Using Genetic Genealogy to Solve Non-Paternal Event (NPE) Roadblocks

Non-Paternal Events (NPE) usually refer to an occurrence in the past.  It may have been an adoption of a family member or friend's child, the adoption of a child from the Orphan Train, or an illegitimate birth.  Whatever the circumstances of the NPE may be, it usually creates obstacles for genealogists.

Before the introduction of commercial DNA testing for genealogical purposes in the year 2000, there wasn't much hope for a genealogist to surpass the NPE.

Since that time, genetic testing has provided genealogists with a powerful tool.  To illustrate, we will share the story of Ed.  In tracking his great-great-grandmother through census records in the 1800's, the records revealed that her three children were born out of wedlock.  The children were listed in the census with their mother's maiden name as their surname.  Later, the mother married and the children adopted their step-father's surname, but Ed suspected that the step-father was not the children's natural father. 

Ed contacted the DNA surname project administrator for his g-g-grandmother's maiden name, and inquired that if he DNA tested, would it reveal who the natural father may have been.  (Ed is a direct Y-line descendant with the step-father's surname.)  The Admin. recommended that Ed take the 37-marker DNA test, and told him that if there were other males in the database, that a match may give him the lead he needed.  Ed matched two men, and one of those was a 36/37 marker match!  He began corresponding with the match and he now knows their common ancestor, he just needs to identify which one of the ancestor's sons fathered the children.
The common ancestor's family appears in the census in close proximity to his g-g-grandmother's family.

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Follow these steps to surmount your genealogical NPE:

  • If you are a male, it is recommended that you utilize DNA surname testing with one of the three testing companies that host surname projects: DNA-Ancestry, DNA Heritage, and Family Tree DNA.  DNA Heritage offers Y-Base and Family Tree DNA offers Y-Search, which are free databases where you can upload your results to compare with others' results in competitor testing companies. (NOTE: Not all clients upload their results to Y-Base and Y-Search, so you may wish to test with both companies to ensure the comparison of your results in their databases.)
    Select the tests with the most possible Y-chromosome markers.

  • If you are female, mtDNA testing MAY provide you with a match, and also inform you of your ethnic origins.  mtDNA matches tend to be more difficult to trace, due to females taking their husband's surname, and no written records of what their maiden names were. Upload your results to Family Tree DNA's free sponsored database, mitosearch.org

  • Whether you are male or female, you can DNA test through a personal genomics company like 23andMe and possibly find autosomal DNA matches.

  • Have patience!  Sometimes, a match will not occur because the DNA you need is not yet in the database.

  • When you do receive your genetic match, conduct research to determine if any paper trail evidence exists to support the DNA results.

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On occasion, an unexpected NPE will be revealed through DNA testing.
Read Don Dickason's thorough and excellent commentary on NPEs:

Familial and Genetic Descendancy; Conflict or Complement?

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NPE Success Stories!

"I am the administrator of the Alcorn Surname Project with FTDNA.
I received an email from Debbie Merchant who wondered if her husband  would qualify for the Alcorn Surname project. Here is her story:
    My husband is an ALCORN, but it is complicated.  My husband's grandfather, Virgil ALCORN's mother, Charlotte (Cooper) ALCORN, died 3 months after   Virgil was born. Virgil was raised by his mother's sister Anna (Cooper) Merchant.    Virgil's father, Alexander Pierce ALCORN, all his siblings, and the grandfather, Robert ALCORN, moved from Ellis Co., Oklahoma to the Fresno, Calif. area.   Virgil was left behind in Texas, with the Aunt Anna Merchant.  Virgil assumed the MERCHANT surname. Virgil married and had a son, Virgil Calvin (Cal) Merchant.   Calvin Merchant (ALCORN) is my husband's father.  My husband is Robert Jon Merchant (ALCORN).  We have become MERCHANTs  for 5 generations now.  (My husband has two brothers, one had sons, and the sons have sons, known as "Merchants")  We have lost the ALCORN surname. Virgil was never adopted by Anna Merchant, he had his name changed, permission was given to him to be known as Virgil Cooper Merchant.

