Can a woman trace her paternal ancestry?

Can a woman trace her paternal ancestry?

So, you may have heard that men (or those born biologically male) can trace their paternal ancestry, but that women (and people born biologically female) can’t. This is because paternal DNA testing is done using the male Y chromosome, which women lack. However, women can still learn about their paternal ancestry by getting a relative that shares the same paternal line as them to take a Y-DNA or paternal haplogroup test.

Your paternal family tree

Your paternal family tree

Biological relatives sharing the same paternal line as you include:

Basically, it’s not enough for the relative to be on your father’s side of the family. They must be on your father’s side, and also share the same paternal lineage (to use a grand word) as him. This is because the Y chromosome used to trace paternal ancestry is passed directly from father to son. If you have a half-brother from a different father, he will have a different paternal lineage to you.

Which paternal DNA test should we choose?

Once you have persuaded your eligible relative to take a paternal ancestry DNA test for you, you’ll want to point them in the direction of a DNA test covering male haplogroups, i.e. paternal lineage.
Family Tree DNA offers all sorts of Y-DNA sequencing packages with varying degrees of complexity and depth. 23andMe also offers maternal and paternal DNA testing as part of their ancestry package. If you and your male relative both take 23andMe tests, then your relative can easily share their male ancestry information with you.

Family Tree DNA is a little more complicated than 23andMe, so if you’re no genetic genealogist and just interested in learning more about your paternal haplogroup, then the user-friendly interface and simple sharing integrations of 23andMe may more suitable.

How to connect with your genetic relatives using 23andMe

23andMe sharing invitation

23andMe sharing invitation

Once you and your relative have both received your test results, you can privately share ancestry information (and health info, if you wish) with each other. You can connect with a relative using the DNA Relatives tool, or privately by going to the Family & Friends section, and selecting “Your Connections” and clicking “Invite”.

You can also add a paternal relative by going to the Paternal Haplogroup section of your Ancestry report, where you will be prompted to invite a male relative to share ancestry DNA data with you if your haplogroup information is missing.

Once your relative has accepted your request, you can head to the Paternal Haplogroup section to see your results!

So… What will the paternal haplogroup test actually tell me?

Paternal DNA tests look for genetic variations in the Y-DNA of your male relatives to determine which haplogroup they are from. This will show the migratory routes your male line ancestors took out of or within Africa. Y-DNA mutates very rarely, but it is these mutations that allow us to track where certain branches have diverged over millennia.

A 23andMe paternal haplogroup map

A 23andMe paternal haplogroup map

Generally, your paternal haplogroups will tell you which group you belong to, which haplogroups your subgroup has diverged from, and where people of your haplogroup are most likely to be found today. Often, the results will include a map showing the migration paths of your ancestors, and give a little information about the regions they passed through and around what time they lived there.

Of course, this is just a fraction of your genealogical story, following only one branch of your family tree, but only your direct paternal and maternal lines can be traced so far back.

What can I do if I don’t have any male paternal relatives?

Okay, well, that’s a tricky one. But hopefully not impossible. Some ancestry tests – 23andMe, AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, and Family Tree DNA – offer a family finder feature, allowing you to discover and contact relatives on both your mother’s and father’s side.

Filtering relatives by father's or mother's side using 23andMe

Filtering relatives by father’s or mother’s side using 23andMe

Family finder services use autosomal DNADNA inherited from both your mother and father – and so it can be hard to tell which side of your family the relatives you discover are on. This is important, since only relatives who share a direct male line with you will share the same paternal haplogroup as your father.

However, you can narrow down the selection. If your mother is living (and willing to have her DNA tested!), and you connect with her on 23andMe, for instance, you can filter your DNA relative matches to show only those on your father’s side (since relatives shared with your mother will be eliminated).

Finding a male paternal relative on 23andMe is the most cost-effective solution (since neither of you will have to be re-tested by another company). However, you may not manage to find a male paternal relative in the 23andMe database.

