I'm trying to help my friend find out who her biological father is. She currently has no clue. Our starting point is that she has taken an Ancestry DNA test and so has access to some 2nd and 3rd cousins on the website. We are new to genealogy, but our current plan is to rule out any of 2nd and 3rd cousins from her mum's side so we can be sure that they are her dad's side - and then we can find out as much as possible from the shared ancestor.

We are currently struggling to figure out which side the 2nd and 3rd cousins are on. We are also wondering if this is the best way to go about things, and if there is a better tactic. So I just thought I would reach out and see if you might be able to provide any advice to us beginners.

  • 1
    Perhaps worth noting that Locating identifiable living individuals is expressly off-topic here? Apr 14, 2018 at 10:49
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    @sempaiscuba There is no identifiable information in the question.
    – Harry V.
    Apr 14, 2018 at 14:27
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    I won't be mentioning any names. Just trying to optimize my strategy. Thank you :) Apr 14, 2018 at 14:32
  • I have started a discussion on Meta: genealogy.meta.stackexchange.com/q/3334/1006
    – Jan Murphy
    Apr 19, 2018 at 17:05

3 Answers 3


Some problems in genealogy can be solved using a single method or data source. For instance, if your friend's biological father happens to have been tested on the same DNA site as your friend was, then it will be trivial to tell who he is. However, as you've found, many genealogy problems require more information.

A principle of genealogy is to start with what you know, and work backwards to what you don't know, by deciding what data sources might be available that can help you, and then looking for those data sources. So you presumably know your friend's birth date and place, and her original birth name. From that, she should be able to request her birth certificate, if she doesn't already have it, and perhaps that will contain her father's birth name (probably not, but there's a chance and it should be easy to track down). You could also have your friend talk to people who knew her mother back then, or have been close to her since then, since they might know where she was living when she got pregnant, who she was associating with at the time, and so on; knowing that would help you narrow down people who could be the father. You don't mention any marriages, but it's possible your friend's mother was married at one time, in which case it should be possible to find a record (again, probably not, but it's possible).

As far as DNA, there are several things to consider:

First, if you find a very close DNA match then that might find the father. To maximize the chances of that, you should get your friend's DNA information onto as many sites as possible. Many sites allow you to upload your data from eg Ancestry DNA for free (as of now, I believe at least gedmatch.com, Family Tree DNA, and MyHeritage allow free uploads of data from another site). Beyond that, your friend might end up having to pay for tests from additional testing companies, just so that her results can get onto those other sites.

Second, as people say, having a known maternal ancestor tested would be useful, since it should let you eliminate many relatives who are on the mother's side.

Third, if you find a match who really is a second cousin (the estimates on sites are sometimes exaggerated, so that a person they say is a second cousin is actually a more distant relative), that person would have to have done a fair bit of genealogy research to know all the people who might be the connection. (It's possible that your friend's parents were part of a close-knit community of people who had lived in the same sparsely populated area for a long time, but probably not; if they were, then even a fairly distant relative might know who the father could be.)

I've heard it said that when you're using DNA you should also be going back and forth to traditional documents, and that may apply in this case as well. Obviously if your friend's mother had only a brief connection with the biological father, then there won't be records tying them together, but you might get lucky.

To summarize, since you haven't found an answer using the data source you have, expand your search, and try to combine the pieces of information you get from various sources. Good luck!

  • Thank you so much for this answer. We have tried some of the things you have suggested (to no avail) but other things you have mentioned are definitely things that we will pursue. Thanks! Apr 30, 2018 at 14:58

If her mum is still alive, then it is important to have her DNA tested as well - if she isn't then a known close relative on her mums side would be the next choice. Comparing the two sets of results would then make it much clearer about which side any possible matches are coming from.

  • Thank you for your answer. Her mother won't tell her who her father is and so won't co-operate in any way. She has an aunt (on her mother's side) who may be persuaded to take the test. My friend also has a sister who may be either a full or half sister (we don't know) who we could possibly persuade to take the test too. Do you think that this would be our best route to finding out who her father is? Apr 14, 2018 at 14:30
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    A maternal aunt would do the trick to identify maternal matches. But if the mother won't co-operate, think hard about what bad outcomes and feelings might result by continuing this pursuit while she is alive.
    – lkessler
    Apr 14, 2018 at 15:18
  • My friend and her mother have no relationship to begin with unfortunately, and my friend feels that she deserves to know who her father is, so I'm happy to help. Apr 14, 2018 at 15:22

I took a DNA test and saw I had a second cousin. When I looked at her family tree there were no surnames in common. My family is pretty close so this was an odd find. When I contacted the lady she stated she was adopted, knew the state and her birth date that was it. I did the shared matches on Ancestry and was able to figure out she was from my paternal side of the family. Now I knew my grandmother only had a full sister (never know if other siblings out there). That full sister had 2 boys and a girl. All would be between 16 and 20 when she was born. So we know one has to be the parent. I had my father take a DNA test and she matched with him too. One Gedmatch she shows as my dad's first cousin once removed and as my second cousin. This might be a way you could figure out without asking the mother. Contact the shared matches and find surnames see if any are not connected to surnames she knows from her mom's side.
My problem is the lady, my dad (me also) don't share an X. She looks just like the daughter of my great aunt soooooo.... wish I could help her further. But now I have a new cousin :) Best of luck for your friend. And remember many men don't even know they have fathered a baby.

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