My Bio Family: My Ethnicity Estimates on AncestryDNA vs Family Tree DNA

Colleen Robledo, DNA Testing
Taking my AncestryDNA autosomal test.

I have always been very open about being adopted, when that fact seemed pertinent to a conversation. Which was usually the case if I met another adoptee, parents considering adopting, and especially parents with young adopted children. Also whenever people comment about how much I look or sound like my mom (it happens a lot!), or look like my brother (not so much anymore, but often in K-12) — my family gets a good laugh when hearing this.

Being named Colleen Robledo, people just automatically assume I am Irish and Mexican (or some sort of Hispanic). Once I turned drinking age, I started calling myself a Latin Leprechaun (like the bar drink). I rarely bothered to correct people about those ethnic assumptions. The story was just too long. And having been raised by parents and extended families who are both very proud of their ethnic heritage and traditions, I just always felt Irish and Mexican.

After doing Dad’s autosomal DNA analysis recently though, I became a bit more curious about my own genetic ethnicity. I blogged recently about finally taking my own autosomal DNA test, and beginning the search for my birth mother. That whole birth mom discovery has been quite a whirlwind process this past month. I finally have time to catch my breath a bit and take a harder look at the ethnicity projections about my own DNA.

Ethnicity Comparison

What My Adoption Letter Claims

I mentioned in my initial March 25th post about my adoption that the County of Los Angeles provided my parents with a letter at the time of my adoption to help them share with me a little bit about my birth parents — including their ethnicity. My adoption letter claims that my birth mom is of German and Dutch descent, while my birth dad is of Spanish and French descent.

By Spanish, I always assumed Mexican. The Chicano movement in Southern California hadn’t yet made being Mexican a more socially acceptable claim. The term “Spanish” was often still used as a euphemism for Mexican ancestry. So I just assumed that Los Angeles County did the same thing here — thinking that labeling an infant as Spanish instead of Mexican would make the baby more adoptable. Or that even my birth parents felt the same, and misidentified me to the county as Spanish instead of Mexican.

Colleen Robledo, Adoption Letter
My adoption letter that went home to my parents with me on 23 March 1970.

What DNA Tells Us

My adoption letter had been dead on accurate. Well, mostly accurate. The German, Dutch, and French part were all correct. So was the Spanish part. But, Spanish wasn’t my only Hispanic ethnicity. I am Spanish and Mexican.

Because I tested through AncestryDNA, theirs was the first set of ethnicity results to come back. I immediately transferred the raw Ancestry data to Family Tree DNA (FTDNA), and impatiently waited for their interpretation of my ethnicity. The two services did not provide me with as clean a comparison as I had first experienced reviewing Dad’s DNA results (his was like apples to apples, whereas mine felt like apples to oranges). Ancestry and FTDNA label and break down ethnic origins a bit differently, with Ancestry also providing estimates for much smaller sub-regions. Although from what I learned at RootsTech and FGS this past February, estimates at these smaller regional levels are not considered very accurate.

AncestryDNA Family Tree DNA
Europe 76% European 80%
Europe West 32% Western & Central Europe 11%
Great Britain < 1% British Isles 30%
Ireland 6 %
Iberian Peninsula 16% Southern Europe 29%
Scandinavia 16% Scandinavia 9%
Finland & Northern Siberia 1%
Italy/Greece 5%
European Jewish 1%
America 21% New World 13%
Native American 21% Native American 13%
Africa < 1%
Africa North < 1%
West Asia < 1% Middle Eastern 1%
Middle East < 1% North Africa 1%
Pacific Islander < 1% East Asian 5%
Polynesia < 1% Northeast Asia 5%

Both Ancestry and FTDNA identify European origins as my primary ethnicity (76% per Ancestry, 80% per FTDNA). Ancestry breaks this into three sub-regions: the largest being Western Europe (Figure 1), and the Iberian Peninsula (Figure 2) tied with Scandinavia (Figure 3). This seems very much in line with the German, Dutch, French, and Spanish origins claimed in my adoption letter. FTDNA however breaks this down into four sub-regions: with the largest being the British Isles, followed by Southern Europe, then Western & Central Europe, and finally Scandinavia (Figure 6). My adoption letter mentioned nothing indicating genetic roots in the British Isles. Yet, if you look at Ancestry’s full ethnicity estimate overview (Figure 5), Ancestry does calculate some British Isles origins in my DNA.