I would like for my husband to submit to the DNA testing. Thank you, Debbie Merchant
    ===========
    I have only five members in the project so far but Robert Merchant's 12 markers matches mine perfectly and we are a distance of  2 with an Alcorn from Donegal."
- Contributed by Dewaine Alcorn - Administrator for the Alcorn DNA Project

"Y-chromosome DNA tests of 3rd & 9th cousins of mine confirmed recent paternal-line common ancestry. My ggggrandfather, Ozias Humphrey (Jr.) was born out-of-wedlock in 1789, and lived with his mother. From family verbal lore, letters written by Ozias Jr.& his mother in later years, local histories, etc, in & near Simsbury, Ct., his father was well-known to be Ozias Humphrey (Sr.), born 1763 in Simsbury. However, there were no legal documents to confirm the paternity. The 37-marker test results clearly confirm the genetic relationship with 37/37, 36/37, & 35/37 matches. The test results confirmed our genetic link into an 11-generation paper trail to our immigrant ancestor, Michael Humphrey, of Lyme Regis, Dorset, 1620. Without the DNA test results, for many generations, my ancestors have necessarily relied on verbal family lore to substantiate our link into the Michael Humphrey genealogy. I've now extended this trail back 13 generations to 1550 & Henrye Humphrie in Honiton, Devon. When Ozias Jr. eventually moved away from Simsbury with his mother, Ann Andrus, they settled in upstate NY, near the western end of the Finger Lake district, where Ozias bought farmland as early as 1826, still operated by my 3rd cousins today. His mother Ann lived with Ozias and his large family. Descendents of Ozias are buried next to Ann, born circa 1760, in a small, local cemetery at Liberty Pole Corner."
- Contributed by Mike Humphrey - Administrator for the Humphrey DNA Project

   "My name is Brian Hamman and I am the co-administrator for the Hamman Y-chromosome project.  At the age of 9, I drove 5 hours with my father to the big genealogy building at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Missouri County.  Our goal seemed to be a simple one: find the name of my 3rd Great Grandpa Hamman.  After all, we already had a nice picture of my Great Grandpa Lester Hamman with his parents and so we knew their names.  We also knew the exact birthdate and birthplace of Lester, so we might as well start off with finding his birth certificate.   After several hours of searching all vital records from Koscisuko and adjacent counties, we could not find any birth record for a Lester Hamman born in Mentone, Kosciusko County, Indiana, on the 20th of March in 1897.  We did, however, find a marriage record for his putative parents, Milton Hamman and Alice Baxter, but that marriage occurred on the 25th of July in 1898, over 1 year after Lester's birth.  To make matters worse, we found out that Milton's first wife did not die until 7 months after Lester's birth, and her obit didn't mention anything about an infant named Lester.   So my father and I left the library and drove a very quiet 5 hours back to our home in Michigan, wondering whether we were really Hamman.  In fact, my dad completely gave up on genealogy after that!   Keep in mind, at the age of 9, I did not fully appreciate the complexity of this problem and continued thinking I am definitely a Hamman. 
   About 3 years ago, I suddenly decided that I must figure out the origin of my Hamman forefathers.  I very quickly ran into the same problem as my father discovered a couple decades earlier.  Nonetheless, I continued tracing my Hamman line back to another brickwall, my (then) putative 4th Great Grandpa Hamman.  By going back that far, I met several clearly traced Hammond descendants of my 4th Great Grandpa Hamman. Meanwhile, I got in contact with Phil Ritter, and we decided to start a Hamman Y-chomosome project, my big initial goal of course being to solve whether I am really a Hamman!   So we signed up my dad and a Hammond descendant of a different son of my 4th Great Grandpa Hamman, and about 1 month later, we found that we matched 12/12 with an extremely rare (haplogroup G2) Y-chromosome, the only match in the Family Tree DNA database of over 20000 results at that time!!!   When I told my Grandma Hamman the news, she broke down and told us the family secret.....my 2nd Great Grandma Hamman was the nanny who took care of my 2nd Great grandpa's dying wife and apparently also.......  So anyway, I am definitely a Hamman!   In fact, YDNA testing later broke thru a couple more brickwalls and helped prove that my Hamman line is unbroken to at least the early 1700s of Germany."
- Contributed by Brian Hamman - Co-Administrator for the Hamman DNA Project

