My Bio Family: Confirming the Maternal-Line via AncestryDNA

AncestryDNA Email Announcing Results
Email received from AncestryDNA on 06 April 2015 at 5:25pm confirming my autosomal test results are available.

AncestryDNA made a liar out of me yesterday!

Within 15 minutes of publishing my last blog post, whining that it would be late April at the earliest before Ancestry made my autosomal DNA results available, I received the email displayed to the right. Instead of its usual 4-6 week processing period, AncestryDNA completed my results within less than 2-1/2 weeks of receiving my test kit.

I saw this email on my iPhone, upon pulling into my garage after work.

All productive plans for the evening went out the door! Including making dinner. A quick text to Hubby arranged for take-out.

Time to plant my butt on the couch and start some serious exploring.

The first thing I did after logging into my AncestryDNA test was to conduct a filtered search of each bio parent’s surname in my list of Matches.

  • Rought (maternal) displayed zero results, even when choosing the option to include similar surnames.
  • Deleon (paternal) displayed one distant result, and the spelling variation De Leon displayed two distant results. The option to include similar surnames was not very helpful here, as it pulled in surnames such as Dillon.

I was bummed. I had hoped both surnames would show up in my Matches, and in a close relationship range.

Me AncestryDNA Rought Matches
No AncestryDNA Matches for me with the surname Rought identified.
AncestryDNA Deleon Matches
One distant “Deleon” AncestryDNA Match for me.
AncestryDNA De Leon Match
Two distant “De Leon” AncestryDNA Matches.

Reviewing the Closest Matches

I decided to start investigating the closest Match, a female that AncestryDNA estimates as a 2nd cousin with a possible rage of 1st to 2nd cousin.

No Tree Linked to DNA Test

Since AncestryDNA does not provide a chromosome browser or any other tools for analysis, a Match’s family tree is really the only way to try to investigate and verify a relationship online. Because this closest Match’s test kit profile shows no family tree connected, I was not very hopeful. But I clicked on the “View Match” button anyways.

My AncestryDNA Closest Match
The big blue help box that appears when clicking on the View Match button in AncestryDNA. Note the drop-down menu at the bottom, providing quick access to that member’s public tree(s).

Clicking on “View Match” brought up this big blue help box from AncestryDNA. Either I have always tuned this out when reviewing my dad’s Matches, or this is a new feature. I noticed at the bottom of the box a drop-down menu asking me to “Select a tree to preview…”. Huh? This Match’s test kit profile indicated that she had “No family tree” linked to her DNA test. Reading the blue help box closer confirms that she has not linked a family tree.

In the past, for Dad’s Matches, if a tree was not linked to a test kit, I would try to find an Ancestry Member profile for that person (or the test administrator), look to see if a Public Member Tee was listed for that Member Profile, and if not I would contact the Match asking if they would share their private tree with me (assuming they had a tree on Ancestry at all…many DNA testers do not).

Like the big blue box, this is the first time I have ever seen AncestryDNA provide direct access to find a Match’s unlinked Public Member Tree. Handy, and saves some time and steps!

Digging Through the Unlinked Public Tree

I found two Public Member Trees in that drop-down menu for my closest Match. One of the trees was named with a very familiar surname…the maiden name of Bio Mom Candidate’s mother (my biological maternal grandmother)! And this is not at all a common surname. BINGO!

While Bio Mom Candidate’s mother’s name is not listed in this tree, the tree is full of males with this same surname, most of whom appear to live in the same county already identified where Bio Mom Candidate and her parents lived. Some female spouses’ names are listed in this tree too (handy for cross-referencing in records). I was able within a couple hours to reconstruct my own version of this family tree, verifying and building it with records easily found on Ancestry and FamilySearch — expanding each branch of the family group (parents and a bunch of siblings) originally identified in this Match’s public tree.

One of these branches led me to the 1940 U.S. Census and a name that I instantly recognized… the same name I had identified a couple of weeks ago (via Ancestry records, Been Verified, and Facebook) as the mother of Bio Mom Candidate. Further cross-referencing among records confirmed this is indeed the same person.