Native American (indigenous peoples) ancestry is identified by both companies as my second largest ethnic region of origin, in the New World (the Americas). This is that Mexican part that I suspected my adoption letter misattributed as just Spanish, so it is not a surprise to me. Although who knows, perhaps I have some actual true Native American (American Indian) in me too! What is surprising though, is that like I saw with Dad’s DNA, the two companies have a discrepancy in numbers. Ancestry estimates 21% (Figure 2), while FTDNA only estimates 13% (Figure 7). But as I mentioned in the post about Dad, Ancestry includes a much larger geographic area than FTDNA in its Native American region.

The African, Asian, and Middle Eastern estimates get harder to interpret because the estimates are much smaller, and because each company classifies these differently (Figures 5 and 10). Ancestry puts North Africa as a sub-region under Africa, while FTDNA puts it as a sub-region under Middle Eastern. Yet Ancestry identifies the Middle East as a sub-region of West Africa.


Following are the visual representations for how AncestryDNA interprets my ethnicity. See this blog post from to learn how they estimate ethnicity.

AncestryDNA Colleen Greene Europe West
FIGURE 1: Western Europe ethnicity estimate. Click image for a larger view.
AncestryDNA Colleen Greene Native American
FIGURE 2: Native American ethnicity estimate. Click image for a larger view.
AncestryDNA Colleen Greene Iberian Peninsula
FIGURE 3: Iberian Peninsula ethnicity estimate. Click image for a larger view.
AncestryDNA Colleen Greene Scandinavia
FIGURE 4: Scandinavia ethnicity estimate. Click image for a larger view.
AncestryDNA Colleen Greene All Regions
FIGURE 5: Full ethnicity estimate overview. Click image for larger view.

Family Tree DNA

Following are visual representations of how FTDNA interprets my ethnicity.

Note that FTDNA shows you Family Finder Matches, genetic cousins in their database, who share your ethnic origins for your top three ethnic groups.These get displayed on the maps as Shared Origins (I have blocked out the names and faces of my matches, to respect their privacy). FTDNA members must opt-in to allow matches to see their ethnicity as Shared Origins. AncestryDNA does not provide this type of visual aid for genetic cousins and ethnic origins; you have to open up each individual cousin match to see their ethnicities.

FTDNA Colleen Greene European
FIGURE 6: European ethnic makeup. Click image for a larger view.
FTDNA Colleen Greene New World
FIGURE 7: New World ethnic makeup. Click image for a larger view.
FTDNA Colleen Greene East Asian
FIGURE 8: East Asian ethnic makeup. Click image for a larger view.
FTDNA Colleen Greene Middle Eastern
FIGURE 9: Middle Eastern ethnic makeup. Click image for a larger view.
FTDNA Colleen Greene All Regions
FIGURE 10: FTDNA ethnic makeup overview. Click image for a larger view.

What About the Irish?

Based on my adoption letter, I assumed this Colleen was just Irish by cultural inheritance.

But it is just simply impossible for one to have a grandfather with a name like Michael John Flanagan, who proudly dressed up as a leprechaun every St. Paddy’s Day, if one were not Irish.

Because Ancestry estimates I am 6% Irish (Figure 5), and FTDNA must surely account for some Irish in its 30% of British Isles ethnicity (Figure 6).

Michael John Flanagan, Leprechaun
My grandfather, Michael John Flanagan, on the left. St. Paddy’s Day at the bar he owned.

My Bio Family: Confirming the Maternal-Line via AncestryDNA

AncestryDNA Email Announcing Results
Email received from AncestryDNA on 06 April 2015 at 5:25pm confirming my autosomal test results are available.

AncestryDNA made a liar out of me yesterday!

Within 15 minutes of publishing my last blog post, whining that it would be late April at the earliest before Ancestry made my autosomal DNA results available, I received the email displayed to the right. Instead of its usual 4-6 week processing period, AncestryDNA completed my results within less than 2-1/2 weeks of receiving my test kit.

I saw this email on my iPhone, upon pulling into my garage after work.

All productive plans for the evening went out the door! Including making dinner. A quick text to Hubby arranged for take-out.

