Best DNA Test for Adoptees

Marc McDermott
First Published: | Updated: April 2, 2024

If you’re an adoptee looking to learn more about your biological family, then a DNA test is something you should consider.

But what is the best DNA test for adoptees? 

If you don’t have time to read the rest of this article, just go ahead and get yourself tested at AncestryDNA.

So, why are matches so important?

Matches are probably the single most important factor if you’re trying to identify your biological family. 

But more on that later…

Why adoptees should take a DNA test

Let’s back up for just a moment and talk about some of the more common reasons why an adoptee would typically take a DNA test.

Unknown parentage

The first, and the most common reason that I’ve found, is to identify biological parents. Sometimes both parents are unknown, and sometimes only one parent is unknown. 

Genetic health concerns

The second reason an adoptee might test is for genetic health concerns. The adoptee may not want to know the identity of their parents, but they do want to be aware of any potential health issues to discuss with their doctor.

This article will not focus on the health aspect of DNA testing other than to say 23andMe is the best choice for genetic health reports.


The third and final reason that I see adoptees test is that they want to know their ethnicity, or where in the world did their family come from.

The rest of this article will talk about the most common reason for testing – that is for identifying the biological family.

Identifying your biological family

Whether you’re trying to find your parents, siblings, half-siblings, cousins, or any other close blood relative, you need to find as many DNA matches as possible.

To do that, I like to tell people that you need to fish in as many ponds as possible, a common expression in the genetic genealogy community.

In a nutshell, you want to be in as many DNA databases as possible while spending the least amount of money to do so.

So instead of spending $60-$100 per test at the big five testing companies, here’s a clever alternative.

Recommended testing strategy

Purchase basic ancestry testing kits from both AncestryDNA and 23andMe

You can get the upgraded health tests as well from either company if you want. But you don’t need them for this exercise.

Once you get your results back from either Ancestry or 23andMe, you can then download the “raw DNA” file. It will look like a basic .txt file but will have more rows of gibberish than you can count.

From there, create a free account with MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA, LivingDNA, and Gedmatch.

Each of those companies allows you to upload your raw DNA text file for free. You’ll get put into their database and you’ll be shown a list of your matches.

If you’re a male and looking for your father, you may also want to consider a Y-DNA test from FamilyTreeDNA – budget permitting. You’ll want to get the 37 marker test to start and upgrade later if you have any promising matches.

It’s all about the matches

Once your DNA is in as many databases as possible and you have a solid list of matches, now it’s time to do some investigation.

This article doesn’t cover the advanced genetic genealogy required to identify unknown family members, but I’ll cover the basics.

If you’re serious about identifying an unknown parent and are new to genetic genealogy, then I’d strongly recommend hiring a professional genealogist to assist you. Some good options are Ancestry ProGenealogists and Legacy Tree Genealogists.

If you don’t have the budget to hire a professional, or just want to have a go yourself, here is a crash course.

Identifying unknown parentage: the basics

For this lesson, I’ll only be talking about AncestryDNA to keep things simple.

I’m going to assume your parent or sibling hasn’t already done a test with Ancestry because if they have, then case closed. You would share enough DNA where Ancestry would be able to tell you that person is your parent or sibling right from the beginning.

For example, I’ve already tested my father so Ancestry can detect the relationship because of the amount of DNA we share.

Most, if not all, adoptees won’t get that lucky. If you’re like most adoptees, you’ll need to do some more digging.

Group your matches

Go to your DNA match list.

Identify closest/strongest matches – usually above the 90 centimorgan level.

Click on the first match, then click on shared matches.

Write down the names/usernames of all shared matches above the 90cm level and label it “Group A”. 

If you’re struggling to find matches above that level, you COULD drop down to the 50 cm level but you’ll be doing way more research as a result.

Once you’ve written down all the shared matches between you and that first match, go back to your main match list and find the next strongest match that’s not already on your Group A list.

Again, write down all the shared matches and label it as “Group B”.

Repeat these steps for your strongest matches. You’ll usually end up with somewhere between two and six groups. For more on grouping, read this article: Leeds Method of DNA Color Clustering.

Find the intersection

From there, you need to do a lot of genealogical research. This is why I recommend hiring a professional.

What you need to do is identify the common ancestral couple for each of the groups you’ve identified. Sometimes that might require going back hundreds of years.

Once you’ve found the ancestral couple for each group, it’s time to figure out how each of the groups intersects.

It’s the intersection of these groups that will point you to your biological parents.

Build family trees

To do that, it’s a long game of building out the complete family trees of each ancestral couple to identify all the descendants. 

The intersection will be a union (hopefully a marriage) between the groups. This can be tricky if you’re searching for both parents instead of just one.

Here is an example of how two distinct groups of close matches intersect.

  • Matches 1-3 in red share the common ancestral couple of MN and SM.
  • Matches 4-6 in green share the common ancestor TC.
  • RR is the descendant of Group 1 that married RJ, the descendant from Group 2. That is the union, highlighted in yellow.
  • RR and RJ only had one son who was the right age to have a child, the adoptee.

Once you figure out how all the groups intersect, you can laser your focus on that family.

For example, if the intersection of the groups is a couple who married in 1950 and you were born in 1980, then you know your parent has to be a child of that couple. 

From there, it’s a matter of using public records, obituaries, newspaper articles, social media, and other records to learn more about the children.

Narrow down the candidates

If you’re looking for a father, then you’d only be looking at sons of that marriage. And vice versa if looking for your mother.

A lot of times there will be multiple candidates to be the parent. For example, if the couple had three sons and you’re looking for a father.

That’s when things get difficult but you can try to eliminate the candidates by learning more about where they lived at the time you were conceived. 

For example, if you know you were conceived in New Jersey in 1979 and only one of the sons lived in NJ at the time, that’s a strong indication you may have found the right person.

Verify your research

If you’ve made it to the point where you’re pretty sure you know the identity of your parent, you still have to verify all your research and analysis. After all, you can’t trust every record you find.

Of course, you can skip this step if you had some way of verifying the identity. For example, if you’re looking for your father and your mother knows the identity but has been reluctant to tell you. You can just try asking her if your research is correct.

Additional DNA testing

If not, you need to do additional DNA testing. You’ll be looking to test either the person you think is the parent, child, grandchild, or other close relatives. Closer the better.

Once you get that result back, you need to compare their DNA to yours to see if the DNA backs up your research.

Wrapping up

While there’s definitely a lot more to it, that’s the crux of finding an unknown parent.

I know this can be pretty overwhelming to someone who doesn’t have any knowledge of genetic genealogy. That’s why I recommend hiring a professional if you’re serious about finding a parent.

If you need any help getting started with your research, leave a comment below or send me an email. I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction.

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