Haplogroup Projects

So far, in our Projects series, we’ve talked about Autosomal Matching within Projects and Surname Projects.

Today, we’re going to talk about Haplogroup Projects, a second type of project sponsored by Family Tree DNA for DNA participants who test at or transfer results to their labs.

You can transfer autosomal results from either 23andMe or Ancestry for $69.  You can transfer Y and mitochondrial DNA results from Ancestry.com to Family Tree DNA for $19 until the end of September when your results, along with the data base, will be destroyed at Ancestry.

If you tested at 23andMe, you receive a Y (if a male) and mitochondrial DNA haplogroup.  To obtain the various markers for either Y or mtDNA, you’ll need to order those tests from Family Tree DNA.  A haplogroup estimate alone won’t do it and your haplogroup may change with additional marker testing.  You can read more about why and how this works here.

While surname projects focus on surname lineage, haplogroups focus on haplogroup or deep clan lineage.  You can read about haplogroups here and the new naming convention that took letter/number names like R1b1a2 to SNP based names like R-M269, here and here.

If you would like to review the difference between STR and SNP markers, click here and if you’d like to understand SNP testing and why someone would want to do that, click here.

Haplogroup projects exist for both Y and mitochondrial DNA.  In general, they are research projects carried out by citizen scientists, sometimes with the aid of professionals in the field.  They are extremely beneficial to both participants and the genetic genealogy community as a whole.   There have been a slew of discoveries at the hands of project administrators, who are all volunteers.

While the projects are discovery focused, for participants, viewing project pages, such as the haplogroup matches page, can be very useful in determining the location and migration path of any particular haplogroup and subgroup.  I recently used haplogroup location information when writing about Elisabetha Mehlheimer and my attempts to figure out if her ancestry is German or Scandinavian.  Your personal haplogroup history extends much further back in time than your individual match history.  If someone from your genealogical line has tested, you can track each of your ancestral lines back in time utilizing haplogroups.  Where were they, what were they doing and which groups of people were they migrating with?  Were they Africans in Africa, hunter- gatherers crossing the Asian plains, the world’s first farmers migrating from the Middle East into Europe or Native Americans crossing Beringia into the New World?  They are in you, and their history is held in the DNA of their descendants.

Projects are established when an individual requests, generally via an e-mail, Family Tree DNA to establish a new project.  Family Tree DNA does not allow duplicate or competing projects, but they are very generous in terms of projects that are in the same haplogroup but focused on different areas.  For example, there is a haplogroup Q project and then a Nordic Q and an Amerindian Q project as well.

haplogroup proj 1

Haplogroup E is a bit different.  There are two primary haplogroup E projects, one for each of the two major E lineages, and then subgroups based on downstream SNPs or other interests, like Scotland.

haplogroup proj 2

Didn’t know that haplogroup E, which is considered African or North African/Mediterranean is found in Scotland and England?  Not only is it found there, we know how it arrived.  That too was a discovery of genetic genealogist, Steven Bird.

As you might have noticed, haplogroup projects are all about sharing.  This is the perfect example of where there is incredible strength in collaboration.  The great news is that sharing doesn’t cost, you, the participant, one penny.  It’s free.


So, how does one join a haplogroup project?

At the top of your personal page at Family Tree DNA, you have a “My Projects” link.


Fly over that link and you’ll see the above options.

Click on Join.

The first thing you’ll see are projects where the surname administrator has entered specific surnames of interest to that project.  In my case, my surname is Estes, and these are the projects that include the Estes surname in their surname list.


Haplogroup projects are not in this list.  Yes, I wish they were, based on the haplogroup involved, but there are many haplogroups that don’t have surname projects, especially subgroups – so technically, it would be very challenging to implement this feature.  I still wish it was offered, because I think the vast majority of testers don’t know about haplogroup projects, which ones to join, or why they would want to.

To view mitochondrial or Y DNA haplogroup projects, scroll down.  At the bottom of the list, you’ll find both, alphabetized, with the total number of projects in that category displayed.

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Looking at mitochondrial haplogroup K, there is only one project, so there are no decisions to make about which project or projects to join.

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Click on the haplogroup letter to view the list of projects, then on the project name to view the project description.  In most cases, the project administrator’s name is displayed with their e-mail in case you have questions.

haplogroup proj 5

I really hate to see projects with only one administrator, although my own fall into that category.  It’s generally not by choice.  If you see a project with only a sole administrator and you have an interest, consider volunteering.  Everyone needs a backup, just in case.

Y DNA projects should only display the Y tab at the top of the page, and mitochondrial DNA projects, the mtDNA Results tab.  Mitochondrial DNA results aren’t relevant to a Y project and vice versa.

