Finding Your Birth Family

You might be able to identify biological relatives, such as birth parents, siblings or extended family, through DNA testing. Please be sure you’re ready for the emotional journey before you test. DNA answers may not come quickly or clearly, and may have negative outcomes. Think through the whole process to make sure you are ready for whatever may come.

That said, you should know that you can learn things from your DNA test result without interacting with any birth relatives (if you’re not ready for that yet.) See what you can learn—plus get a crucial “reality check” as to how feasibly your current test results might help you find close birth relatives—in our free download, “3 Things DNA Can Tell You about Your Birth Roots.” Then proceed to the step-by-step get-started instructions below.

Using DNA to Find Birth Relatives

Here are the basic steps you’ll follow to start using DNA to look for birth relatives, or build your biological family tree:

Step 1: Get Your DNA Tested

The best place to start looking for biological relatives is usually AncestryDNA because they have the largest commercial database. That means you have a greater chance of finding close DNA matches. But they’re not the only great place to test. Here’s a summary of the top genetic genealogy testing companies.

Once tested, you have the added benefit of transferring your DNA test results to other companies like Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage DNA and searching their databases for DNA cousins too.

Step 2: Investigate your Match List

When you open your DNA match list, just take a second to absorb the fact that everyone on this list is your biological relative—even if you don’t yet know how you are related.

Start with an evaluation of your best matches: those at the top of your list, with the most shared DNA. First or second cousin matches will often help you identify your grandparents or great grandparents. You may even be able to identify a biological parent. Please remember that it is impossible to determine a relationship with someone else just based on the amount of shared DNA you have. There are always other factors to consider, like that person’s age, and even if they might have an identical twin. Before you make inquiries into a potentially sensitive situation, you may want to seek a second opinion regarding your findings. We do offer a DNA Mentoring service just for that purpose.

Step 3: Do Genealogy Research

Since your birth family tree is a mystery, your goal is to use your matches’ family trees to reconstruct yours. For example, if you test and discover a biological half-sibling, you would use their knowledge about their parentage to build your family tree for your shared parent. More commonly, you’ll discover more-distant relatives. Then you’ll do some research to identify a shared ancestral couple between several of your matches. By looking at that family and their descendants you can begin to identify someone who was in the right place, at the right time, to be your parent.

If your DNA match doesn’t post a family tree, ask politely to see it. (On Ancestry, look to see whether they have an unlinked tree.) If you don’t get a helpful response, or if their tree isn’t very big, you can research their tree for them, if they just provide a few basic details. Follow the steps in this article on creating a family tree.

OPTIONAL Step 4: Contact Your Matches

You don’t have to contact any of your biological relatives. If you are able to piece together your lineage without their input, perhaps that is enough. But if you want to contact them, you can send them a message through your testing company’s email service.

Please keep in mind that just taking a DNA test does not necessarily mean someone is actually interested in finding or connecting with their biological relatives. Nor does it mean that they know they are missing any relatives (that someone was adopted out). Follow these tips on contacting your DNA matches.

Want some help?

We can help you understand your DNA test results, work with your DNA matches, and determine any additional steps you should take using DNA for answers about your birth roots. If you want to try “doing the DNA” yourself, we recommend you purchase our step-by-step resource, Your DNA Guide: The Book. For personalized, confidential, expert assistance with your important journey to your birth roots, please explore our DNA Mentoring services.

Not sure yet what you want to do? While you’re deciding, we recommend you subscribe to our free monthly e-newsletter. That way you can gradually start learning more about using DNA to discover your roots.