Thursday, October 10, 2013

PJ Holland's DNA Journey to Find His Mother as told by Marilyn Souders

The story of 80-year-old Patrick "PJ" Holland's birth mother search and DNA testing success was shared with me by his niece, Marilyn Souders. She told me her motivations for doing so, "I just want to give all adoptees hope! This miracle can truly happen. Just take the test and have patience." The following is the story in her own words:

Patrick Holland was born on 10 March 1933 at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Covington, KY to a single mother. She put Patrick up for adoption. He grew up in a local orphanage during the Great Depression and, sadly, was never adopted. 

In 1945, Patrick went to live at a farm in Walton, KY.  This arrangement did not work out well for him, so he packed his worldly belongings in his pillowcase and took refuge at the Villa Madonna convent. Sr. Agnes and Sr. Joseph obtained food and shelter for Patrick. He stayed there as a general worker/chauffeur until, in 1949, he changed his date of birth so he could join the Army. He listed his full name as Patrick Joseph Holland. He was only 16 years old; however the Army believed him to be 18 years old. His fellow recruits gave him the nickname PJ.  PJ went to Fort Knox, KY initially and then moved around quickly.  

In 1952, PJ was discharged and returned to Covington, KY.  He rekindled his friendship with the Lahrmann family who he had first met in 1944 at the Knights of Columbus Bingo games. They invited Patrick to live with them and they all became very close. He finally had a family.

Lahrmann 25th Wedding Anniversary, 15 May 1954.
Back, l to r: Norma L., Edgar Cleves, Gertrude L. Cleves, Mary L. and Patrick
Front, l to r: August, Antonia and Frank Lahrman(n)


 At the Lahrmann family's encouragement, PJ attended Hughes High School in Cincinnati, OH and obtained his diploma in just two years under the GI Bill.  Eventually, he got a job working for a gas company and was transferred to Puerto Rico.

PJ loved living in Puerto Rico. He had dreamed about this type of life while a young boy at the orphanage. While there, he met a very talented artist named Vilma Gonzalez. She became his wife on 9 August 1970.  The following year PJ took Vilma home to meet his "adopted" parents, August and Antonia Lahrmann. Vilma was from a large family so she enjoyed meeting her husband’s large adopted family. Vilma developed a special bond with one of PJ’s nieces, Marilyn.

PJ and his wife Vilma G. Holland, 1970

Over the years, Marilyn and Vilma discussed trying to find PJ’s birth parents. They teamed up on PJ and he finally relented.  Marilyn had one clue, a birth certificate. The birth certificate listed PJ’s name as Patrick Leroy Holland.  Oops! Patrick’s confirmation name was Joseph. PJ did not know that his middle name was not the same as his confirmation name. His birth certificate listed the names of his father and his mother along with the status of “Legitimate: No.”  Those two words would sting for many years.  

PJ’s father was easy to find; however, he had died in 1952. PJ and Vilma would later visit his father’s grave. But PJ longed to find his mother, Agnes Holland. Marilyn tried various sources over the years in order to find PJ’s mother. The source that yielded the most information was a reunion of the St. Elizabeth nursing class of 1933.  Marilyn planned the reunion in Covington, KY.  PJ, Vilma, and Marilyn all flew into Covington. The nurses cried when they saw PJ.  They had always wondered what happened to him.  The nurses said that PJ’s mother worked in the hospital laundry.  She lived in the dorm with the nurses. They said that Agnes was a loving woman. She could not afford to feed herself, much less feed a child.  Agnes made the agonizing decision to give up her baby.  She wanted a loving couple to adopt him. During the Great Depression, the orphanage was filled with kids whose parents could not afford to feed them. Due to overcrowding, PJ had to stay at the hospital until he was potty trained. His mother and the nurses saw him every day and played with him. Unfortunately, the inevitable day came when he was potty trained. The nurses and his mother had to say good-bye as he was taken away to the orphanage. PJ was allowed to have visitors at first. However, because he would cry when the nurses or his mother left, the people who ran the orphanage decided that no more visitors would be allowed. The nurses were quite upset. His mother was so devastated that she packed up and moved. The nurses never heard from Agnes again. 

