How Do I Trace My Maternal and Paternal Heritage with MyHeritage DNA? - MyHeritage Knowledge Base (2024)

Taking a DNA test can unlock many secrets about your family’s history. People have as many different reasons for taking a DNA test as they do for pursuing genealogy: perhaps they’re trying to find specific information about a particular ancestor or side of the family, or maybe they just want to learn more generally about their backgrounds.

Some may wish to learn about their heritage specifically from their paternal (father’s) side or their maternal (mother’s) side. In this article, we’ll take a look at the various ways you can conduct this kind of research using MyHeritage DNA.

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What is maternal and paternal lineage tracing?

Tracing a maternal or paternal line means researching only the direct ancestry of your mother’s line or your father’s line, respectively. That is, if you were researching only your maternal line, you would be looking for information on your mother, her mother (your maternal grandmother), her mother (your maternal great-grandmother), and so on. If you were researching only your paternal line, it would be your father, his father, his father, and so forth.

There may be a number of different reasons why you might choose to research your family this way. For some genealogists, it’s a matter of simplifying things — with each generation exponentially larger the further you go back, it may be easiest to stick to just one specific line. Others may be seeking information about some form of inheritance that may only be passed down through the father or the mother — certain tribal or religious identities, for example, or noble titles.

Whatever your reason for researching your maternal or paternal line specifically, taking a DNA test can certainly help — but which DNA test should you do? What type of DNA test is best for tracing maternal or paternal ancestry?

Different types of DNA tests and what they tell you

There are several types of DNA tests available commercially today. The three most common types are autosomal DNA, Y-DNA, and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA).

An autosomal DNA test examines only the autosomes — that is, the chromosomes in your DNA that are not sex chromosomes. These chromosomes contain DNA code that was inherited from both of your parents in random combinations. So an autosomal DNA test won’t necessarily tell you which parent passed on a particular DNA sequence. However, because it covers a much wider range of DNA than the other types, it is the only kind that provides a comprehensive list of DNA matches from both sides of the family.

A Y-DNA test examines the genetic code located on the Y chromosome, which is only found in biological males. Since this chromosome is inherited exclusively from the father and never from the mother, the DNA analyzed on this type of test will give you information that is specific to the paternal line in your family. Of course, one downside is that this test can only be done on people who are biologically male.

A mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA test examines the genetic code located in the mitochondrion. Most of our DNA can be found in the nucleus, or center, of a cell, but some of it is located in a different part of the cell called the mitochondrion. This part of the cell is almost exclusively passed from mother to child. This means that a mtDNA test can give you information that is specific to the maternal line in your family.

Can a woman trace her paternal DNA?

Yes — even though a person who is biologically female can’t take a Y-DNA test, she has two options for researching her paternal line through DNA:

  • Autosomal DNA test: As mentioned above, autosomal testing casts a wider net and is not restricted by biological sex
  • Y-DNA test for a male relative: They can test a male sibling or cousin who has the paternal lineage they are researching (the son of her father’s brother, for example)

What type of DNA test does MyHeritage offer?

MyHeritage offers the autosomal DNA test, because this type of test has the greatest value for genealogists.

When the Science team at MyHeritage developed our DNA test, they carefully considered which of these types of tests to offer. Our main goal as a company is to help people connect with their family’s pasts and explore their genealogy. The information one can obtain through a Y-DNA or mtDNA test may be fascinating, but it is quite general, and the matches these tests identify represent only a narrow sliver of your relatives. Many genealogists find a lot more value and importance in casting their DNA match net as wide as possible, because it is DNA Matching that helps genealogists solve mysteries and break through brick walls in their research. Additionally, in most cases, with a little detective work and some good DNA tools, the autosomal test can do everything for genealogy that the Y-DNA and mtDNA tests can do.

In light of this, we made the decision to offer an autosomal DNA test only.

What this means is that when you take a MyHeritage DNA test, you will receive an Ethnicity Estimate and a comprehensive list of DNA Matches from our global database. You will not receive a breakdown of which DNA you inherited from which parent.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use your DNA test results to help you learn about your maternal or paternal lines. In fact, using the DNA Matching and MyHeritage’s advanced DNA tools, you may be able to determine exactly which ancestors you have in common with a given DNA Match, and you may even be able to tell which sections of your DNA came from a particular side of your family. By combining all the tools MyHeritage provides with your autosomal DNA results, you can learn a lot more about your family than you would learn from a Y-DNA test or a mtDNA test alone.

