How Many Men Discover or Confirm Their Surname with Y DNA Testing?

About 15 years ago, Bennett Greenspan, founder of FamilyTreeDNA, at one of the early conferences said that about 30% of men who take a Y DNA test find a strong surname match. That number has increased now to nearly 100%, or “almost everyone.”

Exceptions

Of course, there are exceptions that fall into a number of categories:

  • Jewish families from regions where surnames weren’t adopted until in the 1800s.
  • Jewish families whose direct paternal line suffered dramatic losses during the Holocaust.
  • Dutch families who did not adopt surnames until Napoleon’s edict in 1811.
  • Cultures who have or recently had patronymic surnames that change every generation.
  • Men whose DNA is either extremely rare (and no relatives have tested) or are from under-sampled regions of the world.
  • Males whose paternal line may be recent immigrants and people in the homeland don’t participate in genealogy or don’t DNA test.
  • Males whose ancestors were enslaved. In the US, families adopted surnames after the Civil War ended slavery in the 1860s, so Y DNA testing plus autosomal is critically important to reunite these families. Please note that the Y DNA haplogroup, even an estimate provided with STR testing, will indicate whether the direct paternal lineage is European, African, Native American/Asian – all of which are found in the descendants of men who were enslaved. The Big Y-700 provides significantly more information along with placement on the haplotree.

I started writing Y DNA reports for clients in 2004 (although I no longer accept private clients) and at that time, often saw men with no matches. Today, a man with no matches is extremely unusual, and most have strong surname matches. As more men test, everyone will have more matches, of course, and the more we can learn about our ancestors.

What do matches reveal?

Matches Reveal

In essence, matches to other men with common surnames do one of two things:

  1. Confirm the surname lineage, at least to the common ancestor.
  2. Identify the surname where the tester is likely to find his ancestral roots.
  3. Provide perspective further back in time answering the question, “Where did I come from?”

Of course, this second point is crucial for males searching for the identity of their paternal lines.

While time has moved on, the number of testers in the database has dramatically increased, and almost everyone has relevant matches now – I still see the 30% metric oft-repeated. Let’s put this to the test and see what we find.

Setting Up the Experiment

I selected 20 men who have taken the Big Y test whose kits I manage or who were randomly selected from projects that I manage and who have given permission for their results to be published on public project pages.

I recorded results for the tester’s own or very similar surnames. Slightly different but recognizable spellings are counted as the same name.

I included matches at 12 markers, 111 markers, and the Big Y results. Men who purchase or upgrade to the Big Y-700 test will have all 111 STR panel markers included. Obviously, individual testers should check their results at every level.

Big Y testers actually receive 700+ STR markers, but can only easily filter for matches at 111 (or below), so that’s the number I used. Plus, males can purchase  37 and 111 panels without taking the Big Y test, so this comparative information will be valid for all Y DNA testers.

Click to enlarge image.

Additionally, I used the Advanced Matches feature to check for people who match someone on BOTH the Y DNA and their Family Finder autosomal test. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee that the reason they match on both tests is because of their common surname line – but it’s a hint and may be very useful, especially with closer Family Finder matches.

I intentionally included some men with recent European heritage who are unlikely to have matches simply because their families have been in colonial America since the 1600s or 1700s and their ancestor had a dozen sons who each had a dozen sons.

Why Did I Include 12 Marker Results?

You may wonder why I included 12 marker matches since that test is no longer sold individually and is the least granular. Truthfully, it’s too often deemed useless and overlooked.

Hear me out on this one😊

Many of the men who originally took the 12 and 25 marker tests, before the higher panels (37, 67, 111, and Big Y) were available are deceased now. Twenty years is a generation, and FamilyTreeDNA began testing the Y chromosome in the year 2000.

While these low marker tests alone are not conclusive, with additional information, such as trees, common ancestors, and other testers who match, they form pieces of evidence that can be invaluable. Some have also taken an autosomal test which can be especially important, given that they are another generation or two (or three) further back in time than the people testing today.

You won’t see these men as matches at 37, 67 or 111 markers, because they are deceased and can’t upgrade, but they may provide the nugget of information you need by matching at 12 or 25 markers. You’ll need to evaluate that match in light of other information. I’ll review that in the next two sections.

20 Men

If you’re a man or can find a male to test for each of your genealogy lines, the Y DNA is the fastest, most reliable way to identify an ancestral surname – not just in your father’s generation, but moving back in time.

Of the 20 men selected, all men had matches to their surname. However, one Smith man, #18, had a unique situation that might be very genealogically relevant.

I’ll discuss each match briefly with some commentary below the chart.

Surname Match Name 12 Marker 111 Marker Big Y Advanced – 12 + FF Both
1 Howery Howery 9 of 20 2 of 2 0 (none tested) 1
2 Graves Graves 8 of 51 2 of 8 1 Graves + others 1 – different surname
3 Perkins Perkins/McDonald 16 of 1762 1 of 63, many McDonalds 0 Perkins (no testers) but several McD names 8 – 2 McDonald
4 Napier Napier 19 of 19,217 2 of 13 2 Napier + others 1 + many others
5 Rice Rice 45 of 58 14 of 19 7 of 10 1
6 Rader Rader  13 of 18,576 7 of 7 7 3
7 Estes Estes 69 of 502 21 of 24 9 of 10 2 + 4 different surname
8 Campbell Campbell 178 of 369 61 of 103 7 of 10 4 of 5
9 Lentz Lentz 1 of 1 0 of 1 1 different name, no other Lentz Big Y testers 0
10 Bonnevie Bonnevie 1 of 1 (tested to 37) 0 0 no test
11 Vannoy Vannoy 7 of 49 2 of 4 0 of 1 0
12 Lore/Lord Lore/Lord 3 of 7 1 of 3 1 of 1 0
13 Clarkson/Claxton Clarkson/Claxton 19 of 540 1 of 1 0 of 9 (No Big Y testers) 0 of 3
14 Muncey Muncy/Muncey 9 of 155 7 of 16 1 of 4 1
15 Miller Miller 5 of 6 2 at 67, no 111 testers 0 – no Miller match testers 1 of 2
16 Speak(s) Speak(s) 9 of 9 21 of 51 4 of 17 0
17 Smith Smith/Jennings 2 of 16, 9 Jennings 0 of 2 (Jennings) 1 Jennings of 3 1 Jennings
18 Bolton Bolton 8 of 1750 2 of 2 0 of 28 0 of 12
19 Crumley Crumley 10 of 79 7 of 93 3 of 127 0 of 2
20 Harrell Harrell 81 of 17,638 3 of 7 2 of 2 0 of 119

