Durham DNA – 10 Things I Learned Despite No Y DNA Matches, 52 Ancestors #167

First and foremost, I want to thank my Durham cousin for stepping up and taking both the Y DNA and Family Finder tests to represent the Thomas Durham Sr. line of Richmond County, Virginia.

My cousin descends from Thomas Durham Jr., son of Thomas Durham Sr. and wife, Dorothy. Thomas Durham Sr.’s parents are unknown, which is part of why we needed a Durham male to take the Y DNA test.

What Might a Y DNA Test Tell Us?

A Y DNA test would tell us if our Durham line matches any other male Durham who had tested. In addition, if we were be lucky enough to find a match to a Durham who knew their ancestor’s location in the UK, where we presume our Durham family originated, we would have significant clues as to where to look for early records of our line.

What Did the Y DNA Test Tell Us?

The Y DNA test told us that our Durham cousin matches exactly no one, at any level, on his Y DNA test.

What, you might be asking? Is that even possible?

Yes, it is. I write the Personalized DNA Reports for customers, and I do still see people with absolutely no matches from time to time. When I drop their DNA results into a frequency chart and look at the percentage of people with their values in their haplogroup at each location, it’s usually immediately obvious why they have no matches. They have several mutations that are quite rare and those, cumulatively, keep them from matching others. In order to be considered at match, you must match other individuals at a minimum number of markers at each panel level, meaning 23, 15, 37, 67 and 111.

Now, this isn’t all bad news. It’s actually good news – because with rare markers, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to match a group of men by chance or just because your ancestor hundreds or thousands of years ago was very successfully prolific. I see some men in haplogroup R that have hundreds and thousands of matches, especially at 12 and 25 markers, so while no match is frustrating, it’s not a disaster because one day, our Durham line WILL have a match and it will be relevant.

The Durham Project

Being a curious skeptic, I visited the Durham DNA project and checked to be sure that my cousin’s DNA really didn’t match anyone, even distantly. I wanted to be sure that my cousins’ results weren’t “just one” marker difference in terms of allowable genetic distance to be considered a match.

Please note that you can click on any graphic to enlarge.

My Durham cousin’s haplogroup is I-M223.

There are no other people in the I-M223 Durham group. Checking my cousin’s markers, they are quite distant as well, so no Durham matches, even at a distance.

Now, here’s some good news.

Looking at the project’s Patriarch’s page, we can see which lines we don’t match.

We don’t match any of these lines, including the two that are from England. Two lines down, several to go.

Autosomal DNA

About this time, I began to have this nagging thought. What if my cousin’s Durham line isn’t really the right Durham line? What if the genealogy was wrong? What if the genealogy was right, but there was an adoption someplace in the 9 generations between Thomas Durham Sr. and my cousin? Those “what-ifs” will kill you, being a genetic genealogist.

So, I decided to see if my cousin’s autosomal results matched any of those known to be descended from the Durham-Dodson line. Thomas Durham Sr.’s daughter, Mary Durham, married Thomas Dodson. This line was prolific, having many children, so surely, if my Durham cousin descends from Thomas Durham’s son, Thomas Jr., some of the Dodson/Durham descendants from Thomas Durham Sr.’s other child, Mary, will match him, hopefully on a common segment.

Perusing my Durham cousin’s Family Finder DNA matches, and searching by Dodson, I found 27 matches.

I checked the Ancestry Surnames of those matches, and yes, 5 included both Dodson and Durham.

Checking pedigree charts, I verified that indeed, these people descended from the same Dodson/Durham lineage.

Thankfully, 4 of 5 matches had pedigree charts uploaded.

I selected those 5 people and viewed their results in a chromosome browser, compared to my Durham cousin.

As you can see, there are two sets of results where more than one person matches my Durham cousin on the same segment.

On chromosome 9, the green and orange person match the Durham cousin on segments of 12.36 cM

On chromosome 21, the pink and yellow person match my Durham cousin with a segment of 8.83 cM.

