Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Is Baby-Buying Still Going On??

This essay originally appeared on our subscription blog. For families that wish to remain current of research and developments regarding China's adoption program, signing up for our subscription blog (https://research-china.org/blogs/index.htm) is a must. There we discuss and research topics that are too sensitive to be discussed publicly. At $20 for life, it is the best investment you will ever make.

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We recently conducted a "wide-net" birth parent search project in Jiangxi. One of the big questions about China's program is why the number of children being submitted for international adoption has declined so sharply following the Hunan scandal of November 2005. There is no doubt the number of children fell simultaneous to the scandal publicity, the only question is why.

I recently spoke with a Japanese journalist for NHK Television, the Japanese version of NPR. He is doing a story on the impact of the Hunan scandal on the Chinese adoption program by profiling one of the American families that had adopted from China in 2005, and how the intervening 16 years have changed their perspective on the China program. When I showed him the graph of submissions by month from the dominant Provinces in 2005, he asked why things had gone so quickly south.

The truth is we don't know the actual reason why, but we do know what aren't the reasons. The reporter speculated that the orphanages began funneling adoptees to domestic families to avoid potential international scandal. "You are right, that is a possible scenario. However, we have the adoption statistics from domestic adoptions inside China, and they show domestic adoptions did not increase following the scandal." OK, the reporter queried, maybe China's signing on to the Hague Agreement in January 2006 caused orphanages to "change their stripes," and cease to buy babies, since that violated the newly signed international agreement. "Well," I replied, "that is also a possibility. But in February 2006 the Beijing CCAA held a China-wide meeting of orphanage directors, and told them to submit every child that entered the orphanage for international adoption, no matter their health or gender." They specifically address paying rewards for babies, stating that if an orphanage was caught paying 1,000 yuan or less for a baby, the government would protect them, but if they were caught paying more than 1,000 yuan, they were on their own. "If Beijing really wanted orphanages to abide by the Hague Agreement, they could have simply said, 'Don't pay money for babies.'" Besides, I added, we have seen that orphanages have continued to traffic in babies after 2006.

Which brings us to our recent experience. We sent a friend of ours to northeastern Jiangxi Province to locate any birth families in the villages and towns that had relinquished a baby between 1995 and present. Our friend was approached by a birth mother, who showed them a copy of the adoption certificate from the orphanage of an American family that had adopted the child in Spring 2012. She asked our friend if we could help her locate this family, so that she could find out how her daughter was doing. Lan reached out to the birth mother to learn her story. 

The birth family were officially registered as an "urbanite," meaning they were allowed only one child under the One-Child Policy. When the birth mother became pregnant with a second child, they wondered how they could have their second child registered. They had means and relationships, so they planned to hide their second child, since the Family Planning fee was over 30,000 yuan. To do this, they rented a second apartment in town to try and avoid detection. 

And then a woman approached her. This woman was known to the next-door neighbor of their new apartment. The elderly woman worked as the assistant director of the local orphanage before retiring. The ex-assistant director told the birth mother that her son was infertile, and although he and his wife had tried for many years, they were unable to have a biological child. She wondered if the birth mother would be willing to let her son adopt their second child if she was a girl? It would make them so happy, and the birth mother's child would remain in the area. The birth mother felt that this solution could work, since she would be able to watch the child grow up from afar. She agreed to the ex-orphanage employee's suggestion.

So, when the birth mother gave birth to the baby in the town hospital in March 2011, the ex-assistant orphanage director was there to pick up the baby the same day she was born. The birth mother felt good, knowing that her baby girl would be living with a successful family in the area, and would not be hard to check on if the birth family wanted.

So, the following year the birth mother tracked down the assistant director and excitedly asked her how her daughter was doing with her son. Strangely, the retired assistant director grew agitated, told the woman not to talk to her again, and said that her daughter had actually been adopted to a foreign family and she would never see her again. The woman's callousness infuriated the birth mother, and she told the woman that she was going to the police to file a kidnapping report. "Go ahead," the woman replied, "Go to the police if you want. I don't care."

