You have two family trees: Your Genealogical Family tree & your Genetic Family Tree. The first is your traditional paper trail tree, the verbal or written records left behind after people die telling of all the people in history who ever had a baby that had a baby that led to you. The second is created using evidence from your DNA.
Most people don’t build out both trees, but those of us who do build them out for what we think is a very good reason: They are evidence that a family line IS valid.
If you want to take your genealogy to the next level, start the Genetic Tree. Of course you begin with yourself and then ONLY add people whose relation can be supported by DNA evidence. Don’t even add your own siblings if you don’t have DNA proof that they are your siblings. I will say it again: If your sister has not had her autosomal DNA test, then don’t add her to your tree until she does OR one of her offspring has a test match yours. Her child will verify her place in your tree when you add them. The idea here is that her child would NOT match you UNLESS she is your biological sister, so she doesn’t have to test in order for you to place her in that tree. Same goes for your brother, so if he has any offspring he’s trying to hide, the minute you upload your DNA, his cat is comin outta the bag. It’s only a matter of time. That’s a whole different blog topic!!
You think you know who your biological relatives are, but you don’t until you have the DNA. Case in point: I have a friend who I am working with right now who was donor conceived and did not know it until she did a DNA test to check her heritage and it came back telling her that she is 50% Jewish. Well her brother has no Jewish, neither of her parents are Jewish. Uh oh. Somebody has some ‘splainin to do. She sat her parents down & long story short, was told she was donor conceived. No one would have EVER known that if she had not done the DNA test. Why it matters is a whole different topic for another day, but if this were to happen in your family, you would understand immediately what the value is in having both trees. But there is a more abstract value too.
Important note: Just because you don’t share autosomal DNA with a cousin DOES NOT MEAN they are not your cousin. It does not mean your DNA doesn’t come from any of the same people, it just means you didn’t inherit the same exact segments even though you got it from the same people. Autosomal has a very random nature.
Finding out you aren’t the child or sibling that it says you are on paper is a rare occurrence overall, so there’s a more practical reason to keep a genetic tree. The reason I first created mine was so that I could figure out that Nancy Dusenbery was actually my 6th great grandmother. When I was building my genealogical family tree, as I got higher & higher on it, I thought about how it would affect me if someone was an illegitimate child. I would be building up a false tree! Claiming places in history that weren’t mine at all! Ok, that’s a noble thing right? Not wanting to think I am something I am not. What difference does THIS really make though? Well in this case it would mean that I was not related to a certain famous person that I am related to because she is the connection. If she was a mistake, I would lose my source of flattery IF that type of flattery were important to me (don’t judge me on this one, this celebrity is kind of a big deal!)
So, I went to searching my DNA matches for Dusenbery. Finding anyone related to me with that surname would encourage me to consider that the line might be DNA verifiable (it’s not cut & dry, seeing the surname is just the carrot). I was happy to see that I had a handful of Dusenbery descendents to attempt to build my GENETIC tree up to Nancy with. Once I had gone through due process with even one cousin, I could reasonably assume that every descendant of hers that led to me is legitimate in one way or another & cease to question that branch again. I can boast all I want to about that celebrity & know I am not likely to be completely mistaken because not only do I have some great science to support it, but a solid papertrail to boot. *This does not mean that Nancy’s other kids are legitimate, just the one she had that led to me. Every cousin would ideally follow the same path to confirm their lineage, if they wanted to.
There are other caveats to DNA and genetic relatives but, that’s the simple gist of it & I am trying to keep MY blog simple. If you’re ready to go further & see just HOW unruly your DNA & your two trees can be? See this blog from CeCe Moore, where her DNA tells her, “Not so fast, young lady!” There are plenty of cases where our DNA won’t just spill the beans for us & we have to work real hard to wrestle out of it what it knows. Cece’s blog is the BEST place I can send you if you’re really into this genetic aspect of genealogy.
Once you build out your Genetic tree, you can see a bit clearer (at a glance) what you’re really working with when it’s time to help someone else verify who their family members are. If you collaborate with your other genetic matches, you could get quite a few lines verified. A cousin of yours may not have that [insert surname here] DNA match but YOU do, so you can say, “So long as your parent is confirmed as “Gilbert” then I can confirm that his mother is Nancy or his father IS Gideon” whichever way you’re needing the confirmation to work based on which genetic markers are present. This may then answer questions for that cousin and his/her heritage.
Now, the controversial parts…
Onto adoptees and donor conceived… this is my favorite part about building genetic trees. If you are approached by a relative who shares DNA with you but you don’t know where ya’ll got it, having both your Genealogical AND Genetic tree as accurate as possible could help you both figure out his/her parentage.
If you’re going to get yourself all dialed in, you need to think about a couple scenarios & decide right now where you are gonna stand. Having gorgeously accurate family trees just growing in your backyard is one thing, using the fruits of those trees to change lives is another. At some point, you WILL face the issues. Someone IS going to come to you asking for your help in identifying their biological family members.
