Part 2: Sorting Family Lines and Building Trees

Using AncestryDNA to Find Your Biological Family

This is the part where most people get lost. This is also the part where biological relatives are found.

I read a lot of advice that directs people to upload their DNA to as many places as possible. This is excellent advice! I tell people to do the same thing! But unless you’re one of the lucky few, just uploading DNA isn’t going to find your biological family, sorry. This part takes work, and a lot of it. This is the part where we start building trees!

If you find most of your closest matches don’t have trees, or only have stumps, read No Tree or Private Tree Matches: Getting Blood From A Turnip

Take a look at the family trees of your closest DNA matches. Depending on your family’s immigration history and if you come from populations more likely to submit their DNA, you should have around two-six obviously different family lines, one from each grandparent and maybe a couple of great-grandparent branches.

Do you see any overlap in names or places? Yes? Great! Create a new family tree on your profile (be sure to make it private) and start inputting the names of your matches and the names from any other match’s tree that overlaps. Once you’ve gotten the obvious ones filled in, use the search bar to look for any other family trees that contain those names. Make sure to use the note feature—this will save you a lot of time later.

No, the connections between your matches aren’t obvious? When this happens, it’s usually because your matches have trees with only a few names in them. This is when the tedious work of building trees becomes truly mind numbing. Start a new tree for each of your matches and build, build, build. Build back as far as you can, then move on to the next match and repeat, repeat, repeat. You’ll eventually start finding the connections.

Now, this is the part where it gets strange: You might notice that it seems like a whole branch of your family is missing. I don’t know why this happens, but occasionally you’ll find that branch tested on a different site. Maybe your test preference is partly genetic? I don’t know the answer, but I most often find the missing branch on MyHeritage or 23andMe—this is why I strongly recommend people also pay for the 23andMe kit.

Everything went off without a hitch? No? Very few people are that lucky. I address some of the common issues that crop up when using AncestryDna to find your biological family in part 3.

Part 3: Troubleshooting Common Issues That Crop Up in The Search For Birth Parents