DNA Testing for Adoptees: Searching for Biological Roots

DNA testing for adoptees (and others with unknown parentage) isn’t a last resort–use it along with other strategies to discover biological roots. Genetic genealogists CeCe Moore and Diahan Southard share five tips for getting started.

DNA testing for adoptees

Not long ago, I chatted with genetic genealogist CeCe Moore of The DNA Detectives about using DNA testing for adoptees. Here I summarize some tips she shared, along with some perspectives of my own and resources that can help your search for biological relatives.

Click here to listen to our chat:

DNA testing for adoptees: 5 tips

1. Start with available records. A lot of people of people are coming straight to DNA testing now without looking at any available records first. Adoptees should start by looking at state laws and seeing if they can get access to original birth certificates. Click here to read about access to adoption records (U.S.).

2. Take an autosomal DNA test. This test looks at both sides of a person’s biological family, mom and dad. Most people start by testing at AncestryDNA because it has the largest database of potential matches (over 4 million now!). If you don’t find a close match (at least a second cousin),  you will want to transfer to both Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage for FREE to expand your search radius. Males with unknown paternity should also take a YDNA test (at least at the 37-marker level) from Family Tree DNA.

3. Do your own adoption search. Sure, you can hire someone to help. But you should be invested in your own search when possible. You’ll likely get a much greater satisfaction out of it.

As with any kind of search you are doing for people who may still be living, proceed with care and try to keep your search as private as possible. Try first to contact the people who are most likely to know about you already, including your parents and grandparents. If you do discover a biological family buy ed medication member who may not know about you, please carefully consider the impact you may have on their lives by revealing information you have learned.

4. Become educated. Learn all the strategies you can for researching your biological roots. Read and read! Keep learning! The DNA Detectives Facebook group is about self-education, with members helping members work their own cases without a professional having to work each one. (You can also check out The DNA Detectives website.)

5. Keep your expectations flexible. CeCe Moore says, “The end result of an adoption search is positive most of the time. There are some stories where contact has been rejected by a birth relative, but they are in the minority. A positive outcome doesn’t necessarily mean a connection ora loving relationship with a birth parent, but perhaps with a birth sibling or cousin.”

Finally, I want to share this powerful statement from CeCe Moore on adoptee rights:

Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 178

 

“I believe everyone has an equal right to learn about their heritage. There’s a whole class of people denied the joyful experience of building their biological family trees. Everyone deserves that knowledge. That doesn’t mean the birth family has to have a relationship. There’s a difference between knowing your heritage and having a relationship with the birth family. The adoptee deserves the knowledge of their origins.

But you can’t legislate a person to have a relationship with another person!”

 

 

 

Get the most from your DNA testing experience with my series of DNA quick guides, updated for 2018! Topics include:

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Finding Family History in WWII Newspapers: Narrowing the Results

Newspapers can fill in the gaps to the long-lost stories of your ancestors. These tips will help you narrow your search in digitized WWII newspapers for experiences directly relating to the war and to the lives of your ancestors.

wwii_newspaper2

In this previous post, I provided step-by-step tips for locating WWII-era newspapers. Those tips helped you locate the actual newspapers. In this post, I’ve got 7 tips for to help you focus on narrowing down a large list of results in search of war-related family stories.

Tip 1: Try Various Name Combinations in WWII Newpapers

If you are keyword searching in digitized newspapers, remember to try different name combinations. A man may be identified by just his first initial and last name. During the 1940s, a woman might be referred to as “Mrs. Ted Johnson” instead of Barbara Johnson.

Tip 2: Search for Addresses

You might find a family identified as “the Johnson’s of 132 Cherry Lane,” so try using street addresses in your searches, remembering that “Lane” might be spelled out or abbreviated. You may also find the family listed by their town or township. An example of this might be “the Johnson’s of Brown township,” or “the Johnson’s of Conover.”

Tip 3: Expand Your Search to Events and Organizations

Use any search terms you already know about for your family in World War II: a military unit, a battle or local service organization, or a war effort project that the folks back home may have helped out with. Do family stories mention rationing, air raid drills, bomb shelters, blackout rules, or one of the women getting a job at a certain factory? All these make excellent search terms.

Tip 4: Take Time to Browse

Browsing the pages will give you a sense of how the war affected everyday life at home. You may find recipes that make the most of ration allowances and reminders about blackout rules and curfews. You may even find tips on how to conserve gasoline or how to be fashionable without silk stockings!