Time to plant my butt on the couch and start some serious exploring.

Initial Surname Search

The first thing I did after logging into my AncestryDNA test was to conduct a filtered search of each bio parent’s surname in my list of Matches.

  • Rought (maternal) displayed zero results, even when choosing the option to include similar surnames.
  • Deleon (paternal) displayed one distant result, and the spelling variation De Leon displayed two distant results. The option to include similar surnames was not very helpful here, as it pulled in surnames such as Dillon.

I was bummed. I had hoped both surnames would show up in my Matches, and in a close relationship range.

Me AncestryDNA Rought Matches
No AncestryDNA Matches for me with the surname Rought identified.
AncestryDNA Deleon Matches
One distant “Deleon” AncestryDNA Match for me.
AncestryDNA De Leon Match
Two distant “De Leon” AncestryDNA Matches.

Reviewing the Closest Matches

I decided to start investigating the closest Match, a female that AncestryDNA estimates as a 2nd cousin with a possible rage of 1st to 2nd cousin.

No Tree Linked to DNA Test

Since AncestryDNA does not provide a chromosome browser or any other tools for analysis, a Match’s family tree is really the only way to try to investigate and verify a relationship online. Because this closest Match’s test kit profile shows no family tree connected, I was not very hopeful. But I clicked on the “View Match” button anyways.

My AncestryDNA Closest Match
The big blue help box that appears when clicking on the View Match button in AncestryDNA. Note the drop-down menu at the bottom, providing quick access to that member’s public tree(s).

Clicking on “View Match” brought up this big blue help box from AncestryDNA. Either I have always tuned this out when reviewing my dad’s Matches, or this is a new feature. I noticed at the bottom of the box a drop-down menu asking me to “Select a tree to preview…”. Huh? This Match’s test kit profile indicated that she had “No family tree” linked to her DNA test. Reading the blue help box closer confirms that she has not linked a family tree.

In the past, for Dad’s Matches, if a tree was not linked to a test kit, I would try to find an Ancestry Member profile for that person (or the test administrator), look to see if a Public Member Tee was listed for that Member Profile, and if not I would contact the Match asking if they would share their private tree with me (assuming they had a tree on Ancestry at all…many DNA testers do not).

Like the big blue box, this is the first time I have ever seen AncestryDNA provide direct access to find a Match’s unlinked Public Member Tree. Handy, and saves some time and steps!

Digging Through the Unlinked Public Tree

I found two Public Member Trees in that drop-down menu for my closest Match. One of the trees was named with a very familiar surname…the maiden name of Bio Mom Candidate’s mother (my biological maternal grandmother)! And this is not at all a common surname. BINGO!

While Bio Mom Candidate’s mother’s name is not listed in this tree, the tree is full of males with this same surname, most of whom appear to live in the same county already identified where Bio Mom Candidate and her parents lived. Some female spouses’ names are listed in this tree too (handy for cross-referencing in records). I was able within a couple hours to reconstruct my own version of this family tree, verifying and building it with records easily found on Ancestry and FamilySearch — expanding each branch of the family group (parents and a bunch of siblings) originally identified in this Match’s public tree.

One of these branches led me to the 1940 U.S. Census and a name that I instantly recognized… the same name I had identified a couple of weeks ago (via Ancestry records, Been Verified, and Facebook) as the mother of Bio Mom Candidate. Further cross-referencing among records confirmed this is indeed the same person.

Double BINGO!

Charting My AncestryDNA Top Matches
Plotting out the relationships between my top two AncestryDNA matches and me.

I had connected this top AncestryDNA Match to Bio Mom Candidate’s mother (my biological grandmother). A person that does show up in top Match’s public tree, but is marked as a private entry, which is why I could not find her in that tree by first name.

This connection also ties me to Bio Mom Candidate or one of her sisters as my birth mother. No other females within the appropriate DNA relationship range have the same surname identified on my original birth record.

Because I have no further proof (DNA, paper, or even verbal/written confirmation) directly linking me to Bio Mom Candidate, I cannot say with certainty that she is indeed my birth mother. Based on the age provided to me in my adoption letter long ago, Bio Mom Candidate best fits the profile from among this group of sisters. However, without further proof, the best I can conclude from the DNA and the records found is that one of these sisters is my birth mother.