PJ worked internationally for many years. He moved back to the states when Vilma became ill. When Vilma died in 2005, Marilyn asked PJ to move to Texas to be close to her. He did so and Marilyn continued to search for PJ’s mother. Marilyn convinced PJ to take DNA tests with several companies. Disappointingly, no close relatives were found. 

  Back, l to r: Joseph (in arms), Nicholas & Margaret Souders, PJ, Marilyn & Jim Souders
 Front: Joanna Souders Fowler, Mike Fowler and baby James Fowler

Then one day in mid-August, Marilyn logged into PJ’s account on 23andMe. It was a day that she had dreamed about for decades. Marilyn had spent multiple years and more dollars than she cared to count trying to help PJ find his birth mother. 23andMe finally made that dream come true!  

When Marilyn logged into PJ's account, she saw a message in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, alerting her that a predicted first cousin had been found. She quickly checked his DNA Relatives page. There was the name of a woman who shared 6.97% of her DNA and 24 segments with PJ.  

Next, Marilyn looked at his inbox – there was new mail! Could they be lucky enough to have an e-mail from this possible first or second cousin? Indeed they were and Marilyn began corresponding with the woman, Cathryn Mudon, who had already sent an introductory message to PJ stating they were first or second cousins (turned out to be first cousins once removed). Cathryn stated they could talk on the weekend, but Marilyn begged for immediate contact. Cathryn placed a call to Marilyn & they spoke. Next they cried. They began exchanging photos. The family was reunited. 

Holland Family, c.1913. 
Back, l to r: John, Cathryn "Kit", Mary, Agnes (PJ's mother), Annie.
Front, l to r: Patrick, John, Hazel (John Mudon's mother), Catherine, William

Cathryn and her father, John Mudon (PJ's first cousin), flew to Dallas on 2 October 2013. It was a touching meeting. They brought pictures with them of the entire Holland family. John and PJ hugged. At the end of the day everyone was hoarse from talking. The family is looking forward to many more get-togethers. Thank you 23andMe!

First Cousins Reunited, John Mudon and Patrick "PJ" Holland

PJ's story was recently covered by a Texas ABC News station. You can see the engaging video with additional details on the story here


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Montez Brown Discovers His Birth Mother By Transferring His 23andMe Raw Data to Family Tree DNA

As many of you know, I always recommend that adoptees "fish in all three ponds" for close relatives. This means getting your DNA into each of the autosomal DNA databases - 23andMe, Family Tree DNA and AncestryDNA - if at all possible. The story below is one of the best arguments that I have seen so far for transferring 23andMe raw data to Family Tree DNA's Family Finder database as soon as possible!

As one of the administrators of the "Adopted DNA Project" at Family Tree DNA, I recently received this message: 

Montez Brown has left the Adopted group.
Reason for Leaving: Amazingly, when I transferred my 23andMe raw DNA data to FTDNA, I found my Birth Mother on FTDNA.

Wow! I asked Mr. Brown for more details and this is what he shared:

I FOUND my Birth Mother on (Friday, 26 Jul 13)!!! This is soooo crazy! My emotions are running HIGH right now! For 46 years I've felt the same void that most Adoptees feel by not knowing who they are or where they came from. I've always thought that it would be easy to find my mother if I should ever look for her because of the circumstances that surrounded the adoption, but I never really took the initiative to find her. I guess my own life trials and tribulations took precedence. It was only six weeks ago that I decided to start the quest for my identity using DNA testing via To gauge my expectations, I focused primarily on discovering the makeup of my Ancestry; any additional discovery would be a nice bonus, i.e. finding family members that might lead me to my biological parents. After connecting with a couple of distant cousins on 23andMe, I decided to upload my 23andMe raw DNA data to After one week, I received an email notification that stated I had family matches waiting for review. I immediately logged on to check out what I thought would be more cousins, but to my surprise I had a "Parent/Child" match. After performing a quick search on the email that was included in her profile, I suspected that the match was MY MOTHER! I found her telephone number online and immediately contacted her. She was very excited and pleased that I had finally tracked her down. We connected with each other instantly. Amazingly, this was all done online within a 6-week time period. I realize this type of discovery is an exception to the rule, but NEVER say NEVER, and don't ever give up on your quest! 