Messages Revealed in the Results

Let’s briefly review the information we’ve discovered and extrapolate from each of these 20 matches. Analysis is the key to success.

  1. The Howery surname is rather unusual. This man had only two 111 marker matches and both were to men of the same surname. Half of his 12 marker matches are the same surname. None of his matches had taken the Big Y test, so he has no same-surname or other surname matches there. He did match one of his Y DNA matches on the Family Finder test though. This is high-quality confirmation that Howery is indeed the biological ancestral surname and our tester can set about finding and confirming his common ancestors with his matches.
  2. The Graves male had several 12-marker matches, but many 12-marker matches have not tested at the 111 marker level. He matches one Graves male on the Big Y plus some men with other surnames. The Big Y reaches back further in time, so these matches may reflect common ancestors before the advent of surnames.
  3. Our Perkins male has very interesting matches. He does have both 12 and 111 Perkins matches, but he also had a LOT of McDonald matches. More McDonald matches than Perkins matches. This suggests that indeed, his ancestors were Perkins, at least back to the earliest known ancestor (EKA), but before that, he may well be a member of the McDonald Y DNA clan. There were no Perkins Big Y testers, but if I were him, I’d ask my Perkins matches to upgrade.
  4. I can tell by looking at the huge number of 12 marker matches for our Napier man that he is haplogroup R, the most common in Europe, with an EXTREMELY common 12 marker haplotype. Note how dramatically the number of 111 marker matches drops – from 19,000+ to 13 – a perfect example of why we suggest men upgrade to at least 111 markers to refine their matches. Both of his 111 marker Napier matches have upgraded to the Big Y, and he matches them there as well. He does match one Napier on both the 12 marker test and Family Finder Advanced Matching – but he also matches MANY other men. This is because of the extremely high number of 12 marker matches. In his case, I would only use Y DNA marker panels higher than 12 markers in the Advanced Matching.
  5. Lots of Rice testers from this line confirm a common ancestor. I wonder if there is a Rice male from someplace overseas who has tested. If so, this might be that “jump the pond” event that genealogists who have European ancestors who are found in colonial America seek.
  6. Our Rader tester also has many 12 marker matches, but his only matches at 111 and on the Big Y are his Rader kinsmen. No doubt about that surname whatsoever.
  7. My Estes line has several 12 marker matches, but that gets slimmed right down at 111 markers. Using the Big Y test, we further divided those branches of Estes men. I literally could not have sorted out who was descended from whom without the Big Y test results. Way too many Johns, Williams, and Elishas in burned counties in Virginia.
  8. Our Campbell tester is unquestionably confirmed to be descended from the Clan Campbell line from Inverary, Scotland. However, the challenge in this family is which Campbell male they descend from in Virginia. The Big Y-700 test has narrowed the possibilities significantly, and the tester is currently in the process of attempting to convince his three closest Y STR 111 matches to take the Big Y test. Yes, he has offered to pay as well. Hey, in genealogy, you do what you need to do. Y DNA is likely the only way this puzzle from the 1700s will ever be unraveled.
  9. The Lentz line is German with rare DNA, but they do have a confirming match to another Lentz male.
  10. Bonnievie spelled various ways is French and has one 12 marker match who only tested to 37 markers. He has no matches above that. Not only is his Y DNA quite rare, DNA testing is illegal in France which makes additional testers few and far between. Unfortunately, his one match has not taken a Family Finder test either.
  11. Several men from the Vannoy line have tested and a Big Y test match to another man confirmed that the ancestral line is Dutch – not French as was speculated for decades. The STR tests have revealed Vannoy lines, by similar spellings, from lines we didn’t know existed.
  12. Lore or Lord is a rare Acadian family surname. Our tester does have matches to other Lore/Lord men, which confirms the line to the ancestor who arrived in Acadia in the early 1600s, but future testers will be needed before we can confirm his origins to either France or as one of the English soldiers who served at the fort.
  13. The Clarkson/Claxton testers confirm two lines, one spelled each way, from Tennessee and North Carolina line to a common ancestor in either Virginia or North Carolina in the 1770s. However, the family is still working to further assemble that puzzle. Finding a Clarkson/Claxton match on STR markers or the Big Y who descends from a male not from the two known lines would help immensely. Our hope is that a Clarkson/Claxton from an earlier line or from the British Isles will test and provide that push over the brick wall. Any Clarkson/Clarkson men out there who haven’t taken the Y DNA test yet?
  14. The Muncy/Munsey line is confirmed to a common ancestor born in England in and died on Long Island in 1674. Based on both STR and SNP results from the Big Y, we can narrow the lineages of Muncy men who test and aren’t familiar with their Muncy genealogy. Of course, the Muncy line eventually migrated through Virginia and seemingly named every man in every generation either John, Samuel or Francis – but DNA testing helps immensely to sort this out.
  15. While Miller is a very common occupation surname, DNA testing has put to rest many incorrect myths about this particular Swiss Miller line. Men with the same surname in the same location, even in the same church, does not equate to the same genetic family line. Any male with a common surname absolutely needs to do Y DNA testing and at the highest level. There’s nothing worse than spending countless hours barking up the wrong tree – especially when Y DNA testing will save you.
  16. Our Speaks man matched another Speak male who knew where his ancestors were from in Lancashire. Testing additional men living in Lancashire at the 111 marker and Big Y levels allowed the Speak line to be divided into specific lineages beginning in the 1500s, piecing together the earlier ancestors into a descendant tree. Recently, an “orphan” line in the US has been connected to his ancestors, thanks to both STR values AND Big Y testing.
  17. Smith is quite interesting because we discover that something doesn’t add up. Our Smith man matches two Smith men who have the same ancestor born in 1810 but that son, John, does not match the descendants of his brothers. There seems to be an undocumented adoption of some sort at that point in time. John Smith’s Y DNA is not the same as his brothers whose descendants match each other. Given that our Smith tester, and his two matches, do not match the other descendants of the ancestor they are supposed to descend from, we can pinpoint the generation in which the adoption event occurred. However, we have a further clue, because these Smith men match the Jennings line closely- including one advanced match where the Smith man also matches autosomally in addition to the Y DNA. This is clearly a case of “you don’t know what you don’t know” and would never have known without Y DNA testing.
  18. Our Bolton tester matches several other Bolton men who descend from a common immigrant ancestor. If the Bolton matches upgrade to the Big Y-700 test, they might be able to determine separate genetic lines branching through the various sons of the immigrant ancestor. Evaluating the surnames that the tester matches at the Big Y level may assist with evaluating deeper ancestry in England and determining where the Bolton ancestors originated before the 1600s in London.
  19. Crumley is a difficult family to research, in part because several people with the same surname are found in close proximity, but Y DNA testing has shown that these men are not related. Big Y testing has disproved that the Crumley progenitor originated in Germany, although a different Crumley family did. The Big Y matches include many Mc… surnames along with Ferguson and Gillespie. The Big Y Block Tree shows the closest matches with ancestors born in Scotland, Ireland, and Northern Ireland – which is very likely where the Crumley progenitor originated too.
  20. Harrell is another difficult surname, spelled numerous ways with several Harrell/Herrell/Harrold/Herrald families moving westward in the 1600s and 1700s from the thirteen original colonies. This Harrell line has not been able to connect to a single progenitor in the colonies, yet, but Y DNA testing and the block tree confirm that this Harrell line originated in the British Isles, very likely England.

