Finding a Birth Father Using DNA: “How We Did It”

Finding a birth father using DNA is possible but can be hit-or-miss with DNA alone. Read this story about how the experts at Legacy Tree Genealogists combined DNA testing results with historical research and family knowledge to help one woman find the answers–and relatives–she desperately wanted.

Thanks to Legacy Tree Genealogists for contributing this guest article. Learn more about them below!

Father’s Day in the United States is celebrated on the third Sunday in June—a day filled with honoring and cherishing the special men in our lives. However, for those who feel the aching emptiness of never having known their biological father, it can be a difficult 24-hours cognizant of the void felt far too often throughout the year—a painful reminder of the ever-present absence in their lives.

At Legacy Tree Genealogists, we are often contacted by individuals seeking assistance in finding information regarding biological family members. Utilizing advancements in genetic genealogy and thorough genealogical research, we have helped many clients find closure. Recently we helped client Lisa McArthur (not her real name, but her story is shared with permission) to locate her biological father, and so for the first time in her life, this Father’s Day is a momentous occasion she looks forward to—the first celebrated with her biological father.

Lisa McArthur of Fort Worth, Texas, USA, hired us to help her find her Jamaican biological father and half-brother. She knew only their names and did not know their whereabouts or even whether they were still living. She hoped we could use DNA to identify her father’s Clarke ancestors in Jamaica and then trace their descendants until we found someone who could tell us more about him.

Lisa had already taken autosomal DNA tests at Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, and She had corresponded with several genetic cousins at and 23andMe who are likely related to her through the Clarke family, but she had not been able to figure out how.

Finding a birth father: How we did it

We reviewed Lisa’s ethnicity admixture results at 23andMe. Through this review, we determined that both of her parents had predominantly African ancestry and that her biological father was likely Afro-Caribbean, just as she reported.

We then reviewed Lisa’s closest genetic cousins at the various testing companies, paying particular attention to those genetic cousins from Jamaica. One of them, a confirmed second cousin [Cousin 1], the client already knew was the grandson of Elmer Clarke. We searched for information on Elmer Clarke and soon found his birth record showing he was the son of Leslie George Clarke and Anne Dixon.

finding a birth father with DNA birth record FamilySearch

Birth record [name removed for privacy]. Obtained from

By carefully evaluating the shared centiMorgans between Lisa and Cousin 1, we determined that her biological father may have been a grandson of Leslie George Clarke and Anne Dixon.

We found another close match at 23andMe [Cousin 2] who was likely a third cousin to Lisa. Based on her previous correspondence with him, we knew that Cousin 2’s great-grandparents were Roland Lee, Hermina Murry, Obadiah Brown, Juliet Higgins, Henry/William Dennis, Ida Thomas, Basil Hamilton, and Ira Thomas/Barrett, all predominantly from Jamaica.

We reviewed the DNA that Cousin 2 shares in common with Lisa and discovered that two of the three segments where he overlaps with her are also shared in common with another match [Cousin 3], creating triangulated segments. When two individuals match a test subject and each other on the same segments of DNA, the segments are considered to be triangulated. This means that the common ancestor between Cousin 2 and Cousin 3 is also one of Lisa’s ancestors.

Adding traditional research to DNA results

Through standard genealogical research, we found that Juliet Higgins (the great-grandmother of Cousin 2), from Saint Andrew, Jamaica, was allegedly the daughter of John Higgins, although we could not find a birth record to prove it. We also confirmed that Cousin 3 was the granddaughter of John Higgins and Charlotte V. Graham of Saint Andrew, Jamaica. Additional research yielded convincing evidence that the great-grandfather of Cousin 2 was the same John Higgins as the grandfather of Cousin 3. Correspondence with the son of Cousin 3 indicated that John Higgins was “a ladies’ man who had many children” with multiple women.

Since Cousins 2 and 3 both reported a common ancestor with the Higgins surname from Saint Andrew, Jamaica, we expected that Lisa also had a Higgins ancestor from the same place, perhaps even the same John Higgins.

We hypothesized that Lisa’s biological father was a nephew of Elmer Clarke, the grandfather of Cousin 1. Through previous research, Lisa had already identified four brothers of Elmer: Geoff Adolphus Clarke, Neil Clarke, Douglas Alexander Clarke, and Lane George Clarke. Through careful genealogical research, we were able to eliminate all but Douglas Alexander Clarke as Lisa’s likely grandfather. Douglas married Angeline Higgins on 21 August 1935 in Holy Cross Church, Saint Andrew, Jamaica. Angeline Higgins was reported to be the 20-year-old daughter of Samuel Higgins and was a resident of Story Hill, Cavaliers, Saint Andrew, Jamaica. Based on the amount of DNA that Lisa shares in common with Cousins 2 and 3, we might expect that Angeline’s father, Samuel, may have been another son of John Higgins with an unidentified mother.

finding birth father DNA marriage record LTG image

Marriage record [names removed for privacy]. Obtained from

Given that the marriage of Douglas Alexander Clarke and Angeline Higgins represents a union between the Clarke family and the Higgins family, both of Saint Andrew, Jamaica, we proposed that they were the most likely grandparents of Lisa.

Through additional family collaboration, Lisa was able to learn that her father is still living, just eight hours away from where she lives, and that she has five other siblings, including the half-brother she had heard about. Furthermore, Lisa was able to confirm that our DNA research was exactly right, since her father’s mother, Angeline Higgins, is still living at the age of 102!