Double BINGO!

Charting My AncestryDNA Top Matches
Plotting out the relationships between my top two AncestryDNA matches and me.

I had connected this top AncestryDNA Match to Bio Mom Candidate’s mother (my biological grandmother). A person that does show up in top Match’s public tree, but is marked as a private entry, which is why I could not find her in that tree by first name.

This connection also ties me to Bio Mom Candidate or one of her sisters as my birth mother. No other females within the appropriate DNA relationship range have the same surname identified on my original birth record.

Because I have no further proof (DNA, paper, or even verbal/written confirmation) directly linking me to Bio Mom Candidate, I cannot say with certainty that she is indeed my birth mother. Based on the age provided to me in my adoption letter long ago, Bio Mom Candidate best fits the profile from among this group of sisters. However, without further proof, the best I can conclude from the DNA and the records found is that one of these sisters is my birth mother.

My Initial AncestryDNA Maternal Matches
My two closest matches suggested by AncestryDNA confirm a maternal-line connection to Birth Mom Candidate or one of her sisters.

After soaking in this initial discovery high, I proceeded to replicate the same process on my second highest AncestryDNA Match — a female that Ancestry projects to also be a 2nd cousin, but with a possible range of 2nd to 3rd cousin.

Since this second Match is administered by the same person who is my top Match, I expected to come to the same conclusion. Which I quickly did. Match Two is the daughter of Match One. I confirmed this through the California Birth Index and Facebook.

  • Match One is my 1st Cousin 1x Removed. She and Bio Mom (Bio Mom Candidate or one of the sisters) are 1st Cousins, sharing the same grandparents as their MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestor).
  • Match Two is my 2nd Cousin. We share the same great-grandparents as our MRCA.

Word of warning. Match One’s public trees are incorrect (sadly, as is often the case for public trees). On both, she identifies herself as the home person, but then lists her grandparents as her parents on the 1st tree (my maternal side tree). On the second tree (for her husband’s family), she once again identifies herself as the home person (instead of her husband of daughter), but appears to list who I assume are her husband’s parents as her own parents. My guess is this is for privacy reasons, to protect the identity of herself, her husband, and her daughter — while still allowing her to share information from the grandparents’ generations on back. This set-up caused me to initially mis-identify the cousin relationships between me and Match One and me and Match Two. It wasn’t until I recreated my own version of the tree, substantiated via found records, that I was able to correctly calculate these relationships.

Next Steps

I have a lot of work ahead of me. So far, I have:

  • Transferred my raw AncestryDNA data to Family Tree DNA, but I am waiting for the results to process.
  • Uploaded my raw AncestryDNA data to GEDmatch, and will start analyzing it as I learn this tool better in my current “Working with Autosomal Results” class, through DNAAdoption.

I will also play with some of the analytic tools on DNAGedcom, which I am also learning through the DNAAdoption class, as well as the AncestryDNA Helper extension for Chrome.

Another step is to thoughtfully begin considering how I will respond to any AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA, or GEDmatch members who contact me now due to my DNA results showing up in their list of matches. I do not want to hinder someone else’s research: I hate non-responsive DNA match contacts, and I do not want to give them false information (lie about my connection). But I must respect the privacy and possible secret of my biological parents.

My DNA consultant and friend Molecular Genealogist Angie Bush, MS, shared some advice with me last night, after I asked what she recommends to her unknown parentage clients.

First, I would make sure your Ancestry tree is private AND unsearchable. After that, it is up to you whether or not you respond if they do contact you…I’m sure you have read about “non-responsive” matches all over the interwebz [sic]. That said, I would probably respond to any queries with the fact that you are adopted, and that you cannot share details of your biological ancestors because you don’t know them.

…or something like that…If your biological family gets in contact and they are okay with you sharing information or having a public tree, then that changes things, but until they do, you can keep things privatized.

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