Using Mitochondrial Haplogroups at 23andMe to Pick the Lock

I’ve been writing recently about using haplogroups for genealogy, and specifically, your mitochondrial DNA haplogroup. You can check out recent articles here and here.

While FamilyTreeDNA tests the entire mitochondria and provides you with the most detailed and granular haplogroup, plus matches to other testers, 23andMe provides mid-range level haplogroup information to all testers.

I’ve been asked how testers can:

  1. Locate that information on their account
  2. What it means
  3. How to use it for genealogy

Let’s take those questions one by one. It’s actually amazing what can be done – the information you can piece together, and how you can utilize one piece of information to leverage more.

Finding Your Haplogroup Information

At 23andMe, sign in, then click on Ancestry.

Then click on Ancestry Overview.

You’ll need to scroll down until you see the haplogroup section.

If you’re a female, you don’t have a paternal haplogroup. That’s misleading, at best and I wrote about that here. If you click to view your report, you’ll simply be encouraged to purchase a DNA test for your father.

Click on the maternal haplogroup panel to view the information about your mitochondrial haplogroup.

You’ll see basic information about the haplogroup level 23andMe provides. For me, that’s J1c2.

Next, you’ll view the migration path for haplogroup J out of Africa. Haplogroup J is the great-granddaughter haplogroup of L3, an African haplogroup. Mutations occurred in L3 that gave birth to haplogroup N. More mutations gave birth to R, which gave birth to J, and so forth.

You’ll notice that haplogroup J1c2 is fairly common among 23andMe customers. This means that in my list of 1793 matches in DNA Relatives, I could expect roughly 9 to carry this base haplogroup.

There’s more interesting information.

Yes, King Richard is my long-ago cousin, of sorts. Our common mitochondrial ancestor lived in Europe, but not long after haplogroup J1c migrated from the Middle East.

One of my favorite parts of the 23andMe information is a bit geeky, I must admit.

Scroll back to the top and select Scientific Details.

Scroll down, and you’ll be able to see the haplogroup tree formation of all your ancestral haplogroups since Mitochondrial Eve who is haplogroup L. You can see L3 who migrated out of Africa, and then N and R. You can also see their “sister clades,” in blue. In other words, L3 gave birth to L3a through M, which are all sisters to N. N gave birth to R, and so forth.

On the free Public Mitochondrial Tree, provided by FamilyTreeDNA, you can see the haplogroups displayed in a different configuration, along with the countries where the most distant known ancestors of FamilyTreeDNA testers who carry that haplogroup are found. Note that only people who have taken the full sequence test are shown on this tree. You can still check out your partial haplogroup from 23andMe, but it will be compared to people who don’t have a subgroup assigned today on this public tree.

If you were to take the full sequence test at FamilyTreeDNA, you might well have a more refined haplogroup, including a subgroup. Most people do, but not everyone.

Here’s the second half of the 23andMe haplogroup tree leading from haplogroup R to J1c2, my partial haplogroup at 23andMe.

Here’s the public tree showing the J1c2 haplogroup, and my most refined haplogroup, J1c2f from my full sequence test at FamilyTreeDNA.

If you’re interested in reading more in the scientific literature about your haplogroup, at the bottom of the 23andMe Scientific Details page, you’ll see a list of references. Guaranteed to cure insomnia.😊

You’re welcome!

Using Your Haplogroup at 23andMe for Genealogy

Enjoying this information is great, but how do you actually USE this information at 23andMe for genealogy? As you already know, 23andMe does not support trees, so many times genealogists need to message our matches to determine at least some portion of their genealogy. But not always. Let’s look at different options.

While a base haplogroup is certainly interesting and CAN be used for some things, it cannot be used, at 23andMe for matching directly because only a few haplogroup-defining locations are tested.

We can use basic haplogroup information in multiple ways for genealogy, even if your matches don’t reply to messages.

23andMe no longer allows testers to filter or sort their matches by haplogroup unless you test (or retest) on the V5 platform AND subscribe yearly for $29. You can read about what you receive with the subscription, here. You can purchase a V5 test, here.

