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.

308 thoughts on “Mythbusting – Women, Fathers and DNA

  1. Hi Roberta! My wife, myself, and my three children have all had our DNA done by Ancestry and from what I’ve read here it is the Autosomal method? Anyway, my wife has always insisted I have Jewish blood (and she’s NEVER wrong) but none showed up in my DNA test. However, my wife’s test revealed that she had 10% Middle Eastern and our son showed 3% Eastern European Jew. My wife still insists that my son’s Eastern European Jew DNA came from my family and just “skipped” me. Is this possible? And are there actual distinguishable differences between the different Jew sects?

  2. My wife still insists my son’s 3% European Jew comes from me because she said I have Eastern European in my DNA and that is the source of my son’s 3% Eastern European Jew. I say that Eastern European Jew IS distinguishable from just plain Eastern European and my wife disagrees; WHO is correct?

  3. Roberta, I am female with no brother and I do not know any of my Father’s Family. My Mom is still alive, I believe you are indicating I would get better results to also get my Mom as well as myself tested so I could know which were from my Mom, and the left over ones would be from my Dad, right? If I tested myself on all 3 companies, which would be the tests to additionally have my Mom do if my main goal is to find my father? Thanks for any tips you have.

  4. Please help,my Ancestry DNA came back 48% african and 46% East Asian,there was also 3% Polynesian. My mother is black and we always assumed my father was mixed with European since he is very light with caucasion features. I have Asian features (eyes) and have always been asked by people if I am from Asian heritage. I showed no European DNA, could I have an Asian father?
    Or could the 46% Asian be from a grandparet.

  5. Hi Roberta. I am male, and am searching for my deceased mother’s parents. She was adopted as an infant. Is 23+me testing autosomal? They ran my DNA (including haplogroups, if that helps define which type). I have a 2nd cousin match in 23+me, we share maternal haplogroups. Can you tell me what to look for to narrow the search for her father’s family using 23+me or Ancestry? Thanks much!

  6. we recently found out my maternal grandmother was 50% first nations. She was never told who her first nations father was. Is there dna testing i can do to find out who my first nations relatives are? I know the canadian city and province the events took place but i do not know who my bio great grandfather was maternally.

  7. Hi Roberta, I have a question that’s kind of tricky. My uncle who is 95 years old is the last surviving son of our Grandmother. Here’s the question, If I have him do an automasmal test will his mothers father markers show up on this test ?

  8. Hello Roberta, I am searching for my bio father with very little information, I am 73 yrs old and my mom has passed. I am not having any luck with DNA matches and am waiting for results for my son’s test. Would the Y marker show up in my son from his unknown grandfather?

  9. Read the article Roberta, so if I invest in doing my uncles autosomal DNA will I get any trace of his mother’s father DNA ? I know I will get his paternal side & her maternal side also but will any DNA of her father show up through this new Autosomal DNA Test ? yes, No, Maybe ?

    • Yes, through autosomal, but it will be up to you to work with the results and matches to figure out what they mean. You carry about 25% of your grandparents autosomal, DNA, each.

  10. Awesome, know the million dollar question, where’s a good DNA Company to order at I am the family genealogist and I will do the work to find out which ones are her fathers markers.

    • Family Tree DNA and the link is on the sidebar of my blog. If you are really serious, eventually you’ll want to also test as Ancestry and possibly 23andMe. But first things first.

      • Thank You Roberta, it’s about money over here so I’ll do Family Tree first. Aren’t all this websites owned by ? So I have to test in each of this sites ? Can my Autosomal be used by this other sites ? Just saying.

      • No, the 3 testing companies are individually owned. And no, at this point, it cannot. You can download your results to GedMatch after you test, but not everyone does that and the tools at each vendor are different. It’s best to fish in as many ponds as possible.

      • I have his maternal markers through but they are from Canada so because we are from AZ/Sonoran Desert I have to go to sites that have a large population of Red & Brown Native/Americans from Yuma County & Sonora Desert. So should I start with Ancestry who has a large Brown base membership or with your site who also has a large Brown membership. Your has a better reputation for best results so I just answered my own question. Thank you Roberta. You have been an awesome help for my search for family truth🙂

      • Hi Roberta, how much does it cost with Ur site for an Autosomal DNA Test ?

      • My site doesn’t sell or process DNA, but if you mean the site I recommended, Family Tree DNA is $99. Ancestry is $99 and 23andMe is $199 for the autosomal test.

      • Thank you Roberta, I’m going to go with the site you recommend. Good to know you Roberta.

      • Am i fishing by merely uploading?
        Roberta I purchased Ancestry and also 23 tests for both my mom and for me since I am trying to locate my fathers Family ; and then I noticed Family tree mentioned. When my ancestry and 23 autosomonal results arrive if i upload them for $39 +$39 (moms and mine)into family tree
        , will I received the same information and services from family tree with their low upload fee as I would if I did a separate test from family tree? Or should i pay the higher price and do separate tests too with family tree?

