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

+19 votes

imageMitochondrial DNA tests can be the most challenging to use for genealogy. Has mtDNA helped you with your research? Have you found or confirmed any ancestors because of it?

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in The Tree House by Eowyn Walker G2G Astronaut (1.9m points)
edited by Mags Gaulden

22 Answers

+15 votes

Yes, mtDNA confirmed (provided supporting evidence) for the matrilineal relationship of 5th cousins:

You can see their matching mtDNA here (if you are registered at mitoYDNA):

They are an exact mtDNA full sequence match.  Their shared direct maternal line ancestor is

They are also an mtDNA match with five other matrilineal lines from the Bahamas listed here However their earlier ancestry is incomplete.

by Peter Roberts G2G6 Pilot (584k points)
edited by Peter Roberts
Hi, Peter. I haven't checked in a while, so just wondering if now uses mtDNA full-sequencing variants (probably via a FASTA file), or if comparisons are still HVR1/HVR2 rCRS or RSRS differences only. Thanks!

Hello Edison, mitoYDNA uses full sequence differences from the rCRS.  It can also use use HVR1&2 or just HVR1 differences from the rCRS.

Step by step instructions are at

Family Tree DNA testees are strongly urged to use the mitoYDNA Chrome Extension (which uploads the CSV file).  The Chrome Extension also makes it possible to upload just HVR1 or just HVR1&2.  

Manual entry of rCRS differences is possible, but if the CR (Coding Region) or HVR2 was not tested then a filler value needs to be added.  I recommend adding "11A" if HVR2 is missing and "9999A" if the CR is missing.  Then add a note to that effect in the User Notes field.

mitoYDNA uses rCRS differences instead of RSRS differences because most labs (other than Family Tree DNA) only report rCRS differences.  It is very difficult (to write code) to always make accurate automatic conversions from rCRS to RSRS.

Thanks for the update, Peter.
Thanks Peter, but is there a web site that says all this in layman’s language ?. I just did FTDNA mtDNA and my three matches mean very little. Your comments infer that mitoY is the sharing platform for mtDNA ?. In which case there are 30 steps in the instructions, which means there are 30 times I can make a mistake and have to start over. Daunting, to say the least. Can it be made a little easier for us laymen :-(.

Not only that, but we are forced to use Google, the famous collector of personal data. At least FTDNA seems to have acknowledged other platforms as the placeholders no longer sit on top of each and on top of key information in Firefox. That’s my grouch for the week.
Hello Alan,

Here is a video that shows you how to upload mtDNA to

If you have full sequence results then you don't have to use Chrome and you can do a manual entry instead.  You just need to make sure you are entering your rCRS results/differences (not RSRS).  

If you don't want to use Chrome and you only have HVR1 or just HVR1&2 results, then you need to use the filler values I noted earlier.
+14 votes

Yes. I confirmed my line back to my 9th-great-grandmother Hannah Lawrence, which had one very tenuous link. Here’s a write-up:

by Barry Smith G2G6 Pilot (230k points)
+11 votes
No! I discovered that I have a mutation. That did answer the question as to why I have never had any 0 distance matches. Interesting concept to explore!
by Virginia Fields G2G6 Pilot (835k points)
I haven't had any luck with mine either.  I have 5 extra mutations and no missing mutations. I have one 0 genetic distance match and his brick wall is his grandmother. Mine is my 2nd great-grandmother. OY! It is my hope that more people will test and eventually we can all find the answers that we're looking for.
A mutant! I'm hearing the X-Men cartoon theme song in my head!

I am too! But, I have still been able to use mtDNA to help with my research into my EKA in Rabun county, Georgia using DNA group projects.

What is a Heteroplasmy And Why Do I Care?


Thank you for the link, Mags!
+11 votes
I have a few that are great and I knew about obviously. There are a few mutations along the way but researching various branches was like finding a itty bitty needle in a huge haystack. I have U5/U5b genetic starting code and well there are a lot of those out there. :)

Oddly my mom may have a slight DNA variant as her numbers either "recorded" weird or it missing. So using her dna just as a guideline and my DNA seems to copy strongly to a maternal cousin through her mom, my mom's sister and her daughter. Heavily very well sourced paper trails are actual been confirming as well as DNA testing of MtDNA! More work on MtDNA but breaking through some pretty thick DNA walls.
by Elizabeth Korf G2G2 (2.4k points)
+16 votes
Yes I have! Sort of.