What Did These 20 Men Learn?

Every single one of these men benefitted from Y DNA testing, although exactly how depends to some extent on their testing goal. Other men also benefitted by matching.

One man, our Smith, #17, needs to look at the Jennings family prior to 1810. Is there a Jennings man living in close proximity, or do court records exist that might be illuminating?

If one of these 20 men had been an adoptee or otherwise searching for an unknown paternal line, they would have been able to identify a surname connection and perhaps a progenitor ancestor. I encourage everyone to either order a Family Finder autosomal test or transfer a DNA file (for free) from another vendor if they have taken an autosomal test elsewhere. Step-by-step transfer instructions are found here. Be sure that the Y DNA and autosomal tests are on the same kit/account at FamilyTreeDNA so that you can use the advanced matching tool.

With the Big Y-700 test, these men can discern or confirm lines descending from their direct paternal ancestors – sometimes within a generation or two of the tester. This test is so sensitive and granular and has such deep coverage (millions of bases) now that often we find small mutations between fathers and sons or brothers.

While STR markers, 12-111 are genealogically important, they do tend to mutate rapidly and sometimes back-mutate. SNPs, tested in the Big Y-700 test, don’t do that, and the power of STRs and SNPs together have the potential to break down brick walls and correct trees. In fact, it happens every single day.

Resources

If you’d like to watch a video about Y DNA, Y DNA-related genetic terms, and the benefits of Big Y-700 testing, you can watch a great educational video by Janine Cloud here. Be sure to note the part where she talks about why people who have previously taken the Big Y-500 might want to upgrade to the Big Y-700.

Also, check out my Y DNA Resource page, here.

What Don’t You Know?

Y DNA tests, including the Big Y-700 which includes all STR panels, and the autosomal Family Finder test are on sale at FamilyTreeDNA right now for Father’s Day.

There’s no better time to find missing pieces and discover information that you can’t find any other way.

Click here to order Y DNA tests, the Family Finder, or upgrade an existing test.

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56 thoughts on “How Many Men Discover or Confirm Their Surname with Y DNA Testing?

  1. I Ydna tested 48 men surname Christopher from all the early (pre-American Revolutionary War) Christopher lines (not already Ydna tested prior to my project). My maternal Christopher line had 11 concurrences of data and my paternal Christopher line had 14 concurrences of data. (This includes my project and spin off projects my project inspired) which were never-the-less Ydna matches to my project). We have 19 haplogrpops from the project but, I conclude that most men not only carry the Ydna of their surname line but carry the surname line back to the 1700s – with exceptions which concurs with your article findings.

  2. I don’t know what is meant by “nearly 100%” chance of a strong match. My two surname matches are my dad and a first cousin, whom I tested at the lowest level as part of package deals. We have a NPE above my 2nd great grandfather, and the next closest y matches at any level of testing are estimated to be separated by 800 years back to SE England. I think it’s still valuable but I wouldn’t oversell the likelihood of a “strong match”, as I haven’t learned much more through Big Y than I have through the living DNA or 23andme combo haplogroup test.

  3. My maiden name is Smith, and my brother took the 37-marker y-DNA test from FTDNA several years ago in an attempt to take our Smith branch beyond our 2nd great-grandfather, John, who died in 1845 in Coffee Co. AL; his place of birth is unknown. At 37 markers, he has two matches at 0 genetic distance with the surnames Banks and Perkins. He has an additional four matches at 1 genetic distance–two named Banks and two named Perkins. At 12 and 25 markers he has lots of matches from Scandinavia, and many with the surname Cochrane.
    I was interested in your conclusions about clan membership. I was not able to find surnames associated with Clan Cochrane by Googling; is there a site to find that information? Since all our close matches are at the 37 marker level, would we learn anything else by upgrading to more markers?