To get around the haplogroup filtering restriction, you can download your matches, which includes your matches’ haplogroups, in one place. I provided instructions for how to download your matches, here.

While 23andMe doesn’t test to a level that facilitates matching on mitochondrial alone, even just a partial haplogroup can be useful for genealogy.

You can identify the haplogroup of specific ancestors.

You can identify people who might match on a specific line based on their haplogroup. and you can use that information as a key or lever to unlock additional information. You can also eliminate connections to your matches on your matrilineal line. 

Let’s start there.

Matrilineal Line Elimination

For every match, you can view their haplogroup by clicking on their name, then scrolling down to view haplogroup information.

As you can see, Stacy does not carry the same base haplogroup as me, so our connection is NOT on our direct matrilineal line. We can eliminate that possibility. Our match could still be on our mother’s side though, just not our mother’s mother’s mother’s direct line.

If Stacy’s haplogroup was J1c2, like mine, then our connection MIGHT be through the matrilineal line. In other words, we can’t rule it out, but it requires more information to confirm that link.

Identifying My Ancestor’s Haplogroups

I’ve made it a priority to identify the mitochondrial haplogroups of as many ancestors as possible. This becomes very useful, not only for what the haplogroup itself can tell me, but to identify other matches from that line too.

click to enlarge images

Here’s my pedigree chart of my 8 great-grandparents. The colored hearts indicate whose mitochondrial DNA each person inherited. Of course, the mothers of the men in the top row would be shown in the next generation.

As you can see, I have identified the mitochondrial DNA of 6 of my 8 great-grandparents. How did I do that?

  • Testing myself
  • Searching at FamilyTreeDNA for candidates to test or who have already tested
  • Searching at Ancestry for candidates to test, particularly using ThruLines which I wrote about, here.
  • Searching at MyHeritage for candidates to test, particularly using Theories of Family Relativity which I wrote about, here
  • Searching for people from a specific line at 23andMe, although that’s challenging because 23andMee does not support traditional trees
  • Searching for people who might be descended appropriately using the 23andMe estimated “genetic tree.” Of course, then I need to send a message and cross my fingers for a reply.
  • Searching for people at WikiTree by visiting the profile of my ancestors whose mitochondrial DNA I’m searching for in the hope of discovering either someone who has already taken the mitochondrial DNA test, or who descends appropriately and would be a candidate to test

In my pedigree chart, above, the mitochondrial DNA of John Ferverda and his mother, Eva Miller, T2b, is a partial haplogroup because I discovered the descendant through 23andMe.

I was fairly certain of that match’s identity, but I need two things:

  • Confirmation of their genealogical connection to Eva Miller Ferverda
  • Someone to take the full sequence test at FamilyTreeDNA that will provide additional information

I confirmed this haplogroup by identifying a second person descended from Eva through all females to the current generation who carries the same haplogroup

Now that I’ve confirmed one person at 23andMe who descends from Eva Miller Ferverda matrilineally, and I know their mitochondrial DNA haplogroup, I can use this information to help identify other matches – even if no one responds to my messages.

This is where downloading your spreadsheet becomes essential.

Download Your Matches

Next, we’re going to work with a combination of your downloaded matches on a spreadsheet along with your matches at 23andMe on the website.

I provided step-by-step instructions for downloading your matches, here.

On the spreadsheet, you’ll see your matches and various columns for information about each match, including (but not limited to):

  • Name
  • Segment information
  • Link to tester’s profile page (so you don’t need to search for them)
  • Maternal or paternal side, but only if your parents have tested
  • Maternal haplogroup (mitochondrial DNA for everyone)
  • Paternal haplogroup (Y DNA if you’re a male)
  • Family Surnames
  • Family Locations
  • Country locations of 4 grandparents
  • Notes (that you’ve entered)
  • Link to a family tree if tester has provided that information. I wrote about how to link your tree in this article. The tree-linking instructions are still valid although 23andMe no longer partners with FamilySearch. You can link an Ancestry or MyHeritage tree.

