Monday, January 15, 2018

Desperately seeking Susan: Part 6

(Continued from Part 5)

Within a year of starting her DNA search for her biological family, Bonnie* matched two maternal aunts Bridget* (Part 3) and Grace* (Part 4), and her birth father (Part 5), and identified her birth mother Gail* (Part 5). She has now reunited with both birth parents in person.

In JANUARY 2018 Gail received her AncestryDNA results, confirming their parent/child relationship.

Gail in Bonnie's match list – DNA confirmation

Gail also matched Grace as expected, and asked for my help understanding what their match means.

Gail in Grace's match list – note her Italian ethnicity

In Part 4 Bonnie's search inadvertently revealed that her birth mother was a subject of misattributed paternity, also referred to as a non-paternity event (NPE). My working hypothesis was that Bonnie was the daughter of Grace’s paternal half-sister, who was unknown to Grace. (Incidentally, there was also a recent NPE on Bonnie's paternal side. Even if we could have identified the ancestors of her highest paternal match at 23andMe, a second cousin, it would not have led us to her birth father.)

Possible relationships for matches in AncestryDNA's CLOSE FAMILY – 1st COUSIN category include half-sibling, full aunt/uncle, full niece/nephew, grandparent/grandchild, and double first cousins sharing all four grandparents.

AncestryDNA does not list the half-sibling possibility under actual DNA results

People with any of these relationships share on average 25% of their DNA, and it is not obvious from shared autosomal DNA amounts alone which relationship is the correct one, so we also need to make use of any other information available, such as:

– We can exclude relationships that are not possible based on circumstantial evidence (ages and other tree data).
– We can analyze shared X-DNA at GEDmatch to check whether possible paternal half-sisters satisfy the requirement that they share their father's full X chromosome.
– We can analyze shared autosomal DNA at GEDmatch to check whether matches share fully identical segments, which double first cousins sharing paternal and maternal grandparents are expected to share.

Grace and Gail were born in the same area only four years apart and neither has any full siblings to my knowledge, so we can exclude the grandparent/grandchild and full aunt/niece possibilities. They have unrelated known mothers and don't share fully identical segments (established by a one to one autosomal comparison with graphics at GEDmatch), so we can also exclude the double first cousin possibility.

Gail and Grace share their father's X chromosome

A one to one X-DNA comparison at GEDmatch confirmed they share a full X chromosome, consistent with my working hypothesis and the only remaining possible relationship for their DNA match, paternal half-sisters. Furthermore, their shared matches belong to the tree of Grace's known father Carlo* Jr, indicating that they are both his biological daughters.

Gail's biological father was not the person she thought it was, and none of her parents are alive to ask about it. It is a hard pill to swallow. I can explain what the DNA is saying, but any new information revealed must ultimately be processed emotionally by those affected in their own time.

*This is a true story. I have permission to blog about the people who asked me for help but have not used their real names for the sake of their privacy. I have tried to limit my writing here to information pertinent to their DNA searches, but have shared other details I found with them in tree format.

{Related resources can be accessed via ISOGG's Wiki page on DNA testing for adoptees.}

Friday, January 5, 2018

Desperately seeking Susan: Part 5

(Continued from Part 4)

Holy smokes!

Bonnie's* birth father had already tested with AncestryDNA, and he definitely wasn't Italian (remember my working hypothesis that Bonnie's Italian DNA came from her maternal grandfather Carlo* Jr, Grace's* father and Bridget's* paternal half-brother). His family was from North Carolina and Tennessee. To my horror, I woke up to discover that in her excitement Bonnie had made contact with his daughter (the match admin) immediately, before I had a chance to research him. Fortunately my panic was unfounded as he and his family took the news remarkably well and have been kind and receptive.

In SEPTEMBER 2017 Bonnie met with her birth father and paternal siblings in person.

Unfortunately her father couldn't remember much from the time of Bonnie's birth, but he did think of one person who might be Bonnie's birth mother. Her first name was Sue. We tried to find Sue by name alone, but that is easier said than done when more than forty years have passed and her surname could have changed more than once since then. I realized fairly quickly it wasn't going to work, and she may not even be Bonnie's birth mother anyway. After the excitement had worn off, it was back to the DNA drawing board for me.


Bonnie's closest match in her maternal grandmother's line (i.e. not shared with her father or maternal Italian matches) only shared 70 cM at AncestryDNA. Her test was managed by someone else, and she didn't have any ancestry information visible on her profile. To make matters worse, based on their shared matches she appeared to share French Canadian ancestry with Bonnie, which means endogamy, which means she could be even more distantly related than the shared cM suggested due to multiple connections.

The French and Polish matches had ties to Massachusetts, the French part came from Canada before that, and the Polish part came from recent immigrants. They came in the 19th and early 20th centuries to work in the area's thriving jute mills. Ironically, along with Irish immigrants, they gave New England a strong Roman Catholic presence. (According to Bonnie's non-identifying information, her birth mother was Roman Catholic.)

I was not optimistic about finding Bonnie's birth mother. I kept plugging away at Bonnie's Massachusetts matches on and off, thinking it was impossible but going through the motions anyway. I gave up a few times, checking Bonnie's AncestryDNA match list every day for a new close match that would put me out of my misery.

