Step 1: Take a DNA Test
Start with an autosomal DNA test.
Before you buy, make sure to getting advice for which test best fits your situation. The typical and usually most cost-effective approach is to start with AncestryDNA and transfer to other companies. More on the tests can be found here.
Once you decide on which company to test with, click on a link below to buy your test. Then send in your sample…and wait
Step 2: Get Registered
This the fastest way to reunite IF both the birth parent/family member and the adoptee or donor conceived person register in the same place,
Adoptees and birth families can apply
- in the state where adoption was finalized,
- in the state of birth,
- at the International Soundex Reunion Registry (ISRR),
- at county, regional and other registries (both paid and free)
Donor parents and children can apply
- at the Donor Sibling Registry
- at the company facilitating the donation (if available)
Join the DNAADoption Google Group to get help
Step 3: Get Your Official Info
Official documents can contain important clues to aid you in your search, including background and medical information. Take heed, though, because information in these documents is often missing and can be inaccurate. It can take a long time to receive them so get request in as quickly as you can.
Types of official information you should try to obtain include your:
- Non-Identifying information (NonID)
- Original Birth Certificate (OBC)
- adoption record
What information you have access to and where to obtain it will vary by state, but the following resources can help
Additionally, join the DNAAdoption.org Google Group to find out about off-line sources, open counties, and friendly judges who can facilitate access to documents. These might provide a short cut or a key piece of information in your search.
Step 4: Get Info from Those That Know
Talk with family, friends, neighbors, attorneys, doctors, etc., but be considerate and gracious, since not all will be willing or able to share.
Keep detailed notes of your conversations; you’ll never know if a seemingly unimportant tidbit becomes much more meaningful when combined with other facts or details you’ve yet to discover.
Build a Profile of the person you are searching for using the info from Steps 3 and 4. You will use this later.
Step 5: Learn About DNA and Genealogy
The more you know the easier it will be! While waiting on your test results to come in, take this opportunity to learn.
- Beginners Guide to Genetic Genealogy
- International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG)
- DNAAdoption.org (classes)
- How DNA is Passed Down – a visual
Building accurate trees is a key skill – practice on your known or adoptive family with the help of these resources
- Ancestry Family Tree Resources
- MyHeritage Help Center
- How to Build a Tree (DNAAdoption video – a little old but the concept still applies)
Join a support community
Step 6: Find Your Closest Match
Your patient waiting is over. Your test results have “finally” come in! Use our free First Looks to learn to navigate your DNA results.
It’s time to dive in to your DNA matches and The Methodology! Open your list of DNA matches.
If your test has found the person you are searching for – Congratulations! Your search is over. You’re ready to prepare for contact.
Adoptees, Donor-conceived, and NPE searchers
- If you have niblings (aunt/uncle/niece/nephew/grandparent/grandchild) or first or second cousins, you’re ready to use Pedigree Triangulation to narrow down the field of candidates.
- If you have only third cousins or more distant matches, transfer your raw DNA to the following companies to hopefully find closer matches – you don’t know where your key matches will have tested. Click on a company name for transfer instructions.
- Test at additional companies that don’t support DNA transfer
Birth and Donor Families
- You are trying to be found – you don’t know where the person you are searching for will test – so fish in all the ponds (DNA companies)
- Transfer your raw DNA to the following companies
- Test at additional companies that don’t support DNA transfer
- Help other searchers – Attach your DNA results to your family tree at Ancestry, MyHeritage, and GEDmatch
Learn more about how and where to test and transfer your results in our Intro to DNA (101) class.
Step 7: Pedigree Triangulation
Start by clustering your matches into four groups using the Leeds Method. There will likely be one cluster for for each grandparent. There are several tools that can help with this task. They are covered in our Intro and Applied Classes.
Use all second to fourth cousin matches (at least) and include more distant matches that also have trees.
Consider sorting the clusters to more easily see which matches go together.
The clusters are based on match triangles. Members of a match triangle most likely share a common ancestor.
There are three people in the green match triangle below: you, your closest match, and a shared match
Compare the trees of the matches in the cluster. If your matches don’t have trees, you may have to build their tree for them.
Find the Most Recent Common Ancestors (MRCA) among the trees in that cluster of matches. Tools that aid in finding the common ancestor, also known as pedigree triangulation, are covered in our Intro and Applied classes.
- Confirms the cluster and MRCA
- Checks for NPEs
Use relationship prediction to place yourself in part of the tree. Be aware you may fit a generation or two earlier or later than where your match’s fit in the tree. The following diagram shows a few of the possibilities.
Optionally, you can Test your hypothesis using DNA Painter’s What are the Odds (WATO) tool ($)
Repeat for another cluster, starting with the nearest match in the next cluster. You may find it faster to work on the collateral lines of the other cluster.
Step 8: Connect the Trees
Find where the trees of different common ancestors collide and build those trees forward. In the example below, you found that a Stark from the blue cluster and a Targaryen from the yellow cluster had married.
Build the connected branches forward to identify possible candidates. Use non-ID and official documents as well as ‘information from those that know,’ to guide you. Consider target testing of individuals to validate or disprove possible relationships. Remember, you may fit a generation or two closer or further away.
This is the point where you have likely “Found” who you are looking for.
More details on how to conduct Pedigree Triangulation and use tools to help find the MRCA more easily are in our Intro and Applied Classes. We also cover a number of other techniques not mentioned here including: Using Ethnicity Estimates to separate ancestral lines and matches, Segment Triangulation, Using the X Chromosome, Charting, and Y-DNA in searches. See our class page for the class schedule.
Step 9: Prepare for Contact
Now you need to find contact information. Join the DNAAdoption Google Group or other On-line groups for free help.
Prepare yourself by defining what you do and don’t want in a relationship with your newly found birth relative. Get help from reputable and experienced people and groups like ours as well as surround yourself with people who can provide emotional support. Don’t rush!
Very Important! Develop an understanding for the other person
Step 10: Make Contact
Don’t go at this alone! You want to avoid common mistakes than can poison outcomes. Get help from reputable and experienced people and groups like ours.
Choose your method – letter or phone – and get feedback on what you are going to say from our support group. Use the guidance below to help you craft your message
- Before you do it — Making Contact with Adoptees/Birthparents…
- Writing the First Letter to your birth mother (or a sibling)
- Birth Family Contact – Guidance and Examples
- Email to Close Match
Once you have reached out, Be Patient. You have been working at this for a long time. They might not be aware at all. Give them time to process and respond.
Go. Slow. When in doubt…Go Slower!
Step 11: Reunion
Reunions are filled with anticipation, excitement, and fear, so preparing yourself for the flood of emotions is important. Get help from from reputable and experienced people and groups like ours that can help you avoid the land mines. Surround yourself with people who can provide emotional support. The following are suggested readings that can help you prepare:
- Review “The 5 Stages of Reunion” from Birthright: The Guide to Search and Reunion for Adoptees, Birthparents, and Adoptive Parents, by Jean A.S. Strauss
- “After the reunion: How do (found) mothers and daughters relate?”
- “Why Reunions Go Awry: What Memoirs of Adopted Daughters Tell Birthmothers”
- Search and Reunion Etiquette
Step 12: Afterward
… the choice may be made to have an ongoing relationship or continue on alone. Problems arise when the two sides choose different paths. This phase is continual and includes setting goals… Jean A.S. Strauss
Choices will be made but evolve over time. Review “The 5 Stages of Reunion” from Birthright: The Guide to Search and Reunion for Adoptees, Birthparents, and Adoptive Parents, by Jean A.S. Strauss