So the birth mother did. She smoozed a local police officer and got them to file a report. The police went to the orphanage, interviewed the orphanage director, and arrested the retired assistant director. They also made a copy of the orphanage file for the child, including the adoption certificate. They gave the copy to the birth mother. 

And then released the retired assistant director. Charges dropped.

So, now the birth mother had the name and address of the family that had adopted her daughter. 

We have reached out to the adoptive family. The story is obviously developing, and DNA testing will need to be done to confirm the relationship. Since the child is now only eleven years old, it may take time. But we are hopeful of a somewhat happy ending to this birth family's saga, and thankful to the birth mother for her persistence. It provides yet another data point for the current situation in China and her international adoption program. 

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For data purposes, the birth date of the child was retained by the orphanage, although they indicated that the child was found at two days old "at the gate of the orphanage." When the birth mother saw the abandonment certificate in the orphanage file, she was incensed. "They say I abandoned my daughter at the orphanage. I never did this. Why did they shame me with this lie?" 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

“Searching for Your Chinese Birth Family” – A Review

It was only a matter of time before someone put pen to paper to offer a guide to Chinese adoptees as to how to search for birth families in China, and Wesley Hagood shows through his presentation that he is up to the task. Having known Wes since 2004 when he requested his daughter’s finding ad from us, I have always been impressed by his doggedness and attention to the smallest of details. Both of these characteristics are on full display in this book.

“Searchingfor Your Chinese Birth Family” is divided into nine chapters and appendixes covering the full range of how a search could be conducted, including chapters on using DNA, hiring searchers to search using the orphanage documentation, and searching using social media inside China. He wisely recommends that searching adoptees begin with a genetic genealogy-based (DNA) search because it is easy, inexpensive, and over time has the greatest probability of success (Wes speaks here from experience. After employing hundreds, if not thousands of hours implementing other methods of searching, the match to his daughter was ultimately made by a simple DNA test). Wes employs a very broad “adoptee-centered” searching approach, meaning that he offers any and all ideas for a single adoptee to utilize, giving little emphasis to effectiveness and value of the various search ideas, nor for the potential impact of those ideas on the community at large. Other than small lists prioritized by what he feels is the order things should be done in, he offers no opinion as to whether an adoptee should employ particular search avenues, or whether these ideas will have a chance of success. In other words, there is very little data behind the ideas.

To use one small example: On the list of potential DNA data bases that an adoptee could utilize he references Zuyuan, a company that briefly came on the scene in 2018 concurrent with Wes writing this book. Zuyuan’s claim to fame was that they were able to match a pre-identified birth family with a pre-identified adoptee using a third-party DNA company. When word spread of this reunion, the adoption community was excited, and people started thinking that this could be a viable path for reunions. It was this excitement that allowed Wes to include Zuyuan on his list of Chinese data bases.

The problem was that as adoptees uploaded their DNA to Zuyuan, Zuyuan then turned around and marketed their DNA to birth families to encourage them to test with Zuyuan, for a fee. Some of these birth families, a few of whom we have met, felt that since they had done a DNA test with Zuyuan that they would not need to test further to get into other, more reliable and far-reaching data bases. Thus, in a very real sense, birth families that tested with Zuyuan (and it probably wasn’t many before the company shut down a short time later) were potentially deprived of any chance of locating their relinquished child. Their DNA may be lost to the adoption search community (Wes did include a footnote to our article strongly discouraging the use of Zuyuan).