Now, as we know, just because two people match someone on the same segment does NOT automatically means that they match each other. They could be matching you on different sides of your DNA – one on your mother’s side and one on your father’s side

Next, I utilized the matrix tool to see if these individuals also match each other.

This matrix shows exactly what we would expect.

The bottom person, Gwen, matches the Durham cousin on chromosome 1 and doesn’t match any of the other cousins on that segment. The matrix tells us that Gwen doesn’t match either of these other two cousins either.

The matrix tells us that both kits managed by Ted match each other. This could be one person who uploaded two kits, but the photos are different. These two kits are the chromosome 9 match.

Then, the matrix tells us that Odis and Diana match each other, and sure enough, those are our chromosome 21 matches.

While this alone does not prove triangulation, because we can’t confirm that indeed, Gwen and Odis do match each other on this segment, at least not without asking them, my experience suggests that it would be a rare occasion indeed if this was not a triangulated match – indicating a common ancestor.

Triangulated matches minimally require:

  • Three people or more who are not close relatives
  • All matching each other on a common reasonably sized segment
  • Common ancestors

We Can Do More

We aren’t done yet. Next we can look to see which of these matches might ALSO match someone else in common with our Durham cousin.

Take each match, one at a time, and do an In Common With (ICW) search with them. You can read about the various options for in common with searching in the article, Increasing “In Common With” (ICW) Functionality at Family Tree DNA.

First, I just searched in common with the Durham surname, and none of these folks matched anyone else on the Durham surname match list.

To do this, search for Durham, select a match, then click on ICW, leaving Durham in the search box.

Second, I searched by selecting the match by checking the little checkbox by their name, but removed Durham from the search box so that I could see if my Durham cousin matched this person in common with anyone else on his match list, regardless of their ancestral surname.

As you would expect, many of the people returned on the ICW match list don’t have ancestral surnames listed.

When you have a few people to compare, the chromosome browser is wonderful, but for a lot of comparisons, there’s an easier way.

If I were my Durham cousin, I’d download my full list of matches with chromosome segments and see who matches me on those Durham/Dodson segments on chromosomes 9 and 21.  I would then look to see if they have pedigree charts uploaded, or contact them asking about genealogy.

You can download all of your match results at the top of your chromosome browser by clicking “download all matches.”

This enables you to sort the resulting spreadsheet by segment number and chromosome. You can read more about that in the article, Concepts – Sorting Spreadsheets for Autosomal DNA.

Of course, that’s how genetic genealogy addicts are born. You’re never really done.

What Did We Learn?

What did we learn, even though we had no Y matches, and are understandably disappointed.

  • We learned that the Durham Y DNA is quite rare.
  • We learned that the Y haplogroup is I-M223, found in the following locations, according to the SNP map tool at Family Tree DNA.

  • We can, if we wish, order additional SNP testing or the Big Y test to learn more about the ancestral origins of this line – even though we don’t have any STR matches today. We will very likely have Big Y matches because the Big Y test reaches further back in time, generally before the advent of surnames. Generally, the further down the SNP tree, the smaller the geographic range of where the SNP is found – because it’s closer in time.
  • We eliminated 18 different Durham groups, based on the Durham DNA project, that we now know aren’t our ancestors, including several in the US and some in Europe.
  • We confirmed that this Durham line is the Durham line that also married into the Dodson line- so the Durham Y DNA has not undergone an NPE or undocumented adoption between my cousin and our common ancestor. If there was an NPE or misattributed parentage in this line, then my Durham cousin would NOT match people from Thomas Durham’s daughter’s line – unless they all shared a different common line with my Durham cousin AND on the same segments.
  • We have confirmed some Durham DNA autosomal segments – passed all the way down from Thomas Durham to his descendants today.
  • We can tell our Durham/Dodson lineage cousins that certain segments of their Dodson DNA are actually Durham DNA. How cool is that?
  • Our Durham cousin now knows that those same segments are Durham DNA and not introduced in generations since by other lines.
  • Our Durham cousin can continue to identify the DNA of his various lineages by utilizing matching, trees, the matrix and the spreadsheet.
  • We’re not dead in the water in terms of Durham Y matches. We just have to be patient and wait.

