mtDNA results - how to interpret? how to utilize?

+7 votes

I'm looking for any help, suggestions, insight on understanding and using mtDNA results for genealogical research.

My paternal aunt recently received the results of her mtDNA test (full sequence).  She tested because we are hoping to shed some light on a brick wall ancestor on her matrilineal line.

I'm trying to understand her results... she shows 8 exact matches with 0 genetic distance.  Am I correct in understanding that having this many exact matches with 0 genetic distance is something of a rarity? 

I was very happily surprised that she has so many, because I realize the only shred of hope we have is through them and not the matches with greater genetic distances. 

Her haplogroup (H5h) doesn't appear on mitosearch's drop down menu, so I am curious if this is also a rarer haplogroup...?

One thing I was hoping for was some revelation into general ethnic origins, as I suspected the brick wall ancestor was likely of Pennsylvania Dutch (Germanic) ancestry or maybe of Scots-Irish ancestry.  These were the two main ethnic groups residing in the time/place she lived. Until her husband's generation (he and his siblings), his family strictly married within their Pennsylvania Dutch community. But some of her husband's siblings married spouses of Scots-Irish background.


Of course, only one of my aunt's exact matches had posted their family tree, so I've request the others to share their matrilineal line. So far the few matches who have replied have matrilineal ancestors who go back at least one or two generations than my ancestor and have surnames that suggest a British Isles connection.  I am hoping to hear from the others soon...

Has anyone had luck utilizing mtDNA for their research?  


WikiTree profile: Sarah Brown
in Genealogy Help by Jana Shea G2G6 Mach 3 (30.1k points)
retagged by Ellen Smith

4 Answers

+5 votes

This is how mtdna works.  Hope it helps!  Basically you are limited to:

Your mother's mother's line

Your father's mother's line

And only the succeeding mother's lines.  No male lines would be considered... only female lines.
by Laura Bozzay G2G6 (6.2k points)
Your link addresses x-DNA matching, not mtDNA matching, the subject of this question. In my experience, the x-DNA matching is somewhat easier to accomplish, and perhaps more useful in that regard.
You are correct.  I answered for X rather than mtdna.  It was very late (actually very early in the morning) and I went the easier route...  

Here is basic DNA explained

I have read opinions where x is better for genealogy and then I have read other opinions that say mtdna is better.  

mtdna only comes from the mother side and from mothers in that line  so it is more limited view than x which at least includes the mothers on the fathers side as well.  This link has charts that show the difference between mtdna tracing and x tracing.
Thank you, Laura.

However, I already have a relatively decent understanding of mtDNA basics.  

I am curious as to how others have fared with their own mtDNA testing, how they've utilized in in their research.

From what I can glean so far, my aunt's haplogroup subclade (H5h) appears to be somewhat rare and yet she also has 8 exact matches to her full sequence mtDNA test (at 0 genetic distance). That, too, seems to be a rare phenomenon and I am curious whether others have had seen a similar amount of matches or not.
+9 votes

Thank you for asking this interesting question. I have often wondered if mtDNA has been helpful to others in finding common ancestors. I hope others will respond to share their experience.

Personally, I have zero (none, zilch, nil) exact matches to my mtDNA which I tested in 2007. I have also tested six other relatives, for whom I have found at most three or four matches. That you have found eight exact matches is nothing short of astounding in my experience.

I have also not been able to identify even one common ancestor for matches to the other six people I have tested. I can only say that the other matches were to ancestral women who lived in the same general region. The problem with mtDNA matching is complicated by several factors. 1) Too few people test their mtDNA. 2) Most people don't know their matrilineal lines as well as their other lines. 3) Surnames are of almost no use in matching. 4) Not everybody uploads their mtDNA results to MitoSearch.

My biggest success with mtDNA has come from eliminating possibilities. For example, it seems that almost every family in my area of Kentucky has at least one female ancestor who is reported to be of Native American descent. Results of mtDNA has been able to eliminate such possibilities and dispel family myths. For that purpose mtDNA testing has been quite helpful.

by Bill Vincent G2G6 Pilot (150k points)
Thank you for sharing, Bill.

What I have read so far leads me to believe that 8 exact matches with 0 genetic distance for mtDNA (full sequence) is indeed a rare thing.  

I know I have an incredible amount of hard work and research ahead to try and figure out a common ancestor, but with this many matches I am hopeful.

