DNA Tests For Adoptees

Updated December 23, 2018

This article was scientifically reviewed by YourDNA

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DNA testing has become hugely popular because it can provide so much information about just what makes you you. And while many people across the globe are sending in their DNA samples to find out where their families may have come from, or to help pad out their family trees, there’s a huge group of people who are using DNA tests to find out about their more recent family history.

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Disclaimer: Before You Read

It is important to know that your genes are not your destiny. There are various environmental and genetic factors working together to shape you. No matter your genetic makeup, maintain ideal blood pressure and glucose levels, avoid harmful alcohol intake, exercise regularly, get regular sleep. And for goodness sake, don't smoke.

Genetics is a quickly changing topic.

In fact, many adoptees who have no knowledge of one or both parents have been utilizing DNA tests to answer questions about who they are and to identify unknown family members.

Many adoptees consider these kinds of DNA test kits to be a shot in the dark, considering that an unknown family member has to also have submitted DNA for there to be a potential relative match. But, as more and more people purchase and submit their own DNA tests just out of curiosity, the bank of DNA grows, meaning that it is more and more likely for adoptees to find a potential family member.

If you are wondering if using an at-home DNA ancestry test kit can help you find unknown relatives and answer questions about your adoption or family history, keep reading to understand just how these tests work, and how you can have the best chances of success with using these tools.

How Do DNA Tests For Adoptees Work

With DNA test kits, the process is pretty simple to understand. To get started, after ordering a DNA kit, you’ll register the kit online (for privacy) and send off a cheek swab or saliva sample.

From there, you’ll mail back the kit to the testing company, and wait anywhere from six to 12 weeks to get the results of your DNA test.

At the lab, you DNA is digitized and computer algorithms are used to evaluate your DNA sample. Genetic scientists will wade through the four randomly repeating letters — G, C, A, and T — that make up your unique chain of DNA.

From there, these computers can pick out patterns in your DNA that attribute to your physical, ethnic, and health features. Further, your DNA is then compared to other DNA samples to see how similar they are.

If scientists are able to find very similar DNA patterns and genetic traits, they can then compare the two DNA samples to determine if you are family members.

So, after all this lab analysis happens, the DNA testing company will contact you with your results. In most cases, you’ll be able to see how your ethnic background compares to that of other people around the world (which can clue you in on where your ancestors potentially once lived), information about health conditions you may be at risk for, and any potential matches for shared DNA with other test takers (making them your relatives).

When it comes to determining just how related you are with other people who have taken DNA tests, know that these tests are pretty accurate and can give you clues as to who you may be linked with. Because the amount of DNA we share with family members drastically decreases the more distant they are from your nuclear family, it’s somewhat easy to figure out what kind of relatives you may be.

If you’ve been searching for your biological family, and you have a potential match, the DNA testing company will be able to tell you how related you are based on these averages:

  • Parents and full siblings: 50 percent of shared DNA
  • Grandparents and half siblings: 25 percent of shared DNA
  • Aunts and uncles: 25 percent of shared DNA
  • Half siblings: 25 percent of shared DNA
  • First cousins: 6.25 percent of shared DNA
  • Second cousins: 1.5 percent of shared DNA

What Are The Different Types Of DNA Tests?

There are three different types of DNA tests that you can utilize when it comes to finding your biological family members: Y-DNA, Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), and autosomal DNA.

Here’s how these three types differ:

Y-DNA: Only men have Y-DNA, but this form of genetic code can be very helpful at finding family members. Men pass on their Y chromosomes to their male children, and this genetic information (called Y-DNA), is helpful at tracking ancestry through the male line.

That’s because Y chromosomes are largely unchanged when passed from father to son, meaning a son’s Y-DNA is very similar to his father’s, grandfather’s, great-grandfather’s, and so on. For this reason, Y-DNA tests can only be taken by men. This kind of DNA test can be helpful for people who grew up without a father, and want to know more about that specific genetic line.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA): Everyone has mitochondrial DNA, because similar to Y-DNA, it’s passed from mother to child. The biggest difference is that mtDNA goes to children regardless of gender.

With this kind of DNA, the X chromosome is passed along, and mtDNA tests can specifically examine this kind of genetic code. Anyone can take a mtDNA test, and they can be beneficial for adoptees who grew up without a mother to learn more about their maternal line.

Autosomal DNA: While Y-DNA and mtDNA are passed along based on gender, autosomal DNA isn’t sex-based at all. The average human has 23 pairs of chromosomes, with one pair being sex-based.

The remaining 22 pairs are called autosomal DNA, and they impact everything from how you look, to how your body responds to certain environmental factors, to the kinds of health conditions you could be at risk for. Whether you grew up without a mother and/or without a father, people who have gone through adoptions can use this test with great success.

All three kinds of DNA are important when it comes to DNA testing because they can help link you to biological parents, as well as other family members by examining how much of certain types of DNA you share.

Should I Do A DNA Test If I Am Adopted?

