Mitochondrial DNA: Part 4 – Techniques for Doubling Your Useful Matches

This article is Part 4 of a series about mitochondrial DNA. I suggest you read these earlier articles in order before reading this one:

This article builds on the information presented in parts 1, 2 and 3.

Hellooooo – Is Anyone Home?

One of the most common complaints about ALL DNA matches is the lack of responses. When using Y DNA, which follows the paternal line directly, passed from father to son, hopefully along with the surname, you can often discern hints from your matches’ surnames.

Not so with mitochondrial DNA because the surname changes with each generation when the female marries. In fact, I often hear people say, “but I don’t recognize those names.” You won’t unless the match is from very recent generations and you know who the daughters married to the present generation.

Therefore, genealogists really depend on information from other genealogists when working with mitochondrial DNA.

Recently, I experimented at Family Tree DNA  to see what I could do to improve the information available. Family Tree DNA is the only vendor that provides full sequence testing combined with matching.

This exercise is focused on mitochondrial DNA matches, but you can use the same techniques for Y DNA as well. These are easy step-by-step instructions!

Let’s get started and see what you can do. You’ll be surprised. I was!

Your Personal Page at Family Tree DNA

Mitochondrial matches.png

On your personal page, under mtDNA, click on Matches.


You’ll be viewing your match list of the people who match you at some level.

You’ll see several fields on your match list that you’ll want to use. Many of the bullet points in this article refer to the fields boxed in red or red arrows.

mitochondrial matches

You can click this image to enlarge.

Let’s review why each piece of information is important.

  • Be sure you’re using viewing your matches for the HVR1, HVR2 and Coding region in the red box at the top. Those are your most relevant matches. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t also view your HVR1+HVR2 matches, and your HVR1 matches, because you literally never know what might be there. However, start with the HVR1+HVR2+Coding Region.
  • Focus on your Genetic Distance of 0 matches. Those are exact matches, meaning you have no mutations that don’t match each other. A genetic distance of 1 means that you have one mutation that doesn’t match each other. You can read about Genetic Distance here.
  • Be sure you’re looking at the match results for the entire data base or the project you want to be viewing. For example, if I’m a member of the Acadian AmerIndian project and have Acadian ancestry on my direct matrilineal line, knowing who I match within that project may be extremely beneficial, especially if I need to narrow my results to known Acadian families.
  • Look at the earliest known ancestor (EKA) information. Don’t just let your eyes gloss over it, really look at it. There may be secrets hidden here that are critical for solving your puzzle. The mother of Lydia Brown was discovered by a cousin recently after I had (embarrassingly) ignored an EKA in plain sight for years. You can read about that discovery here.
  • Click on the little blue pedigree icon on your match to view trees that go hand in hand with the earliest known ancestor (EKA) information. Some people provide more information in either the EKA or the tree, so be sure to look at both for hints.

mitochondrial tree

  • If your match’s pedigree icon is grey, they haven’t uploaded their tree. You can always drop them an email explaining how useful trees are and ask them if they will upload theirs.

Utilizing Other Resources

Many people don’t have both trees and an EKA at Family Tree DNA. Don’t hesitate to check Ancestry, MyHeritage or FamilySearch trees with the earliest known ancestor information your match provides if they don’t have a tree, or even if they do to expand their tree. We think nothing of building out trees for autosomal matches – do the same for your matches’ mitochondrial lines.

Finding additional information about someone’s ancestor is also a great ice-breaker for an email conversation. I mean, what genealogist doesn’t want information about their ancestors?

For example, if you match me and I’ve only listed my earliest known ancestor as Ellenore “Nora” Kirsch, you can go to Ancestry and search for her name where you will find several trees, including mine that includes several more generations. Most genealogists don’t limit themselves to one resource, testing company or tree repository.

mitochondrial ancestry tree

WikiTree includes a descendants link for each ancestor that provides a list of people who have DNA tested, including mtDNA. Here’s an example for my ancestor, Curtis B. Lore.

mitochondrial wiki tree

Unfortunately, no one from that line has tested their mitochondrial DNA, but looking at the descendants may provide me with some candidates that descend from his sisters through all females to the current generation, which can be male.