  4. You should do a post (or mention here?) about “targeted” SNP testing.
    I’m an adoptee who early in my search did a Y37 in the hopes of finding/confirming a surname. As it turned out, my surname is an old but a bit unique one with several variants (some not so obvious at first thought) and Y-37 didn’t help much at all. I chose to “trickle up” to a Y-67 with not much help. By the time I got to Y-111 I had a good clue with 1 surname match & 1 variant reasonably close, but also 2 completely different surnames more distant. That’s when I did a SNP Pack and convinced two others to do the same, which confirmed our connection and documented the variant change in our lines.
    A big Y-700 for the 3 of us refined that even more and is a start to pin down the date of the surname variant “split”.

    Bottom line (imo) is get into a project and ask admins for advice on how you might be able to parlay your lower marker STR test into a finer grained SNP haplotype, and maybe even a common Terminal SNP with some of your existing matches!

    • Hi Jim, I’m kind of in the same boat as you, with an unknown Grandfather. My Dad, who died when I was 10 years old never knew his father but he was told that his father was a Native Canadian. Imagine my shock to learn I have no native DNA whatsoever. I did the Y37 and have come up with 2 surnames that don’t seem to have any relation to each other. I’ve thought hard about this, and I’m not a stupid man, but I cannot get my head around how there can be 2 surnames (both RM-269 btw).

      Could you help shed some light on this for me? I’d be so grateful as I am completely baffled and the 4 men who I’ve matched with and reached out to haven’t replied to me.

      Thanks and best regards,

      Glen

  5. CLARKSON testing at BIG-y not matching that high — but my brother Ferman CLARKSON does match a couple of male CLARKSONs from England who paper match us to our common ancestor – Peter Clarkson b abt 1670 Barnacar, Garstang, Lancaster. Ferman’s haplogroup is R-Y17998 I know our CLARKSONs who lived in Essex Co VA after 1777 have some of their families who spell their name CLAXTON. There are five sons in the family of James b 1748 and Mary ADAMS – and their lines are all matching my DNA and my brother’s.

  6. Sadly, after almost 15 years of being part of the Carr yDNA project, my brother has zero matches. First began with the 37 markers’ test, then upgraded to 67 markers. Last year I paid for the BigY test. Also, there have been zero matches within a genetic distance of 1, 2, 3 or more!! The Carr project has 593 members, but I’ve not confined the search to just the Carr project. My searches include the entire database. This makes no sense to me. My Carr line can be traced back to Isaac Carr in Rhode Island in the 1700s, where there is a major Carr family presence descending from Caleb Carr, Rhode Island’s first governor. My Isaac Carr married Phebe Carr, a direct descendant of Caleb Carr. Caleb Carr’s descendants fall into haplogroup R. My brother’s haplogroup is I-FGC2491 — a subgroup of I-M253. I haven’t ruled out a NPE for Isaac Carr since I cannot find his parents and he may have been adopted, formally or informally. So this is why I’m really interested in finding a match that might indicate whether my ancestor’s surname was Carr or something else.

    • Do I ever understand this. I’m waiting on a surname Match for one if my lines too. Makes me wonder if my guys Y line has died out at least in the US.

    • Go and get a known Y-cousin to test (preferably distant) – and you will have a match! In YDNA you need to be pro-active to use it properly, locating distant paper cousins and getting them to test.

      • The Y DNA lineage of Gov. Carr of Rhode Island and his brothers is well documented in the Y DNA database at FTDNA, not all Y DNA tested descendants are part of the Carr Group however. In cases where several documented descendants share a common haplotype that haplotype can be considered established for that lineage. Where a family tree member does not match that haplotype break from the family male genetic descent be considered proven. I waited over a decade to see someone match my paternal lineage haplotype, so it can happen. Go guarantees that a related male will add his haplotype to the database however. Best of fortune in your search.

        A further note, you seem to state that Isaac’s wife descended from Caleb, if so Isaac’s male children would not carry Caleb’s haplotype, but rather Isaac’s Y DNA haplotype.

        • Thanks, John Carr for giving me hope that I might someday see a match. I do understand that Isaac’s male children wouldn’t carry Caleb’s haplotype. Have to admit, though, that I was surprised when the results came back with the I haplogroup, not R. Really makes me wonder if he was actually born with the Carr surname.

      • Joe Flood, I’m working on trying to find some distant Carr cousins. Not been easy. I have many male Carr lines that daughtered out and/or their sons died young. There’s a few, though, that I’m actively working on to find their living descendants. A big problem is that the Carr name is so widespread and is difficult to sort out who belongs to whom.

  7. I took the FTDNA 12-marker test 15 years ago or so and had dozens of matches with distance of zero, but no obvious surname matches. So I upgraded to 25 and then 37, with zero matches with distance of zero, but a few with genetic distance of 1 or 2.

    Recently I discovered my true surname through other means. Interestingly, the surname matched about 8 different other men, but only on the 12-marker search report. I do not understand why the 25- and 37-marker searches are providing no results. Without the secondary means of identifying my genetic surname, I don’t understand how FTDNA is helpful.

    Randy

    • There are a couple of possibilities. If the surname is common and the haplogroup common, the low-level tests might simply be happenstance. It’s also possible that you have a significant mutation that is keeping you out of range of the matching threshold. If any of them have taken the Big Y test, you can upgrade and see if you match there. I would suggest that if you can find a male from the surname line you have found, that you ask them to test the Y DNA. It’s also possible that there is an NPE in their line which is why you aren’t matching as expected.

