Family Tree DNA recently updated their mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) Understanding Results documents, so this is a good time to go over just what mtDNA is and when a genealogist might use it. MtDNA is the wonderful stuff that all people, male and female, inherit from their mothers. It follows the direct maternal line. This makes it golden for genealogists. This is after all the absolutely hardest line to follow either backwards or forwards using most source documents. Is it a replacement for quality records research? No! Is it an important part of completely verifying a line using genealogical proof? Yes!

However, to use it, you have to do your genealogy with it in mind. Let us then look at the mtDNA Full Sequence Understanding Results document and see how it applies to real genealogy.

Your direct maternal lineage is the line that follows your mother’s maternal ancestry. This line consists entirely of women, although both men and women have their mother’s mtDNA. This means that fathers do not pass on their mtDNA to their children. Your mtDNA can trace your mother, her mother, her mother’s mother, and so forth, and offers a clear path from you to a known, or likely, direct maternal ancestor.

How then does this apply to real life and a real working genealogy project?  Well, I have been working on and off on my 4th great grandmother Saloma C. (Grovner/Grooner) Richards line for years. I am stuck at her, but that does not mean I lack avenues to research. Writing this post uncovered several places where I really need to focus. For now though, here is another genogram. This one has been zoomed out to show Saloma and her husband John Richards at the top.

Males with Saloma's mtDNA are blue and females with her mtDNA are pink.

Males with Saloma’s mtDNA are blue and females with her mtDNA are pink.

From the above Family Tree DNA document, we know that all of Saloma’s children received her mtDNA but only her daughters passed it on to their children. Starting with Saloma, females with her mtDNA are pink and males with her mtDNA are in blue. Any of those in blue or pink who are still alive could be tested with for her mtDNA. If the genealogy is correct, any two should match each other.

That list of names with pink circles turns out to be short. Soloma married John Richards and they had four daughters:

  • Mary C. Richards m. a Guthree but they only had one child, a son, before both died.
  • Caroline Josephine Richards m. John Caldwell Cox, and they had five daughters who survived childhood.
  • Soloma Richards m. John William Mahurin, but they only had one son.
  • Ellen Sherman Richards m. James Jacob Carter, and they had one daughter.

Here is a close up of Caroline Josephine (Richards) Cox’s family.

Caroline had daughters, but I have failed to research beyond my line.

Caroline had daughters, but I have failed to research beyond my line.

Ah. A research whole! I need to work the lines of four of her daughters forward. Why? First, solid genealogy. Second, the descendants of Frances Ellen (Cox) Deal are simply not DNA testing material.

The descendant chart for Soloma’s daughter Ellen Sherman (Richards) Carter is more grim.

Ellen had a daughter, but the line has 'Petered out' and no longer has descendants who carry Soloma's mtDNA

Ellen had a daughter, but the line has ‘Petered out’ and no longer has descendants who carry Soloma’s mtDNA

Note though the name changes. In much of historic Western European culture, women take their husband’s surname when they marry. This is why mtDNA matches will show many different surnames.


Family Tree DNA (2013) Understanding Your mtDNA Full Sequence Results