally convinced my 99 year old mother and her 92 year old brother to have DNA testing done.  Their results provided the final clue he needed to determine his mother's birth mother.  As it turned out, she was my grandfather's first cousin.

Hopefully your search will not take as long as his, but don't give up hope.  there is an answer out there.
by Karen Raichle G2G6 Mach 6 (67.9k points)
+3 votes
Jan, from your profile I see that you did a FamilyFinder DNA test. That's an autosomal test that should help you connect with cousins, but it doesn't indicate which side of the family the cousins are on.

To make the best use of your autosomal DNA test data in the context of WikiTree, you should register at Gedmatch.com, upload your data (follow the instructions there) and enter your Gedmatch ID number on your DNA testing page here.

Additional DNA testing may help you. By testing with additional companies, you will be able to see more potential matches. (Not everyone posts their data on Gedmatch.) I'm guessing that your mother is no longer living. If she is living, a test of her DNA could be real useful, but if you have siblings or cousins who can test, their data is likely to help in your search for DNA relatives on your maternal grandmother's line.

Also, while I see that you've filled in your family tree through your grandparents, the more generations you can supply on the other three branches of your tree, the better your chances are of determining whether a newly found DNA cousin is or is not on your maternal grandmother's branch.

Your comment about your mother's mother may have led someone else here to think you were talking about a mitochondrial DNA test, since mitochondrial DNA is passed to us from our mother's mother -- who got it from her mother, etc. Did you also take a mitochondrial DNA test? If so, it could help you identify your maternal grandmother's mother.
by Ellen Smith G2G Astronaut (1m points)
edited by Ellen Smith

Ellen: I'm afraid the impression that mitochondrial DNA had been mentioned came from skimming my answer; my bad. I know that WikiTree generally uses "auDNA" as the abbreviation for autosomal DNA...but I just can't make myself do it. To quote the ISOGG: "There is no established abbreviation for autosomal DNA: atDNA (more common) and auDNA are used."

Since "atDNA" is in fact more commonly used, and because the accepted way to abbreviate mitochondrial DNA is by using the first two consonants (not miDNA), I'm afraid I'll be sticking with "atDNA."

Besides, having done narration and voiceover stuff in the past, there's just no good way to speak "auDNA": it either ends up "Hey You DNA" or "Aww DNA."


Actually, I think the "mitochondrial" reference might have come from another G2G moderator who had retagged this question before I saw it.

Lately I seen multiple instances of people using the word "mitochondrial' in contexts where it doesn't belong. I think it might be getting used to refer to all DNA that's not Y-DNA.
what I do with my dna relatives on 23andme is look at the surnames they have listed for ancestors. this tells me which side of the family they are from. if you know any surnames that is

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