Mr. Brown also goes by the pen name of Montez DeCarlo. You can read more about his amazing story here.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Tim Discovers Birth Father and Confirms Identity of Birth Mother Using Both Y-DNA and Autosomal DNA Testing at Family Tree DNA

Tim knew he was adopted since he was very young. He grew up, married and had two daughters. His daughters married and each had grandchildren of their own without Tim ever searching for his roots. Last June, one of his daughters and her husband started thinking that maybe it was the right time to try to figure out the identity of Tim's birth parents. Tim had thought about it off and on throughout his lifetime, but figured he would just never know.

Tim's family encouraged him to submit a sample for Y-DNA testing at Family Tree DNA. The results came back in late August 2012 and he matched several men with the surname Vick who descend from Joseph Vick. (The family has an organization: Joseph Vick Family of America.)

His son-in-law, Sheldon, tells us that by researching Colorado's adoption laws they learned that they could unseal Tim's adoption records through the Colorado Confidential Intermediary Service. Even though the names of Tim's birth parents were falsified on his original birth certificate, the court records contained questionnaires that the birth mother had filled out. In these was found what turned out to be key clues to unraveling the mystery of Tim's origins - the name of the town where his birth mother was born and the mention of an uncle who had an unusual name.

The court-appointed intermediary researched the town mentioned in the adoption papers and contacted an author of a book about the settlers of the town. This author, Roger, ended up “knowing” about a son his aunt had given up for adoption. To make things even more interesting, Roger revealed that this aunt had a daughter (JoAnn) after the son who was given up for adoption and, in 2011, he had convinced her to submit a DNA sample to Family Tree DNA for mitochondrial DNA testing.

Sheldon describes his strategy and the results:
Due to knowledge of where Tim’s mother was born, I narrowed down lines of VICKs in the area and it boiled down to two brothers as potential paternal grandfathers of Tim.  We ended up (autosomal DNA) testing a grandson of each, and lo and behold – one clearly is a half-brother and the other is precisely in the range to be a 2nd cousin!!!
Matching DNA between Tim and his paternal half-brother (dark blue) and 2nd cousin (light green) at 23andMe

Tim and his half-brother on his father’s side share 28% of their DNA!! – and there’s another sister and brother on his father’s side as well.

Left to right: Tim's paternal half-brother H.C., Tim, Tim's 2nd cousin Gene
Next, they used the stored DNA sample of Tim’s presumed maternal half-sibling, JoAnn, to upgrade her original mtDNA test  to the Family Tree DNA's Family Finder autosomal DNA test. They also uploaded Tim's autosomal DNA raw data from 23andMe to Family Tree DNA's Family Finder.
Autosomal DNA matching between Tim and his maternal half-sister at FTDNA (in orange)

The results showed that Tim and JoAnn share 24% of their autosomal DNA, thus confirming that they are, indeed, half-siblings and that the intermediary's conclusions were correct.

Tim and his maternal half-sister, JoAnn
Sheldon continues: 
Due to DNA testing, Tim now has 4 siblings, at least 9 nieces/nephews and many, many cousins. The neatest part is that he has met most of his close relatives – AND, most importantly, everyone on both sides has accepted him as one of them.  We are truly blessed :-)  

Although Tim’s biological father died in 1986 and his mother died in 1992 (without ever telling her daughter that she had a brother out there somewhere), Tim has enjoyed a happy reunion with both sides of his biological family. It took a lot of cooperation from his presumed relatives and a well-thought-out DNA testing strategy, but the effort was obviously well worth this heartwarming outcome!

Melanie's Story: I Discovered My Birth Family Through a 2nd Cousin Match at AncestryDNA

Melanie has been kind enough to share her amazing story with us in her own words.

