DNA test recommendations

I’m always asked by friends and family what DNA testing company to use.  There are many sites with their own recommendations but predominately they are US based sites, so he’s one from an Australian Adoptee Genetic Genealogist’s point of view in order of preference:

  1. AncestryDNA – I’ve been using Ancestry.com to trace my adopted family’s ancestry and everyone I know uses Ancestry.com.  So when I saw posts fly past my Facebook wall with stories of adoptees finding family using AncestryDNA, I was 100% on board and ordered my kit immediately.  The DNA tests had only just become available in Australia so I was an early adopter, pun intended.
    Ancestry as well as all the DNA testing companies listed below offer Autosomal DNA tests. Autosomal DNA tests can confirm relationships between other members who have submitted their DNA. This test can tell parent/child relationships and up to second cousin level with a great deal of accuracy.Since first submitting my DNA to Ancestry, they have introduced some very cool features, at least I think they are cool.  They are:

    • Shared Ancestor Hints –  show you how you’re related to cousins who have also submitted their DNA and who has an extensive family tree that include your most recent common ancestors – I love this feature.
    • Genetic Community – show you where many of your cousins originate from because they descend from a population of common ancestors.
    • DNA Circles – if you and other cousins have the same ancestor in your family trees the circles will identify the common ancestor.
  2. FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA)– This site has the 2nd largest database.  What FTDNA does offer over AncestryDNA is additional testing other than Autosomal DNA tests, they include:
    • Mitochondrial DNA testing (mtDNA) – provides information about the direct female ancestral line as it preserves information about our female ancestors that may be lost from the records because of the way surnames are often passed down.
    • Y chromosome testing (yDNA)  can be used to explore ancestry in the direct male line. This test can only be done on males because only they have a Y chromosome.

The best feature FTDNA offer is you can upload your DNA results from Ancestry, 23&me to FTDNA and just recently from National Geographic where you will see any relatives who have either uploaded their results or taken the FTDNA test.  I had a 3rd cousin pop up on this site.  Other features I found helpful during my 18 months of trying to find common cousins include the:

    • Chromosome browser – allows you to compare your matching DNA segments with your genetic matches
    • In common with – this tool was far better than Ancestry’s cousin matching.
  1. 23andMe – after almost 18 months I decided to take the plunge and order a kit.  23&me has predominantly Americans on the database but all the adoption groups suggested to test with all three major companies.  23&me’s ethnicity report is more extensive than Ancestry and it tells if you have Neanderthal DNA, which all the research suggests everyone who lives out of Africa probably does, at least <1%.   Had I not had my 1st cousin match using AncestryDNA, I may have cracked the mystery with the  2nd cousin match I had on 23andMe.  So if you’re adopted do this test too so you cover all bases.
  2. Gedmatch – provides DNA and genealogical analysis tools for amateur and professional researchers and genealogists. Most tools are free, but they do provide some premium tools for an small cost.
    Gedmatch doesn’t provide the kits for testing your DNA but it does allow you to upload your DNA results from all of the above recommended sites and also MyHeritage.  The beauty of Gedmatch is you can do far more analysis on your DNA.  Using Gedmatch will require a bit of a learning curve but nothing you won’t handle if you’ve managed to upload your results in the first place.


Now I’ve found my birth family a couple of questions that I’ve been bouncing around my head: should I go through the rigmarole to change my pre-adoption birth record to reflect the correct details of my birth family or do I go one step further and change my legal birth certificate and more importantly, can I?

I realise changing my legal birth record would be a controversial especially with my adopted family as many would say I’d be dishonouring them and to a degree I guess they’d be right but when I look at my pre-adoption birth certificate it’s predominately a falsified document. The surname of Watkins isn’t my birth mother’s surname, she wasn’t born in Portland Victoria although she was brought up there, and my father’s details are no where to be seen. The only piece of truthful information is her firstname, Anne.

What I think is astonishing is no one asked my birth mother for identification when she went through the adoption process and then subsequently deliver me. By today’s standards this it outrageous but it was acceptable back then but should yesterday’s low standard not be rectified today? I certainly think it should be rectified!

