Working with Y DNA – Your Dad’s Story

Have you ever wondered why you would want to test your Y DNA? What would a Y DNA test tell you about which ancestors? What would it mean to you and how would it help your genealogy?

If you’re like most genealogists, you want to know every single tidbit you can discover about your ancestors – and Y DNA not only tells males about people they match that are currently living and share ancestors with them at some point in time, but it also reaches back beyond the range of what genealogy in the traditional sense can tell us – past the time when surnames were adopted, peering into the misty veil of the past!

If you aren’t a male, you can’t directly test your Y DNA, because you don’t have a Y chromosome, but that’s OK, because your father or brother or another family member who does carry the same Y chromosome (and surname) as your father may well be willing to test.

What Is Y DNA?

Y DNA a special type of DNA that tells the direct story of your father’s surname line heritage – all the way back as far as we can go – beyond genealogy– to the man from whom we are all descended that we call “Y line Adam.” In the pedigree chart below, Y DNA is represented by the people with blue squares – generally the surname line.

Y DNA is never mixed with the mother’s DNA, so the Y DNA of the blue line of ancestors above remains unbroken and intact and the Y DNA is passed from father to only their male children. The Y chromosome is what makes males male, so females never inherit a Y chromosome. Of course, that means females can’t take Y DNA tests, so they have to ask a family member to test who carries the Y chromosome of the line they are interested in.

Because the surname doesn’t typically change for males between generations, this test is particularly powerful in identifying specific lineages of the male’s surname.  For men looking to identify their paternal line, Y DNA testing is extremely powerful!

Y DNA testing is a great way to determine which ancestral line of a given surname a male descends from.

Want to see how this works?  Family Tree DNA provides 13 great tools for every Y DNA customer. Let’s take a look!


Everyone who tests their Y DNA at Family Tree DNA receives a haplogroup assignment. Think of a haplogroup as your genetic clan. Haplogroups have a history and a pedigree chart, just like people do. Haplogroups and their branches can identify certain groups of people, such as people of African descent, European, Asian, Jewish and Native American.

While the Y DNA is passed intact with no admixture from the mother, occasionally mutations do happen, and it’s those historical mutations that form clans and branches of clans as generation after generation is born and continues to migrate to new areas.

If you take any Y DNA test at Family Tree DNA, you will receive a haplogroup prediction. In the following example, the gentleman received haplogroup C-P39 as his haplgroup prediction.

Haplogroup predictions from Family Tree DNA are very accurate. They are basic in nature, but detailed enough to identify the continent where your ancestors are found as well as sometimes identifying groups like Jewish or Native American. To receive a more refined haplogroup, additional tests are available (individual SNPs, SNP panels and the Big Y), which confirm the original haplogroup assignment and give you the opportunity to find the smallest branch of the haplotree upon which you reside as a leaf.

Let’s look at an example.

Y haplogroup C arose in Asia and subgroups are found today in parts of Asia, Europe and among Native American men.

Recently, by utilizing the Big Y test, an advanced specialized test that scans the majority of the Y chromosome for mutations, the haplogroup C tree was extended by several branches at Family Tree DNA.

With regular STR marker testing, which is the Y DNA test you purchase from Family Tree DNA,  this particular haplogroup C male had his base haplogroup of C identified along with the additional branch of C-P39. With additional advanced testing of some type, such as individual SNP testing, panels of SNPs available for some haplogroups, or the Big Y test – testers can learn more about their haplogroups – and with the Big Y, virtually everything there is to know about their Y chromosome.

However, until testers receive their regular STR results for their markers, advanced tests aren’t available to order, because testers don’t yet know into which haplogroup, or clan, they will be placed.

The haplogroup C Y-DNA project at Family Tree DNA provides a map of the most distant known ancestors of Haplogroup C members, including all branches, shown below.

Hapologroup C-P39, a Native American subgroup, is found in a much more restricted geography in the Haplogroup C-P39 project, below.