I want to look for other people who match me and who also have haplogroup T2b, meaning they might descend from Eva Miller Ferverda, her mother, Margaret Elizabeth Lentz, or her mother, Johanne Fredericka Ruhle in the US.

To be clear, the mitochondrial DNA reaches back further in time in Germany, but since 23andMe limits matches to either your highest 1500 or 2000 matches (it’s unclear which,) minus the people who don’t opt-in to Relative Sharing, I likely wouldn’t find anyone from the German lines in the 23andMe database as matches. If you subscribe to the V5+$29 per year version of the test, you are allowed “three times as many matches” before people roll off your match list.

On the download spreadsheet, sort on the maternal column.

I have several people who match me and are members of haplogroup T2b.

Upon closer evaluation, I discovered that at least one other person does descend from Eva Miller, which confirmed that Eva’s haplogroup is indeed T2b, plus probably an unknown subclade.

I also discovered two more people who I think are good candidates to be descended from Eva Miller using the following hints:

  • Same haplogroup, T2b
  • Shared matches with other known descendants of Eva Miller, Margaret Lentz or Frederica Ruhle.
  • Triangulation with some of those known descendants

Now, I can look at each one of those matches individually to see if they triangulate with anyone else I recognize.

Do be aware that just because these people have the mitochondrial haplogroup you are seeking doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re related through that line. However, as I worked through these matches WITH the same haplogroup, I did find several that are good candidates for a common ancestor on the matrilineal line based on matches we share in common.

Let’s hope they reply, or they have tested at a different vendor that supports trees and I can recognize their name in that database.

Assign a Side

At 23andMe, one of the first important steps is to attempt to assign a parental side to each match, if possible.

If I can assign a match to a “side” of my tree based on shared matches, then I can narrow the possible haplogroups that might be of interest. In this case, I can ignore any T2b matches assigned to my father’s side.

The way to assign matches to sides, assuming you don’t have parents to test, is to look for triangulation or a group of matches with known, hopefully somewhat close, relatives.

I wrote about Triangulation Action at 23andMe, here.

For example, my top 4 matches at 23andMe are 2 people from my father’s side, and 2 people from my mother’s side, first or second cousins, so I know how we are related.

Using these matches, our “Relatives in Common,” and triangulation, I can assign many of my matches to one side or the other. “Yes” in the DNA Overlap column means me, Stacy and that person triangulate on at least one segment.

Do be careful though, because it’s certainly possible to match someone, and triangulate on one segment, but match them from your other parent’s side on a different segment.

At the very bottom of every match page (just keep scrolling) is a Notes field. Enter something. I believe, unless this has changed, that if you have entered a note, the match will NOT roll off your list, even if you’ve reached your match limit. I include as much as I do know plus a date, even if it’s “don’t know which side.” At least I know I’ve evaluated the match.

However, equally as important, when you download your spreadsheet, you’ll be able to see your own notes, so it’s easy to refer to that spreadsheet when looking at other relatives in common on your screen.

I have two monitors which makes life immensely easier.

Working the Inverse

Above, we used the haplogroup to find other matches. You can work the inverse, of course, using matches to find haplogroups.

Now that you’ve downloaded your spreadsheet, you can search in ways you can’t easily at 23andMe.

On your spreadsheet, skim locations for hints and search for the surnames associated with the ancestral line you are seeking.

Don’t stop there. Many people at 23andMe either don’t enter any information, but some enter a generation or two. Sometimes 4 surnames, one for each grandparent. If you’ve brought your lines to current genealogically, search for the surnames of the people of the lines you seek. Eva’s grandchildren who would carry her mitochondrial haplogroup would include the surnames of Robison, Gordon, and several others. I found two by referencing my descendants chart in my computer genealogy program to quickly find surnames of people descended through all females.

The link to each match’s profile page is in the spreadsheet. Click on that link to see who you match in common, and who they and you triangulate with.

Because each of the people at 23andMe does have at least a partial mitochondrial DNA haplogroup, you may be able through surname searching, or perhaps even viewing matches in common, to reveal haplogroups of your ancestors.

