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.

403 thoughts on “Mythbusting – Women, Fathers and DNA

    • Well I must be missing it or I don’t understand it well enough because I don’t see where there is any of the father in the daughter in either case. Also, where does this person get the charts from? Do they make them up themselves? What if you don’t know anything about your father’s side of the family, how do you find them then? I personally know zero of my father’s side including his family. All I know is my mom’s so how do I find someone to help me weed out who’s on mom’s side and who’s on my dad’s? I don’t have the finanaces to do all of these. I can barely afford to feed myself.

  1. Thank you for this informative site and your answers. I received a DNA kit for Christmas. This spurred and interest in Genealogy, so I started working on the family history while I waited for the results to come in. Much to my surprise there is no link to anyone on my paternal grandfathers side of the family. Plenty of links with my paternal grandmother. Is my grandfather not my grandfather? So How do I find out who my fathers ancestors were. My father passed away years ago. I do have a brother that is willing to do a DNA test. But I am confused as to which would be the best type to get us the best information on how to figure out who my fathers ancestors were.Is there any point in trying to find anyone from my fathers side of the family and having them tested. I have not had any contact with them for more that 20 years. Can you help me?

    • Your brother would be a good candidate to test his Y DNA, assuming your father is no longer living. If your father can test, that would be best, because you can test his autosomal DNA as well. Y DNA testing is done at Family Tree DNA. When you say you don’t match anyone from your father’s side of the family, do you know of second cousins or closer that you should match? That would really be the acid test.

      • Thank You for your reply. Which Y DNA test should I have my brother do? I have looked and there are multiple choices. So far I have been unable to locate any cousins, but will keep looking. The DNA test I did was from Can I download the raw data and send it to Family Tree DNA?
        Thank You for your help.

      • Yes, you can, but if the Ancestry test was after May of 2016, they only used part of the same locations, about half, as FTDNA uses. You would be better to retest there. If the test was before that, then it’s on the same chip and will be 100% compatible.

  2. I wish to find, if we are both still in this world together, my father’s son by a marriage while he 18 and was in the Army. I know names and birthdates of parents, and both of their parents. Mariage record. A 6 month timeframe of child’s birth. But my father went to Korea War about the time of child’s birth. And he never saw him. The lady is deceased, and her daughter by second marriage is mum on it. (There was a sizeable payout to her as both her father and mother died in a tragic accident. A major oil company tanker truck rear ended their car, killing both. So possible greed factor interfering with a possibility of my finding her mother’s and my father’s son.)
    Having only my own DNA to test, with no paternal male relative living, would it be hopeless, pr nearly, even if HE is somewhere and has tested?

  3. My brother and I are the only living siblings. Grand-parents and parents are deceased, however we do have a maternal aunt still living. We do not know a lot about our family history and would like to begin researching. So my question is, should we both have autosomal testing to get the most detailed, accurate info? Any help would be appreciated.

  4. Maybe I am not understanding, but if I give you the situation maybe you can advise me. My father is dead, as are his parents. I have one brother who is not speaking to the family at this moment. My mother is alive. I am the only other child of my parents.
    We have information on my mother’s side, but I am looking for heritage and information on my father’s. Due to finances I cannot afford to get this test only to find out that I will not get any of my father’s information. Specifically we want to know where my father’s family was from. Can anything be told testing mine alone?
    Thank you for your help.

    • It depends on what you are looking for. If you take the mtDNA test, no you only receive your direct matrilineal line. If you take an autosomal test, that’s the Family Finder test at FTDNA or the Ancestry test, you’ll receive matches from all of your lines, but it’s up to you to figure out which matches are from which lines based on genealogy.

      • Thank You!! That helps quite a bit. It is the familial information I am looking for I really appreciate your response! Cheers 🙂

  5. Hi there. Thank you for your posts 🙂

    I took the Ancestry DNA test 6 weeks ago and my results have not started being processed yet, lol. I have spent the last 6 weeks working on 2 family trees (my own and my son’s). Seeing as I am non-Anglo Ancestry has not been very helpful fleshing out my family tree as I am the first generation of my ancestry to born outside our homeland.

    It’s been through the Geni project I have been able to trace back to my maternal-paternal’s 4th great-grandparents with one fifth great-grandfather named. My mother’s village records go up the 1900’s. I have begun slowly going through those church books this week and I am now sitting at 2 pairs of 4th great-grandparents and possibly about to locate 1 pair of 5th grandparents.

    My father’s line is the biggest mystery. He is the last one standing, and my siblings are half-siblings as both my parents were previously married before meeting and marrying one another. I am lucky that one office from the Motherland got back to me with my father’s mother’s parents (my great-grandparents) and their father’s names. However, both paternal parents village records end around 1880 so I have to find 2-3 generations in the government offices first and it’s not guaranteed that the district my grandfather was born in will get back to me about my paternal grandfather’s family information.

    Due to war, a lot of family links are lost on my father’s side. So my question is this: if I was to select 1 or 2 at the max genetic tests for my father to take to “catch” potential family members now or in the future, which ones would you recommend? I was planning on getting my father an Ancestry DNA test but should my father take a Y-DNA test? He won’t have the patience to indulge me more than once or twice, so which tests would you recommend? Once he’s gone, that’s it – his line is lost to me. All feedback is most welcome.

    Thank you in advance.

    Kind Regards,


    • I would have him take both the Y DNA test at FTDNA as well as the Family Finder test. He can swab for both at once – meaning these tests would only count as one, to him, relative to how many times he has to “test.” You can also order his mtDNA test that represents his mother’s matrilineal line. As the second test, have him take the Ancestry test.

  6. I am a female, I do not know my fathers history at all, his last name was given to me and i think spelled incorrectly, I do not think my mom (who has passed on) wanted me to be involved with him. I have a very large family on my mothers side and know (I think;-) her history fairly well. If I have a Autosomal DNA test done, I am understanding that I will get both his and my moms info back. At that point I am gathering that I can narrow down his family history/info/relatives by “crossing out” my moms known info. Is that correct?

  7. This is so confusing. I took Nat Geo DNA test. I thought I was told that since my Grandfather only had a daughter (my Mother) that I could never know whether he was Native American. He’s the only missing piece of my family and was the one I was trying to search for information on… but then it seemed that because there was no male to male to male bloodline I could never know. Is Ancestry a different test ? Thanks very much.

  8. I found my Mother first back in 2000 before the internet Genealogy craze. Now I am working on finding my father. I have been working on my mother’s tree for enough years it is becoming easier to find which matches are father’s vs mother’s side. You just need to find your starting point. As Women it is easier to find the mother first and then work out the rest of it.

    • How do you go about doing this? I would love to find my biological fathers side of the family but I don’t know anything about him, only my mom’s side. I don’t even know his name just that he might have been a taxi cab driver in Sacramento, Ca where I’m from but that’s it and my mom has passed away so I can’t find out from her.

  9. I have been looking for my 5th ggrandfather for 20+ years and cannot find a single clue. My father, who is dead, was an only child, he only had 4 daughters. I don’t have any contact with my paternal grandfather’s people. I took the autosomal Ancestry DNA test, but so far have no matches with the same last name as my father’s. Can you help me get to the next step?

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