Tools at Family Tree DNA

At Family Tree DNA, your Y haplogroup is shown in the upper right hand corner on your personal page dashboard.

In the Y DNA section, additional tools are shown. Let’s look at each tool and what it can tell you about your direct paternal line.

You can always navigate to the Dashboard or any other option by clicking on the myFTDNA button on the upper left hand corner and then the Y DNA dropdown.


The first place most people look is at their Matches page. In the case of our example, he has twenty three 111 marker matches ranging from one person with a genetic distance of 1, meaning one mutation difference, to several with 6 mutations difference. The fewer mutations, in general, the most likely the closer in time your most recent common ancestor with your match.

You can see by just looking at the matches below why entering the name of your earliest known ancestor (under Manage Personal Information, Account Settings, Genealogy) is so important!!! That’s the first thing people see and the best indication of a common ancestor. I always include a name, birth/death date and location.

In this case, it’s very clear the common ancestor of most, if not all, of these men is Germain Doucet born in 1641 in Port Royal, Nova Scotia. And before you ask, yes, it’s rather unusual to have an entire list of men descended from one man, but it’s clearly not unheard of.

As you can see, many of these matches (names obscured for privacy) have trees attached to their results and several have also taken the autosomal Family Finder test.

The different Y-DNA haplogroups listed to the right are a function of the “Terminal SNP,” meaning the SNP that tested positive furthest out towards the tip of the branch of the tree. Four matches have had additional SNP testing which shows their terminal SNP to be either Z30754 or M217.

This gentleman can then view his 67, 37, 25 and 12 marker matches by clicking on that dropdown.

He can also e-mail any of his matches by clicking on the envelope icon or view their trees by clicking on the pedigree icon.


Next, let’s look at the Y-STR results for 67 markers. This page should really probably say “raw results,” because as many people say, “it’s just a page of numbers.”

This page shows your values and mutations at specific markers – in other words, what makes you both different from other people and the same as people you match, which means you share a common ancestor at some point in time in the not too distant past.

The beauty of these numbers, is, of course, in what they tell us in context of matching other people. You can’t have matches without these numbers. You also can’t have maps or anything else without the raw mutation information.

HaploTree and SNP Page

STR markers show mutations in recent timeframes, generally within the past 500-800 years, but SNPs take you back into antiquity – just like your family pedigree chart – working from closest to further back in time .

Your Haplotree and SNP page shows you the tree for your haplogroup – in this case C – designated by SNP M216, shown at the very top, along with all branches of the tree. The branches and leaves are color coded based on whether you have tested for that particular SNP, and if so, whether you were positive, meaning you carry the mutation, or negative, meaning you don’t.


The SNP map shows you cluster locations worldwide where any selected SNP is found.

Matches Maps

One of my favorite tools is the Matches Map because it shows the most distant ancestor for all of your matches that have provided that information.

Hint: you MUST enter the geographic information through the link at the bottom of this map (below) for YOUR ancestor to be displayed on THIS map and also on the maps of your matches.

You can also display your match list by clicking on the link beneath the map. You can click on the pins on the map to display the accompanying information.

Note the legend, as your exact matches are shown in red, 1 step mutations in orange, 2 steps in yellow, and so forth. Be sure to look for clusters, and note that if there are multiple people listed in the same location, their pins will stack on top of each other.

For example, in this case, the orange pin shown has two people’s ancestors in that location, including this tester, and a relevant cluster is clearly shown in Nova Scotia.

Migration and Frequency Maps

Are you wondering how your ancestor and his ancestors arrived where you first find them?

The haplogroup Migration Maps shows you the path from Africa to wherever they are found – in this case, the Americas.

The Frequency Map then shows you how much of the New World population is branches of haplogroup C.

Haplogroup Origins

The Haplogroup Origins tool shows the distribution of the haplogroup, by region, by match type and count.  Please note that you can click on any graphic to enlarge.

For example, this person has one 111 marker C-Z30765 match in Canada.