AncestryDNA has the largest database of all the genetic-testing companies, and so you are statistically more likely to find an eligible relative in their database than in 23andMe’s database. However, AncestryDNA does not provide information on haplogroups. (We have published an article comparing 23andMe and AncestryDNA here.)

If you don’t want to spend a lot of money being tested by multiple companies, you can upload your raw DNA data from any ancestry site (which allows you to download the file) to GEDmatch, a free online database that allows relatives to connect with each other. This will improve the likelihood of finding a male paternal relative.

Now, bear in mind that if you haven’t got any close male relatives, you’re going to have to do some genealogical detective work in order to piece together how you are related to your third, fourth, fifth or sixth male cousins to work out if you share the same paternal line.

The easiest way to do this may be through Ancestry.com, where you can combine the DNA service with their genealogical records service to work out just how you are related to someone. If it turns out you share a great-great-grandfather via the paternal line, then the two of you will share a paternal haplogroup. (Though Ancestry’s genealogical services do come with a subscription.)

Alternatively, you may find a relative on one of the major ancestry sites or GEDmatch who has created a family tree. This can help you work out how you are related to them and the other relatives you find. If you are serious about tracing your paternal DNA, you’ll probably want to create your own family tree (or at least one following your paternal line) so that you can be sure the relatives you find really are descended from the same haplogroup as your father.

Does this sound like a lot of trouble? It probably will be! But if you’re really curious about tracing your paternal line, you may want to go to these lengths to track down a male relative that can take the test for you, and discover which haplogroup your ancestors belonged to.

devjani

March 11, 2019

very informative,thanks

Kim

April 16, 2019

I am confused. Does this mean that 23 and me results only tell you the genetic background that you get from your mother if you are female?

Hi Kim,

Thank you for your recent comment.

23andMe results will tell you about your genetic background from both your biological mother and father using autosomal DNA. However, if you're genetically female, the results will not report on any genetic background or ancestry according to the Y chromosome your biological father possesses, as this is only possessed by genetic males.

I hope that helps!

Kind regards,
Harriet Seldon | Services Team

Karen

April 22, 2019

My father and his only brother are not alive. I have no known relatives from my dad’s side but wish to learn about my heritage and maybe dad’s parents. Is that possible?

Dianne

April 23, 2019

If my son has his DNA tested will it include any information from my father’s side of the family?

Kim C

May 13, 2019

I want to find my father’s
lineage. I know his mother was born to Italy & his father was from Germany. Which test would it be possible to find my dad’s lineage?

Malia

May 20, 2019

Hi, my father died when I was a child and we don’t know where his relatives are. He was a Chinese immigrant. My mom is white, from Netherlands. I look very Chinese though, and much like my dad. With no male DNA to provide from his line, does that mean my results from one of these tests would (wrongly!) just say that I’m just Dutch – and whatever else European from my mom’s side? Would it show nothing at all from Asia?

Louise Hamel Coleman

May 23, 2019

I’m looking for my BF. My mother had 4children w/ only 2 the same father.
I did 23& me . I have ashkenazi Jewish! How do I locat my father! I was told my mother had a
Israeli bF before getting into a quick marriage! Please help …

Tont

August 4, 2019

I’m trying to prove/disprove my maternal grandmother’s known father was her biological father. If I understand correctly, I could look for a paternal uncle or male paternal cousin and test them. But then what would I look for to see if her paternal heritage is different from theirs?

jo boucher

August 17, 2019

I have no knowledge of my paternal father …. my grand children want to know their lineage …is there a way I can do this.

Step

September 3, 2019

I am afraid that I am still confused. So I am not just looking for people on my direct maternal line (not only the mitochondrial DNA has been tested)? 23andme has found a 2nd cousin whose father is on my direct maternal line. It has also found another 2nd cousin and the link seems to be on my maternal grandfather’s side. Would the DNA show these links if I am a woman and these 2nd cousins are women?

