MAY 7, 2019 blog by THEDNAGEEK
At age 16, Jerry’s mother was working in a canning factory, where she met a young man. As things happen, things happened. When the season ended, she returned to her home state a little bit pregnant. She eventually married and never saw her beau again.
Fast forward 45 years, and Jerry learns the truth: the man who raised him was not his biological father. After much denial, his mother eventually confessed and gave Jerry a name: Paul Gillen (not his real surname). After searching on his own for years, Jerry took a DNA test and contacted Janet Rinardo Travis and Lynette Caton Bryan. They are volunteer search angels through the Facebook group Search Squad and also offer professional search services through their company DNA Now.
Within a week, Janet and Lynette had linked Jerry to the Gilland family (note the different spelling). The Gillands had 10 sons, and one was named Paul. But the timing of the discovery couldn’t have been worse: Paul had passed away 3 days prior. Normally, we could test a child or grandchild of Paul to confirm that he was Jerry’s father, but he had no known children. The alternative would be to test descendants of each of the other nine brothers to show that they were not Jerry’s father. The quest seemed hopeless.
Enter providence. Paul had one living brother left, Uncle Sedric. For reasons unknown, he had delayed Paul’s cremation, and he gave his blessing for the funeral home to take DNA samples. Janet had the foresight to ask for both cheek swabs and hair follicle samples (not just cuttings) and delivered them personally to FamilyTreeDNA’s lab in Houston to have DNA extracted. Paul had been dead for 6 days by then, and the cheek swabs failed, but the lab was able to get useable DNA from the hair follicles. They then ran a standard autosomal analysis.
The no-call rate for the DNA analysis was 23%, meaning that only 77% of the possible data could be obtained. That’s not surprising given that the samples were taken nearly a week after Paul passed away. But was it enough to confirm whether Paul was Jerry’s biological father?
The data quality wasn’t high enough for Paul’s kit to be included in FamilyTreeDNA’s matching database, so Janet copied the raw data file to GEDmatch. There, she was able to compare Paul and Jerry directly using the “Autosomal One-to-One Comparison” tool.
The results were not what Janet expected:
A parent and child should share about 3579 cM, whereas Jerry and Paul shared 2588 cM. That’s the expected amount for full siblings, which is simply impossible given that Paul was older than Jerry’s mother. What’s more, the largest segment shared by a parent and child is about 281.4 cM (the full chromosome 1), whereas Paul and Jerry’s longest segment was only 80.4 cM. Finally, a parent and child should share 22 segments (for the 22 chromosomes), and full siblings usually share 40–50 segments. Paul and Jerry shared 125! What was going on?
Here’s where it helps to understand a bit about DNA matching and what typical parent–child and full sibling matches look like. GEDmatch gives the option to visualize the segments that two people share, as opposed to just listing the start and stop points of each match.
Recall that we each have two copies of each autosomal chromosome (autosome). Because a parent passes on one copy of each, and because the child inherits a second copy from the other parent, a comparison between the two should show that they match on one of their two chromosomes, but not both. The image below shows the first three autosomes (of 22 total) in a normal parent–child match.
Each chromosome diagram is made up of tens of thousands of color-coded, vertical lines, each line representing one bit of DNA (base pair) that was analyzed. Yellow bars mean that the mother and child match on one of their two bases at that spot. We call the yellow regions “half identical”. Green means that they match on both copies at that spot, which will happen by random chance sometimes in a parent–child match. And red means that they don’t match on either chromosome. For a parent–child comparison, the occasional red flecks are errors and can be ignored.
Full siblings, on the other hand, get a mix of DNA from their two parents. The pattern is quite distinct.
In some spots, they are half identical to one another (yellow) because they inherited the same chunk of DNA from either mom or dad. In other places, they have large stretches of so-called “fully identical regions” (FIRs) where they match on both chromosomes, because they inherited the same chunk from mom and dad. Those are mostly solid green, as opposed to the scattered green flecks we saw above. And in yet other spots, they won’t match at all, because one sibling inherited segment copies from, say, mom’s mom and dad’s dad, while the other sibling inherited that region from mom’s dad and dad’s mom. Non-matching segments appear as red-and-yellow patches, where the red lines are mis-matches and the yellow flecks are coincidental matches.
Jerry and Paul’s match looked like this.
That’s remarkably like the parent–child example above, with one key difference: there are a lot more red flecks. Because Paul’s DNA had started to degrade by the time it was sampled and extracted, and possibly because there isn’t as much DNA in a hair follicle sample as in a living cheek swab sample, there are a fair number of errors in the data. That’s to be expected.
Those errors trick GEDmatch’s algorithm into thinking Paul and Jerry don’t match in small regions where they really do. That is, the mismatches are artifacts of the post-mortem testing process, not real mismatches. In short, Paul was Jerry’s father.