     "I recently had a man join my Cloud surname project.  When the 12-marker results came in, six markers were different from the rest of our project. Then I received an email from his daughter with the family story. Their female ancestor worked for a man as a cook. She became ill and her daughter, took her place as cook. The daughter was 17 and turned up pregnant and had a son. The family story goes that they didn't like the man so the baby kept his mother's Cloud surname.
     I told the lady that the proximity of daughter and the man (in the same house) and the fact that their line definitely was not related to the known Cloud families in that area, lent a lot of credence to the family oral history.
     Now we're looking to recruit one or more men from the employer's line to take the Y-DNA test, and I feel pretty confident what that will show.
     This lady said she was disappointed to not be a Cloud (that is her surname also), to which I replied "surnames are artificial -- there were none only a few generations ago, so it's just a matter of when you got it and what name was arbitrarily chosen. Furthermore, a maternal surname is just as meaningful as one passed down paternally. Your surname is just as valid as mine and you are part of the Cloud DNA project and you will be included in any Cloud functions.
     This is a success story because the lady wanted verification of her ancestors' stories. She has now proven a part of the story -- her paternal ancestor wasn't a Cloud. The rest of it will probably be proven when she gets DNA results from the employer's line."
- Contributed by Tom Cloud - Administrator for the Cloud DNA Project

"A family tradition held that the McClellan name was adopted by a man born in 1864 because his mother told him she was assaulted by a Union soldier, purported to be General George B McClellan. Timing, location and other questions suggested this was unlikely so a family researcher arranged for a Y-DNA test by a male McClellan descendant. There were no close McClellan matches but there were meaningful matches with the mother's surname suggesting one of the mother's relatives was the father of her son. Additional genealogical research and DNA testing may assist in identifying the real father but the alleged assault by General George B McClellan can be laid to rest."
- Contributed by Ted McClelland - Administrator for the McClelland DNA Project

"There was an adoption in the family back 80 years ago. The circumstances surrounding the adoption were suspicious and little explanation given why the patriarch of the family insisted on adopting a young boy from a woman who had gotten in trouble with the law and a total stranger to the rest of the family. Family members wondered for years if the young boy might perhaps have been an illegitimate son of the man. Some even claimed that the boy "looked a lot like the other children" in the family. The adopted child grew to be a man, married and had children of his own. He died before I began my genealogy work, however I was successful in tracking down his son. After some effort explaining who I was and that I was a distant relative of the man who adopted this gentleman's father he agreed to  participate in a 12 marker y-DNA test. The test showed that the young boy could not have been the son of the man who adopted him. Seven of 12 markers didn't match. Furthermore, the haplotypes were different. There's a family reunion later on this year and it will be good to answer the question of this little boy's paternity after so many years of speculation and wonder."
- Contributed by anonymous submitter - 24 Apr 2008
 

"While doing genealogy research for a THOMAS surnamed friend, it was recommended that I contact an elderly aunt who knew family information. Upon contacting her, she informed me that the family surname was not really THOMAS, but instead, BENTLEY. What had apparently happened is that during the Civil War, two BENTLEY children were orphaned and taken in by a THOMAS family. I informed my friend and his reaction was that he wanted to buy a BENTLEY automobile! At my request, he took a DNA test through Family Tree DNA which resulted in two matches with BENTLEYs and no matches to any THOMAS'."
- Contributed by anonymous submitter - 01 Oct 2009

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Our sincere thanks to the DNA project admins for sharing their inspiring stories!

To contribute additional success stories - e-mail
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