Daphne constantine

October 14, 2019

Unfortunately I have absolutely no male relatives living to provide a direct male line for my father and his family. However I do have my father’s pipe he used to smoke! Even after many years since his death, is it possible to take DNA from the pipe and establish his and my male lineage? If so, how would I go about obtaining this?

Linda Harrison

October 27, 2019

My G grandfather was Harrison, and was possibly adopted.. at young age..
He was married to a Latimer , Which was my mother’s relative..
What is the next step in finding my father’s family? Do I search on my Father’s side..?
I’ve gotten my DNA rested once which tells me nothing about fathers family.

Christa Guevara

November 3, 2019

I feel little irritated. The commercials make it seem that you get your genealogy tested and you find out what groups you belong to. Now I find out after reading almost everything before I even did the test that there is a section you have to go find that tells you that if you are woman you will only get your mothers information. I feel like I have wasted money because I already know about my moms side. My sister and I are trying to give this as a gift to my dad but this will now not be relevant to him. This does not seem very fair that I would now have to involve my brother who does not even know we are doing this as it would have been a surprise to him as well at an additional cost. Seems like a rip off to me.

Kaylee H

November 7, 2019

I also find this very frustrating. Having been adopted at birth 30 years ago I took a DNA test in hopes of finding by birth father. I had zero luck, not a single relative on my paternal side. This should be made very clear in advertising (even in small print) when purchasing any DNA test!!!

Marjorie Jones

November 12, 2019

I had a DNA test done but it only showed female relatives who I already found out about. I felt very let down because when purchasing I did not know that male side could not be done. I have spend my entire life searching for relatives. I was born and put into the care of the “poor house” Workhouse as a new born and later into care of Local Authorities. For 60 years I searched across the UK traveling to villiages and towns going through local records, spending any free time in London searching GRO records to guide where to look. The female side had very little reliable information and seemed generally disinterested. 10 years ago I found a half brother who my mother had raised until he was 3 years old in Manchester. Unfortunately not the same father.
My childhood records proved almost impossible to obtain through the local authorities, the few I did manage to obtain under the freedom of information act were scant, however written in the file showed that there was a file within a file, was written “farther not proven” but was unable to obtain because of the Data and 100 year Protection Act. Why would someone do this?
I began asking found cousins if they knew who my father was and was repeatedly informed the my mother had married sometime during the 50’s a Bishop and/or Squire in Co Durham. this was where my mother was born and subsequently worked as a young woman. I could not find a marriage between my mother and someone called Bishop anywhere so had to abandoned that search. However much later another cousin informed me that her mother had told her his name was not Bishop but part of the family of the Historical Bishops of Co Durham. That my farther was much older than my mother who was born in 1922 which would make him (if its true) possibly born late 1800 to early 1900’s. I have been unable to progress my search since.
I feel I have lived my life with two hearts, one heart (female) now partially full but the other heart (male) empty and forever so.
I need a DNA test which can somehow test for the paternal side of a female who does not have a male donor available.
I was watching the Ant & Dec DNA adventure who appears to have overcome this blood trail and wonder if anyone who reads this can point me in the right direction. A recommended expert Geneologist perhaps. I would be so grateful for any help I can get, I’m now 76 years old but the pain never goes.

Alysanne Efing

November 24, 2019

I never knew my birth father, nor did he know he had a daughter as he died when I was 10 months old. I have met 3 1st cousins on my paternal side through ancestry & 23andMe. The Male cousin has found a box of his uncle’s (my possible birth father) belongings. I’m looking to find somewhere that can extract DNA from his leather pilot’s jacket or cap he was wearing when he died. They are 67 yrs old. He had an older brother who is also dead. One of these 2 men should be my biological father.

Josette Davis

April 4, 2020

I want to have my brother tested to find out who
Is our grandfather. Which test should we use?

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