Adoptee Testing: A Study

Today, Judy Russell at The Legal Genealogist published “DNA testing for adoptees: 2017,” an EXCELLENT primer for adoptees or foundlings looking to use DNA to find their biological family. If you’ve tested your DNA and spent time with your results, it is likely that you’ve encountered an adoptee looking for information. If you are an adoptee, Judy’s post is a MUST read, as it contains a NEW testing plan due to a new “pond to fish in,” a genealogy company offering autosomal DNA testing for the first time in 2016. Here’s the link, just be sure to come back after you’re done reading: “DNA testing for adoptees: 2017.”

The American Adoption Congress

Welcome back!

In April, I will be an invited keynote speaker at the 38th Annual American Adoption Congress International Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. In that keynote, I want to provide adoptees with information about how DNA can help them (for many this will undoubtedly be their first introduction to the power of DNA). However, I also wanted to share the experience of adoptees who test in the databases today. How often do they find biological family? What are their closest matches? And so much more.

So, in preparation for the lecture, I created a survey last October asking adoptees a series of nine questions about their experience with DNA testing:

  • Are You an Adoptee?
  • Did You Take an Autosomal DNA Test in 2015 or 2016?
  • At Which Company Did You Take an Autosomal DNA Test in 2015 or 2016?
  • When You FIRST Received Your Results, What Was Your Closest Match? (If you don’t yet know the exact relationship, please provide the approximate company prediction, or the most likely relationship based on total shared cM).
  • Did You Identify one or both Biological Parents, or one or more Siblings or Half-Siblings, as a Result of DNA Testing?
  • Did you receive assistance from a search angel?
  • Are You Still Actively Looking For Your Biological Family?
  • From What Country Were You Adopted?
  • Do You Have Any Comments to Add?

The full survey is available here: https://goo.gl/forms/ggJfMppw9T9xuCYY2

As of today, there have been more than 700 responses from adoptees. THANK YOU to everyone that participated!! To have an even better dataset, I’m hoping to have 1,000 before the conference in April.

Many were upset by the fact that I didn’t ask for adoptees that tested prior to 2015, but there was a very important reason. The databases are double or triple the size they were in 2010-2014, and I wanted a snapshot of what it was like for adoptees who recently tested. Indeed, the results of the current study will be obsolete in 2017, 2018, and beyond as the databases grow by millions every year.

Now, of course I recognize that this is an informal study. Participant selection, especially, is problematic. I recruited mostly from Facebook groups (i.e., DNA Detectives) and other online forums. A perfect study would have a more formal recruitment process. Regardless, I think there is important information here that at least gives us a glimpse into the experience of adoptees testing their DNA.

Preliminary Results of the Study

Here are some preliminary results of the study, based on 700+ responses.

Question: At Which Company Did You Take an Autosomal DNA Test in 2015 or 2016?

  • AncestryDNA: 89%
  • 23andMe: 38%
  • Family Tree DNA: 28%
  • Other: 1%

Question: When You FIRST Received Your Results, What Was Your Closest Match? (If you don’t yet know the exact relationship, please provide the approximate company prediction, or the most likely relationship based on total shared cM).

  • Parent(s) – 1.7%
  • Sibling(s) or Half-Sibling(s) – 5.9%
  • Aunt/Uncle/Niece/Nephew – 4.7%
  • First Cousin(s) or Half First Cousin – 20.6%
  • Second Cousin(s) or Half Second Cousin – 33.6%
  • Third Cousins – 21.2%
  • Fourth Cousins – 9.7%
  • Other – 2.7%

 

So, nearly a third of DNA-tested adoptees in this study log into their account and have a half-first cousin or closer! And 66.5% have a half second cousin or closer, which usually takes a minimal amount of detective work. This clearly speaks to the immense size of the DNA databases.

Question: Did You Identify one or both Biological Parents, or one or more Siblings or Half-Siblings, as a Result of DNA Testing?

  • Yes – a biological parent – 34.4%
  • Yes – both biological parents – 12.7%
  • Yes – one or more siblings or half-siblings – 18.5%
  • No – 49.5%

DNA testing helped 50% of test-takers in the study find a sibling or parent, and 34% of the time the test-taker found both biological parents! Unfortunately, about 50% are still looking for siblings or parents.

Question: Did you receive assistance from a search angel?

  • Yes – 41%
  • No – 59%

Question: Are You Still Actively Looking For Your Biological Family?

  • Yes – 72%
  • No – 29%

Question: From What Country Were You Adopted?

  • United States – 82%
  • Other – 18%

Conclusions

The two most surprising findings, in my opinion, are that 50% of test-takers in the study found a sibling or parent due to DNA testing, and that nearly a third of DNA-tested adoptees in the study logged into their account on day one and had a half-first cousin or closer.

I’m excited to see what this study looks like a year, two years, and five years from now as the databases continue to explode in size!

