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Using DNA to Find Your Surname

Learn how adoptees and other are using new technology to find their roots.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Melissa Slate
Word Count: 388 (approx.)
Labels: DNA Study 
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Editor Note: New DNA tests have been made available since this article was written. While the Y-DNA test is available to men only, the autosomal DNA test is available to both men and women, and may provide important information for both male and female adoptees. In addition, the DNA surname study is useful in identifying the surname for other non-paternal events, besides adoption, and can be helpful in identifying an immigrant ancestor among others with the same surname.


For those who are adopted, finding their family tree has always been a challenge. Records may be sealed, hidden, on non-existent. Until now, very few resources were available to help adoptees find their genealogical roots.

Genealogy and genetics are becoming more intertwined as men who have been adopted turn to DNA in an attempt to discover their birth surname. The genetic similarities of men who bear similar DNA are carried on the Y chromosome. These genetic similarities are carried from male to male along the same family line. Men who have been adopted can have their DNA tested, and then check DNA databases for men having the same surname and similar genetic makeup.

A great many men have used this method to find their surname, using the genetic testing service called Family Tree DNA. The service has an online DNA lookup web site that can assist in matching the adoptee's DNA to the DNA of potential surnames in the database.

With this information, the adoptee can then attempt to match his potential surname to surnames in the locality in which he was born. The greatest success with this method of searching is going to come when you have a surname that is not so common that it gives you hundreds of possibilities, yet so uncommon that there are no other samples to compare it with. The test is painless, it only requires a swab of your cheek cells, which you can collect yourself at home with the test kit that is provided to you when you order.

Before you begin rejoicing, you should know that the cost of this service can be pricey. And while only Y-chromosomes are passed from only males to males, an adopted female does not have to go without a clue if she wants to trace her surname lineage. DNA technology has given genealogy new methods of tearing down brick walls.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2008.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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