The mismatch regions caused the anomalies we saw in the GEDmatch summary of the match, the lower-than-expected total centimorgans, the higher-than-expected number of segments, and the short longest segment. Each mismatch region reduces the total and breaks up contiguous chromosomes into artificial subsections.
Despite the tragedy of missing Paul by a few days, there is joy to this tale. The Gillands have invited Jerry to their upcoming family reunion, and they’re thrilled to welcome their newest member, 52 years in the making.
As post-mortem and artifact testing from objects like mailing envelopes and hairbrushes become more common, we will see more instances where the initial interpretation of match data doesn’t tell the full story. Professionals, search angels, and community leaders will need to educate those they help to avoid misinterpretation of the match data and false disappointment. In Jerry’s case, an overview of the match suggested that Paul was not his father, while a closer look confirmed that he indeed was. As of this writing, such SNP-by-SNP comparisons can only be done at GEDmatch.
For those interested in similar analyses, here is a summary of the costs and timeline associated with Jerry’s search:
In summary, for less than $350, Jerry was able to confirm with certainty that Paul was his father, even though Paul had passed away shortly before being located.
Costs for DNA extraction from artifacts, like envelopes , or from older biological samples, like bone, will be higher.
I, Amy Sample, was born in Washington D.C. & put up for adoption in 1977 through Catholic Charities. I had known all my life & was given the unidentifiable document given to adopted parents at time of adoption. I asked my adopted mom for any information as early as 13 but wondered about my bio family from a very early age as i never looked, acted or felt like anyone in my adopted family!! I started my search for my bio parents in 1996 . I went to Catholic Charities requesting my birth information but was told it was a closed adoption. Any information I wanted first had to be petitioned through the courts for a cost of $80. If the judge approved then I would be contacted by Catholic Charities for a mental & emotional evaluation to justify my sanity to protect my bio families. Once the evaluation was completed I would have to sign a contract for the agency to search, contact & obtain permission to release my bio parents information to me at a cost of $500. Now the catch was I pay All this money & if my bio parents said NO I lost almost $600. I was pregnant with my first child, a single mom and trying to find my inner soul all at the same time!! I decided to place it on hold. I then found that there were more documents my adopted mom didn’t give me that confirmed my bio mom stayed at young women & infant home for pregnant unwed mothers 2 yrs later. I then reached out to that establishment. They also were Catholic based & run by nuns which in turn left me locked out due to the closed adoption!! I went to the Washington Hospital center in downtown D.C. where I was supposedly born but again turned away due to closed adoption. I left the search alone for about 10 years. About years ago my husband & I decided if the cost had reduced we would go ahead with the process. So I contacted Catholic Charities again but the cost was still the same even with all the new technologies available. I refused to lose $600 in the case my bio family wouldn’t except my search. This past January my husband & I separated, on good terms but for lack of self unanswered issues that we both had. So I decided to do the Ancestry DNA test to see if I could find someone or some kind of information in April 2017. I received my results on June 12, 2017. Immediately I had a close family/first cousin match. Now that title is a little deceiving. Close family/first cousin could mean Grandmother, Aunt, First Cousin or Niece . So I sent several messages to this lady Jhill6374 but never got a response. I could see she was logging onto Ancestry DNA but couldn’t tell if she was reading my messages. So I decided to start researching off her family tree. I found information about her parents, her sister & grandparents but nothing more than a 1940 census about her. So I anxiously & determined decided I wasn't going to stop till I knew ME!! I went down the Ancestry DNA matches & sent everyone that was an extremely high match, which after my first match was only as close as 3rd cousin, a message explaining my story. I also used many online outlets for addresses, phone numbers & birth date documents. I just kept coming up blank because she didn’t have her full name as her profile name. I found this phone number to an address I thought was hers & called it . It happened to be a little elder woman & her husband with the same maiden name as Jhill6374 but knew nothing of her except that they have been getting calls & mail for this lady for over 50 years. Well come to find out this woman had the same name but not the same person. I then got a message back from a 3rd cousin, Belinda Cheramie,willing to help me. She asked all her elders, digging & doing the footwork as I lived halfway across the country from where she was located & where Jhill6374 was born. My God she is a blessing. She kept me from losing my mind & telling me we’ll never give up!! Even with all the efforts we still kept hitting brick walls. One day a 5-8th cousin Michael Crow reached out on his own search . We exchanged stories & his family has been doing Genealogy for over 30 yrs. I thought if he can’t help me WHO can. He directed me to upload my raw DNA from Ancestry DNA to a site called gedmatch. I did and 24 hrs later I got results of 3000+ matches. Mike contacted me saying “Amy you're not normal“, most people tend to have 1200 matches total. I’ve never been normal so it didn’t surprise me lol. With all this new, don’t know what in the world I’m looking at information, I received a message on September 14, 2017 from the infamous Jhill6374!! I was so excited I thought Yes I’m finally going