Through my online research there’s nothing that resembles the information I’m after. The only links Google searches return are to the NSW Births Deaths and Marriage website and on this site it only lists two reasons allowable for changing birth records, they are: “only the biological parents of a child may add a father’s details to a birth registered in NSW” but “both women in a same sex de factor relationship may now be recognised on their child’s birth certificate”. Well that’s a lot of help!

However, the website did have a section for adoptees to apply for unamended birth certificates and it included an email address so I sent the following email:


I was adopted immediately after birth on 9 January 1961 and I have recently reunited with by birth family, however both birth parents are deceased.

On my original (unamended) birth certificate my birth mother gave a false surname and no name for my birth father.  I would like to know if it’s possible for me, with the permission of my birth parents closest relatives, to change my legal birth certificate to include my birth parents and also change my surname to include my birthfather’s surname?

Kitty Leigh

A quick response followed:

Thank you for your email.

Unfortunately, since your birth parents are deceased you cannot change your pre-adoptive birth certificate in any way.

You mentioned a change to your post adoptive birth certificate which is in fact your legal birth certificate. To amend this you would need to have your adoption discharged for which you would need to seek legal advice. Should you succeed at this, you will then have the unamended pre-adoptive birth certificate as your legal one.

I hope this is of assistance. Kind regards,
Duty Officer

So essentially I need to go through legal channels to apply for an adoption discharge and therefore my pre-adoption birth certificate would become my legal one. My pre-adoption birth certificate has me as “Unnamed” and my birth mother as “Anne Watkins”, this is the very certificate I want changed.

Many will say this is something I should let go and the question around disrespecting my adopted parents would be raised time and time again and maybe it’s early days and I’m still in the so called ‘honeymoon’ period of finding my family and connecting to them and luckily for me it’s been a positive experience. But the driving force behind my wanting to correct my birth records is not just around connecting to my birth family but the connection to my true bloodline.

When I submitted my DNA to ancestry, no one from my adopted family appeared as a DNA match and that was the first visual evidence separating me from my adopted family. The features I have aren’t from by adopted family nor is my inherited health conditions, weird web toes, eye colour, hair colour or skin colour. Only environmental factors can be ‘inherited’ from an adopted family and there are studies that suggest environmental features can be inherited through bloodlines for up to 7 or more generations.

When I create family trees I don’t include step or adopted children which you probably think is short-sighted especially coming from me but I asked a few of my genealogy friends and they do the same which means I wouldn’t appear on any ancestral tree and that puts me right back to where I was before I found my birth family.

With my false records not even my birth family would find me so I wouldn’t appear on of my blood descendant’s family tree and I’m not happy with this outcome. I want to be relevant long after I die because I don’t believe in life after death other than the life found in family stories. It’s the research I do on my ancestors that brings them to life and I want the same to be true for me. Therefore, it’s crucial that my records reflect my bloodline.

So for me it’s not about dishonouring my family, it’s about honouring my descendants.

Swimming in DNA

Ethnicity estimate1It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog – a very long while.  A few years ago I was well into this blogging thing, then the findingannewatkins.com website was born and not long after died a decommissioning death.  Around the time I decommissioned the website, I decided enough-was-enough with the topic of my adoption BUT then I decided to send my DNA to Ancestry.com and here I am, drowning in my, and other people’s DNA.

I’ve been a member of Ancestry.com for some years now, I’ve completed my adoptive family’s family tree as far back as the records allow.  I’m also an avid viewer of ‘Who do you think you are’ and was enticed by the DNA related adverts, so I checked it out. As luck would have it there was a sale on the test and being the cheap-scape, I completed the form, paid the reduced rate and waited for my DNA kit to come in the mail.

After about two weeks I received the kit.  I spat in the tube, carefully packed my precious DNA and sent it off.  The information provided with the kit said the results would be ready in 6-8 weeks.  I was pleasantly surprised when I received an email two weeks later informing me that my results were ready.  This meant I could login to Ancestry and activate my DNA test results.