Many people how have had adoptions are just fine never knowing their birth parents or family, or are perfectly happy with the information they already know.

But for people who were adopted, and who don’t know much or anything about their birth parents or family, DNA tests can provide a world of beneficial information. Some of the things that adopted individuals can learn through a DNA test kit include:

Finding a family member: As more and more people take DNA tests to help build their family trees, the chances of finding a family member increase. Many adoptees use DNA tests as one way to finally answer questions about who their biological family is.

Learning more about your ethnic background: Even if your DNA test does not initially return a genetic match — meaning you haven’t linked up with any relatives — you can still learn so much about yourself. For people who had adoptions who feel lost because they know little or nothing at all about their biological family, this information can be really comforting.

Having some idea of where your ancestors came from, and what kind of cultural background you have is a reason why many people, adopted or not, choose to take an ancestry DNA test.

Discovering potential health conditions you may be at risk for: Because many adoptees do not have family health histories, knowing what health conditions you may be at risk for is difficult. DNA test kits can let you know if you’re more prone to develop health ailments such as diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease, and can also let you know if you carry gene variants that can lead to cancer, Parkinson’s disease, celiac disease, and more.

Many adoptees who go on to start their own families can use this information when determining if they need further genetic testing for conditions that can be passed along to their children.

What Is The Best Ancestry Test For Adopted Children?

When it comes down to it, there’s no one singular best test for adopted children.

Most tests on the market that can help link you to people whom you are related to are similar in that goal. The biggest deal about determining which route to go when selecting an at-home DNA test kit is about the size of the database that the testing company uses to compare your DNA.

This is incredibly important, because the more DNA data there is — essentially, the larger the DNA databank — the more chances you have to find a DNA match. Meaning, a larger DNA bank improves the odds that you find someone who’s even slightly related to you. That one person may be a distant cousin or family member, but they can be the key to tracing your birth family.

So, how do you know which DNA testing company has the biggest bank? Well, it is not so easy. There are several top companies that dominate the market, and their popularity is a good thing because that means more and more people are taking those tests.

These three DNA test kits have been reviewed and rated all over the internet as being the best DNA tests specifically for adoptees who are trying to learn more about themselves and to potentially find a family member. If you are considering purchasing a DNA test kit, you may want to look into these top three options:

FamilyTreeDNA: Some adoptees choose to go with FamilyTreeDNA because this company offers more customization options when it comes to DNA testing. You can choose to take tests specifically to look at a paternal or maternal side of the family (which can be beneficial if you don’t know one parent).

FamilyTreeDNA also offers great resources that can help you build a family tree based on information you do know, as well as incorporating information from other users if you happen to match up with them.

AncestryDNA: This testing kit is one of the most popular tests, meaning there’s a great chance that you find a relative match simply because so many people opt for AncestryDNA test kits.

One of the additional perks of AncestryDNA is that the site also helps you build a family tree using digitized historical records, and lets you look at publicly shared family trees of other people, meaning finding one relative can be a goldmine of information when it comes to finding lost biological parents or siblings.

23andMe: Using a 23andMe test kit is great for making relative matches, and the company is one of the top DNA testing brands on the market. But 23andMe is also really beneficial for adoptees because it can clue you in on medical information that can be really helpful for adoptees who don’t have a family health history.

23andMe can give you tools about genetic traits that could impact your health, meaning that even if you don’t find a biological family member, you can still learn more about who you are.

Of course, one of the biggest goals of DNA testing for adoptees is to find biological parents or close relatives. For that reason, many adoptees choose to take multiple DNA tests from different testing companies to increase their chances of finding an unknown family member.

Some DNA data is even transferable between testing companies, which can help reduce the cost of ordering multiple kits.

Can I Find My Biological Family With A DNA Test?

Yes, it is possible to find your biological family with a DNA test. That’s because tests can look at your DNA to determine just how much you share with other people who have taken the same test.

Technically, all humans share 99.9 percent of DNA, meaning that we’re all much more alike than we are different. But, it is that tiny .1 percentage that makes a huge impact when it comes to determining just how related we are.

Within that small amount lies countless mutations and variations that make up our differences, from skin color and ethnic background to personality traits and physical attributes. When you begin to share lots of these tiny genetic similarities is where genetic scientists can hone on to determine possible relatives.

And, because DNA is passed from mother to child, as well as father to son, with very few changes, it becomes much, much easier to determine just how related you are.

So, if you are thinking about how well DNA can work to help you find your biological family, know that the chances depend on whether or not a potential family member has also submitted a DNA sample — and if they have, the accuracy of a DNA test on picking out those shared genetic traits is pretty strong.

Can I Find Relatives With Ancestry DNA?

What’s drawn so many people into the ancestry DNA is the ability to find family members and relatives you’ve never known.

Regardless of the reasons as to why you may have lost relatives, or never known them, ancestry DNA test kits are a great tool at finding people you didn’t know you shared a family tree with. Sometimes, families splinter and lose track for no bad or malicious reason, but simply just because it happens.