To see how participants are grouped within the project, click on the mtDNA Results tab and then “Results.”

haplogroup proj 6Project administrators can group projects in any way they see fit, but generally haplogroup project administrators group participants by subgroup.  In some cases, particularly with mitochondrial DNA, they may go ahead and group people based on a newly defined but not yet published haplogroup or a defining mutation that may become a haplogroup.  That’s what Bill Hurst has done below with haplogroup K1a10.  You’ll notice that some of the participants are not classified as K1a10 by Family Tree DNA – that’s where the experience of the haplogroup administrator comes into play.

Generally, haplogroup administrators know more about a given haplogroup than anyone else in the world…and yes…I do mean that literally.

haplogroup proj 7

Which Haplogroup to Join?

So, how do you know which haplogroup project or projects to join.

On the surface, that’s a very easy question to answer, and then, it gets a bit more complex.

Of course, women can only test for mitochondrial DNA, but men can test for both Y and mitochondrial DNA.

On your main personal page, you have a badge for both your Y and mtDNA haplogroup.

haplogroup proj 8

The haplogroups listed here are your most distinct, meaning the furthest down the tree you can go based on the testing level you’ve taken.  New branches are still being defined for both mitochondrial and Y DNA as people continue to test at higher levels and we, as a community, continue to learn.

If you receive a new branch assignment for Y DNA, your badge will change because your new terminal SNP will be a different SNP name.  So, when this person took the Big Y test, their haplogroup changed from R-M269 to R-L193.  The base haplogroup letter always precedes the SNP name – so we know it’s haplogroup R.

If a new haplogroup branch is defined for mitochondrial haplogroup H63a, it would then simply be added on, so potentially H63a1.  Mitochondrial DNA retains the older letter/number/letter structure.

Finding Your Place on the Tree

In the case of Y DNA haplogroup R, which is by far the most complex of the male haplogroups due to its sheer size and the massive number of downstream SNPs discovered, you’ll have to look at the haplotree on your personal page to determine your path back to the main branch of haplogroup R.  On the My DNA Tab, under Y DNA, click on the Haplogroup and SNPs page link.

haplogroup proj 9

At the top of the page, it tells you a bit about your terminal SNP and which SNPS have been tested positive and negative.  Based on this verbiage, we know the terminal SNP R-L193 is downstream of M343, which just happens to be haplogroup R1b, one of the two major branches of haplogroup R.  You can see the base of haplogroup R at the top of the page, and beneath that, the row with P241 is haplogroup R1.

Haplogroup M343 is highlighted in yellow and you can see where it descends from the P241 row as a brother to the M417 row.

haplogroup proj 10

Scrolling down one more time, we now see our terminal SNP and the branches to reach that SNP.  I find it much easier to work from the terminal SNP back up the tree, following the branches like creeks and rivers.  And just in case you are wondering, yes, I did select the most difficult haplogroup as an example because either you’ll be prepared, or when you look at your own non-R Y haplogroup, you’ll be overjoyed at how simple it is!

haplogroup proj 10b

In this case, this is what our path of descent looks like from haplogroup R.  Some of these subgroups will have projects defined.  Other won’t or will be included in a general haplogroup project.

Old FTDNA Haplogroup Defining SNP Mutation Project Defined
R M207 R-R1b All Subclades
R1 M173 No, not other than R-R1b All Subclades
R1b M343 No, not other than R-R1b All Subclades
R P25 No, not other than R-R1b All Subclades
R1b1a2 M269 No, not other than R-R1b All Subclades
R L23 No, not other than R-R1b All Subclades
R YSC0000072 No, not other than R-R1b All Subclades
R L51 No, not other than R-R1b All Subclades
R L151 No, not other than R-R1b All Subclades
R P311 No, not other than R-R1b All Subclades
R1b1a2a1a1b P312 P312 (R1b-P312)
R1b1a2a1a1b4 L21 R L21 and Subclades
R L513 R L513 and Subclades
R L193 Currently included in L513

To determine which subclades have projects defined, and which ones are appropriate to join, visit the project join page and look at the haplogroup R options.  Only a few of the 55 haplogroup R projects are shown below.

haplogroup proj 11

The first project you see is the “R-R1b and all subclades” project and by looking at the description, we know that this applies to M343, so that project is available for this person to join.

To make my life much easier, I do a screen search (Ctl+F) for the SNP I’m searching for.  I find two instances of M173, but looking at the project definition, I can see that this is not appropriate.  Why?  Because it’s for people who are M173 positive but M343 negative, and this person is M343 positive, so there is nothing appropriate for this person in the M173 project.  Please read project descriptions – each one is structured differently depending on its goals.

haplogroup proj 12

In the case of our participant, he is qualified to join 4 different haplogroup R projects, and I encourage everyone to join the appropriate projects.

