Mitochondrial DNA is a special type of DNA passed from mothers to all of their children, but only females pass it on – unmixed with any DNA from the fathers. This means that mitochondrial DNA provides a laser line focus straight back in time on your mother’s matrilineal line. You can also test your father or his siblings, or grandma herself, to obtain your paternal grandmother’s lineage.
It’s a misperception that mitochondrial DNA is more difficult to use than autosomal DNA. Surnames do change with every generation in your mitochondrial lineage, but they change in autosomal for women too.
Mitochondrial DNA is the ONLY way to focus on just the tester’s matrilineal line and can be used in conjunction with autosomal DNA. Mitochondrial DNA also reaches further back in time, beyond that 5-6 generation approximate threshold for autosomal.
Because the surnames change, females lines are inherently more difficult to research, so it’s fortuitous that we have an extra genetic tool that we can utilize.
There are easy steps we can take to increase the productivity of mitochondrial research, beginning with making sure you have taken the full sequence test at Family Tree DNA. (Which just happens to be on sale right now for Mother’s Day – click here.)
The HVR1 and HVR2 “mtPlus” level is introductory. You’ll need the all 16,569 mitochondria locations tested with the mtFull full sequence test for high-resolution matching.
How can you make your mitochodrial DNA results more useful genealogically? Good question. Here are 4 quick tips to do exactly that!
Tip 1: Trees
The backbone of genealogy is trees.
- Please be sure you have a tree uploaded and extended as far as possible on your matrilineal line by clicking on myTree at the top of your personal page and either uploading a GEDCOM file or creating your tree. Because surnames do change, a complete matrilineal tree is important for other people to find descendant surnames of your ancestor – and vice versa. That’s exactly how I connected my ancestor to her family.
Tip 2: Earliest Known Ancestor
- Complete your Earliest Known Direct Maternal (matrilineal) Ancestor field by clicking on the drop-down by your name, then on “Account Settings” at upper right, then on “Genealogy” and “Earliest Known Ancestors,” shown below with the red stars. Complete your information.
Note that “earliest known” means on your direct matrilineal line only – your mother’s mother’s mother’s line. It does NOT mean your “oldest” ancestor on your mother’s side of the tree. That’s a common misconception. They aren’t asking for that guy who lived to be 104.
Enter the name for the last known person in your mother’s mother’s mother’s direct line – which of course is a female.
When finished, be sure to click on Save, near the bottom.
Your Earliest Known Ancestor is the critically important information shown on the matches page, above. You want to see other people’s genealogy information, and they want to see yours.
Please feel free to contact people who don’t have any Earliest Known Ancestor showing and suggest that they complete this field. I’ve actually had very good luck emailing my matches who don’t provide that information and include “how-to” instructions. Feel free to send them a link to this article!
Tip 3: Matches Map
When surnames or an obvious connection are lacking, geography can be critically important. If all testers completed the location of their Earliest Known Ancestor on the Matches Map, everyone would benefit.
- Select Matches Map, above, to update the geographic location of your earliest known ancestor.
Matches Map information allows matches to see if their ancestors are located near to yours (and vice versa) and may unveil previously unknown information, such as a mysterious Scandinavian history for the person whose earliest known ancestor is the white pin found in Germany. Why are the majority of her full sequence matches found in Scandinavia?
Maybe a cluster of matches in a common geography will lead you to discover a new ancestor – or a previously veiled history. You don’t know what you don’t know, which is why we test.
Tip 4: Check Back
- Check your matches from time to time to see if someone has updated their information or you’ve missed a critical new match.
I discovered a brick-wall-breaking match that I had been inadvertently ignoring for almost 6 years. (My bad!!!)
Check your own information occasionally to be sure you didn’t forget to update your contact information, ancestors or tree with new discoveries.
Concerned that you won’t understand your results? Here’s a step-by-step series about how to navigate and interpret the various tools and options on your personal mtDNA page.
If you haven’t yet tested your mitochondrial DNA, now is the perfect time. Many people are taking advantage of recent “enforced leisure” to focus on genealogy research. Click here to check your account, order or upgrade.
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Thank you so much.
DNA Purchases and Free Transfers
- FamilyTreeDNA – Y, mitochondrial and autosomal DNA testing
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Genealogy Products and Services
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