  8. Excellent article. You have two family surnames of your 20 that I’m actively researching right now. The most in-depth one is Perkins. Our Perkins research group has managed to do 8 Big Y tests in our group and have managed to connect them to a common ancestor estimated to be in 1600s, colonial America. It has been invaluable to us to break through brick walls of what was a previously unknown ancestry beyond 1734.

  9. My cousin and I got another cousin to do the Y test about 10 years ago. We have not had one match. The surname is Wills. There are lots of Wills. But not a match to ours.

  10. I think I’ve talked to you before about my Francis line. I have confirmed through y-dna my descent from John Francis, born in the 1650s in Wethersfield, CT I match with four other men named Francis who claim descent from different sons of his. According to the paper trail, his father was Robert Francis. But since John was the only son to survive to adulthood, the only way to go earlier would be through Robert’s ancestors. So it seems more than straightforward that the true ancestral name is Francis.

    Except that I also match the Rose surname. There was a Robert Rose, born in 1590, who showed up in Wethersfield with his family in the 1630s. They actually made the crossing from England on a ship called the Francis. Most of them had moved along to another Connecticut town by the time that John was born. But one of them — either John or Jonathan, I forget now — lived next to Robert Francis, according to records included in the book, the History of Ancient Wethersfield. I can’t prove anything, but I’m certainly tempted to wonder whether the Rose might be the actual father of John Francis or maybe that Robert Francis was a Rose who changed his name to Francis because of the boat.

    I actually have more matches with Rose (24 at 12, 2 at 111, and 0 at big-y) than I do with Francises (12, 1, and 0). So does that mean that I should consider Rose to be my ancestral surname? Puzzling.

    • It could be a function of how many men have tested. I certainly wouldn’t discount the possibility however. Do the Rose men have ancestors further back in time. If so, you know Rose didn’t become Francis.

      • Thanks for responding, but I don’t understand your answer. Why would Roses having ancestors further back in time mean that none of them became Francises?

        • That’s not what I meant. If the Rose man changed his name to Francis, then you would find older Rose men.

  11. I have now tested my first cousin Bennett Genis all the way to BigY. He has never had a surname match or any match at GD 0. However that test has now not only confirmed a 17th or 18th century common ancestor with the Coblentz family now residing in Cuba who have ancestors going back to Spain (HUGE tree), but has lead to the identification of a whole new subclade in the J-M172 haplogroup. Currently only Bennett and Howard Coblentz share this new subclade (FTA30012). Howard does have some people surnamed “de Genis” in his tree, but they appear to be along the female line so can’t account for a Y match. JRI-Poland does show many people with the surname Genis on their map but either none of their male descendants have done DNA testing or they are totally different lines than mine.

    So while Y testing hasn’t helped be get beyond my great grandparents, who I have no more information for than their names, it has apparently helped to advance the research on the genetic origins of the Jewish people.

    • That’s interesting. If the surname is in his tree, and while it can’t account for the Y DNA match, it may well indicate proximity of the families and indicate where you should search for de Genis male to test.

      • Those de Genis connections are a long way back. He hasn’t yet investigated those lines but he likely will. I think his tree is over 15,000 already. Given that “Coblentz” likely connects to Koblenz, Germany there is a good chance that a branch migrated eastward from France toward Poland and dropped the “de” somewhere. I haven’t had much luck with Genis in any form on any online databases though other that the JRI-Poland surname map.

  12. Please note that I inadvertently omitted an important exception category and have updated the article as follows: Males whose ancestors were enslaved. In the US, families adopted surnames after the Civil War ended slavery in the 1860s, so Y DNA testing plus autosomal is critically important to reunite these families. Please note that the Y DNA haplogroup, even an estimate provided with STR testing, will indicate whether the direct paternal lineage is European, African, Native American/Asian – all of which are found in the descendants of men who were enslaved. The Big Y-700 provides significantly more information along with placement on the haplotree.

    • Hi Roberta,
      Just a couple of observations for African researchers. I have three known African/European lines in my family tree. One of these unions happened in Africa and their children came to America later. The sons of the European father carry his European Y-DNA, before arriving in America. Rare, but real.

      Another line of African cousins have their ancestry online and I have established a common ancestor. Their Y-DNA is through a European slave owner, however, the union with a female slave is represented by the website as a mutual, happy relationship, between the two. And yes, they took his surname (real, not adopted). And yes, adopting surnames of slave owners were common, however, a lot of European Y-DNA in African lines was derived from the overseer, and not from the expected slave owning family that they adopted their surname from. Many have been confused by the unexpected disconnect.

      My last known African tie is to the singer Lionel Richie. His European ancestor was a brother to one of my ancestors.

      The other observation is the various disparity in the release dates for the freedom of the slaves. U. S. Congress released slaves in the U. S. Territories in 1862, so surmame creation/adoption can be that early. No other slaves were freed then.

      U. S. Congress finally freed the slaves in December 1865, 6 months after the war. However, many slaves, besides the aforementioned adopting the surnames of their former slave owner, chose the surnames of Union soldiers, or by assitance of the Freedmans Bureau, beforehand.

      Additionally, the states that had seceded were forced to abolish slavery before being allowed to rejoin the Union. Some of these didnt rejoin until 1870. So, a lot of dates to keep in mind, depending on locale, when working on European Y-DNA in African lines.

  13. To add to your database of negatives
    My father’s (Y-37 I-M253) has NO surname matches and his closet match (37 markers) is -4. This is for our PA-German Eppley family where we have birth/baptismal records for the direct line back to his 3rd GGF (b ~1770 d. 1839). My father belongs to several Y DNA projects: Epley DNA, the Colonial USA Deutsch, Early Pennsylvania, Germany Y-DNA, Il-1 yDNA haplogroup, Mennonite and Amish immigrants to Pennsylvania. All nada. I’m hoping Y-DNA testing catches on in the Rhine Valley – the east side is a M253 hotspot! Meanwhile, I’m chipping away at that brickwall.

