Ancestry at 23andMe: Introducing Sheridan

Meet Sheridan*. She’s a 27 year old female who signed up for 23andMe during one of our sales. Adopted at eight months, she has no information about her biological roots and the adoption agency has no records other than where she was found — on the steps of a church in a small town near Atlanta, Georgia. She otherwise had an uneventful childhood growing up with her loving and supportive adoptive family. Now married and thinking of having kids of her own, Sheridan wishes more than ever that she knew something about her background. Even simple things — like her ethnic heritage — are a mystery to her (the only thing she knows is that she’s likely to be mixed race). While 23andMe can’t provide all the answers, its many tools and features might reveal some interesting clues about where Sheridan came from. Join us as we follow Sheridan’s journey through Ancestry at 23andMe — we’ll release a new clue in each Ancestry how-to post in this series. We’ll put together the whole story at the end, but feel free to speculate given the clues you’ve received so far. Top-notch sleuthing wins bragging rights. 🙂


Sheridan recently got her 23andMe results. She was a little nervous about logging in to see them at first but a few days later she gets a sharing invitation from her friend Mesut,  who had agreed to sign up for 23andMe with her. “Dear Sheridan,” it says, “Mesut Yavas has offered to share the following genetic profile on 23andMe: Mesut Yavas (Complete Edition).” An encouraging email from Mesut follows, “Not certain what exactly this sharing thing is about, so I requested ‘Basic’ sharing for now. We must walk before we can run, but soon we will be learning in leaps and bounds. Might as well make the jump, Sheridan! Let our DNA speak to us!” “Well,” she thinks, “here goes…”

Maternal Line

Sheridan’s a little rusty on her high school biology so she calms her nerves and beefs up her genetics knowledge using 23andMe’s  “Genetics 101” educational material. Then she accepts Mesut’s sharing invitation and clicks on the first link under “My Ancestry”: Maternal Line. As we mentioned briefly in our  first “Ancestry at 23andMe” post, the maternal line is traced through mitochondrial DNA, which is found in the parts of our cells that turn food into energy. All of us inherit our mitochondrial DNA from our mother, and so we can use it to learn something about where our mother’s mother’s mother’s ancestors came from. This is possible because as DNA is passed down through the generations, errors in copying, known as genetic variants or mutations, may occur. A maternal haplogroup is a family of mitochondrial DNA types that traces back to a single mutation in a specific individual, usually representative of a significant event (e.g. a migration or development) in human prehistory.

The first thing Sheridan sees under Maternal Line is a map of the world and her “Maternal Haplogroup”, “H2a” above it.

The colors on the map indicate where in the world the H2 haplogroups are most commonly found — at least before oceanliners and 747’s made intercontinental travel a simple endeavor. The “History” tab at the top of the page has even more information about H2, and H2a specifically; in fact, H2a is especially common in eastern Europe. This is Sheridan’s first concrete clue about her mother’s ancestry. She’s also amused to learn that this haplogroup originated in or near what is now Turkey, since this is where Mesut is from.

That’s when Sheridan notices a list of people on the right side of the page. There’s “Chinese Person” and “Japanese Person”, and clicking on them changes the map to show their haplogroups’ global distributions. Mesut is also in the list, since they are sharing genomes with each other at the “Basic” level. His maternal haplogroup is HV1, an ancient haplogroup that’s found across eastern Europe, central Asia, and northern Africa but is relatively rare in modern-day Turkey.

Finally, Sheridan clicks on the last tab at the top of the page, “Haplogroup Tree”, revealing a hierarchy of all known maternal haplogroups and their relation to one another through time. From this tree, she sees that haplogroups H2a and HV1 are both descended from haplogroup HV. Since HV split off from its ancestor haplogroup R about 40,000 years ago, this means that Sheridan and Mesut share a common maternal ancestor from around this time — making them something like 2000th cousins! (Actually, it’s very likely that they share a more recent common ancestor, but this one we know for sure.)

For 23andMe customers interested in the nitty gritty details, check out the Haplogroup Tree Mutation Mapper under Ancestry Labs (Ancestry Tools). This will show you the SNPs used to define a particular haplogroup, starting with the mutation that defines that haplogroup’s most recent branch on the tree and working backwards to the root.

Paternal Line

The paternal line is traced through the Y chromosome, which only males have. This DNA is passed down from father to son and so can tell us something about where a man’s father’s father’s father’s ancestors came from. Although Sheridan does not have a Y chromosome, she might be able to learn about her paternal ancestry through other 23andMe features. (Note that a woman with known male relatives — father, brother, paternal uncle, etc. —  can link their Paternal Line information to her account if they are listed as 23andMe connections in the  Family Tree feature.) The results in the Paternal Line analysis are presented similarly to the Maternal Line. Even if you have no Y chromosome, you can still learn about all of the different paternal haplogroups through the sample individuals and Haplogroup Tree. And since Sheridan is sharing with Mesut, she can see his paternal haplogroup, too.

Scratching the Surface…

In just five or ten minutes, Sheridan learned some interesting things about where her mother’s ancestors — and she, by extension — might have come from. As a bonus, she was able to find a connection, however ancient, between herself and her friend. Still, the DNA that goes into maternal and paternal line analyses makes up less than 1% of all the DNA that 23andMe analyzes, and those ancestors represent only one or two branches out of a full family tree. To fill out the other branches and the rest of her genome, Sheridan will have to look at the other Ancestry features at 23andMe.

