DNA Q&A: 23andMe vs. FamilyTreeDNA mtDNA Results

By Diahan Southard

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Q: Why is my mtDNA results information different at 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA? I get the group K1a from 23andMe and K1a1a2b from FamilyTreeDNA.

A: No matter which test you take, autosomal (tracing both sides of your family), Y-DNA (tracing a direct male line), or mtDNA (tracing a direct female line), you get the same two kinds of results:

  1. results that link you to people, in the form of a match list, and
  2. results that link you to places, in the form of maps and percentages

The places component of the Y-DNA and mtDNA test comes in the form of a haplogroup.

A haplogroup is just a deep ancestral group, helping you determine the often ancient origins of your direct paternal or direct maternal line.

Your haplogroup is named with a series of alternating numbers and letters, so you get a name like K1a. It is this haplogroup information that is in your 23andMe and LivingDNA report.


Your mtDNA results report and how it can vary

In order to provide you with that haplogroup, 23andMe and LivingDNA use a shotgun approach–meaning they test a few of the 16,000 letters that make up your mitochondrial DNA. This allows them to provide you with a very high-level mtDNA haplogroup assignment, as you saw with K1a.

At FamilyTreeDNA they are not just testing a handful of your mtDNA values. Instead, they perform what is called a Full Sequence test. That means they are determining the exact order of those 16,000 letters in your DNA. This complete analysis of the mtDNA means that they can provide you with a more complete haplogroup. That is why you see your haplogroup name as K1a1a2b at FamilyTreeDNA. You can see that these two groups, K1a and K1a1a2b are related to each other.

From a family history standpoint, think of it like this: K1a is the many-times great grandmother, and K1a1a2b is the many-times great grandchild.

So don’t worry! Your mtDNA haplogroup at 23andMe or LivingDNA will likely be different from FamilyTreeDNA (if you have had the full sequence test). Both are right.