Question of the Week: Has mitochondrial DNA helped you discover or confirm any ancestors? [closed]

+21 votes

500px-Question_of_the_Week-55.pngHas mtDNA helped you with your genealogy? Please answer below or on Facebook or use the question image to share your answer with friends and family on social media.

in The Tree House by Eowyn Walker G2G Astronaut (2.0m points)
closed by Eowyn Walker
Yes, just recently.  When I had my MTDNA done, I came out J2a1a1 which is a European haplogroup.  What is unusual about this is that I am from Puerto Rico and common belief is that most PRs have Native or African mitochondrial DNA on the assumption that it was mostly men that came in from Europe and there were few European women to mate with.  

I had been searching for about 4 years for that woman.  I only got as far as my 2xGGM.  Earlier this year, I posted on her profile that she would be J2a1a1 and my story.  Well about 2 months ago I got contacted by 4th cousin, that he had been doing a lot of research on the family and my posting the J haplogroup gave him the verification that he needed to add this branch to his tree.  He gave me the name of Maria Verdugo Segarra Montalvo as our common ancestor.  I was able to work backwards and find documentation to link to my 2xGGM!.  I am now going forward and trying to find that elusive female, but at least I have a branch to search.
No, not for my genealogy. I wanted to know my Haplogroup which is H5A2 and it's Slavic. I was very surprised. I thought it would be western Europe. It was interesting, but I have no close matches.
Mt-DNA is of no use in identifying anyone related to me. It is a very large group and I have a few nucleotides that differ from the standard of the group. I have found no individuals whose sequence is the same as mine. I have not checked all of them since I had no luck in the initials years.
I see so many people here answering how the test helped them identify the origin of some of their ancestors. All I saw on my results was a list of a couple of distant cousins. I did my test with FTDA and I did not see any useful report. Maybe I need to go back to my results to see what I can find. Anybody knows where I should look?


The more complete your tree is will help you in finding matches, especially with FTDNA. Once you're there, click on your matches and look under the "ancestral surnames" column. If you see one or more common surnames, click on that person's tree on the left. You can then compare that person's tree with yours, or expand it by clinking on the arrow on the right side of the person's tree. I wish all the names would expand out, but you have to do it one name at a time. While I tested with both FTDNA and, I found the Ancestry auDNA site more useful. However, if you match is more than five generations back, you have to be a paying member to see the person's names. Always a complication. And the internet has been harvested by these for-pay companies, which have bought up a lot of previously free information on the internet.

Good luck

Rodney Bowers
Rodney Bowers: I had wondered about the gobling-up of free information, as when I returned to sites used before they were no longer there. Gedmatch and Facebook have free surname and geographical specific sites but it helps to have a google account for the best results. To compensate I download every piece of information I think useful. New genealogists quite often open an account and then go private or shut down the payment aspect rendering their accounts mostly useless to more new comers. With over 20.000 downloads my problem is now to find the information I need. A good search app would be very helpful.
Brick walls can crumble. More peopleare testing and getting into geneaology. I suggest joining all the free sites like Ged match, you can upload your Dna to FtDna for free too. The simple form of DNA painter is free too.
I have been following this thread as I am very interested in the overall response. Funds are very limited and i'm trying to save up for an mtDNA test but I want to make sure its worth it. I haven't been able to add to my tree for months because i'm looking for sources and I've hit brick walls on my mother's side. I could use some community advice: Is it worth the mtDNA test to help break these walls? From uploading my autosomal DNA into GedMatch, DNA Portal, My True Ancestry, and other dna analyzing sites, I have narrowed down my ethnicity to Italian, Southern Italian and Greek (Sicilian), Iberian, Balkan and Central European. When I use GedMatch and DNA Portal, for example, it narrows down my ethnicity further to small percentage Sephardic/Askenazi Jewish.  And, If you look at my Sicilian surnames such as Amato, Catalano, Sberna, and Rubbino to name some, I could be but can't verify with my brick walls. so my dear friends, any suggestions or advice?