  14. I have no matches with my surname (Smith) at any level of testing up to and including the BigY. In fact I have no close matches. At 37 markers I have 2 matches with GD 4, at 67 markers I have 7 matches with closest match at GD 5, and at 111 markers I have 5 matches with closest match at GD 8. My terminal SNP is I-Y150780. Two other people also have this SNP, but also have the subsequent SNP I-FT13668. I am separated by about 17 SNP’s from these 2, so our Common Ancestor was very long ago, before surnames were used. I have no expectation that I will ever see a close match with my surname.

  15. What’s the Y-DNA haplogroup for the Smith line? My husband is a Smith, R-M269. His ancestors were originally from England and settled in the mid-Atlantic area before moving to the San Francisco area and elsewhere.

    A few years ago, I asked my first cousin to take the 37-marker Y-DNA test to find out my father’s Y-DNA lineage. His haplogroup was E-M35, a fairly common haplogroup for Jewish men, yet he had only three matches, all with surnames beginning with Silver*. My father and cousin’s surname was Goldman (originally Goldzimer), so perhaps some of the paternal relatives “upgraded” their names from Silver* to Gold*. Interestingly, my cousin had many 12-marker matches from Central and Eastern Europe, and even a few from Western Europe.

  16. I did the Family Tree Y-test (111 markers) about 2 years ago. I had no exact matches at all, and none of the closest Y-DNA matches to me, even down to the 12 marker level, are Martins. In fact, nearly all of my closest Y-DNA matches have the surname Holley (or Holly/Hawley). On Ancestry, the Martin branch has been the most frustrating for me to trace. I can trace it back to the mid 1800s in Arkansas but that’s it. I also have no DNA-cousins on this direct paternal branch beyond about 4 generations back. The Holleys on Family Tree DNA that I am related to mostly trace their earliest known ancestor back to the mid 1800s to the southeast (MS, AL, or AR), which is generally where the Martins came from as well. When I search my DNA matches on Ancestry for a Holley, there are a handful of very distant cousins, none with common ancestors. My tentative conclusion is that somewhere probably in the early 1800s, a Holley was adopted or orphaned and became a Martin, and that happened far enough back in time that there is very little shared DNA left to show up as a match on Ancestry. I can only hope that eventually I might get an exact Y-DNA match on Family Tree.

  17. Well that just makes me a bit more baffled about my mom’s maiden name Bucklin. I did a 37 marker yDNA test on my uncle. He had two matches with a genetic distance of 0 One of them was their first cousin who tested at 67 markers and the other one was someone who had been adopted and didn’t know the family name. The 1st cousin result wasn’t really helpful because the autosomal tests had proven the relationship already.

    There were also 4 matches with GD=3. Two of them had the last name Waith and I think they were closely related. The other two had last names of Miller and Wilmont. There were more than a dozen with GD=4 and they had a wide variety of last names such as Peden, Carson, Sunderlin, Roska, Hall, Robertson, Soreide, and Duncan.

    It hasn’t been much of a confirmation. The haplogroup is R-M269.

    My own Landry haplogroup is also R-M269, yet I have 9 matches at GD=0 with the last name of Landry, and 9 more at GD=1.

    The Landry name appears confirmed, the Bucklin not so much.

  18. I took the Big Y700 test and have no surname matches since my great grandfather came from France where DNA testing is illegal. Hopefully, one day the embargo will be lifted.

    • This canard again. Some of my earliest close results were French.
      DNA testing for family history has never been illegal in France. So French people keep telling me in one forum after another. But why would they need it? They can mostly just follow the paper trail. If they want.
      What is illegal is to go into a French court with a DNA result and claim paternity. That is a completely different thing.
      Only if the court itself orders testing would a paternity test be acceptable in legal cases (mostly inheritance).
      The big family DNA push comes largely from us emigrants.

  19. Roberta this seems a little surreal to me because my paternal line is close to Graves and Bolton and Smith. My brother has a 111 match at 9 steps called Smith, I should have checked where Graves and Bolton came in but I know they come under FGC8372? My brother is on his own in R-FT72134 with 5 private variants. There is a different Smith to the Y111 level one who is in box next to my brother on the tree.

    We were gutted doing our family tree because we thought our family name was Jordan. Our family crest was on our fireplace etc etc. When I did my family tree after my parents died I found that my 5 x great grandmother was in fact a woman who had suffered the most appalling tragedy, she had married a Jordan and they had 7 children together, 6 of whom died and she was a widow in her early 30’s with just one surviving daughter. Our 4 x great grandfather was illegitimate and was given her married name, as was his half brother born 6 years later, but at some stage he started to be registered as ‘Jardine’ which is Norman Scots. This Scots tradition passed down to my grandfather who was in the Black Watch for over a decade but the name Jordan became used again by our 3 x great grandfather.

    Autosomal shows very little Scots Ancestry so I am not sure if this is a fanciful link but obviously DNA dilutes rather quickly so perhaps he was although it seems from your post that ‘Smith’ is the most likely contender for what our family surname ought to have been?

  20. My surname line hasn’t gone anywhere for a couple of centuries, since my great great grandfather emigrated to Australia. 40 years ago we hired a local researcher in the Old Country with no result. Our YDNA haplogroup is rare, with zero matches for me at anywhere from 12-700 markers. Other immigrant Schütz families (and variants) in this country seem to come from much further away. Local history in the Old Country suggests we may have come from around the lower Rhine to the Atlantic seaboard in the 1200s.
    My early SNP results tended to support that geographic origin. But 700 markers gave me my own, much older haplogroup.
    I do need to follow Joe Flood’s advice above and test a known 3C/4C cousin to help put some chronological structure into those 60 private variants I have.
    It would also be good to YDNA test some of those others with my surname in my country – and my 12 markers are so different from everyone else in my haplogroup, that maybe that’s all I’d need to test for initial screening.
    But it would make more sense to follow the only family I know with the same surname in the Old Country to USA and ask one of them around Chicago to test. They came from only about 30 miles away, so it’s worth a shot.
    Good luck to all with their YDNA research.

