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There are three (3) different types of DNA: Autosomal DNA or At DNA, Y Chromosome or Y DNA, and mitocondrial DNA or Mt DNA

  • Autosomal DNA or At DNA:
    • This is the type of DNA you will primarily do your searching with.
    • At DNA is made up of 22 of your chromosomes and sometimes the X chromosome is included by the DNA company.
    • At DNA is inherit from both of your parents.
    • You get some At DNA from all your close ancestors - out to at least great great great grandparents - on all branches of your tree. You may or may not get At DNA from more distant ancestors.
    • Parents pass down different At DNA to each child which is why siblings (except identical twins etc) don’t have identical At DNA. The amount of At DNA you get from each of your ancestor varies.
    • At DNA tests are provided at ancestryDNA, My HeritageDNA, Family Tree DNA, and 23andMe as well as other companies.
    • PLEASE LEARN MORE HERE:  Search Step 5: Learn About DNA
  • Y DNA:
    • Y DNA or a Y DNA haplogroup might help your search. Beginning searchers should not start with a Y DNA test
    • Y DNA is one of the sex or gender chromosomes. It is only found in males and is what makes them male.
    • Y DNA is passed from father to son to son. It is not inherited from any other close or distant ancestors on any other branch of your tree.
    • If you are a male searcher or a male descendant of a male adoptee, donor conceived, or person with an NPE, a Y-DNA test at Family Tree DNA might be helpful in determining a birth father's surname or who he is. It can also be used to separate paternal from maternal At DNA matches.
    • Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) provides a comprehensive Y DNA test with matches. 23andMe and Living DNA provide Y DNA haplogroups but no Y DNA matches.
  • Mitochondrial DNA, or mt DNA:
    • With rare exception, this type of DNA is not helpful in a search. Searchers should consult the DNAAdoption Team prior to purchasing this test.
    • Mt DNA is primarily passed down from a mother to all of her children but recent research has shown that fathers also can pass down Mt DNA to their children.
    • Mt DNA remains largely unchanged through the generations.
    • FTDNA provides a comprehensive Mt DNA test with matches. 23andMe and Living DNA provide Mt DNA haplogroups but no Mt DNA matches.

More can be found Here

  • What DNA Test Should I Take?  Find Answers Here
  • Where Should I Test: Find Answers Here
  • I Have Concerns
    • Can I stay anonymous?  Will my privacy (which is different than anonymity) be kept?  Will the results be valid?  Are they safe?
    • Kelly Wheaton has an excellent article addressing many concerns and links to other reliable resources. DNA Testing Concerns
    • Your concerns are unique to you and are very valid. Please take the time to become informed and address all your concerns and questions before testing. The DNAAdoption Team is available to help answer your questions and point you to trusted resources.

Join our free group to get help

This Video from the University of Utah explains how we inherit DNA.

We inherit a 50% of our DNA from each parent.  That also means there was 50% of our parent's DNA we didn't inherit.  The same is true for our parents. They received 50% of their from their parents. That means that while we might expect to have received exactly 25% of our DNA from each of our grandparents, it how much will vary, in some cases, alot!

Due to the randomness of how DNA is passed down down, you may only receive  26% from your maternal grandmother and 24% from your maternal grandfather. It still adds up to 50% that you got from your Mom

But on your Dad's side, you may have only received 10% from your paternal grandmother and 40% from your paternal grand father. It still adds up to 50% that your received from your father.

Take a look at the picture. You can see how you received different amounts of your DNA from different grandparents and great grandparents.

This also explains why your siblings, other than identicals, have different ethnicity estimates and look similar but different than you.  You each received some of the same DNA and some different DNA from their parents and grandparents and so on.

A “Shared Match” is a match with whom both you and a person in your list of matches share DNA.

Shared Matches are important because they help you see which of your matches are related to each other and help you form clusters. Both of these help you figure out how you are related to your matches and where you or they fit in the tree.

