Maternal Ancestry

A person’s maternal ancestry is traced by mitochondrial DNA or mDNA for short. Both men and women possess mDNA, but only women pass it on to their children..

We all inherit our mDNAs from our mothers, not from our fathers. Your mother inherited it from her mother, who inherited it from hers, and so on back through time. Therefore, mDNA traces an unbroken maternal line  for generation upon generation far further back than any written records.

Research in Professor Sykes' laboratory and elsewhere over many years has shown that all of our maternal lines are connected at some time in the past and that these connections can be traced by reading mDNA. One striking finding was that people tended to cluster into a small number of groups, each of which could be defined by the precise sequence of their mDNA. In native Europeans, for example, there are seven such groups, among Native Americans there are four, among Japanese people there are nine, and so on. By an inescapable logic, every individual within the group traces back to just one woman, the common maternal ancestor, the 'clan mother'.

For our MatriLine Classic service, we read a section of your mDNA, 400 base pairs long, and compare its precise sequence to the many thousands of others from all over the world. That way we can give you a precise readout of your DNA sequence and discover to which of the clans you belong and therefore from which ancestral clan mother you are descended. 

DNA changes very slowly over time and from this we can estimate how long ago each of the clan mothers lived. In addition, studying features of the geographical distribution of their present-day descendants, tells us whereabouts they lived. To emphasise that the clan mothers were indeed real women, in The Seven Daughters of Eve, each of them was given a name and using archaeological and other evidence, their imagined lives were reconstructed.

The clan mothers were not the only women alive at the time but they were the only ones to have direct matrilineal descendants living through to the present day. Other women around at the same time, or their descendants, either had no children or had only sons, who not pass on their mDNA. Of course, the clan mothers themselves had their own ancestors. Amazingly, their genealogies have also been discovered. These show how everyone alive on the planet today can trace their maternal ancestry back to just one woman. By all accounts, she lived in Africa about 200,000 years ago and is known as “Mitochondrial Eve”.

On your “World Clans” certificate you will see how you and your clan mother relate to all the others in the human family and to “Mitochondrial Eve” herself.

THE EUROPEAN CLANS – The Seven Daughters of Eve

The clan of Ursula
(Latin for she-bear)
is the oldest of the seven native European clans. It was founded around 45,000 years ago by the first modern humans, Homo sapiens, as they established themselves in Europe. Today, about 11% of modern Europeans are the direct maternal descendants of Ursula. They come from all parts of Europe, but the clan is particularly well represented in western Britain and Scandinavia.

The clan of Xenia
(Greek for hospitable)
is the second oldest of the seven native European clans. It was founded 25,000 years ago by the second wave of modern humans who established themselves in Europe, just prior to the coldest part of the last Ice Age. Today around 7% of native Europeans are in the clan of Xenia. Within the clan, three distinct branches fan out over Europe. One is still largely confined to Eastern Europe while the other two have spread further to the West into central Europe and as far as France and Britain. About 1% of Native Americans are also in the clan of Xenia.

The clan of Helena
(Greek for light)
is by far the largest and most successful of the seven native clans with 41% of Europeans belonging to one of its many branches. It began 20,000 years ago with the birth of Helena somewhere in the valleys of the Dordogne and the Vezere, in south-central France. The clan is widespread throughout all parts of Europe, but reaches its highest frequency among the Basque people of northern Spain and southern France.

The clan of Velda
(Scandinavian for ruler)
is the smallest of the seven clans containing only about 4% of native Europeans. Velda lived 17,000 years ago in the limestone hills of Cantabria in northwest Spain. Her descendants are found nowadays mainly in western and northern Europe and are surprisingly frequent among the Saami people of Finland and Northern Norway.

The clan of Tara
(Gaelic for rocky hill)
includes slightly fewer than 10% of modern Europeans. Its many branches are widely distributed throughout southern and western Europe with particularly high concentrations in Ireland and the west of Britain. Tara herself lived 17,000 years ago in the northwest of Italy among the hills of Tuscany and along the estuary of the river Arno.

The clan of Katrine
(Greek for pure)
is a medium sized clan with 10% of Europeans among its membership. Katrine herself lived 15,000 years ago in the wooded plains of northeast Italy, now flooded by the Adriatic, and among the southern foothills of the Alps. Her descendants are still there in numbers, but have also spread throughout central and northern Europe.

The clan of Jasmine
(Persian for flower)
is the second largest of the seven European clans after Helena and is the only one to have its origins outside Europe. Jasmine and her descendants, who now make up 12% of Europeans, were among the first farmers and brought the agricultural revolution to Europe from the Middle East around 8,500 years ago.

The clan of Ulrike
(German for Mistress of All)
is not among the original “Seven Daughters of Eve” clans, but with just under 2% of Europeans among its members, it has a claim to being included among the numerically important clans. Ulrike lived about 18,000 years ago in the cold refuges of the Ukraine at the northern limits of human habitation. Though Ulrike’s descendants are nowhere common, the clan is found today mainly in the east and north of Europe with particularly high concentrations in Scandinavia and the Baltic states.