I worked all the clues the matches offered, grouped the matches based on shared matches, built trees for them, and found shared ancestors with shared matches for a few (this process is called tree triangulation or pedigree triangulation). I added all the bits and pieces I could find to separate "islands" for connected matches in my single research tree space – puzzle pieces of Bonnie's own family tree.** I built the lines of shared ancestors forward and looked for any connection to the other puzzle pieces or to Albany, NY. Working backwards most shared ancestors with Bonnie would have lived in the old countries, which often makes the task of finding connections impossible, and working forwards many tree lines fizzled out as people left Massachusetts for greener pastures and their trail went cold.

One day, while working on a French Canadian branch I had previously thought too close to the 70 cM match for their shared DNA, I happened upon an obituary dated 1959 some kind soul had uploaded to their public tree which mentioned a surviving son who then lived in Albany, NY. Other sources revealed he was married to a woman of Polish descent. Paydirt.

I used obituaries, city directories, newspaper articles, and other sources of information on living people to flesh out his children and grandchildren. One of his daughters, who was a toddler in Massachusetts in the 1940 census, had a daughter Gail* who fit the description of Bonnie's birth mother recorded by the adoption caseworker. Her first name wasn't in the same vicinity of the alphabet as Susan, but Bonnie's birth father confirmed he had in fact known someone with her name. To my amazement, based on shared ancestors in multiple lines and circumstantial evidence, that 70 cM match I once scoffed at appeared to be Bonnie's full second cousin once removed (which is statistically possible). Her grandmother was the sister of the man who had moved with his family to Albany, NY by the 1950s, now believed to be Bonnie's great-grandfather.

In NOVEMBER 2017 Bonnie wrote a letter to her putative birth mother Gail and received a prompt reply confirming that she was in fact the right person, and she was happy to be found. Their relationship has been confirmed by further DNA evidence, and Bonnie will soon be reunited with her birth mother in person.

Birth parents and siblings are not always happy to be found. Bridget's and Bonnie's searches had many twists and turns, but the responses and assistance from members of their biological family including Grace, who tested and shared her DNA data, have more than made up for it.

*This is a true story. I have permission to blog about the people who asked me for help but have not used their real names for the sake of their privacy. I have tried to limit my writing here to information pertinent to their DNA searches, but have shared other details I found with them in tree format.

**I build private and unsearchable speculative research trees on Ancestry's website. More often than not I can find the information I need to build trees for matches without anyone contacting them, which is a frustrating and risky process. I usually temporarily add a match as a new child of any existing person in the tree, then edit relationships in their profile removing the temporary relationship without removing any people from the tree overall. Later on I can link them up to the puzzle wherever they actually fit. I use two different symbols in the name suffix field to denote shared ancestors and paths to them.

{Related resources can be accessed via ISOGG's Wiki page on DNA testing for adoptees.}

(Continued in Part 6)

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Desperately seeking Susan: Part 4

(Continued from Part 3)

GEDmatch one to one
autosomal and X-DNA comparison tools

Grace* and her paternal half-aunt Bridget* shared 10% more autosomal DNA on GEDmatch than AncestryDNA (737 cM versus 673 cM) as a result of different matching algorithms. They did not share any X-DNA, which is consistent with their relationship as Grace's paternal X-DNA came from her father's mother and not her father's father who was Bridget's father. (I already knew from the 23andMe chromosome browser that Bridget and Bonnie* did not share any X-DNA either.)

GEDmatch autosomal comparison
showing position only
Grace and Bonnie shared even more than that, a whopping 964 cM autosomal DNA plus a significant X-DNA match of 76 cM covering about 39% of one X chromosome. Grace did not know any sisters but was open to the possibility that one existed and Bonnie was her father's child.

Their match did not meet the matching criteria for paternal sisters however, which include sharing their father's full X chromosome (fathers only have one to pass on, while mothers pass on half of their two in a recombined mixture). Grace's father Carlo* Jr was the only child of both his Italian immigrant parents and had no full siblings, so Bonnie could not be her full paternal first cousin either. The only relationship that made sense was that Bonnie was Grace's half-niece, with a paternal half-brother of Grace's being Bonnie's father of Italian descent. Bonnie would then be Bridget's paternal half grand-niece, which also fit their shared DNA.

Not so fast.

Put simplistically, males only inherit X-DNA from their mothers and pass all of it on to their daughters only, while females inherit X-DNA from both parents and pass some of it on to all their children.** Grace’s paternal X-DNA came from her paternal grandmother and her father only passed this on to his daughters including Grace, who passed some of it on to their children. This suggested that Bonnie was the daughter of Grace’s paternal half-sister not her paternal half-brother. We can't generally tell much from the absence of an X-DNA match further out, but Bridget and Bonnie's lack of an X-DNA match was consistent with this working hypothesis.

GEDmatch X-DNA comparison showing graphics and positions

Bonnie's non-identifying information in respect of three grandparents was suddenly invalid. Bonnie's birth mother was of French, Polish, and Italian descent, while her birth father was not Italian at all (remember her ethnicity estimate did not support more than one Italian grandparent). The identity of her birth parents, including Grace's half-sister, was still unknown and we would need more clues to find them.

In JULY 2017 Bonnie announced with great excitement that her AncestryDNA results were in, and she had a direct hit. A parent match.

*This is a true story. I have permission to blog about the people who asked me for help but have not used their real names for the sake of their privacy. I have tried to limit my writing here to information pertinent to their DNA searches, but have shared other details I found with them in tree format.

**Some useful X-DNA inheritance charts have been published by Blaine Bettinger and Debbie Parker Wayne.

{Related resources can be accessed via ISOGG's Wiki page on DNA testing for adoptees.}

(Continued in Part 5)