Learn More About Clustering Here:  Search Step 7: Pedigree Triangulation

Some of the DNA companies use different terms for Shared Match – but they are the same thing.

  • Shared Match - Ancestry, My Heritage
  • In Common With (ICW) Match - FTDNA
  • Relatives in Common - 23andMe, Living DNA
  • People Who Match Both Kits – GEDMATCH

Best Practice: When communicating with your matches and others about a Shared Match, it is best to use the term of the company you are contacting them through.

Example: At Ancestry, use “Shared Match". At FTDNA use “ICW Match”

Each DNA company has different criteria for what is an isn’t a Shared Match.

Notable Limitation: Ancestry doesn't include matches less than 20 cM unless the match is also in your Thruline.

Shared Matches, Clusters, and Triangulation Groups

Triangulation Groups identify the segment(s) or piece(s) of DNA you inherited from a particular common ancestor.  This can be especially helpful for figuring out more distant mysteries.

A Cluster includes Shared Matches both with and without overlapping DNA segments.

Triangulation Groups are a specific type of Cluster in which everyone is a Shared Match AND share the same overlapping segments of DNA.

Not all DNA companies offer the same services for Triangulation Groups

Note: You must have access to the chromosome browser data to identify Triangulation Groups.

  • MyHeritage automatically identifies triangulation groups in their unlocked tools and will identify the triangulated segments on the chromosome browser.
  • GEDmatch will identify Triangulation Groups by running a report available with a Tier 1

Notable Limitation: You cannot identify Triangulation Groups on AncestryDNA.


Learn More about Segment Triangulation Here:  Applied Autosomal DNA (201) Class

How much DNA you share with someone is a critical piece of information in genetic genealogy. The skill of knowing how to use Shared DNA information to predict possible relationships with a match is used often. The amount of Shared DNA is also used to confirm or refute where you or your match fits in a tree - are you in the right place or not.

The first thing to know is the term "Centimorgan". It is a unit of measure of DNA. Think of a centimorgan like an inch or millimeter.  Each of piece of DNA, or segment, is measured in centimorgans. The DNA companies add up all the different pieces of DNA you share with a match. This total is call your "Shared centimorgans" or Shared cM" or "Shared DNA". Some companies will even give you the length of the longest segment.  For now, let's focus on the total amount of shared DNA.

To learn more about the tools that estimate relationships, please go to the Tools Section



Contacting DNA matches is one of the activities that you may have to do during your DNA search. This can be intimidating and scary at first.

Important: If you have a match that is a parent or looks like a sibling, before reaching out review Step 9: Prepare for Contact and Step 10: Make Contact and Join our Group for further guidance .  This is the only chance you have to make the first contact with your birth family. Make sure to do it right.

Best Practice:  Before contacting any matches, try to use The Methodology described in Step 7: Pedigree Triangulation and Step 8: Connect the Trees to identify your birth parents / family.  Due to the secrets involved with adoption, donor conception, or misattributed parentage, your matches are unlikely to be able to provide quick answers and could poison a possible future connection.

When contacting a match, the goal is to give them enough detail that they respond but not so much that they are scared off or don't respond.
Try to be both specific and vague at the same time.

Important: During your first message it’s best not to mention:
  • adoption, donor conception, or misattributed parentage
  • possible relationships
  • that you are searching

Only after building rapport and trying to find out if if your match would be receptive or hostile should you "spill the beans".
Below is an example of a basic message:

Hi Davie,
We are a match at AncestryDNA.  Our shared matches have Smith, Jones, and Williams in the trees but I haven't figured out how we connect. Would you help me in trying to find our connection. I can be reached more easily at sarah@email.org  I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best Practice: Always make sure to mentioned the applicable company(s) where you match
Best Practice: Provide your personal email or other way to get in touch outside of the company's email system

Consideration:  Sometimes it is best not to disclose your circumstances or why you are searching even after building rapport with a match. Use your best judgement.

