If you have either begun your search or want to do it all yourself, here is a handy guide of how to handle your DNA submissions and researching for your family tree.
Before you begin, familiarize yourself in the world of genealogy and genetic genealogy. A good resource and place to start is over at the DNATestingGuides.com and their The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Genealogy.
Step 1: DNA Testing
This should always be the initial step to finding a family member because DNA doesn't lie. The major DNA testing companies have such large databases that your chances of discovering those who match with you are high and likely. You may find links to these DNA testing companies on Our Affiliates page.
In order of priority, you should test at:
- Ancestry DNA
- 23 and Me
- Family Tree DNA
- Extract your Raw DNA Data from Ancestry and upload this file to GEDMatch
- Extract your Raw DNA Data from 23andMe and upload this file to GEDMatch as well
- For the advanced user, I invite you to also explore the DNA Painter website to learn all of the neat tools they have.
Step 2: Collecting and Organizing Data
While waiting for the DNA tests to finish their results, you should start to gather and log the information that you know. Make a list of information that you were told or remember. This should include any information on your mother and father (if you know that). Be sure to include any information on birth dates and locations, work history, military history, death info, education or even other relatives.
We here at War Babies follow this simple data sheet for basic info.
Day of birth: XXXX
Location at birth: XXXX
If adopted, their info: XXXX
Day of birth: XXXX
Last known residence: XXXX
Time of duty: XXXX
Place of duty: XXXX
Day of birth or approx age: XXXX
Branch of duty: XXXX
Time of duty: XXXX
Place of duty: XXXX
Any other relevant information. No detail is insignificant and could hold the key to finding your father!
Be sure to keep this data sheet handy and also include any photos. I suggest to get a notebook or folder to keep everything in.
Step 3: Analyze your DNA results
Whoever you have chosen to test with, you want to look at the closest matches with the highest Centimorgans of your unknown matches. Here is a handy chart that explains the levels of centimorgans and the potential relationship based on these figures.
Although there are many websites, articles and videos out there that explain how to build a family tree based on DNA matches, we have found that if you have matches that are above 600 cMs, you have a higher chance of figuring out who your father or child may be depending on if your matches have a well established tree.
If you like to see an additional tool and chart for predicting the relationship from centimorgans is the DNA Painter Tool.
Step 6: Fitting together the puzzle pieces (with Ancestry)
Whether you have a few close relatives or more 2nd-3rd cousin matches, it is possible to figure out who belongs to who. As long as your highest matches have family trees with more than 2 generations (to grandparents), then you can find out how you fit into this puzzle!
If your closest match is a 4th cousin, it will be quite difficult to figure where you belong, simply because the DNA shared is so diluted. It's not entirely impossible, but will be extremely difficult.
First, look to see who your closest match is. If they are a 1st cousin or closer, it should be fairly easy to figure out who your 1st cousin's parents are if they have a tree. (A 1st cousin shares a Grand Parent with you as a Common Ancestor)
Ancestry gets hinky when it comes to categorizing the relationship of matches who share between 400-1600 centimorgans. It just cannot determine specifically what relationship that match is, so it guesses and gives a wide range from Close Relative-1st/2nd Cousin. If you have a match listed in this range, that match could potentially be a half cousin, 1st cousin, aunt/uncle, half sibling, niece/nephew, half niece/nephew or half aunt/uncle.
- A 1st cousin's parents would be a sibling to your parent.
- An aunt/uncle would be your parent's sibling.
- A niece/nephew would your half sibling's child.
I can't recommend enough the DNA Painter - Shared CMs Tool to help you figure out how a match is related to you.
If you have a match with more than 400 centimorgans shared, you should duplicate their tree (also called a mirror tree). In Ancestry, just start a new tree and duplicate the information from the tree your match has. As you build out this tree, you will start to see the generations and family groups of other matches. You can add other matches tree to this new "Testing Tree" and paint the larger picture of your family. If they match with you, the ARE your family. 🙂
The key is to "Rule Out" a family group of any of your matches. That way you know you are not focusing on a family group that not possible for you to be closer related to.
Focus on fathers who were born in the range of 1940-1955. If you are looking for a father who served in the Vietnam War, the average age range of those fathers were to be born approximately between these years. There are some special circumstances, perhaps a father was older when he served, then you can adjust the range to before 1940.
When looking for Amerasian children, look for "asian-sounding" names. Do a search in your matches for Location: Vietnam or wherever specific country you served.
As you work these methods, hopefully you will start to see patterns of people, ages and locations. The ultimate goal is to Rule Out all other persons in the tree and leave you with a potential parent or child!
Step 7: Making Contact
This step is quite involved and requires some sensitive discussions. Please see our page on Making Contact, for suggestions on how to explain your story and ask for appropriate info from your match.