"I changed my mind": Adoptees and Biological Parents

My avid passion for genetic genealogical research and my infrequent success (<10X) and single failure inspired me to post on the topic of "Adoptee and/or Bio-parents’ " search for one, the other, or both to connect/reconnect in the event that some is or knows someone who has been interested in connecting with blood-kin.

There are a good number of private and public organizations that facilitate searches and/or advise or guide searchers. Some charge and some do not. Unfortunately, I don’t have a comprehensive list of them, that’s probably just as well for “liability” reasons if and when a search fails or results in somebody’s disappointment.

That said, I think I’m safe in posting this link:
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - Child Welfare Information Gateway


These genealogical databases pose an ethical dilemma. Even if you want your DNA to be kept private, if a close relative of yours puts their DNA in the database they are also putting part of your DNA in the database. I’m not saying these practices are unethical, but I do think there are important ethical questions that we should be aware of. It may be that the actual birth parents don’t want to reunite with their child or have their extended family know about the adoption, all of which could be ruined by one of their extended family being contacted after a genetic genealogical search.

I’m not familiar with these databases or the SOP’s they use. Do they have any safeguards for protecting the privacy of people who are not in the database? The link you gave probably has the answer to my questions which I may look through later, but I am also curious what your experience has been in this process and how you may approach these ethical questions.

(note: I’m not looking to judge anyone’s actions here, just curious how it all works.)

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Thanks for bringing this up and posting the HHS link. A relevant topic at our house for a few reasons.
One is that, working at a library with a broad collection of research materials useful for genealogy, I am now regularly faced by people, who have done genetic testing and found that the parent who raised them was not their bio parent. The shock and hurt they feel is real. They thought they were looking for long, lost cousins or some connection to a famous person. They end up feeling like their identity has been shattered, and that they can no longer trust the most important people in their lives.


Duly noted.

I’ve used three data bases: www.ancestry.com, www.familytreeDNA.com, and www.gedmatch.com. DNA samples are analyzed (for a fee) in ancestry.com and familytreeDNA.com. Another is 23&me.com but I haven’t used it myself. [Their mention here is NOT a recommendation; it’s merely an identification of the private companies I HAVE used.] Historically, my involvement as been after a sample has been analyzed, and the DNA-test subject seeks suggestions or help figuring out what to do next. Any contact with a person’s actual DNA typically requires the person’s permission.

gedmatch.com does not process DNA samples; it receives and processes DNA results submitted in a zip file. I’ve done that for others, with their authorization by email, when they were befuddled by the process and what can be observed when the DNA results are uploaded to the gedmatch database.

(To be continued)

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On a related note:

That’s a lot of siblings in close proximity to each other, many of whom don’t know they are siblings. Genealogical databases like these could be a great resource for these people.

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I can only imagine their pain. Fortunately, so far I have never been in a position to deal with someone still in shock over the discovery. The three toughest cases I’ve been involved with were females who were not adopted, knew their mothers, and wanted to find their fathers. The most moving of those was a young female who knew her father’s name but didn’t know where he was. A quick search on an LDS (Mormon) database located him and confirmed that he had died not long after he had left the city. The woman’s response was: “I think I need a hug.” That one was tough.

The only failure I had was a young single mother in search of her father. Her mother literally didn’t know who the father was and didn’t want to talk about him. I eventually had to disengage: I couldn’t find the father and the woman became exasperated, demanding to anybody who listened that she “had a right” to know who her father was.


Sounds familiar. I think I saw a similar TV show or youtube version within the last six months.

I have a friend who is a high school biology teacher. She has stories of students finding out they had half siblings they did not know about (and their parents’ did not want them to know about) after doing ancestry tests like 23 and Me. I think most people who do these kind of testing for entertainment have not thought through the ramifications of what having certain information or being part of these databases might entail.


It gets even worse. One Sperm Donor, 150 Offspring

It’s out of control!

“We have more rules that go into place when you buy a used car than when you buy sperm,” said Debora L. Spar, president of Barnard College and author of “The Baby Business: How Money, Science and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception.”

The ethical dilemma is that this single person is also consenting for their close relatives who may not want to be found. I know that I don’t have any unknown offspring out there, so what would come to my mind if I was contacted about a potential match? Could it be that one of my siblings has a secret they don’t want to share, or perhaps my mother or father? How would it affect me as I try to figure out how to deal with the potential of a family secret that my loved ones may not want to get out? We would also have to consider the cause of the pregnancy, and if it was a traumatic event for the mother (e.g. rape).


The “I don’t want anyone to know who and where I am” folks are common in the U.S., increasingly outspoken, and increasing in number, which makes it increasingly difficult for serious genetic genealogists to track someone down, and I’ve run into roadblocks several times.