More considerations and other message templates for contacting matches can be found below:

Placeholder for considerations or example letter for contacting matches via company email (Ancestry, My Heritage, 23andMe, LivingDNA) vs regular email (FTDNA and GEDMatch)
Placeholder for example letter for match with a good tree
Placeholder for example letter for match with a no or bad tree (use only after first trying to identify your parent using Pedigree Triangulation)


Ethnicity Estimates are the candy of the DNA world!  They are mostly fun and occasionally they can be helpful.

The first thing to remember is that they are estimates.  Don't go trading in your kilt for lederhosen - but you could trade in your kilt for a kimono!

Kitty Cooper has written an excellent blog about Ethnicity Estimates, explaining what they are and why they are different between the companies. Click Here 

Roberta Estes also has an excellent blog about Ethnicity Estimates.  Click Here

But which company is "accurate" or "the best"?  All the companies have their strengths and weaknesses.   The image below is of the same person who tested at "the big four".   They all agree on the continent but not much more.

Can ethnicity estimates help me search or do genetic genealogy?

Sometimes.  When you have ancestors that are from different continents or one grandparent or great grandparent that comes from different genetic community than the others, such as Askenazi Jewish, then ethnicity may be helpful.

Join our private and secure Group to learn more.

The Chart below shows who women can inherit their X chromosomes from

The Chart below shows who men can inherit their X chromosome from

Learn about Identical by Descent (IBD) and why it is important

Learn about how the X Chromosome can help separate matches between maternal and paternal

Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced editing.


Click on the Tabs to learn more.

What is a research tree?

How do I build a research at ancestry?

How do I build a research tree at My Heritage?

Single tree or separate trees?

Do I make my tree Public, Private, or Private and Unsearchable?

There are several tools that will automatically build a tree.   They should be used with much caution.

Ancestry ancestor suggestions

My Heritage ancestor suggestions

Genetic Affairs

DNA Painter

What are some of the best practices and considerations?

These companies allow you to build trees or refer to trees for your search / research. Click on the Tabs to learn more.

Individual Trees.  Can use for research and tree building. Trees are integrated with DNA.

Learn how to (insert things and links)

Individual Trees.  Can use for research and tree building. Trees are integrated with DNA.

Learn how to (insert things and links)

Single World Tree.  Can use for research. Tree is not integrated with DNA

Learn how to (insert things and links)

Single World Tree.  Can use for research. Tree is connected with DNA kits on GEDmatch.

Learn how to (insert things and links)

Single World Tree.  Can use for research. Tree is interfaced with kits at Family Tree DNA.

Learn how to (insert things and links)

Individual Trees.  Can use for research and tree building. Not integrated with a DNA company. Plan in place to interface with Living DNA.

Learn how to (insert things and links)

Some DNA companies have trees available. Having integrated DNA and trees is a key feature to utilize. Click on the Tabs to learn more.
AncestryDNA is integrated with ancestry trees. It is the most intuitive of the companies to use. AncestryDNA Thrulines is a key tool that is enabled by the integration.

Several Third (3rd) Party Tools can also help you make using the trees and DNA together even more easier.

Learn how to link a  ancestryDNA kit to an ancestry tree

My Heritage DNA is integrated with My Heritage trees. My Heritage DNA Theories of Relativity is a key tool that is enabled by the integration. It is straight forward to use.

Several Third (3rd) Party Tools can also help you make using the trees and DNA together even more easier.

Learn how to link a My Heritage DNA kit to a My Heritage tree

Family Tree DNA has trees available on some kits. The DNA kit and trees are not integrated. Some kits are integrated with the Geni World.

Several Third (3rd) Party Tools can help you make using the trees and DNA together easier.

Learn how to link a FTDNA kit to the Geni  One-World Tree

GEDmatch kits can be integrated with uploaded trees. It is not intuitive to use. The key tools require a Tier 1 subscription.