You can do that same type of thing at Geni if you have a tree by viewing that ancestor and clicking on “view a list of living people.”

mitochondrial Geni

While trees at FamilySearch, Ancestry and MyHeritage don’t tell you which lines could be tested for mitochondrial DNA, it’s not difficult to discern. Mitochondrial DNA is passed on by females to the current generation where males can test too – because they received their mitochondrial DNA from their mother.

Family Tree DNA Matches Profiles

Your matches’ profiles are a little used resource as many people don’t realize that additional information may be provided there. You can click on your match’s name to show their profile card.

mitochondrial profile

Be sure to check their “about me” section where I typed “test” as well as their email address which may give you a clue about where the match lives based on the extension. For example, .de is Germany and .se is Sweden.

You can also google their email address which may lead to old Rootsweb listings among other useful genealogical information.

Matches Map

Mitochondrial matches maps.png

Next, click on your Matches Map. Your match may have entered a geographical location for their earliest known ancestor. Beware of male names because sometimes people don’t realize the system isn’t literally asking for the earliest known ancestor of ANY line or the oldest ancestor on their mother’s side. The system is asking for the most distant known ancestor on the matrilineal line. A male name entered in this field invalidates the data, of course.

My Matches Map is incredibly interesting, especially since my EKA (earliest known ancestor) is from Germany in 1655.

mitochondrial Scandinavia

The white pin shows the location of my ancestor in Germany. The red pins are exact matches, orange are genetic distance of 1, yellow of 2 and so forth.

Note that the majority of my matches are in Scandinavia.

The first question you should be asking is if I’m positive of my genealogical research – and I am. I have proofs for every single generation. The question of paternity is not relevant to mitochondrial DNA, since the identity of the mother is readily apparent, especially in small villages of a few hundred people where babies are baptized by clergy who knows the families well.

Adoptions might be another matter of course, but adoptions as we know them have only taken place in the past hundred years or so. Generally, the child was still baptized with the parents’ names given before the 1900s. Who raised the child was another matter entirely.

Important Note: Your matches map location does NOT feed from your tree. You must go to the Matches Map page and enter that information at the bottom of that page. Otherwise your matches map location won’t show when viewed by your matches, and if they don’t do the same, theirs won’t show on your map.

mitochondrial ancestor location


I KNOW nobody really wants to do this, but you may just have to email as a last resort. The little letter icon on your match’s profile sends an email, or you can find their email in their profile as well.

DON’T email an entire group of people at once as that’s perceived as spam and is unlikely to receive a response from anyone.

Compose a friendly email with a title something like “Mitochondrial DNA Match at Family Tree DNA to Susan Smith.” Many people manage several kits and if you provide identifying information in the title, you’re more likely to receive a response

I always provide my matches with some information too, instead of just asking for theirs.

Advanced Matching

Mitochondrial advanced matches

Click on the advanced matching link on your personal page.

The Advanced Matches tool allows you to compare multiple types of tests. When looking at your match list, notice if your matches have also taken a Family Finder (FF) test. If so, then the advanced matching tool will show you who matches you on multiple types of tests, assuming you’ve taken the Family Finder test as well or transferred autosomal results to Family Tree DNA.

For example, Advanced Matches will show you who matches you on BOTH the mtDNA and the Family Finder tests. This is an important tool to help determine how closely you might be related to someone who matches you on a mitochondrial DNA test – although here is no guarantee that your autosomal match is through the same ancestor as your mitochondrial DNA match.

mitochondrial advanced matches filter

On the advanced matching page, select the tests you want to view, together, meaning you only want to see results for people who match you on BOTH TESTS. In this case, I’ve selected the full mitochondrial sequence (FMS) and the Family Finder, requested to show only people I match on both tests, and for the entire database. I could select a specific project that I’ve joined if I want to narrow the matches.

Note that if you don’t click the “yes” button you’ll see everyone you match on both tests INDIVIDUALLY, not together. So if you match 50 people on mtDNA and 1000 on Family Finder, you would show 1050 people, not the people who match you on BOTH tests, which is what you want. You might match a few or none on both tests.

