No DNA Matches on Dad’s Side?

Diahan Southard

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Why don’t you have any DNA matches on your father’s side? Or maybe it’s your mother’s side without matches. Here are four reasons you may be missing matches you expect to see.

Recently I got a VERY GOOD question from a man I’ll call Etienne:

“Hi there! I recently purchased a copy of your book, and it’s great! Can I ask one question that has flummoxed me?

I’m trying to identify my father; my mother had me young and has two potential ‘nominees.’ I’ve taken the 23andMe and AncestryDNA tests, and my mother has also done both. A few years ago, I discovered my half-sister (born one month after I was! our dad was busy in 1975) on 23andMe.

I’m at the point of trying to label my matches to differentiate those on my mom’s side vs. my dad’s side. But…nearly every single one of my matches is on my mother’s side! On AncestryDNA, I scrolled through the 1,000+ matches with more than 40cm in common and *every single one of them* is listed as ‘Mother’s Side.’ On 23andMe, of my 1,441 matches, 1,437 of them are listed as ‘Mother’s Side.’ The lonely four matches who are ‘Not Mother’s Side’ are all quite distant (0.32% shared, 0.19%, 0.18%, and 0.12%). The ‘mother’s side’ matches on 23andMe even include my half-sister — who I obviously know is on my father’s side!

So: Is there something I’m doing wrong? Why would my mother’s DNA seemingly be so powerful as to snuff out my father’s entire family tree?”

DNA matches on one side of family IO.pngThere are a few possible scenarios here, and I worked through each of them with Etienne before we settled on his answer. Here are the possibilities, and how they worked for him.

Why no DNA matches on my father’s side?

1. The parents are related to each other.

I hated to ask Etienne, because it’s such a sensitive question. But was it possible that the father could be related to his mother? And did he REALLY want to know if this was the case? Because once someone goes down that path, they can’t UNknow it.

Etienne’s next step was to transfer his DNA to GEDmatch—something I rarely recommend, but this is a special situation. (Please be aware that GEDmatch works with law enforcement, so read their terms and conditions carefully and this article about whether to include your DNA in law enforcement searches.)

After Etienne uploaded to GEDmatch, I had him use the tool called “Are My Parents Related?” (It’s in the left side menu.) He determined that no, his parents are not genetically related within the past few generations.

2. Both parents come from the same endogamous community.

Distribution of Cajun French in Louisiana. White = <0.5% of the parish's population speaks Cajun at home. Yellow = 0.5-1.0%. Brown = 1.0-2.0%. Red = >2.0%.Angr, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia…

Distribution of Cajun French in Louisiana. White = <0.5% of the parish’s population speaks Cajun at home. Yellow = 0.5-1.0%. Brown = 1.0-2.0%. Red = >2.0%.Angr, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons

After we ruled out that possibility, Etienne mentioned, “I should probably note that I’m a Cajun from south Louisiana, a community in which a certain consanguinity is not unknown.”

This was definitely a possibility. My book that he mentioned, Your DNA Guide—the Book, has an entire chapter on endogamy, or repeated intermarriage within a small community. The Cajuns, in the southern United states, descend from French migrants from what is now Nova Scotia. DNA matches who are related endogamously share a lot of common DNA from their community, but not one recent common ancestor.

I also gave him the bad news that, if his parents both came from the same endogamous community, all the instruction provided in the book about creating separate genetic networks wouldn’t apply to his situation. (But finding the generation of connection does still apply, and so do many other principles.) With endogamy, the genetics get more complicated. I often advise folks in this situation to schedule a DNA Mentoring session with me.

Meanwhile, I gave Etienne the following advice to help him tease out his father’s DNA matches, if endogamy proved to be the case: Look at your match list and your mom’s match list and find the matches who are sharing more DNA with you than they are with your mom. Those matches should be from your dad’s side.

3. Descendants of dad’s side haven’t taken DNA tests

Etienne continued to move forward with his research, and after a while, he reported finding an answer that describes a common third possibility. After testing with MyHeritage DNA, he says, “It found a significant (12%) match with a 97-year-old Frenchman in Brittany. It turns out that my father was a French citizen who was doing a stint teaching French in some Louisiana schools when he came across my mother. The reason, I have to assume, that nearly 100% of my DNA matches were on my mother’s side is that all of my relatives on that side live in France, and they apparently don’t take many DNA tests!”