Several Third (3rd) Party Tools can also help you make using the trees and DNA together easier.

Learn how to link a kit at GEDmatch to a GEDCOM tree file.

The trees at 23andMe are initially generated by computer algorithms based on available match data and estimated relationships.

Warning: These trees are highly speculative and should be considered with caution. Some users correct relationships and add additional information to their trees, but you cannot count on that.


The tools discussed here change frequently, but most have excellent tutorials and support groups on Facebook or their own web pages.
Some of the tools are advanced and some seem challenging until you use them a few times.
We encourage you to review the websites and ask questions in our Google Group or in the groups dedicated to each of the tools.

Keep in mind that not only do the tools change, but new ones appear, and old ones disappear quite regularly. All these tools work with data gathered from the major testing companies, and those companies change their formats frequently, disrupting the tools.

Click on the Tabs to Learn more

DNA2Tree ($)
Automates some genetic genealogy techniques.
Only works with AncestryDNA
Only works on Apple Iphone or Ipad.  Available in Apple App Store

The four automated functions of DNA2Tree are:

  • Gathers DNA Matches and Trees
  • Clusters DNA Matches
  • Finds Common Ancestors (CA) between matches - Note: Some CAs are yours, others are not
  • Builds Birth Family Tree



AncestryDNA Thrulines

ThruLines is Ancestry’s newest tool to estimate relationships based on your tree and the trees of your DNA matches. will often show you multiple relationship paths.

Use Thrulines with caution as Roberta Estes explains Here

My Heritage DNA Theory of Relativity (ToR)

Theory of Relativity is MyHeritage’s newest tool to estimate relationships based on your tree and the trees of your DNA matches. ToR will often show you multiple relationship paths.

Roberta Estes explaines more Here

Several tools can build a tree or branches and identify common ancestors automatically.  This can be a significant time saver in your search.

WARNING: Most, but not all, of these tools are using the trees of other people and too many times those trees are wrong. Enough of those bad trees will send you in the wrong direction and make it harder to find your birth family.

So let these programs build a tree and then evaluate it as though you were a defense attorney.

Embedded Tools

  • Ancestry ThruLines- automatically identifies branches to matches but does not add the branch to your tree.
  • My Heritage Theories of Relativity ($) - automatically identifies branches to matches but does not add the branch to your tree.
  • 23andMe Family Tree Feature - builds that tree exclusively based on your dna matches and their predicted relationships to each other and you. Does not use your match's trees. Warning: These trees are highly speculative and should be considered with caution

3rd Party Tools

  • Genetic Affairs($) - can build a downloadable tree after automatically gathering and clustering your matches
  • DNA2Tree ($) - can build a downloadable tree after automatically gathering and clustering your matches. Automates tree search for common ancestors. Only works with ancestryDNA. Only works on Apple iphones and ipads

Clustering is a process used to group your DNA matches based on them matching each other and you. It is very simple way to identify matches that share common ancestors with each other but not the rest of you matches.

In theory and usually in practice matches should fall into one of four clusters - one for each grandparent. You will also have smaller sub-clusters for more distant ancestors.

Warning: Clustering may not be reliable for people who have endogamy, pedigree collapse (consanguinity), or any other group that tended to intermarry.

Tools provide automated clustering, but we recommend you do clustering by hand at least once to understand the process and possible refine your results more than an automated program would. Some of the clustering tools are quite simple and some are advanced.

Each company provides an estimate on the the most likely relationship you have with a match. They all note that, with the exception of parent/child or identicals (twin, triplets, ect), the predicated relationship has a range of possibilities. The relationship estimate for the same match can be different at each company for several reasons:

  • Different Chips (different places on the DNA is tested)
  • Different Algorithms
  • Native vs Transfer Sample (did you test directly or transfer a test in?)

Third party tools try to improve the accuracy of these estimates, which improves the accuracy of figuring out where someone fits in a tree.

Third Party Tools :


Tools offered by the DNA companies that will be useful for your search / research. Click on the Tabs to learn more.

