“Why do vendors give me different haplogroups?”
This questions often comes up when people test with different vendors and receive different haplogroup results for both Y and mitochondrial DNA.
If you need a quick refresher on who carries which types of DNA, read 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy.
You’re the same person, right, so why would you receive different answers from different testing companies, and which answer is actually right?
The answer is pretty straightforward, conceptually – having to do with how vendors test and interpret your DNA.
Different companies test different pieces of your DNA, depending on:
- The type of chip the company is using for testing
- The way they have programmed the chip
- The version of the reference “tree” they are using to assign haplogroups
- The level they have decided to report
Therefore, their haplogroups reported may vary, and some may be more exact than others. Occasionally, a vendor outside the major testers is simply wrong.
Not All Tests are Created Equal
All haplogroups carry interesting information and can be at least somewhat genealogically useful. For example, haplogroups alone can tell you if your direct line DNA (paternal or matrilineal) is probably European, Asian, African or Native American. Note the word probably. This too may be subject to interpretation.
A basic haplogroup can rule out a genealogical match through a specific branch, but can’t confirm a genealogical match. You need to compare specific DNA locations not provided with haplogroup testing alone for genealogical matching. Plus you’ll need to add genealogical records where possible.
Let’s look at two examples.
Your mitochondrial DNA is inherited from your mother’s direct line, on up you tree until you run out of mothers. So, you, your mother, her mother, her mother…etc.
The red circles show the mitochondrial lineage in the pedigree chart, below.
If your mitochondrial haplogroup is H1a, for example, then your base haplogroup is “H”, the first branch is “1” and the next smaller branch is “a.”
Therefore, if you don’t match at H, your base haplogroup, you aren’t a possible match on that genealogical line. In other words, if you are H1a, or H plus anything, you can’t match on the direct matrilineal line of someone who is J1a, or J plus anything. H and J are different base haplogroups who haven’t shared a common ancestor in tens of thousands of years.
You can, however, potentially be related on any other line – just not on this specific line.
If your haplogroup does match, even exactly, that doesn’t mean you are related in a genealogically relevant timeframe. It means you share an ancestor, but that common ancestor may be back hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of years.
The further downstream, the younger the branches. “H” is the oldest, then “1,” then “a” is the youngest.
Some companies might just test the locations for H, some for H1 and some for H1a. Of course, there are even more haplogroups, like H1a2a. New, more refined haplogroups are discovered with each new version of the mitochondrial reference tree.
The only company that tests your haplogroup all the way to the end, meaning the most refined test possible to give you your complete haplogroup and all mutations, is Family Tree DNA with their mtFull Sequence test.
A quick comparison of my mitochondrial DNA at the following three vendors shows the following:
|23andMe||Living DNA||Family Tree DNA Full Seqence|
With Family Tree DNA’s full sequence test, you’ll receive your full haplogroup along with matching to other people who have taken mitochondrial DNA tests. They are the only vendor to offer Y and mitochondrial matching, because they are the only vendor that tests at that level.
Y DNA operates on the same principle. Specific locations called SNPs are tested by companies like 23andMe and Living DNA to provide customers with a branch level haplogroup. You don’t receive matching with these types of tests.
Just like with mitochondrial DNA, a basic branch level test can eliminate a match on the direct paternal (surname) branch but can’t confirm the genealogical match.
If your haplogroup branch is E-M2 and someone else’s is R-M269, you can’t share a common paternal ancestor because your base haplogroups don’t match, meaning E and R.
You can share an ancestor on any other line, just not on the direct Y line.
The blue squares show the Y DNA lineage on the pedigree chart below.
Family Tree DNA predicts your haplogroup for free if you take the 37, 67 or 111 marker Y-DNA STR test, but if you take the Big Y-500, your Y chromosome is completely tested and your haplogroup defined to the most refined level possible (often called your terminal SNP) – including mutations that may exist in only very few people. You also receive matching to other testers (with any Y test) which can be very genealogically relevant, plus bonus Y STR markers with the Y-500.
OK, But Why Do Different Companies Give Me Different Haplogroup Results?
For this example, let’s say your haplogroup is H1a2a.
Let’s say that Company 1 uses a chip that they’ve programmed to test to the H1a level of haplogroup H1a2a.
Let’s say that Company 2 uses a chip that they’ve programmed to test to the H1 level of haplogroup H1a2a.
Let’s say that you take the full sequence test with Family Tree DNA and they fully test all 15,659 locations of your mitochondria and determine that you are H1a2a.
Company 1 will report your mitochondrial haplogroup as H1a, Company 2 as H1 and Family Tree DNA as H1a2a.
With mitochondrial DNA, you can at least see some consist pathway in naming practices, meaning H, H1, H1a, etc., so you can tell that you’re on the same branch.
With Y DNA, the only consistent part is the base haplogroup.
With Y DNA, let’s say that Company 1 programs their chip to test for specific SNP locations, and they return a Y DNA haplogroup of R-L21.
Company 2 programs their chip to test for fewer or different locations and they return a Y DNA haplogroup of R-M269.
You purchase a Big Y-500 test at Family Tree DNA, and they return your haplogroup as R-CTS3386.
All three haplogroups can be correct, as far as they go. It’s just that they don’t test the same distance down the Y chromosome tree.
R-M269, R-L21 and R-CTS3386 are all increasingly smaller branches on the Y haplotree.
Furthermore, for both Y and mitochondrial DNA, there is always a remote possibility that a critical location won’t be able to be read in your DNA sample that might affect your haplogroup.
Obtaining Your Haplogroup
I strongly encourage people to test with and upload to only well-known major companies or organizations. Some companies provide haplogroup information that is simply wrong.
Companies that I am comfortable with relative to haplogroups include:
- Family Tree DNA
- Living DNA
Neither MyHeritage nor Ancestry provide Y or mitochondrial haplogroups.
The chart below shows the various vendor offerings, including Y and mitochondrial DNA matching.
|Family Tree DNA – Y DNA||Y haplogroup is estimated with STR test. Haplogroup provided to most refined level possible with Big Y-500 test. Individual SNP tests also available.||Yes|
|Family Tree DNA – mitochondrial||At least base haplogroup provided with mtPlus test, plus more if possible, but full haplogroup plus additional mutations provided with mtFull Sequence test.||Yes|
|Genographic Project (obsolete in 2019)||More than base haplogroup for both Y and mitochondrial, but not full haplogroup on either.||No|
|23andMe||More than base haplogroup for both Y and mitochondrial, but not full haplogroup on either.||No|
|Living DNA||More than base haplogroup for both Y and mitochondrial, but not full haplogroup on either.||No|
Want More Detail?
If you’d like to read a more detailed answer about how haplogroups are determined, take a look at the article, Haplogroup Comparisons Between Family Tree DNA and 23andMe.
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