When joining a project, be sure to read all of the project pages.  Every project has 4 pages available: Background, Goals, News and Results.  Not every administrator uses every page, but you’ve find extremely valuable information on at least some of the pages, and every project is different.  Many projects will have either a Yahoo group or a Facebook group to discuss research and findings.  These pages are where the administrators will tell you how to interact and obtain information.

I like to use project R-L21 as an example because it is one of the most active and best managed haplogroup projects I’ve encountered.  Kudos to the administrators, and in particular, Mike Walsh.  On the Background page of the L21 project, you will find a current haplotree, not found elsewhere, that details the new haplogroup branch definition beneath L21 based on SNP testing.

haplogroup proj 13 crop

Do understand though that if you join any project, your Y DNA 12-111 marker results are available for anyone on the internet to see, and your SNP results may be too, depending on whether the project administrator has enabled SNP viewing.  Yes, I know this sounds intuitively obvious, and it is, but I have to say this, just like I had to tell my kids over and over not to hit the bee hive with the stick.

So, if you don’t want old stick-in-the-mud auntie Broomhilda to know that your haplogroup is…shall we say…not what the family expected, then don’t join projects – because sure as shooting…someone’s gonna tell her!  Once something is on the internet, consider is gone, released into the wild, and viral, especially if you don’t want it to be!

For mitochondrial DNA, your HVR1 and HVR2 results will be publicly viewable, but your coding region or full sequence results will not be due to possible medical information being in the coding region.

Depending on how the project is set up, your oldest ancestor and/or surname may be visible too.  I encourage all project administrators to enable both the surname and the oldest ancestor field.  We discussed this in the Surname Project article.  There isn’t any reason not to.

Y DNA projects have two options that mtDNA projects don’t have.

haplogroup proj 14

The first option is colorized results, which are both easy and useful.  I find these most useful in surname projects, but in haplogroup projects, they make it easy to spot groupings of people.

haplogroup proj 15

The colorized results of the first few participants are shown above for the haplogroup R-21 project.  You can see that the administrators have included a recommendation for SNP testing in each category name.

When viewing colorized results, the system calculates the minimum, maximum and modal (most common) values for each marker value in each group that the administrator has set up.  In this case, you can see that the most common value is 13 for marker 393 and the first few participants in this grouping have values of 11 and 12.

The second additional option for Y DNA is that the administrator can display confirmed SNPs of participants.  Some administrators display this information and some do not.  There is no harm, that I know of, that has ever come from displaying this information.  However, do be aware that screen scraping of the data does take place.

haplogroup proj 16

Most of the individuals who purchase either individual SNP testing or one of the more comprehensive tests, like the Geno 2.0 or the Big Y do so not only to understand more about their own family deep history, but to contribute to the scientific effort as well.  Without the thousands of testers and the compiled information, we would have made little progress in this field in the last decade.  For example, we have gone from about 800 known, registered SNPs pre-Geno 2.0 to well over 35,000 today and that number grows every single day.

Big Y

As Mike so succinctly put it recently, the Big Y is still in the research arena, for early implementers and adopters, for those who want to be on the leading edge, to help define the frontier.  Yep, sounds like my ancestors.

The Big Y test is one of two avenues to obtain (nearly) full sequencing of the Y chromosome.

From a participants viewpoint, it may be confusing.  From the administrators viewpoint, it someplace between your worst nightmare and a DNA geeks dream come true, and vacillates between the two.  If you want to make and document discoveries, a true genetic explorer, this is the place to be.  This is it, the front line, the cutting edge, the frontier.

From an administrator’s point of view, I wish that everyone who is interested in SNP testing would just take the Big Y and get it over with.  The Big Y combined with STR results is a very powerful tool and we not only test for SNPs that are known, we test for newly discovered SNPs as well.  However, I well know that the cost of the Big Y at $499 is a deterrent for many people and they would prefer for the administrator to recommend a SNP or two to test for $29 or $39 and to arrive at the same end point.  Obviously, that isn’t going to happen.  The only exception would be if someone else within your group has tested and you can use their results as a guide.  Still, if you have new SNPS, you’ll never find them without the Big Y or similar type of next generation sequencing test.

Administrators do recommend the next SNP in a SNP step-by-step progression, but you have to know if you are positive or negative before being assigned the next SNP to test.  Sometimes step by step SNP testing is immediately productive, meaning you have a negative results and you’re done with that line, and sometimes it’s a long, expensive ordeal where the money would have been better spent on at least the Geno 2.0 test which is in-between step-by-step SNP testing and the Big Y.  That applies to most of haplogroup R, for example.  The Geno 2.0 cost has been reduced to $159 as well, so this becomes an attractive option if the participant can’t do the Big Y test.  Genographic results, of course, can be transferred to the participants Family Tree DNA account.