Let Legacy Tree Genealogists Help You

If you have hit a frustrating DNA brick wall in your research like Lisa did, join forces with the pros at Legacy Tree Genealogists. Their team of experts has the skills to help you combine DNA results with traditional research to help with challenging questions, such as finding your birth relatives. Learn more at Even better, use our exclusive coupon code GGP100 to receive $100 off a 20-hour (or more) research project.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Major Pro Bono DNA Testing Initiative for Adoptees

MyHeritage Launches DNA Quest:

A Major Pro Bono Initiative for Adoptees and Their Biological Families to Find Each Other via DNA Testing

MyHeritage will distribute 15,000 DNA kits, worth over one million dollars, for free in the first phase of this initiative. Here’s the scoop:

TEL AVIV, Israel & LEHI, Utah–(BUSINESS WIRE)–MyHeritage, the leading global destination for family history and DNA testing, announced today the launch of a new pro bono initiative, DNA Quest, to help adoptees and their birth families reunite through genetic testing. As part of this initiative, MyHeritage will provide 15,000 MyHeritage DNA kits, worth more than one million dollars, for free, with free shipping, to eligible participants. Participation is open to adoptees seeking to find their biological family members, and to anyone looking for a family member who was placed for adoption. Preference will be given to people who are not able to afford genetic testing. The first phase of the initiative is open to USA residents, involving adoptions that took place in the USA. Application opens today on the project website,, which includes detailed information about the initiative.

Introducing DNAQuest,org A Pro Bono Initiative for Adoptees and their Biological Families to reunite via DNA Testing – Tweet this

Many of the approximately 7 million adoptees living in the USA today are searching for their biological parents or siblings. The search is time-sensitive, because every year some of the people who are searching pass away, missing the opportunity to reunite. Currently, the main avenues for adoptees and their biological parents to find each other are adoption agencies, registries created for this purpose, and genetic testing. With formal adoption records being unavailable or difficult to obtain in most states, genetic genealogy opens new doors in the search for relatives, and MyHeritage believes everyone should be able to access this valuable technology.

To maximize the potential of this initiative to successfully reunite families, MyHeritage has set up an advisory board of top experts in the fields of genetic genealogy and adoption to guide and support this initiative on a voluntary basis. This alliance ensures the best possible professional support for participants, with each advisory board member bringing unique expertise. The advisory board includes: CeCe Moore, founder of The DNA Detectives; Blaine Bettinger, The Genetic Genealogist; Richard Weiss of DNA Adoption; Richard Hill, DNA Testing Adviser; Katharine Wall, founder of; Brianne Kirkpatrick, founder of Watershed DNA; Pamela Slaton, investigative genealogist; Leah Larkin, The DNA Geek; and Susan Friel-Williams, Vice President, American Adoption Congress.

DNA Quest is an expansion to the USA of another one of MyHeritage’s successful pro bono projects to reunite adoptees from the Israeli Yemenite community with their biological families. In that project, MyHeritage facilitated successful reunions between adoptees and their biological siblings, solving challenging cases where the protagonists were searching for each other without success for more than 60 years.

“We have a company culture of using our resources and technology for the greater good. In this spirit we’ve initiated several significant pro bono projects, such as returning looted assets from WWII to their rightful owners and documenting family histories and traditions of tribal peoples who lack access to modern technology. DNA Quest is a natural extension of these efforts,” said MyHeritage Founder and CEO Gilad Japhet, who conceived DNA Quest. “There is a great need for a project like this — to help adoptees find their biological families — and we are the right company to take it on. We’ve already successfully reunited many families and are confident that through this initiative, together with a wonderful alliance of top experts, we’ll be able to utilize the power of genetic genealogy to help many more.”

“Few things are more fulfilling than a life-changing adoptee-family reunion”, said CeCe Moore, founder of DNA Detectives, the largest group on Facebook that brings together volunteers with genetic genealogy and searching experience, and those seeking biological family. “I’m very excited to be a member of the DNA Quest advisory board and look forward to assisting participants in finding the lost loved ones for whom they are yearning.”

There are already more than 1.25 million people in the MyHeritage DNA database — one of the fastest growing among the major DNA companies. Additionally, MyHeritage is unique among the top three DNA companies to offer the option to upload DNA results from other test providers, and this is available for free. The company is uniquely positioned to reunite families and has indeed facilitated many emotional success stories, with more taking place in every passing day.

Adoptees and family members searching for their biological relatives can apply for a free MyHeritage DNA kit at through April 30, 2018. Participants will be selected, and their free DNA kits will be shipped to them by the end of May 2018. Results are expected as early as July 2018.

Those who have already taken a DNA test with another company can upload their DNA data to MyHeritage for free and participate in this initiative as well.

The privacy of all applicants and participants will be strictly enforced. The DNA is owned by the participants and not by MyHeritage. The company has never sold genetic data and has pledged to never do so in the future without users’ explicit consent. DNA Quest is a pro bono project without gotchas or caveats.

About MyHeritage

MyHeritage is the leading global destination for family history and DNA testing. As technology thought leaders, MyHeritage has transformed family history into an activity that is accessible and instantly rewarding. Its global user community enjoys access to a massive database of historical records, the most internationally diverse collection of family trees and groundbreaking search and matching technologies. Launched in November 2016, MyHeritage DNA is a technologically advanced, affordable DNA test that reveals ethnic origins and previously unknown relatives. Trusted by millions of families, MyHeritage provides an easy way to find new family members, discover ethnic origins, and to treasure family stories, past and present, for generations to come. MyHeritage is available in 42 languages. For more detail, visit DNA Quest is available on

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

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