I’ve created a Y DNA resource page with the information in this article, here, as a permanent location where you can find Y DNA information in one place – including:
- Step-by-step guides about how to utilize Y DNA for your genealogy
- Educational articles and links to the latest webinars
- Articles about the science behind Y DNA
- Ancient DNA
- Success stories
Please feel free to share this resource or any of the links to individual articles with friends, genealogy groups, or on social media.
If you haven’t already taken a Y DNA test, and you’re a male (only males have a Y chromosome,) you can order one here. If you also purchase the Family Finder, autosomal test, those results can be used to search together.
What is Y DNA?
Y DNA is passed directly from fathers to their sons, as illustrated by the blue arrow, above. Daughters do not inherit the Y chromosome. The Y chromosome is what makes males, male.
Every son receives a Y chromosome from his father, who received it from his father, and so forth, on up the direct patrilineal line.
Comparatively, mitochondrial DNA, the pink arrow, is received by both sexes of children from the mother through the direct matrilineal line.
Autosomal DNA, the green arrow, is a combination of randomly inherited DNA from many ancestors that is inherited by both sexes of children from both parents. This article explains a bit more.
Y DNA has Unique Properties
The Y chromosome is never admixed with DNA from the mother, so the Y chromosome that the son receives is identical to the father’s Y chromosome except for occasional minor mutations that take place every few generations.
This lack of mixture with the mother’s DNA plus the occasional mutation is what makes the Y chromosome similar enough to match against other men from the same ancestors for hundreds or thousands of years back in time, and different enough to be useful for genealogy. The mutations can be tracked within extended families.
In western cultures, the Y chromosome path of inheritance is usually the same as the surname, which means that the Y chromosome is uniquely positioned to identify the direct biological patrilineal lineage of males.
Two different types of Y DNA tests can be ordered that work together to refine Y DNA results and connect testers to other men with common ancestors.
FamilyTreeDNA provides STR tests with their 37, 67 and 111 marker test panels, and comprehensive STR plus SNP testing with their Big Y-700 test.
STR markers are used for genealogy matching, while SNP markers work with STR markers to refine genealogy further, plus provide a detailed haplogroup.
Think of a haplogroup as a genetic clan that tells you which genetic family group you belong to – both today and historically, before the advent of surnames.
This article, What is a Haplogroup? explains the basic concept of how haplogroups are determined.
In addition to the Y DNA test itself, Family Tree DNA provides matching to other testers in their database plus a group of comprehensive tools, shown on the dashboard above, to help testers utilize their results to their fullest potential.
You can order or upgrade a Y DNA test, here. If you also purchase the Family Finder, autosomal test, those results can be used to search together.
Step-by-Step – Using Your Y DNA Results
Let’s take a look at all of the features, functions, and tools that are available on your FamilyTreeDNA personal page.
What do those words mean? Here you go!
Come along while I step through evaluating Big Y test results.
Big Y Testing and Results
Why would you want to take a Big Y test and how can it help you?
While the Big Y-500 has been superseded by the Big Y-700 test today, you will still be interested in some of the underlying technology. STR matching still works the same way.
The Big Y-500 provided more than 500 STR markers and the Big Y-700 provides more than 700 – both significantly more than the 111 panel. The only way to receive these additional markers is by purchasing the Big Y test.
I have to tell you – I was skeptical when the Big Y-700 was introduced as the next step above the Big Y-500. I almost didn’t upgrade any kits – but I’m so very glad that I did. I’m not skeptical anymore.
This Y DNA tree rocks. A new visual format with your matches listed on their branches. Take a look!
I’ve been writing about DNA for years and have selected several articles that you may find useful.
What kinds of information are available if you take a Y DNA test, and how can you use it for genealogy?
What if your father isn’t available to take a DNA test? How can you determine who else to test that will reveal your father’s Y DNA information?
Family Tree DNA shows the difference in the number of mutations between two men as “genetic distance.” Learn what that means and how it’s figured in this article.
Of course, there were changes right after I published the original Genetic Distance article. The only guarantees in life are death, taxes, and that something will change immediately after you publish.
Sometimes when we take DNA tests, or others do, we discover the unexpected. That’s always a possibility. Here’s the story of my brother who wasn’t my biological brother. If you’d like to read more about Dave’s story, type “Dear Dave” into the search box on my blog. Read the articles in publication order, and not without a box of Kleenex.
Often, what surprise matches mean is that you need to dig further.
The words paternal and patrilineal aren’t the same thing. Paternal refers to the paternal half of your family, where patrilineal is the direct father to father line.
Just because you don’t have any surname matches doesn’t necessarily mean it’s because of what you’re thinking.
Short tandem repeats (STRs) and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) aren’t the same thing and are used differently in genealogy.
Piecing together your ancestor’s Y DNA from descendants.
Haplogroups are something like our pedigree charts.
What does it mean when you have a zero for a marker value?
There’s more than one way to break down that brick wall. Here’s how I figured out which of 4 sons was my ancestor.
Just because you match the right line autosomally doesn’t mean it’s because you descend from the male child you think is your ancestor. Females gave their surnames to children born outside of a legal marriage which can lead to massive confusion. This is absolutely why you need to test the Y DNA of every single ancestral line.
When the direct patrilineal line isn’t the line you’re expecting.
You can now tell by looking at the flags on the haplotree where other people’s ancestral lines on your branch are from. This is especially useful if you’ve taken the Big Y test and can tell you if you’re hunting in the right location.
If you’re just now testing or tested in 2018 or after, you don’t need to read this article unless you’re interested in the improvements to the Big Y test over the years.
2019 was a banner year for discovery. 2020 was even more so, keeping up an amazing pace. I need to write a 2020 update article.
What is a terminal SNP? Hint – it’s not fatal😊
How the TIP calculator works and how to best interpret the results. Note that this tool is due for an update that incorporates more markers and SNP results too.
You can view the location of the Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA ancestors of people whose ethnicity you match.
Tools and Techniques
This free public tree is amazing, showing locations of each haplogroup and totals by haplogroup and country, including downstream branches.
Need to search for and find Y DNA candidates when you don’t know anyone from that line? Here’s how.
Yes, it’s still possible to resolve this issue using autosomal DNA. Non-matching Y DNA isn’t the end of the road, just a fork.
Science Meets Genealogy – Including Ancient DNA
Haplogroup C was an unexpected find in the Americas and reaches into South America.
Haplogroup C is found in several North American tribes.
Haplogroup C is found as far east as Nova Scotia.
Test by test, we made progress.
New testers, new branches. The research continues.
The discovery of haplogroup A00 was truly amazing when it occurred – the base of the phylotree in Africa.
The press release about the discovery of haplogroup A00.
In 2018, a living branch of A00 was discovered in Africa, and in 2020, an ancient DNA branch.
Did you know that haplogroups weren’t always known by their SNP names?
This brought the total of SNPs discovered by Family Tree DNA in mid-2018 to 153,000. I should contact the Research Center to see how many they have named at the end of 2020.
An academic paper split ancient haplogroup D, but then the phylogenetic research team at FamilyTreeDNA split it twice more! This might not sound exciting until you realize this redefines what we know about early man, in Africa and as he emerged from Africa.
Ancient DNA splits haplogroup P after analyzing the remains of two Jehai people from West Malaysia.
For years I doubted Kennewick Man’s DNA would ever be sequenced, but it finally was. Kennewick Man’s mitochondrial DNA haplogroup is X2a and his Y DNA was confirmed to Q-M3 in 2015.
Compare your own DNA to Vikings!
Twenty-seven Icelandic Viking skeletons tell a very interesting story.
Irish ancestors? Check your DNA and see if you match.
Ancestors from Hungary or Italy? Take a look. These remains have matches to people in various places throughout Europe.
The Y DNA story is no place near finished. Dr. Miguel Vilar, former Lead Scientist for National Geographic’s Genographic Project provides additional analysis and adds a theory.
Y DNA Webinar at Legacy Family Tree Webinars – a 90-minute webinar for those who prefer watching to learn! It’s not free, but you can subscribe here.
Success Stories and Genealogy Discoveries
Almost everyone has their own Y DNA story of discovery. Because the Y DNA follows the surname line, Y DNA testing often helps push those lines back a generation, or two, or four. When STR markers fail to be enough, we can turn to the Big Y-700 test which provides SNP markers down to the very tip of the leaves in the Y DNA tree. Often, but not always, family-defining SNP branches will occur which are much more stable and reliable than STR mutations – although SNPs and STRs should be used together.
Methodologies to find ancestral lines to test, or maybe descendants who have already tested.
DNA testing reveals an unexpected mystery several hundred years old.
When I write each of my “52 Ancestor” stories, I include genetic information, for the ancestor and their descendants, when I can. Jacob was special because, in addition to being able to identify his autosomal DNA, his Y DNA matches the ancient DNA of the Yamnaya people. You can read about his Y DNA story in Jakob Lenz (1748-1821), Vinedresser.