Most of my ancestors were enslaved in the state of Georgia. I was able to find out where maternal roots came from in Africa. Majority of the African slaves in Georgia came from Sierra Leone. My maternal roots were based in Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

I'm still trying to connect the dots back to West Africa. I've went far back to a woman (3rd great grandmother) with a last name of Williams. More work needs to be done.
by Eileen Robinson G2G6 Mach 5 (59.7k points)
Great job! Your surname and your 3rd great-grandmother's surname are of interest to me.  

My matrilineal 2nd great grandmother was a Robinson/Roberson/Robertson (depends on who is spelling it!) who was married to a Williams from Edgefield County, South Carolina. She was allegedly born in Alabama. I have made no progress in learning who her birth family was.  His family was a plantation owning family, one of the prominent families in Edgefield.

Could you please share your mtDNA haplogroup with me? My haplogroup was U6b2 when I originally tested, and has more recently become U6b2a, from what I understand.
Wow, Eileen, you have been able to come up with lots more details about your African heritage than I have. My African roots come through the Bahamas on my father's side. There is a website, I believe it is, that will help to connect you with your specific tribal groups based on your DNA tests. They are looking to for us here in the African diaspora. You would qualify, so I recommend that you check it out.
I'll have to look into it.

L3b1b is my actual haplogroup from the mtDNA test. I question the accuracy of 23andMe. They said that I was L3b1a. surprise

Oh well.

23andMe said that mine was U6. As I understand it, that is a broad haplogroup and the U6b2 that I received from FTDNA is a more refined haplogroup.   I wonder how you ended up with two different subgroups.  I would go with the one from FTDNA.  As I understand it, they are the ones to trust for the mtDNA and Y haplogroups.
+12 votes
It allowed me to confirm a link back to my 3xG grandparents. Just one person who had posted a tree on Ancestry including several people who were also in my tree allowed me to do this. I was always afraid to get DNA tested as I was concerned it might disprove my research, or almost as bad, not show any links to connected individuals. I am now glad that I got tested.
by Derek Allen G2G6 Mach 1 (15.9k points)
+11 votes
I wouldn't say it has helped confirm or discover any ancestors for me yet, but to the extent that family members have done MtDNA, it has been helpful and interesting in smaller ways. My mother's MtDNA has turned out to be extremely common, but maternal matches can at least be divided by "possibly matrilineal" vs "not matrilineal." The MtDNA identified for my paternal grandmother, on the other hand, is unusual, so that division into "possibly" vs "not" would be more significant. It's also been neat to discover (via 23andMe's less specific groupings) approximately what some of the other ancestors' MtDNA was, which may be useful in the future.
by Karla Huebner G2G6 Mach 1 (10.2k points)
+11 votes

My oldest daughter did a 23 and me DNA kit , on the results they showed enough of the Mitochondrial DNA test to show what Haplogroup that she was in which showed as K1a1b1a   which on Wikipedia says usually means that Ashkenazi Jews in you genes , even thou it does not show in the autosomal DNA test, 

Haplogroup K1a1b1a (mtDNA)

here is link to my oldest maternal ancestor 

Mary (Moore) Shockley (abt. 1797 - bef. 1880)

There is a profile listing her mother as Katherine Wasson Moore (1775-1830) but not sure about the info on her, so it has not helped alot but it has enlighten me to know I still may have Jewish ancestors maybe, I know on my Dad's side that there might be Jewish way back, as the original ancestor on that side had a German/Yiddish name, Eisenmann , but from the records that found so far they were Lutherans when they came to this country in 1749 , the funny thing is , my dad's family is from the PA and Ohio area, my mother's ancestors came to Tennessee, from various places , she was born in Tn that may have both have Jewish ancestry, not really sure about the possibility as I do not know much about DNA 

by Janine Isleman G2G6 Mach 6 (62.1k points)
+11 votes
No, it has not helped. I had already traced my maternal line back about six generations. None of my mitochondrial matches share a common ancestor with me. Or they did not include their family trees on Family Tree DNA so I  have no way of knowing.
by Lorraine Keith G2G1 (1.6k points)
+10 votes
I cannot understand the system so while I tested some time ago I have not had any success.


by Noeleen Radka G2G Crew (500 points)
+10 votes
I have not had any help from my mtDNA test.  I have no matches with a distance of 0, so I've been unable to get past the brick wall of my great-great-grandmother.
by Anonymous Hamilton G2G Crew (900 points)

You may have a Heteroplasmy annon.  Check out Roberta Estes Blog - What is a Heteroplasmy and Why Do I Care?