I’ve got lady who is coming up as 5th to 8th cousin to me but we share DNA that suggests a closer relationship. There is too much there for her to be 8th. She was adopted which means we don’t have any idea how we are related. Sooo…. we’re using both versions of each of our trees, giving us a total of 4 workspaces. We know her father was in Maine the year she was born. I can look at my tree to see who I’ve got in the area at that time to see which family she might belong to. We know that he is PROBABLY one my 6th generation grandfathers or uncles. In this situation, I first use my Genetic tree because those lines are certainly possibilities that may lead to her paternity. My Genealogical Tree could waste our time because I may have illegitimates in there that I haven’t discovered. We could chase our tails for years going through my grandparents & one or even some of them might not even be my bio grandparents because they could be illegitimate too.
Back in the old days, people were ashamed to be “knocked up” and you can just forget about anyone admitting to adultery. Back then, you’d either pass the kid off as your husbands & hope nobody noticed OR you got “rid of” the kid. Not all adoptions were done legally. Sometimes a neighbor just gave their kid to another neighbor who wanted it. Or, a mother would raise the child of her daughter (or son), and just say it’s her own… the father being concealed forever, his identity dying with the mother. We could get clear down to my generation on one more more lines as I’m trying to help my newly found cousin figure out who her dad is & I would have wasted ALL that time going through phony lineage. And if I don’t know it’s phony, I am likely to KEEP going back to it to reconsider it, the same tail I already chased, just at it again because it never gets old, right? So, we use the genetic tree first. Once that’s been exhausted & beat to hell, we can chase our tails down my genealogical tree just out of desperation and lack of other avenues, and then, with any luck, pieces of that can get verified & copied over to the Genetic Tree as we go along & that broadens our actual pool of candidates. Your genealogical tree isn’t useless to the offspring of adoptions or donor conceptions, it’s just sometimes inferior IF there are any secrets you haven’t discovered.
So, bottom line, the Genetic Tree has a valid place in your ancestry account (or wherever you keep it) for your own personal reasons and as an added bonus, you could change somebody’s life with it. And if you can, you should at least consider it. We haven’t found her father yet, and we are running out of time. He’s probably old (unless he was much younger than her mother). Her mother has been identified but won’t talk & has forbidden all family members from discussing the matter with the daughter she gave up. It’s either tragic or shameful or dangerous or connected to some other undesirable emotion where mother won’t talk. Finding him may hurt somebody deeply.
Each case is going to have to be considered & if you follow my suggestion to figure out where your heart lies ahead of time, you will be prepared when you are called to the mat; you’ll know under which circumstances you will (or won’t) be willing to roll up your sleeves & help.
Additional thoughts & extra info below, if you’re interested.
*Genie tip: A conversation about genetic genealogy almost ALWAYS leads to a conversation about the adopted & donor conceived who are searching for their biological families.
If this helps…
I decided subconsciously that my position is that the burden does not belong to the offspring of said tragedy, shame or passion. My supposed reasoning, other than the gut feeling that it’s the right thing for me to do: The offspring has the same deep desire to find her creators that humankind has had since the beginning of time. We’ve been looking for God ever since we found out there could be one. We’ve gone great lengths and spent an infinite number of dollars trying to find our very first parents. We don’t consider who gets hurt when we finally find out who or what that creator is or is not… we MUST know & that’s all we know. We don’t care if our spaceships gets blown up with us in it, we are headed to the moon to see if our daddy is there. He isn’t, so now we are headed to the next rock over to rule that out & we don’t really care who is in that one or if it blows up on its way, we’re sending it off asap. Heck, we’re even looking for beings that are not genetically connected to our existence.
My genetic cousin & I have thought about this at length, in fact. If anybody suffers emotional pain when she finds out where she came from, we’ve decided that it is not her problem, not her cross to bear, not her pain to own. She’s carried the pain of not knowing for many, many decades & she’s wearing those scars. It is possible that her mother is protecting her child, but it could be that she’s protecting herself at her daughter’s expense. With how this has all gone about, we’re pretty sure it’s the latter so we’re committed & it’s only a matter of time before we’re onto them. We have some mercy, but not much. We have some respect for the feelings of others, but it’s fading quick as in this case, the parties privy show none for hers.
In other circumstances & in future cases, I may decide that I am not willing to help an offspring but those circumstances would have to be extreme. My default position is that I will use my trees to help, but I am sure at some point a situation is gonna wallop me upside the head & make me rethink. There are probably circumstances I cannot even DREAM up that have led to conceptions that need to never be told of in a million years… but if the information just falls into your lap by way of DNA, then it’s just fate deciding for us that the truth IS coming out. Lord, have mercy when that happens.