04 December 2016

Who I am: DNA testing and paternity (part 3)

This is one in a series of posts on the search for my biological family.


My previous Y-DNA test was a 37-marker test, and showed 179 possible matches. I recently paid for the upgrade to the 67-marker test, and just got the results back this morning. According to this test, I have 22 possible matches, but at a genetic distance of 4-7. What this means is that none of the people I match are particularly close. For example, at a genetic distance of 4, the probability that I share a common ancestor with a particular person only reaches beyond 50% at seven generations.

Some of the more common surnames that appeared on the 37-marker test have disappeared. Some are still there, but again, the larger genetic distances does not give me much confidence in the results. Also, there are fewer results because fewer people have done 67-marker (or 111-marker) tests.

Even before getting back these most recent results, I had considered it likely that I would eventually pay for the 111-marker test. But now you can perhaps see, as I do, why this would probably be a waste of time. The test would surely give me fewer results, but they would all be at considerable genetic distances (7+) and unlikely to give me any useful information. What these tests results have demonstrated is that no one who is genetically close to me has taken a DNA test with any of these companies, so no amount of further testing by me is going to uncover anything.

Back to square one...

29 November 2016

Who I am: New PA law allows adoptees access to birth records


My mom sent me a link to this article. It's a big deal:
A new state law removes a legal hurdle for adult adoptees trying to learn their true identity and family medical histories.
The law, approved in early November and fully taking effect in one year, enables individuals who are 18 and over and were adopted as children to apply for a copy of their original birth certificate from the state Health Department.
As the article indicates, it may be up to a year before the law is fully implemented, but at that point I will have access to my original birth certificate.

In the 20+ years (off and on) that I have been searching for my birth parents, this is potentially the biggest development of all. Wow.

17 November 2016

Who I am: DNA testing and paternity (part 2)

This is one in a series of posts on the search for my biological family.

As I explained in a previous post, the second DNA test that I did was a Y-DNA test to match other males with a most common recent ancestor (MCRA). My Y-DNA test was a 37-marker test, and showed 179 possible matches. Ideally (assuming a high confidence test and males who consistently pass their surname), a Y-DNA test would match you to other individuals with a single surname and a single MCRA. Ideally, this would tell me my biological surname. As you can tell from the multiple surnames among the results, the 37-marker test is simply not precise enough to answer my question. As a result, I recently upgraded my test to a 67-marker test. The results should come back sooner  (~two weeks) because they can do the test with the previous sample I provided. And if the 67-marker test still doesn't provide enough precision, there is a final 111-marker test--but I'd like to avoid those costs if I can.

09 November 2016

2016 election in review

Well, perhaps I should stop making election predictions! I thought Hillary Clinton would win, but I'm not at all surprised that Donald Trump won. 

In the end, this election turned on the ability of Trump to break through Hillary's "blue wall" in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Along with Indiana and Ohio, the rust belt was the difference in this election.

It's worth taking one more look at Trump's closing ad. I think this ad will go down as the defining ad of the campaign. Take a look and see what you think.

05 November 2016

2016 election prediction

I misread the polls badly in 2012 and thought Romney would win a close election. It turned out it wasn't that close. For all of the reasons I discounted the polls in 2012, times 100, I really don't know what to think of the polls this time around. All of the convention wisdom has been busted this election cycle. Undoubtedly, the race has tightened considerably within the last two weeks. Is it enough to push Trump over the edge? Possible. Most of the prediction sites have given Trump something like a 35% chance, which is up from the teens just a few weeks ago. We're definitely in margin of error territory. A Brexit-like result is certainly not impossible here.

Still, though, despite all of the winds in Trump's favor, a few strands remain. First, Hillary Clinton has likely banked many millions of early votes. This is likely to preserve a small number of votes that might have left her within the last week. Second, the surge to Trump appears to have come not from undecided voters, but from Republican-leaning independents who are coming back to the base (from candidates like Gary Johnson). Third, the path to electoral victory is strategically easier for Hillary as compared to Trump. There are simply many more options. Trump has to basically run the table on all of the swing states.

I think Hillary Clinton will win this election. Here is my predicted electoral vote map:

The closest states on this map (in order of decreasing electoral votes) are: Florida (29), Nevada (6), New Hampshire (4). RCP's "no toss up" map has Nevada and New Hampshire currently leaning toward Trump, but I think they'll ultimately end up on the Clinton side.

Now, with that being said, here is Trump's best chance of winning. As you can see, it comes by the narrowest of margins, but isn't all that far-fetched--in fact, all I did was start with RCP's "no toss up" map on Saturday, November 5th (Clinton 297, Trump 241) and flip Florida's 29 electoral votes to Trump. Florida is so close that this single flip (which is entirely possible) would change the outcome of the election. These predictions show just how close the election might possibly be:


Again, I think Hillary Clinton is likely to win. But if Trump can pull it off, the map will likely look like this one above.

Who I am: What's in a name?

This is one in a series of posts on the search for my biological family.


I want to take a short detour from DNA and genealogy to discuss what is simple to most people, but surprisingly less so for me: my name.

My original birth certificate would ordinarily have my birth name, and the names of my biological parents. As an adoptee, I am not entitled to it (presumably for these reasons). As a result, the birth certificate I do have is re-issued with my adopted name. This is well enough for all the identification reasons someone would need their birth certificate for, but it's not particularly helpful for my search.

When I took my birth certificate to get my Maryland driver's license some years ago, the DMV clerk pointed out to me that my birth certificate had no middle name. Now, ever since I was adopted, I have used James as a middle name. It's one my birth parents gave me. Nonetheless, it's not on my birth certificate, and (because of that) it's not on my driver's license. But it is on my passport (which, presumably, I needed my birth certificate or driver's license to obtain).