My Initial AncestryDNA Maternal Matches
My two closest matches suggested by AncestryDNA confirm a maternal-line connection to Birth Mom Candidate or one of her sisters.

After soaking in this initial discovery high, I proceeded to replicate the same process on my second highest AncestryDNA Match — a female that Ancestry projects to also be a 2nd cousin, but with a possible range of 2nd to 3rd cousin.

Since this second Match is administered by the same person who is my top Match, I expected to come to the same conclusion. Which I quickly did. Match Two is the daughter of Match One. I confirmed this through the California Birth Index and Facebook.

  • Match One is my 1st Cousin 1x Removed. She and Bio Mom (Bio Mom Candidate or one of the sisters) are 1st Cousins, sharing the same grandparents as their MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestor).
  • Match Two is my 2nd Cousin. We share the same great-grandparents as our MRCA.

Word of warning. Match One’s public trees are incorrect (sadly, as is often the case for public trees). On both, she identifies herself as the home person, but then lists her grandparents as her parents on the 1st tree (my maternal side tree). On the second tree (for her husband’s family), she once again identifies herself as the home person (instead of her husband of daughter), but appears to list who I assume are her husband’s parents as her own parents. My guess is this is for privacy reasons, to protect the identity of herself, her husband, and her daughter — while still allowing her to share information from the grandparents’ generations on back. This set-up caused me to initially mis-identify the cousin relationships between me and Match One and me and Match Two. It wasn’t until I recreated my own version of the tree, substantiated via found records, that I was able to correctly calculate these relationships.

Next Steps

I have a lot of work ahead of me. So far, I have:

  • Transferred my raw AncestryDNA data to Family Tree DNA, but I am waiting for the results to process.
  • Uploaded my raw AncestryDNA data to GEDmatch, and will start analyzing it as I learn this tool better in my current “Working with Autosomal Results” class, through DNAAdoption.

I will also play with some of the analytic tools on DNAGedcom, which I am also learning through the DNAAdoption class, as well as the AncestryDNA Helper extension for Chrome.

Another step is to thoughtfully begin considering how I will respond to any AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA, or GEDmatch members who contact me now due to my DNA results showing up in their list of matches. I do not want to hinder someone else’s research: I hate non-responsive DNA match contacts, and I do not want to give them false information (lie about my connection). But I must respect the privacy and possible secret of my biological parents.

My DNA consultant and friend Molecular Genealogist Angie Bush, MS, shared some advice with me last night, after I asked what she recommends to her unknown parentage clients.

First, I would make sure your Ancestry tree is private AND unsearchable. After that, it is up to you whether or not you respond if they do contact you…I’m sure you have read about “non-responsive” matches all over the interwebz [sic]. That said, I would probably respond to any queries with the fact that you are adopted, and that you cannot share details of your biological ancestors because you don’t know them.

…or something like that…If your biological family gets in contact and they are okay with you sharing information or having a public tree, then that changes things, but until they do, you can keep things privatized.

Finding My Bio Family, a Waiting Game

Empty Biological Family Tree
I have already built a pretty good first-stab family tree for the family of Bio Mom Candidate. I just have not attached it to my entry in this tree yet, until I get some sort of confirmation. I have nothing so far on my birth father, but am hoping my DNA results can help with that.

After the whirlwind of discoveries a couple weeks ago identifying my original birth name, my biological parents’ surnames, and who the Search Angels and I think is my most likely Bio Mom Candidate (as well as the names of her sisters and parents), I have hit a stalemate.

And as my husband, parents, siblings, extended family, and close friends can tell you… I am not a remotely patient person.

My atDNA Being Processed

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that part of my strategy to identify my birth family is through analysis of my own autosomal DNA. AncestryDNA just started processing my test results on March 18th, so at best, they will be done by late April. Needless to say, I log in multiple times every day checking progress.

Ancestry DNA Processing
AncestryDNA, processing my autosomal test results.

Making Contact via Facebook Messenger

The afternoon of Tuesday, March 26th, I sent what felt like the oddest message I have ever crafted. I contacted my Bio Mom Candidate.