      • Both 23andMe and Ancestry have changed their file formats. If you tested at 23andMe before November 2013(V3) and before mid May this year at Ancestry (V1) you can upload to Family Tree DNA. If you tested on the later versions of the other vendors’ software, you’ll have to retest. But right now the Family Finder test is on sale for $69 so that’s a great deal and it has never been cheaper.

  11. OK so I’m confused. My husbands mother is Asian and his father black. I’m Black but would like to get my daughters DNA testing done. Are you saying her father’s mothers side would show in her testing?

  12. I have a question. I did the Ancestry DNA test about 2 years ago and I wonder if I will more thorough information if I also did the 23andme now.

    • It depends on what you’re looking for. 23andMe includes some health information, which Ancestry does not. 23andMe also has some matching tools that Ancestry does not, but most of the people at 23andMe tested for medical, not genealogy, so it’s less helpful genealogically. I would suggest testing at FTDNA too, or uploading your Ancestry file there, and also at GedMatch.

  13. Hi Robert
    I am a woman and want DNA testing for ancestry. Should I ask my brother to be tested instead of me to get more details on my father’s ancestry? I have also read that siblings can take DNA tests and get different results. What would you recommend for me. Thank you!

  14. Hi Roberta, I am searching information about my great great grandmother on my father’s side of our family. I have taken the autosomal test, but am unsure whether any of her relatives/ ancestors will show up. Also, as I read through matches, I find that it is often difficult to decide what side of the family they are coming from. Do you have any ideas that can help?

    • I have written an entire series of articles that are preceded with the word, “Concepts.” I would suggest that you read these. They include how to assign sides. In a nutshell, you need to test as many relatives on both sides as possible.

  15. Hi Roberta,

    I am trying to figure out how I can go about finding my father’s ancestry. He passed away in 2011 and I have only two half sisters fathered by him. He was given up when very young, and as a result, we have no idea what his ancestry may be. My mother is no longer alive either, and I was an only child with her. I do have one remaining Aunt on my maternal side. What would be the best way to find out what my ancestry is from my father? I am a woman. Thank you kindly.


  16. Hi Roberta,
    I am lost in the DNA information I have been reading. I am 71 years old and born in Holland at the end of 2nd world war, moved to the US when I was 23. My mother is no longer living. I have one half sister and half brother living in the States. I am trying to find out if the man from my mother’s second marriage in 1946 is my dad. He died in 1979. Never knew of him or his family until recently. She never admitted that I had a different father from my half brother and sister. I just found family of my alleged father in Holland. Can a DNA test be done between me and the son of his brother, my cousin, to establishing that he is my father? Or do i need Dna of a female cousin? Or is it a dead end? Thank you.

    • No, not a dead end for sure. Yes, an autosomal DNA test can definitely be done between you and the son of his brother. Order them through Family Tree DNA. Their link is on the sidebar. If the man is your father, and the son is the child of the brother, and the two brothers have the same father, you will match him at some level.

  17. I appreciate your articles !
    I would like to ask for your advice.
    I am in a situation where my 91 year old father could pass away at any time. He was born a “bastard” in a time where people cared so much about this, that he never found out anything about his paternal ancestry.
    My mother is already deceased.
    I would like to find out myself about my father’s heritage, and maybe even find some relatives. I just did 23andme myself, because I wanted to get health information.
    I would like to ask him to get a DNA test for the purposes of finding ancestral information;, but I am very confused about the variety of tests, companies, and abilities to upload to various sites. I can’t afford to do all of everything,
    What is your advice?

    • Do family tree DNA for a couple of reasons. First, they can do both the Y DNA and autosomal, both of which will be critically important to you. Second, they archive his DNA so you can order additional tests later and as the technology matures. Third, they use a cheek swab and it’s exceedingly difficult for older people to spit enough to fill a vial.

      • Ancestry doesn’t do a Y test anymore and hasn’t for years. They actually destroyed that data base. Ancestry just changed their chip in May and they are no longer compatible with Family Tree DNA, so you can no longer transfer those results either. That’s why I didn’t recommend Ancestry. Plus, they don’t archive the DNA either.

      • Family tree has Y 37 markers, 67 markers and 111 markers. Y37 plus Family Finder is $250, Y67 plus FF is $350, and Y111 ($350) and Family Finder ($79) is $430 combined. I don’t know on what to base my choice of the number of Y markers.
        On a related topic, I think Family Tree has a beneficiary section, but that occurs from within a person’s account. My father is willing to give the sample and a release, but otherwise doesn’t not want to be involved. I’m not clear on whether I start an account in his name, my name, or a false name.
        I believe that I should get some kind of release form from my father, allowing me to submit his test and obtain his results, as well as inheriting his stored sample. I searched this site but didn’t find this topic. If I missed it or if you recommend another resource, ideally with forms, I would be grateful to find out.

