Mitochondrial DNA analysis may be helpful in certain kinds of personal, non-criminal, investigations:
Maternity and maternal relatedness: Mitochondrial DNA cannot tell anything about the paternity (father) of an individual because, while men inherit their mother's mitochondrial DNA type, they do not pass it on to their offspring. But because mitochondrial DNA is maternally inherited, it can be used to compare mothers and their alleged offspring, siblings to each other, or even to compare more distantly related maternal relatives. For example, two siblings separated in early childhood can test their shared maternity with mitochondrial DNA analysis.
Genealogy: Some clients wish to trace a family tree. As long as the compared individuals in the lineage are connected by an unbroken line of female relatives, mitochondrial DNA can support the maternal relatedness of these individuals if the mitochondrial DNA profile is the same. There are caveats to this type of investigation, and we can educate you about them. Studies have shown that mitochondrial DNA is transmitted faithfully over many generations and hundreds of years! And, because mitochondrial DNA is present in long-buried skeletal remains, it provides opportunities to investigate interesting historical mysteries.
Ethnicity determination: Some clients are very interested in their ethnic backgrounds: what country their ancestors hail from, for example. We are skeptical of broad claims by other labs that much can be learned by determination of an individual's mitochondrial DNA profile, since it represents just a single line going back through mother's mother's mother's mother etc. A person looking at only mitochondrial DNA is failing to consider the ethnic (biogeographic) ancestry of his/her father, three other grandparents, seven other great-grandparents, etc., whose nuclear DNA has made the dominant genetic contribution to the individual in question. In addition, a mitochondrial DNA profile allows us to look back only so far in time, to the last known area where a concentration of it and related types existed. An Asian type that is revealed says nothing about the deepest biogeographic origins of that lineage (central Asia?, eastern Europe?). In addition, many types are widely spread over entire continents, limiting researchers' abilities to pinpoint "source populations". What we do know is that mitochondrial DNA by itself is only generally useful to indicate the largest (continental) categories of maternal ethnicity: African, Asian, and European. Even Native American lineages are sometimes sufficiently similar to Hispanic and Asian lineages that we provide caveats about making assumptions about Native American ancestry. If determination of biogeographic ancestry is important to you, please call us to discuss the pros and cons.