Future Directions

There is a wealth of information still to be mined. For example, questions like the following could be answered with this data:

  1. Does working with a search angel improve the odds of finding a close family member?
  2. Does testing at one company or another improve the odds of finding a close family member?
  3. Does testing at multiple companies improve the odds of finding a close family member?
  4. Does the country adopted from affect the outcome?
  5. And more; what questions could you come up with from this data?

If YOU are an adoptee who tested for the first time in 2015 or 2016, I would be honored if you would complete the survey. I would like to have more than 1,000 responses by the April conference. Thank you!!

9 Responses

  1. Alan P S D Mayer 8 January 2017 / 6:31 pm

    Ok, here it goes for my wild predictions, possibly to be proven wrong…
    Although I’m not an adoptee, I’ll put in my j1.414,213 into the complex jigsaw puzzle.
    Q – Did you receive assistance from a Search Angel ???
    A- Although the search angels have access to extensive databases, and do great work, I would have thought that the vast number of other volunteers, especially in dna detectives with 30,000+ members would outnumber, and out knowledge them ?!?!?
    Q – At Which Company Did You Take an Autosomal DNA Test in 2015 or 2016?
    A – I would have thought that this question would be somewhat irrelevant as it would be recommended to most people to upload to gedmatch, however Judy Russell addresses this issue in her blog from the hyperlik.
    Q – Are You Still Actively Looking For Your Biological Family?
    Yes – 72%
    No – 29%
    A – Despite the very positive aspects of people finding close relatives on day one, this is one of the more dissapointing aspects of such research. Maybe the problem will start to be addressed in early 2017 after the pre Christmas 2016 Ancestry orders are processed, uploaded and interpreted.
    Q – From What Country Were You Adopted?
    A – 82% report being adopted from the USA. Maybe this could be further analysed. Do the different laws, timeframe limitations, population statistics, demographics, etc have anything to do with the numbers and final outcome ???
    Q – the databases continue to explode in size!
    A – has anybody done Hubbert curve analysis as to when it will peak ???

    Q – And finally, the good with the bad – has anybody done their test, and had a phone call from the police in relation to a cold case, etc ???
    A – TBA

  2. Kevin O'Brien 10 January 2017 / 8:49 am

    As a family genealogist and a DNA tester, I have helped two new cousins find their families. These were both with 2nd cousin connections. I have a third that I believe I have identified but not confirmed. This cousin was born in Ireland, lives in Canada and the mother lives in England; father is unknown. Not anyone in this family has tested yet and these identifications were possible because I have 11 of my second cousins from five of my grandmother’s siblings tested. I have to get back to Ireland to discuss this with a 3rd cousin on how to approach her Aunt that I believe is the mother of this woman in Canada. I have forwarded this article to the 3 of my “New Cousins” and encouraged them to participate in your study.

  3. Kathie Vandenbout( Mary Mcguire) 10 January 2017 / 11:58 am

    I am one of the second cousins Kevin Obrien found. As a result I have 3 half siblings and a big Irish family. I had just found my birth mothers family when Kevin called to say we were related. Due to his diligence this has been a life changing event for me that I thought was never going to happen. I owe him the world!

    • Angela Townsend 10 January 2017 / 1:24 pm

      I am delighted for you that you have been able to connect to your birth mother’s family.
      It is so important for us all to do what we can to help each other to connect

  4. PMR 14 January 2017 / 8:56 am

    More questions to ask.

    1. How many people were tested before you had conclusive results?
    2. How much time elapsed between receiving your DNA test results and identifying a parent or sibling?

  5. Jenene Gayle Metcalf 17 January 2017 / 7:06 pm

    I’m trying to sign up to GEDmatch.com but have not been successful.

    Gayle Metcalf

  6. Ano Namous 30 January 2017 / 6:16 pm

    Not everyone reading knows what a search angel is… other than someone who helps.

  7. D. R. Hunter 22 February 2017 / 12:59 am

    Blaine, thank you for your work on this. I took your survey tonight, and hopefully inched you a bit closer to that 1K than you’re hoping for by April.

    Here’s one thing I’d like the DNA companies to spend a bit more effort on: counseling an adoptee on how to use results from DNA testing to find family. I don’t expect anything on this from AncestryDNA, they’re much more focused on helping people figure out their ancestral backgrounds, the kilt-vs-lederhosen advertisements clearly cater to the person who is looking for a quick answer and nothing else.

    I would expect that 23andMe would be the best at this, since they have the best DNA tools, other than GEDmatch, where can a person compare two sharing matches with each other? The fact that their Relatives In Common feature includes everybody, even the anonymous user, has opened up a world of possibilities, just today, I discovered that a man who had tested was an uncle to someone who I already had a family tree for, including this uncle!

    I would imagine that adoptees constitute a disproportionate number of members of DNA sites, it would be good for those companies to encourage their non-adopted membership to assist the adoptee who just seeks knowledge, rather than wealth or anything else.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *