Family Tree DNA’s New Big Y Block Tree

Family Tree DNA just released their new very cool new Block Tree for people who have taken the Big Y DNA test. Furthermore, Family Tree DNA is working hand-in-hand with citizen scientists. At the bottom of their new tree you’ll see the credit, “Layout based on the Big Tree by Alexander R. Williamson.”

I love collaboration because it benefits everyone.

If you have taken the Big Y test, sign on to your account and follow along. If you haven’t and you’re a male, you can always upgrade and if you’re a female, you can sponsor a male with a surname of interest.

Let’s step through the new Block Tree and see what it can tell us about our ancestors and their history. There’s so much here.

After signing on to your account, look under the Big Y-500 section on your personal pge and you’ll see the new Block Tree icon. If you’ve taken this test, you receive the new Block Tree automatically.

Block Tree icon

Click on the Block Tree icon and you’ll see an introduction.

Block Tree Tutorial

block tree tutorial.png

Cool! Trees, SNPs and branches combined with countries AND myOrigins results.

By clicking on “Show Me Around” you can see the various features. Watch for is the little pink blob that expands and contracts, kind of like a heartbeat.

block tree tutorial 1.png

Full screen makes a BIG difference. Pardon the pun.

block tree tutorial 2.png

Display options controls which features you see.

block tree display options.png

You can disable some of these cool functions, but why would anyone want to do that?

Block tree tutorial 3.png

Reset, the ultimate bread crumb trail. Back to the trailhead.

Block tree tutorial 4.png

We’ll try each of these features after the tutorial.

block tree tutorial 5.png

Note that the equivalent SNPs for each branch are included too. In the future, it’s possible that branches maybe divided into two smaller branches between equivalent SNPs. At that point, they won’t be equivalent anymore, because a difference will have been found.

BLock tree tutorial 6.png

Note, at the top of the display are the parent branches of the tree above the SNP boxes shown.

BLock tree parent branches

Click to enlarge.

You can step yourself all the way back up the tree if you wish to do so. In this view, you can see R-M207, the root of haplogroup R at the upper left. Wow, look at all of those branches that are children beneath R-Z39589, the navy blue block.

If you click on R-M207, you’ll see R-M207 and then, upstream, haplogroup P-M45 which gave birth to R-M207 and brother brother branch, Q-M242.

BLock tree SNP path.png

If you get lost on this block tree trying to see major branches and how they relate, remember you can reference the main branching haplotree in pedigree format here.

By clicking on any haplogroup, you can quickly see how they relate to others. For example, here’s P showing Q-M242 and M207 underneath on the pedigree tree.

Block tree to pedigree tree.png

I wrote about how to use this tree in the article, Family Tree DNA’s PUBLIC Y DNA Haplotree.

The block tree is private, meaning not available publicly, because it’s designed to show the names of your matches who have given permission for matching and sharing.

Ok, let’s get down to the nitty gritty.

You and Your Matches on the Block Tree

After you review the tutorial, you’ll see the block tree as it relates to you and your test results.

block tree main view.png

I’m using the test of a man as compared to a group of men whose tests I manage as examples. They have all granted sharing permission, but it’s just easier to blur identities for privacy than to explain repeatedly why I didn’t.

Your own branch is shown to the far left and is labeled as such. To the right, you’ll see all of the neighbor branches. Some will be brother branches, descended from the same parent SNP, like BY482 and R-ZP276, above. Others will be more distantly related.

block tree origins legend.png

Below your branch, a legend referring to the colors in the circle rings in the Origins section is provided.

Family Tree DNA has given us a lot of information  to unpack.

block tree your branch.png

What are we actually looking at?

Your SNP branch block is the one with a white background and a black border, in this case, R-ZS3700.

The teal box underneath includes the average number of private variants, meaning SNP mutations not yet named and located on the tree. Multiple occurrences of private variant mutations must be documented in different men in a reliable genome location before the SNP can be named and placed in its correct position on a branch of the haplotree.

If you hover over the teal box below your “terminal” or currently end-of-line SNP, you’ll see a pop-up box describing the variants. Different men will have different numbers of private variants based on any number of factors, including de novo (one off) mutations and read errors. Therefore, an average is used.

If you click on R-ZS3700, or any SNP, you’ll see just that branch in the display, without neighbor branches.

block tree individual branch.png

There are two people in this branch – you and your match. You have a total of 8 combined origins.

Distance, Years and SNPs

One of the questions all genealogists seek to answer is when. We want to know when and how closely we’re related to these men we match, either closely or distantly.

Unfortunately, that question, without genealogy, is very difficult to answer. Many researchers have spent approaching two decades now attempting to reliably answer that question. The key word here is reliably.

The general consensus is that a SNP generation is someplace, on average, between 80 and roughly 140 years. The topic is hotly debated, and many factors can play into SNP age calculations.

Family Tree DNA has approached this a little differently. They have provided a scale of number of SNPs on the left hand side. Each SNP represents one grey block.

block tree SNP generations.png

Here’s what I can tell you positively about the men in this example. SNP R-BY490 was born about 1600. The father who is confirmed through testing of multiple sons was positive for BY482 but not BY490 and was born in 1555.

There are a total of 5 SNPs plus Private Variants between the current tester whose account we are viewing and the birth of R-BY490.

Ancestor birth Tester birth Difference SNPs Years per SNP
1600 1928 328 5 65.6
1711 1928 217 4 54.25

A second example is equally as relevant. ZS3700 was born in 1711, proven through testing of multiple sons’ lines.

You can see that the average can vary quite a bit. Trying to calculate many generations back in time, with many branches having gone extinct along the way, with no proven genealogical lineages to help the process is fraught with landmines.


I love the view that incorporates countries and geography which shows in a very visual way where different branches of the genetic family line migrated to and settled. At least, where their descendants are clustered today.

block tree countries.png

In the wide view, above, we can see the history and birth of various SNPs in the blue box portion of the chart.

For example, the first split shown, beneath the large dark blue block including BY347 at the bottom occurred 33 SNP generations ago. If a SNP generation is 100 years, on average, then that’s 3300 years ago.

As new private variants are placed in different locations on the tree, this number of SNP generations may increase over time.

There are only two branches shown as descending from the navy blue SNP box; the largest medium blue block showing R-BY336 at the top and the turquoise Private Variant block with 27 variants, at far right.

block tree SNPS and clusters.png

The medium blue block box that includes SNP R-BY336 at the top and Y93760 at the bottom spans 16-33 SNP generations. Each SNP listed represents a SNP generation which is why each SNP is shown on a separate row equating to one grey bar at left.

Looking at the bottom of your display, you see the country of the location of the earliest known ancestor as listed by testers.

block tree flag icon.png

By hovering over the flag, you can identify the country, and by clicking on the flag, you see the detailed view of myOrigins of the testers for the SNP that flag is associated with – in this case, BY390.

block tree SNP plus origins detail view.png

Family Tree DNA has incorporated the highest combined regional myOrigins results for the testers into the display for the Big Y as a ring, plus the location of the testers’ Earliest Known Ancestor as completed in their personal information, found under their profile picture, under the genealogy tab.

Of course, as more people test, this information is subject to change, so check periodically.

block tree countries plus origins.png

The red boxes above indicate the pieces of information that are relevant for SNP R-BY490.

By hovering your mouse over the Origins box, you’ll see that the people in the group who are positive for BY490 have a total of 12 origins of which the highest two are British Isles and West and Central Europe. It just so happens that the earliest known proven ancestor of these men is found in England in the 1400s.

The US flag means that testers are stuck here. A feather indicates that the individuals identified their earliest known ancestor as Native American. I always take that with a grain of salt barring other evidence, such as a cluster (not based on oral history alone) or a known Native haplogroup.

Hint – Please note that if you have “0 Origins” showing, in order for your Origins to be included, you must enable “Origins Sharing” as well as “Project Sharing” for this information to appear on the branch. These options can be found under “Manage Personal Information” below your photo on your personal page, under Account Settings, then “Privacy and Sharing” and “Project Preferences” tabs, respectively.

My Matches

Your matches are shown below the blocks that represent the various SNPs. When you exceed the match threshold of 30 SNPs, you are no longer shown as a match to individuals, and their names will no longer show on the block tree – but the block tree SNP information will remain without their names.

If you want to find out the surnames, locations and ancestors of those people who have tested but aren’t shown as matches, you have a couple of options.

  • If testers have granted permission in their privacy setting to allow their information to be shown in projects, you can visit the appropriate haplogroup project to view their surname and earliest known ancestor information, if they have provided such. Fingers crossed that they did.
  • A google search with the following text string will likely be productive:

<snp ID> haplogroup family tree dna projects

For those people who you do match, by clicking on the matches option in the upper left-hand corner of the block tree page, you will see the following display:

block tree my matches.png

Your matches are shown at left. You can see in this case that all 8 of this man’s matches are shown at BY482 or below, shown in the first three SNP blocks counting from the left on the block tree. The ancestor who produced BY482 was born approximately 16 SNP generations ago. If we use 100 years as an average, that’s 1600 years ago, or about the year 400. So far, all of the men who have tested and are positive for BY482 have a known ancestor in the British Isles.

You can see your matches on the block tree by:

  • viewing this list beside the block tree
  • viewing your matches in their respective haplogroup blocks
  • by clicking on their name to view their individual profile cards

block tree match profile.png

Of course, you can always go back to your account to view the matches on the Big Y-500 matches tab.

block tree Big Y options.png

You can learn more about the Big Y-500 Block Tree here.

In Summary

For me the real power in the Block Tree isn’t just the new visual view. I love that, but I can also use the Block Tree to “see through time” a bit.

I’m clicking back (up arrow on the tree) to view the base of haplogroup Q. As you may know, subgroups of haplogroup Q are found in many locations around the world.

BLock tree hap Q.png

If there was ever a graphic to show, using science, that we are truly all related, this is it. Haplogroup Q is divided into 3 primary blocks.

People of primarily Ashkenazi Jewish origin scattered throughout the world. People of European origins, and people of Native American, Mexican, Russian and Norwegian origins.

Of course, when you look deeper at these three parent SNPs, you’ll see further breakdowns that represent migrations in time and geography.

That is, after all, how we learn about our ancestors before surnames and before genealogical records.

That history is written in our DNA and the DNA of the people to whom we are related, whether we know it or not.

If you are a male and haven’t taken the Big Y-500, please order or upgrade today. Who is waiting on you?



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Thank you so much.

14 thoughts on “Family Tree DNA’s New Big Y Block Tree

  1. I am saving to upgrade my husband’s and my paternal cousin’s Y-37, and to ask amy only living maternal uncle to test.

    Do have a guestion, on my husband’s Y-37, he had 15 matches closet match was Genetic Distance of 2, but not one of his matches or the listed Earliest Known Ancestor has his surname. My paternal 1st cousin only got 2 matches, and both were his surname. Does this mean that somewhere in time, the surname was changed?

  2. Thank you so much for explaining it all. I love Family Tree DNA, but every time they come up with something new, I feel like an idiot for at least a week until I get the hang of using it. With your help, I’ll probably feel smart again before the weekend!

  3. Hi,
    Everyone says “sign up at Family Tree DNA” so I did.
    I meet the same coolest 2nd cousins at Family Tree as I did at MyHeritage, 23andMe, Ancestry, and GedMatch .
    It cost little to upload my 23 dna to Family Tree, so that was cool 🙂 , and of course it’s one more welcome chance to meet a new relative sometime 🙂 .
    But shoot, people Love family tree . I have no Y chromosome, and no known relations who ever took a Y test. So I almost wish I had a penis with all the raves about Y this and Y that. I feel like I have no Green Card, or I’m the wrong unliked flavor :/ .
    Seriously – is there tips to why else Family Tree is enjoyed as a great website? Besides the Y club ?
    I’m clueless ! I want to learn ! I have no Y , and only 1/2 an experiential IQ point so far for understanding the Wonderful World of DNA … Have you written a previous general blog about Family Tree that would help me to understand 🙂 ?
    Thanks ,

    • I should write that article. People love FTDNA because they are the only company to offer multiple kinds of tests. Their tests aren’t just “scratch the surface tests.” Even if you don’t have a Y chromosome, and I don’t, you can still benefit greatly by finding the Y DNA of the lines that are in your tree from men who have tested. Look in the projects. For autosomal testing, they have maternal and paternal bucketing, which shows you people related on different sides. No one else has that.

      • Cool ,
        thank you 🙂 !

        I don’t directly understand what you are refering to, but I understand enough to dive in to these ideas at FamilyTreeDNA and explore !

        This is so cool,
        I really am keen for new ways to learn about my family ,
        it got kind of slugglish lately,
        thank you 🙂 !


  4. The Block tree shows for my terminal SNP that I have “0 Origins” and “0 DNA Matches” even though if I click on the BigY matches tab, it says that I have 7 closest matches. The black box just shows me. It does show my country as the UK, which is correct. I have enabled “Origins Sharing” as well as “Project Sharing” so I am not sure why I have 0 Origins. It would appear that I have not gained much from the Block tree. Any thoughts?

    • If your matches aren’t on your branch, then you will have to look at neighboring branches to see them. Click on the matches link of the block tree. Are they there? As for the Origins sharing, I would suggest contacting FTDNA about that. It sounds incorrect.

  5. Thanks for your response. The 7 matches are found on a neighboring branch. They share my terminal SNP plus they have 6 named SNP’s and 2 private variants that I do not have. I have only 4 private variants between me and my terminal SNP. The terminal SNP stands 16 SNP’s back, so I am interpreting that to mean that the connection with my matches may be 1600 years ago. Does that sound right?

      • Are you saying that since I have only 4 private variants between me and our shared SNP, that means that our connection could be only 400 years ago? In that case, what meaning do I ascribe to the terminal SNP being placed 16 SNP’s back on the timeline at the far left?

        • This is almost impossible to do without seeing the results, and I shouldn’t have tried. Not to mention when I see these comments, I cannot see the thread above it when I’m answering because that’s how the blogging platform works, unfortunately. We don’t know how many years per SNP so I used 100 average, but the graph at the side should equal the total number to a branch. You have to find the right branch point. You mentioned 4 plus 2 (I think) which would have equalled 6 times 100. But based on this comment, obviously I’m not understanding something, so please disregard.

          • I understand the problem created by not having an image to look at. Perhaps if I pose the question in a more general form it might also be useful to other people. If a terminal SNP is 16 SNP’s back on the general timeline, and if there are two branches from this SNP, with one branch having 8 SNP’s below the terminal one and the other branch having 4 SNP’s below the terminal one, what can be said about the time relationship between people on the different branches?

  6. It would be nice if the FTDNA Block Tree would include the results from SNP-Pack tests. Big-Tree does not. However, I had 5 men in our group tested with a FGC5494 SNP Pack that provided the same terminal SNP 4 levels further down from FGC5494, and that agreed with two men that had previously taken the Big-Y test.

  7. Thank you once again for explaining a new feature to the rest of us. For some reason I always have trouble finding the section I want in FTDNA’s learning center. Plus the screen shots help so much.

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