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Identifying Anonymous Match in 23andme

Belle's Method for Identifying Anonymous Matches in 23andme

Please note:  Because 23andMe no longer provides the Countries of Ancestry file, this process is now outdated if you did not download your CoA prior to November, 2015.

From a post to the list DNAadoption

Now for some background on my basic  method before I get to the final steps . Keep in mind that everything I state here has been my experience and is my personal opinion. You may disagree with some of my statements, but they all come from 5  long years of daily work on this dna project. We first tested doing the full sequence MT, Y-67 and the first autosomal with Family Tree Dna. Then we did 23andme and were in the beta test for the current ancestry autosomal test. Oh, and he is also on gedmatch. These tests were all done for my family member who was adopted  in the 1950's in Louisiana , who has steadfastly refused to open records, but finally offered non ID info.


So when I say we, I mean for " his" test, since I have done all the work for him.


I originally made his tree public on 23andme and stated that he was adopted. BIG MISTAKE ! Very few people were interested in giving up info if we had nothing to give in return. I resorted to making his profile private and even changed his profile name. But once you pick a forum name there, you can not change it. Then I listed surnames that were found using the Y-67 test and  from triangulating and finding repeat matches in common. This made it much more likely that people would give up info. I tried several customized introductions before settling on the current one which has had good success. It is very friendly and nonthreatening. I then added a P.S. asking if they had done the countries of ancestry survey and gave instructions on where to find it. ( DO NOT mention that you want them to do this so you can compare chromosomes. )  This is soooo important !!!!   Because even if they never accept your invite, if they go ahead and do the survey, then they will show up on your ancestry finder download and you can use that to compare them against other matches to help identify them. Also, if they share on the X, that is especially helpful.


Also, if they are anonymous, but list any surnames, add a second P.P.S. and ask who the ancestors were on one of the surnames. This will get you more responses.


So far as the invite goes, NEVER mention that you are adopted !!! And don't get excited by the close match and change your generic friendly invite. I did that also and regretted it. I wound up cancelling the invite  and resending the generic one ( which I copy and paste ). I just copy and paste the friendly one and then add the  P.P.S  on with whatever surname I can inquire about. 


If you are already public and listed as adopted, you may want to try changing your profile to private. Cancel the invite you already sent. Wait for at least one or two more batches of matches are released. Then resend the friendly generic invite with the P.S. about the countries of ancestry survey info. If they never respond, but DO eventually do the survey, then you can compare chromosomes. That is what happened in my case. I cancelled my first invite. I changed the  profile name. I waited awhile and resent the new generic invite with the countries of ancestry info. A couple of months later, VIOLA, he showed up on the survey, still anonymous, but there were all the 14 segments of him !


So, I have close to 50,000 people on his dna match's tree which I use to find matches in common and follow the dna trail.


I do the Countries of Ancestry download once a week, usually on Sunday, since they seem to be adding new matches every Saturday night lately.

For the first download. DO NOT SORT. Just download it " as is " and format the first name column wider so that you can see the full names. Then look for anonymous people who have the same number of segments as your anonymous 2nd cousin . For example, if your profile page on 23andme states that you have a 2nd cousin with 12 segments, go down the list and look for an anonymous #( 0648 for example), that is listed 12 times. If so, FANTASTIC  !!!   Copy and print that section. You have your first clue! Your anonymous 2nd cousin is mister 0648.


Now go ahead and do your sort by  chromosome. Either print the whole report or just the individual sections that have the chromosomes that your second cousin matches on, along with everyone else who matches in those same spots on those same chromosomes.

Next, contact all your closest matches on your relative finder list and tell them you are trying to figure out who an anonymous 2nd cousin is and ask if they have a match with the same MT and Y ( for example MT=W6 and Y=T )and state  if it is male or female. Hopefully, you already are sharing with them and have already seen their trees. Ask if they have the match, and if yes, what is the estimated relationship to them, the percent shared and the number of segments shared with them ?



While waiting for replies from your closest relatives, sort all your matches by MT and then again by Y. Make sure that you have invited every single one of your matches who have the same MT or the same Y as your anonymous second cousin. If any of those are public, make note or copy all their info , including their family trees, in case they change their profile to private.

 If any of the Y matches list surnames, that could be the clue you need.  AFTER  you copy all info that you can, send a message to every one of these MT and Y matches asking if they have tested an older relative. If they are Y matches, specifically ask if they have tested their father or grandfather or uncle, because you are trying to figure out who an anonymous cousin is.


In our case, there was a 5TH  - remote cousin who had the same Y and he was private, but had ONE SURNAME listed. That was the first clue. He responded nearly a year later that it was his grandfather, but by that time, I had already figured that out !


