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Understanding Your Maternal Lineage

Updated: Apr 29, 2018

Learn how to trace the maternal surname.

In the realm of genealogy the research is most often done by following the male lineage. It is the easiest to follow because the surname of the male is passed down to his children and the male children continue on with the same surname. Discovering documents using the male surname is also much easier since in most cases a male head-of-household was the individual certain to be listed in legal documents - even if no other members of the household were listed. For the male lineage, one should be able to follow his surname (despite the frequent variations that occur from misspellings and truncation of names) back to the beginning of time so to speak. Related connections of male ancestors can also be confirmed through Y-chromosome DNA (Y-DNA) testing. Though this type of DNA is passed from father to his children, on his son(s) will in turn pass it to their children. Daughters receive the Y chromosome, but do not pass it on.

The female mitochondria DNA (MtDNA) is passed from mother to children, but is only passed on through the daughters.

In the realm of genealogy the research is most often done by following the male lineage. It is the easiest to follow because the surname of the male is passed down to his children and the male children continue on with the same surname. Discovering documents using the male surname is also much easier since in most cases a male head-of-household was the individual certain to be listed in legal documents - even if no other members of the household were listed. For the male lineage, one should be able to follow his surname (despite the frequent variations that occur from misspellings and truncation of names) back to the beginning of time so to speak. Related connections of male ancestors can also be confirmed through Y-chromosome DNA (Y-DNA) testing. Though this type of DNA is passed from father to his children, on his son(s) will in turn pass it to their children. Daughters receive the Y chromosome, but do not pass it on. MATERNAL SURNAME So what if you want to trace female lineage? After all, tracing male lineage is only half of your history. It can be a valuable exercise to discover your maternal line and history. Considering the fact that the female surname traditionally changes upon marriage to her husband’s surname, I wondered: What if the females always retained the surname of the mother? If that had been the case from the beginning of the use of surnames, then we would know our original maternal surname.  MITOCHONDRIA DNA (MtDNA) But it wouldn’t just be the original surname we would have, it would be a concise lineage of our MtDNA. Just as the male DNA follows the male line from father to son, but is not passed down by a daughter to her children, the female mitochondria DNA (MtDNA) is passed from mother to children continuously, but only passed on by the daughters. For women, discovering your maternal line is a way to follow your DNA lineage. For men, following the MtDNA provides information about the MtDNA he has received through the generations as well. Y-DNA vs. MtDNA Following the maternal surname provides assurance that we are also tracing the straight line of MtDNA. This is advantageous because MtDNA provides different information than Y-DNA and behaves differently as well. With the Y-DNA, anyone can be tested and a direct connection established between two people. The MtDNA does not reveal a direct connection to a particular individual. Instead it indicates if, somewhere in time the two individuals are linked or not. If the MtDNA does not match identically, then it is definitive proof that the two individuals are not related. It is used more as a process of elimination for individuals. Because of this, by discovering the maternal surname lineage and using MtDNA testing, the MtDNA test should confirm a positive connection. If the MtDNA results do not confirm a match, then there was a glitch in the research process or potentially an adoption. When this happens, further research will need to be conducted to find out which individual led to a negative report.

How does one begin the quest? Look for the next blog post where we help you to set out on this journey.

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