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, 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.

Dana Harris

12 January 2019

How do I upload my ancestry file to this website? I am confused.

Hi Dana,

Thank you for commenting.

DNA Testing Choice does not sell DNA tests or offer uploads services.

If you are looking for a site to help you find more relatives, I'd suggest you try MyHeritage, GEDMatch, or Family Tree DNA.

Kind regards,

Harriet Seldon | Services Team

Rachel Goodwin

20 May 2019

Please subscribe me, I’m looking for info about tracing my birth father

Jane Horsley

28 November 2019

A question I would love van answers too.
I was born in a unmarried baby home in 1953 and never knew my father’s name.
So no male to compare my paternal line.
Is there a DNA company that can separate my maternal line from paternal line?
I am the only sibling.
And if possible, what is the cost?

Lorraine O'Connor

17 June 2020

If I have no full paternal relatives that I know of, would I be able to trace back my Y lineage through my grandson? Regards

Teresa Black

25 August 2020

Hi, I want to find out who my father was, my mother is not alive i don’t know of any brothers our relations on my fathers side
I have to sons is there anyway i can find out who my father was and what it would cost. Thanking you Teresa

george sheldrick

30 September 2020

My nan was adopted at birth. At 18 she started searching for her real parents to which she discovered her birth certificate with her biological mums name and managed to track down her mothers family and relatives but theres nothing on her biological farther. Her adopted father was told the her biological dad was from canada and worked in the air force during the war but for years nothing has ever been found. My nan took a dna test to see if we could find an ancestor or distant family but only confirmed her mothers heritage being 43% european jewish and the rest a mix of british and german from russia. are there any test that could help trace my nans dads side without any distant family to take a male dna sample. At this point im despereate to find some closure for my nan and her past of who she is. Thanks George

Rosemarie Hadley

19 July 2021

I am female. Following my father’s death I discovered that his father (my grandfather) was unknown to anyone but his mother (my paternal grandmother). She took that knowledge to her grave. With this information how do I find out where my grandfather came from? Please help.

Tony Barreto-Neto

5 March 2022

Do comments ever get answered?
I see only the 1st one on this page with an answer.
Maybe it’s just up to other commenters to help or why post questions here. Looks like it’s intended to be comment only.
Wondering because it seems to be a good site to learn.

Joyce Kent

5 June 2022

Help I’ve been doing my family tree for about 7-8 years only to find out the man I thought was my dad (whom I never) met was not my dad at all. I traced many of his family and meet yearly. I now find via ancestry dna that they are my older sister family not mine. I also had an older brother unfortunately deceased. I was born in Harrogate 1951 my mum was Edna Elizabeth Lamb although she also used Foster the man who was 21 years older (married) and the father of my elder siblings. I now have no clue/starting point to find out who was my dad. I have also done dna with 23and me.
Regards Joyce


14 June 2022

I am like the post up above by Teresa Black 2020, like her i do not know who my father was and my mother has now passed. My brother does not share the same dad and i have no other relatives that could share a dna test. I have completed one but only get the maternal side. Is there anyway I could find out about my father’s side?


2 August 2022

Reading through some of the above comments about not knowing your fathers, if you upload your dna to Gedmatch there is a tool on their Tier 1 membership which separates your dna into Mother and father sides. I tried it out and seems reasonably accurate


29 August 2022

I’m desperate to track back from my paternal Grandmother. She was descended through her Great Grandfather to Scotland. There are no males left in this line so I’m stumped- any ideas please?

Jennifer Nelson

26 January 2023

I have a female relative that could me my sister or 1st. cousin. She claims to be the child of one of my uncles or dad. I am a female. Is it possible for her to find out who her father is? All 4 brothers are deceased. My brother is also deceased. It is my understanding that it needs to be a male relative not a female relative to compare DNA. None of my Dads brothers or him have ever had DNA testing done. Please help and advise. Thanks, Jennifer Nelson nee: Chamaschuk

John browse

27 March 2023

Interested in info on new technology in this field/and,or discussion grou ps.
Thank you

Victoria Woodward

28 May 2023

I would like to know if I have Jewish ancestry through my paternal grandmother. She was illegitimate and brought up by her maternal grandparents. Her (so-called sister, was her mother). She was well educated and we think she had her education paid for by her real father. My father (my grandmother’s son) looked quite Jewish and many folks assumed he was Jewish.
Sadly my brother has died but he had two sons and I wonder if their DNA would provide the answer.
Please help me with some advice. Many Jewish people who knew my father believed him to be Jewish.

Brenda Thomas

23 July 2023

I know who my biological mother is but do not know who my father is. I have taken the Ancestry and 23andme tests. The 23andme test shows paternal haplogroups. Can I use these to find out who my father is by using the haplogroup info I see there? Also, I have uploaded my test to GEDmatch. Is there any help I can use from their site. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank You

Marie Harris

22 September 2023

Looking for my dad never knew him or his family mom says he was in military and his family lives in sharon hill


5 November 2023

Both parents deceased, no brother or cousins willing to helps.
Wanting to identify my biological father, which DNA test/method will help me.
I only have female cousins willing to submit tests.

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