Almost every news item on the front page of this Jan 8, 1943 issue of the Euclid News Journal (OH) has to do with the war. It's easy to see how the war affected everyday life of this small Ohio city on the shores of Lake Erie. Issues of this paper are searchable at the Euclid Public Library website (click image to view more issues).

Almost every news item on the front page of this Jan 8, 1943 issue of the Euclid News Journal (OH) has to do with the war. It’s easy to see how the war affected everyday life of this small Ohio city on the shores of Lake Erie. Issues of this paper are searchable at the Euclid Public Library website (click image to view more issues.)

Tip 5: Be Aware of Newspaper Stoppages

If your family lived in an area that came under attack or was occupied, the local newspapers may have stopped printing. In that case, search other papers to see if they reported what was going on in your ancestor’s town.

Tip 6: Keep an Eye on the Homefront

For relatives who served in the military, watch for updates in local papers about how they were faring on the fronts during the war. Watch for casualty lists of the wounded, dead, and missing. Here’s something cool: newspapers also printed maps showing the progress of the war on the various fronts.

Tip 7: History Provides Hints

If you’re looking for reports about soldiers’ bodies returning home and funeral services, it will help to know that according to an article in The Wall Street Journal, the War Department didn’t start bringing back remains until the fall of 1947 because of the huge logistical challenges involved. Over 93,000 American soldiers who died in World War II are buried overseas in one of the American Battle Monuments Commission cemeteries.

Making the Most of Newspapers for Family History

How to Find Your Family History in NewspapersFind more tips like these in my book, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers. You’ll find step-by-step instructions for my foolproof research process, along with everything you need for success: worksheets and checklists, tons of free online resources (and websites worth paying a few bucks for), a massive amount of location-specific websites (U.S. and international)–and a case study that puts it all to the test!

Common Surnames: How Unique is Yours?

Common surnames can make genealogy research more challenging. But learning more about your last name (including how common it is) can also enrich your family history. Check out 4 free online tools for learning more about your family’s surnames. Then share what you learn the next time your relatives get together!

common surnames

If you have common surnames on your family tree, you may have become frustrated at times trying to determine whether the “John Williams” or “Elizabeth Smith” you’re looking at in a record belongs to your John or Elizabeth. Would it make a difference if you discovered they lived in an area where there very few folks by those names during that time period? It would. Furthermore, it would probably also be nice to know things like where else in the world–or within England, for example–that surname is found now (or was in the past).

The enormous amount of census, vital records, and family tree data now online is making it easier to answer questions like these. Below, find free online tools for mapping common surnames (and less-common ones, too) across time. They include surname search tools hosted by a couple of our Genealogy Giants, Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com. What can you learn from the following sites? Do they agree with one another? Check them out!

Your surname in the 1990 and 2000 U.S. censuses

common surnamesThe US Census Bureau has created databases of last names that appear in recent censuses. You can look at the results a couple of ways:

  • Click here to search for your surname among the most common 150,000 surnames from the 1990 and 2000 censuses. These surnames cover about 90% of those who participated in the census.
  • Click here to view a list of all surnames that appear 100 or more times in the 2000 census. (Smith, Johnson, Williams, Brown, Jones, Miller and Davis all top a million occurrences!) According to this webpage, the top 15 surnames have remained fairly steady in the most recent three censuses with one exceptional trend: Spanish-origin surnames are starting to make the lists.

common surnames england walesCommon surnames of England and Wales

Find out how common your surname is today in England, Wales, and the Isle of Mann. The Surnames of England and Wales – the ONS List has a searchable database of almost 270,000 surnames shared by 54.4 million people (it excludes surnames occurring fewer than 5 times in the total database of nearly 60 million people). The list compiled between 1998-2002 does have some duplication and misspellings: “experience suggests that multiplying the result for your surname by 0.93 will give a good idea of the living population for your surname.”

What’s in a name? Ancestry.com answers

Ancestry.com hosts this fun and free tool for those with roots in the U.S., England, Scotland, and Wales:

Remember, it’s not a precise genealogy research tool. But it can prove interesting. When I ran this search for the married surname of our Genealogy Gems DNA expert, Diahan Southard, I was shown (among other things) this interesting map illustrating how the Southard family was spread across the United States in 1920:

common surnames

Surname directory at MyHeritage

MyHeritage.com hosts a searchable surname directory taken from data found on its site. To search the surname directory, choose the first letter of the last name from the alphabet shown below the search screen. (If you enter a name in the blue search boxes, you’ll be taken into their record-searching area, which isn’t the same):

common surnames

You won’t find all names surnames here, though you may find variant spellings of yours. (I never knew McClellan could be spelled in so many different ways!) Here’s a map of how they find my husband’s surname, Morton, scattered across the globe:

common surnames

Looking for more surname distribution maps? Click here to find a list organized by country.