    • Yes, that’s exactly what I would suggest as a first step. Is there a surname project? If not, start one. They attract people.

  21. Hi Roberta, firstly, many thanks for your highly valuable blog and interesting posts. A couple of points on this post: 1) When you use the term ‘match on surname’, are you considering the genetic distances of these matches at all? If I have a surname match at a genetic distance of 5 or 6, it might not mean very much, right? This is a particular challenge for me with my highly common surname, Wilson.
    2) My wife is a descendant of a Clarkson who emigrated from London to New Zealand in 1840. She has been unable to confidently establish William Clarkson’s origin in UK through genealogy. We are in touch with a male cousin who also descends from the same immigrant and who carries the Clarkson surname. He has undertaken a Y test and we await the results with great interest.

  22. I believe that I have found the reason my surname Hale matched Aker and Akers not Hale. After taking a Y-DNA test at FTDNA I discovered I only match a known Hale cousin at the Hale DNA Project. FTDNA showed my cousin and I we match the following surnames: Aker, and Akers.

    Another Hale cousin I found through ancestry research said her mother told her and her brother that they were not really Hale, they were Akers. This cousin’s mother said an Akers was taken in by a Hale family and changed their name to Hale.
    My matches to Aker and Akers at FTDNA:

    12 Markers Genetic Distance 25 Markers Genetic Distance
    Aker 1 0 Aker 1 0
    Akers 0 Aker 2 1
    Aker 2 0

    37 Markers Genetic Distance 67 Markers Genetic Distance
    Aker 1 2 Aker 1 3
    Aker 2 3 Aker 2 4

    I posted my situation on DNA Detectives on Facebook and a researcher gave me some suggestions on how to proceed with my research. I uploaded my DNA matches from FTDNA to Genetic Affairs and ran their AutoCluster tool. It generated 87 clusters of people matching each other and me. Cluster #66 had 10 people. 2 of those people are Aker that I match on Y-DNA at FTDNA, the other 8, I match on atDNA (Family Finder) at FTDNA. 3 of the matches have the same Aker in their trees as the Aker I match on Y-DNA.

    I also generated a Chromosome Excel spreadsheet of those matches. I had the researcher at DNA Detectives review the AutoCluster and Chromosome Excel spreadsheet and he said it indicates that Michael Aker, born 1766 in PA and died 1830 in Wythe County, VA is the father of my great great grandfather John Hale, born 1815 in Wythe County, VA and died 1877 in Magoffin County, KY. Michael Aker is on the family trees of 3 matches that I have on AutoCluster #66.

    With the researcher saying that Michael Aker would be the father of my great great grandfather, I thought I would look at Michael Aker’s mother (Catherine Worley). Since Michael would get 50% of his mother’s DNA, I should have a small portion of that DNA, and it would be more evidence that Michael Is my great great grandfather’s father. I found matches with Worley at MyHeritage, I performed a Chromosome Mapping with those matches and found 4 matches at the same End Position. One of the family trees has Worley that traces to Michael Aker’s mother. The researcher at DNA Detectives said this is further proof Michael Aker would be the father of my John Hale. I have not been able to link the other matches to Michael Aker’s mother, but I think that since they all match the same End Position, they should all at one point link to Catherine Worley and Michael Aker.

  23. You should also note that the database is biased to people resident in the US with north western European paternal line ancestry. Connections for participants outside of this concentration will likely have a more difficult time finding a surname match. For that reason participants from other population centers are encouraged to join the database.

  24. I believe that I have found the reason my surname Hale matched Aker and Akers not Hale. After taking a Y-DNA test at FTDNA I discovered I only match a known Hale cousin at the Hale DNA Project. FTDNA showed my cousin and I we match the following surnames: Aker, and Akers.

    Another Hale cousin I found through ancestry research said her mother told her and her brother that they were not really Hale, they were Akers. This cousin’s mother said an Akers was taken in by a Hale family and changed their name to Hale.

    My matches to Aker and Akers at FTDNA:

    12 Markers Genetic Distance 25 Markers Genetic Distance
    Aker 1 0 Aker 1 0
    Akers 0 Aker 2 1
    Aker 2 0

    37 Markers Genetic Distance 67 Markers Genetic Distance
    Aker 1 2 Aker 1 3
    Aker 2 3 Aker 2 4

    I posted my situation on DNA Detectives on Facebook and a researcher gave me some suggestions on how to proceed with my research. I uploaded my DNA matches from FTDNA to Genetic Affairs and ran their AutoCluster tool. It generated 87 clusters of people matching each other and me. Cluster #66 had 10 people. 2 of those people are Aker that I match on Y-DNA at FTDNA, the other 8, I match on atDNA (Family Finder) at FTDNA. 3 of the matches have the same Aker in their trees as the Aker I match on Y-DNA.

    I also generated a Chromosome Excel spreadsheet of those matches. I had the researcher at DNA Detectives review the AutoCluster and Chromosome Excel spreadsheet and he said it indicates that Michael Aker, born 1766 in PA and died 1830 in Wythe County, VA is the father of my great great grandfather John Hale, born 1815 in Wythe County, VA and died 1877 in Magoffin County, KY. Michael Aker is on the family trees of 3 matches that I have on AutoCluster #66.

    With the researcher saying that Michael Aker would be the father of my great great grandfather, I thought I would look at Michael Aker’s mother (Catherine Worley). Since Michael would get 50% of his mother’s DNA, I should have a small portion of that DNA, and it would be more evidence that Michael Is my great great grandfather’s father. I found matches with Worley at MyHeritage, I performed a Chromosome Mapping with those matches and found 4 matches at the same End Position. One of the family trees has Worley that traces to Michael Aker’s mother. The researcher at DNA Detectives said this is further proof Michael Aker would be the father of my John Hale. I have not been able to link the other matches to Michael Aker’s mother, but I think that since they all match the same End Position, they should all at one point link to Catherine Worley and Michael Aker.