Contact was initiated via Facebook Messenger — paying the $1.00 fee for messages, if you’re not Facebook Friends, to go into the recipient’s Inbox, instead of their Other folder. The message identified my name, my date and place of birth, the details known about my adoption, and the recent discovery of my birth parents’ surnames. I apologized for the abruptness of the message, but came right out asking if she was my birth mom (really no sense beating around the bush). I explained that I simply hoped for some type of confirmation, but (if true, and she wanted it) I would welcome further conversation. I stressed that I wanted to reassure her that the baby girl she gave up for adoption was and is loved by a wonderful family. I also offered forth another apology, in case my message was upsetting in any way.

Facebook Message Inbox
Facebook Messenger confirming that Bio Mom Candidate saw my message.

Being my typical impatient self, and since it doesn’t look like Bio Mom Candidate is very active on Facebook, I waited three days before sending additional $1.00 Facebook Messages to the sisters who use Facebook. I thought it likely that the sisters already knew about the pregnancy and adoption, having shared the same home with her. Both my husband and my real mom agreed this was likely, and was worth pursuing without violating a secret.

I assured all of these ladies that I would never initiate contact with Bio Mom Candidate’s daughters. That is not my place, especially if it turns out this woman is indeed my birth mother, and her daughters don’t know about their mom’s earlier pregnancy.

Two sisters responded back that same night. Out of respect for their privacy (note that I have not included any actual names, other than my bio parents’ surnames), I won’t share details of our correspondence. Except to say no confirmation about anything has been provided to me.

Friday, while cleaning through my Facebook messages, I noticed that Bio Mom Candidate finally read (or at least opened) my message at 1:03pm (thank you, Facebook, for ratting out this kind of info!). So far, no reply back.

No doubt, I have dealt a big shock to this family of sisters. I have very mixed feelings about this. I would not want to hurt or upset someone intentionally. But, I do want to know. Even if it is “yes, but I’d rather not have further contact.” Although…I’d really like it if she would disclose my birth father’s full name.

Mom and I both agree that if no further contact comes from the family, I need to let this go. Birth Mom Candidate and her sisters know how to reach me.

Adoption Search Angels Help Me Find My Original Birth Name & Birth Parent Surnames Overnight

This past Wednesday, I blogged about finally caving and testing my autosomal DNA to learn about my ethnic origins and see if I get connected to any genetic cousins (I was adopted at birth). I also explained why locating my biological parents hasn’t and isn’t a big deal for me.

Colleen Robledo, DNA Testing
Taking my AncestryDNA autosomal test.

I am still waiting for AncestryDNA to process my DNA sample, however I have already had a significant breakthrough in this quest. I have a strong candidate for my birth mom. Thanks to a suggestion from my friend Angie Bush, a genetic genealogist.

Search Angels

After reading my blog post on Wednesday, Angie sent a message asking if I knew about Search Angels — a generic term for volunteers who help adoptees identify and find their birth families, often able to identify birth parent surnames within just an hour or two. She steered me towards Search Squad, a closed Facebook group where people seeking biological family members (adoptees and others with unknown parentage) can get help from these volunteer Search Angels. This group runs a sister Facebook group specifically for California and Ohio adoptions, which is where I posted my query. These particular Facebook groups do not allow just anyone to join; a group administrator will contact you with some questions prior to admitting you as a member. This is to help cut back on looky-loos.

I posted a query at 8:13pm on Wednesday, March 25th, with what info I knew about my birth and adoption: my legal birth name, birth date, birth county, mom’s maiden name (my real mom, not bio mom), that it was a public adoption at birth, and ages of bio mom and dad (from my adoption letter). By 8:25pm, a California specialist volunteer had claimed my case. This volunteer then messaged me on Facebook to let me know that she would have her volunteer team start on the search in the morning, and should have information about my birth parents the next day.

By 9:37am the next morning, my Search Angel had my original birth info!

These Facebook groups are not the only place one can find Search Angels. Several websites provide listings of Search Angel volunteers, usually by state. Search Angels do not charge for their services; some only for copies of actual records that they might retrieve on your behalf for a repository. They pay for various database subscriptions — genealogy, public records, yearbook sites, etc. — out of their own pockets, and do not pass those costs on to the people they help. Search Angels are located all across the U.S., some even in other countries.

My Birth Names

As I mentioned above, by 9:37am the morning after I posted my query, a team of Search Angels had found my original birth information. My California specialist messaged me asking if I was ready to meet myself!