Please feel free to add your success stories in the comments.
What About You?
You never know what you’re going to discover when you test your Y DNA. If you’re a female, you’ll need to find a male that descends from the line you want to test via all males to take the Y DNA test on your behalf. Of course, if you want to test your father’s line, your father, or a brother through that father, or your uncle, your father’s brother, would be good candidates.
What will you be able to discover? Who will the earliest known ancestor with that same surname be among your matches? Will you be able to break down a long-standing brick wall? You’ll never know if you don’t test.
You can click here to upgrade an existing test or order a Y DNA test.
Share the Love
You can always forward these articles to friends or share by posting links on social media. Who do you know that might be interested?
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Thank you so much.
DNA Purchases and Free Transfers
- FamilyTreeDNA – Y, mitochondrial, and autosomal DNA testing
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Genealogy Products and Services
- MyHeritage FREE Tree Builder – genealogy software for your computer
- MyHeritage Subscription with Free Trial
- Legacy Family Tree Webinars – genealogy and DNA classes, subscription-based, some free
- Legacy Family Tree Software – genealogy software for your computer
- Charting Companion – Charts and Reports to use with your genealogy software or FamilySearch
- Legacy Tree Genealogists – Professional genealogy research
- Genealogical.com – Lots of wonderful genealogy research books
I love this! As a surname project administrator, this will be so helpful to new testers!
I believe I told you this before, Roberta. But here it is again for those interested in this article.
My Paternal line 2G-Grandfather was placed in the wrong family forty or fifty+ years ago by a conventional genealogist. This error is propagated unlimitedly on Ancestry and other family tree sites. I have not-so-distant cousins with a lot of emotional capital invested in the wrong male line through the head of the incorrect family. The only reason I know this is because of the Y-DNA test I took on FamilyTreeDNA. My direct male line is a completely different family. I would never know this except for the test results. Which came to fruition when I joined a Surname project that grouped all the different families by their Y-DNA.
In addition, I was able to contact a direct male line descendant of that wrong family who had also joined the same Surname project. As expected, he ended up in a completely different Y-DNA family group. (This also established that the wrong family was not just another branch of the one I belong to.)
Roberta, RBY99710 here.
Thanks so much for this. It goes into my Roberta file.
I have searched up some living relatives in my Y-line and in some cases paid for their Y test. Our first guy, John the Puritan, came to Boston in 1630 with the Winthrop fleet.
He had two sons (John, b. 1641 & Thomas, b.1643). He also had daughters before he drowned at sea in the Phantom Ship of New Haven circa 1647. I have succeeded in getting Ydna results from living descendants of both sons. I searched for years.
FTDNA is still working on the last test results.
I will be using your guidelines to evaluate the results.
Thank you! I manage a test/file/sample over at FTDNA, but it hasn’t done much for my research. My “file” is up to the Big Y-500 and wondering if it would do any good to upgrade to Y-700. I already looked at one of your links to finally understand my terminal SNP.
My 700 tests discovered additional SNPs. Do you have matches at 500?
I have 19 matches at the 25 markers level and nothing after that.
What about Big Y matches? Anything there?
9. All from the previous 19.
Thank you so much! this is just what I needed, I just sent off my brother’s Y-DNA 111 with you and my MtDNA for me.
I’m Q-YP910 and in search of matches.
I created something very similar that I use for my Y DNA projects:
Great compilation. I’m recommending this to friends and family!
An interesting observation about ydna was when I compared my number of matches to my father-in-law. He had the same problem I have which was limited knowledge about his paternal line. He did a yDNA test at 67 markers based on my encouragement.
The big surprise for my FIL was that he had about 10% the total matches I had at 12, 25, and 37 (a total of 4). And no matches at 67! Where as i have 55 matches at 37 and 33 at 67.
Until I got my 3rd cousin to test, I didn’t have a single person with my surname that I matched. We confirmed that our 2G grandfathers had the same father – which we already had already confirmed on paper and family finder DNA tests.
I’m curious if my cousin and I upgrade to y111 if that will strengthen or weaken our connection to a paternal group we found. I’ve seen one person in my y67 test I don’t see in my y37. I haven’t tried to confirm SNPs yet. Curiously, my cousin and I trace back 5 generations to the same 3G Grandfather and have a distance of 2.
It’s hard to say. It might help and might not. Same with the Big Y if any of them have taken that too.