to know who I am. But her question was very general “ How do you think there’s Kinship?” So I explained in-depth all the way back to the 1700’s from what I found in my search & the unidentifiable documents I had but it just wasn’t clicking for her. I was So frustrated I went back to gedmatch opened up the page, clicked on something & found that a woman named Janet Rinardo-Travis looked to be my mother. I was crazed with excitement I messaged Mike he was so excited he said send her an email!! So I did & she emailed back “ I'm so sorry but I’m not your mom but I am a researcher that helps connect bio families!! I then gave her access to my Ancestry DNA account & gedmatch info, which by the way I’m related to her 2 sons, what a coincidence. I gave all my info to Janet on October 21, 2017 and on October 24, 2017 she messaged me saying my co-searcher Lynette & I have FOUND YOUR BIRTH MOM! Jhill6374 was my bio moms mom with medical issues that’s where the communication laps was but we found her. She directed me to contact my birth Mom through Facebook messenger. I cried , I prayed, I cried & prayed & then everything stopped except for my heart!! I was so full of every emotion that a human being could go through I couldn’t move. So at 1am Tuesday October 25, 2017 I typed the message sent it and stayed up all night watching to see if she read it. At 6:15 am October 25, 2017 she read it!! I was on my way to work, I was so nervous I could barely drive. I got to work & checked my phone every second. By 8:05am she replied & asked who was the lady that contacted me about a search & so I replied JANET RINARDO-TRAVIS!! She said she was willing to answer any of my questions but she needed to handle something first. And from there we connected. My bio mom gave me bio dads information. I contacted Janet & Lynette with that information & they came through with a direct phone number for my bio dad! The whole story complete signed & delivered!! It would have never been completed if it wasn’t for my momma #2 Janet Rinardo-Travis & Lynette MY ANGELS!! I luv U forever for making me a whole person!!
Janet's Response: OMG Amy! I absolutely love this story. You can't imagine MY shock when I received your first email asking if I was your birth mother. I had to read it a few times to make sure that is what you were asking me. I had so many mixed feelings. I was surprised, confused, wondered how in the world you came to this conclusion, chuckled a little and then I realized I must answer you and bring you some disapointing news. My heart actually broke a little for you. Then I just knew I had to help you figure this all out and find your birth parents for you!! I'm so glad you found me and that Lynette and I could help you find the answers to most of your questions! I am thrilled for you and your new found family. Many blessings to you all!!
My name is Louis Washington, and I was born in late 1980 in Houston, TX. I was given up for adoption at birth. Even so, I was fortunate to have a BM that took the time and effort to ensure I was placed in a good home through Depelchin. Two months after birth, I was adopted by two very loving people, Brenda and Dwane. They brought me into their lives and raised me as their own. My BM was a Hispanic woman, and my BF a black man. Since both my adoptive parents were black and it was very obvious that I was different from my family, they felt it was best to tell me about my adoption at 6 years old, just before starting public school. Some may not agree with telling a child that at such a young age, but in my case I feel it was absolutely necessary. I definitely rather have had them tell me than to either figure it out on my own, or have another family member let it slip before my parents were able to tell me. I spent the first 7 years of my life as an only child. Then in 1988 my parents asked me how I would feel about a sister or brother. Apparently my response was “Ok, as long as I’m the oldest.” Afterwards, my parents adopted my sister Brittany. They worked very hard to give us the best life possible, and I think they did a mighty fine job. Just before my 30th birthday, I started to think about wanting to find my BM quite a bit. For about 3 years I would casually search and post to online registries to see if there may be someone out there looking for me. I also reached out to Depelchin for search assistance. I figured since I was adopted through them, SURELY they’d be willing to help. I found that they were very willing to help for the right price. In order for them to lift one finger in helping me find my birth parents, Depelchin required a payment of $500 up front. This payment does not guarantee that anyone will be found, and even if they are located, Depelchin will not allow you to connect right away. Prior to any type of reunion, they require both sides to attend a counseling session which they also conveniently charge money for. I made the decision to just request my adoption file and start searching with the information in hand. Unfortunately, Depelchin doesn’t make that easy either. Not only do they charge $100 for the non-identifying adoption file, they also charge a records retrieval fee of $30. After all that, they won’t just hand the file over…you have to sit through a counseling session to receive it. It’s very frustrating and heart breaking to find that companies like Depelchin are more focused on money than they are on actually helping people. In late 2013 I had a conversation with a co-worker that also was adopted. After hearing his story of reconnection, it inspired me to become more aggressive with my search. In early 2014 I started a Facebook page called Lou’s Adoption Search. After a couple years of having the page up and running, I was contacted by this random lady, Janet Travis, asking if I had done DNA testing. I responded that I had not, and she proceeded to tell me all about why I should do it. She also gave me all these different Facebook groups that I should join and check out. Although I had every intention of taking the DNA test and seeing what it was all about, life just kept getting in the way. Almost a year later, Janet reached out to ask if I had done DNA testing yet. I told her no, and she said that she had an Ancestry test for me and wanted to help me with the results. At this point I remember thinking ‘Ok, who is this lady and why is she insistent on taking my DNA and helping me?’ Even my wife was like ‘So some random woman is going to help you find your family?’ We were both more than a little skeptical. After a little Facebook stalking, I figured out that she and her friend Lynette help adoptees find their birth families. The same day Janet said she had a DNA kit for me, I went to meet with her and Lynette at their office in the Galleria. We all sat down, had a nice little chat, and I spit in a tube. I dropped the sample in the mail the next day, August 19th. By August 31st, the sample was already being processed by the lab. I remember Janet saying that this was the fastest she has seen the process go. By September 6th, my results were in. From there, Janet, Lynette, my wife, and I all went to work. The Ancestry DNA test connected me with over 800 cousins, with four or five being 3rd cousins and one 2nd cousin. Janet took the lead and told us what we could do to help, and gave us direction in finding and making contact with people through Facebook. Together we made contact with 3 third cousins, and 1 second cousin. Although the folks we were able to communicate with were happy to help and very supportive, no one knew who we were looking for. The only thing we had to go on was the non-identifying info from the Depelchin file and first names from the original adoption file that was sent to my parents. So instead of being able to ask my newly found blood relatives if they know of a person by full name, we only had first names and vague descriptions of looks and background info. Two days before Hurricane Harvey, Janet requested to see all of my NII from my Depelchin file. Unfortunately, Harvey struck and flooded our home. Thankfully, my file was upstairs and did not get damaged, but the flood damage and the worry of not knowing our next step kind of put the search on the back burner. Two months after Harvey, I was finally able to scan the NII to Janet and Lynette. I had been over this paperwork at least 50 times before I started working with Janet on my search, and I thought everything that could be helpful was blocked out. However when Janet instructed me to join a FB group that helps people with research, I was asked to upload some NII there as well. When I did, I went back over the paperwork to see if there was maybe something I overlooked. I noticed for the first time what appeared to be a partial last name. Previously, I noticed an address that was also left visible, but I researched it and even went to the address…it was a dead end. But that’s because I’m no professional like Janet and Lynette. Lynette saw the address and immediately recognized it as being in the area where she grew up. With that info, Lynette was able to locate a high school yearbook picture of a young lady that matched the first name and assumed last name. It also helped that the resemblance in the picture was spot on. Janet and Lynette were able to locate records of people that seemed to be siblings of the woman found in the yearbook. The number of siblings as well as their ages appeared to be a pretty good match to the info that I had. After 4 days of attempting to contact possible family members through Facebook, I was able to connect to a woman that fit the description of my BM’s youngest sister through LinkedIn. We traded a few messages through email as I tried to figure out if I had the right family. I told her who I was looking for and gave her details on the family, and she confirmed that it was her family I was looking for. Then I asked her to give me a call if she could. When I answered the phone, she got right to the point by asking if I was an old classmate of her sister’s. I explained that I was looking for a woman that would have had a baby boy in 1980 and gave him up for adoption. The other end went silent for a few seconds, followed by an ‘Oh my God’ and an “Are you serious?’ It was at this moment I knew that we found my BM’s family. The very next day I was able to speak to my birth mom for the first time ever. We spoke for an hour and 41 minutes and met in person the following weekend. I was able to meet my BM, half-brother, 1 Aunt, and several cousins. Once I met my BM, she was able to give me the name of my BF. With that name, Janet and Lynette were able to locate info on some folks that were possible siblings. After eliminating the others on the list, I was able to focus on 1 possible sibling that I found on Facebook. After nearly 1 month of trying to contact her, I was able to locate a phone number for her and we finally spoke. I gave her the name of my BF and asked if he was her father. She said yes but that he had been deceased since 1998. Then she asked if I was a son or something. At that point I told her my story and what had transpired and led me to her. After she got in touch with some of her family, they were able to text me a photo of my BF that I was able to show my BM. She confirmed that it was him and I called my new sister to give her the news. She was so excited, as was I. She informed me that I had another sister that just passed away a couple months prior. I wish I would have been able to meet my other sister too, but I’ll be happy to know my living sister, her daughter, and the rest of the family. Since then I have also met other family on my BF’s side in Houston as well as Waco, which is where my BF is from.
I have wanted this for as long as I can remember, and without Janet and Lynette, I just don’t know that I ever would have made it to this point in my life. These two ladies are doing something that truly makes a difference in people’s lives, and I can’t thank them enough! You two are beautiful Angels that have been a HUGE blessing to me and my family.
Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!