Your direct maternal lineage is the line that follows your mother’s maternal ancestry. This line consists entirely of women, even though both men and women have their mother’s mitochondrial DNA (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.

Note that you and your matches may share ancestors on other parts of your family tree; however, those matches are coincidental.

Your mtDNA may help you find genetic cousins along your direct maternal line. When we look at your mtDNA results, we look for differences in your mtDNA caused by small changes — copying errors — that are called mutations* or polymorphisms. We compare those differences to the differences of other people in our database. The range of possible generations before you share a common ancestor with a match is wide. Your mtDNA exact matches may be recent, but they may also be hundreds or thousands of years in the past. We show this in the following table.

*The term “mutation” in this sense does not refer to anything medical.

Testing Level Matching Level Generations to Common Ancestor
50% Confidence
95% Confidence Interval
mtDNA HVR1 52 (about 1,300 years) NA*
mtDNA Plus HVR1 & HVR2 28 (about 700 years) NA*
mtFull Sequence HVR1, HVR2,
& Coding Region
5 (about 125 years) 22 (about 550 years)

*The range of generations to a common ancestor at this level is too broad to calculate a 95% confidence period.

The wide range in the test results does not prevent your results from being useful. You can use this clear maternal line to provide evidence to support a relationship. You first trace two or more female lineage descendants of a single woman utilizing traditional genealogy research. The descendants then test their mtDNA. If they are exact matches, it is evidence that supports the relationship. Not matching usually disproves the relationship.

Planned comparisons are the best choice. However, you can still find your common ancestor with a match. To do so, use your known maternal genealogy. For each match, look for common geographic locations on the direct maternal line. Work through each of your ancestors on this line as well as their daughters, their daughters’ daughters, and so forth.

Comparing genealogical records is vital when using mtDNA matching to help you in your research. You need to enter all that you know about your direct maternal line in your myFTDNA account.

We can trace our direct maternal line with our mitochondrial DNA due to a special relationship between the power supply for human cells (the mitochondria) and the cell itself. In every human cell, there are hundreds and sometimes thousands of mitochondria. Each mitochondrion has several copies of its genetic code (represented by the letters A, C, T, and G). This genetic code is mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and tells the mitochondria how to function. The code also tells the mtDNA how to copy itself. Over time, the copying process can create small changes known as polymorphisms or mutations*. If these changes are in the mother’s egg cell, the child produced from that egg inherits them. If female, the child may someday pass that same change on to her own children.

Slowly, these changes build up down maternal lineages. They define and mark branches on the maternal tree. We can look at your specific mtDNA code sequence to see which changes you have in your mtDNA.

There are two scientific baseline sequences to which scientists compare these changes in mtDNA: the Reconstructed Sapiens Reference Sequence (RSRS) and the revised Cambridge Reference Sequence (rCRS). By comparing your mtDNA changes to each sequence, we can distinguish the differences between the original values in the RSRS (or the comparative values in the rCRS) and your test results. Following scientific standards, FamilyTreeDNA compares all mtDNA results to the rCRS and provides you with your comparisons to the RSRS.

Your direct maternal ancestors have passed down their mtDNA generation after generation. The line began with our common maternal ancestor in Africa and it ultimately reached you. Our mtDNA marks the path from our ancestors in Africa to their locations in historic times. Your ancestors carried their mtDNA line on their historic migrations. Your line’s present geography shows the path of this journey. Your mtDNA results are the most precise DNA tool for this line. Your mtDNA HVR1 results use two strategies to explore your maternal origins.

The first method uses your main (backbone) branch on the maternal tree, known as an mtDNA haplogroup.

Scientists study the history of populations across geography and time using mtDNA. They often use the frequencies of each branch in modern populations, as well as samples from ancient burial sites. With these, they are able to tell us much about the story for each haplogroup. This traces back hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of years. Your branch on the tree tells you where your maternal ancestors are present today and about their likely path out of Africa. We summarize what scientists know about your mtDNA Haplogroup on your mtDNA – Results page.

The second method uses your haplogroup information alongside differences in your results. We use these to match you to the information of others in our database. These matches are more likely to share your lineage in closer genealogical time. Country frequencies thus reflect the more recent history of your ancestors. Both the mtDNA – Haplogroup Origins page and the mtDNA – Ancestral Origins page show this information.

Your myFTDNA account has two places for you to enter ancestry information:

  • Genealogy – Earliest Known Ancestors page – On this page, you can enter the basic information about your earliest known ancestor on your direct maternal line (and direct paternal line).
  • myFamilyTree – This tool allows you to manually create your family tree or upload your GEDCOM file. GEDCOM is the standard format for sharing electronic pedigree information, and almost all genealogy software packages are able to export to standard GEDCOM format (.ged).

After you have taken an mtDNA test and your results are complete, you can access your mtDNA results, matches, etc.

To access your mtDNA information:

  1. Sign in to your myFTDNA account.
  2. In the upper-left corner, on the navigation bar,  click  MyDNA > mtDNA or go to the mtDNA section on your dashboard and select one of the following :

Below is a list of common terms that you will come across during the course of learning about your mtDNA origins. Click on a term in the list to read the definition for that term.

*The term “mutation” in this sense does not refer to anything medical.