Shared Matches

Shared Matches
How Matches Are Related
Theory of Family Relativity
Triangulated Segments

In-Common-With (ICW) Matches    also called Shared Matches

Relatives in Common  aka Shared Matches
How Matches are Related
Your Family Tree (discontinued Beta)

People Who Match Both or 1 of Two Kits aka Shared Matches
Are My Parents Related
Multiple Kit Analysis (MKA)

Summary of various 3rd party tools that can be useful for your search / research. Click on Tabs to learn more.

Genetic Family

Shared CM Tool
Cluster Auto Painter
Cluster Formatter
Individual Match Filter

Auto Tree
Auto Scan

Traditional Search
Books, Blogs, Websites, & More

Why turn to books?

While the tools and techniques for searching change, the fundamentals of searching, contact, reunion, and afterward do not.

Books help you understand how others searched, made contact, met for the first time, and what happened after making connections.
They highlight what worked and didn't work so you can search more effectively and avoid pitfalls during the highly emotional contact and reunion phases.

Unlike websites and short videos, books can provide a deeper glimpse into the internal world that we all experience.
Books help you understand you are not alone - that you have shared experiences with others.

Our recommended reading list is below.

Birthright: The Guide to Search and Reunion for Adoptees, Birth Parents, and Adoptive Parents - Jean A.S.Strauss
(Every adoptee and birth family member should read this book)

Lost & Found – Betty Jean Lifton

Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child – Nancy Verrier

The Girls Who Went Away – Ann Flessler

Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self – Brodzinsky, Schechter, Henig

Paper and Spit: How DNA and Genealogy revealed my First Parents Identify – Don Anderson

Finding Family: My Search for Roots and the Secrets in My DNA – Richard Hill

Genetic Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond - Emily Aulicino

The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy - Blaine Bettinger, JD

List of Genetic Genealogy Books at the ISOGG wiki

Not all books are as helpful as they could be. If you have a question about a book that is not on the list, please Contact Us about the title and we will gladly provide our insight and opinion.


Why should you read blogs?

Bloggers quickly evaluate changes in the major websites, tools, and techniques. They read the fine print and help explain the changes in a manner that searchers or genetic genealogists can easily understand.

Find a few blogs you like and follow them.

The blogs recommended below are, in our opinion, the best of the best for searchers and genetic genealogists.


Kitty Cooper’s Blog

DNA Testing Advisor 


Genealem’s Genetic Genealogy

The Legal Genealogist

The Genetic Genealogist

Through the Trees

Not all blogs are as helpful as they could be. If you have a question about a blog that is not on the list, please Contact Us about the blog and we will gladly provide our insight and opinion.

Unless your DNA results lead to answers quickly, you might find yourself needing more help to use your DNA results.

Genetic genealogy websites can be helpful in answering questions such as:
How is DNA passed down (see our DNA tab), what is recombination, what do long or short segments indicate, why is the X chromosome useful or not useful? What do I do with these DNA matches?

Some websites focus on technical issues, others try to create a sense of community. Some offer webinars, workshops, videos or discussion areas.
Most of them are trying to help make the science easier to understand.

While some sites are free to use, many require donations or subscriptions.
As always, check the site’s credentials before uploading any personal information.

Our recommended list is below.

International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) Wiki

Board for Certification of Genealogists

Not all sites are created equal. If you have a question about a site that is not on the list, please Contact Us and we will gladly provide our insight and opinion.

Websites that support searching, contact, and reunion can be useful for adoptees, families searching for adoptees, foundlings and others.