Unfortunately, without a name, it can be hard to track down the missing roots of your family tree. But DNA, on the other hand, can link you with generations of living relatives, so long as they’ve also taken a DNA test.

Considering that it takes DNA samples from two living individuals to make a link, it is easy to say that you can reconnect with family members who may also be looking for you. But what’s even more exciting for people who are interested in tracing their family tree is that making those connects allows you to share family tree and genealogical information — meaning DNA is a great tool for learning about your family’s history through lost family members.

Both people who make a DNA genetic match can contribute so much to the other person, making DNA testing a really great tool at bringing families together.

Can DNA Testing Determine Half Siblings?

DNA testing can be a really great tool when it comes to determining if you have half siblings.

In fact, these tests can be a helpful aid in situations where you suspect that you have unknown half siblings, and want to find them. In general, half siblings share about 25 percent of their DNA.

That’s the same that you also share with a grandparent, aunt or uncle, or a niece or nephew. This number is important to keep in mind because DNA tests can’t tell you for sure exactly how you are related to someone, but they can offer options when it comes to factoring other characteristics, such as age.

Using these clues, you can get a best guess at if someone you’ve linked up with is a potential half sibling.

While that may seem like it could be inaccurate, know that the amount of DNA you share with close family members quickly drops off the more distant you become. In fact, while on average you share 25 percent of your DNA with a half sibling, you share 50 percent with a full sibling and only 12.5 percent with a first cousin.

Knowing this, if you get a genetic match with someone, and it notes you share about 25 percent of your DNA, and are of a similar age, there’s a good chance you could be a half sibling.

DNA Testing Advice For Adoptees

When it comes to thinking about taking a DNA test to find your biological family, it can be really stressful.

You may be weighing the odds of whether this is the right choice for you, or if you feel more comfortable not finding your unknown family members. Whether you are hesitant to take a DNA test or have already added multiple tests to your online shopping cart, you may want to think about these points regarding DNA testing kits for adoptees:

Think about the information you want to learn. For people who had adoptions, there’s no desire to find their birth family through DNA. You may just want to know more about your own ethnic background, or where your family potentially migrated from.

That’s perfectly fine, and many people don’t necessarily use DNA tests to link up with lost family members.

Know that you don’t have to link up with anyone if you don’t want to. If the idea of finding a DNA match makes you sweat, know that you don’t necessarily have to turn on that feature of your DNA test. In fact, it is an optional feature that you can turn off (or on) at any time, meaning that how you feel about it today does not have to be a permanent decision.

Know that just because you don’t have a match now, does not mean that one won’t come up. Many people are disappointed to find that they don’t have DNA matches, and that disappointment can be even more difficult for adoptees who are hoping to find out anything about their birth family.

Not having a match can be really dishearting, but remember this: hundreds of people submit DNA tests daily, meaning that a potential relative from your birth may take one after you. For this reason, even if you don’t have a match, it is worth checking your DNA match results occasionally to see if one has popped up.

Take multiple tests. Some adoptees who are considering taking a DNA test to find their biological families try to increase their chances of a potential match by taking multiple tests by different companies. This strategy can be beneficial because all of these DNA test companies don’t share one, large database of DNA samples.

So, you may have a potential relative who took a DNA test but just didn’t use the same company you did. For that reason, many adoptees expand their search by using multiple different companies to cast a wider net.

Consider transferring your DNA data. After getting your DNA tests results from an at-home DNA test kit company, those results are your personal information to keep. And while it is recommended that you take multiple DNA tests across brands to increase your odds of finding a relative match, it may not necessarily be the cheapest option. Luckily, some DNA test companies allow you to export your DNA data and upload it to the database of another testing company.

AncestryDNA allows you to transfer your raw DNA data into other databases, such as MyHeritageDNA or Family Tree DNA. Doing this can help expand your search without the additional cost of taking another test, not to mention the downtime that’s involved with waiting for a DNA test to process and the results to be analyzed.

Know that a relative you may find may be more distant. It can be really nerve-wracking waiting on the results of a DNA test, hoping for weeks on end that the results will link you with a family member. it is really easy to fall into the trap of wishful thinking, and feeling like you’ll be so lucky as to quickly link up with a biological parent.

Because of this, you should know that it is very much so possible to link with a more distant relative, such as an aunt, uncle, or cousin. If you do get lucky and find a DNA relative match, don’t be discouraged if it does not happen to be a possible parent.

Any match can help you start to gather clues about your birth family, and if anything, a distant match means that you can work together with someone who is open to finding lost family members. If you are worried that a birth parent may not take a DNA test because they are concerned about privacy or being contacted, there’s always the possibility that another family member who’s less concerned about this could be the link you need in tracing your biological family.

Understand that DNA is a great tool, but it can’t tell you exactly who you link with. Here’s the deal with these consumer DNA test kits — when it comes to linking family members, they can’t give you a definitive role.

That means a test can’t tell you for sure that you are someone’s niece or half-sibling. But, they can give you really good information to help start the process of confirming just how related you might be.

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