Hello Connie, 

Under your DNA Connections, it shows that C Branchaw  has already taken a full sequence mtDNA test.  If your direct maternal line ancestry is correct and Branchaw-1’s direct maternal line ancestry is correct then you both should have matching mtDNA.  However Branchaw-1’s privacy level does make it easy to see their precise direct maternal line ancestry.  However your direct maternal line and his/hers is at 

I recommend encouraging C Branchaw to change their privacy level from “Private” to “Private with Public Biography and Family Tree” and add their mtDNA results to Step by step instructions to add mtDNA to mitoYDNA are at   

I welcome any questions.  Most sincerely,

I checked out the mtdna descendants on Mantia which matches mine. I just Don't have them all listed in my tree here because I need sources. Ty so much!!! and I will be sure to touch base with each of them and try your suggestions! again ty!

55 Answers

+23 votes
No.  In my opinion, mtDNA tests are only useful when two people (usually more distant cousins) want to confirm that they might have a common maternal-line ancestor.  A match between two distant cousins is good supporting evidence in many cases for a paper trail.

An mtDNA match between two people with unknown relationships is almost never helpful.  mtDNA changes too slowly to know if the common ancestor lived 100 years ago or 5000 years ago.
by Kevin Ireland G2G6 Mach 1 (14.2k points)
I was able to confirm my birth grandfather through DNA tests that my half cousin and I submitted. I had a family tree book, I knew it was one of several brothers from a large family, and I had always thought my moms birth was the result of an extramarital affair. A hint in my grandmothers letters, mentioned an old boyfriend, and soon after that DNA confirmation arrived via 23andme.
It turns out that the older married brother was innocent and the youngest brother, the only single one at the time,was the fellow in question.

Fully agree with Kevin's comment (that's why I selected it as the best answer).

mtDNA is too slow, I'm in the H4a1a1a subclade with a rounded age of 2700 ybp (years before present). That's based on a full mtDNA analysis BTW.

I have an unique A to G mutation at


Not that my Y-DNA is giving me more success with a rounded age of 3500 (2300-5300) ybp.

All based on a 30x WGS test.

+15 votes
No for me, too.  My dad's earliest female ancestor lived in Delaware or Maryland.  The only close match to her is through someone who lives in Sweden.  MtDNA might be useful if you don't know what continent your line originated on, or to support or disprove Native American or African ancestry, but other than that I've not found a use for it.
by Kathie Forbes G2G6 Pilot (625k points)
Sweden had a colony along the Delaware River in the first half of the 1600s until the Dutch and then the English took it over.  It could be that is where maternal came here.
I haven’t been able to connect her to New Sweeden family, but yes,I think that’s the most likely explanation.
Are you talking about your father's mother's line?  MTDNA would have to follow his mother's line exclusively.
Yes, this is my father’s mother’s direct-maternal-line 5th great grandmother.  I only know her married name, Abigail Courtney, and she died in 1739,  so she is a brick wall for me.
+15 votes
Yes, I traced back my mother's maternal line to Mary Clark, 1590-1681 who was born in Hingham, Norfolk, England, but was not certain of the accuracy.

After some time and an mtDNA test, another individual showed that she also traced back to Mary Clark and to Elizbeth Hobson, Mary's mother.
by Frank Gill G2G Astronaut (2.3m points)
+15 votes

Sort of.  My mitochondrial haplogroup (HV4a) is consistent with those of other descendants of my direct maternal ancestor Jeanne Chebrat.  However, I wouldn't really call it confirmation as the ancestor is so far back - more a confidence boost.

by Brian Lamothe G2G6 Mach 3 (34.1k points)
+15 votes

Yep, I got lucky.  It provided supporting evidence for my 5th great grandmother, for whom we already had a solid paper trail.  One match at FTDNA (full sequence, at a GD of 0) is also a maternal line descendant of Phoebe Jones, with paper trail support.  Some other close mtDNA matches have maternal ancestors from the same geographic area but we haven't found a connection yet.

by Lisa Hazard G2G6 Pilot (229k points)
+15 votes

Mitochondrial DNA has made me realize there's probably a grandmother from Scandinavia in my tree, but that's as far as it goes. Many of the people on FTDNA write in the name of  their oldest known grandmother, sometimes not understanding that only the exclusively maternal line matters.

