While I am invested in my participation to track down birth relatives, I try and keep an open mind and have the luxury of being detached from the feelings the adoptee would likely have. What I mean by that is that these relatives are not mine, so my mind focuses on the dates, names, and locations. Not the desperation to actually make progress or find answers hastily. Think of it as a sense of direction. Once our mind has determined a specific direction we are going to or coming from, then it becomes easier to move amongst the family members in a genealogical puzzle knowing where things should align if we start to approach the year or generation that ideally would line up with the non-identifying information of a possible birth parent.
Understanding what direction I am referring to is based on a common ancestor I believe I have been able to identify from matching two genetically linked cousins. The term is called triangulation. Where we locate two or more genetically linked cousins and compare their chromosomes. If they both share a span of genetics code on the same area of a chromosome, and with the adoptee, then they likely also share a most common ancestor that the adoptee can be considered related to.
Even without comparing the chromosomes one can get two distant relatives on ancestry.com to have similar family trees and genetic distance that matches with the adoptee give us clues. However, the science behind the actual distance and the possibility that an individual actually shares genetic code on the same chromosome as the two or more matches becomes a weaker and weaker chance of actually being true the more distant those cousins get. So while it is nice to find two cousins who match out tree and genetic distance using our autosomal DNA test, if they are six cousins one times removed, its likely too distant to rely upon as fact.
Genetically speaking after five generations apart autosomal DNA drops into the less than five percent chance that matches are actually based on reality. The only reason I give them much credence on ancestry.com, is that we are also talking about two or more family trees that also align. That should give us pause to consider. It does not mean that aligning two trees provides the certainty one would like to consider the information as factual proof. Although, if we have taken the time to document our information as best as possible, then it should be considered a possibility.
Ideally I would rather have two distant relatives and one or two close ones aligning the placement of an adoptee below a possible birth relative that matches our non-identifying information. However, that is just not always a possibility we can wait for. The expense of searching starts to mount when we get to a point where an educated guess needs to take place.
Basically that means we have all the stars align, then we expand the people around the potential birth relative to include living relatives and attempt to make contact. If the birth relative happens to be alive, then the advice is always to contact them directly. I only step to the next closest living relative, like a child of that birth parent, half-brother or half-sister to the adoptee, or a sibling of that individual when attempting to make contact. Making contact with living relatives or a potential birth relatives is something to prepare for and not leap into right away.
I usually encourage a list of questions an adoptee really wants answered, then a way to approach the individual that will not impose upon them a great deal of threat. For instance, if you call them and you can hear that they are not alone, you hint or suggest that you want to honor a possible secret and give them time to excuse themselves from the room they might be in. It really depends on the situation and one’s ability to read into inflections of the voice on the other end of the phone.
Most reading I have done on the subject suggests contacting someone in a way that you would feel comfortable being contacted. Perhaps a letter instead of a phone call would fit your personal style better. Why base it off of something the adoptee would feel comfortable with? Well, believe it or not your nature is very likely their natural feelings about the subject as well.
In either case, the adoptee will have to talk with these individuals enough to gage whether or not they feel that the subject of a paternity test is realistic to bring up. If the conversation remains in a constant state of anxiety, then I encourage you to ask as many questions as you can get answers for. There have been cases where one phone call was the only opportunity for someone to reach out to a birth relative.
Whether it is on the first call, or the tenth, eventually there will be a point where a DNA test is proposed. It is good to provide accurate information about testing. That it cannot be used in a court of law. That it cannot be used against them in anyway shape or form. That their privacy can be kept intact. Some people are very concerned about DNA testing, like they are giving up something that one day may be used to clone them. As ridiculous as that sounds, you have to be prepared to answer these strange questions and assure people before there is enough trust between you to get it performed.
This is one of the reasons I encourage adoptees to read up on other people’s searches. There are a myriad of ways things could unfold in first contact. Even if it ends up being a cousin on the other end of the phone, navigating the questions and answers are something to prepare for. Emotionally, it can be tricky to pace oneself. For the individual on the other end of the phone, it is the first time in decades they have had to confront these feelings. You may become a counselor of sorts on the other end of this call, as some have never faced the feelings of loss throughout their entire lives.
The nuances of making that call are subtle, and essential for the adoptee or birth parent to make. I always strongly encourage the individuals involved in search to be the ones making these calls. You would simply never forgive an intermediary if the birth relatives did not want anything to do with the adoptee. It can haunt and disturb you far worse not being in the drivers seat if faced with that possible outcome. I have personally made several of these calls throughout my own search. This is where the rubber meets the road. Sometimes we spend so much time looking we never even fathomed having a chance to be on the other side of a conversation. Come prepared, and try and stay calm. As you might think, you will also be convincing the person on the other side of that call that you are not trying to sell them anything. In our day and age, telemarketers really are the bane of our existence. They have eroded our chances to even make a phone call to someone who has never spoken to us before.
When all is said and done, an autosomal DNA test needs to be done to help us determine if this educated guess hits a home run, or simply provides us when the absolution or a yes they are a relative or no we should stop looking down this path of our family tree. Either way, we will attain experience making contact with strangers, earning their trust, and narrowing our search with scientific proof. If the results come back as a first cousin, and the closest match we had before that was at the fourth cousin level, it can still become a victory knowing definitive measurable progress has been made.