Not All is Lost

I know it’s initially very discouraging to see that someone has no Y matches, but truly, all is not lost.

Not only is all not lost, we’ve learned a great deal. Y DNA testing in conjunction with autosomal is an extremely powerful tool.

Not to mention that our Durham cousin’s Y DNA results are now out their fishing, 24X7, 365 days per year, just waiting for that Durham man from some small village in the UK to test – and match. Yep, that’s my dream and I know, I just know, it will happen one day.

Thank you again, to my Durham cousin. When men Y DNA test, they not only serve their own interests, but those of others who descend from the same ancestral surname line.



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29 thoughts on “Durham DNA – 10 Things I Learned Despite No Y DNA Matches, 52 Ancestors #167

  1. Thanks Roberta! This is a very helpful article. In our Locke Surname Project we have one more case that fits into the example you give in your article.

    We have one group of Locke men who all descend from Capt. John Locke of Rye, New Hampshire. Various members of this group have tested between Y-12 through Y-67.

    Until recently nearly all their matches we’re only to each other at a very close level. Their only non-Locke matches are a “hand full” of men at the Y-12 level with only a couple of those matching up through the Y-67 Level. It was clear to us that their particular STR signature is rare.

    But recently we had a new member descended from Capt. Locke who tested at Y-37 and his test results were not a close match to the rest of the group. However he has a paper trail and the Haplogroup matches, so while his match is not close, it appears certain that he is a member of this family.

    One of the interesting things about this new member is that he appears to either have a backwards mutation in one of his allele, or it might be possible that what his results are showing is that he and the rest of the members of this family group are descended from different branches of one of the earliest generations closest to Capt. Locke himself.

    It is hard to tell at this stage what is going on with this particular family group, but it seems to illustrate what you are saying about testing the Y-Chromosome and not having any matches because of having a rare STR signature, but carrying that example out to what might happen once you do start picking up matches.

    Thanks once more for your dedication to helping educate us through the examples given from your own genetic journey.

    • I saw a presentation by Maurice Gleason a couple years ago and his extensive work on the Gleeson clan illustrated that back mutations are a lot more prevalent than we might think.

  2. I just wrote a begging letter to a cousin I don’t know. If he will do the Y test I might be able to break our brick wall that has stumped people for over 50 years. One thing I was thinking was that he might not match any other Ward and then what? I do have some autosomal matches but we are all in the same boat going backwards. As autosomal test prices fall I will be in a better position to offer tests to other cousins. If we could do the same thing you did with the Y and the autosomal we might get somewhere. And it would help if more Ward people tested!!

  3. Roberta: My experience with the BigY suggests that, if there are no close matches on an STR test, there probably will be less of a match on the BigY, as fewer people test in this method. I learned more from testing individuals I knew who matched me and we were able to conclude three new downstream SNPs – all related to our surname. For my own BigY – I didn’t learn anything I hadn’t already known, but with that said, I did do some targeted SNP testing to take me down two SNP levels – yet these were still about 3000 ybp. My closest STR match was determined to be at this level – still not very recent. When I tested a number of distant cousins (all having a variant of our surname), a new downstream SNP was determined. Two individuals I had tested had an additional downstream SNP. I tested two of my fourth cousins and it was determined that our line had a unique SNP dated about 250 ypb. It took 8 BigY tests to confirm these results. I have four more in the queue at the present.

    • In the past year or so, I have not seen anyone who doesn’t have at least some matches on the Big Y test. When there are no STR matches, there is nothing to infer haplogroup against.

  4. Our Bauman Family DNA Project has 5 men, descended from 3 sons, who all trace back to one Jacob Bauman. Like you, we are patiently waiting for a nice Swiss gentleman with a well documented pedigree pre 1720 to test his Y-DNA.

