23andMe & Adoption

January 8, 2020

According to the Adoption Network, there are currently more than 7 million Americans who are adoptees and almost 100 million people with an adoptee in the immediate family.

Adopted children come from all over the world, but the first big wave of international adoptions started with Korea after the Korean War and China after its one-child policy instituted in 1980 to avoid famine and slow the population growth.

As far as adoptees and 23andMe are concerned, we are usually faced with two major questions – can 23andMe help me find my biological parents/relatives and whether the test results can tell me more about my genetic background.

Keep reading to learn the answers to these important questions and find out more about the overall reach of modern at-home DNA tests when it comes to adoptees from all corners of the globe.

two young girls sit hugged

Can 23andMe Help You Find Your Biological Relatives?

In order to understand the reach of any DNA testing provider in regards to identifying one’s genetic relatives, we first have to learn how these companies operate and what data they have at their disposal.

Every DNA testing company can only compare your unique DNA signature with other individuals in its database. In other words, every relative-seeking attempt is limited by the number of people who bought any given test. 23andMe currently has around 10 million users, which basically means that your DNA strand can be compared with up to 10 million people.

Having said that, 23andMe does not have a default DNA comparison feature; in order to compare your DNA with other signatures, you have to join the so-called DNA Relatives feature. DNA Relatives will determine the percentage of shared DNA between you and your potential relatives and provide you with a prediction dependent on the said percentage.

The probability of detecting certain types of cousins goes as follows:

  • 1st cousin or closer ~100%
  • 2nd cousin >99%
  • 3rd cousin ~90%
  • 4th cousin ~45%
  • 5th cousin ~15%
  • 6th cousin and beyond <5%

Cousin matching is perceived as a bit of detective work in the world of DNA testing and you can definitely increase your chances of pinpointing a common ancestor if you add some details to your personal profile, including birthplaces of ancestors, known surnames, noteworthy family stories, and other information relevant to your heritage. Of course, this data pool is quite limited when it comes to adoptees, so pairing DNA testing with some genealogical research is a good idea.

The bottom line is that 23andMe is not designed to answer who your biological parents or relatives are. However, if some of your cousins already did the test and have their DNA signature in the company’s database, the test, together with the aforementioned DNA relatives feature, will help you identify them. Having said that, since most 23andMe users are Americans, international adoptees have very low chances of locating any ancestors within its database.

Can 23andMe Tell You More About Your Ancestry?

Even though you cannot exactly use 23andMe tests to locate your biological parents and close relatives with certainty, you can learn a lot about your ancestry and genetic background.

Its Ancestry Composition report allows you to obtain population-specific results covering more than 1,500 regions and 45 genetic populations, which results in a granular view of your close ancestry paired with some immersive educational content.

Apart from the Ancestry Composition, 23andMe’s ancestry test provides you with your maternal and paternal haplogroups as well as Neanderthal DNA percentage. When possible, you will also be able to create your personal family tree.

Since adoptees know next to nothing about their genetic ancestry, it is extremely important to perform a health DNA test in order to identify genetic predispositions to certain diseases and determine one’s carrier status for numerous genetic conditions. At the moment, 23andMe provides its users with more than 10 health predisposition reports and over 40 carrier status reports.

We can conclude that 23andMe is an excellent tool for discovering your genetic ancestry, learning more about your biological roots and heritage, and identifying genetic predispositions for certain diseases. Learning about your carrier status for certain conditions also provides you with a small window into the DNA signatures of your parents since you inherited half your DNA from both of them.

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