The primary issue I see with Wes’s book is that by approaching the subject from an "adoptee-centered" perspective, Wes ignores the overall search community, and how individual steps taken can positively or negatively impact the larger search efforts of all. He fails to point out that not only should adoptees search for themselves, but they should be mindful of how their actions will impact those that follow after. Yes, an adoptee should do everything in their power to search, but only if those actions don’t hurt the chances of others. Those that pushed for Zuyuan, for example, unwittingly damaged the search efforts of the entire community. I would have liked to see more “broad picture” discussion in Wes’s book of the various data bases and other strategies he wrote about. Such a “data driven” appraisal to go alongside his recommendations would have greatly increased the value of the book.

The book is extremely valuable for presenting the huge pile of bricks from which an adoptee can pick and choose to form their search "platform." Most will not use all of the ideas, because as Wes points out each adoptee’s story is unique. Wes correctly emphasizes that before an adoptee does anything, they should gain the information about their particular orphanage. Understanding what was happening in an adoptee’s orphanage is crucial to building a search “platform” on a solid foundation.

Wes’s final chapter, “Our Story – Xinyi Under My Skin,” is a tremendously informative and enjoyable chapter. It should really be read first. It is here that we see the doggedness and determination of the author on full display. I was left wanting more at the end of the chapter. He confirms, for example, that the Xinyi orphanage had a baby-buying program in place, something we confirmed in 2019 when we matched an adoptee from Xinyi with her birth family in Wuchuan. But Wes deprives us from knowing what he learned about how his daughter came to be in the orphanage. The revelation of these reunions is important, I believe, to allow later adoptees to know what their story may have been. (In private correspondence Wes relates that the birth family has no idea how their daughter ended up in the orphanage, which information also informs other searching adoptees).

Wes has compiled an impressive book on searching. I would encourage searching adoptees and their families to use “Searching for Your Chinese Birth Family” as a springboard for researching their own search strategies. It is a valuable resource.

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

What Is "Wide-Net" Searching"?

There has been a lot of discussion on adoption groups about our initiative launched two weeks ago regarding a new approach to birth parent searching. Like anything new, there are a lot of questions. So, here are some answers. If we don't cover your question, let us know in the comments and we can add it to this article.  

1) What is a "Wide-Net" Search, and how is it different from traditional methods of search?

Traditionally adoptive families have searched for a single birth family in China: Their child's. For the past six years, DNAConnect.Org has used a different approach: Search for any birth family in the area, and hopefully that birth family will be the direct birth family of an adoptee, or will be related as an aunt, uncle, first or second cousin, etc., to an adoptee. This approach, which we have coined a "wide-net" method of searching, has many benefits over the old way. First, under the old model if a birth family came forward with a child that was born in 1995, they would not be tested or even pursued if the child doing the search was born in 2001. Unquestionably, this resulted in missed matches, since it may be that the 1995 birth family was related to the searching adoptee more distantly. By testing the 1995 birth family, it would have been discovered that they were a first or second cousin, for example. This would then allow the adoptee to locate their own birth family by way of this other family. Fully 20% of all of our matches are a result of this kind of networking.

This presupposes, of course, the use of autosomal DNA testing, which detects these non-direct relationships. So, when any birth family comes forward, rather than trying to match them to one of the adoptees in a project, they are simply tested. It is hoped that this birth family will be related to an adoptee as a birth family member, first generation relative, or second cousin. We usually test a birth sibling (not the birth parents themselves) because then we have access to relatives on both sides of the birth couple. This is important: If you test only a birth mother for example, you will, of course, not detect any relatives on the birth father's side of the family. Thus, siblings are always tested when possible. 

So, since we are searching for any birth family in an area, the posters and social media stories don't contain any specific finding, birth, or other identifying information. The posters, for example, just contain faces of adoptees from that area, ranging in age from a few years old to an adoptee in their mid-twenties. The idea is to present faces that will get the most response from as many different birth families as possible. Thus, a project participating adoptive family is not joining the project with the goal of locating their child's specific birth family, but any birth family in the area. It is numbers game -- by having as many birth families test as possible, it is hoped that the "genetic net" will catch a lot of relatives for all adoptees from that area. 