Finding those that are truly helpful can be confusing and overwhelming

There are different types of sites dealing with adoption:

  • Search Support: Where you can get help with a search. Many of the commercial sites charge fees - some fees can be quite exorbitant
  • Advocacy: These organizations work to change adoption laws. Adopee Rights Law is an example
  • Registries: almost all states and some countries have them. Commercial registry sites often charge a fee. See Step 2 for more information.
  • Communities: Deal with a specific organization or individual, Homestead and Georgia Tann for example, that were facilitating adoptions. The organizations usually provide support and search help. Many have moved to social media platforms.
  • Everything else:  Most of the rest have other purposes and are unhelpful for searching, contact and reunion.

While some sites are free to use, many require donations, subscriptions, or charge fees for their services.
NOTE: Look for experienced and ethical organizations and individuals. Please check with others before you hire anyone.
As always, check the site’s credentials before uploading any personal information.

Our recommended list is below.

American Adoption Congress

Concerned United Birth Parents

First Mother’s Forum

ISRR Adoption Reunion Registry

Donor Sibling Registry

U.K. Adoption Records

Not all organizations are created equal. If you have a question about a site that is not on the list, please Contact Us and we will gladly provide our insight and opinion.


Click on the Tabs to learn more!

If you are looking for someone who was a child in NY from 1854 to 1929 but then seemed to disappear, that person might have been relocated to the US Midwest via a baby train, or what came later to be known as an Orphan Train.
Records were seldom kept, but there are organizations who can help in your search. A list of them are below.

FTDNA group for orphans from Orphan Trains

Facebook Page for Orphan Trains

Facebook Page for Orphan Trains “Orphan Train Depot”

Genealogists Ride Search for Orphan Train Rider Ancestors

Family Search Blog on Orphan Trains


In 1853, a young minister named Charles Loring Brace founded the Children's Aid Society to help vagrant boys by providing room and board and education. This was a first step toward modern foster care. The society become overwhelmed and as a solution, decided to send groups of children to rural areas for adoption and to help with farm labor.
After send children to farms in nearby Connecticut, Pennsylvania and rural New York, the Children's Aid Society mounted its first large-scale expedition to the Midwest in September 1854 and continued to run until 1929.

Newspapers are great sources for the information needed to build trees and locate relatives.

Newspapers have articles that may list dates, parents, siblings, children, marriages, and maiden names.  Military mentions and Happy Birthday notices may provide needed information. Obituaries, marriage announcements, and court events are usually the most beneficial.

There are many newspapers online. If you can't find what you are looking for online, local libraries and local and state historical societies may have the needed newspaper archive offline.  Ask for the research librarian or newspaper archivist respectively for help researching. Most libraries and societies require a small fee to conduct the research.

Start by identifying the name of the newspapers in the location where the person you are researching was. Wikipedia Newspaper Index is a good starting point.  Once you know the newspaper(s) to look in, provide as much known information as possible including date, date range, names, relatives, etc.

Reminder: Many events are printed after the date the event occurred on. Using a data range can help increase the likelihood of finding an article.

Links to newspaper websites

Genealogy Bank ($)

Newspapers.com ($)

Newspaper Archive ($)

Library of Congress - Chronicling America


Google Newspapers

New York Newspapers

Brooklyn Eagle Brooklyn, New York 1841-1902

New York Northern NY Newspapers

Pennsylvania Historic Newspapers

California Digital Newspaper Collection

Sites with links to on-line newspaper sites and obituary sites

Wikipedia Newspapers Index

Historical US Newspapers

The Ancestor Hunt

Legacy.com Links to obits and newspapers


Rootsweb Obituaries

Click on the Tabs To learn More!!

Different types of DNA, Testing, How DNA is passed down, Contacting matches, how much dna is shared, ethnicity estimates, Building trees, contacting tree owners, ancestry, My Heritage, Family Search, WikiTree, Geni, Find My Past, Gedmatch, Family Tree DNA FTDNA, 23 and me,  DN2Tree, DNAGEDCOM, GWORKS, Client, Thrulines, Theory of Relativity (TOR), Clustering, Relationship Esimators, Genetic Affairs, DNA2Tree, Books, Blogs, Websites, Genealogy, Newspapers, African American, Orphan Train