Mythbusting – Women, Fathers and DNA

I’m sometimes amazed at what people believe – and not just a few people – but a lot of people.

Recently, I ran across a situation where someone was just adamant that autosomal DNA could not help a female find or identify her father.  That’s simply wrong. Incorrect.  Nada!  This isn’t, I repeat, IS NOT, true of autosomal testing.

Right here, on Family Tree DNA’s main page, it says as much.

mythbusting ftdna

Here is the product description for their Family Finder autosomal test:

“Family Finder uses autosomal DNA (inherited from both the mother and father, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, etc.) to provide you a breakdown of your ethnic percentages and connect you with relatives descended from any of your ancestral lines within approximately the last 5 generations.”

Now the genetic genealogists among us will know right away where this myth that women can’t find their father using DNA came from.  Indeed, it’s a true statement when you’re talking about Y-line DNA.  Women don’t have a Y chromosome because it is passed only from father to son.  The mitochondrial DNA that she does carry is from her mother’s maternal side, so before autosomal testing, there was no ready tool for women to identify or find missing fathers.  For a long time, before autosomal testing, it was said as a general statement that women could not test for their father’s DNA.  That statement was true in that context at that time.  Not anymore.

The Times, They are A’Changin’

Today, however, there are 4 different DNA tests/tools for DNA testing, all with different purposes and that can be used in different ways, often in tandem.

Where the Y-line test tests just the Y chromosome, the paternal line, and the mitochondrial DNA tests only the direct maternal line, autosomal testing tests your DNA contributed from all of your ancestors, males and females alike.

You can see in the chart below that the son and daughter carry some of every color of the DNA of their great-grandparents.  The daughter carries the blue of her great-grandfather’s autosomal and the yellow of his wife’s autosomal, but not the short blue Y chromosome of her father.  Only the son has that.

mythbusting autosomal chart

Therefore, you can indeed utilize the information to find missing fathers, for women and men alike, in exactly the same way.  The only difference is that men can take the additional Y-line test that women can’t take.

By way of example, let’s look at some of my results at Family Tree DNA.

I have a total of 333 autosomal (Family Finder) matches.  My mother has a total of 180 matches and we have a total of 66 common matches.  That means that I also have 267 matches from my father’s side.

So let’s say I’m adopted and I’m not really sure which side is which.

I would then begin to construct family trees based on my matches suggested relationship and their common ancestors.

mythbusting vannoy matches

On the chart above, my Vannoy cousins are shown, all with matches to me, and all from my father’s side of the tree.  Family Tree DNA’s estimates are very accurate, within one generation, and all are within the range they provide.  Their ranges and estimates are more accurate the closer in time they are to you.

If these people are my second cousins, we share common great-grandparents.  Third cousins, common great-great grandparents.  You’ve just gone from “unknown” to within 3 or 4 generations in one fell swoop.  Wow!

If you find a group of people with the same surname or the same ancestral surname, like I did on my Vannoy line, then you can, based on their estimated relationship to you, begin building a combined pedigree chart.  All three of these men have uploaded their GEDCOM file, so you can easily see their common ancestor.  Their common ancestor is also your common ancestor.  You can then narrow the list of possible links from them to you.  Once you identify their common ancestor, then continue to work down the tree to current to find someone in the right location at the right time.

On the chart below, which is my DNA pedigree chart, you can see how close the common ancestor of these matches really is to me.  We’re only 3 generations from my father.  This common couple, Joel Vannoy (1813-1895) and Phoebe Crumley (1818-1900) had 7 children, both male and female.  My father descended from one of those 7.  Now I’m only two generations from my father.  Going from “father unknown” to only two generations away is extremely powerful.  This is exactly why these tools hold so much promise for adoptees and others who are searching for their parentage.

mythbusting common ancestor

In the meantime, you may get lucky and click to open your personal page one day to find a very close, sibling, aunt/uncle or first cousin match.  Yes indeed, that can do a world of good to narrow the possible choices of parents.  That’s also why I always suggest to people seeking unknown parents that they swim in all of the autosomal pools, Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and Ancestry.  You just never know where that answer or critically important hint is going to come from.

I hope you are now a believer and any confusion has been removed.  Women cannot take a Y chromosome test to find their father, but that has nothing to do with autosomal DNA tests.  Women can, and indeed do find their missing fathers using autosomal DNA.

164 thoughts on “Mythbusting – Women, Fathers and DNA

  1. Hello, I had a question. I have just started looking into my family history and have run into a bump that was recently revealed in my family. We recently found out that my grandfather, on my father’s side, was adopted by my great-grandfather. My great-grandmother is his biological mother, so we are just looking for his biological father. Both of my great-grandparents have passed and there was never any mention of any of this when they were living. My grandfather found out after his mother’s passing. I’m pretty certain that his biological father isn’t on his birth certificate, or we would’ve found someone by now.

    My question is, can I have a DNA test run to potentially find relatives? I am female, and I’m pretty certain that my father and grandfather won’t do DNA testing themselves. I’m not sure if anyone else in my family would be willing to do so. I am curious to find out more about this unknown family though.

    Thank you.

  2. My husband and I did the ancestry.com dna test and lo and behold, a match came up identifying someone as my husband’s father. Only thing….he wasn’t adopted. Oops. The dad wants to get acquainted but we aren’t sure how accurate the test really is. I’m thinking it’s accurate, being the y-chromosome situation. We also aren’t sure if we want to open that can of worms with his mom since she’s in ill health. Anything you can say about the accuracy of these things?
    Thanks.