Using MyHeritage’s advanced DNA tools to identify paternal or maternal DNA

The key to using MyHeritage DNA to identifying paternal or maternal DNA is triangulation: comparing your DNA to that of your relatives to see which sections of DNA you all have in common.

Chances are, you have a few family members who you recognize in the MyHeritage DNA database. If so, you can use the Chromosome Browser to compare your DNA with that of these known family members. (If not, consider giving a DNA test to a few of them as a gift so you have more material to work with!)

So for example, if you compare your DNA to that of your first cousin on your father’s side, you will easily see which sections of DNA you share — and these are most likely sections that you inherited from your father.

Do note, however, that it’s possible that the DNA you share wasn’t inherited from your father’s parents, but rather from a common ancestor much further back. This is especially true among endogamous populations, such as Ashkenazi Jews or Low German Mennonites, in which individuals tended to marry only within their relatively small community.

One way to confirm that the shared DNA segment was inherited from a more recent ancestor is to compare both of your DNA to that of another relative on your father’s side. Again, these sections could have been inherited from a less recent ancestor, but with each additional match who has the same triangulated segment, the likelihood that that segment was inherited from your father increases.

Click here to learn more about how to use the Chromosome Browser for genealogy.

Another MyHeritage tool you may find handy is AutoClusters. This tool takes your DNA Matches and groups them according to shared DNA. That is, it creates a chart where you can see which of your DNA Matches are related to each other. If you find an unknown DNA Match in a cluster with a known relative, this means you likely share a common ancestor with both of them. You can then head back to the Chromosome Browser and compare your DNA with that of these matches.

Click here to learn more about how to use AutoClusters.

The Theory of Family Relativity™ feature can help in the same way: by providing a plausible theory as to how you are related to an unknown DNA match, and therefore, helping you understand whether that match is on your mother’s or your father’s side.

Click here to learn more about using the Theory of Family Relativity™.

Can I figure out which ethnicities I inherited from each of my parents using MyHeritage DNA?

While there’s no way to tease out exactly what percentage of each ethnicity you inherited from which parent using an autosomal DNA test, looking at your DNA Matches can give you some valuable clues. When you visit your DNA Match list, you can filter your results by ethnicity. Take a look at which matches show up in your list when you filter by a particular ethnicity. Are they mostly on your father’s side or your mother’s side? Or does there seem to be fairly equal representation from both?

You can also enter the Review DNA Match page for your known matches and note the Shared Ethnicities section. Which ethnicities are showing up on your father’s side, and which on your mother’s?

Click here to learn more about filtering, sorting, and reviewing your DNA Matches.

Combining DNA with genealogical information

At MyHeritage, we believe that the most accurate and valuable way to learn about your family is using a combination of all the tools at your disposal. That’s why we have integrated the data from your DNA test with the rest of the information you can learn via MyHeritage tools: the family trees and historical records. By using these tools in combination, you can get much farther in your research than you’d be able to using each of them on their own.

For example, when you’re looking at a particular DNA Match and trying to figure out how you may be related, the most straightforward answer would come from a family tree that that DNA Match (or whoever is managing that person’s kit) has built on MyHeritage. By looking at their tree, you can easily identify ancestors you have in common and trace your relationship path. Historical records can help you confirm these relationships and verify that the other person’s tree is accurate.


It may be true that Y-DNA and mtDNA tests would give you information that is specific to your paternal and/or maternal lines. However, the combination of the autosomal test with MyHeritage’s tools and resources can give you richer, more specific, more accurate, and ultimately far more useful information when you’re tracing a paternal or maternal line.

Order a MyHeritage DNA kit today to start your journey of discovery!

How Do I Trace My Maternal and Paternal Heritage with MyHeritage DNA? - MyHeritage Knowledge Base (2024)


How Do I Trace My Maternal and Paternal Heritage with MyHeritage DNA? - MyHeritage Knowledge Base? ›

The key to using MyHeritage DNA to identifying paternal or maternal DNA is triangulation: comparing your DNA to that of your relatives to see which sections of DNA you all have in common. Chances are, you have a few family members who you recognize in the MyHeritage DNA database.

How do you tell if a DNA match is maternal or paternal on MyHeritage? ›

To view extended information about any of the common ancestral surnames, move the mouse over it. A tooltip will open with additional details. There you'll see which side of the family (maternal or paternal) the shared ancestral surname can be found, both in your family tree and the tree of your DNA Match.

