Find Your Roots Through DNA
Print this page

Guide for Beginners

Stumbling Around in the Dark

by June C. Byrne
Note about June by the Team: June is a 72 year old woman who in 2013 knew nothing about spreadsheets, or DNA. She took our class and taught herself from our materials. She has identified both of her birth parents! 

For those of us searching for a missing parent, sibling, child, the search is seldom easy or short. The goal of is to give us the skills to locate that missing person. Considering the difficulty of the search, the success rate of those using the Methodology on is phenomenal.   Perhaps the most important service it can provide is to tell you that you are not alone in your quest.  Others have succeeded and so can you.  In the beginning, you probably will feel as if you are stumbling around in the dark.  Everyone starts that way.  You were probably stumbling around for a while and someone told you to come here for help.  The theory that is taught here is extremely simple. Take a DNA test, find some matches who have a common ancestor, look among the other descendants of the common ancestor for your missing parent, sibling, etc. In the real world, of course, the practice is far more complicated than the theory.  

STEP ONE: DNA Testing    The first thing you need is a DNA test. For extensive information about which tests to take, go to 

DNA Testing on  DNA Tests

The reasons for the suggestions are carefully explained there. But the situation is pretty simple. If you are male and looking for a father, take a YDNA 37 marker test at   Don’t bother with the lower tests because the matches will not be close enough. Both males and females need to take an atDNA [autosomal DNA] test.  If you have tested at you can transfer that data to FTDNA Family Finder. The transfer is quicker and cheaper than a new test there. Why should you transfer?  You need to have your DNA at all the available sites, because your magic DNA match may have tested at any one of these three companies.  It is called fishing in all of the ponds.  If you have tested with Family Finder at FTDNA, and money is available, you also need to test at and  No matter what atDNA test you take, you need to go to which is a free site and upload your raw data there.  You may find lots of interesting matches there. If you have tested with more than one company, upload both of the tests because you may get slightly different results.  If you are male or female, someone may suggest that you take a mtDNA test.  The results of this will be interesting, but will not help you locate your missing person so don’t bother with it unless it is just to satisfy your curiosity.

 Update: Effective June 1, 2016 Ancestry changed their testing chip.  Currently FTDNA cannot accept raw data transfers tested on the new chip.  If your results were posted to Ancestry prior to June 1, 2016 you should still be able to transfer to FTDNA.       

There are long complicated reasons for the above advice, but for the most part, you just need to do it. Every expert on this adoption search will give exactly that advice.  When you get the results back, one of the pieces of information will be your Haplogroup information. These Haplogroups are very interesting. You can spend some time with the information on Wikipedia and Google, but your Haplogroup will not help you find your Missing Person. They are the equivalent of saying you had ancestors in the Iberian Peninsula 10,000 years ago.  If you thought you were Irish, and have ancestors from the Iberian Peninsula, remember the Spanish Armada.  So you see that this is fun, interesting, and so on, but not useful when you are searching for a birth mother born in the 20th Century.   

Be sure that you designate a beneficiary when you test on Family Tree DNA or 23andme.  If you have children, it may be that they will want to continue to use the database.  Maintain a list of the login information and the passwords for all of these sites that someone else can access.  We never know what will happen to any of us or, sadly, when it will happen.     

If you have a known parent, you should have that parent or a close relative of that parent also test.  Then you have someone to compare with.  If someone does not match your mother, the chances are good that person is a match to your father. 

STEP TWO: Getting your information out there

 Registries.    The people who come here for help are mothers looking for children, children looking for siblings who were adopted, adoptees looking for one or both parents.  All of these people go to various registries to sign up.  You should do this as soon as you start your search. You may or may not be lucky. But the registries are easy and free and it is ridiculous to spend years and a lot of money searching for someone who has been sitting there hoping you would call. Register on every adoption registry that applies to you. Your ship can’t come in if you don’t send one out.  Google Adoption Registry to find one for your state. 
Wikipedia maintains a list of Adoption Registries

STEP THREE: Gather all available information about the missing person and event. maintains a link which gives information about the specific states. Some states have open records where you can request a copy of your OBC [Original BC An original birth certificate may have the name of your birth parents. That is why you want it.  Most of the time, what you now have is an amended birth certificate from the court which has the adoptive parents names on it. In any case, you should write to the jurisdiction where the legal adoption took place. The laws vary greatly. But you are normally entitled to Non-Identifying Information from the court where a legal adoption occurred.  You can Google the court address.  This Non-Identifying Information varies greatly, but will most often include some information as to the age of each parent, their families and background.  It will not include names. You must do this. Otherwise, you will find it much harder to identify your missing person when you trip over him or her.

