X Marks the Spot

When using autosomal DNA, the X chromosome is a powerful tool with special inheritance properties.  Many people think that mitochondrial DNA is the same as the X chromosome.  It’s not.

Mitochondrial DNA is inherited maternally, only.  This means that mothers give their mitochondrial DNA to all of their children, but only the females pass it on.  So tracking mitochondrial DNA back up your tree, it goes to your mother, to her mother, to her mother, until you run out of direct line mothers on that branch.  The mitochondrial DNA is shown by the red shading below.  The Y chromosome is blue.

Mitochondrial DNA is not one of the 23 chromosomes you obtain from both of your parents.

The X chromosome is different.  The X chromosome is one of the 23 pairs of chromosomes.  The 23rd pair is the pair that dictates the gender of the child.  If a child has an X and a Y, it’s a male.  Remember that the father contributes the Y chromosome to male children only.  If the child has two X chromosomes, it’s a female.

The inheritance patterns for the X chromosome for males and females is therefore different.  Men inherit only one X chromosome, from their mother, while women inherit two Xs, one from their mother and one from their father.  In turn, their parents inherited their X in a specific way as well.  All ancestors don’t contribute to the X chromosome.

In my paper published in the Journal of Genetic Genealogy (Vol. 6 #1) in the fall of 2010, in a paper titled Revealing American Indian and Minority Heritage Using Y-line, Mitochondrial, Autosomal and X Chromosomal Testing Data Combined with Pedigree Analysis, in addition to other types of analysis, I analyzed my X chromosome and what it told me about where some of my Native and African inheritance came from.

At that time, the only company returning ethnicity information about the X chromosome was deCode genetics.  My X chromosome showed that I carried Native American heritage on the X chromosome as well as on some other chromosomes.

I’m going to share the part of this paper involving the X chromosome and how it can be used genealogically and in particular, to identify candidates who could have contributed this Native and African ancestry.

Blaine Bettinger granted me permission to use 2 charts in the paper and again for this blog.  Thanks much, Blaine.  He originally published them on his blog, The Genetic Genealogist, in December 2008 and January 2009 in his blogs about how to use the X chromosome for genealogy.

The first chart shown below is the male’s X chromosome inheritance chart.  You can see that he only obtains his X chromosome from his mother who inherited it from both her mother and father, but only from some of her ancestors on either side.

The next chart is the female’s inheritance chart.  She obtains her X from both of her parents.

Blaine color coded these, pink for females and blue for males, so I was then able to quickly use them to fill in my ancestor’s names.  I know this next chart looks messy, but it’s what I did and I still refer to this regularly.  I don’t’ expect you to READ this, I expect you’ll DO something like this with your own pedigree chart.  So excuse the look into my messy closet:)

I numbered the slots so that I could work with them later.

The results were quite surprising.  The first thing that became immediately evident is that I didn’t have to worry about a few lines.  On the chart below, you can see that my mother’s German lines could be immediately eliminated, because we know they were not the source of the Native American heritage.

This leaves only three individuals on the mother’s side as candidates for Native ancestry.  Those are the numbered slots between the German lines.

The people below correspond to the numbered slots above.  See, I told you that you didn’t need to read the chicken scratch chart.

5 – Naby (probably short for Abigail), last name unknown but may be Curtis, born in Connecticut in about 1793.

7 – Capt. Samuel Mitchell, born probably about 1700, possibly in Kittery, Maine or possibly in Europe, mother unknown.  This line is probably eliminated.

8 – Captain Mitchell’s wife, Elizabeth, last name unknown

Using the pedigree chart, we narrowed the mother’s side from 21 possible slots to 5 with one more probably eliminated.  Of these, mitochondrial DNA sampling of the descendants of the two women whose last name is unknown would produce the answer to the question of maternal Native or African ancestry.

The father’s side is more complex because many of his ancestors immigrated in the colonial era.  Candidates for Native ancestry are as follows:

20 – Mary, wife of John Harrold (Herrald, later Harrell), born about 1750, died in 1826 in Wilkes County, NC.  She was rumored to have been Irish.

21 – Michael McDowell, born 1747 in Bedford Co., Va. – his mother is unknown.  His father was a second generation immigrant who lived in Halifax and Bedford Counties in Virginia.

22 – Isabel, wife of Michael McDowell, probably born about 1750, surname unknown, located in Virginia.

27 – Elizabeth, born about 1765, wife of Andrew McKee of Virginia.

28 – Agnes Craven is the last slot on the chart, but not the last in the line.  Her father was Col. Robert Craven born 1696 in Delaware and was well to do.  His mother is unknown.  Robert’s wife was Mary Harrison, born in Oyster Bay, New York to Isaiah Harrison and Elizabeth Wright.  These lines appear to reach back to Europe but are unconfirmed, probably eliminating these lines.