If you’ve already identified someone from that ancestral line, and you’re seeking that ancestor’s mitochondrial DNA, highlight the people who triangulate with the known descendant on your spreadsheet. Generation by generation, search for the surnames of that ancestor’s female grandchildren. I found one line just one generation downstream which allowed me to identify the ancestor’s haplogroup. In other words, the birth surname of my ancestor was missing, and that of her husband, but the surname of one of her granddaughters was there.

That person did indeed match and triangulate with other known descendants.

Sorting by haplogroup, at that point, showed two additional people I was able to assign to Eva’s haplogroup line and confirm through what few tidbits of genealogy the testers did provide.

I started with not knowing Eva’s haplogroup, and now I not only know she is haplogroup T2b, I’ve identified and confirmed a total of 6 people in this lineage who also have haplogroup T2b – although several descend from her mother and grandmother. I’ve also confirmed several others through this process who don’t have haplogroup T2b, but who triangulated with me and those who do. How cool is this?

I’ll be checking at FamilyTreeDNA to see if any of Eva’s T2b descendants have tested or transferred there. If I’m lucky, they’ll have already taken the mitochondrial DNA test. If not, I’ll be offering a mitochondrial DNA full sequence testing scholarship to the first one of those matches to accept.

Is this process necessarily easy?

No, but the tools certainly exist to get it done.

Is it worth it?


It’s one more way to put meat on the bones of those ancestors, one tiny piece of information at a time.

I’ll be reaching out to see if perhaps any of my newly identified cousins has genealogical information, or maybe photos or stories that I don’t.

Tips and Tools

For tips and tools to work with your mitochondrial DNA haplogroups, read the article Where Did My Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroup Come From?

Please visit the Mitochondrial DNA Resource page for more information.

You can also use Genetic Affairs AutoCluster tool to assist in forming groups of related people based on your shared matches at 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA.

What Can You Find?

What can you find at 23andMe?

Your ancestor’s haplogroups, perhaps?

Or maybe you can use known ancestral haplogroups as the key to unlocking your common ancestor with other matches.

I found an adoptee while writing this article with common triangulated matches plus haplogroup T2b, and was able to provide information about our common ancestors, including names. Their joy was palpable.

Whoever thought something like a partial haplogroup could be the gateway to so much.

23andMe tests are on sale right now for Mother’s Day, here.



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9 thoughts on “Using Mitochondrial Haplogroups at 23andMe to Pick the Lock

  1. As I am very slowly learning to use DNAPainter, it occurred to me that there might be some way to seek out a particular hiding ancestor. My 23 and me results show a tiny spot on chromosome 14 that is Native American. I have other cousins who also show Native American though not on the same location. Can I connect the dots back 6 to 8 plus generations to find that mysterious person? Most families have only rumors and stories but not a lot direct family history so when I have asked them, they have not clues as to where their ancestor was and who it was?

    • Yes, but you need to figure out which side this is one because you have that same segment address on both your maternal and paternal side.

  2. Here’s a conundrum for you: FTDNA and LivingDNA say I’m haplogroup H51 but provide no specific information about its origin; 23andme says I’m H1 (H51 isn’t even listed as a possibility). According to the Public Mitochondrial Tree, both H1 and H51 are direct offshoots of H. So, which am I?

    • You can always look at the mutations to verify. My bet would be H51 because 23andMe tests less.

  3. IMO, the frequencies are not always accurate.

    I dont think the 1 in 200 ratio for J1c2 includes downstreamers. Often, the downstreamers outnumber the clade in question.

    From my list, I can see that 23andMe tests for J1c2b and J1c2c. They are not included in the 1 in 200 number. Only J1c2 exactly.

    Its a matter of philosophy, but I think J1c2b and J1c2c should be included in J1c2 stats.

    I have 3 J1c1 but 5 J1c2b and 8 J1c2c.

    If there are not many downstreamers, then the ratios are reasonable. This is bigger problem with the Y haplos because there are many more levels and downstreamers.

  4. On 23and Me I am just H1 but on FTDNA I am H1b2a. Initially when I click on details I see is H1. When I chick on H1 it expands to show H1a and H1c but nor H1b. Why?

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