  3. I have tested on Ancestry, 23andme and FTDna. Found my mother on Ancestry through a 3rd cousin. I’m adopted and no father listed on original bc. Would like to find my biological father. Can you help

  4. My mother and I both tested FTdna Family Finder. How is it that a match can be on her list and not on mine? Whose line would that person be descended from?

    • You only receive half of your mother’s DNA. You also receive half of your father’s DNA. You didn’t inherit the part of your mother’s DNA that the other person is matching.

  5. Hi I recently did a mtdna test and contacted a 4-5th cousin match on ancestry. However when I looked into his family tree I found my paternal great x4 grandfather? ( I have my fathers family tree) how is this possible?

  6. I am going to visit my 97 yr old grandfather in a few months. I wanted to do a DNA test on him to get feather back into his blood lines. He knows little about his parents ancestors. Which test should I buy to do both side of his parents? M

    • Purchase the Y STR markers, the full sequence mitochondrial and the Family Finder tests from Family Tree DNA. It’s also easier for a 97 year old to do a cheek swab than spit and the FTDNA kit is a swab kit.

  7. Your site is extremely informative, thank you for it! I think I may already know the answer to this question, but also wonder if I am missing something – it has long been speculated in my mother’s family that her father, my grandfather, was not her biological father. There are several factors which make this suspicion resonate with some, including me, most notably the fact that she (and I) have dark hair and complexions (Mediterranean like) in a family of redheads and blondes. She has never accepted this thought, and, because of unrelated reasons, she and I haven’t spoken for well over a decade. Recently I did a 23andme DNA test and was not surprised to see that I am about 1/5 Italian, despite having no Italian ancestors officially (my father has helped me confirm this). Other than having her do a DNA test (this will not happen) is there anyway from the data I have gotten from 23andme about my own DNA to decipher anything about my mother’s father? I have had some 3rd cousin matches on the service for people who trace back to Italy or have an Italian last name, but nothing immediately helpful. Would love to hear your thoughts – thank you!

  8. I definitely struggling don’t know where to start what I had been search to find right get Dna test and whatever I would wish have to find unknown Father whom I never met for 34 years that time I was born 1980 until now I am 34 and so do I really want know anywhere do have right brand for DNA KITS to find unknown Father ?? I wonder about it! Also unknown my father are not know about have had me for 34 year, tough as I do really hopefully find Dna kit for find unknown father if anywhere match where find my father a chance and a likely wish reunion with met his family too, that never met unknown my father image how hardly I been search how to find right DNA TEST KITs or so, however this make sure of what I want know what which one should I get ? Also need know what is unknown my father is coming from and heritage ethical too….. I hope you will reply me back email anytime what u think an optional which one I should get one DNA test kits for to find unknown my father, that about it a chance,
    Please ps reply me back anytime and Thank You, Lily Lovejoy

  9. I think I know the answer to this but am looking for confirmation. My Dad was adopted but he passed away seven years ago, could the autosomal test help me find, or narrow down, the surname of his biological father? I am hoping so since I am female & am my parents only child. All I really need is at least the narrowing down to a surname so from there I can try & find him in the 1950 census when it is released for I do have information on him just not his name for my great grandmother would not give it to any of the case workers and would not allow my grandmother too either (how I wish she had defied her mother…lol). I have my biological grandmothers information thankfully and a wonderful relationship with one of my aunts, Dad’s two other siblings met him in heaven.

  10. I think I know the answer to this but want to make sure I am correct. My Dad was adopted but passed back in 2008 & I am his & Mom’s only child but the autosomal DNA kit would, at the very least, be able to help in narrowing down Dad’s biological Fathers surname correct? I know Dad’s biological Fathers age, what he was doing in 1950 for work, & some other odds & ends so if I could at least get the surname narrowed down that would help greatly when the census for 1950 is released (I really do think they need to change the laws on census records since given practically everything can be found-out about us now 72 years seems silly, 20 I can see because of newborns). I have plenty of information on Dad’s Mother since her paperwork was unsealed for me, she passed a while ago, but her Mother would not tell the caseworkers Dad’s Fathers name & would not allow Grandmother to do so either (how I wish she had defied her Mother & told someone involved in her ‘case’).

    I posted a similar question earlier but somehow forgot to enter the last part of my email address (tired eyes & brain after reading so many of your interesting posts/articles) & I am not sure if I need to click anything to have this submitted so I wanted to repost, sorry for my mistake!

  11. i have met a lady, i believe could be a 3rd cousin…..(our great grandfathers possibly brothers)…..both our dad immigrated from Poland around the same time,,,,neither one of us know any more than our grandfathers names (our dad side) same last name) would a test confirm if we are indeed 3rd cousins? we are both women… would love to know.

    • The age of the person who tests is irrelevant. Ethnicity is not a 100% venture in genetic genealogy. You can tell major ethnicity groups, but beyond that, it’s uncertain. If you’re attempting to determine peternity, there are other avenues that are much more certain.

  12. I am looking for a way to do my father DNA from his glasses are his false teeth. He is not here anymore

  13. Which DNA test do you think would be best for giving the most detailed and accurate ethnicity breakdown? I’m very interested in the ethnicity aspect of DNA testing and not so much getting in contact with distant relatives. Thank you

  14. I have a DNA match on GedMatch who doesn’t share any X chromosomes. I would like to know how this person is related to me, she is supposed to be a second cousin. I’ve emailed her but she won’t respond, I’d like to know if she is from my father’s side or my mother’s side. I am female.

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