"My Adoption Search and Reunion" by Melanie

In 1968, I was placed for adoption during what is referred to as the "Baby Scoop Era". Young single women who found themselves pregnant usually did not have any support, including their own family. They were enticed by family and church to place their babies for adoption in order to give them a better life with two parents. During this period birth records, including original birth certificates, were sealed giving no future access or information to adoptees except for what is referred to as Non-Identifying Information.

I do not recall ever a time in my life where I did not know I was adopted.  Even with two loving parents I always felt alone and that I had been abandoned by my birth mother.  I have always known in my heart God's plan was carried out and I had the mom and dad God chose for me but it didn't take away the loss and pain. My childhood was spent trying to fit in to a family I didn’t belong and constantly trying to prove their love, driven out of the fear of being abandoned again.  

Melanie, 4th grade
At a very young age I realized that society expected me to be grateful and I became the compliant child who buried all the questions, confusion and pain. NO ONE ever stopped to think what it’s like for a child to go through life without their true identity, how that would limit their emotional growth resulting in damage to their true self. I’m not sure at what age I stopped asking questions but at some point I cut off all emotion since there were no answers to be had until the day I found my birth family. After many years of searching that day finally came through a DNA test.


 ·      Registered with Louisiana Voluntary Registry, ALMA, International Soundex Reunion Registry, any website I could find, also talked to a few private investigators.
 ·      For 14 years I consistently looked online and registered at any website I could.

Summer 2012        
·       Found G’s Search Registry and was matched to a LA Search Angel. 
·       Ordered updated Non-ID from Louisiana
·       Located one possible match on an online registry.  Made contact and interesting enough the mother chose my birthday to marry years later.  The Non-ID did not match but left many questions that couldn’t be answered since the mother had already passed away. (Turns out she is not a match, but I met a wonderful woman that I still communicate with)
·       Search Angel & I spent endless hours pouring through newspaper & obituaries on looking for males who drowned in 1951. (Non-ID stated that maternal grandfather drowned in 1951.*)
·       Searched using the information about birth mother provided in my Non-ID
·       Searched New Orleans Library website to find any female within an age range that passed away in 1967, then went to Genealogy Bank for the obituary to match Non-ID information.
·       Determined that my birth family was most likely not from LA. Gut feeling was they were from MS.  I called LA Social Services but there was nothing in my file.
·       MS newspapers are not on Genealogy Bank so the search stopped once again
·       Decided to wait on DNA testing as a last resort

·       December 2012 - started researching DNA testing; took 23andMe DNA test
·       January 2013 - Received 23andMe results. I was elated to have for the first time ever ancestry and medical information, but at the same time I had no clue where to even begin.
·       Uploaded 23andMe results to Gedmatch & Family Tree DNA – spent hours trying to find any correlation & had so many helpful distant relatives looking also.
·       February 2013 took DNA test
·       March 8, 2013
o   2:56pm received DNA test results with one match predicted to be a 2nd cousin (turns out to be a 1st cousin twice removed)
o   Immediately sent email to my match, Linda
o   Linda responded at 3:24pm that she could help me saying that my great grandmother was her dad’s sister along with some other information. Then all of a sudden she wrote STOP and gave me her phone number so we could talk. My maternal birth family is from Mississippi so it’s interesting that Linda only lives 30 minutes away from me in Texas.
o   Took a deep breath and called her.  At first she didn’t give me birth mom’s name but gave me the family background and history that corresponded to my Non-ID.  After about 30-45 minutes she just said “Oh heck, you deserve to know the truth. Your mom’s name is _______”.  We talked for over an hour and she said she would call one of the sisters.  The sister confirmed the connection and gave her my birth mom’s phone number.  Linda then called my birth mom who wanted to talk to me but would call later when she was in a private place to do so. Birth mom gave Linda my birth father’s name and some basic information which Linda passed on to me.
o   I had dinner plans that evening and, of course, my birth mom called at that time. She left the sweetest voicemail and asked me to call her back no matter what the time.
o   By 9pm I spoke to my birth mom for the first time ever. She gave me much more information and informed me she thought my birth father had passed away.
o   After we hung up I located my birth father’s family in TX through the internet at 1:00 am; it’s been an overwhelming long day!