The advantages are obvious in implementation: Traditionally search adoptive families have included personal details on their search posters, information that usually is inaccurate. A birth family might be looking for their child born on March 20, and look at a poster that has their child on it, but with a birth date of April 3 since the orphanage changed or misestimated it. They pass it by, assuming that the child can't be theirs. Or an aunt, who relinquished a child in 1998 may not pass or pay attention to a poster with a child born in 2002, not realizing that her brother also relinquished a child in that year. For these reasons, child-specific posters don't gain much "viral" traction, and thus are not seen by as many people.

By reformulating our goals as a search community from the one to the many, more birth families will be located, tested, and matched to adoptees. And the more that do, the most success we will all have.


2) How much does a "wide-net" search cost? Does DNAConnect.Org charge anything for organizing and helping a project?

DNAConnect.Org is in contact with over 600 birth families from all over China, as well as birth parents we have "friended" on various search groups scattered across China. Sadly, we are not in a position to put the necessary energy into all of these areas. But we can easily help an organized group get into touch with these area contacts to facilitate searching. There is no charge for this, as it furthers our mission to "maximize the efficiency of DNA collection for searching adoptees in China."

But the projects will cost families some money, although it will be a small fraction of what individual families pay for searchers currently. Costs of reproducing color fliers and paying a local person to go to area villages to distribute those fliers in a market, by a school, etc. would be divided up among participant families, but would seldom be more than $100 per family. Some groups are hiring Jane to do these, which would increase the costs greatly, but this is not necessary. Lan can often help find a local birth sibling that can be hired for a lot less. But the project leader will work with the project group to determine how they want to conduct the search. We offer strategic support. 

So, as a bottom-line answer: Each project group decides how much a search in their area will cost. 

3) How does one join a project, and am I limited to joining just my child's orphanage group?

As is now well known, children moved around China prior to adoption. Thus, some families often wonder if joining another group might be helpful. A family whose child is from Changning, Hunan, for example, may want to join the Wuchuan, Guangdong search project, since so many children originated there. While we understand that impulse, keep in mind that we are not searching for specific birth families, but all birth families. Adoptive families in Wuchuan will be searching for birth families in that area. Thus, there is little need to join more groups than the one your child is from.

To join a project, simply email us at "BrianStuy@Research-China.Org". We will put you on our list and send you a confirmation email. If there is an established search group already up and running, we will forward your email address to the group leader, who will get you up to speed on the project. If you are among the first to write us from a specific area, we will let you know when enough families from your area have registered to form a group. Either way, you will be in a group. While some of the smaller orphanages are still needing participants, most of the larger orphanages have already got groups up and running (30 groups are already formed and operational).

4) How long does a project run?

 While most traditional search projects involve hiring a searcher to go into an area, put up a bunch of posters, and then leave, "wide-net" projects go for a long time, at least a few years. We call this the "Wuchuan Effect." We started with a single birth family in Wuchuan and through repeated social networking, leveraging successful matches, etc., have over 100 birth families located in that single area. Other areas such as Ningdu, Jiangxi and Quzhou, Zhejiang, have seen great success in the same way. So, this project runs for a long time, with new methods being employed, new and fresh social media campaigns being created, etc. Once set up, a "wide-net" project needs never to end. It is up to the families of the project.  

5) How is DNA collected once a birth family is located?

To maximize efficiency, and to make it easier on the project families, all search posters, articles, etc., have Lan's WeChat code imbedded in it. Thus, a birth family is put in direct contact with Lan once they scan her code. Lan then starts the dialogue with them -- when was your child born? How was the child relinquished? Does the birth family have any knowledge of where the child went? Was the child born in a hospital or through a midwife? Lan then arranges for a member of the birth family to be tested using an autosomal test. 

