Are you researching the paternal side of your family history on 23andMe?
23andMe cannot indicate which of your relatives are paternal unless one of your parents has also tested with the site.
Many of us aren’t in a position to test a parent. But there are several ways to identify paternal relatives on 23andMe. This article gives you all the tips I’ve found useful.
Other Tutorials That May Help
This article assumes that you have explored the DNA Relatives list on 23andMe and are familiar with the information displayed.
If you’re new, then you may find an introductory overview useful first. Check out our article on researching your relatives on 23andMe.
I’ll focus here on how you can tell which relatives are paternal. If there’s anything you don’t understand, switch over to the overview and then come back.
Looking for a specific person?
This article assumes you want to classify unknown DNA relatives as paternal.
However, you may be looking for a 2nd cousin with whom you lost touch after childhood. Or your paternal grandmother asked you to find one of her cousins who moved away.
In these cases, you’re looking for a specific person. You know the first and last name (although perhaps it’s a maiden name).
We have a separate article on how to find someone on 23andMe when you know their name.
Start By Trying To Identify Any Close 23andMe Relative On Your Father’s Side
The easiest way to identify paternal relatives is when you recognize a close relative on your father’s side near the top of your DNA Relatives list.
What if you don’t recognize anyone as a paternal relative? Then jump to the next section.
Just be sure that this person doesn’t share DNA with your mother. In other words, it can’t be a full sibling.
You have a great starting point if any of these people have tested with 23andMe:
- your father
- a half-sibling (i.e. you have different and unrelated mothers)
- a sibling of your father
- a parent of your father
- a first cousin of your father (who is unrelated to your mother)
Your next step is to use the 23andMe feature that shows you other relatives you share with your half-sibling or your paternal grandmother.
Work through our tutorial on how to use the Relatives In Common feature on 23andMe.
The point is that 23andMe is showing you other testers who share DNA with both you and your paternal half-sibling or grandmother.
Can you be sure that these are paternal relatives?
Well, there’s a bit more to it than that. This is especially if your parents come from the same region or community.
Make sure you read through the sections on “overlap” in the linked article.
The overlap feature may highlight some relatives on this shared list where you can’t be completely sure. But it will rule some paternal relatives in!
Shouldn’t this be easy?
Once you grasp the concept of shared matches or “relatives in common”, then you may be thinking that it’s the silver bullet.
However, there is a possibility that your parents are distant cousins. This could be due to a second-cousin marriage some generations back.
Back in the days when travel was more limited and many communities stuck tightly together, inter-marriage amongst related people was more common.
This is known as endogamy.
The challenge for the DNA Relatives list is that you may share DNA with someone through both your father and your mother’s genes.
However, many people can be completely sure that this does not apply. In my own case, my parents are from different continents.
If your parents immigrated from two different cultures or countries, it’s probably something you don’t need to factor into your research.
Using GEDmatch “Are your parents related” feature
If you want to investigate further, there’s a website called GEDMatch that lets you upload your 23andMe DNA results and use their suite of tools.
One of the free tools is called “Are Your Parents Related”. It looks for large blocks of DNA that are similar across the two alleles of a chromosome pair.
If you’re not familiar with the website, check out our ultimate guide to GEDmatch.
Try Identifying A Close 23andMe Relative On Your Mother’s Side
If you don’t recognize anyone on your father’s side, let’s approach this challenge from the opposite direction.
Do you recognize any of these people at the top of your DNA Relatives list?
- your mother
- a half-sibling (i.e. you have different and unrelated fathers)
- a sibling of your mother
- a parent of your mother
If you compare this with the list in the previous section, you’ll spot that I left out a first cousin. I’ll explain why a little later.
What to do with your known maternal relative
Let’s say that your maternal aunt has tested with 23andMe. She will be near the top of your DNA Relatives list.
The next step is to open the list of relatives with whom you both share DNA.
If you’re not familiar with the shared list, check out our tutorial on using the Relatives In Common feature on 23andMe.
For our scenario, I suggest that you use two different browser tabs. This lets you examine the Relatives list and the In Common list side by side.
You are now looking for people near the top of your Relatives list who don’t appear on your In Common list.
If they share a lot of DNA with you but none with your close maternal relative, they are more likely to be on your paternal side.
Only rely on this approach with close relatives
Because of the nature of inheritance, you can’t rely on this approach to make the right prediction when looking beyond other close relatives.
Let’s say that your second cousin Zack isn’t on your shared relatives’ list with maternal Aunt Mary.
But Zack may simply have inherited different pieces of DNA from the same shared ancestor as Aunt Mary and yourself.
However, it is a good predictor to determine if a half-sibling is on your mother or father’s side.
Search For Names And Locations On Your Paternal Side
You probably know that 23andMe doesn’t have traditional family trees on the website.
But they do allow customers to enter the surnames and birthplaces of their grandparents and other ancestors.
This lets you use the 23andMe search features to find DNA relatives who listed surnames and places in your own paternal line.
Of course, if your parents were born in the same region – the location search won’t be so useful. Hopefully, the last names are different on each side.
How to choose which names to target
I suggest you draw up a hit list of surnames of your paternal grandparents and great-grandparents.
The best names to use will be the most unusual. It’s easy to tell that “Smith” and “Jones” won’t be helpful.
But we have a handy tool that shows you where a last name ranks in recent U.S. censuses.
Tips for searching on 23andMe
We have a separate tutorial on searching for specific names on 23andMe.
Check out our article on how to find someone specific on 23andMe.
Tip For Biracial People: Use The Ancestry Composition Comparison
According to 23andMe, exactly half my ethnicity is European and the other half is Sub-Saharan African.
This reflects that one of my parents is European and the other is African.
Take a look at this ethnicity or ancestry comparison between me and one of my DNA relatives.
My relative JB is displayed as 100% European. So, it’s very easy for me to identify whether she is a paternal or maternal relative.
This won’t work for many Americans who have a mix of more heritages than mine. However, I mention it here in case it’s useful.
How to find the Ancestry Comparison section
Click on any relative in your DNA Relatives list to open their detailed page.
You just need to scroll down the page to find the ancestry comparison section.
Is there an easy way to use this comparison on many DNA relatives?
This tip involves opening the page for each DNA relative and checking the composition section.
Does that seem like a complete drag? Well, yes.
Is there a way to search for specific ethnicities on 23andMe? Not yet.