Ancestral Origins

The Ancestral Origins page shows matches by country along with any comments. These matches don’t have any comments, but comments might be Ashkenazi or MDKO (most distant known origin) when US is given.

Advanced Matching Combines Tools

Another of my favorite tools is the Advanced Matching tool, available under the Tools and Apps tab.

Advanced Matches is a wonderful tool that allows you to combine test types. For example, let’s say that you want to know if any of the people you match on the Y DNA test are also showing up as a match on the Family Finder test. You could further limit match results by project as well.

Be sure to click on “show only people I match in all selected tests” or you’ll receive the combined list of all matches, not just the people who match on BOTH tests, which is what you want.

In this example, I’ve selected 12 markers and Family Finder, because I know I’m going to find a few matches for illustration.

Of course, for adoptees, finding someone with whom you match closely on the Family Finder test AND match exactly (or nearly) on the Y DNA test would be very suggestive of a patrilineal common ancestor in a recent timeframe.


We started our discussion about Y DNA haplogroups by referencing two different haplogroup C projects. Family Tree DNA has over 9000 projects for you to select from.  The good news is that you really don’t have to limit your selections, because you can join an unlimited number of projects.

Thankfully, you don’t have to browse through all the available projects.

  • Haplogroup projects are categorized by Y or mtDNA and then by subgroup where appropriate.
  • Surname projects exist as well and are searchable for your genealogy lines.
  • Geographical projects cover everything else, from geographies such as the Denmark project to the American Indian project.

Some projects focus on Y DNA, some on mtDNA and some include both.  Additionally, some projects welcome people with autosomal results that pertain to that family surname or region.  Every project is run by one or more volunteer administrators that define the focus of the project.

To help people select relevant projects, project administrators can enter surnames that pertain to their project so that Family Tree DNA can match your surname to the project list to provide you with a menu of candidate projects to join.

Of course, you’ll need to read the project description for each project to see if the project actually pertains to you. You can see what is available for other surnames by utilizing the “Search by Surname” function, at the bottom of the menu.

You can also scroll down and browse in a number of ways in addition to surname.

All testers should join their haplogroup project so that everyone can benefit from collaboration.

You can join and manage your projects from your home page by clicking on the Projects tab on the upper left, shown below.

Y DNA Summary

I hope this overview has provided you with some good reasons to test your Y DNA or to better understand your results if you’ve already tested.

If you are a male and are interested in testing a line that is not your surname line, or if you are a female and you can’t test, you can find a male who descends from the ancestral line in question through all males and recruit that gentleman to test.  You can also check existing surname projects to see if someone from your line has already tested.

Y DNA holds the secrets of your patrilineal line. You never know what you don’t know unless you test. You don’t know what kind of surprises are waiting for you – and let’s face it, our ancestors are always full of surprises!

Y DNA Order Options

Family Tree DNA is the only company that offers this type of testing.  Ordering options include 37, 67 and 111 marker tests. You can also order 12 and 25 marker tests within projects. I suggest testing at the highest level the budget will allow, but no less than 37 markers. Most people have matches. Some people have a lot of matches and need the 111 marker test to more fully refine their matches to just the ones that may be genealogically relevant.

You can always upgrade later to a higher marker level later, but the combined original test plus upgrade cost more separately than just purchasing the larger test out the gate. It’s really a personal decision based on your goals and your budget.


If you have never tested at Family Tree DNA, you can obtain a discount any day of the week by joining through your surname project. Just click here and then enter your surname into the Project Search box, shown upper right below.  I’ve typed Estes for purposes of illustration.

You will be shown a list of projects (at left above) where the various project administrators have indicated that someone with your surname might be interest in their project. Read the project descriptions, then click on the resulting project that best suits your situation – generally your surname – Estes above for example. You will automatically be joined to the project you select when you order a product, shown below. After you order, you can join multiple projects.

Next, click on the test level you wish to order.