·       March 9, 2013
o   I found my half sister on Facebook and spoke with her that afternoon
o   I phoned my Aunt (adoptive) since she is the family genealogist and gave her what information I had on my birth father.

·       March 10, 2013
o   My Aunt found my paternal grandfather’s obituary that included the names of his wife and children.

·       March 11, 2013
o   I located my birth father’s date of death on (1977), as well as my paternal grandmother’s obituary.
o   Using the names in my paternal grandfather’s obituary I was able to find one of my paternal aunts on Facebook and send her a message.

·       March 13, 2013
o   I get a response from the paternal aunt asking for more details.  Fear sets in that I will be denied my paternal ancestry.

·       March 14, 2013
o   Receive email from other paternal aunt welcoming me into the family. None of the siblings knew anything about me; only one of the sibling wives had ever heard mention of an adopted child. They are over the moon to have found me. I look a lot like him and he had no other children so I’m a little piece of him remaining in this world after they lost him so young. 

·       March 15, 2013
o   Birth father’s best friend who also didn’t know I existed sends me lots of childhood stories.  It was amazing the commonalities I share with my birth father as well as those he shared with my dad (adoptive).

·       Easter Weekend 2013 - Reunion
o   On my drive to my mom’s (adoptive) I stopped to meet my paternal uncle and his wife. They live in a Texas town I have driven through many times over the last 9 years where my birth father was raised. My uncle’s wife was very close to my paternal grandmother, spending a lot of time in the kitchen over the years after my birth father’s death. My grandmother would make comments every now and then to her that she fantasized about finding his daughter.
o   My mom (adoptive) and I met my birth mom and half sister the day before Easter in Mississippi. This particular town I’ve probably been through over 100 times in my life not knowing I have birth family there. We spent about five hours together sharing stories, pictures and gifts.  Looking back on that day it feels like as if I was on the outside looking in. It was so surreal to actually lay eyes on and know the person that brought me into this world!

Melanie with her adoptive mother and cousin Linda

Even though it has only been a couple of months into the reunion I have a peace unlike I have ever known before.  My friends and family even say I am a completely different person now. I no longer live in a world where I constantly wonder and question everyone and everything around me. I recently read a book that stated..."We tend to prefer the certainty of misery to the misery of uncertainty". I believe that this is such truth since no one can process the unknown. Knowing the truth gives me the ability to work through the hurt and a lifetime of feeling abandoned. Things are not always 100% rosy and perfect in reunion; working through all the relationships will take time, but I am blessed that so many in my birth family have accepted me and taken me into their lives without question. DNA testing and a cousin named Linda gave me the ultimate gift! 

The best answer for adoptees is for laws to be changed giving adoptees access to their original birth certificates. It is a blatant denial of civil rights. But in the meantime DNA testing has given hope to adoptees and circumvents outdated legislation. 

[*Note on Non-ID: Had Melanie's maternal grandfather lived in Louisiana there would have been a chance to locate him via newspapers & obituaries. However, because Mississippi doesn't have their records online, the paper trail search ended when every Louisiana source was exhausted. Melanie also searched for her maternal grandmother in the same way since, according to her non-ID, she was killed in an auto accident in 1967. It turned out that this was all true and, because of these tragic events, Linda knew to which family Melanie belonged.]

Thursday, July 4, 2013

"Cousin Godmother": Genealogist Bernice Bennett Helps Adoptee Connect with Birth Family through 4th Cousin Match at 23andMe

"Our 23andMe Story - Helping My Newly Discovered Cousin Find Her Birth Family!" by Bernice Alexander Bennett of BlogTalkRadio  

She waited 36 years and now she has found her birth family.
This beautiful young woman, a year younger than my son, was searching for her birth parents. Given up for adoption as an infant, she had loving parents to nurture and support her. She had Cystic Fibrosis, the only known genetic link to her birth parents and did not know who they were.