STEP FOUR: Join A Group

There are some Yahoo Groups available which may be extremely helpful to you with the problem of how to do this.     You should join the Yahoo Group DNAAdoption. Go to, click on Groups in the top menu, search for DNAAdoption. There are a lot of members of this group and quite a bit of traffic. You can choose to receive individual emails or a daily digest.  If you don’t want all the emails in your mailbox, join the digest version.  When you have time, read over the messages.  You can learn a lot from them. You can change how you receive messages by going back to Yahoo, click on Groups, sign in, look for Manage My Groups on the left.  If you click on this, you will see a list of your groups, and can change how you receive messages from any of them. You can even turn it off temporarily.   

 When you join, introduce yourself, and ask about your particular situation. Give your known information and tell the group what you have done so far. They will be able to advise you on things like getting more information from the court records. The situation is very complicated and you should make sure you have done everything possible to get every scrap of information before you embark on the DNA Quest. Be sure to include the date and geographical information.  Put it all into one email. 

How you can help us help you
Include the answers to these questions in your first email:

Your Name
Who you are looking for
Date of Adoption:
City, County, State of Adoption
Everything you know about the situation
What you have done
What DNA tests you have taken
Do you have non identifying information (Non ID)
Experience with genealogy
if anyone is helping you.

Include your non identifying information if you have it. Examples of the information the members of the list will ask for are on under Summary and Recommendations.    You may have been told things like, "The hospital burned."  Ask anyway.  Honestly, the hospital never had your adoption records anyway.  So join the list and ask.  Everyone starts with the same ignorance on how to do this.  Let us help you.  

STEP FIVE: On the Subject of Search Angels

 Many people sign up on the DNAAdoption Group List expecting to find someone else to do their search for them.  Unless you have a medical emergency, such as the need for a immediate bone marrow transplant donor, that is not realistic. There are very few Search Angels, and many people searching.  The Angels spend their time advising us on our searches, answering questions, and teaching us, not doing it for us.  So your best bet is to dig in and start learning how to do it yourself.  But listen carefully to their advice.  

STEP SIX: Wait for your results and information to arrive   

If you have sent off for your DNA tests and have requested your adoption information, and signed up on every registry you can find, you may be impatiently twiddling your thumbs.  But this is a valuable opportunity to hone the skills you are going to need for the search.


There is a DNA class available at Check the site for dates.  They fill up ahead of time so you should sign up for one which starts after your DNA results are due back. Expect that to take from six to eight weeks. Then you will need to upload them to GEDMATCH and that will take another month at least.. So pick a date about 3 months from when you send in your DNA kit. You can't really take the class until your DNA tests and uploads are complete.  There is a small fee for our classes.

Everything on is the result of volunteer work.  However, donations are accepted. Try to plan to take the class when you have some time available. It lasts six weeks and will take up most of the free moments in your life for a while. It is a wonderful experience and very much of an eye opener.  The Basic Autosomal DNA class is a four week in depth course which follows the Methodology page at  By all means read and study that. 


Read everything on the site actually.  Read the messages off the list.   You need the messages to reinforce the knowledge that this can actually be done.  You have not embarked upon a hopeless quest. And you are not alone.  

Genealogy Skills     Unless you are incredibly lucky, you will have to acquire genealogy skills. If you have a known parent, you should build a family tree for that person.  If you have a good tree and can identify the DNA matches who match your mother’s family, the ones who are left are your father’s family. The better this tree is, the easier your later searches will be.  Don’t limit the tree to ancestors.This is a form of going from the known to the unknown.  Include siblings and their families. And don’t just take the word of someone else for their family tree which goes back to Noah.  See what they are using for proof.      

Building a family tree is a skill that you will need. So practice on the known people.  If neither of your parents is known, practice on your adopted family or that of a spouse or son in law.  Anything you do to develop skills in genealogy will be useful later.  Consult the research librarian at your local library and ask about the genealogy resources in your area. Ask about local classes on genealogy. Ask what databases are available through your local library.  Many have free access to many databases. If there is home access to some of the databases, get the password and go play with them. Find out how to use their newspaper archives and find obituaries for people out of your adopted family.  Also ask if there is a Family History Center run by the LDS Church. These are free and open to everyone, members and non-members alike.  They also have free access to many sites. They also run classes.  And they will be happy to help you out.  However, they are NOT adoption specialists. So learn your genealogy skills from them. And learn your DNA search skills here. 