By virtue of comparison, the project pricing for 37, 67 and 111 markers, above, saves you $20 off the regular price if you don’t order through a project.

If you already have a kit number at Family Tree DNA and have ordered other products, you can sign in, upgrade and order your Y DNA test by clicking here.

Happy ancestor hunting!



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44 thoughts on “Working with Y DNA – Your Dad’s Story

  1. Roberta,

    As usual – great information! I so appreciate your help in educating us in the use of DNA testing for family research. I have a question re: Y-DNA and mtDNA testing when it comes to sharing results. Is there a website where one could post information that might be helpful to others who also share ancestry to that person? For instance, my maternal line descends from Mary Ann Hannah (1781-1852) of Augusta Co., VA and we have done mtDNA testing. Surely there are others who descend from Mary Ann who would benefit from knowing her haplogroup, but who cannot test because they are not in her mitochondrial inheritance pathway. Do you know if there is there a website where this info can be posted? Same with Y-DNA inheritance . . . we have my brother’s Y-DNA in the Williams DNA project, but I think there are some who don’t know how to navigate the results pages for these projects to find that info. I’m sure your readers are savvy about this, but there are others who are confused by the layout of info on these pages.

    Just a thought . . .


  2. I am a “shoe-string” genealogist. I started researching very late in life and with even less money than life span. I am grateful for every lesson learned and for every person who contributed to my knowledge and understanding. Accurate or not, all information contributes to one’s work as a researcher either with information to add or eliminate..

    On my shoestring I watched hundreds of hours of film strips, mostly from Maryland State Archives at a cost of $4 per strip. They gave me a great collection of copies of deeds, wills, guardianships, etc for my family lines. When state government raised the cost I had to find other sources.

    After two years of hearing nothing from an on line querry, on May 13, 2005 my email delivered the best news of my research years. HELP from a great researcher, a distant cousin, unknown to us both at that time. Through these remaining years of research, he has worked with me in researching our Beavin line. As an attorney he contributed his legal knowledge to interpret all those wills and deeds.

    Then when the need was urgent for genetics to prove wife and mother of a paternal ancestor, he tested and since he was also a physician who understood DNA, he documented our lineage. My only living family members who could have tested were too many generations removed and in college playing football and caring not one bit about their ancestors. Those are all the reasons I am a “shoe-string” genealogist with many notebooks full of hard copies to prove it can be done.

    However, my disappointment that I can not be a genetic genealogist is tremendous. My thanks to you Roberta for bringing me to the starting line of the new age in genealogy that goes far beyond my “shoe-string” research. I found your blog and many answers to my family research. However, there are not enough days of my life (I will be 95 in less than a month) left with the ability, physically and mentally, to acquire the knowledge required for DNA research and there are not many “shoe-string” approaches.

    I challenge those who have the time and opportunity to master the field of DNA for their research start now. There is little doubt that brick walls that stopped us for centuries will fall and knowledge gained will have all of you saying, “They were my ancestors ! From where? “

    • Helen, bless you and happy birthday. I only hope I can do a job as well as you have. We have so many more and easier accessible resources today. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

  3. When I click on the “Join a project” option under Projects for my paternal cousin’s account it makes 3 suggestions. I have already joined him to the Mogilev Podolskiy project as well as appropriate haplogroup projects but it is also recommending Boston Irish DNA Project and Ireland yDNA Project. Why? All of my family who have tested are about 90% Ashkenazi.

    • Each project administrator lists surnames that are relevant to their project. Of course, the project might not be relevant to your particular family line. Family Tree DNA simply looks at your surname and then lists all the projects that include that surname as listed by the administrator. They are projects for you to evaluate, not necessarily suggestions to join. There are probably other projects that are more relevant that don’t have your surname included. For example, haplogroup projects don’t list surnames because the haplogroup could appear in any surname.

      • I checked bit more and discovered that those Irish projects are being listed because the surname McGenis appears in their list, however our surname is just Genis. I suspect they are often showing up inappropriately for other people as well. Surname and McSurname are not the same thing.

