May 28, 2024

That mitochondrial DNA line traces mothers back to Eve

I’ve been on a kick lately, taking four-generation pictures when the opportunity arises in our extended family.

On Thanksgiving, I felt sure, I could round up four generations of the Phillips family at my son’s house near Waterville.

We started with the little ones, Lexis and Andrew Perry, then added their mom, Amanda (Wilcox) Saucier; their grammy, Vicky (Phillips) Wilcox; and great-grandmother, Elaine (Francis) Phillips.

I also photographed the group with the children one at a time.

When that group was all women, Lexis back to Elaine, it represented the maternal line. It also illustrates Elaine’s mitochondrial DNA, which comes from the mother’s mother’s mother’s mother, et cetera.

Elaine’s mitochondrial DNA is passed down to Lexis and also to Andrew. The difference is that Lexis can pass it on to her future children, whereas a male descendant cannot.

Taking that photo reminded me that I have a four-generation picture of women in my family, taken about 1903.

My grandmother Ione A. Bennett is the infant in the photo. Her mother, Rena (Bennett) Bennett; grandmother Mary (Cummings) Bennett Lord; and great-grandmother Sarah Abigail (Hildreth) Cummings, born 1826, also are in the picture.

The photo illustrates Ione’s mitochondrial DNA passed down the female line from Sarah.

Ione passed on the mitochondrial DNA to her four children – Gayland, Carroll, Roderick and Mary. But only the girl, Mary, could pass it on, which she did to daughter Roberta Campbell. But Roberta died “without issue” and so did not pass on the mitochondrial DNA.

I did not get Ione’s mitochondrial DNA, because she passed it to my dad, who could not pass it on to his children.

Rather, I have the mitochondrial DNA of my mom, Joyce (Steeves) Moore. That line goes back through Edith (Roberts) Steeves, Etta (Eldridge) Roberts, Agnes (Bray) Eldridge, Mary (Payne) Bray Jenks, and so on.

My mom’s mitochondrial DNA went to her three children, two girls and a boy. My sister has a daughter, who can pass on the Steeves-Roberts-Eldridge mDNA. That’s not the case with her other child and my children, because they’re all boys.

The mDNA line is one aspect of our genealogy that can be scientifically traced, but it’s also worthwhile to list the women in the line and think about what they’ve brought to our family history.

Though I never knew Dr. Mary Jenks, a woman’s police matron and writer in Rhode Island, I can identify several traits of hers that were passed down to my great-aunt Marion (Roberts) Dyer and to me.

How far back can you trace your mDNA line?

A framed listing of the women in the maternal line might make a lovely Christmas gift for a sister, mother or other female relative.

It’s easy to get caught up in chasing our male surname lines. May we also remember to honor the women in our family trees.

Send genealogy queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor, ME 04402; or e-mail queries to

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