I was named Kerry M. at birth, on my sealed birth records, as evidenced by the California Birth Index, 1905-1995. My Search Angel tells me that because my biological parents were not married, but because my birth mom chose to identify my birth father, I am listed twice, once under each bio parents’ surname: as Kerry M. Rought, and as Kerry M. Deleon. Since my adoption letter states that my bio dad is of Spanish and French descent, we assumed Deleon was his surname. Rought also jived with the German and Duch ethnicity the letter attributed to my bio mom.

Kerry M. Rought - Birth Index - Ancestry
California Birth Index, 1905 – 1995, entry for Kerry M. Rought. Courtesy of
Kerry M. Deleon - Birth Index - Ancestry
California Birth Index, 1905 – 1995, entry for Kerry M. Deleon. Courtesy of

The Process

It is important that I clarify that none of these volunteers have access to the original unsealed birth certificates or adoption records. Being a public adoptee from California, my original birth certificate and original adoption records (which would clearly identify both birth parents by name) is sealed. It is illegal for these volunteers to access these records. It is illegal for me to access them, unless a superior court judge rules to release these records to me due to a compelling reason. I am only allowed to request birth records with non-identifying information, to protect the identity of my birth parents.

So how then did the Search Angels identify my original birth information and the surnames of my bio parents?

By starting with the California Birth Index (for births prior to 1995). Anyone can access this index, even within California, since it is public record.

I should define some terms here. This terminology is the jargon used among the Search Angels/adoptees circles. I would need to defer to Judy Russell for confirmation or clarification of the legal terminology.

  • Unredacted Birth Certificate: Original birth certificate, sealed and replaced with an amended birth certificate. Includes names of both birth parents (if a birth father was named), and name given at birth of the adoptee.
  • Amended Birth Certificate: Legal birth certificate, which replaces the unredacted one. Reflects the legal name if an adoptee undergoes a legal name change (upon adoption). Lists the legal (adoptive) parents.
  • Amended Birth Index: Birth index that includes listings from amended birth certificates. I am told this is the public records version accessible within California.
  • Unamended Birth Index: Birth index that includes listings from unredacted birth certificates. I am told this is no longer available for access or sale within California.*

My Search Angel team — based outside of California — did a search on the amended California Birth Index for my legal or amended birth certificate entry (I can’t access my amended post-adoption entry on the Ancestry version). This entry provides my birth certificate ID#. My Search Angel team tells me that California does not issue a new ID# when the unredacted certificate is sealed and replaced with the amended certificate — both versions of the birth certificate use the same ID#. This team has access to the unamended birth index and simply looked for the same ID#, gender, birth date, and birth county to locate the index entry for my unredacted birth certificate, which provides my original birth name(s) and birth mom’s maiden name.

Once I understood that process, I immediately hopped on my Ancestry subscription and searched for myself using my birth name(s). Bingo! I instantly pulled up both entries (see screenshots above) — under my bio mom’s surname and again under my bio dad’s surname. Note that Ancestry’s version of the California Birth Index does NOT include birth certificate ID#s. There is simply no way I would have ever known these records were mine. Los Angeles County is a big place…there were probably many female babies born that same date. That birth certificate ID# was the key.


I love this sort of detective work!

Birth Mom Candidate

After sharing my birth name and the surnames of my biological parents, my lead Search Angel asked I wanted help researching likely candidates. I thanked her, but declined, explaining that I am a librarian and genealogist who will enjoy the search process. We did both agree that my best bet was to work on the bio mom, since Rought is a less common surname than Deleon…at least in Southern California.

This particular Facebook group of volunteers posts the findings on one’s original query, to let other Search Angels know that the case has been closed. Within minutes of my Search Angel doing that (literally, 4 minutes later!), I had other volunteers immediately start tracking down birth mom possibilities based on maiden name, the age stated in my adoption letter, and residency in Los Angles County. While I planned to do all of this myself after getting home from work, who am I to reject immediate research assistance from others?

Throughout the entire day, this group of volunteers kept sharing more leads, identifying two sisters as the most likely candidates, and agreeing upon the oldest sister as the top Birth Mom Candidate. They tracked down a Facebook profile for her, as well as for her two children.

And throughout this flurry of discoveries, I was supposed to be able to concentrate on my job???!