30 – Phoebe McMahon, wife of Joseph Workman, born 1745 York Co., Pa, daughter of Hugh McMahon, mother unknown.

31 – Gideon Faires’ mother was Deborah, born 1734, possibly in Augusta Co., Va.

32 – Sarah McSpadden’s father was Thomas McSpadden born 1721 in Ireland, eliminating this line.  Sarah’s mother was Dorothy Edmiston whose father was born in Ireland, eliminating that line.  Dorothy’s mother was named Jean and was born in 1696 but nothing further is known.

33 – Martha McCamm, born before 1743, wife of Andrew Mackie of Virginia, parents unknown.

On the father’s side, we began with 13 slots, positively eliminating one and probably eliminating a second, leaving 11.  Of these, 7 could be resolved on the maternal line by mitochondrial DNA testing.  Taken together, this side of the pedigree chart is a much better candidate for both Native and African DNA sources.  Notice all of the females who have no surnames.  These are excellent places to look for Native ancestry.  On my chicken scratch version, these are highlighted in yellow.

While the X chromosomal pedigree chart analysis is not the perfect scenario, the pedigree chart has 128 slots.  Using the X chromosome narrows the candidates to 34 slots.  Genealogy narrowed the slots to 15 and focused mitochondrial DNA testing could narrow them to 6.  Further genealogy research on those ancestors could potentially eliminate them by placing them “over the pond” or by discoveries which would facilitate DNA testing.

Marja and Me

You might recall that Marja and I are also related on our X chromosome.  In this case, since she is from Finland, the probabilities are exactly the opposite.  It’s much less likely that our connection is on my father’s or mother’s British Isles lines, and much more probable that it’s through my mother’s German lines. The early colonial settlers tended to be from the British Isles and certainly the people filling the X chromosome slots from my father’s side appear to be, with names like McDowell, McSpadden, etc.

Mother’s Anabaptist line (Brethren) is the German grouping through my mother’s father and descends from France and Switzerland,although these particiular lines don’t appear to have become Brethren until after immigrating to America.  Marja also has other matches with people from the Anabaptist project.

Those end-of-line people are:

  • Barbara Kobel – born 1713 probably Scholarie Co., NY
  • Anna Maria Deharcourt – born 1687 Muhlhofan, France, died Oley Valley, Berks Co., Pa., probable parents Jean Harcourt and wife, Susanna
  • Veronica – wife of Rudolph Hoch, born 1683 Basel, Switzerland, died 1728 Oley Valley, Berks Co., Pa.
  • Susanna Herbein – born 1698, Switzerland, father Jacob, died 1763 Oley Valley, Berks Co., Pa.
  • Jacob Lentz – born 1783 Wurttemburg, Germany, died 1870, Montgomery Co., Ohio
  • Fredericka Moselman – born 1788 Wurttemburg, Germany, died 1863 Montgomery Co., Ohio

Mother’s Dutch line is eliminated, because it’s through her father’s father.  Marja and I thought that might be a possibility, but we can see from this chart that it is not.  My father also has a Dutch line that was eliminated because it came from his paternal line.

Mother’s Lutheran Palatinate line, end-of-line ancestors show below, is though Mother’s maternal line.

  • Johann Jacob Borstler – born about 1659 Beindersheim, Bayern, Germany
  • Anna Stauber – born 1659, Schaeurnheim, Germany, father Johannes Stauber
  • Johann Peter Renner – born 1679, Mutterstadt, Bayern, Germany
  • Anna Catherina Schuster – born about 1679 probably in Mutterstadt, Germany
  • Maria Magdalena Schunck – born 1688 probably Mutterstadt, Germany, father Johann George Schunck
  • Johann Martin Weber – born about 1700 Mutterstadt, Germany
  • Rudolph Sager and wife Elizabetha – born about 1669 Ruchheim, Bayern, Germany
  • Rosina Barbara Lemmert – born 1669 Mutterstadt, Bayern, Germany
  • Anna Blancart – born 1642 Mutterstadt, possibly French
  • Johann George Hoertel and wife, Anna Catharina – born about 1642, Mutterstadt, Bayern, Germany
  • Matthaus Matthess – born 1695/1715 Rottenback, Bayern, Germany, wife unknown
  • Anna Gerlin – born 1697, Windischerlaibac, Bayern, Germany
  • Johannes Buntzman – born 1695/1720 Fulgendorf, Bayern, Germany
  • Barbara Mehlheimer – mitochondrial line J1c2 – born 1823 Goppsmannbuhl, Bayern, Germany, mother Elizabetha, unmarried

Note that the mitochondrial line is indeed one of the lines that contributes to the X chromsome inheritance path, but only one of many.

So Marja, it looks like we have to be related through one of my British Isles ancestors, listed in the first part of this article, or from one of Mother’s two German groups.  Personally, I’m betting on the German groups, but you never know.  DNA is full of surprises.