Beth Davis
Beth Davis discovers her birth family!
She began searching for her birth parents at the age of 18 because her adoption was a closed adoption. Her search did produce two surnames and basic information. She knew that she had a Louisiana connection.

Three months ago after taking the
23andMe autosomal DNA test she had a list of new cousins. Her DNA results showed that she was at the 4th Cousin level with me.

I sent her an invitation asking her to share her genome and her name. After accepting my invitation, she informed me that she was adopted and was searching for her birth parents. I wanted to help her and felt that I could.

One of her surnames was Sheppard. I immediately matched her genome to my 4th cousin and she showed up as her 2nd cousin.

I decided that it was time to get on the phone to tell my 4th cousin about her 2nd cousin. I simply said we have a cousin who is looking for her father. She is matching you at the 2nd cousin level and only a few 1st cousins are out there who could be the father. “Can you make this happen”?

My 4th cousin then contacted one of her first cousins to inform him of the situation. I stepped out of the picture to allow them to talk to this young lady. Her uncle called her and she told him everything she knew about herself and possible parents.

Her uncle kept me updated and later informed me that he had confirmed that the father was his brother.

I prayed every single day that the connection would be made and it was!

The physical connection has now been made between the birth father and daughter.
She knows what he looks like, his habits, their similarities and differences. She knows about her birth mother, grandparents, great grandparents, cousins, uncles, and half siblings, yes siblings. Compassion to help, knowledge of a loving family, our genealogy and 23andMe made it possible for one adoptee to find her birth family. I think that I will call myself "Cousin Godmother"!

Professional Genealogist Bernice Bennett, "Cousin Godmother"

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Adoptee Finds Her Birth Sister at 23andMe Through a First Cousin Match

Greta had searched for decades for her birth mother, Carolyn Palmer, without success. She had all but given up on finding her birth family when she joined 23andMe, but her dreams were realized when her DNA matched her to a maternal first cousin, Laura Oliver. Through that match, she learned that, sadly, her birth mother had died only months earlier, but that she had a living sister who was looking for her too.

I was aware of this reunion, but was unsure as to whether it would be made public, so I was happy to see that 23andMe published a story about it earlier today. Since there are many of these success stories thanks to DNA now, but most of them stay private, I wanted to quickly get this out to my readers.

Don't give up, adoptees...there is hope through DNA!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Adoptees Who Received Close Family DNA Matches and Reunited with Birth Family as a Result - Part Four

AncestryDNA was also featured on the Steve Harvey show for reuniting adoptee, Mara Parker, with her birth father through a paternal half sibling DNA match. Mara had been searching for her father for 25 years.

It is a tearjerker, so have your hankies ready. 

Adoptees Who Received Close Family DNA Matches and Reunited with Birth Family as a Result - Part Three

AncestryDNA has been good about getting the word out that there is hope for adoptees searching for their birth families.

In the first story, Chris took an AncestryDNA test and found his maternal half brother. Here is his story on Katie Couric:

Chris meets his AncestryDNA match, his brother:

Adoptees Who Received Close Family DNA Matches and Reunited with Birth Family as a Result - Part Two

The second story was posted in September 2012 and involves an adoptee who found her paternal aunt at AncestryDNA and has since reunited with her birth father.

Adoptee Finds Birth Family at AncestryDNA

After my posts criticizing AncestryDNA for their handling of "Chris and Pat's" matching, it is only fair to report the terrific news that the second adoptee mentioned in my original story (let's call her Jenny) has confirmed that her close match is, indeed, authentic. A few weeks ago "Jenny" reported that she received a match with a predicted first cousin at AncestryDNA. Today we received the news that Jenny has actually found her biological paternal aunt!

At first I thought there was a discrepancy between the prediction and the actual relationship, but after seeing screen grabs from Jenny's account, I realized that Ancestry has two different categories that each include first cousin; one is "Close Family - First Cousin" and the other is "First Cousin - Second Cousin".  Given this opportunity, let's take a look at Ancestry's "First Cousin" categories.