Anybody else in this group? J1b1a1a 

by C Ryder G2G6 Mach 8 (83.0k points)
+13 votes
Slightly. Some one got two maternal line descendants of two likely sisters (same last name same marriage location), one with known parents and one with unknown parents, and proved they were a match, which helped me find circumstantial evidence that my ancestor is a third sister. However, I haven't been able to track down any maternal decendants of my ancestor so I haven't been able to absolutely prove my line yet.
by Janelle Weir G2G6 Mach 5 (50.1k points)
+12 votes
Not yet. I remain hopeful that it will be useful in the future.

A maternal cousin and I desperately want to get our maternal great aunt to do a mitochondrial DNA test and an autosomal DNA test. We have been discussing the best way to approach her.  It's difficult. We have been told by another cousin not to ask her as she is frail.
by Charlene Newport G2G6 Mach 1 (19.8k points)
Ask her.  She may be happy to provide this legacy.  You won't know until you ask.  Ask her today.
I agree. Show up with the kit and get her to spit into it. It’s no big deal.
To the outsider, it looks like it shouldn't be a big deal. There is a tragic story involved with the family so we have to tread carefully and respectfully. We also live in different countries.
I opened up a can of worms by having a very good match with an unknown 2nd cousin who was adopted at 3 years old and she now  knows who her maternal mother is through the family´s help but the mother refuses to take the DNA test  and has been very nasty about the whole affaire, Sometimes it can be better to let sleeing dogs lye. The only way she will take the test is if you hold her down or get a court order which could be more costly at the end of the day. Some people dont mind having a test and others consider it an invasion of their privacy.
Can you find parents, siblings, nieces, nephews connected to the non co operative? You might be able to bridge her.
+13 votes
Yes. My Grandmother was proven to be the child of her mother. A child of the of her Matrilineal line and broke down the first in a series of brickwall breakdowns for this line.

If only I could find the time to thoroughly research the five women in close geographic locations to my EKA to determine how they connect!!

Can someone give me some time, please?

by Mags Gaulden G2G6 Pilot (585k points)
+17 votes

Yes, indeed. It has helped me confirm several in fact. I began testing some of my older relatives years ago and by either by chance or design selected subjects with mtDNA connected to my own ancestors. I think every one of these mtDNA tests has helped me in some way, including but not limited to DNA confirmation.

I think the main reason some people find mtDNA testing less useful is because relatively fewer people test mtDNA as compared with autosomal DNA. If more people tested the mtDNA of themselves and their relatives, there would simply be more data with which to compare. 

I believe here are two reasons why fewer people test mtDNA:

  1. Many people know less about their matrilineal families because the surnames change with every generation, making these ancestors harder to search. Many people, especially neophyte researchers are drawn to surname research first.
  2. mtDNA testing is more expensive than autosomal DNA testing. This is true because there are fewer laboratories that test mtDNA and the price has not been driven down by demand and competition.
  3. When fewer people are tested, there are fewer data in the mtDNA databases with which to compare (which becomes a circular argument.)
If more people tested their mtDNA and extended their matrilineal family trees, it would become much more useful for more people. That is happening, but not with any great rapidity.
by Bill Vincent G2G6 Pilot (157k points)
+11 votes

I am a U5B1B1g1a and I can't say that it has. I have four matches that are at GD0. In the last year I've had two testers added to my haplotype. Also ! This is a good article on Genetic Mutation.

I'd like to see the price fall for the Maternal test so we could start seeing more matches. Who knows. In five years , there might be a really good data base. 



by Richard Hellstrom G2G4 (4.8k points)
edited by Richard Hellstrom
FTDNA and GED Match have Ancestor Projects, some by Haplogroup , some by country or geographical area and some by surname. The FTDna surname groups are trying to link CRS to lines I think. Do not fully understand it yet but I have been trying to match those who have the same mutations and hope to see some results.
What is CRS the acronym for?   

The Cambridge Reference Sequence (CRS) for human mitochondrial DNA was first announced in 1981 leading to the initiation of the human genome project.