The first information I saw was my ethnicity estimate.  I was expecting to see predominately British with a splash of Western Europe. But low and behold I’m 59% Irish.  I was of two minds about this information:

  • Firstly, this would likely indicate I originated from poor Irish stock either brought to Australia in chains or through the free settlement deals of the mid to late 1800s as the new colony needed men to work.  I’d always dreamt I was the bastard child of a British aristocrat.
  • Secondly, wow Irish – I love their accents and I certainly approve of their dry and mostly cutting sense of humour and of course I too love a drink or more – many more, I digress!

Ethnicity estimate-matchesThe other information, and the most important, was the DNA relationship matches of which I had 37 4th cousins (figure raising steadily).

Wow, I have blood cousins! I would never have thought I’d ever find another person who share my DNA besides my kids and grandkids- how exiting!

My first task was to find out what a 4th cousin looks like, not in the physical sense but how am I related to a 4th cousin?

It’s important to note that DNA doesn’t know the concept of cousins, a cousin match is just a way of describing the amount of DNA shared between people. A 4th cousin could mean we share a great-great-great-grandparent (3rd GG), more or less. To put this into context – everyone has  32 x 3rd GG (ie. sixteen sets – refer to figure below).

Tracing a family tree and uncovering great grandparents is moderately simple if you know where to begin which is usually with yourself, your parents and/or grandparents.  To go beyond grandparents gets a little tricky but still doable. It’s not until you reach your 2nd GG that the information starts drying up so researching 3rd GG is getting into the late 1700s/ early 1800s and the records are well and truly scarce.  To add salt to the wound, the Irish records are mostly none existent as many records were lost in fires or through the English occupancy – just my dumb luck!

To understand my dilemma, my starting point is to find  a common set of 3rd GG I share with any one of my 37 4th cousins.  Of course this task made all the more difficult since I don’t have a starting point as in a name as it’s most likely that the name of Watkins given by my birth mother is false.   So needless to say when I stare at a cousin’s family tree it’s anyone’s guess as to which set of 3rd GG we share.  To top off my dilemma, very few of these cousins have a family tree in the first instance and those that do don’t go beyond 2nd GG.

In order to find a common relative, I need to find several 4th cousins who share the same 3rd GG, meaning their 2nd GG would be a siblings to each other and so would mine – confusing isn’t it?

Ancestry.com didn’t provide tools for finding matching cousins until now, however, it’s still not a useful tool.  In the meantime I’d sent a few emails to various cousins and one or two of them suggested I upload my DNA results to a free service called GEDmatch.com. GEDmatch.com – is a service that allows you to match with people who have had the DNA tested from other ancestry sites such as 23andme and FtDNA (Family Tree DNA).  GEDmatch is for the more serious DNA researcher and it appears that’s what I need to become.

After I uploaded my DNA to GEDmatch and waited the obligatory 24 hours, I received my unique ‘Kit’ number, this helps in the various searches you can perform on the website.  You can also find people who match your kit as well as other cousin kits.  I can even run a test that predicts eye colour, which was spot on in my case – bloodshot – at least that’s the colour they have been every since I received my DNA results.

Since uploading my DNA to these sites, I can’t count the time that has been consumed running diagnostic tests, contacting cousins, scouring ancestry trees and running test after test.  I’ve had help along the way from cousins. One cousin who understands DNA suggested I check out a possible 3rd GG by the name of Hayman. The Haymans immigrated from England to New Zealand and some moved to Australia in the 1800s.  His suggestion was based on a shared cousin relationship between three people, me being one. He knew this other cousin shared the Hayman’s as 3rd GGs so the likely conclusion was I too shared the Haymans.  This means I need to identify which of the Hayman’s children are my 2nd GG and down the line I go.

How hard could that be?

My joy was short lived once I knew Mr and Mrs Hayman had 20 children – 20!  OMG, kill me now!  One of these 20 children MAY BE my 2nd GG and if I knew which one I’d have to find out which of their kids was my 1st GG and there are 72 to choose from – YES THAT’S RIGHT, 72!

Needless to say my job is definitely set out for me and this research is only based on someone’s calculated guess which in all likelihood is wrong.  Regardless, I press ahead with endless hours of searching trying to find some glimmer of hope, some correlation between the search results and the information provided by my birth mother, any information that seems to make sense.  I go to sleep thinking about the search. I wake up at 3am thinking about the search and I wake up in the morning thinking about the search.