So far, only four of the eight matches has shared their matrilineal line with me.  Of these, three also have brick walls (but at least have a maiden name) about two generations earlier than my own. They are each from differing US states and the only thing in common is English/British derived surnames.

The fourth match's line goes back much further and I've already been able do a bit of research to take it back three more generations - to the earliest settlers of Elizabethtown, NJ.  Again, British origins seem to be prevalent.

So far, I think this could be helpful in eliminating possibilities for my own brick wall ancestor.  It seems that I can probably focus on families with a daughter named Sarah (b. 1852) in the region she married (Huntingdon/Mifflin Cos., PA) who seem to have British ancestry rather than Pennnsylvania Dutch.  

I haven't yet figured out how to utilize Mitosearch... I don't believe my aunt's subclass  exists there yet.
You possibly can directly upload the mtDNA to Mitosearch. However, the surest way is to print the results, create a login at Mitosearch, and add each data pair manually. Mitosearch will match the data rather than the haplogroup.
FYI, I find that Eupedia has excellent information on European haplogroups. Try this link:
Thanks for this very interesting link!

Once again, subclade H5h is missing... which is kind of puzzling. But the info on the other H5 subclade is insightful.
+8 votes

My mtDNA Haplogroup is H1a1, and to date, I have over 160 exact matches with zero genetic distance.

Now I would assume that I have so many matches because H1a1 is one of the more common (or older) haplogroups, but I recently saw one potential answer regarding what kind of result many mtDNA matches or few matches might mean---on the Family Tree DNA forums, posted 9/3/2016, by customer GST:

"The mutation rate is slow, an average of about one mutation in 3600 years, but it is also highly variable. For some people with no 'recent' mutations, their exact matches could share a common maternal ancestor several thousand years ago. For people with more recent mutations, exact or even close matches could be much more recently related."

"If you have a large number of FMS matches, it is likely your line does not have recent mutations and most of those matches will be very distantly related. If you have a very small number of FMS matches, you should look at them more carefully for possible connections."

Now of those 160, I have two people who match me autosomally, 5th to remote cousin. One of them is just recent, so I have not been able to explore the possible connection, but the other I've talked with through this year, and we can't presently establish a connection as of yet. I suspect my main problem is because my mother's maternal line isn't well researched, so we only go back about 150 years so far. But I find this connection intriguing, because the match attended the same university as my mother, they were only a year apart, and knew some of the same people as well (what are the odds?).

by Michael Hammond G2G6 Mach 1 (12.1k points)
Another H1a1 here as well. I have only 1 that matches me and that's my brother. He certainly ought to! I have about 170 matches with 1 mutation that are all over Western Europe and the US.
Thank you, Michael!  This was incredibly helpful in broadening my understanding of mtDNA.

I also finally found information on my aunt's haplogroup subclade on which states "The woman who started this branch lived at some point between recent generations and 6,500 years ago" (though a summary places the age at 2,924.8 +/- 3,559.2; CI= 95% - not sure what that means.

My aunt shows 4 extra mutations in her FTDNA full sequence results.

So far, it appears all of her matches trace their matrilineal lines only back to colonial America.  This in of itself tells me a great deal about our brick wall ancestor.  

Thanks again!
+5 votes
The most practical use of exact matches of HVR1, HVR2, plus regions appears to be the sharing of matrilineal lines! Since any exact match can happen at any generation among any son or daughter of the same matrilineal line you are not able to determine genetic distance or generational data from the match. I've used two different mtDNA haplogroups in this way previously but only for extending the matrilineal lineage back into time.

Our two haplogroups are H63a and H1bb but in each case with 7 or 8 exact matches at least one kit has an earlier matrilineal tree that I was able to connect with - producing some interesting results. For instance, my pious Catholic Cajun-French grandmother was actually a protestant German Palatinate emmigre's descendant 7 generations hence!

Hope you are able to find similar gems!  Happy holidays.

by Leake Little G2G6 Mach 1 (13.1k points)
Thanks, Leake!  I am very hopeful that I will be able to connect to the one exact match that spans back into the mid-17th century in colonial New Jersey.
Also... I agree, the best use is the sharing of matrilineal information.

I cannot understand why folks do not share their information. There are privacy controls available to protect living persons... and if you've went through the expense and process of taking the test, why withhold family tree data that could help determine a common ancestor?

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