We got a reply back from a 3rd-4th cousin match's wife. She stated that her husband also matched the anonymous 2nd cousin as a 2nd cousin. However, her husband , Clark, had a much larger percent match. I guessed ( correctly) that my adoptee might be a 2nd cousin 1x removed. So, I figured that I would go back one level from great grandparents to great great grandparents. Clark had also sent an invite, but got no reply either. Well, here was the BIG HINT ! Clark was this other person's anonymous 2nd cousin also, but Clark had a complete tree ! So I copied Clark's tree and went one generation back to his great great grandparents  and marked each of these  ancestors as possibly being THE ONES.


Next, I entered each possible surname on the search fields at each dna company and looked for matches, contacting as necessary to ask for trees. I said I was trying to work out a problem of a great great grandmother( for example ) on the line whose parents were listed as different people and was hoping to work it out with the dna matches. I asked who their ancestors were on the Johnson line ( for example) and was hoping they could help me solve this problem. Most replied.


Next, I started working on the dna tree on adding descendants to each child of the great great grandparents  ( using the tree from the 3rd-4th cousin match, Clark,  who was also the 2nd cousin)  all the way down to the year of the possible birth parents. I eliminated the ancestor child of the person who matched at the 3rd-4th cousin level ( Clark ) as a possibility. These people had massive amounts of descendants. I felt overwhelmed at the sheer number of them, but realized that out of all the people in the world, my adoptee's family WAS IN HERE SOMEWHERE !!!

I added descendants as I had time. While working on them, a new batch of 23andme matches came in . A 5th cousin match had a surname of ONE of the possible great great grandparents ! I contacted them and yes, they were from that line. WHoo HOO ! I immediately set out to work strictly on that set of great great grandparents only. Who by the way, had 14 kids ( UGH ) who each had  about a dozen kids (UGH UGH ). So, still plenty of work to do. Plugged away at the descendants and when the next batch of 23andme came in, another 3rd-4th cousin match to same set of great greats ! And these people did not know each other at all and lived in different states. Whoo hoo ! Eliminated that one's ancestor child out of the 14 and the child ancestor of the 5th cousin match was eliminated as a possibility for the same reason. OK 3 eliminated out of 14 with only about a thousand descendants to go . ; ) 


Now the especially good part ! Looked at that last match and she matched a large segment on the X !!!!!



Wow!   So now I know for sure that this is his birth mother's family ! OK, so as I was adding descendants, I came across the surname of that 5th cousin match who had the same Y as the anonymous 2nd cousin match ! GOTCHA !!!!  ! His father  married one of the daughters. OK, now I knew for sure that the match was either the father, uncle, or grandfather of the 5th cousin match. I did some facebook stalking and looked at Texas birth records to confirm it.


OK, I eliminated his line also. So now 4 kids out of 14 eliminated.

Pulled out the non ID info for the birth Mother. Studied every point. Made notes. Set index cards in front of me. Noted ages of the parents and wrote down the corresponding birth years. Wrote down occupations, number of siblings of the birth Mother and their ages and birth years. That was all I had.


Kept building down the trees looking for a family that fit the non ID. Kept looking for a female the right age with the correct siblings and ages and parents ages and occupations.


Finally found one ! Parents'  birth years match ! Siblings match and birth year ! Fathers occupation matched ! But no occupation for the birth grandmother as per the 1940 census. OK, googled Texas nursing license page and found the birth Grandmother got her license after the 1940 census!  Now, checked to see where the possible birth mother was and if she had ever married. She married a year after the adoption.


Googled her full birth name and found info. Got her marriage info. Found her kids on facebook. Looked at pictures. Found a pic that I am pretty sure is her and it fits her non ID description. Believe we have a winner !!!

Went to and found the highschool where they grew up as listed on a facebook page. Looked at their highschool pics to see if their was a resemblance. Printed every possible thing I could find about her kids before trying to contact them.


And oh yes, by now I am crying. In fact, I started crying the second I found that family tree. I still cry every time I think about it and I am crying now writing this.


And no, my adoptee and his birth Mother never met. She was already deceased. But, I'd like to  think she was by my side guiding me to find her the whole time.


Fast Forward, with the help of the search angels here, we got a phone number for the birth mother's only brother. The adoptee made the call. He then contacted one of his sisters. One of SIX siblings !!!!

Their personalities are so much alike, it is uncanny. The family has been welcoming and have sent a ton of pictures. They are planning a reunion !


NOW the BURN ... they thought he had been born in Texas. They had been searching for him for 24 YEARS ! They had the wrong state and a different birthdate.