Note that if you select “all mtDNA” that means you must match the person on the HVR1, HVR2 and coding region, all 3. That may not be at all what you want either. I select each one separately and run the report. So first, FMS and Family Finder, then HVR2 and Family Finder, etc.

When you’ve made your selection, click on the red button to run the report.

Family Finder Surnames

Another hint you might overlook is Family Finder surnames.

mitochondrial family finder surnames

Go to your Family Finder match list and enter the surname of your matches EKA in the search box to see if you match anyone with that same ancestor. Of course, if it’s Smith or Jones, I’m sorry.

mitochondrial family finder surname results

Entering Kirsch in my Family Finder match list resulting in discovering a match that has Kirsh from Germany in their surname list, but no tree. Using the ICW (in common with) tool, I can then look to see if they match known cousins from the Kirsch line in common with me.

Putting Information to Work

OK, now we’ve talked about what to do, so let’s apply this knowledge.

Your challenge is to go to your Full Sequence match page in the lower right hand corner and download your match list into a spreadsheet by clicking the CSV button.

mitochondrial csv

Column headings when downloaded will be:

  • Genetic Distance
  • Full Name
  • First Name
  • Middle Name
  • Last Name
  • Email
  • Earliest Known Ancestor
  • mtDNA Haplogroup
  • Match Date

I added the following columns:

  • Country
  • Location (meaning within the country)
  • Ancestral Surname
  • Year (meaning their ancestor’s birth/death year)
  • Map (meaning do they have an entry on the matches map)
  • Tree (do they have a tree)
  • Profile (did I check their profile and what did it say)
  • Comment (anything I can add)

This spreadsheet is now a useful tool.

Our goal is to expand this information in a meaningful way.

Data Mining Steps

Here are the steps in checklist format that you’ll complete for each match to fill in additional information on your spreadsheet.

  • EKA (earliest known ancestor)
  • Matches Map
  • Tree
  • Profile
  • Advanced matching
  • Family Finder surname list
  • Email, as a last resort
  • Ancestry, MyHeritage, FamilySearch, WikiTree, Geni to search for information about their EKA

Doubling My Match Information

I began with 32 full sequence matches. Of those, 13 had an entry on the Matches Map and another 6 had something in the EKA field, but not on the Matches Map.

32 matches Map Additional EKA Nothing Useful
Begin 13 on Matches Map 6 but not mapped 13
End 29 remapped on Google 5 improved info 3

When I finished this exercise, only 3 people had no usable information (white rows), 29 could be mapped, and of the original 13 (red rows), 5 had improved information (yellow cells.)

mitochondrial spreadsheet

Please note that I have removed the names of my matches for privacy reasons, but they appear as a column on my original spreadsheet instead of the Person number.

Google Maps

I remapped my matches from the spreadsheet using free Google Maps.

mitochondrial Google maps

Purple is my ancestor. Red are the original Matches Map ancestors of my matches. Green are the new people that I can map as a result of the information gleaned.

The Scandinavian clustering is even more mystifying and stronger than ever.

Add History

Of course, there’s a story here to be told, but what is that story? My family records are found in Germany in 1655, and before that, there are no records, at least not where my ancestors were living.

Clearly, from this map and also from comparing the mutations of my matches that answered my emails, it’s evident that the migration path was from Scandinavia to Germany and not vice-versa.

How did my ancestor get from Scandinavia to Germany?

When and why?

Looking at German history, there’s a huge hint – the Thirty Years’ War which occurred from 1618-1648. During that war, much of Germany was entirely depopulated, especially the Palatinate.

Looking at where my ancestor was found in 1655 (purple pin), and looking at the Swedish troop movements, we see what may be a correlation.

mitochondrial Swedish troop movements

In the first few generations of church records, there were several illegitimate births and the mother was referred to as a servant woman.

It’s possible that my Scandinavian ancestor came along with the Swedish army and she was somehow left behind or captured.

The Challenge!

Now, it’s your turn. Using this article as a guideline, what can you find? Let me know in a comment. If you utilize additional resources I haven’t found, please mention those too!

What’s Next?

Please join me for the next article in this series, Mitochondrial DNA: Part 5 – Joining Projects.



