Your mitochondrial DNA is a treasure trove of information for one specific line of your genealogy – providing refined information that autosomal tests simply can’t provide.
Some people say mitochondrial isn’t useful, but here’s just one example of mitochondrial DNA bulldozing a brick wall, along with some helpful tips.
But, I Already Know My Haplogroup
Let’s talk about why someone would want to take the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test (mtFull Sequence) at Family Tree DNA if they have already received their haplogroup.
Let’s start out with a very brief description of exactly how mitochondrial DNA testing works.
OK, How Does Mitochondrial DNA Work?
Mitochondrial DNA follows the matrilineal line directly, meaning your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s line on up the tree until you run out of mothers and smack dab into your brick wall.
Your mitochondrial DNA is not mixed with DNA of the various fathers, so what you’re seeing is the same mitochondrial DNA that your ancestors carried for many generations, sometimes with a few mutations that accrue over time.
In the pedigree chart above, the pink daughter or son at the bottom of the chart inherited their mitochondrial DNA from the pink direct matrilineal lineage, while their light blue father inherited his mitochondrial DNA from his mother’s magenta lineage.
Stepping back a generation, the dark blue maternal grandfather inherited his mitochondrial DNA from his red mother. The light blue paternal grandfather inherited his from his buttercup-yellow mother – and so forth.
Everyone, males and females both, can test their mitochondrial DNA to see what secrets it reveals.
You don’t know what you don’t know – and if you don’t test your mitochondrial DNA, you’re leaving undiscovered information relevant to several ancestors on the table.
What Information Do I Receive When I Test?
Let’s look at the benefits of testing, the information you’ll receive and what it can do for you. I’m using my own results at Family Tree DNA as an example.
- Matching – The number one reason to test your full sequence mitochondrial DNA is matching. Your results are matched to the results of other testers. This means you have the opportunity to discover distant cousins who share direct matrilineal ancestors.
I have 71 full sequence matches, about half of which have entered an “Earliest Known Ancestor.” Many have uploaded trees – 4 of the 5 shown above. You may discover other testers who share the same ancestor, a common geography, or people who have pushed your ancestral line back another generation or two. Matching includes your matches trees, if they create or upload one, and their e-mail address so that you can reach out and share.
I’ve broken through more than one seemingly impossible brick wall utilizing mitochondrial DNA matches.
- Your Full Haplogroup – While autosomal DNA tests can “target test” a few haplogroup defining locations, they can’t test every location needed for a complete haplogroup. For example, my haplogroup at the various vendors is only a subset, like J1c, of my J1c2f. To learn about the history of my ancestors, I need the entire haplogroup.
- Identifying Origins – Mitochondrial DNA haplogroups provide a periscope view into origins, such as Native American ancestors, those of European origin, Asian or African, and subgroupings therein.
Haplogroup J is European, but some of my other ancestors carry Native American mitochondrial DNA which serves to unquestionably prove that line is Native, regardless of how far back in time. Autosomal DNA ethnicity testing can’t do this and is nonspecific to any particular line.
Think your direct matrilineal line might be Native? This is the acid test!
- Periscope Through Time – Mitochondrial DNA testing allows you to peer behind the veil of your brick wall in that specific line, to view the origins of that ancestor and where her ancestors originated hundreds and thousands of years before surnames originated.
- Your Actual Results – Your actual test results, including mutations, hold interesting information, such as genetic locations where you have insertions or deletions along with unusual extra and missing mutations which are the sources of your differences when you match other testers. These mutations arose in a relatively recent time-frame, genetically speaking. Some mutations known as heteroplasmies carry even more information about very recent “mutations in process.”
Mutations are your personal “genetic filters,” meaning that the more matching mutations you have with someone, the closer your common ancestor.
Look, I have 5 extra mutations and all of my full sequence exact matches have all of those extra mutations too!
- Haplogroup Origins – Geographic locations where your haplogroup is found and how many of your matches are found in that location.
It appears that haplogroup J1c2f is found exclusively in Northern Europe and Scandinavia. Is there a message here?
- Ancestral Origins – Countries where your matches indicate that their earliest known mitochondrial ancestor is from.
Wow – my full sequence exact matches are almost all Scandinavian.
- Match Maps – Match maps show you the locations of the earliest known ancestors of your matches, plus the identity of each match by clicking on the colored pin. I’m the white pin.
My exact matches, in red, are mostly found in Sweden and Norway, but one is located in Russia and one in Poland. I wonder what history would account for this distribution. There’s a story that needs to be uncovered and told.
- Migration Map – The path your ancestors took when migrating out of Africa to the location where you find them.
Haplogroup J is found in Europe, but not in Africa, the Americas or Asia.
- Haplogroup Frequency Map – The frequency by percentage of the people from a specific location that carry a particular haplogroup.
This interactive map shows that 9.34% of Europeans carry a subset of haplogroup J today. It’s easy to see where the haplogroup is and isn’t found.
- Projects – Testers can join numerous projects at Family Tree DNA administered by volunteers that reflect specific interests. For example, for people with Native American ancestors, the American Indian project is a good choice.
Haplogroup projects provide the ability to view your results grouped with others in the same subhaplogroup – even if you don’t match everyone in that group. Projects also provide maps of the locations of earliest known ancestors in each group.
I’m a member of the haplogroup J project. Ancestral locations of other people in the project who are members of haplogroup J1c2f are shown above. This map includes people that I match as well as people that I don’t, but with whom I still share an ancestor further back in time.
- Mitochondrial DNA Haplotree – Not only can you view the Haplotree, but the results of Family Tree DNA’s customers who have taken the full sequence test provide the data for the tree. Testing isn’t just about obtaining information, but contributing to the science as well. I wrote abut the haplotree here.
You can see your haplogroup in pedigree format as it descends from its main branch, in my case, J. To the right, the countries where J1c2f is found. The mitochondrial haplotree is important because it’s not limited to people who match you, or to people who join projects.
- Haplogroup Country Report – The Haplogroup Country Report breaks down the information behind the little flags on the haplotree, above.
41.67% of the people in haplogroup J1c2f have ancestors found in Sweden. I was quite surprised, given that my earliest known ancestor is found in Germany.
- Your Other Lines – You may be lucky enough to discover that someone who descends from one of your other lines whose mitochondrial DNA you don’t carry has tested. For example, if your father or one of his siblings tests and shares their results with you, you would be “gifted” with mitochondrial information of your paternal grandmother.
If everyone were to test, just think how much information would be available for genealogists to share. How many of your lines would benefit? Can you find testers for some of them?
What About You?
How much of this information could you discover without mitochondrial DNA testing?
As a genealogist, you want to know every single thing you can unearth about each ancestor, right?
Mitochondrial testing holds a world of treasure that’s easily available to everyone.
You might notice that Family Tree DNA offers two tests, the mtDNA Plus and the mtFull Sequence.
The mtDNA Plus test only reads two regions (HVR1/HVR2) of the mitochondria, about 2000 locations out of 16,569 total. You do receive a base haplogroup and matching along with the other tools described above. However, without the full sequence test, your matches may be thousands of years in the past. I think of the mtDNA Plus test as the beginners test.
To use mtDNA successfully for genealogy and to receive the most granular information possible, you need the full sequence test which tests the full mitochondria. This is the test for serious genealogists.
The great news is that if you’ve already taken the HVR1/HVR2 mtDNA Plus test, you can easily upgrade to mtFull Sequence by signing on to your personal page and clicking upgrade.
The full sequence mitochondrial DNA test is on sale right now for $149, a $50 savings, through April 25th for DNA Day.
Discover the secrets in your mitochondrial DNA!
Click here to order.
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