That's a long-winded way of wondering: I have been using a middle name for nearly 4 decades. What is my name? Do I even have a legal middle name?

I took a test this morning and had to register without my middle name because the test registration had to match my driver's license. Apparently, the force of using my given middle name for 40 years is not good enough for some things.

Whether I have a middle name or not doesn't seem to have ever caused me any problems. If I need a middle name, I have my passport. Otherwise, I don't appear to actually have one. Nonetheless, one would think that your name is fundamental to who you are. For me? Not so much, apparently.

04 November 2016

I passed the Maryland bar exam!


Some general stats: 848 passed out of 1,367 total scores. 62.0% pass rate among all takers. Last year: 827/1,316 for 62.8%. No breakdown yet among first time test-takers.

I'm not a lawyer yet. I have to take a short online course, and then the official swearing in ceremony will be in December. ALMOST...

01 November 2016

Who I am: Revisiting my original notes

This is one in a series of posts on the search for my biological family.


When I made my original post, I came across some older, more detailed notes about my biological family. You can see them here. As I looked at the notes with fresh eyes, I realized some things I had noticed before, but didn't necessarily follow up on.

For example, consider that my maternal grandmother died at age 22 of pneumonia. Yikes. And why I don't know when she was born, I can estimate it do to my birth mother's age when I was born. Since my birth mother was ~20 when I was born in 1975 (and thus born ~1955), I am guessing that my maternal grandmother was born ~1935 (+/-3) and died in 1957 (+/-3). Now, that's still a very large group of people, but it's something, right? Maybe that, combined with some other bits and pieces, will yield another clue. Of course, I also have to more or less assume that these notes are accurate, since I have nothing else to go on. They seem to be notes that my adopted family were given, possibly by a social worker.

I searched the Social Security Death Index for anyone with the surname Knapp who was born in 1935 (+/-5) and died in 1957 (+/-5), anywhere in the United States. Just two results: Larry and Norton. Both males. So, assuming the information about my maternal grandmother was accurate, she was probably not a Knapp--at least not when she died.

If you take the surname out of the search, you get 20,982 results. If you narrow +/-5 to +/-2, you get 3.633. Still a lot, but more manageable. And while the Social Security Death Index does not classify gender, you can infer most from the names. Unfortunately, though, many of the records do not have a last residence so further narrowing by state is not possible, even if we knew she lived in Pennsylvania (possible, but no real evidence to be sure). And then there's the not-so-obvious: If her name wasn't Knapp, how would I even know that I was looking at the correct result? I could very easily scroll right past the records I'm looking for without even knowing it.

Now, it gets interesting...

I also took another look at the Lehigh University Epitome yearbooks. Knowing that my birth father was listed as a 19-year old sophomore (presumably at the time I was born, in November 1975), this suggests he would graduate in 1978 (presuming he graduated on-time, and at all). Here is where it gets at least somewhat interesting. I looked at the 1978 Epitome for the most common names on my Y-DNA test results. The most common name was McHargue (with some variations as McCard). In fact, there is a 1978 Lehigh graduate with the surname McCard. He's still alive; and I found him on Facebook and LinkedIn. Still, the information I have is not exactly bullet-proof as I explained in my last post. Possible? Yes? Certain? No. It's not something that, without more, I'd feel comfortable going to him about. "Excuse me sir, did you happen to father a child while you were a student at Lehigh?" I'm not there yet. And--just to be clear--despite that you might feel as if you're helping--please do not take it upon yourself to reach out. If I get further information, I'd like to do it on my own terms.

Who I am: DNA testing and paternity

This is one in a series of posts on the search for my biological family.


The second DNA test that I did was a Y-DNA test. You can examine the more specific details here, but the idea of a Y-DNA test is to match other males with a most common recent ancestor (MCRA). Ideally (assuming a high confidence test and males who consistently pass their surname), a Y-DNA test would match you to other individuals with a single surname and a single MCRA. Ideally, this would tell me my biological surname. If it were only that simple.

My Y-DNA test was a 37-marker test. This is a decent entry-level Y-DNA test, but other higher resolution tests are available at 67 and 111 markers (they are also considerably more expensive). My results showed 179 matches. Some or even many of these are not likely to be definitive--it is unlikely, for example, that I share a MCRA with three males with three different surnames! Still, the list of most common surnames shows some interesting results:

McHarg/McHargue/McChargue/McCard (14)
Gallagher (10)
Carnes/Carney (6)
McAmis/McCamis/McCammish (5)
McGee (5)
Campbell (4), Hughes (4), McKee (4)
Clancey/Clancy (3), Coyne (3), Douglas/Douglass (3), Flannery (3), Manley/Mannelly/Munnelly (3)

Remember how I explained in my ethnicity post that I was Scotch-Irish? Yeah, I think these surnames confirm that!

Second, the first group almost all have the same MCRA (Alexander McHargue, born 1711 in Argyle, Renfrewshire, Scotland; died April 4, 1789, in Paxton Township, Dunphin, Pennsylvania, USA). Is this my MCRA? Possible, but not with enough certainty to really know.

Here's what the test tells me: At 37 markers, I match an unknown McHargue (unfortunately, his profile is set to private) on 35 of 37 markers (a genetic distance of 2). I also match an unknown Carney (unfortunately, his profile is also set to private) on 35 of 37 markers (again, a genetic distance of 2). As you can imagine, I probably only share a MCRA with one of these guys. My guess is to lean toward McHargue, but only because the name is far more common on my list of surnames. Obviously, just based upon numbers, Gallagher, McGee, and a few other names are certainly possible. Only time (and more research!) will tell.

In my next post, I'll revisit my original adoption notes with a twist. Remember that my biological father was supposedly a 19-year old sophomore at Lehigh University? Yeah, it's about that. Until next time...