By having a native Chinese person interfacing with them directly, the birth family is much more likely to conduct a test. All birth family DNA is then processed and uploaded to GedMatch. Any adoptee interested in searching should get themselves tested as soon as possible (23andMe is the dominant DNA testing data base for Chinese adoptees) and upload their DNA to GedMatch no matter which company they use. 

I understand the attraction of hiring a searcher to search for your child's birth family, but it must be understood that due to the fabrication that took place in most situations, such an expenditure of large amounts of financial resources truly benefits only one person -- the searcher. In the vast majority of cases, this route provides little of use to the individual family, and certainly not to the adoption community itself. By pulling our energies together -- fishing with a net rather than a hook -- we will reap far more success as a community than if each of us fishes individually. 

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Evaluating Your GedMatch Results

You have submitted your DNA to 23andMe.com, and have uploaded them to GedMatch. You have your relative's list, and you wonder, what does it all mean?

This essay will hopefully help you make sense of those results, and help you to use them to further your search. But first, it is important to know what GedMatch is, and what its limitations are.

GedMatch is an open data base, as opposed to 23andMe, Ancestry and others, which are a closed data bases. "Closed" means that you can't put DNA from another source into 23andMe, for example, but you must buy their kit to be included in their data base. GedMatch is an "open" data base since you can upload DNA from a wide variety of processors, including 23andMe, Ancestry, MyHeritage, etc. This is a huge benefit, since it allows people to just upload their results from 23andMe, Ancestry, etc., and be able to compare their DNA profile with thousands of samples processed by other companies. This saves a ton of money, since we don't have to purchase more than one test. This feature is the primary reason we upload all of our birth parent DNA samples to GedMatch.

So, let's take a look at the results of one of our kits and see what typical results may look like (click on image to enlarge). 






So, the basics: Column 1 is the kit number of your relative. You can click on this link to see THEIR relative's list. Column 2 (The "A") prefills your kit and the profile to the left into the one-to-one comparison. You can run different tests to see what segments of your DNA match, etc. It is not necessary to really get too involved with this feature, but just know that it is there. Column 3 is the name of the profile, column 4 is the email contact for the profile. This is valuable information if you decide to contact this person (more on that below). Column 5 ("Largest Seg") is the largest continuous segment of DNA you share with the person. Generally speaking, each time a person's DNA is "mixed" through reproduction the DNA is fractured into pieces. Thus, the further away from another person you are biologically, the smaller the fragments of the shared DNA you both received from your common ancestor will be. Column 6 ("Total CM") is the total common DNA you share. In other words, it is the sum of all common DNA segments, the longest segment from column 5, and all of the smaller segments. Both of these metrics will be larger the closer you are in relatedness to the other person. 

Both column 5 and 6 are combined to arrive at the most important column in your list: Column 7, the "Gen" column. This is the most imformative column for searching purposes, because this number tells you an estimation of how many generations separate you from the other person. For searching purposes, you are looking for a "Gen" number of less than 3. Without getting too technical, a "3" means that you shared a great-grand parent as a common ancestor, meaning that you are second cousins (A great resource for interpreting GedMatch's "Gen" numbers can be found here). Depending on who was tested, a match of "3" or less could possibly be leveraged to locating a birth family, depending on how familiar the other person is with their family tree. But assuming the other person has parents still alive, and those parents know their first cousins, it would be possible to network and test the various branches of that small tree to locate birth parents.

Column 8 ("Overlap") is a fairly technical column, and is explained here. We don't use this column at all, but if you wish to get into the weeds it gives value. Column 9 is the date that your sample and the other persons were first compared. When you first upload your sample to GedMatch, every one of your relatives will have the same date -- the date your kit was processed. But, over time, new kits will be added to your list as new samples of other people are added. So, if a match appears with a later date than your upload date, that is an indication that the new match is a recent addition to your relative's list.  

