Do you remember when you first started working with genealogy and you encountered your first “three brothers” story?
For those of you who don’t have one, it goes like this:
There were three brothers who came to <fill in the location.> They had an argument about <a woman, religion, where to settle, other> and they all three went in different directions, never to see each other or speak again.
Well, of course, that might have happened and it probably did from time to time, but not nearly as often as the story would have you believe.
In my case, I had several “three brother” stories and even a “seven brother” story. Even as a novice genealogist, I began to get suspicious when I heard the third or fourth story and they all seemed eerily similar. Too similar. Too convenient.
Enter the age of DNA testing. Many of the three brothers stories seem to stem from three men with the same surname found in different or sometimes not-so-distant locations whose ancestries could not be tied nearly together, so surely someone said, “well they must have been three brothers who went different ways” and from that the “three brothers “ myth was born, to take on an entire life of its own.
But then, there are the stories that are real. In some cases, the DNA testing does prove that those men descended from a common ancestor. Of course, we can’t ever prove that they were brothers by their descendants DNA testing today. We can only prove that they weren’t, if their Y DNA doesn’t match.
Recently, someone asked me a very basic DNA question, and the answer that came to mind was, “well, there were three brothers, you see…..”
The question was: “How can one haplogroup have descendants on different continents?”
For example, how can a specific haplogroup include people who are Asian, European and Native American.
Let’s take a look at how that works. It’s a lot like a pedigree chart. In fact, it’s exactly the same.
There isn’t a haplogroup Z Y-DNA haplogroup, so let’s use that as a hypothetical example. This example is equally applicable to mitochondrial DNA as well.
In our example, haplogroup Z was born a very long time ago, let’s say 30,000 or 40,000 years ago in Eurasia – we don’t know where and it doesn’t matter.
Haplogroup Z had two sons, and each one had a mutation different from the father, haplogroup Z, so the sons were named haplogroups Z1 and Z2. One liked the hill to the west and one liked the river to the east, so they settled in opposite directions from their father.
Over time, the families and descendants of these two sons expanded until they had to move to new ground in order to have enough game to hunt.
Haplogroup Z1’s descendants had had two mutations as well. One group, Z1a, went to Siberia and one group, Z1b went to China – or what is today China.
On the other hand, haplogroup Z2’s descendants also had two mutations that set their lines apart from each other. One of these, Z2c went to what is now Europe and one, Z2d, went north to Scandinavia.
You can see as you look on out to the fourth generation that haplogroup Z1a, in Siberia had two sons with mutations. Z1a1 went to Russia and Z1a2 crossed into Beringia, following game, and eventually would settle in North America.
Z1a2 then had two sons as well, both with mutations. One of those, Z1a2a, traveled across the north and today his descendants are found primarily in eastern Canada and the US.
Now here’s the important part. Z1a2a is known ONLY as Native American, because that mutation happened here, in the New World, and is not found in either Europe or Asia. Z1a2b is also only Native American, found primarily in South America because that son followed the western coastline instead of traveling east cross country.
On the other hand, haplogroup Z1a2 might be found in BOTH Asia and the New World if it was born in Siberia but then migrated to the New World. Some carriers might be found in both places, so if found in the New World, it likely indicates Native American, and yet it is also found in Siberia. It is not found in other parts of the world though.
You can see that while the base haplogroup Z is today found worldwide, as defined by its subgroups, the subgroups themselves tend to be localized to specific regions. You can also begin to see why determining locations of the birth of haplogroups is so difficult. Europe is one big melting pot, and so is the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
We, as the genetic genealogy community, are still trying to sort through this, which is why you see new haplogroup subgroup designations on nearly a daily basis. The Y tree changes almost hourly (thanks to advanced tests like the Big Y at Family Tree DNA) and the mitochondrial tree has had many additions in the past months and years, with more yet to come shortly as a result of ongoing research.
In the mitochondrial DNA world, haplogroups are still named in the pedigree type fashion. For example, I’m J1c2f. However, in the Y tree, the names became so unwieldy, some up to about 20 characters long, that the pedigree type name has been replaced by the defining mutation (SNP) for that haplogroup. So, R1b1a2, the most common male haplogroup in Europe, is now referred to as R-M269. Not as easy to tell the pedigree by looking, but much more meaningful, especially as branches are added and rearranged. The SNP name assigned to the branch will never change, no matter where the branch is moved on the tree as more discoveries are made.
If a DNA participant only tests to the most basic of levels, they are only going to receive a rather basic haplogroup designation. Let’s say, in our example, Z or Z1 or Z2. Clearly, additional testing would be in order to figure out whether that individual is Native American or from Scandinavia. And yes, we have exactly this situation in many of the Native American haplogroups – because all the Native American base haplogroups for Y DNA: C and Q, and for mitochondrial DNA: A, B, C, D, X and possibly M, were founded and born in Asia, thousands of years ago.
And yes, it seems they all had three siblings…..
I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.
Thank you so much.
DNA Purchases and Free Transfers
- Family Tree DNA
- MyHeritage DNA only
- MyHeritage DNA plus Health
- MyHeritage FREE DNA file upload
- 23andMe Ancestry
- 23andMe Ancestry Plus Health
- Legacy Tree Genealogists for genealogy research