Quick Tip – Add Most Distant Ancestor and Location

This Quick Tip will help you get the most out of your Y and mitochondrial DNA results at Family Tree DNA in 9 easy steps.  It’s not difficult, so let’s take a look at how this will help you and walk through the steps together.

Finding Your Common Ancestor

As genealogists, our goal is to find our common ancestor with our matches and this is done through matching our DNA and looking at the relevant branches of our and our matches’ trees.

At Family Tree DNA, one of the things each of us can do to help our matches identify our most distant direct matrilineal (mtDNA) and Y DNA matches is to complete the Earliest Known Ancestor fields in our Personal Information.

If you’re wondering how this benefits YOU, just look at the information you see about your matches. How much information you see is entirely dependent on your match completing their Most Distant Ancestor and that ancestor’s location information.

Note that you can click on any of the graphics to enlarge.

In the above example, the matches (names obscured for privacy) happen to be my mitochondrial DNA full sequence matches. Regardless of which matches you’re looking at, all Y and mtDNA matches show the Earliest Known Ancestor – which is absolutely critical information for you to discern whether you can identify a common ancestor, and whether or not the location of that ancestor is someplace near the location of your own earliest known ancestor.

The second screen where Earliest Known Ancestor information appears is the Matches Map, below, which shows you the location of the Earliest Known Ancestor of each of your matches.

My Matches Map for full sequence mitochondrial results is shown above, with my ancestor shown with the white pin. Ancestors and their locations are critically important for determining the relevance of matches.

The more everyone shares, the better for everyone who matches!

Who is My Earliest Known Ancestor?

It’s easy to get confused, because this field isn’t asking for your oldest known ancestor in that entire line, but your DIRECT LINE ancestor, specifically:

  • For mitochondrial DNA – your earliest known ancestor is your direct MATERNAL (matrilineal) ancestor – so, you, your mother, her mother, her mother, etc., until you run out of mothers. If your oldest ancestor in that line is the husband of one of the mothers, that doesn’t count – because you only inherit your mitochondrial DNA from the direct matrilineal females. The person listed in this field MUST BE A FEMALE. If you see one of your matches listing a male, you know they are confused.

To clarify, in the above pedigree chart, you inherit your mitochondrial DNA from the red circle ancestors – so the oldest ancestor in that line is whose name is listed as the Earliest Known Ancestor.

  • For your paternal line, Y DNA for males, your Earliest Known Ancestor would be your surname ancestor on the direct paternal line – shown by blue squares, above.

How Do I Add or Update Ancestors?

Step 1 – On your dashboard, beneath your picture, click on the orange “Manage Personal Information” link.

Step 2 – You will then see the Account Setting toolbar below.

Click on the “Genealogy” tab.

Step 3 – Click on the “Earliest Known Ancestors” link, beneath the Genealogy tab.

Step 4 – Update your Earliest Known Ancestors information, then click on the orange “Save” button on the bottom to save your information.

Step 5 – To add or update the Ancestral Location, click on “Update Location” for the Direct Paternal or Direct Maternal side, shown above.. You will see the following map which displays the locations for your ancestors if you have entered that information.

For females, since you don’t have a Y chromosome, your paternal location, won’t show. Everyone’s mitochondrial DNA location will be displayed on the map.

Step 6 – Below the map, click on “Edit Location.”

A grey box will be displayed with your current information showing. To add information or change a location, click on “Update Maternal Location” or “Update Paternal Location.” The Maternal and Paternal steps are the same, so we’ll use the maternal line as an example.

Step 7 – Enter your direct matrilineal ancestor’s name, birth year and location. This is the information that will show in your match link to others. Be sure it’s your earliest known ancestor in your mother’s direct line; your mother, her mother, her mother, etc.

Then click on “next.”

Step 8 – The system will search for the location you entered, showing in the search location, below, or finding the closest location. The system automatically completes the longitude and latitude, so ignore those fields.

Click on Search. You will be given the option to change the verbiage of the location. This may be useful when the name of the town, region or country has changed from when your ancestor lived there versus the name today.

Step 9 – Your final information will be shown, so click on “Save and Exit.”


Congratulations, you’re finished!  If you want to update your information, just follow the same process.

Now might be a good time to check your information to be sure it’s as detailed and complete as possible. After all, we all want information about our matches, so we need to give them our own!