DNA search skills  

Learn your DNA search skills at  If you were adopted in New Jersey, just as an example, go to, click on Search, then Wiki, and put New Jersey in the search box.  You will find a lot of information about how to research in New Jersey. You will need this kind of thing later.

 Understanding DNA 

 DNA is a very complicated subject. If you are reading the messages on the DNAAdoption list, you already know that.  You should go over the DNAAdoption Website as if you were looking for buried treasure. There is so much there and more is added regularly.   You may also want to join the DNA Newbie list on Yahoo Groups.  You can learn a lot on that. The information on the ISOOG Newbie list is on Resources Page on       

You need to look at the material on the DNAAdoption Methodology page so you will be prepared when your results arrive.  Go ahead and sign up for now.  It is free, but you do have to register.  Look this over and see what they have. They have some articles on researching.  When your results come in, you can immediately upload them to this site.   You should do it immediately because it takes a while for your kit to get into the main database.  This is a vital thing.       

While you are waiting read and read some more on the subject of DNA. This is a tremendous source of information and articles and explanations. Has excellent information. Google Beginning DNA pages.  Google is your new best friend. 

 This is a good blog by Roberta Estes about the kinds of DNA.

 Excel Skills  

 Some of us use spreadsheets every day, others are not sure what they are.  However, you will need spreadsheet skills for your search. If you are competent in handling a database, your task will be easier.  The instructions for the class are given in Excel, but if you have another spreadsheet, it is fine.  If you don’t know what a spreadsheet is, start by downloading a free one, such as Google Docs, LibreOffice or OpenOffice, and play with it.  Whatever skills you garner will be pure gold.  If you are terrified of Excel, see if a friend or member of your family knows spreadsheets and can help you to get started.   

This is a wonderful video for those who are total beginners.  There are a lot of other youtube lessons on Excel.

At the beginning of your search, you need to be able to:         

Copy and paste a set of data into the spreadsheet.  Just make up some to practice with.  Put names in the left column and single digits in the second and some random numbers in the third.     

 Learn how to save it in various formats. Save it.      

Select a row by clicking in the far left column. Find the color can on the top menu. It is tipping over.  You can select a color. This will highlight a row (or column) with that color.  I use this to highlight some sets of people that I am interested in.        

 Insert rows and columns [Be sure to have your cursor at the top or far left when you do this. See what happens if you don't.]       

Delete rows and columns       

Select data and move it.        

Sort the data by the numbers in each column. Be sure to click in the top left hand corner to sort the whole file.      

By this time you already know more about spreadsheets than I did when I started.  You can google any other instructions you need. But you do need the above. Learn it now so that you are ready.  The DNA is difficult enough without also struggling with a spreadsheet when you never saw one before.        

And by this time your results ought to be just around the corner.  It takes about 6 weeks for a test to come back. The exact date will vary between companies and the number of kits they receive.  Right after sales, for example, they get in a lot of kits and results slow down.  The results will arrive just after you begin to suspect maybe they lost your kit.  It will come back, I promise. 

The Results are in!!        

When  your DNA results arrive, you need to take immediate action. Under How To's you will find instructions on downloading raw data from your test.  Download the raw data and upload it to If you tested with Ancestry upload your raw data to  Right now, this is $39, but this may change. Use the same method to download your raw DNA as for GEDMATCH.  Instructions on how to load it are on the site.  Do this immediately, because you need the results of all of them.  At the present time you cannot upload data from 23andme.  However, that may change shortly. 

Now you get to look at matches which is the fun part.  And after you get tired of playing with them and feel properly confused, go back to the Methodology page on this site, and see what you are supposed to be doing with all of this. Remember your goal.  You need to find some people who match you and who have a common ancestor.  You need to be able to see their family tree to work out who the common ancestor is because that is also your ancestor.  Then you need some matches which are large enough to work with. You probably have hundreds of small matches and they will likely remain mysteries for years.  Look for the closest matches first.  Do not get sidetracked on 8th cousins.    

We wish you the best luck possible and smooth sailing on your journey. Just remember there are a lot of people to guide you on that journey.