A Segment-ology TIDBIT
Bottom Line: We cannot tell from a single Match; but there are at least three ways to figure it out.
SETUP: One cousin, or even several cousins, who share a Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) with us. The “Common Ancestor” is really a Common Ancestor “Couple” – usually a husband and wife. You descend from one child of this couple, and the matching Cousins descend from one or more of their other children. The question comes up, which parent passed down the DNA segment to us? From this data, we cannot tell which parent passed down the DNA. All we know is that one or the other parent passed it down. I know of three ways to figure this out – maybe you know of additional ways…
1. Grouping *to* the parents’ parents. One DNA Match-cousin back to the MRCA won’t do it. We need a group of Matches – at least one back to the MRCA, and other Matches – often with smaller shared segments – that go back another generation. The group can be formed via Clustering (grouping Shared Matches); or segment Triangulation (or DNA Painter). The goal is to find a Match in the group who is a cousin at least one generation farther back than the MRCA. This will almost always tell you which side of the MRCA the DNA came from. Note: there is a very low chance, this might not work, but finding more than one more distantly related cousin on this line adds insurance. It is best to do this with segment Triangulation which represents a single DNA segment going back, but Clustering works, too. As you find more and more Matches with the MRCA, eventually (with smaller cM segments) they will break into two groups, one for each parent in the MRCA. Each of these groups will be based on a different DNA segment (a different subset of a Triangulated segment, involving smaller shared segments).
Note this is really a subset of Chromosome Mapping, and/or Walking the Ancestors Back.
2. Different partners. If one of the parents had children with a different partner (married or not), and the other Matches descend from this other partner, then you know the shared DNA segment had to come from the Ancestor who had multiple partners – the same DNA could not have come from different partners.
3. Differing ethnicities. If the two parents in an MRCA have very different ethnicities overall (or you can tell the ethnicity is different for this specific shared DNA segment (usually a TG segment), then a review of the Matches’ ethnicities might indicate which one passed down the DNA.
As with many things in genetic genealogy, the DNA may throw you a curve ball. I’m old enough to remember the Mickey Mouse Club on TV – and the “anything can happen day”. As you continue on your genetic genealogy journey, the evidence will mount. It should all point to the same results – which match your unique Ancestors and DNA segments.
Feel free to use this blogpost as a way to answer this recurring question on-line.
Amended slightly to call out the different partners as one of three ways.
If you have a favorite method of figuring this out – please post in the comments.
[22BS] Segment-ology: Does the DNA Come from the MRCA Father or Mother? TIDBIT by Jim Bartlett 20230515