You can click here to sign in.



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

21 thoughts on “Quick Tip – Add Most Distant Ancestor and Location

  1. Roberta,

    Your closing comments in the last few paragraphs of this post are something I’m delighted to see. You’d think your disclaimer would be self-evident but not everyone blogs. Those of us who do (and who own our own websites) recognize the difference between a free WP blog and one you pay for by looking at the web address. We recognize that you don’t receive remuneration from the noticeable absence of advertisements.

    Your straightforward assessment of products offered by DNA testing companies attests to why you don’t link to products for which you have reservations. That says a lot. I hope people understand that your affiliate relationship with FTDNA.com doesn’t affect your honesty. In fact, I’ll bet Mr. Greenspan would say he’s got to stay on the level with you or you’d quickly tell the world there was a fox in the hen house!


  2. Roberta,
    Thank you for bringing up the importance of adding your MRCA data. It is a huge waste of time and money not to have this information.

    I do have one question: on your image of the mtDNA results page there is a “distance” column. On my female mtDNA member’s pages there is no distance column at all. Also, those who are listed are only the full sequence testers, or so it seems with this one person. Yet in Family Finder we get hundreds of “matches” re; 2nd-4th cousins. I think I’m lost. Barbara R

    • Only full sequence matches show distance since only exact matches are shown for HVR1 and HVR2 mtDNA. Distance means genetic distance, or how many mutations separate you from the other person. Autosomal is entirely different. Autosomal tests all of the various lines, combined, and mtDNA is VERY specific to this one line. Very different tests for very different lineage information.

  3. Roberta,

    This article just encouraged me to enter the information for my most distant ancestors (both lines) at FTDNA. Thank you.

  4. Entering locations sometimes take minutes and sometimes days of multiple attempts because the servers are so slow. The main cousin I do dna correspondence with dreads FTDNA because of the slow servers and page time outs. Today I told her new dna results have been uploaded and her reply was, “Thanks! You know I rarely get on that site.” Another example; I tried this afternoon to update my aunts ancestor locations. It stalled. Tried again just now after reading this article, and it still stalls. I am dedicated so will try again tomorrow, the day after, and next week, until it finally works. When I see the blanks in matches charts I wonder how many are people who gave up.

    • I have very few complaints with FTDNA, but it is a shame they do not do a better job of addressing their slow server problem. I have fast internet but still, on some days, the delays are very annoying.

  5. My earliest known maternal ancestor was born in Switzerland, married in Germany, and died in Lewisburg, PA. I’m not sure if I should put Switzerland or Lewisburg, PA for her location?

  6. It is with regret that I start the morning with a negative comment. Considering the inordinate number of people who do mtDna testing at FTDNA, and who do not realize that this testing is VERY far back in time, and they would be better served doing the Family Finder autosomal test instead, it is thought there should be more transparency. This info should be a disclaimer in the graphics when they order their kit. There are too many people who log into the FTDNA forum who
    have this issue.

  7. Thank you for posting this! I am always asking people to remember to include their most distant known ancestor on their paternal and maternal sides, to post their family tree, to share their surnames, etc. It makes it just a little easier to connect with our fellow DNA matches.

  8. Roberta, I am wondering if you have ever written an article on the conclusions you can come to from the results shown on your mtDNA results page that you included above? It would be interesting to read about that. Have you found anything useful from these results?

  9. I thank you for these directions. I thought I had already done this, but in checking back, I see my information was not complete. I suspect many people do not realize their info is not complete, so your directions will help a great deal. Also, I was having trouble editing my info. The web site was slow and it was timing out as the previous user mentioned.

    • The website is probably slow because all off Roberta’s readers have jumped on to check their info is correct 🙂

  10. I had no idea how important entering this information truly is; therefore, I was thrilled to read this article. I immediately added the information and hope it helps in finding more matches! Thanks so much for the info. Also wanted you to know that I ALWAYS read your articles. I find them very informative and in language/format that I can understand. I really appreciate the way you give examples of what you’re talking about and how I can also manage it…if I need to.

    Kristy O.

  11. If you only know your earliest direct female ancestor by her married name, should we record that name? Is this a silly question? Because every daughter goes by their father’s name.

Leave a Reply