Column 10 is also a very important column, and you may want to refer back to the image I included above. I already mentioned that the ability to compare DNA from various platforms is one of GedMatch's strengths, but in a sense it is also a weakness. In computer programing, this weakness is called "GIGO," or "Garbage in, garbage out." Not all DNA processing companies are created equal for matching purposes. The gold standard is 23andMe, which currently tests 640,000 SNPs (segments of your genome that are different among people). The more SNPs that are tested, the finer the "resolution" is for your DNA. It is like a TV -- the more pixels, the better the picture. 23andMe has the highest number of "pixels" (SNPs) in the industry. Ancestry, FamilyTree, and MyHeritage compare a similar number, but there is small variation between companies as to which "SNPs" are tested. For matching purposes, it doesn't matter because with that many data points being compared, true relationships can be accurately determined. Thus, if you match to a relative that used 23andMe, or Ancestry, or one of the other premium testing companies, the match you see will be a solid, accurate match. 

The problem is when the match is to a non-US company like 23Mofang or WeGene. When you look at our listing above, our top match is with *Anna, at 3.1 generations. One might normally think this is a solid match, just outside our search window, but close! However, when we see what company *Anna used for her DNA processing, we see that she left it blank. Without knowing which company she used, we can't determine how reliable that relationship is. Why? Let's take a look at our second match to see.

"Theo" tested with 23Mofang, and is our second closest match at 3.5 generations. Why does this name look familiar to most Chinese adoptees? Because this sample appears of many lists. 





He Qian is a birth mother living in Hengyang City, Hunan, while Yang Ping lives in Wuhu, Anhui and Yang Man Xiu, the sample at the beginning of this article, lives in Ningdu, Jiangxi. None of these people are related, but all three share "Theo" as a common relative at around 3 generations. 

How can this be?

The problem lies in the fact that 23Mofang and WeGene look at different SNPs than 23andMe, Ancestry, and other western processors. As 23Mofang detailed it, "We undertook modifications to some of the loci of the array to improve its applicability to the genome of the Chinese population." In other words, 23Mofang (as well as WeGene) tests different genetic markers than 23andMe, Ancestry, etc. That is why kits from these Chinese data bases often show up near the top of Chinese adoptee's relatives lists. But sadly, these relationships are almost always exaggerated. 

So, when you get your results, you should probably ignore any matches that show a blank testing company, or that list 23Mofang and WeGene. Assume these are not valid matches. Common names that appear over and over include:

Acheng Zhaoye (WeGene)

Anna (Blank)

Chinese Korean (Blank)

Dongguan Chen (Blank)

Guangzhou (WeGene)

Huangxin (23Mofang)

Theo (23Mofang)

Zhao Ruming (23Mofang)

So, after eliminating suspect matches, the next thing to do it reach out to your top 5-10 relatives (4 generations or closer) to ask them what part of China they originated from. You are not looking to utilize these matches for searching purposes (only <3 generations will help with that), but seeing if your somewhat near relatives are from the same area of China as you or your child. We all realize by now that just because an adoptee was adopted from orphanage X in no way makes it certain that the birth family of that adoptee is from that orphanage area. The movement of children from one area to another for adoption was/is prevalent. So, if you contact five near relatives and they cluster around Western Guangdong, for example, and you or your child was adopted from an orphanage in Hunan, those relatives suggest you were not born in the immediate orphanage area. It is not certain, of course, but suggestive. But it may help you expand your view of where to search. 

To summarize: GedMatch relatives closer than 3 generations are useful for birth parent searching. Most families inside China are aware of first and second cousins in their families, so networking close relatives is possible to locate a birth family. 

Matches more distant are helpful for triangulation purposes, to suggest other areas of China that a birth family may have lived or at least originated from. We have seen this in our own family's search activity -- our daughter's first cousin match (an adoptee) is from a small orphanage at the other end of the Province. We are now focused on locating this other adoptee's birth family because we know if we locate hers, we will locate our own daughter's. 

And matches from 23Mofang and WeGene are not commonly usable for either purpose.