  4. Write a followup on what they are and how to choose a SNP Pack for those that cannot afford the Big Y but still want deeper information than just the STR tests offer.

  5. Hello Roberta, I did my Y67 test some 12 months ago and so far, there is not a Nolan to be seen at any level. The many folks listed are all strangers to me. Is this because no Nolan’s have tested ?

  6. Thank you for this splendid article! It has been shared! While the C-P39 Y DNA project was the focus of your article, the methods you explored may be applied to other Y DNA surname studies and all of the the tools you referenced here could be used to visualize, group, and narrow the numbers of matches among common haplogroup subclades as well. To be able to select among multiple Family Tree DNA projects within the Advanced Matches tool is a huge benefit for anyone who belongs to more than one project — and wants to toggle between them (as well as search across the database) to see which have the most matches (and ancestry leads!). The Advanced Matches tool – that helps refine and limit search results to those matches that are most relevant to genealogy interests has become the first tab I click when managing family kits — as more have DNA tests and the numbers of potential matches continues to grow! Thank you again, Roberta!

  7. Roberta,
    I descend from Germain Doucet, b 1641 twice, and from his brother, Pierre, twice. I was very interested that you used Germain for your example. Did I understand that you were saying that his descendants have a Native American haplogroup? One would expect a European haplogroup. A non-paternity event somewhere? Incorrect genealogy?


    • As it turns out, there are two Germain Doucet lines that come out of Acadia. The earlier Germain is European. This Germain, always thought to be the son of the earlier Germain, is Native. You are most welcome to join the Acadian project. That project’s founder, Marie Rundquist, is very knowledgable about the various lines. These families are VERY interesting.

      • Roberta,

        I forgot that I had read about Keith Doucet’s yDNA test results. I did some googling and see that more descendants have gotten Native American results. I’ll adjust my tree. I know that a LeBlanc descendant is disputing Daniel LeBlanc’s paternity based on DNA. I guess my Acadian genealogy (I’m 1/4) isn’t quite as settled as I thought. I already belong to the Acadian Amerindian Ancestry project and the Mothers of Acadia project. But, to be honest, I need to check in on them more. Thanks.

  8. My father was adopted. Given the surname of his stepfather on his birth certificate. We dont know his true name. Would a Y test help work out the name?

    • Absolutely. About 30% of the men who test have strong matches to a particular surname. In addition, if he also takes the Family Finder test, you can see if he matches any of those men closely, which will help you potentially narrow the line.

  9. Going through the options with you, I realized I have 11 matches in the “matches” section, but 21 in the “ancestral origins”… Do we have hidden matches?

    And on another matter completely, my paternal grand-father passed away last November and my father had his body cremated before I had time to do anything. I tested my father instead, but thinking about it lately, they did a few biopsies to check in cancer progression. In the eventuality that they didn’t dispose of them yet (I know, quite the big if), can I swab the sample?

    • No hidden matches. The ancestral origins counts the match in each section where it applies. Regarding the tumor biopsies, it depends on how they were preserved, if at all. I would inquire as to whether they exist still and then call Family Tree DNA to ask how to proceed.

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  11. Happy to see that you have differences up to 6 at the 111 marker level for a common ancestor born 1641. I am the admin for the Hadley Y-DNA project and the differences between our group for a common ancestor that is probably somewhere in the late 1500s is also in the 6 range at 111 or even at 67. We have a subgroup there descended from the same man born in the 1720s that differences up to 4 at only 37 and 67 markers. Nailing down the correct modal values has been an inexact science you could say.

  12. Roberta, I recently upgraded my brother from the 111 marker test to the Big Y. While as far as I know his biological surname is Yates, 6 of his top 20 matches (and 7 in total) have the surname Estes….and one is an Estes test that you’ve submitted! All are submitted by people with different email addresses, so likely to be different branches.
    Your Rick matches 26077 SNPs with no ‘known SNP difference’. Does the preponderance of this surname point to (yet another!) NPE do you think? There are no Yates matches at all. Or is it too early in the Big Y DNA journey to be leaping to such conclusions??