Next time, we’ll take a closer look at the Global Similarity and Global Similarity:Advanced features, and reveal another clue about Sheridan’s ancestry as told through DNA.

Summary of 23andMe features mentioned in this post:
Maternal Line — Uses mitochondrial DNA passed down from your mother to trace the origins of your mother’s mother’s mother’s ancestors.
Paternal Line — (Results generated for men only) Uses Y chromosome DNA passed down to sons from their fathers to trace the origins of their father’s father’s father’s ancestors.
Haplogroup Tree Mutation Mapper (Ancestry Labs/Tools) — Reports the SNPs used to define specific haplogroups.
Keyword: Haplogroup – A term used to describe individual branches or closely related groups of branches on genetic family trees. Defined by particular genetic mutations that are shared by all the people who belong to the haplogroup.
Other posts in this series: What Can You Learn? – An overview of 23andMe’s ancestry features. (next)  Sheridan’s Global Origins – Sheridan compares herself and her friends to various populations around the world. Sheridan’s Got Relatives – Sheridan responds to a fifth cousin and discovers a predicted second cousin in the 23andMe database. Finding Connections – Sheridan and Brian bond over their fourth cousin connection. Old Roots and New Horizons -Sheridan and Brian put together the pieces to sketch out their shared family tree.

* The people and events described in these posts are fictional.

  • What a beautiful woman and great presentation on the charms of 23andme.

    Cannot wait for the next installment and the final conclusions you present.

    Great addition to the 23andme presentations!

  • blugenes


    Great tactics of a well-seasoned educator. I wish Sheridan would have joined sooner. Like others, I’m looking forward to the outcome.

  • katie

    fascinating im a long time 23andme user, and some of these tools I was not even aware of – the info ive found on 23andme lately has changed my life and given me alot of my indenity back – being also mixed race with lots of unknown origins.

  • katie

    can’t wait to see her ancestry painting!

  • Thomas Goulde

    Yavas is Turkish and there are at least two Yavas’s with Georgia connections according to a quickie Google search. Could they profitably compare the telomere of his Y to that of Sheridan’s X’s?

  • Patrick Tagert

    OK, it’s October 19 now, so on with the mystery, please! Next round of clues?
    Thanks 🙂

    • Hi Patrick,

      Have you been taking a look at the latest posts? Three posts in the series so far, and the next one will be out very soon! Thanks for reading 🙂


  • I would really like to enter the contest! The reasons to get the test by the current contestants is very lame and they are taking the test for granted~ I HAVE several reasons that I NEED the complimentary test! My twin sister and I were taken from our mother when we were 6 but before then we knew she was a prostitute,on drugs (herione) when she had us. She point blank does not know who our father is. Because of this my identical twin would like nothing more to do with her. She is , I fear gone from our lives forever leaving us empty on our heritage. While I know we have african in us, because of our skin, I get asked ALL of the time,what I am mixed with? Our natural hair is redish! We have a pointy nose. I had a daughter when I was 19 and chose to give her up for adoption, I honestly admit that I did not really know her father, I was young. He had green eyes and redish hair but was obviously black, but mixed with something…I chose her family and recently, thanks to Facebook she found me. She has soooo many questions I can not even answer about myself,let alone for her. I even have no record of color on my birth certificate and when I went to get my Minority Business Certification, I was told that even though I am a person of color, they do not know what color and I may not be able to get the certification again! (MMBDC) I am always asked if I am Hawaiian, Dominician and mostly Brailzian from those from that area. I have such a strong magnetic feeling like I am at home or among family when I am around Hispanics. I even serve on the board of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce!..Spanish was the language we adopted in our home until 2 years ago. When I had my son I was asked by the nurses when I went to go get him, If he was mine, he looked absolutely WHITE as pure snow. If it were not for his enlarged nose, I may have been charged with kidnapping. His eyes were a beautiful light grey that turned a light brown. He yet has lighter skin, he ask me all the time if he is white or Hispanic and he is only 7…because I am so culturally diverse in my thought process and friend/family surrounding, I would like to be able to pinpoint something…I feel so lost and tossed many days- on the other hand I enjoy connecting with everyone because we are all so interconnected. Can you imagine the great foods I can enjoy!I celebrate every nationality. I even recieved Corp Magazines Diversity Business Leader of the year- I call my self and teach my children to say we are simply blended, persons of color. I have been accused for not liking blacks. I do not like the sterotypes some play, but I love people and culture, I know I am black too, but I just would like to know who I am! So I can teach my sons, tell my daugther and fill in the gaps as well as to be proud too!

    • Hi Monica,

      Unfortunately, we were not running a contest with this series (just bragging rights!). Your background, family, and outlook are certainly unique and I hope you are able to learn more in the future! We often do holiday promotions so please check out for sales soon.

  • Micah K.

    Thomas Goulde when you say Yavas has Georgai connections do you mean the state Georgia, or the country Georgia ?

  • gannon moseley

    Hi. How accurate is your survey? What is your standard deviation and how reliable is the groundbreaking study? If you are wrong, what is the return policy procedure? Just kidding, is humor a genetic trait?

  • Jessi Reiss

    This whole Sheridan thing is not real. Follow the asterisk* after the name Sheridan. The people and events described in these posts are fictional.

  • Joseph J. Matthew

    This is awesome, I joined this to get my race because I never knew my race and was always told something different, great to know I’m not the only one! Happy to hear her story, it’s hard for us brown people that are likely of mixed race, thanks, excited to get my results!