I really am swimming in my own DNA.  However, it seems on most days that I’m drowning in it.  And today is no exception!

What’s in a name?

As my last blog “A trip down cemetery lane” indicated, over the last few weeks I have been researching and building my paternal family’s ancestry tree and I must admit I could turn this little hobby into a full time occupation as it’s very interesting and very time consuming. However, the pay’s lousy so I guess I’ll stick to my day job.

Anyway, while building the ancestry tree it would have been easy to accidentally link-up non-ancestors with similar names.  Luckily many of the ancestors not only passed down the patrilineal (father’s) family name from generation to generation, they also passed on first names and luckily again they passed down the matrilineal (mother’s) family name which was usually given as a middle name.  For example if my great-grandfather was called William Wilson Jones and he married Helen Clarke, they would name their three children: William Wilson Jones, Tomas Clarke Jones and Patricia Clarke Jones.  Therefore, making the identification and linking of ancestors much easier.

This practise got me thinking about modern society and the names we give our children.  If our great-great-grandchildren research their family history are our current naming conventions going to confuse them?  Especially these days as we call our kids after popular TV characters, subculture names, or after animals and plants of no ancestry origin – of which I am a serial offender given the names I planned for my children.

When I was pregnant with my first born, I loved the name Summer.  Summer was a popular name of the hippy subculture, as was Sky, Rain or Dusk.  I’ve always been a bit of a hippy at heart, even in 1980 which was well past the 60′
s hippy era. Unfortunately for me, my husband hated the name and when my daughter was two days old, he called her Kristy.  I wasn’t opposed to the name, so I went with his suggestion secretly wishing I had won that battle.  The boy’s name we agreed on was Matthew.  I guess I couldn’t think of a male hippy name.

When I was pregnant with baby number two I really liked a female character in the soapy “The Young and the Restless”, her name was April and come hell or high water my baby girl was going to be called April.  Luckily for my son I had a boy’s name picked out – Joshua. The name Joshua was taken from the bible – this was a time when I was taking the two-way bet. See previous blog “The moment of enlightenment”. These days Joshua insists his friends call him Josh.  His siblings and I get away with calling him Joshua.

What a shame I didn’t like the name April when I had my daughter three years earlier as she was born in April.

And then there was my third pregnancy where I fell in love with a character in a novel by V.C. Andrews called “Heaven”. The character’s name was “Heaven Leigh”.   Don’t laugh; Heaven Leigh Casteel was a lovely girl and her story was followed through with a series of five books of which I’ve only read three.  Knowing this name may cause waves, I ran it by my family – they thought I’d finally lost the plot or was suffering from some type of sickness through my pregnancy.  But I wasn’t too concerned; I still had my backup name, April.

Anyway, I had another boy and luckily for him I had a boy’s name ready – Tylan, a name I created.  I fell in love with the name Ty when I was pregnant and attending Motor X racers with my husband, who at the time was racing against a lovely young man called Ty.  Although I loved the name Ty, I wasn’t a big fan of shortened names and I didn’t like the racer’s full name which was “Tyronne”.  My daughter was 6 years old at the time and there was a little fat kid named Tyronne in her class, he also attending the same swimming lessons.  His mother was a lovely lady, but the kid – well I wanted to drown him as did the swimming instructor.

Other long versions of Ty were Tyran or Tyron – both sounded like “tyrant”. So I played around with the alphabet and came up with Tylan.  When my husband rang my Auntie with the news of the birth and the baby’s name, she said “why on earth would you call a baby after an Asian country?” mistaking Tylan for Thailand. To this day, we’ve never come across another boy or girl called Tylan.

And let us not forget the ridiculous names handed to the children of our popular personalities such as the model Jordan (aka Katie Price) and her ex-husband Peter Andre, naming heir baby daughter Princess Tiaamii – oh please, if she takes after her big-titty mummy, she’s got a hope in hell of being a princess.  And there’s Apple – WTF?  Does this mean the other siblings will be called Mandarin or Kiwi Fruit?

And what about Bob Geldof and Paula Yates kids Fifi Trixibell, Peaches and Pixie?  Which leads me to believe both Bob and Paula were spending most of their nights high as kites. And by the time Paula was with Michael Hutchence and named their baby Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily – well it was only a matter of time.  BTW..it’s not that I minded the Heavenly but the rest of the name?

