DNA testing is one way to keep your genealogy research progressing forward on your maternal side. DNA testing gets more popular every year, yet many still don’t understand some of the basics of how it works. The value of any DNA test is that it can show connections where there is a missing paper trail or the trail ends. If you have a good paper trail as far back as you desire you probably don’t need DNA testing, but once the trail ends it may help you make solid connections that would not have been noticed otherwise.
At first DNA testing was used as a tool mostly for male researchers. Initially only the male Y-Chromosome test proved of any value in connecting lines, but this was only on a father’s line. Eventually a popular genealogy DNA test that females could take was perfected. Females were no longer completely left out of genealogy DNA testing. In this article we will examine a DNA test, which females can take, that might by valuable for family history research.
What is the DNA Test Females Can Take?
The most popular maternity test for genealogist is the Mitochondrial DNA test, otherwise known as the mtDNA test. This test traces DNA that is passed only through the mother’s side, from female to female. It cannot be used to track the male lines on your mother’s side. The distinctiveness of this test is that either a male or female can take it. Both sexes inherit this type of DNA through their maternal lines. Yet, only females pass it down.
As in any DNA test, if a match is found between two females, or males, who take this form of genealogy test, then those two people are indeed related on the maternal side, somewhere in history. The dilemma is figuring out exactly where on your family lines you have a common ancestor. In DNA terms we call that the Most Recent Common Ancestor or MRCA. The biggest goal of DNA testing is to get as close as possible to the MRCA for a group of people, or at least the person you want to compare with.
Mitochondrial DNA changes very slowly over time, if at all, so if you don’t exactly match another mtDNA donor it most likely means your common maternal ancestor is very far in the past. This is different than the male only Y-Chromosome test where changes can occur much more recently or quicker, in relation to time itself.
DNA Testing Benefits for Genealogy Research on the Maternal Side
The benefit of the mtDNA test is it will tell you how far in the past, within a range, you share a common ancestor with someone else. The results may give you some idea how your family members migrated and what groups you are related to. From there you will need to find paper trails connecting each other, but you will at least have some idea where to start or where a commonality exists.
The more sets of mtDNA results you have from many participants the easier it will be to understand what the matches mean and how you may connect genealogically on your maternal side. This makes it important to get a large group of people to test mtDNA, so that you have more results to compare. Gradually matches will be found and surprises uncovered, all which will give you more clues as to your maternal ancestry. That is why this test remains popular for female and male genealogist alike.
Dr Geoff Swinfield will be lecturing on DNA and family history as part of the "Ask the Experts" workshops run by the Society of Genealogists at the forthcoming Family History Conference in Nottingham. He has a Ph.D. in genetics and has used this training to apply genealogical research to the study of families at risk from genetic diseases. Why not come along and have a great four day conference
Author: Mark Jordan
About the Author:
Mark D. Jordan is a writer and genealogy researcher from Pennsylvania. A recommended genealogy website is Researching Your Family History. More family research information can be read at Family History Blog