+12 votes
I have traced my maternal line back to Antoinette Landry born in France around 1618.  I did hit stage in my research where I had to guess on parents based on a lack of documentation.  The guess was made on circumstantial evidence like grandparent names.  It turned out that mtDNA was able to confirm that this was the correct choice.
by Paul Berry G2G3 (3.5k points)
+12 votes
No, I only have one MtDNA match and we have no idea where the connection is.
by L Cannon G2G Crew (720 points)
+11 votes
I think the profile [[Johnson-29223|Penelope Johnson]] would be a good example of how it could be used to confirm an ancestor. She has had 3 possible parents with the most likely being Johnson. If there were maternal descendants of all three possible mothers as well as herself it could determine which was the mother? Or possibly who was not. Is this correct?  I am not experienced enough to set up a project to do that though. Is there anyone who could help?
by S. Roberts G2G Crew (860 points)
+10 votes
I'm glad you asked that. I hadn't thought to look it up until now. My newly discovered ancestor is Ava, who lived in Scotland 4250 years ago.
by Joyce Vander Bogart G2G6 Pilot (185k points)
+11 votes
No.  I rely heavily on documentary evidence. Many people ask me for DNA as if it was "the goose that lays the golden eggs."  It isn't.  Years ago, somebody in Britain wrote to the effect that "Everybody in the country leaves a paper trail; all you have to do is find it."  I am not the first who would put Kevin's statement "A match between two distant cousins is good supporting evidence in many cases for a paper trail" the other way around:  A DNA hint is a good reason to start using the "elbow grease" and finding a paper trail.
by Doug Laidlaw G2G6 Mach 2 (29.6k points)
edited by Doug Laidlaw
I think the paper trail and DNA support each other. So many Thomas, William, James and Johns around, all the misspelled names and destroyed documents. My mother looks like she was married 3 times in 3 states but I know it was only once. Dna can help in those situations.
I agree and in my case, the paper trail is a lie, at least in regards to my paternity. DNA did prove that my mother was my mother.  Paper trail said that her husband was my father. But, DNA says that she had a wee bit of fun with a sailor boy, not her husband.
+10 votes
Yes -- I was able to confirm the line to my 4G-grandmother by a close match; unfortunately her parentage is one of my brick walls.
by Tom Gillespie G2G1 (1.6k points)
+13 votes
No, it has not helped me at all. I have only one full match (zero distance) and only 16 matches at distance one. No one at FTDNA can match me at all without the "full sequence".  However, I have one more match which I found in my Y-DNA project (Clan Donald - McDonald) in the BigYs done before FTDNA started stripping out the mitochondrial data. (BigY500 and 700 both do a full mitochondrial sequence because their enrichment technique isn't perfect and there is so much mtDNA).  None of the matches come anywhere close geographically.

I and my perfect match DO however share one mutation with ALL gorillas, beavers, dogs, trout, chickens, and brewer's yeast.

One serious obstacle is that FTDNA refuses to show us the mismatching bases, though project admins can see them.

The haplogroup origins of my mtDNA is however at least a bit interesting. J1c2a2 up to J1c2 is European/Mideastern.

Long ago I generated a world map showing frequencies in academic studies farther up the tree. J, J1, and J2 appear to have originated or at least radiated in the Europe or the Middle East. In other words, from an American perspective, blah.
by James McDonald G2G6 (7.5k points)
+10 votes
No. I have been able, with help of other researchers, to follow my Matrial line to Elisabeth Reber, who, in 1760, married Johan Jacob Haffner in Berks County, PA. He was born in PA, but I have no idea of where she was born or the names of her parents. mtDNA is not going to be of any use that far back.
by Robert Harter G2G1 (1.3k points)
+12 votes
Yes. In South Africa mtDNA is very helpful as it can often be traced to particular women. I am descended from Catharina van Malabaar, which I suspected from the paper trail although there is one doubted generation - but the origin of that line is confirmed. Also matches a second cousin.
by Sharon Caldwell G2G6 Mach 1 (17.4k points)

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