This is one of those blog posts that I have been meaning to write for the past few months but never got around to doing. Last summer I decided to take the mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) test available from FamilyTreeDNA. Just to recap – this is the type of DNA that is passed unchanged (except for occasional mutations) from a mother to her children. In other words, you get this type of DNA from your mother’s mother’s mother…. etc. While this is much the same way the Y-DNA is passed through the paternal line, please note that mtDNA is NOT to be confused with the X-DNA — they are 2 completely different things.
I took a full sequence mt-DNA test. It examines all regions of mt-DNA and is the most comprehensive one available. Basically, this test compares your mt-DNA to a reference sequence. The results reported are the differences between your DNA and the reference sequence. You also find out your maternal haplogroup — which traces your maternal ancestry to a major branch point on what is known as the mitochrondrial phloygenetic tree. This is basically the earliest ancestor with your particular set of mutations. If you are interested in more details, I recommend this article on mt-DNA on the ISOOG wiki.
To be honest, I thought long and hard about taking this test because I really wasn’t sure the information I would get from this test would justify the cost. I have a solid paper trail for my matrilineal line back 7 generations to Anna Maria (aka Mary) Shimer, wife of Jacob Keeley and daughter of Michael Shimer. She was born about 1760. Her mother may have been Catherine Ash, but I need further research to confirm that. In any case, all evidence points to Anna Maria’s parents being of German descendant. She seems to have been born in Pennsylvania, but both her parents were likely immigrants from a Germanic state. I therefore expected a European haplogroup. I also expected many matches, most of which would be so far back in time that I would not be able to determine a common ancestor. After all, the common ancestor for an exact match can be 22 generations back (or more)!
As it turns out, there were a few surprises! The actual results were that my maternal haplogroup is H13b1b. This is a subclave (or subgroup) of H13, which I found out is supposed to be found mostly around the Caucasus, Iran, Anantolia and Sardinia, but also along the Mediterranean coasts of Europe. So my deep maternal ancestry points to this region of the world. (Interestingly, my AncestryDNA ethnicity results show the Caucasus as a trace region.)
Also, apparently this haplogroup (H13b1b) is relatively rare. Rather than many matches, I only had 2 exact matches on FTDNA. One of them had a tree, and incredibly, he was also a descendant of Mary Shimer Keeley. His line was through the daughter Mary who married Abraham Hause, whereas my line was through the daughter Catherine who married Amos Evans. Given that we are exact mt-DNA match, I feel that this offers additional support (maybe even proof) for my entire matrilineal line back to Mary Shimer. [The other exact match did not post a tree and did not respond to my email as of yet.]