    • Does he have any Yates matches on the STR markers? Yates men may not have tested at the Big Y level, so trying to determine if he is a Yates from the line you think would be best served by looking at the STR markers, not the Big Y results. Having said that, you may well have an NPE, but it could be upstream a few generations.

  13. Okay, my Y-DNA test (37 markers because you alerted me it was on sale – Thanks) is off to FTDNA for processing. But that leads me to the other great mystery in my genealogy. Supposedly my Great-Grandfather changed his surname from Kay to my surname of Mason for some unseemly reason, although reason is not clear. This is a family legend that has been pushed by one particular cousin of mine, who has managed to propagate it throughout internet records. She has never provided any documentation to back this up.
    I have been unable to confirm or deny through traditional methods using public records, and the autosomal test of my Dad’s sister didn’t seem to offer any help.
    I’m thinking that the results of this test will help me find once and for all what our family surname should be, whether Kay, Mason or something else entirely. Is that a fair assessment? It seems to me my problem is very similar to that of adoptees who don’t know their birth father’s surname either. Thanks!

  14. I am basically new to DNA. I had my brother do the Y-DNA @ 37 markers then upgraded to 67. I am the keeper as he has no interest. Then I did the Family Finder using my own saliva. How can I do an Advanced Matching combining both his YDNA & my Family Finder on FTDNA?
    Thank you. I really found these articles so helpful. Jeanine

    • You can’t. The combined compare has to be on the same kit. But you should upgrade your brother’s kit anyway to Family Finder because you both inherited different portions of your parent’s DNA, so he will have matches you don’t and vice versa. The sale on Family Finder is good through this weekend – until midnight Sunday so it’s the perfect time to do that.

  15. Thanks for the excellent article(s). I tested my now 97 year old father 2 years ago and he was positively linked to our researched Adam Brouwer of Nieuw Amsterdam. Very pleased to see that blood matches paper! Our family group has asked that I upgrade it to the Big Y test to help others, but the price tag is too steep for me. Are there discounts for family groups or occasional sales?

    • If you haven’t yet joined his haplogroup project, please do so. Sometimes if his results are rare the administrators will contribute some themselves, if they can. Regardless, you do want to join the appropriate haplogroup project because the admins will have more knowledge that just about anyone else on their specific haplogroup. Yes, there are occasional sales on the Big Y, generally no more than once a year. During the past couple of years, there have been coupons at the holidays to apply to various tests – but I can’t say what they will do this year, or if you will receive one of those coupons.

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  17. Want to know if it is possible to test and what kind of of test and who DNA test to give some idea about the ethnicity of my fathers fathers mothers father as he was illegitimate, ( born 1849) Does that make sense? He is my fathers fathers mothers father and was illegitimate.

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  19. I am an admin for a project at FTDNA and I have recently received results of a father and son who took the Y-111 test. The father and son match in all but two locations. The father had a zero result and the son a 29 at DYS449 and at DYS532 the father had a zero and the son a 10.

    I had my dad’s youngest brother tested to Y-67. At DYS455 he had an 8 and at DYS531 he had an 11.

    How does a son in both these cases have a result greater than zero when the father had a zero?

    My sons and I match perfectly at Y-67 with our 14 zeros. I received my DNA from my father. Since I have a zero he must have had a zero there also. In that case his younger brother having the same father should have zeros in the same location. In both cases above, a son has results where it the father had deletions or zeros.

    How can this be explained?

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  21. Hello,
    I am still unsure what the raw data tells me? I know it sounds stupid but sometimes I read articles like this and the numbers are presented but not explained. You are then supposed to leave it to the website to do the comaprison? I would like to know how the comparisons are made.
    Are these numbers the ones that are compared with others in various tables to show differences and degrees of compatibility?

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