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33 thoughts on “Mitochondrial DNA: Part 4 – Techniques for Doubling Your Useful Matches

  1. Great article – and series. But I have a question… If I have taken the Mitochondrial DNA Full Sequence test and have no exact matches (closest are genetic distance of 1), is it safe to assume none of my matches will share a MRCA with me in genealogical times, i.e. the ancestor is just too far back in time to be discovered?

    • No, it’s not. Partly it depends on the mutation. If it’s a heteroplasmy, don’t assume. Also mutations can happen at any time and do.

    • One of my matches is one mutation away from me and my perfect matches. She tested a first cousin, this one was 0 match to me. This mean my match’s perfect match could only be either a sibling or a child.

      Although, if it’s the case, you should match this person both on Family Finder and mt-DNA.

      • Or experienced a spontaneous mutation, if I understand correctly. You’re right, Family Finder will tell that story.

    • Hi, I manage a full sequence MT kit for a French Canadian, very routine there to be able to trace female lines back 10-12 generations on paper. He has at least 6 matches that record genealogy back to Elisabeth Camus b 1645. These matches range from perfect to 2 markers different. So even in this timeframe you can see two mutations pretty routinely.

  2. Hi Roberta. I’m enjoying your mitochondrial articles and taking advantage of your insight. I’ve yet to make any discoveries based on my own mtDNA results, but like having my ducks in a row for when/if a break through comes along.

    I’d like to double stress the importance of looking at the trees of all the mtDNA matches — those that have a tree. Just because a match has entered a female name as the earliest known ancestor (EKA), this can’t be taken as gospel. In addition to the few matches of mine who entered a male ancestor’s name, I also have several who entered a female ancestor, but not the ancestor along the direct matrilineal line.

    I imagine mistakes related to the EKA happen because of a misunderstanding of how mtDNA is passed generation to generation. Sometimes, maybe, just a simple mistake. Regardless, if the match has a tree, it’s always wise to double check.

  3. Hi Roberta,

    I have loved this series and was especially interested in Tom L’s question about not having any exact full sequence matches and the closest matches are a genetic distance of 1. In my case, my identical sister and I have a genetic distance of 1 because I have a heteroplasmy in the coding region. Roberta really nailed it on the answer!

    I also have many “0” &”1″ Scandinavian matches now in Sweden-Finland, but know by records my maternal line in the colonies back to to ~1740.

    I am going to the Aug McDowell Gathering in VA as Jean McDowell Ray

  5. Informative as always! Thanks for sharing your expertise.

    So, as a followup to Karen Patterson, is it theoretically possible to be more closely related to a 1 distance match than a 0? A distant cousin & I might not have a mutation that has recently entered into the mtDna of a cousin or her mother, for example.

  6. Maybe I missed the answer to this, but here it goes…

    Is there any significance to a match if my only 0 distance is Male and all my 1, 2, etc. distance matches are female?

    And also…
    What does one do when they suspect that both of their grandmothers were from the same Haplogroup?

    (for example, I’m a female and my mtDNA test came back as H24a but then I have also Male matches, who not only match my H24a mtDNA group, but we also have matching segments on my X-Chromasome!)…and I know that X-matches are Not the same as mtDNA matches!

    • Depends on how large the X segments are. If they are 10-15cM or larger, pay attention. Haplogroup alone is probably coincidence, but an exact or close match with extra or missing markers would get my attention.

  7. I downloaded my FF match database and sorted on mtDNA column. There are three with my mt haplogroup (U5a2b-T16362C and U5a1b) that aren’t in the list of mt matches. I assume this is because there’s more than a GD of 3. Two of the three have done the FMS test. Another says N/A for which mt test was taken. I’ve also searched the database on the surnames of the more distant mitochondrial line. Not common names, so may provide clues.

  8. I only have one full mtDNA match but only with genetic distance 2. (I have a rare mtDNA Haplogroup of V-C72T! )

    Is there a way to see which 2 mutations I have with my genetic distance 2 match?

    Without seeing the mutations I cannot judge if it is heteroplasmy.

    His earliest known ancestor is from 1871. He did FamilyFinder but I do not match with him on FF.

    Thank you very much.

    • You’ll have to ask them about their mutations. If there’s a haplogroup V Project, join. If your match is there and shares, you can see their HVR1 and 2 locations.