+9 votes
Not really.  I don't understand it well. The instructions that FamilytreeDNA had were outdated and when I emailed the help address I got a canned reply that it was no longer monitored.  

No one that is a match has shared any family information with me and I have sort of given up.  I don't bother responding anymore when they say there is a match.  

I should put more effort into understanding it but I really don't.  Some day.  I am H52.
by Kim Williams G2G6 Mach 4 (44.6k points)
+9 votes
mtDNA has not helped me with genealogy but it has helped me to understand myself and my maternal ancestors. Combined with historical events, I now understand why my maternal ancestors were Huguenots. This is because they were Jews who took Huguenot names. I did manage to locate a living descendant of my earliest known maternal ancestor who shares my Haplogroup J1b1b1.
by Marion Ceruti G2G6 Pilot (181k points)
+6 votes
Yes, absolutely. I was stuck on figuring out who my GG Grandfather was.  My GG Grandmother’s child was born out of wedlock.  A man, let’s call him John, was reputed to have been the father, but there was no firm documentation of that. It turned out that a number of John’s documented descendants had taken the dna test from Amazon, and they were listed as probable cousins.
by Kenneth Ray G2G Crew (380 points)
+7 votes
I knew that my great-grandmother had given birth to a "secret" son four months after she married my great-grandfather. The son never lived with his parents, and as far as I know my grandmother never knew that she had an older brother (although if she did know I am sure she would have kept her mother's secret). I had the birth record for the son, so I knew the date and place of birth, but it gave no name. Through an DNA test, I found a second cousin who was a descendant of this son, and was able to construct a decent bio of him and thus complete my great-grandparents' family.
by Stu Bloom G2G6 Mach 8 (85.3k points)
+7 votes

No. mtDNA hasn't helped me meet my research goals for my ancestor, Barbara Unknown Bowman. My first goal is to locate her maiden name with her parents. My second goal is to find her immigration record or the earliest US records for her. 

I have researched the other United States people in her exact mtDNA full sequence matches without locating any connections to her or her location in Virginia. She matches/shares with people from all over Europe (Switzerland, Austria, Poland, etc). I can't get Barbara back to Europe at this point, and haven't worked out any trees for her European matches for a variety of reasons (can't read/speak/write the language; do not have access to international records on Ancestry; don't know how to use international records with confidence on My Heritage or FS; time constraints on learning these skills, etc). 

Hopefully, at some point, I will find a paper record to tie her to her parents and to some of these US mtDNA matches. One step at a time.

I'm thankful to other people who have looked at her case and suggested possible parents. So far, I have been able to disprove or still don't have enough evidence for proof, but grateful for the support on WikiTree.

by Margaret Meredith G2G6 Mach 2 (29.7k points)
+7 votes
My maternal haplogroup was unexpected.  I am PuertoRican and the general consensus is that our MTDNA is African or Indigenous and YDNA will be European, but my haplogroup is J2a1b1 which is European.  So, I was fascinated to find this crazy woman who crossed the ocean to the the unknown.

I added information on Ancestry about my MTDNA to all my maternal line.  At this point only going back to 2nd Great-grandmother.  Then I get an email from another Ancestry member with my grandmother's maiden name.  He has been been researching that line also and had posited that it was European but did not have any females to test. His 2nd Great-grandmother was the sister of mine.  With him, I was able to go back another 5 generations and also get some corresponding information about males on that line.  It opened up that line for me.

I still haven't gotten to that first female that came to Puerto Rico and I am into the late 1500s.
by Maureen Randall G2G4 (4.0k points)
+3 votes
Quick answer? No.
by Lynden Rodriguez G2G6 Mach 2 (25.7k points)
+4 votes
Nope, but I'm hopeful regarding the chance of making progress. The problem is that my matrilineal line dwindles down to little more than a mother and her daughter in the 1850 census. Small number, small hope, needle in a haystack kind of stuff. Could I find a few exact matches in her state, maybe I could leap over a generation or two, and hit on something. Someday maybe, not yet.
by Frank Blankenship G2G6 Mach 4 (46.0k points)
edited by Frank Blankenship
+5 votes
Great question!

It did help to confirm that my mtdna matches with others from Sweden, supporting the genealogy.  

My mother’s mother’s mom claimed to have been adopted. The results of my mtdna test showed that she was from the same area as her adoptive parents.

Cool stuff. Glad I had it tested.

by Keith Hathaway G2G6 Pilot (607k points)

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