I happen to have a known first cousin in my mother's AncestryDNA account, so I can compare the two categories here. Vi is predicted to be a First Cousin to my mother with a range of 1st Cousin to 2nd Cousin:

My mother's first cousin at AncestryDNA

With this explanation:

Click to Enlarge

Since I have this same cousin available for comparison at 23andMe, I can tell you that she shares 14.5% of my mother which is a bit higher than average. So, AncestryDNA got this right even though Vi and my mom share more than would be expected for a first cousin relationship.
My mother's first cousin at 23andMe
I share a first cousin once-removed relationship with Vi and 7.44% of my DNA, and she correctly falls into the same First to Second Cousin Category for me at AncestryDNA.

There is another category at AncestryDNA that is labeled as Close Family to First Cousin. It looks like this:

With this explanation:

Click to Enlarge

This is the category that the Jenny's match was placed, so in this case AncestryDNA's prediction was also correct.

AncestryDNA has not released their category guidelines, but from this I can deduce approximately what the percentage cut-off must be between the two categories (if they are using the traditional matching process that we are familiar with from 23andMe and Family Tree DNA's Family Finder). An aunt would share approximately 25% of her DNA with her niece, first cousins share approximately 12.5% of their DNA, first cousins once-removed share approximately 6.25% of their DNA and second cousins share approximately 3.125% of their DNA. These are variable numbers which are only an average, so some individuals, like my mom and her cousin Vi, will share more and some will share less than expected. AncestryDNA has apparently taken this into consideration since they correctly placed my mom's first cousin Vi in the lower First Cousin - Second Cousin category instead of the Close Family - First Cousin category. Without more comparisons, it is impossible to accurately guess AncestryDNA's upper end cut-off for this category, but at 23andMe my highest aunt/uncle relationship comparison is 27.88%, while my lowest is 21.14%, so they probably include at least 28% in this category and possibly much higher since the next closest genetic relationship level shares about 50% of their DNA - full siblings. AncestryDNA likely takes additional information into account in their predictions such as longest segment length and how many shared segments, but for general guidelines, the categories possibly look something like this:

Close Family - First Cousin Category        28% - 15% in common
First Cousin - Second Cousin Category     15% -  5% in common

If this is close to their actual thresholds, then the Close Family Category could include half-siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles (as we have seen in Jenny's case) and possibly great grandparents/first cousins who are on the high end of expected shared DNA.

With all of this analysis, I don't want to get sidetracked from the joy of this story. Jenny is absolutely thrilled to find her paternal birth family and they seem to be thrilled to find her! She is very appreciative of AncestryDNA's part in her discovery and, thanks to that aunt who is a member of, Jenny already has an extensive genealogy for half for her biological family!

Jenny shared her thoughts with me:

I need to give AncestryDNA some credit, they were 100 percent right on this one. Although I still stand by my opinion that their system needs changes, because there still is no way to know if there are errors...They need to release the raw data, not everyone is going to be as lucky as I was, but I also don't want to discourage people from submitting their DNA.  The more DNA they receive, the better the results I would presume.  They have a great system for the most part, but with no way to interpret it, we have to just have blind faith in Ancestry that our results are correct.

Personally, I am very happy to be able to report this positive flip side to my earlier story because I do not want to discourage anyone from participating in DNA testing. Although not my first choice, with a database that has exceeded 65,000 (judging from recent ID numbers), AncestryDNA is a viable place to search for relatives whether it be for adoption reunification or genealogical purposes. You can bet that we, as a community, will keep badgering the folks at AncestryDNA for our raw data and access to more detailed genetic information, but some will enjoy success with their matching system even as it currently is. In fact, because of their outstanding automated matching combined with their vast collection of already existing family trees, a number of individuals have already reported confirming many common ancestors with their matches at AncestryDNA and, in some cases, broken through decades-old brick walls. These successes could greatly aid in, perhaps, the loftiest dream of our community - to build a universal genetic family tree by "assigning" DNA segments to specific ancestors, but only if AncestryDNA decides to release the genetic data to their customers. Let's keep our fingers crossed that they will soon listen to us, because what a wondrous thing this could be!

[10/26/12: This test is now out of Beta, so you can order it here.]