      • Thanks, Roberta. I am now trying the same procedures on Michael Aker’s wife, Catherine Hepner. If I can use those tools and procedures to prove that she is my gg grandfather’s mother, it could mean that Michael and Catherine may adopted, indentured, or apprenticed him to a Hale family. But, all the matches I have found for Hepner are at Ancestry, and as we all know Ancestry has no tools I can use to find this out. Thank again, Roberta.

  25. Just an FYI.
    I’ve already related how my 2G-grandfather was put into the wrong Davidson family. And how Y-DNA fixed that.
    At 37 FTDNA markers I have 16 Y-DNA matches, including a 1st cousin of my father and two non-surname matches.
    One of those non-surnamed-Y-DNA-matches is my ONLY Big_Y 700 match. At the 37 level he is a genetic distance of 4.
    I believe that early on, say about 2002 or so, Bennett Greenspan or someone at FTDNA wrote there is about a 5% “ambient” result for paternal parentage being “anomalous”. So I think the almost 100% surname match is not quite correct. Depending on how one defines “almost”.
    Factoid: Bennett Greenspan is related to my mother-in-law by some 400 plus years to a common maternal ancestor. One of our earliest findings.
    Regards

    • Part of the point if this article is that we have so much more information now than we did in 2002.

  26. Roberta: I just left a rather lengthy comment. When I submitted it it disappeared. Please explain. I also select “Save my name…” etc. But it never appears again.

    • I have no idea. They do go into an approval queue, but I approve comments several times a day. This one appeared.

  27. My father-in-law did the Y-111 test. His paternal great-grandfather came from Prussia to the US in the mid-1800s and had the name “Buckman” (probably Buchmann in Germany). Although my FIL’s haplogroup is R-M269, he has only 4 matches at the Y-12 level (only one at a GD=0), all with different surnames. I’m hoping more people in Germany test …

    • I have second cousins named Buckberg.. Could be a similar name to your relative. One of my 3rd cousins (Jewish) belongs to R-M269. His paternal ancestors were from Belarus

  28. I’m glad more people are getting useful results as time passes and more test, but Y testing has not yet solved my family’s brick wall, my g-g-grandfather Ferdinand Hübner. The surname is common in Germanic areas (even more so if you add in variant spellings), and my brother did both 37 and Big Y 500, but… while that verified that the paternal line comes from somewhere in the general region of Poland (the family emigrated from a village near the city of Posen/Poznan), the only truly useful match genealogically has been to an out-of-wedlock 2nd cousin once removed. He knew he was a Huebner descendant and the match to him (along with autosomal) verified that Ferdinand’s patrilineal descendants will match my brother. But we knew from autosomal testing of many relatives that we’re descended from Ferdinand… the question is when we’ll finally come up with descendants of Ferdinand’s ancestors, whoever they might have been and whatever they might have been named. We have no idea whether Hübner was Ferdinand’s father’s name or if Ferdinand was illegitimate and his mother was a Hübner, since we have no record of Ferdinand prior to his children’s baptisms. Anyway, as far as Y matches go, the matches at 12 are everywhere from Britain and Scandinavia to the Baltics and India, although strongest between about Germany and the ‘stan countries. For 25 and Big Y, it’s more focused on Germany, Poland, Russia–that general region.

    So we’re waiting, both on Y and autosomal, for the breakthrough relative to test. Lots of Germans, Poles, and Russians do match in a many-centuries-back kind of way. But surely Ferdinand had a brother or an uncle or…

  29. I’m yet another user of the Big Y test with no surname matches (Stastny/Chesney from Czechia). There is a scattering of other surnames from mostly Central European areas. I suspect not many Czechs have tested. Patience….

  30. The parish record says my 2G-grandfather was a bastard, so the plan was to find a surname other than my own. I got one match with Big-Y: I am R-FGC5301 and he is R-FGC5306. We share one variant in our subclade; there are another 21 variants that we don’t share. For some reason that I don’t understand, I only match this person at Y25, and not above. I match no-one at Y111. At Y67, I match just 6 people. The only surname match at Y67 is to my first cousin (whose test I paid for); the genetic distance is zero. Each of the other five matches has a different surname; the genetic distances range from 4 to 7. The only other R-FGC5301 among my Y67 matches has a genetic distance of 4, and he is not my first cousin. The other five (including my first cousin) are R-M269. The whole thing just puzzles me.

  31. Roberta – I’m late replying to this thread, but better late than never.

    You said something key about how some of the initial ydna testers are now on the other side. As we speak, there are many potential testers we should encourage to test now, because tomorrow might be too late.

    I have identified four Fortune families that allegedly trace to a specific one in Virginia that have had ydna testing. However, they are four different ydna haplogroups – 3 subgroups in r-m269 and 1 c-p39. There actually is a 5th that matches me at y12 (but didn’t test higher at 25 or 37) and has no contact information. I’m not holding out hope for that one. I’ve identified seven other clusters of Fortunes families in Virginia (2 of the 7 have no living men in the present and 5 of 7 presently have living men ) who do not seem to have done ydna testing. I think three of them trace to the group I’m specifically interested in.

    Now i have to contact them and see if they’re interested in yDNA testing.

    I match my 3C1R’s ydna. So I’ve confirmed the 3GGF was the father of the two brothers.

    Need more testing….

    Its an easy sell. All you have to do is find the potential testers. And you ask them, wouldn’t it be cool to determine to which family you trace? I’m putting together a family project to get as many men to test as possible and share the results.

    I know someone that got about 200 men to test and proved there were 14 different ydna lines (eventually proved the paper trial for it), as well as identifying one adopted line.

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