For the administrator, as much as we love the new information flowing from the Big Y tests, trying to manage these tests and make sense of them as a group is a NIGHTMARE.  Individuals have matching results on their individuals web page, but administrators have no tools to manage the entire group.  Everyone has developed their own methodology. Mike, in the haplogroup L21 project, sometimes uploads multiple spreadsheets daily.  However, it’s all this hard work that has defined the new L21 tree branches.

haplogroup proj 17

In fact, this tree is no longer up to date because the administrators can’t fit the branches on the chart above, so they have limited this tree to the major subclades of DF63 and DF13.  That’s the bad news and the good news all rolled into one.  It’s no wonder this has been called the SNP tsunami.  I think this comes in the category of “Be careful what you wish for!”

Grouping and Mapping

Two of the most critical, and useful, components of haplogroup projects are the ability to group individuals and then display maps of those groups.  Enabling mapping is absolutely critical.  Unfortunately, some haplogroup projects are housed at World Families and they do not implement the mapping feature.  I cringe every time I need to utilize one of these projects.  I feel that all projects are significantly handicapped without mapping, but this is especially critical to haplogroup projects because the maps speak to population migration and movement.

Below is the map of the European individuals in the L21 project who are L21, but have no further SNP testing.

haplogroup proj 18My Estes guys are in here, on that brown balloon in Kent.  What, there are too many balloons to see?  Well, maybe we need to take some SNP testing to narrow the field and further define our haplogroup.  I’m positive that Mike would agree!!!

If my Estes guys test positive for DF63, that makes quite a difference.

haplogroup proj 19

This map pretty much confirms that they these men aren’t Irish, while the next group looks to confirm just the opposite.

haplogroup proj 20

And look at this group.  Think that SNP FGC11134 might have evolved in Ireland?

All of the men in these last two maps are in L21, so advanced SNP testing, participant grouping by SNPs and mapping, together, can be a very powerful tool in sorting out the finer points of family ancestry.

This helps not just the person who tested, but all others who descend from that line.  This is quintessential collaboration and sharing.  While my Estes cousin might contribute by takeing a Big Y test, he’ll also benefit from the Big Ys that other men took, and being a genealogist, he’ll be watching his other non-Estes lines to see what they are discovering as well.  Most of us can only contribute on one or two lines, y and mtDNA at most, but we can all be a beneficiary on all of the rest of our ancestral lines.

I hope you’ll not only join haplogroup projects, but that you’ll utilize them to their fullest potential for all of your projects and ancestral lines.  If you’d like some help assembling a DNA pedigree chart, I’ve written an article titled “The DNA Pedigree Chart – Mining for Ancestors.”  It’s the genealogists version of panning for gold.  Enjoy!!!



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12 thoughts on “Haplogroup Projects

  1. This is a great explanation of haplogroup projects and why it’s a good idea to join them. One small correction: you state that the colorized y result tables show minimum, maximum, and average values for each marker. These are not averages, but modals–the most common value in the entire group.

    Love your blog!

  2. Should I be suspicious of what my real haplogroup is? 23andme (a couple of years ago) says R1b1b2a1a1 , while FTDNA (& Geno 2.0) say R1b1a2a1a1a (also known as R-Z2)?

    Do they really disagree or are we talking about different definitions? Which one should I use at other sites such as GEDMatch, etc?

  3. I know FTDNA has enough on its plate, but it would be nice if autosomal matches for surnames could join projects as say, “associate members”. This week I contacted the administrator of a surname project for the surname of my birth mother’s father. (I know of no one alive who could Y-test) She and someone she further contacted helped me tremendously with additional contacts and research on the surname even though I couldn’t technically join the project. Few people on Family Finder list their surnames or post a pedigree; the administrators of surname projects, on the other hand, are informed and involved, and willing to help those who can expand the surname tree.

    • Administrators can allow non-surname people to join their project. I do. I put them in an “autosomal” category in the project. I wish there was a separate tab for autosomal, but their isn’t. I hope for more autosomal tools.

  4. Thanks, Roberta. I do want to add two points:
    1) The primary project administrator for the R1b-L21 (R-L21plus) project is Richard Stevens. I’m just a co-administrator and do more of the data analysis and collection work. Richard is kind of the “father of L21” and has been cited in books (i.e. Ancestral Journeys). He’s really the best at keeping people in the right subgroups, a tedious task.
    2) The R1b and Subclades Gateway project, the first on the screenshot you showed, is intended to help people find the right major haplogroup projects to join. Everyone in R1b is welcome but our real goal is to place people in the sublade of R1b.

  5. Roberta,
    Excellent as always. I have already asked FTDNA to allow an opt in so people could search for surnames irregardless of project. Some surnames have no project and there is no way to contact them. I also think a search by Haplogroup or even SNP would be a most welcome addition where it returned a list of projects that included that Haplogroup or SNP. i added SNP because it is not longer easy for beginners to determine that either– especially as many listed in the projects are incorrect.

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