Thursday, August 29, 2013

Deoxyribonucleic acid


yDNA – Only males can take this test.  If you are a female you will need to get a brother, uncle or a cousin that shares the surname you are interested in to take the test for you.  This test follows the DNA trail straight back through the father’s line.  One of my uncles took the test for me for my Simmons surname.  It will show the DNA of his father, his father, his father, his father etc. so if follows one surname.  yDNA comes in several different levels.  The more markers you have tested, the more it will narrow down your line.  You probably want to test at 67 markers or higher.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) – Both males and females can take this test. This test follows the DNA trail straight back through the mother’s line.  It will change surnames with each generation so this is a harder test to work with and is used to solve specific DNA dilemmas.  I took this test.  It follows my line though Simmons (my maiden name), Weichert (my mother’s maiden name), Glaentzer (my grandmother’s maiden name), Bodenheim (my great-grandmother’s maiden name), Müller (my 2nd great-grandmother’s maiden name) etc. 

Autosomal DNA (atDNA) – Both males and females can take this test.  This test goes across all lines, paternal and maternal.  It has a completely different purpose than the other two.  This test will tell you who you are related to that is still alive.  Of course it will only show you those persons that have also taken the test.  This is how you find all of those long lost cousins out there that might have more information on your lines.  This is a popular test with adoptees because they can find their birth families.  If one of their birth parents happened to have taken the test they will get a parent hit.  If one of their birth siblings took the test then they will get a sibling hit. For most of us we will be getting cousin hits.  yDNA and mtDNA are passed down from  parent to child relatively unchanged.  atDNA isn’t quite like that.  It is only accurate for about 4 or 5 generations.  If you get an predicted 8th cousin hit that isn’t going to be much use to you.  What you are hoping for are 1st through 4th cousin hits.  Remember, this will be links to your cousins that are alive.


 I have tested with all three companies.  The more databases you get your DNA into the more luck you will have using DNA as a tool.  If you want to use FTDNA, be aware that their tests go on sale frequently so you might want to wait for a sale before you buy a kit from them.

Another DNA resource I would like to mention is a FREE service called GedMatch.  You can upload your raw data and this is another way to get your autosomal DNA out there. 

DNA is a powerful weapon in your brick wall arsenal but don’t think it will solve all of your problems.  You must have an accurate pedigree to go along with your DNA for it to be any use to you at all.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. First time I've seen it explained so that I understand it.

  2. It is a very complicated subject for sure. I tried to simplify it so at least the readers would know what tests do what. I am still learning so much about DNA. So far I have two yDNA, one mtDNA and I have atDNA at all three of the big companies. As more people get tested, I will get more hits and hopefully some of my own brick walls will tumble.