  • Example:
    • I financed my brothers DNA tests: They’re Sampsons by blood; I’m a Sampson by adoption.
    • When the results came back and popped up in Ancestry.com, an exciting number of DNA matches to all of them popped up and–because I manage their DNA accounts (with their permission) a good number of folks contacted me seeking information regarding how they were related to my brothers.
    • The thing is that when two people have a lot of DNA in common, I’ve been able to figure where in my father and mother’s family tree the folks are because I’ve done a lot of research the trees. The more DNA in common, the closer the biological relationship. AND the more information in a family tree, the easier it is to find connections for new-comers.
    • So one day, a couple of years ago, a fellow contacted me, informed me that he was adopted within a couple days of his birth, knew when and where he was born, but didn’t know who his biological parents were. We both could see that he was closely related to my brothers: within a 2nd Cousin range.
    • Because I had my brothers’ approval, and because it was clear from the guy’s DNA matches to kin on my father’s side.
    • Moreover, because the guy was related to my brothers’ kin on our father AND mother’s side, I was able to determine that he was a descendant of my father’s grandparents which meant that either his father or mother was somebody I knew or know a lot about.
    • The path forward was made easier because everybody in my father’s generation was dead, so I wouldn’t be surprising anybody with a news of a kid out of nowhere. It was just a matter of figuring which of my father’s aunts and uncles (or cousins) was ever near where the guy iwas born.
    • Meanwhile, he did’t know whether the connection between him and my brothers was through his father or mother. Given what I knew about my father’s aunts and female cousins, I was 100% certain that he was a son of my father’s two maternal uncles or his only male cousin on his mother’s side. So, obviously, that meant we were looking for a candidate for his father.
    • The challenge was that the uncles and the cousin were dead. One uncle’s only son was dead and his grandsons weren’t interested in responding to invitations to undergo DNA testing. The other Uncle’s sons were (a) too young to be orphan’s father and (b) live in Japan or are dead. That same uncle had a daughter though, but she was dead, too. BUT, she had two kids who might have been half-niece & half-nephew. Problem is: neither was interested in discovering whether they have a living half-uncle. :disappointed:
    • Shifting focus to the search for the orphan’s mother …
      • I was able to narrow possibilities down to one woman who was deceased and left only one daughter.
      • Contacted her son and explained that available information indicated that he, his sister, and his mother were biologically related to an orphan who was trying to identify and locate his mother, if possible. I did not say or suggest how close they and the orphan might be, but I did offer to pay for a DNA test if any of them were willing to undergo testing.
      • The woman agreed and underwent testing, and the results confirmed that she and the orphan were half-siblings, which did surprise her significantly.
  • The “long and winding road” ended, and everybody was okay with that.
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So, you’re correct,

And anybody who undergoes DNA testing runs the risk of getting flack from blood-kin for exposing the kin to discovery, but until the laws in all the states require those who undergo DNA testing to obtain consent from ALL close relatives, BEFORE testing, close relatives are out of luck.

My brothers know the risk, but they’re not worried. However,… I’ve warned them that if somebody shows up at their front door and asks if they know me, they should invite the person in, feed 'em, and–if I’m still alive–give me a head’s up. :wink:

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Not to mention giving them a big heads-up! :sunglasses:

Indeed, … however, my brothers’ have been warned and my past & present behavior does not reflect on them. And a surprise visitor would only be a temporary inconvenience and could be entertaining.

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The most interesting things I might find (given my family) would be “oh, I didn’t know that this cousin did a DNA test” or “hey, here’s a 4th cousin I hadn’t heard about”.

P.S. The reason I entitled this thread “I changed my mind” was because, IMO, not only can an adoptee “change” their mind about their interest in knowing who their parents are, but a parent can change their mind after they given a child up for adoption, and decide to seek the teen or adult child; which gets exciting if one parent wants to reconnect and the other doesn’t.

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What’s amusing (sometimes) is when a person undergoes DNA testing solely to see what ethno-biological background they have and discovers unknown and unexpected roots and close biological kin.

“Hi, gang. Guess who’s coming for dinner?”

It is yet another case of science outpacing legislation. We humans often ask what we can do before we ask what we should do


I’m sure there is more than one person who went into DNA ancestry testing and confidently thought the same thing, only to dig up a few surprising family secrets.


My favorite on-line post-DNA-test “shared centimorgan/biological relationship” tool is: Blaine Bettinger’s “shared centimorgan/biological relationship” calculator at:
Shared cM/Biological Calculator. If a person pops up among my DNA matches, I ask that they not bother me unless we hare at least 100 cM. There are too many possible biological relationships to study and rule out with less than that.

So, who’s Blaine Bettinger?
The Genetic Genealogist

  • Blaine Bettinger, Ph.D., J.D., is a professional genealogist specializing in DNA evidence. He is the author of the long-running blog The Genetic Genealogist, and frequently gives presentations and webinars to educate others about the use of DNA to explore their ancestry.

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