The good news is that the current mitochondrial DNA sale at Family Tree DNA has generated quite a bit of stir and discussion in the genetic genealogy community. The bad news is that some of it hasn’t been terribly positive.
Some people equate this to the glass half empty – glass half full type of perspective, and to some extent, this is true. What I’d like to do here is talk about why you might want to test your mitochondrial DNA, in spite of the fact that it’s more difficult to work with than Y DNA.
Let’s talk about that first, in fact. Here’s the problem in a nutshell – surnames for women in Europe and the US change in every generation. Because of that, when you do have a match, you can’t just look at the name and see that it’s the same as your surname. In fact, if you match with someone who also shares your ancestor, and the match is back more than a couple of generations, you’re very likely NOT going to recognize the surname. So yes, there is some elbow grease involved.
The descendant fan chart below is only 3 generations in depth. I couldn’t utilize the fourth and fifth generations, because I wasn’t absolutely positive that everyone was deceased. However, each family seemed to introduce about 3 new surnames, on average, in each generation. That means, of course, females marrying. On the chart below, that means that only descendants from lines with red arrows qualify – if they continue to descend through all females.
In just these generations, you have 6 surnames and that’s before the female children married.
However, all is not lost. People do upload their GEDCOM files and they do answer e-mails asking about their oldest linear ancestors. Granted, not everyone does but that’s not at all exclusive to mitochondrial DNA.
Yes, you have to do a little digging, but one good “hit” makes it all worthwhile.
Here’s the bottom line…
You don’t know what you don’t know.
Let me say that again…
Now let me ask a question – aside from a pure financial aspect – why would you NOT open that door? Ancestral information is inside. It’s a package wrapped in a neat bow with your name on it. It’s a gift from your ancestors. Why would you decide not to open it?
Let’s talk about what you might discover.
The Story of Anne-Marie
The Story of Anne-Marie is particularly close to my heart. After using this story as a mtDNA success story in presentations for some time, I too discovered Anne-Marie in my Acadian tree. I imagine my surprise!
In Marie Rundquist’s words, when she received her mitochondrial DNA results “I nearly fell out of my chair.” Why? Because Anne Marie was a Native American woman, not French.
Marie had no idea what was in her mitochondrial DNA gift box from her ancestor. She didn’t know what she didn’t know.
And, had Marie not tested, and shared, I would never know either. Thank you, cousin, Marie!
Native or English
Recently, one of my clients for whom I as writing a DNA Report asked if her ancestor was Native American or English. She was confident that she was one or the other.
Her haplogroup showed unquestionably that her ancestor was not Native American, at least not originally. She could, of course, have been adopted into a tribe. As to where her ancestors were from in the UK, her matches map at the full sequence level showed the following cluster.
Where do you think her ancestors were probably from? England? Scotland? Ireland?
The great thing about haplogroups, mapping and clusters is that you don’t need to know your ancestor’s name for this information. It’s from your ancestral DNA – not your genealogy.
And while this might seem like trivial information, it’s certainly not. It may well provide you with an idea of what population to focus on. In early Pennsylvania and Virginia, for example, the Scots-Irish and the Germans inhabited some of the same areas. If you didn’t know your ancestor’s surname, and she was from this area, where would you focus your research efforts after seeing this map?
Who’s the Mother?
My ancestor, William Crumley, who I’ll refer to here as William Jr., was born between 1785 and 1790 in Frederick Co., VA and died between 1852 and 1860 in Appanoose County, Iowa and was at least twice married. His first wife was Lydia Brown and his second wife, whom he married much later, was Pequa.
Furthermore, he had the same name as his father, William Crumley, referred to here as William Sr., who was born in 1767/1768, also in Frederick County, VA and died 1837/1840 in Lee County, Virginia where both Williams lived for many years after initially settling in Greene County, TN. One of these William Crumley’s had the bad judgement to remarry in October 1817 to an Elizabeth Johnson – not leaving us any concrete information as to which William was marrying.
Of course, as luck would have it, my ancestor, Phoebe, was born to William Jr. on March 24, 1818, 5 months after the marriage. Yes, she could have been the reason that William Crumley married Elizabeth Johnson, but was she?
We know who her father was, but who was her mother? I know, this is the opposite of what genealogists normally face.
We mitochondrial DNA tested one of Phoebe’s descendants. Why, because we had the opportunity and, well, you don’t know what you don’t know. Our family does carry oral history of Native in that line.
Then we waited. And we waited. And waited.
Eventually, a full sequence match arrived. Phoebe’s descendant matched another person who descended from one of Phoebe’s older sisters. Therefore, we know that Phoebe IS the daughter of Lydia Brown, not Elizabeth Johnson, AND we now also know that it was William Sr. who married Elizabeth Johnson in October of 1817, not William Crumley Jr.
Two mysteries solved with just one DNA match! Not bad!
So, tell me again, why wouldn’t you open that gift box???
You don’t know what you don’t know, and you’ll never find out if you don’t test.