DNA testing has become a wonderful tool for adoptees to use when searching for birth family. First, you send in a saliva sample, wait 6-8 weeks for processing, and then you are given a list of matches. For a small group of people, a parent or sibling will show up as a match right away. For the rest of the population, it will take some time and effort to identify immediate family.

It’s your choice which company to test with. The top two are Ancestry and 23 and Me. I used and had great success with Ancestry. Most adoptees use them because they have the largest database. As of August 2017, Ancestry’s DNA database had over 5 million users. Many people choose 23 and Me because they provide a small amount of medical information.

Once you have ordered your test, you will need to request a copy of your non-identifying info from the state you were adopted in if you don’t already have it. You can get instructions on how to get at that state’s “.gov” website.  The document should provide some info about your birth parents, such as a physical description, level of education, and type of employment. That info can be very helpful in narrowing down potential parents.

For each person on your match list, an amount will be given for how many centiMorgans, a way to measure your genetics, per a number of DNA segments that you match. The larger the number is, the closer the match. You can use the public trees of your matches to create your tree by narrowing down people based on their estimated relationship, their location, and your non-identifying info. I do not recommend sending messages to your matches. Exposing yourself prematurely as an adoptee and possible family secret may close doors for you.

If you have questions during your search, or if your results make your head spin, please reach out and ask for help. You can join the Facebook groups: Adoptee Central, DNA Newbie, and DNA Detectives to ask for help.

Usually, birth parents can be found using matches that are third cousin or closer. If all of your matches are fourth cousins or farther, I recommend uploading your raw DNA file to GEDmatch.com. It’s a site that accepts DNA files from multiple companies, so you may pick up some more matches there. If that doesn’t work, you can always test with additional companies.

For a guide to finding your biological family or Adoption Detectives, go to Adoption.com.


Ashley Foster is a freelance writer. She is a wife and a mother of two, currently residing in Florida. She loves taking trips to the beach with her husband and sons. As an infant, she was placed with a couple in a closed adoption. Ashley was raised with two sisters who were also adopted. In 2016, she was reunited with her biological family. She advocates for adoptees’ rights and DNA testing for those who are searching for family. Above all, she is thankful that she was given life.