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A message from the Admin, Jim Cooke, March 2017:

I met Richard Collins, an adoptee who only knew that his birth mother was Vietnamese and his birth father was a US Serviceman, a few years ago. I knew how hard it was trying to find birth parents, having worked with another adoptee and cousin, Steven Johnson. Though I perhaps was a tad hard on Richard in the beginning, as you will see below, it really paid off for him. After his success I asked him to write down his thoughts on the process.

Richard utilized Interesting (male-only DNA that is passed from father to son relatively unchanged generation-after-generation) and autosomal DNA(atDNA) testing (in his case through Ancestry.Com, but also available at FamilyTreeDNA via FamilyFinder) in this process. The YDNA testing gave him a hint as to his male ancestry (Cook, in this case), and the atDNA helped him find cousins from various directions. Richard then toiled away and fitting those pieces together…………

This article is written to-inspire those of us who have been on a long journey to locate our maternal/paternal lines. 

I was born in S. Vietnam and had no idea who my birth parents were. My documents were not accurate as to the birth mother and no listing of a father’s name.  My adoptive parents were unable to provide any names other than a half-truth.

So, in 2010, I took the FamilyTreeDNA (Y-DNA) and Family Finder test(s) in the hopes of learning about my biological father’s side and possibly finding a link to my biological mother's side.  I figured I might have a 50/50 chance of getting any kind of information about my bio father's side.  I had no idea it would lead me to“COOK” as my surname.  I found this to be surprising after a brief chat with James Cooke our project administrator.

I was already in the process of testing with 23&Me and Ancestry and reviewing the information, most of which were distant cousins, 4-8th. I had no idea how to process any of this information, let alone put it into any type of tree to make sense of it. I also joined the Yahoo Groups Adoption forum and followed the daily conversations on how members built their trees and researched their leads.

Jim Cooke (FTDNA’s CookDNAProject co-Administrator) gave me a tree with the COOK surnames and essentially told me to find out where you fit into the tree .  He put me in touch with another tester on the Y-DNA, Steven Johnson-Cooke.  I reached out to several cousin matches in an effort to link “COOK” to their lines.  Needless to say, most of it was going nowhere.  Steven literally taught me how to sort through matches over many phone conversations.  It was a painful learning process and required discipline that paid off.  I spent many hours building these 4-8th cousin matches into the “COOK” tree that Jim provided.  I made two trees, one with Cooks from Virginia and the other with COOKs from Arkansas.  Most were names tied through marriages and the tree’s limbs were extensive.

Approximately one year ago, I received a 3rd Cousin match on Ancestry.  I opened it up and studied the match (for 3 months) through the centimorgans and the tree that he provided (it was missing some people).  [Actually, turned out to be a 2nd Cousin 1 x (one time removed) based on the centimorgans and segments provided by Ancestry’s calculations]. This cousin was not willing to share any details, but allowed me one important question.  That question was whether he was adopted.  He was not.  So, I managed to tie his parents into the extensive “COOK” tree from Arkansas.  I followed his father’s line and befriended a distant relative living in Louisiana & convinced him to test on Ancestry (on my dime).  The test proved negative.  I was stunned because I thought, for sure, I was headed in the right direction.  So, I turned towards his mother’s side and built out my tree with her siblings.  I came across one of the siblings and cross-referenced her with a public tree. The public tree showed her married to an unnamed COOK.  So, I continued building out the siblings and found another marriage to a COOK.  I built this COOK line all the way back to the dawn of time and they did not match any of the COOKs from Jim’s tree. So, the sibling that was married to the unnamed COOK, well, I called the cemetery where she was buried.  The curator pulled her file and gave me her obituary and the names of all those buried around her - Lillie.  From this information, I determined who was who and found the unnamed COOK - Nathan.  I plugged Nathan and Lillie together in Ancestry and it began populating.  I checked Jim’s tree again using the search engine in Ancestry and typed in NATHAN COOK.  His name popped up and that's how the rest of the journey began.

So, I essentially found my grandmother, Lillie Belle Ashe Cook and grandfather Nathan Cook of Lebanon, TN. using YDNA results from FTDNA testing (which gave me my likely male surname, “Cook”)and testing at Ancestry.com (which tests autosomal DNA and finds cousins) From there, I found their sons, Henry Douglas and Edward Adams Cook.  At first I figured Henry was my father because he was the right age range and was still living.  I wasn’t sure about Edward.  (I had overlooked him in the obituary until James told me there were two sons.  I had seen Edward A. Cook’s name before in a Special Forces magazine from 1966 with him receiving an award for some heroic action). 

So, I cold-called Henry's son Glenn Douglas Cook and laid my cards on the table about Edward being my biological father.  Long of the short, within an hour Henry called me and we discussed the story.  By the next day’s conversation, Henry had received a collage of pictures of me and compared them to Edward.  Henry said I was undoubtedly Edward's son.  But all I had was a grainy photo from a magazine reprint.  So, Henry and Glenn agreed to the Ancestry testing and it proved positive: a close relative(uncle) and 1st Cousin match!.

In conclusion of these findings, the half-truth I was told in my early twenties that “your father was a captain in the Special Forces in Nha Trang”? Well, half of it was true: he in the Special Forces.  But Edward Adams Cook was not a Captain; he was a Staff Sergeant in the SF during the time I was born in Vietnam.  Uncle Henry provided the military record(s)of his time frame in Vietnam and most importantly recalled his brother mentioning me prior to his passing away.  No further details were discussed.


The biggest lesson I received from the ancestry building was quite simple:  Very few people are willing to help you build a tree.  It’s a tough learning curve.  You have to wrap your head around this subject and really embrace it, because you need to own it.    Look at each sibling, marriage, etc.  Had it not been for Y-DNA and the COOK Project under the care of Jim Cooke, this journey would have been even tougher. 

I have to end by saying without the support of Steven Johnson-Cooke, and Jim Cooke’s challenge of providing the COOK tree and telling me to find where I fit in, I don’t think I would have had a burning challenge to make the pieces of the puzzle come together as quickly as it did. 

Now, I am proud to have Henry Douglas and Glenn Douglas as my family. Additionally, I have Steven and Jim, and other COOK cousins, as friends for life.

Richard Collins Kit#191818


NOTE from the Admin:

I am happy to report within two weeks of Richard’s success in identifying his birth father, the late Sgt Edward A. Cook, and his place in the larger Cook tree, Steve Johnson, our other adoptee, also figured it out and found HIS Cook family!!! Steve now calls himself “Steven Johnson-Cooke”.