  9. It seemed like Christmas morning when I first got my full-sequence, mtDNA test results the other week. I know my own results were somewhat unusual, but I found myself gazing upon twenty-two (22) full sequence matches with three zeros appearing across all three testing areas! As perfect as these matches were, I’m not sure I could have done this research and matching except that I’ve been following your articles. So as I’d commented a week or two ago, I found her–the shared maternal line ancestor with one of my mtDNA matches–but this particular article has given me what I need (not only with ideas and tips I had never thought of, but also motivation) to research even further back on my maternal line–thank you for giving me such informative and comprehensive encouragement, Roberta!!

  10. I’ll try with my paternal grand-mother’s (pgm’s) mt-DNA, since I didn’t get much chance to work out the details about it yet.

    Her only extra mutations are insertions on position 309, 315 and 522. These seem to be quite common. You said the first two are not used for matching because they are too unstable, which leaves only the 522 ones (four of them) to mark my match from the 9,600 years old root of the subclade. Let’s hope it will be enough.

    Looking at matches, my pgm has 115 at HVR1+2 and 124 at full sequence… ooookaaaay….
    I guess since there aren’t any significative mutations in the coding region, and they allow for more mutations to show up, some non-matches at HVR1+2 become matches with FMS. I still count 50 HVR1+2 matches who didn’t test FMS, which mean more the 50 don’t show at HVR1+2 but do at FMS, This is crazy. The HVR1 matches just can’t load, for some reason.

    Looking at my pgm’s FMS matches 0 genetic distance, quite a few have her last known ancestress (the 1636 settler) or the former’s mother name, others are much more recent from North East of North America and would probably lead back to the same ancestress if we could push their tree a few generation back. There are 33 zero genetic distance matches, it’ll take time looking every last one of them. I need to list out the female mt-descendants of my pgm’s ancestress and their spouse name(s) up to 1850. That’s what I did for my own mt-line and I can spot where new matches can fit right away.

    Then, there is two whose last ancestresses are from Italy and one from the Netherlands. And one rom Morocco, but they are adopted, so I need to email them and see the details. I’m not sure, whether any of these foreign branch are closely related or if they happened to mutate on 522 the same way my pgm’s branch did.

    It should be time to start emailing I guess. Talking of which, how long do you wait before emailing new matches? I usually let them a month, so they can see their test result and get use to some features before I ask them questions, but is it too conservative?

    • Sometimes if you catch them right away, they are excited to hear from you. I don’t get new matches very often.

      • I got match on December 31st a few years ago, I wrote the following day adding four more generations to her mt-tree, turning her Acadian heritage into Québécois héritage, then into Scottish heritage. A wrote a second email a few days later with the church records in French with translation to confirm the lineage I had put together with internet info. She wrote back after a week, confessing she was back home from vacation, that she didn’t even open FTDNA site yet and that she was a bit confuse but glad to get so much info.

        Since then, I decide to be less intense and give them time to desire me a little before I contact them. xD

        Sometime they even contact me before I contact them. My brand new Y-match just did that. ^__^

        Between my mt-matches and my father’s Y-matches, I have between 1 and 3 each year in all.

        But looking at my paternal grand-mother, she had 9 new mt-matches in 2018, that’s what you get for having one of the top 5 most prolific couple in New France. Xainte Dupont and Zacharie Cloutier, about every old stock Québécois has this couple somewhere in their tree. I definitely need to work more on her matches.

  11. I know I have to go back and reread all your articles, but one question I have and maybe someone else has a similar question. My hapogroup is HV0-T195C! and I only have matches at a genetic distance of 3. Some are from the US, and then I see a few from Germany and I believe Sweden. I thought that my ancestors were long time in United States from that side, but now I am wondering if perhaps that is not the situation and although I somehow am a dna match to people on that side, it may be through different ancestors. I do have a couple of midwives in my tree. Just wondering.