How wonderful that Etienne found his answer! His report reveals the sad truth that DNA testing is not nearly as prevalent (yet!) outside the United States. The testing companies don’t report the international distribution of sales, so it’s hard to know. Anecdotal evidence supports gradually-rising levels of testing in the U.K. and Australia, and perhaps elsewhere. Some tests only sell in certain countries, so if you suspect origins in a particular part of the world, you should consider testing with a company that ships to that region. (Compare DNA testing companies, including where they sell.)

4. Descendants don’t exist

Another version of this explanation is that one side of the family doesn’t have many living descendants who might test. Think about families who (especially over multiple generations) perhaps only had one or two children who reproduced. If you have a small number of possible living descendants AND they live in a place where testing isn’t common, it may take some time before you could discover any significant matches from that branch of your family.

MyHeritage DNA test kit.jpgCommenting specifically on MyHeritage, it has called itself “the most popular DNA test in Europe.” (source) I have observed that MyHeritage DNA does seem to have lots of European matches that other companies don’t have. Etienne’s experience supports this idea. You can either test with MyHeritage* or upload your DNA to MyHeritage for free, then pay a modest fee to unlock their DNA tools.

Transfer to MyHeritage

Thanks for giving me permission to share this part of your DNA story, Etienne!

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<a href="https://www.yourdnaguide.com/author/guideyourdnaguide-com" target="_self">Diahan Southard</a>

Diahan Southard

As founder and CEO of Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard has been teaching people how to find family history answers in their DNA for several years, and she's been in the genetic genealogy field since its infancy. Diahan teaches internationally, writes for popular magazines, consults with leading testing companies, is author of Your DNA Guide–The Book, and producer of Your DNA Guide–the Academy, an online learning experience.

20 Comments

  1. Kathleen Irene Wells

    I was given to understand (A few years ago) that France didn’t allow their citizens to take DNA tests…….but that it might have changed in the last year?? Most of my & my husband’s family are from British & Irish/ Scots descendants….even in the present & very close generation..(I was born in Wales to a father born in N. Ireland, & a mother born in England….we immigrated to Canada in 1957. ) My husbands father was born in England…his family came to Canada in 1907. However there are many more "Matches" to his Maternal "Pennsylvania Dutch/ Deutcsh" relatives!!! (& LOTS on Thru-lines.)

    Reply
    • Diahan Southard

      So far still no DNA testing in France.

      Reply
  2. HAK

    Regarding the testing of French nationals, it seems some are determined to test. At My Heritage I have 87 matches who identify France as their country of residence. (Incidentally, probably >90% of these matches share anything but French ethnicity with me. Instead the common ancestor is apparently German, Dutch, Polish or Jewish, etc.) My parents were born in different parts of Germany.) // Meanwhile at Geneanet (French company?) where I have about 6 matches, 2 or 3 are distant matches living in Europe, France to be precise. (The others are Americans who uploaded recently.) Moreover, based on their family trees, it seems that we are matching through French ethnicity. One of my East Frisian 2X great grandmothers was born a Moulin. It seems that a very small amount of that DNA is still being passed from a 17th century Frenchman who went to East Frisia. The name Moulin is not exactly a needle in the haystack for that region. Someone in Germany did a good job of building that branch back to the 1600’s and I’m fairly confident that this observation is solid. (We had a little message exchange about her tree as well.)

    Reply
  3. K. Robinson

    We’re having this same problem- No dad matches. There are thousands of matches, mostly distant. The one or two who aren’t tagged as mothers side have common matches with others from mothers side.
    We’ve ruled out parents being related via GEDmatch. Without access to bio-mothers account, we can’t see who has higher matches than compared to mom.
    Where should we go from here?

    Reply
    • Diahan

      The best thing to do is to start looking at the matches not tagged one by one. You want to find what I call your "generation of connection." So if they are third cousins, then you would want to look at their 2X great grandparents for connections.

      Reply
  4. TERESA FAUCETT

    My Ancestry DNA results came back and I gained a half sister thru my mom who I didn’t know, and the man I thought and was told was my dad isn’t. I did find a possible Aunt on my biological dad’s side as she was a high match.Should I do a 23 and me test too to see if I get additional results

    Reply
    • Diahan

      Wow, Teresa! That is quite the experience! When deciding to test at another company, you have to ask yourself what you are trying to learn. If you already know the identity of your biological father, are you testing at another company just to connect with other relatives? If so, go for it!

      Reply
  5. Les

    I am looking for my fathers father. He was born illegitimate in 1931. I have a small group of eight DNA relatives who I’m sure are from my paternal side. cM shared range from app 160 to 35. With the help of Genetic Affairs, I managed to cluster these families, so I can see where these connections are. I’m hoping a closer connection, more cM’s, shows up.