Next Steps: Try this with your common surnames

common surnames Google search strategiesIf you’ve taken a DNA test…Thousands of people are compiling their same-surname DNA test results into surname projects. Click here to learn more about how to “social network” your yDNA test results in a surname project.

If you’re a Genealogy Gems Premium subscriber…you can watch Lisa Louise Cooke’s fabulous video tutorial, Common Surname Google Search Strategies. Use her tips to find even your most commonly-named relatives online! (Not a Premium member? Click here to learn more–for one low price, you’ll get a year’s access to hundreds of Premium videos and podcast episodes!)

New Genealogy Records this Week Nov. 8, 2019

It’s another big week for genealogical records. Here’s the latest including two rare opportunities for free access to subscription military records.

new genealogy records military

Ancestry® Veteran’s Day 2019 Free Access To World’s Largest US Military Records Collection

From Ancestry: Ancestry® boasts the world’s largest US military records collection.  Find inspiring stories about heroic family members who served our country.  

  • The free access promotion ends November 17 at 11:59 PM EST.
  • Visit the collection here.
  • More than 260 million US military records
  • More than 60% of Ancestry U.S. subscribers who have a family tree have found at least one military record for an ancestor!
  • Find draft cards, enlistment records, soldier pension indexes and more
  • Our U.S. military records cover all 50 states and nearly 400 years of American history
  • View the full list of collections
  • Anyone can help honor our veterans: Capture WWII Veteran’s Stories

My search for Sidney Mansfield retrieved at least three records:

veterans records at ancestry

Search results for Sidney F Mansfield of Minnesota

While I had found some of these before, this records from the U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939 collection was a pleasant surprise, although reading it brings to light an unpleasant time for Sidney:

U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939 Ancestry.com

Record of Sidney F. Mansfield

Findmypast Granted Free Access to International Records Ahead of Veterans day 2019

The free access promotion ended at 12 pm GMT on Monday, November 11th 

Findmypast includes more than 85 million military records covering the Armed Forces of the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. Researches can search for their ancestors in a variety of fascinating documents ranging from service records and pensions to medal rolls, POW records, casualty lists and more.

New Historical Records at MyHeritage

From the MyHeritage blog: “18.6 million new historical records have been added in October 2019 in seven new collections from all over the world, including:

  • Australia,
  • Spain,
  • the former Soviet Union,
  • Latvia,
  • the United States,
  • Germany,
  • and Denmark.”

Here are the full details of these new record collections:

Australia Death Notices, 1860–2019

“This collection of over 7 million records contains death notices, funeral notices, and obituaries from Australia from a variety of sources. The dates of these notices primarily range from 1900–2019, with a few entries from the previous 50 years.”

Spain, Bilbao Diocese, Catholic Parish Records, 1501–1900

“This collection of over 4.9 million records consists of baptism, marriage, and death records for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bilbao in Spain. The majority of the records correspond to the historical region of Biscay, Spain within the Basque Country, with a small minority of records from Cantabria.

Baptismal records contain the following searchable information: first name, primary surname and secondary surname of the child and parents, date, and location. For marriages: first name, primary surname and secondary surname of the bride and groom, date, and location. For death records: first name, primary surname and secondary surname of the deceased, date, and location. The parish is also listed in most records.”

Soviet Union, Soldier Memorials, 1915–1950

“The 4.5 million records in this collection provide details on soldiers from the Soviet Union who died or went missing during the wars in the early to mid-20th century.

Information listed on these records may include:

  • name
  • year of birth
  • place of birth
  • rank
  • date of retirement
  • place of retirement

These records might also include place of service, cause of death, and hospitalizations. Most of the information in this collection is in Russian. MyHeritage provides the ability to search this collection in one language and receive results in another using its unique Global Name Translation™ technology. The technology automatically translates given names and surnames into the language of the query. For example, a search for Alessandro (Alexander in Italian) will also find “Саша,” the Russian form of Sasha — a popular nickname for Alexander — with its corresponding translation into the language of your search.”

Latvia, Riga Internal Passport Holders Index, 1918–1940

“In the city of Riga during the interwar period, every person over the age of 15 was supposed to have an internal passport as proof of identity. This database of 890,811 records includes residents of Riga and may include the surname, given name, father’s name, date of birth, place of birth, and place of origin of the passport holder. This collection is completely free to search, view, and add to your family tree.