That evening, I started constructing a family tree for Birth Mom Candidate, based on records I found in Ancestry and Been Verified, as well as information I could glean off of publicly viewable information from Facebook.

I also sent a private message to her Facebook profile (paying the $1.00 to make it show up in her inbox, since we are not Facebook Friends). The message introduced myself, and explained why I was contacting her. I asked if she could please confirm if my hunch was correct, to please excuse the intrusion, and that I would welcome a friendship (if our relationship was correct) or would respect her wish to not establish a friendship.

That was Thursday night. Here it is Sunday afternoon, and no word yet. If she is like my own (real) Mom, Birth Mom Candidate doesn’t check her Facebook messages. Based on her Facebook Profile, I’d say Birth Mom Candidate doesn’t even use her Facebook Profile much. I do have some phone numbers from Been Verified, but I’d rather establish contact digitally than by cold calling.

And my parents’ reactions to all of this? They’ve been very excited following every bit of progress. A lot of text messages have been flying between the three of us this past week.

Next Steps

My head has been in a whirlwind since Thursday morning. As a work colleague told me on Friday, it figures that someone who has had no interest in learning about her birth parents would get so much information so fast… had this been something that bothered me most of my life, we would have turned up with zilch.

What I need to do now:

  • Try to wait patiently for Bio Mom Candidate to check her Facebook messages and reply to me — even if to confirm her identity, but to say she does not want to have any type of relationship. I can deal with that.
  • File for my non-identifying birth records with California and/or Los Angeles County.
  • Wait for AncestryDNA to process my autosomal results, and see if any matches pop up with the surnames of Rought or Deleon, or the collateral surnames I have already associated with this Bio Mom Candidate.

What I will not do is try to make contact with Bio Mom Candidate’s children — even though I can see that they are on Facebook quite often. As much as I would like to reach out to them, in the event their mother hasn’t told them about me (or even worse, the Search Angeles and I identified the wrong candidate), it is not my right to break this news to them and possibly disrupt their lives. If we have identified the right candidate, it is her right to decide if and when she will tell her other children.

*Note: I have asked my legislative analyst husband to do some research on this whole California birth index access issue, and the legislative history behind it. Is it illegal for California residents and institutions to actually own or possess the old unredacted version of the index? Or is it simply no longer available for sale from the state of California (only the amended version)? Were California repositories and residents required to return the original unredacted index? Or are they still able to include it for public access in their government documents collection if purchased prior the state making it unavailable for sale?

#52Ancestors: Beginning the Search for My Birth Mother, with Whom I Share Half the Same DNA

Colleen Robledo, Baby
Me at just over one year old, four months after my legal adoption.

My 12th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge for 2015.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

Amy’s 2015 version of this challenge focuses on a different theme each week.

The theme for week 12 is — Same. What ancestor is a lot like you? What ancestor do you have a lot in common? Same name? Same home town?

My 12th ancestor is my birth mom, with whom I should share half of the same DNA.

I have known my entire life that I was adopted. My parents always told me, and celebrated that fact. My birth announcement reads: “I wasn’t expected, I was selected!” Mom says they would tell me that word long before I could understand its meaning, and then they explained it to me when I was old enough to start understanding. I was put up for adoption at birth, and came home to my parents a few months later, after a very brief stay in a foster home and a hospital incubator due to being born two months premature.

This post is particularly timely, because Monday was the anniversary of the day I came home with my parents. My legal adoption became final six months later.

What I Know About My Birth Parents

My adoption was public, through the County of Los Angeles. I am told I was born at St. Anne’s home for unwed mothers, in Los Angeles, California. In California that means my original birth certificate, with my birth parents’ names, was sealed. All I know about my birth parents is contained within the following letter that was given to my parents when they brought me home on 23 March 1970.

My birth mom was just 16, and my birth father was just 19. They wanted me to be raised in a two-parent married Catholic home, by parents who could better care for me and who of course would love me.

According to the letter, it appears I was predestined to love the outdoors and hiking!

The question I have always wanted an answer to is… if they were 5 feet 4 inches and 5 feet 10 inches tall, how the heck did I end up only 5 feet 1 inch tall??? I should be a few inches taller.

