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Discovering My Maternal Roots

My first foray into genetic genealogy took place in 2003 when I ordered the mtDNAPlus (which sequences both HVR1 and HVR2) from Family Tree DNA.

Like so many other genealogists, I had been unable to trace my maternal line as far as I would have hoped. My most distant ancestor, Sarah L. Bodden, was born in 1846 in the Cayman Islands and had died in 1914 in Honduras. No one knew anything about Sarah’s parents or her life, and given the location and the difficulty of research I felt that this line had little prospect of development. It was a perfect opportunity to employ genetics.

Inside (almost) every one of my 50 trillion cells (that’s 50,000,000,000,000!!!) there is a tiny circle of DNA that has been given to me, most likely unchanged, in a direct line from Sarah through 125 years, 5 generations, and across 1750 miles. By sequencing a small part of the DNA I could identify from which branch of the “maternal family tree” Sarah descended. Based on the information I had managed to put together, I predicted that Sarah was a descendant of English immigrants who settled the Cayman Islands and would thus possess mtDNA belonging to a European lineage.

When the results came back, I was astonished to learn that Sarah’s mtDNA belonged to Haplogroup A, one of the five haplogroups found among Native Americans (the others being B, C, D, and X). This meant that Sarah and her mother, two individuals I knew nothing about, were descendants of Native Americans, most likely from Central America (to date I have not found an exact match to my mtDNA). At some point in history a male in the Bodden family had married a woman with Native American ancestry. I now had a connection with this distant ancestor that I couldn’t have made just a few years ago. Instead of recently crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a boat as I had predicted, my mtDNA had traveled in the opposite direction across the entire globe. Genetic genealogy allowed me to explore the ancient roots of my mtDNA, the time capsule that resides in every one of our cells.

Blaine Bettinger

Intellectual property attorney, genealogist, and author of The Genetic Genealogist since 2007

13 Comments

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  2. I’m a complete neophyte about DNA for genealogy. I’m wondering if there is any reason to test myself, and my mother. Since the mtDNA seems to trace the maternal line… is it enough to test just one of us or is there something to be learned by testing both of us?

  3. Jasia,

    Thanks for stopping by! In answer to your question, there is usually no reason to test both your mtDNA and your mother’s mtDNA, since it is the same. One in VERY rare occasions will a detectable mutation arise between generations, and this happens so infrequently that it just isn’t an issue.

    On the other hand, testing your father would be worthwhile since you did not inherit his mtDNA. It is remotely possible that his mtDNA is the same as yours, but that would be pure coincidence!

  4. I come from Eastern European Jewish descent as far back as I have been able to trace – in the early 1800s. However, I have tested as A2- Asian. I have absolutely no matches.

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  6. I already completed the myusearch college match questionnaire, but the application for the scholarship for undocumented students does not come up. How do I apply for it??? Do I have to redo the questionnaire???

  7. I just came across your blog when I put Sarah L. Bodden’s name into google. She was my maternal great great grandmother. I have her parents’ names, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten.
    Have you found out any more since you made this post?

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