  12. Hi Roberta 🙂 Great article series. I have used your methods to try to break down the brick walls i’ve been up against. Well now i just have more questions lol. Just to refresh I’m of Puerto Rican ancestry and as we both know it is very difficult to piece the story together. I look at your posts and could only wish that things fell into place like that for me :). So let me start off by saying that my full sequence didn’t provide further insight for me. I had 2 matches one male and one female with a distance of 2 and i’ve reached out to them both and have gotten no replies. I followed your article step by step but still feel absolutely defeated. Let’s start with my two FMS matches; of the two only one has a family tree. I was able to get a name and birthplace which happens to be Maryland. I’m not sure if or how i’ll be able to make any use of that information especially since they are at a distance of 2. Okay so next i did the matches map. Now this is where things get interesting. As I expected I would have a significant cluster in Puerto Rico. I had 16 matches there. The thing with that is none of them matched on the FMS. Same with the rest of my matches. However there was an interesting pattern. Starting from South America Brazil to be exact my matches move up throughout the Caribbean up to the most concentrated clusters being in Jamaica and Puerto Rico then up to Florida then it clusters again along the Southern United States starting with Mississippi the most matches clustered in Alabama moves east through GA,SC,NC,VA. Then it leaps up to Maryland with one match there and one in Massachusetts. I do want to point out that the match in Maryland is not the person that matched me on FMS. Moving inland going from North US back to South is PA, Ohio, Kentucky, Arkansas and one in TX. The ones that didn’t follow the pattern were found in Italy, Nigeria, Costa Rica, California, Panama, Ecuador, and Azores each just having one match. Okay so now I took it a step further and did the advanced matches. I got no results up until I did HVR1 and FF only. There I had 12 matches who matched exactly on my HVR-1 and FF. Of those only a few of them had pins on the matches map. Lucky for me those with pins were my Puerto Rico matches. So I had one person who is suspected to be a 2nd to 4th cousin according to FtDNA’s estimate. We share 10 segments 52 Shared cm longest block is at 19. Here’s the kicker though her Haplogroup is L1b. She hasn’t tested at the full only HVR-2. Looking at her surname list i’ve only seen one that would match directly on my direct maternal line. She has a family tree but has it blocked so I couldn’t look at it. Next in line is someone that is estimated to be my 3rd-5th cousin we share 15 segments 98 shared cm longest block 16. She has only tested to HVR-1 same as the other person her Haplogroup is L1b. Now there are 2 people that tested at the full sequence and are the exact same Haplogroup as me L1b1a3 but we only match at the HVR-1 level. One a male and one a female both are listed as 5th to remote cousins. with the male i share 8 segments 34 shared cm and longest block of 8. With the female I share 8 segments 24 shared cm and longest block is 8. The others are just estimated at 4th-remote cousins and 5th-remote cousins all having Haplogroup L1b. So Roberta with all of that being said here are my questions.
    What do I infer seeing that all of my exact matches are only at the HVR-1 level and out of all of them only 12 were in my FF.? Is it safe to say that people with my exact Haplogroup L1b1a3 only matching at HVR-1 not matched in FF but have tested at the FMS are genealogically irrelevant? I have limited documents to work from and limited oral history to work with so at this point I’m just looking for something to open the door of exploration. Are the cousins going to be of any use to me? Besides the one I mentioned with one surname i recognize. Where do I try to go from here Roberta lol? Also I saw on ISOGG that you were the leader of the L1 MtDNA project however it shows Michael Talley when you open the project up…did you stop doing it? Thanks in advance 🙂

    • Yes, I passed that project on to someone who could devote more time to it some years ago. African haplogroups are very difficult due to slavery. Maybe some of the people who didn’t do the FMS might upgrade. Sometimes you just have to wait for more full sequence matches. I’ve seen GD 2 in one generation or not in many. Usually it’s quite distant, but not always. I’m sorry you’re so frustrated. Write to the person with the private tree. They may not realize.

  13. Hi:
    My grandfather was placed in private care as a baby we dont know who his parents were or his birth name, dob or place other than probably victoria in Australia. My father (91 years old) mtDNA results were exact match for a person on HVR1, HVR2 and FMS. But not a match on Family Finder! What does this mean my dad is running out of life span to find out.
    Robyn Robertson’

  14. Ok I have HVR1 C16267T MUTATION and HVR2 with 315.1c, 522.1a, and 522.2c. I would like to know more about these and their meanings.

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