  5. Roberta, have you checked the I-M223 project at FTDNA? I don’t see that your cousin has joined that project. Even though he would be the only Durham in that project I’m sure the administrators will be able to help by predicting his possible branch downstream of I-M223 and making suggestions for SNP testing. Like your cousin, I have no STR matches or surname matches in the project, but the administrators of that project were able to predict my position downstream of I-M223 by looking at specific values in my STR results which they have found tend to correlate with specific downstream branches. In my case, Big Y with YFull analysis of my BAM file confirmed their basic prediction and also allowed YFull to establish a branch branch due to novel SNPs I share with another project member who has done YFull even though he and I are not STR matches according to FTDNA.

    • I agree, Wade. Joining a haplogroup project brings great benefits. I have zero matches on my STRs, but with the haplogroup project members I can sort out quite a bit. (Confirmed with a couple of spot SNP tests before those wonderful panels became available.)
      It also helps to know some local history – how people had been invited in from elsewhere at particular times. And to compare with other surnames common in the area – some had strong links to regions adjacent to the Atlantic shore of NW Europe: exactly where my closest similar Y DNA come from.
      It’s not proof, but it is consistent.
      And it’s encouraging enough to have me chase up other related avenues, including some tempting autosomal links to surnames not in my family, but living right alongside of them.
      I have had even greater success with my mtDNA haplogroup project, but there I also had some matches to work with – even if they are so far back that no CA has yet been found.
      Support your haplogroup project and enjoy the benefits!

  6. I know the feeling of no matches. I just waited and, after a few years, got a 100% match on my surname family’s Y-DNA. Then, this year, another 100% match. We are all related no later than 7 generations ago! Thanks for the tips on autosomal. I’m going to need it to finish out this puzzle and you are giving me a lot of great ideas!

  7. Very cool post Roberta. I love your ability to explain how you use the data and the tools available to answer a host of questions even if the core question remains unanswered for now. You are a great teacher. Thank you.

  8. I have tested my father’s Y DNA at 67 and he has a couple matches with different surnames. My father also has a genetic eye disease that can originate from multiple chromosomes. What do you think of doing a Y test on either or both of his brothers? Have you seen different Y DNA results for male siblings ?

    • The Y DNA isn’t terribly medically informative. I would suggest that if you are interested in medical genetics, that you might work with either a physician or genetic counselor to inquire as to how to determine who does and does not have that disease. But to answer your Y question, there are occasions where brothers or father/son’s results do vary slightly when a mutation has occurred.

  9. I’m working an IBD that suggests a possible relationship between Charles Durham of Isle of Wright, Thomas Durham m. Dorothy, and a John Durham from Baltimore Co, MD

  10. I am a male Durham and would be willing to be tested but I have no clue how to get started. I am just as stuck at Thomas as everyone else, I guess. Please contact me if I can help. Jody Durham

    • Hi Jody. I would love for you to test. Right now there are sales at Family Tree DNA. Please order at least the 37 marker Y DNA test. The other Durham male that has tested ordered 111, so if the budget allows, that would be great too. Also, please order the Family Finder. It’s only $39 this weekend. Let me know when your results come in please. Click on this link to order: http://www.kqzyfj.com/click-6754800-13710356

  11. “drop their DNA results into a frequency chart and look at the percentage of people with their values in their haplogroup at each location, it’s usually immediately obvious why they have no matches”.
    Roberta, is this something you do with the Personalized reports? After 8 years only one match at 25-2 markers , different surnames. At wits end to break a Y-DNA wall in 1813. I do not need a pedigree chart and photos in a fancy format for this kit I admin but would surely love someone to look at the Y-DNA and see if there is any hope of finding the correct male line.
    We tested to Big-Y500 at FTDNA and autosomal. I have joined all the projects I can think of that might have relevance. Thrulines at Ancestry is suggesting a line but I cannot make the leap with confidence. Thank you in advance for any advice.

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