Colleen Robledo, Adoption Letter
The letter that accompanied me home with my parents on 23 March 1970. Our adoption became legal six months later.

Why Haven’t I Cared to Look?

As I mentioned before, public adoptions in California require that the original birth certificate and records be sealed. An adoptee is allowed to request access to these, once of majority age. Yet even then, a judge has to agree to release identifiable information (birth parent names and details); an adoptee is only guaranteed non-identifiable info.

I am well past majority age, yet I have never bothered with the cumbersome process of requesting my records. Because it just hasn’t ever really mattered to me. I can honestly say that I have no curiosity about my birth parents, no big desire to know their names, and don’t feel any sense of missing identity. I have always felt incredibly loved, and a powerful blood-like bond to my immediate and extended family — including our ancestors. Quite simply, I have the best parents in the world. I am the poster child for how adoption is supposed to work.

What is Different Now?

While I still confidently say that I don’t care if I ever find out the identities of my birth parents, something has changed. What has changed is a growing sense of compassion for what my birth mother went through 45 years ago. I attribute it to just getting older, having helped raise a child (my oldest niece), and becoming a wife and stepmom five and a half years ago. Because these feelings never really crossed my mind until a handful of years ago.

I have come to recognize and respect that putting me up for adoption was probably the most difficult decision my birth mother ever made. It was an incredibly brave selfless act. Every December 20th on my birthday, I imagine that my birth mom is thinking about the baby girl she gave up, wondering if she did the right thing, if her baby was safe, if her baby was loved. I can’t imagine carrying a child and nurturing it in the womb, and then having the emotional strength to give that baby up to others. Having grown up to a point where I can truly appreciate that sacrifice, I would like to be able to assure her that her baby was and is loved as much as is humanly possible. I was blessed with the very best parents and family possible.

And then there’s that whole genetic genealogy thing…

Until very recently, I have not jumped on the genealogy DNA craze. Mostly because my family history is not in my DNA. But early last year, I caved and tested Dad through AncestryDNA in the hopes of breaking through my Robledo surname brick wall. But at RootsTech and FGS last month, I learned about how DNA was being used by adoptees to find birth families. That caught my curiosity. I have always loved solving puzzles. This sounded fun, like a great learning opportunity, and like a great case study to put under my research skills belt.  Getting introduced to and hooked on new friend Michael Lacopo’s Hoosier Daddy? blog intensified this interest.

So last week, I took an autosomal test from AncestryDNA. And started a biological family tree.

My Next Steps

Aside from impatiently waiting over the next 4 to 8 weeks for AncestryDNA to process my autosomal DNA results, which I will of course also upload to Family Tree DNA and GEDmatch, I have some next plans of action already in place.

Colleen Robledo, DNA Testing
Taking my AncestryDNA autosomal test last week.
  • I joined the DNA Detectives group on Facebook last week.
  • I just enrolled in the May 8th session of the Working with Autosomal DNA online course by DNA Adoption.
  • I plan to enlist the services of my new DNA consultant friend Angie Bush, a brilliant molecular genealogist, to teach me what to do with this data, and how to calculate relationships of those who share my DNA.
  • I am attending DNA Day at the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree in June, especially CeCe Moore’s DNA and adoptees session.
  • Being the kick-butt librarian that I am, I will continue researching everything I can about genetic genealogy and how to analyze the DNA results.
  • I guess I need to also finally fill out and send in the notarized forms asking the County of Los Angeles to open and release my adoption file. Paper records still count!

My mom, who works in adoptions, has always been very supportive of me tracking down my birth family (so has Dad). But as Moms always do, she continues to try to protect me and shield me from disappointment. Mom has gently warned me that I need to be prepared to accept that my birth parents might not want to be found. She encounters this regularly in her work. Both biological parents have most likely gone on with their lives, marrying others and possibly having more children. They might not have told their new spouses and children about this incident from their past. They might not want them to know. They might not want to be found.

If so, that’s okay too. Like I said, finding them has never been important to me. It won’t hurt me. And having taken Judy Russell’s Ethical Genealogist session at FGS, I understand that while it is my right to know, it is not my right to force others to know, or to blow someone else’s secret.

At the very least, this remains a great learning opportunity and case study for my portfolio. Perhaps it will equip me to help give back to the adoption community by being able to assist others seeking to venture into this same journey.