A lot of people who contact me are looking to find birth parents.
They may have read in the Wall Street Journal or elsewhere that I identified my birth father through DNA testing.
While my approach broke new ground a few years ago, using DNA in a birth parent search is more common today.
Furthermore, there are new tests available that can help both males and females find birth parents.
For adoptees and some others, a DNA test can provide their first ever contact with a biological relative.
By contacting those relatives and exploring their family trees, many adoptees and identifying their birth parents.
Recently, children of anonymous sperm donors are also using DNA tests to learn more about their paternal ancestry.
Many people are getting a home DNA test kit from Family Tree DNA that can be used to order from a whole suite of DNA tests.
For men the Y-DNA test that I started with can often identify the surname of a biological father.
At a minimum, the Y-DNA test will connect you to men with whom you share a common male ancestor in the paternal line, i.e. the genetic line that includes your birth father, his father etc.
That’s why the test uncovers the biological last name for nearly 40% of the adopted males that take the test.
When your results are in at Family Tree DNA, you will immediately see the names and email addresses of the men you match.
Today you can order up to 111 Y-DNA markers. But most of the time a less expensive 37-marker test is my recommended starting point.
You can always upgrade later, if you get too many close matches and need to distinguish among them.
Family Tree DNA also offers mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) tests that track the maternal line, i.e. your birth mother, her mother, etc.
Both men and women can go this route. But for realistic help in a birth mother search, you need to order the more costly Full Mitochondrial Sequence (FMS) test.
Even then, you may not get any FMS matches at all, depending on what part of the world your mother’s ancestors came from. That’s why I only recommend mtDNA testing for adoptees who can afford to order every test.
Today the best value for people trying to find birth parents is often the low-cost Family Finder test.
This test will connect both males and females to all their biological relatives in the growing Family Finder database. Typically, these matches will be cousins of varying degrees from either side of your biological family.
Sometimes an adoptee will get lucky and uncover a parent, sibling, aunt or uncle.
The online user interface shows names, email addresses, and often a list of family surnames or even a family tree.
These genetic cousins sometimes hold the information needed to find birth parents.
At the very least, these matches will provide useful clues about your ancestors.
Family Finder also includes a myOrigins report, formerly called Population Finder, that tells you what proportions of your genetic ancestry came from various regions or ethnic groups around the world.
This alone can be a wonderful discovery for people with zero knowledge of their ethnic backgrounds. Furthermore, it can sometimes provide a clue to the ethnicity of your parents.
Family Finder is also a powerful tool for confirming suspected relationships. If you find a potential half sibling, for example, have him or her take the Family Finder test too.
When your results are compared on 700,000 markers you will know for certain if the suspected relationship is true or not. That was the final step in solving my personal mystery.
NOTE: Old style "sibling" or "kinship" tests that only check about 16 markers are almost always inconclusive and a waste of money.
You want a "Yes" or "No" answer and all you get from these old tests is an index number or a probability. At best, these old tests only say "Maybe" or "Probably Not."
Another test similar to Family Finder is 23andMe. This has a larger database. Yet many users tested to get genetic health information and are anonymous.
You can use an internal message system to request contact. Even though a large percentage of your matches will never respond, the database is so huge that you're still likely to make many important contacts.
NOTE: 23andMe is the only test that also includes some FDA-approved health reports. So it is more expensive. Yet they now offer an Ancestry-Only version for less than $100.
The 23andMe also includes an ethnic ancestry report called Ancestry Composition. This test provides the most detailed breakout of European ancestry.
Furthermore, this test is just as good as Family Finder for measuring the exact relationship of any two people.
In addition to Family Finder and 23andMe there is a third autosomal DNA test that can help adoptees find birth families. It's the AncestryDNA test offered by genealogical records company Ancestry.com.
This test has the largest database of all. If you purchase an additional subscription, it will automatically compare the family trees of you and your matches. This can uncover common paper trail ancestors that MAY be responsible for your DNA match.
Since adoptees don't have family trees to begin with, this feature is more valuable to genealogists.
Most observers have found the ethnic ancestry report included with this test to be less accurate than the other two.
The AncestryDNA test also lacks a chromosome browser and does not report the detailed segment data that may be useful in some cases.
If you are trying to find birth parents, I recommend you order ALL THREE of these tests. That's because the databases are different and you can't tell in advance which one will provide your most productive match.
Plus, each test has unique strengths that the others lack.
Keep checking new results until you get the breakthrough you need. Even if you don't identity your birth parents initially, more people are getting tested all the time.
I also recommend that male adoptees order a Y-DNA test from Family Tree DNA when ordering Family Finder. Ordering both tests in a bundled package will usually save you money.
To get more advice from this web site on how DNA testing can help you find birth parents, see the Adoption Search section.
I wish you great success!
DNA Testing Adviser
GENEALOGY TIP: Building an accurate family tree is time consuming. You can outsource the job to an expert at Legacy Tree Genealogists.
If you get a close DNA match, e.g. a first or second cousin, you can often find your birth family just by examining their family tree.
You look for branches that lived in the time and place of your birth.
But what if it's a more distant cousin? In that case you may need to apply a method known as triangulation.
Click here to access a PDF that shows you how to do triangulation. Then save it to your computer.