Keys to Making Your Unknown Parentage Case a Success
You’ve hired the pros to find your biological family member. Now here’s a list of ways YOU can help make your unknown parentage case a success.
Congratulations! You’ve given this a lot of thought, and you’re ready to find your birth parents. You know this is a big job, so you’ve asked Legacy Tree Genealogists to help. We’re on it, and we can’t wait to get started.
Here’s a secret, though: A lot of our success here is going to depend on you. We’ve helped a lot of people, and we feel like we’re pretty good at this, but we still need your help. There’s a lot you can do to make sure we find your biological parents as efficiently as possible. Here are seven ways you can make sure we’re successful together:
Tell us who these cousin matches are.
It’s likely that you’ve already taken a number of DNA tests before you begin working with us. That means you’ve seen your cousin match list. We’re going to see that list too, and our first task is to figure out who those people are. There’s no way to find your unknown parent without those cousins, so we absolutely have to identify them. That means you can preserve valuable research time by telling us everything you know about these people. If you’ve already corresponded with them, send us those notes. If you recognize Myrtle as your mother’s second cousin, don’t keep it a secret. If you’ve sent them five messages and haven’t heard a peep back, that’s okay. We have ways of working around that, but we need to know every detail about what you’ve done first. Without that information, we might spend time uncovering facts you already know, and that’s frustrating for everyone concerned.
Test everyone related to your case.
If you’re looking for your father, and your mother is still living and willing to take a DNA test, we may ask you to have your mother take a DNA test. Doing so will allow us to quickly eliminate maternal cousins, so we spend all of our research time on your dad’s family. If your mother isn’t available, a maternal aunt or your half-sibling can test as well. Even testing a first cousin can help save time by eliminating matches from consideration. Learn more about how testing additional individuals can help resolve your case in our article, Covering Your Bases: Introduction to Autosomal DNA Coverage.
DNA tests have become much less expensive over the years. That means that tests aren’t the place to economize, because more cousin matches mean we’ll need fewer research hours to solve your case. We occasionally find we can solve a case with matches from just one site, but it’s rare. More often, we use results from multiple DNA sites to solve unknown parentage cases. Most sites have sales around World DNA Day (25 April), Mother’s Day and Father’s Day (mid-May and mid-June in the United States), and the period from mid-November to Christmas. If you’re looking for recent ancestry in Europe, it’s especially important to test at MyHeritage DNA, which has a rapidly-growing database of European clients (yes, even in Germany!).
During the research phase, find another hobby.
It’s tempting to continue to contact cousin matches or take the information from case updates and put them in your shiny new public family tree. We love this kind of work, so we get it. Jumping ahead can sometimes spook the cousins we still need to correspond with, and that can really bring research to a screeching halt. Sit tight and let us do our thing, and when we’re done, you’ll have tons of fun new material to work with. If you see something new that you think we should be aware of right away, it’s fine to email your project manager and make sure they’ve seen it. In fact, if a cousin you contacted months ago finally responds, be sure to let us know. We get responses from years-old cases, so “better late than never” is part of our daily work.
Tell us about the parent you know.
Unknown parentage cases sometimes involve finding just one parent, not two. If you’ve already identified one biological parent, we need to know every detail about that person. What was her address? Where did she work or go to school? What did her parents do for a living? What kinds of activities was she into? These details can make or break your case. Your parents intersected at some point, and we frequently see cases where they lived on the same street, worked in the same factory, or attended the same school. Sometimes their parents were in the same profession, and the parents met at the company picnic (true story!). You may think it’s strange that we want the name of the obstetrician who delivered you, but it may turn out that he’s the uncle of your birth father (another true story!). Tiny details matter a great deal when it comes to solving unknown parentage cases.
Sometimes, this step can be the most difficult part of the whole process. Parents are people, and people are imperfect. You might know some facts about your parent that are not fun to share, because they’re not things that make you feel proud. We get it. Our relatives aren’t perfect either, and we do this sort of work for a living. That means we’ve seen a lot, and we’re not here to judge you or your family. If the parent you’ve already identified had a complicated life, please tell us. We just want to help you solve your case, and information is our biggest weapon in breaking down brick walls that stand between you and the answers you need.
Share your hunches with us.
Did you spot a packet of old letters from a guy named Bob in your mom’s sock drawer when you were 12? Tell us. Bob is a common name, but when we get to the point where we’ve found your grandparents and they had three sons, the fact that one of them was named Bob might suddenly seem very important. Family secrets are often not all that secret, except from the child in question. If you heard whispers, or Aunt Martha thinks your father might have been missing a thumb, or your cousin says she heard something about a guy who worked at Dairy Queen, let us know. Those little details can save a lot of time in solving your case, because they help us narrow the field of possible candidates.
Don’t cling too tightly to what you “know.”
It’s important that we’re aware of that bit about the letters from Bob in your mom’s sock drawer, because that might matter. On the flip side, it might just be a pile of letters from a guy named Bob. Don’t discount any possibility just because it doesn’t fit with what you’ve been told in the past. Your Aunt Martha might be absolutely certain that your dad was Bob with the Missing Thumb, but DNA knows more than your Aunt Martha does. Sometimes the DNA evidence leads us in a direction that is very different from the one expected at the beginning of the project, and it’s important to be prepared for that. This is especially true for adoptees who have non-identifying information from their adoption agencies. That information can range from 100% accurate to complete fiction. Sometimes the information is so detailed that it seems like it couldn’t possibly be wrong…but it’s wrong. Our job is to gather every single clue, and then let the evidence tell us what’s true. If you’re prepared to do that as well, the emotional side of this journey will be much easier.
Identifying your biological parents is a huge step. We’re glad to be with you on this trip, and we want to work together to get there as quickly as possible. You can help by giving us the information we need to laser focus on finding your birth father or mother (and maybe even a sibling or two).
The experts at Legacy Tree Genealogists are experienced at helping reunite families, present and past. We can help you make sense of your DNA matches and identify your unknown family members. Contact us today for a free estimate.