And as Juliet Capulet said; ”What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet” may downplay the importance of one’s name but names really are important, they define who we are and where we come from.  So I think society as a whole should really think about the names we give our children, the history they carry and the ability for our future generations to trace where they come from and where they are going.

A trip down cemetery lane

When I was young, together with my Mum, Aunties and Nan, visited our dead relies in the local cemetery at least half a dozen times a year for various occasions such as birthdays, mother’s and father’s day, Easter and Xmas.  We’d even visit on other occasions just to do a tidy-up,  maybe a weed or two needed to be pulled from between the cement cracks, leaves cleared and the constant clearing and replacing of the previously left flower arrangements.

We even cleaned the empty slots in the columbarium wall reserved for my Nan, before she moved in, and the slots reserved for my Aunties.  I always found this a little unnerving – housekeeping the final resting place before moving in, but my Aunties don’t seem to be too bothered by it, they’re just happy to have a nice clean slot prettied up with some flowers next to my Nan and Pop’s freshly shined plagues.

On these visits we’d do the rounds of all the relies and every time I’d ask lots of questions about who was who and how they died.  Funnily enough these were happy
Since moving to Sydney my visits to the family cemetery have been limited, but on one visit a couple of years ago I took my eldest son, much to his initial lack of excitement. However, I enjoyed the role change from the once child being led to the adult leading the child telling the same stories, or what I could remember.

Also, to prove my families love for visiting the cemetery I must tell you the story of one of my trips to the country where prior to going to my Aunties, I dropped into the cemetery to visit the dead family – as you do.  Unbeknownst to me my Aunties also decided to drop over before I arrived at their place.  So there we were, in the Cemetery, each other not knowing the other’s intention to visit that day. To make this meeting all the more enjoyable we bumped into a two other groups of whom we new very well. They too were visiting their dead family – don’t ya just love a small country town.  It’s a shame we didn’t take a packed lunch and turn it into a real shindig.

Another visit to a cemetery happened only recently albeit an impromptu, unplanned visit.  This time with my three kids, son-in-law and grandkids. The cemetery is at Parramatta, across from my son’s place is one of the first cemeteries of the early settlers. Since we parked in front I couldn’t resist the urge to do a walk around as it had been a while. Although my son-in-law was bored out of his brain, thankfully my kids got into the event, we even found the grave of Gregory Blaxland, one of the three explorers first to cross the Blue Mountains.  A trip to the cemetery with a history lesson thrown in – better than a lesson in the classroom wouldn’t you say?

My latest renewed interest started with a visit from my Aunties (the ones who have reserved slots in the columbarium wall) at Easter time this year. This Easter also included Anzac day. During Anzac week www.ancestry.com.au offered free access so we took up the offer.  One thing led to another and before the day was out (after about 7 hours online) I had traced my paternal Grandmother’s family back to the 1500s while running into the odd convict or two – which by-the-way was a proud moment for me.  There’s nothing that says you’re an Aussie more than having a convict in your family tree.  And yes I know it’s not my biological family tree but I’m sure there are a few bastards on the tree and I’m proud to be one myself.

What’s this got to do with cemeteries you ask?  Well, when you’re doing a family tree on the Internet it’s very easy to link the wrong people, whether it’s one ancestor to another family’s ancestor, or as I did, the wrong husband and wife. It wasn’t until I searched the cemetery database, which includes a picture of the headstone, that I was able to link up the right husband and wife team – I’m sure they will be eternally grateful.

And this my friend is what has renewed my latest interest in cemeteries. So much that I’m going to plan a weekend in Sofala (a place where the convict ancestors came to after they were released from incarceration) and taking into account they had a many children, the local cemetery should be swarming. And I think I’ll be like a little girl in a cookie store.

So I’ll finish this blog and do a search on cemetery holidays.  I’m sure they exist.  And I’ll also leave you with this task – go to the cemetery your family is resting in or if that’s not possible go to the nearest cemetery and walk around, I’m sure you’ll have a blast – and don’t forget to take the kids.