Case Studies using Mitochondrial DNA

Finding female ancestors often challenges researchers! DNA–both autosomal and mitochondrial–is a powerful tool for identifying the often-hidden women in our family tree, and case studies–illustrations of how researchers have solved particular kinds of problems–help us learn how to use new methods and tools in our own research.

Here is a brief list of print and online resources that present case studies using mitochondrial DNA–the kind that’s passed from mother to child–to solve genealogical problems.

Journal articles

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. “Testing the FAN Principle Against DNA: Zilphy (Watts) Price Cooksey Cooksey of Georgia and Mississippi.” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 102 (June 2014): 129-152.

Blog posts

Estes, Roberta. “Dorothy Durham (1663-after 1725), No Shrinking Violet, 52 Ancestors #164.” DNA eXplained – Genetic Genealogy. : 2017, 10 June 2017. This post, along with the next one, shows how mtDNA could potentially be used as part of the research on a very complex colonial Virginia case. Roberta’s “52 Ancestors” series contains many additional examples and provides great illustrations of how all of us should include actual or potential DNA evidence as part of our exhaustive research.

Estes, Roberta. “Dorothy Durham’s Parents and the Mysterious William Smoot, 52 Ancestors #165.” DNA eXplained – Genetic Genealogy, 25 June 2017. : 2017.

Russell, Judy G. “Oh, Mama… a Use for mtDNA.” The Legal Genealogist, 12 February 2012. : 2017. This post includes a mini-case where Judy used mtDNA to refute a claim that her ancestor Wilmoth Gentry was Native American and show that she was not the mother of a potential child.

Videos and webinars

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. “FAN + GPS + DNA: the Problem-Solver’s Great Trifecta.” BCG [Board for Certification of Genealogists] Skillbuilding Presentations (2016), online video. Available for rent or purchase from Vimeo. : 2017. Also available to subscribers in the Legacy Family Tree Webinars webinar library. : 2017.

Russell, Judy G. “DNA and the Hidden Half of the Family.” Streaming video or MP3 download. PlaybackNow. National Genealogical Society Educational Recordings, 2017 Raleigh. : 2017.

Molenyak, Megan Smolenyak. “DNA Stories: a Tale of Two Sisters Featuring Bill Hurst.” Video. Uploaded 21 June 2013. YouTube. : 2017/.


I’d like to thank Blaine T. Bettinger, Nancy Custer, Roberta Estes, and Judy G. Russell for their help in suggesting resource ideas for this post!