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DNA Tests Available To The Genealogist

We need to be aware at the outset, that there are limitations in using current DNA identification techniques.  Genetic comparisons can determine if a person is related to another living human being, but can not yet determine the degree of the blood relationship.  With that said, there are two basic DNA tests that are of interest to the family genealogist.

The Y-Chromosome Test

The Y-chromosome, in the nuclear DNA of every living male homo sapien, resembles that of his father, his paternal grandfather, etc., and is carried by male cousins of any degree that share the same male ancestor.  It creates a clear profile, known as a haplotype, that distinguishes one male-to-male lineage from another.

The Y-chromosome Test Can Help Determine:

  1. Whether specific individual men share a common male ancestor.

  2. If a set of men with the same or similar surname are directly related through a common ancestor.

  3. How many different common male ancestors any given group collectively shares.

  4. To which broad haplogroup each individual male belongs.

  5. An analysis of the mutations in the Y-chromosome can also be used to estimate the degree of separation between individual males in terms of number of generations since the separation occurred. The Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) is another way of expressing this separation. Because of the current relative small database, there is currently no way to guarantee the expected 'natural' rate of mutation over time of the various Y-chromosome markers.

 For more detail on the Y-Chromosome, click on the University of Leicester (UK), Genetics Department web site at

There is a second article authored by Neil Bradman and Mark Thomas of The Centre for Genetic Anthropology at University College London that will provide more knowledge regarding the Y-Chromosome.


The  Mitochondrial Test (mtDNA)

The mitochondrial test looks at the DNA signature of mitochondria, a special part of nearly all human cells, which is passed on, female-to-child and inherited down the female line. It is generally used to study long-term population developments such as migrations.

The Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) Test:

Reveals details about the distant origins of the maternal ancestors and could be used to link individuals via the female line.


This Page Was Last Updated:  06/07/2005