    Reply
    • Diahan

      You are well on your way! Great job finding those clusters. Closer matches will certainly help, but from what you have, you may be able to identify your shared ancestral couple. That is something my book helps you do, if you are looking for direction. http://www.yourDNAguide.com/thebook.

      Reply
  6. Gina

    I’ve got the exact opposite I found my biological father with DNA test on 23 and me and on all the other sites including ancestry I have got thousands of relatives on my father’s side because he was Jewish.
    On my mother’s side half Irish half English I’ve got only a few matches

    Reply
  7. Matt

    I don’t even appear to have the same heritage as my dad so I think he may not actually be my dad. He’s full-blood Puerto Rican and according to my results I’m German, Scottish, and Irish. I’m white as a ghost too and he was darker.

    Reply
    • Diahan

      Hey Matt. Often ethnicity results are the first clue that you may not be biologically related to a family member. To investigate further, you will need to look at your DNA match list. Look at the names and any posted pedigrees for your first 10-20 DNA matches. Can you recognize anyone? Ideally, you should be able to find matches that are related to your mom and your dad.

      Reply
  8. Deb

    I am researching my fathers name as he found out before he passed his name was from his paternal great grandmothers line as she wasnt married and adopted her son to her parents ( The childs biological maternal grandparents) . So far I have made a LOT of DNA matches to the correct paternal surname but now I find the surname I grew up with as did my father and his father before, has zero matches except for those recent relatives who simply match up because we know they are from my great grandparents.. Oddly as I extent my family tree with this surname I do have DNA matches for the wives maiden names but not the husbands who are supposedly all my name sake relatives.. Also a person who was positive they were from this surname line ( has same people in their pedigree) had a DNA test and we are not related. Am I to assume that many generations ago a male child was born to another man but grew up with the family name ? How on earth would i find out what the name is? Talk about gain one and lose one!

    Reply
  9. erunyauve

    I ported my DNA over to My Heritage because I’m specifically looking for ancestors on my mom’s maternal side in eastern Europe. The difference is exponential – I’ve got loads of matches in Romania. (The problem is what to do with them – I only have one close relative on that side who has been tested, and she’s only on Ancestry. So, the best news in this case is that my matches don’t match anyone I know.) I am able to identify a number of definite relatives in Slovenia on her father’s side, as her cousin hired a researcher, so I’m encouraged.

    I also wanted to comment that I’m matching quite a lot of people in France, which was not happening on Ancestry. That’s actually my dad’s side – he’s got Huguenots who came to the US via Scotland some 300 years ago. (Rather amazing that the DNA would make it that far down the line, but it’s validated by co-matches with my aunt and some second cousins.) So, whatever was going on in France seems to have turned around.

    Reply
  10. Pamela Whitfield

    I don’t know who my biological father is. There is no paternal matches on ancestry.com I have a crap load from my mother side but absolutely nothing from my father side. What other methods do you think I should use to find out something about who my father could possibly be or any other relatives that were related to him?

    Reply
    • Danielle Francis

      Hi Pamela, your best bet to finding out more about your biological father will be to find at least one (or a few) matches. Is it possible that both of your parents came from the same endogamous community? That may be why you haven’t been able to isolate paternal and maternal matches. You can also try testing at or transfering your results to the other DNA testing companies (https://www.yourdnaguide.com/transferring). It may be the case that your potential DNA matches on your dad’s side have tested with a different site than you’re currently at, so by transfering your results you will be more likely to find those matches.

      Reply
  11. km

    i’ve been working on determining my great-grandmothers parents for 4 years, off and on. dealing with endogamy to the max. a group of folks from the same area in norway, all moved to a small community in wisconsin, and all married each other, every single generation. about 95% stayed in the area, a few moved to Minnesota and North Dakota. I have tons of distant matches (20-30 cms) and even though they have different last names, so you would think it’s 3 seperate groups, they’re actually just all the same family. Then I have one match of 160 cms and 2 others in the 80 cm range. The 80 cm range is related on one side to the group that is only related to each other. The 160 cm match family was in the community as well (everyone is) and one side of their family is related to the 80 cm folks and the other side is related to the endogamy to the max side. i also have my aunts results and and pretty much the same thing, except she matches every a little less than me, with the exception of one of the groups that make up the 3 families of endogamy. not sure what to do, wishing my grandfather was alive to test but he is not. hanging in there, but not sure if i’ll ever crack this. my other side was easier – believe it or not – a 3/4 sib situation allowed me to figure out who the bio parents were of my grandmother. in that case, the LDS endogamy was helpful!

    Reply

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