The good news is that my mother’s information is also at GedMatch, along with mine and Marja’s, so by process of elimination, we can at least figure out whether to focus on the pink or the blue side of my chart.

Today, downloading your raw results to GedMatch, combined with Blaine’s X charts above, is really the only good way of working with X chromosome matches.

I’m planning to package this article as a pdf file and send it to my X chromosome matches.  You can substitute your information for mine and do the same thing.  Hopefully, your matches will then understand the X chromsome, its unique inheritance properties, and will provide their X end-of-line ancestors for you as well.



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353 thoughts on “X Marks the Spot

  1. I have a match with 2nd -4th cousin (shared cM 66, length block 19). It doesn’t say X-match so would this person be related to me on my father’s side?

  2. I an new to genetic genealogy. I began looking at my x matches and my daughter’s x matches on family tree dna, using data from ancestry dna. We share several matches that are x matches for my daughter but not for me. I can’t wrap my head around whether this is even possible or it’s a problem with the test. Woudn’t my daughter inherit all my x matches, plus some on her father’s side? Thanks in advance!

    • No, like with any autosomal DNA, she received half of your DNA. In this case, she inherited all if her fathers because he only has 1 X to give.

  3. I am brazilian, with portuguese ancestors (mainly from Azores), a great-grandfather from Italy (mothers side) and a great-great-grandfather from France (fathers side).
    In Family Tree Dna I have an X match sharing 179.25 cM (91% of the chromossome) with a Gentleman from the US with only english and irish ancestors. Is it possible to have such a high X dna sharing with a very distant cousin (he shares only 32cM of autossomal dna with me)?

      • Sorry, but I do not understand how. Should not the percentage of sharing decay after many generations?

          • Thank you very much. Something explained. I was seriously thinking in repeating my dna test. I have about 40-50% of my dna coming from unexpected origins (all north and east europe), apart from what I already know or suspected (iberians, italians, french, ameridians, north africa and jewish). Each company I upload my dna give me very different estimates for european populations, the only thing they agree is the ameridian and north african (from 5-10% each). My strong dna matches are with brazilians (I found people in my family tree) but I have dna matches with people from virtually all countries in
            Europe (includind Russia and Island), North America (US and Canada), Australia and New Zealand.

          • Don’t focus on ethnicities. They are approximately accurate at a continental level.

    • The male’s Y chromosome follows the direct paternal line – father to son. So it follows the surname. No chart, sorry.

    • I have an X match that I discovered also matches with two other X matches. Is this significant in any way? Does it mean they are all from the same branch of the family tree? What can I draw from this?

      • You need to track the possible people the X can be inherited from. It could be from a number of people depending on if you and they are male or female.

  4. I have a DNA match in Germany. She is helping me connect my family with a High family in 1700s PA. Tiday she found that she matches the X 23rd chromosome on 2 women I am working with from that family line. Does this prove my relationship to that family? If not, what more do I need to prove the connection? Thank you Bruce

    • It needs to be 20-15 cM or greater and triangulate. Also, need to know there are no other common ancestors between them.

      • Meaning the German woman and one of the others must triangulate with me and be that high of a match?

        • Three of you must triangulate on the same segment. On the X, 15 cM is about equal to 7 on the other chromosomes.

          • Thank you for clarifying. Is there a program to show the X triangulation? I have access to Gedmatch Tier 1 tools. Thank you

          • No, just the same as any other way. On GEDMATCH X is separate I believe.

          • You mean just run the X program an it shows an X match to each separately. No program shows all 3 together. If not match to one pair –then no match correct?

          • You’ll have to compare each pair to each other looking for the match on the same segment. I have not used the X tool at Gedmatch for some time, so I can’t recall specifics.

  5. I discovered a female relative that shares 17% DNA and also DNA on our X chromosomes. She is adopted, but how can I tell if she is from my Mother or Father’s side of the family.

    • The X won’t do it for you alone, but you can narrow the lines. If it’s from your dad’s side, it’s his mother’s line. See who else she matches that you’re related to. That’s the best way.

  6. I have a match with someone on 23&me that is only 80cm total, but 78 of that is on the X chromosome. 2 segments 74cm and 4cm. We are both male.

    Unfortunately we haven’t been able to find the connection from an family surnames.

    If I understand X inheritance correctly, this means the connection is on both of our mothers sides.

    Does the 74cm segment indicate what the relationship might be? I don’t have any other matches that have such a long segment in common.


    • Yes, it’s on both maternal sides and the X rules out several lines for both men. It’s roughly equal to a 40cM match on any other autosome.

  7. You answered my question before I asked it! I confused mtDNA with the X, but now I know better. I also learned from this post that males inherit the X from their mothers, but the inheritance chain is NOT only from females as I had hoped. Thank you, Roberta.

  8. Pingback: Chromosomes and Genealogy | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

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