Many of the internal passport files contain all addresses the person lived at during the passport’s validity, including those outside of Riga.

Whenever the passport’s validity expired, the passport was to be returned to the government. It is not known how many actually returned their passport to the government, so this collection is not a complete representation of all people who lived in Riga during this period of time.”

United States Index of Gravestones, 1900–2018

“This collection includes 601,986 records from more than 25 cemeteries located in the United States.

The records include headstone inscriptions and burial records. In these records you may find information such as:

  • deceased’s name
  • date of birth
  • date of death
  • date of burial
  • place of burial

Cemetery records are especially helpful for identifying ancestors who were not recorded in other records, such as children who died young or women.

Records from cemeteries in the following states can be found in this collection:

  • California,
  • Connecticut,
  • Washington D.C.,
  • Georgia,
  • Illinois,
  • Indiana,
  • Massachusetts,
  • Pennsylvania,
  • Michigan,
  • Ohio,
  • Oregon,
  • Rhode Island,
  • and South Dakota.”

Germany, Emigrants from Southwestern Germany, 1736–1963

“This collection of 285,158 records is an index of emigrants leaving Southwestern Germany largely between 1736 and 1963. Records may contain the following searchable information: first and last name, birth date, date and county of emigration, and first and last name of a relative.

The following information may also be viewable:

  • title
  • alternate name
  • former residence
  • district
  • address
  • marital status
  • religion
  • occupation
  • birth name
  • destination
  • additional information on the family of the individual.

Emigration from Germany occurred in a number of waves, triggered by current events such as the July Revolution of 1830, the 1848 March Revolution, the foundation of the German Reich in the 1870s, World War I, and other significant events. The majority of the records from this collection are from the mid 1750s to the early 1900s.”

Denmark, Copenhagen Burials, 1860–1912

“This collection of 255,733 records is an index to burial records from Copenhagen, Denmark.

Records typically list:

  • the name of the deceased
  • death date
  • burial place.

In some cases, the deceased’s age, occupation, and cause of death may also be listed.

Burials usually took place with a few days of death. Burials in Denmark were recorded in the records of the parish where the burial occurred. Original burial records have been digitized and made searchable by the Copenhagen City Archives.”

danish records at myheritage

Sample: Thorvald Nikolaj Thiele Died: Sep 26 1910 Danish astronomer and director of the Copenhagen Observatory. He was also an actuary and mathematician.

 

Enjoy searching all of these new collections that are now available on MyHeritage SuperSearch™. Searching these records is always free, and you can also view and save records to your family tree from the Latvia, Riga Internal Passport Holders Index for free. To access Record Matches or to view or save records from the other collections, you’ll need a Data or Complete subscription

MyHeritage’s Record Matching technology will notify you automatically if any of these records mention a member of your family tree. You’ll then be able to review the record and decide if you’d like to add the new information to your tree. Learn more about Record Matches on MyHeritage Education.

New Digitized Collections at the Library of Congress

From the Library of Congress: “Researchers and students have gained access to seven newly digitized collections of manuscript materials from the Library of Congress, including records of one of the most important women’s suffrage organizations, the papers of President Abraham Lincoln’s personal secretary and collections on the history of federal monetary policy. The availability of these collections added more than 465,000 images to the Library’s already vast online resources.”

The new collections include: 

Women’s Suffrage:
The records of the National American Woman Suffrage Association:
records from one of the most important national women’s suffrage organizations in the U.S. The collection includes more than 26,000 items, most of which were digitized from 73 microfilm reels.

Library of Congress Women's Suffrage digital collection

Women’s Suffrage Records

Civil War: 
The papers of the presidential secretary and biographer John G. Nicolay (1832–1901) consist of 5,500 items scanned from original materials. Spanning the years 1811 to 1943, the collection particularly reflects Nicolay’s tenure as private secretary to President Abraham Lincoln.

From the same era, the papers of Confederate general Jubal Anderson Early were also released online.

Jubal Anderson Early Papers at the Library of Congress

Massachusetts Business:
Olmsted Associates Landscape Architectural Firm – The collection documents the work of the landscape architectural firm originally founded by Frederick Law Olmsted as it was continued by his sons in Massachusetts. It includes nearly 150,000 items scanned from 532 reels of microfilm.

Federal Monetary Policy: 
Three newly released collections relate to federal monetary policy:

Read the entire announcement at the Library of Congress.

 

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