        Thank you for your advice.

      • The authorization form comes with the kit. I would suggest simply starting the account in your name since you’re the one that will be doing the correspondence.

      • I just got an email reply from Family Tree DNA about the question of how to set up my father if I am submitting the sample for him. It says:
        “Thank you for contacting Family Tree DNA. No forms are necessary. You need only order the test and collect the samples. As long as your email address is on the account, you will have access to the results. ”
        So, that helps, I guess.

        It sounds from this page that the Y67 is used in adoption, so may suffice for my purposes.

  18. I am trying to find my father’s father and lineage. My dad had a different father than his brothers and my grandmother lied and wouldn’t say who his father was. No father’s name was on the birth certificate nor baptismal certificate. Most likely he was illegitimate although my grandmother claimed her first husband died. His birth certificate had a totally different name than I knew him as and I only found this out in 1996 when my mom died and I found his papers. When my father tried to join the army during WWII they questioned his “adoptive” last name (nothing was done in court – just a notarized piece of paper) so they had to say he was the same person as on his birth certificate. So testing his brothers who are all deceased would do no good as they are all sons of his stepfather. He had a different unknown father. I have only a sister. All relatives are gone so not sure if there is any way I could at least find out anything about my paternal line – who my real grandfather was, etc. Is there any hope to do that? Sadly most of the family is dead and nobody who was alive remembers any stories about who my father’s father is and I really don’t know where to search for public records as he must have had some record such as school records that would have him there with his birth name. My father was born in 1915 and died in 1970. Please let me know what I can do regarding any DNA test and finding out his ethnicity. He didn’t look like his brothers.

    • The best you can do is to test and then see if you can figure out which matches are from your mother’s side and your father’s side. If you don’t test, you’ll never make progress. I would suggest both Family Tree DNA and Ancestry.

      • Hi Roberta,
        Thank you for putting this needed information out here. I was in the exact situation as Linda – no idea who my paternal grandfather was, no information from my grandfather, false name on birth certificate, no full siblings, nobody still living to test, etc. My sister and I both did the Autosomal DNA testing and eventually got lucky – had a 1st – 2nd cousin match that led me to discover who our paternal grandfather actually was! It happened in a relatively short time for us, DNA testing was done in February of this year and about 2 weeks ago, we got the lucky match that we were able to use to lead us to our biological grandfather. Very exciting stuff and just goes to show that with the strides made in DNA, we should never give up hope.

      • thanks for your comment – it gives me some hope that the mystery can be solved.

      • I have it a little more harder. Hope I get a lead too. Ordered the Autosomal DNA Test on my 95 year old Uncle. Trying to find markers of his mother’s father. Hope something comes up that I can work with.

  19. Hi Roberta,
    My Ancestry DNA came back 40% African, 27% Native American, 31% European, 1% Asia East and 1% West Asia Caucasus. My mother is black and I always assumed my father was black and his mother was Hispanic and European. I expected my African percentage to be higher. Is it possible that my biological father is of another ethnicity than black or could the 27% Native American be from a grandparent?

    • Many Hispanics carry a high percentage of Native DNA. 25% is the average for one grandparent, which could actually be admixture in more than one grandparent. Many African-Americans carry some amount of Native DNA too.

  20. My Grandfather was Jewish originating from Western Europe, (brothers immigrating to UK in the 1800’s), whilst my Grandmother who was born in Scotland, converted prior to her marriage to her husband. Is it possible to trace my Jewish lineage through my DNA as a female.
    To whom would I approach for the necessary DNA testing?

    • It depends on what you mean by trace. Neither Y nor mtDNA will show your grandfather’s direct lineage. However, the Family Finder test or other autosomal tests will show his Jewish ethnicity and give you matches to others who would or could be related to or descended from him. You’ll still need to do the genealogy though.

  21. Hi, I am having a dilemma and cannot make sense of it and maybe I am missing the point completely.Anyway let me try and put this as simply as possible. My ancestry DNA linked me to lets call him Henry who is a predicted 4 cousin. I uploaded my results into GedMatch for further analysis and Henry had his DNA uploaded too as well as his mother and 2 half sisters. now here is my dilemma – due to being a girl and Henry being a boy I was working on the assumption that we are related on his mothers side but when I run my DNA against his mother there is no match to her or her other 2 siblings but I do somehow share some other relatives that match to Henry’s mother….now either I’m a hermaphrodite or I’m miss a really obvious explanation. Could you please explain how this is possible. Thank you

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