Monday, August 15, 2011

Matrilineal Descent: Finding the ancestry of the mother of your mother of your mother, etc.

The DNA studies on surnames seem to be taking center stage. The testing and results do provide a great deal of information, and both are useful to all of us who research.

But matrilineal testing is just as doable, and just as valuable. Mtdna testing does not have the advantage of following a surname, and it is therefore more challenging to follow a line. However, as more and more people test, there will be more lines to follow, and the changing names (with each generation) will be very revealing for family histories. The best test, FGS, for the distinct matrilineal line, the mother of one's mother of one's mother, etc. will provide excellent clues both to heritage and to possible ancestors. If you get a perfect match, it isn't possible to know just where the common ancestor lies along the chain. It could be in recent generations or in ancient generations.

However, checking paper trails against those of the match can help to narrow that down. As more people test, results will show more obvious connections. The tests for HVR are also useful, and will show general history of heritage. None of these tests, of course, will show the genetic contributions of those who married into the matrilineal line.

Important to watch for in publicly posted family trees is  a name that doesn't belong--i.e. a name that has been assumed to it into the matrilineal line but is actually a name from a male who married into the line. I see it all the time, and it is an understandable mistake, as tracing a matrilineal line perfectly takes a lot of dedicated effort.

We hear a lot about the surname studies and the surname matches. I hope that mtdna testing (which can be done on males and on females) will catch a wave of interest, and will begin to attract the kind of interest that has been accorded the patrilineal testing.

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