How do you trace maternal lineage? ›

We inherit mitochondrial DNA from our mothers. Just like with Y- chromosomes in men, we can look at our maternal ancestral genes by looking at mitochondrial DNA. This test is particularly useful because it can trace maternal lineages of both men and women.

How to tell if a DNA match is maternal or paternal after? ›

The most direct way to separate parental matches into your mother's and your father's sides is to test both biological parents with the autosomal AncestryDNA test, if you can.

How do you know which parent is which on AncestryDNA? ›

Look at whether we assigned that match to parent 1 or parent 2, and you'll have your answer. For example, if you know that match is your maternal aunt, and you see that we assigned her to parent 1, then parent 1 is your maternal side–which makes parent 2 your paternal side.

How can a person's maternal ancestry be determined and paternal ancestry? ›

This comprehensive test looks at over 700,000 locations in your DNA, covering both the maternal and paternal sides of the family tree. The Y-DNA test only reflects the direct father-to-son path in your family tree, and the mtDNA test only reflects the direct mother-to-child path in your family tree.

How do you trace family lineage with DNA testing? ›

To find an unknown parent or grandparent, start by sorting your DNA matches into groups. Many companies help you do this sorting by using a shared or “in common with” feature to show you matches that share DNA with each other. When a whole group has matching DNA, it may mean they all share a common ancestor.

How do you trace paternal lineage? ›

Y-DNA is passed down from father to son

The Y chromosome is passed down from father to son. Therefore, if you are a genetic male, you can take a Y-DNA test and research your paternal line. Genetic females cannot take a Y-DNA test because they do not have a Y chromosome.

Which DNA test is most accurate for ethnicity? ›

Thanks to its extensive DNA database, AncestryDNA is one of the best DNA tests for accurately assessing ethnicity. The results you get will be broken down into an AncestryHealth report and an Ethnicity Estimate report. The ethnicity report is an in-depth look at which regions your ancestors are linked to.

What is maternal and paternal lineage tracing? ›

Maternal lineages can be traced with mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence information (human sperm cells do not normally transmit mtDNA), while paternal lineages can be followed with Y-chromosome markers which are passed from father to son unchanged (except when mutations occur).

Which genes are more dominant, mother or father? ›

We inherit more genes from our maternal side. That's because it's the egg, not the sperm, that hands down all of the mitochondrial DNA. In addition, the W chromosome has more genes.

What's the best way to trace ancestry? ›

Libraries, family history centers, historical and genealogical societies and non-government archival repositories are all good sources for genealogical and family history data and may hold things such as newspapers, private papers of individuals, and records of private organizations.

Why is my DNA different on MyHeritage and ancestry? ›

Also, each DNA testing company uses a different method for calculating ethnicity. That means if you test with more than one company, even though your DNA doesn't change, your ethnicity estimate results might.

How accurate is MyHeritage ethnicity? ›

The MyHeritage DNA test is extremely accurate and reliable for identifying DNA Matches. The Ethnicity Estimate provides very accurate results for most people, but it's still just an estimate and must be taken in context and with its inherent limitations in mind.

Which is more accurate, ancestry or MyHeritage? ›

AncestryDNA's ancestry reports are more detailed and accurate than MyHeritage's ancestry reports. And AncestryDNA also has the largest DNA database as well as the largest database of historical records in the world, which should allow you to find more relatives and discover more about your family's past.

What is the difference between paternal and maternal heritage? ›

Paternal lineages pass down family names, traditions, and genetic info via the Y-chromosome. Maternal lineages trace ancestry via mtDNA, uncovering connections to regions, populations, and cultural influences. Both paternal and maternal lineages can provide valuable insights into family history.

Can we identify the mother in a DNA test? ›

A maternity DNA test confirms whether or not a woman could be could be the biological mother of a child. Similar to a paternity test, we compare the DNA pattern of the child with that of the potential mother.

Can you tell the difference between father and son DNA? ›

By comparing lots more genetic markers, a DNA test can show that two siblings are very closely related but can't be father and son (or father and daughter) because the genetic relatedness isn't exactly 50 per cent.

What does maternal side mean on ancestry? ›

Matches can belong to more than one group. Groups and filters can be used together or separately. For example, if your biological mother is one of your matches, you can select the group "Mother's side" and filter by "Unviewed." You would then see only the matches from your mother's side that you haven't viewed.


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