Y DNA Tree of Mankind Reaches 50,000 Branches

Today is a really, REALLY big day in the genetic genealogy world.

The Y DNA tree of mankind at FamilyTreeDNA has reached 50,000 branches. That’s quite a milestone!

There’s been remarkably rapid growth in the past three years, as shown below.

From the FamilyTreeDNA blog article announcing this milestone event, we see the growth from 2018 to present cumulatively and within each haplogroup. Of course, haplogroup R, present in very high frequencies in Europe, forms the base of this mountain, but every haplogroup has achieved significant gains – which benefits all testers.

Who is Branch 50,000?

Michael Sager, the phylogeneticist at FamilyTreeDNA just added branch 50,000.

Drum roll please! Who is it? Surprisingly, it’s NOT found in haplogroup R, but a man from Vanuatu, a country in Oceania.

The new branch is a member of haplogroup S – specifically S-FTC416, immediately downstream of S-P315. Haplogroup S is found in Indonesia, Micronesia and other Pacific Island nations, including Australia and New Zealand.

This man was a new customer who joins a couple of Aboriginal samples found in academic papers from Kuranda (Queensland, Australia) and 3 ancient samples from Vanuatu.

How cool is that!!!

We’ve Come a LONG Way!

The Y DNA phylogenetic tree has been growing like wildfire.

  • Back in 2002, there were 153 branches on the Y-DNA tree, and a total of 243 known SNPs. (Some SNPs were either duplicates or not yet placed on the tree which explains the difference.)
  • In 2008, six years later, the tree had doubled to 311 branches and 600 SNPs. At the FamilyTreeDNA International Conference that year, attendees received this poster. I remember the project administrators marveling about how large the tree had grown.
  • In 2010, two years later, the tree was comprised of 440 branches and 800 SNPs. That poster was even larger, and it was the last year that the phylotree would fit onto a poster.
  • By 2012, when the Genographic Project V2 was announced, that bombshell announcement included information that the Genographic project was testing for 12,000 SNP locations on their chip, not all of which had been classified.
  • In 2014, when FamilyTreeDNA and Genographic jointly released their new Y tree to celebrate DNA Day, the Y tree had grown to more than 6200 SNPS, of which, more than 1200 were end-of-branch terminal SNPs. If this had been a poster, it would have been more than 62 feet long.

From that point on, the trajectory was unstoppable.

The earliest SNP-seeking product called Walk the Y had been introduced followed by the first-generation powerful Big Y NGS DNA scanning product.

That’s 1300% growth, or said another way, the database increased by 13 times in four years.

In the three years since, many of those SNPs, plus private variants that had not yet been named at that point have been added to the tree.

In January 2019, the Big Y-700 was announced and many people upgraded. The Big Y-700 provided dramatically increased resolution, meaning that test could find more mutations or SNPs. The effect of this granularity is that the Big Y-700 is discovering mutations and new SNPs in a genealogical timeframe, where the original haplogroups a few years ago could only piece together deeper ancestry.

The Big Y-700 has made a HUGE difference for genealogists.

  • Today, in December of 2021, the tree hit 50,000 branches. That poster would be more than 500 feet long, almost twice the length of a football field.

I have to wonder how many more branches are out there just waiting to be found? How many will we find in the next year? Or the next?

The pace doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, that’s for sure. Adding academic and ancient samples to the tree helps a great deal in terms of adding context to our knowledge.

What gems does your family’s Y DNA hold?

How Does a SNP or Variant Get Added to the Tree?

You might be wondering how all of this happens.

A SNP, which becomes a haplogroup has three states of “being,” following discovery.

  1. When the mutation, termed a SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism), pronounced “snip” is found in the first male, it’s simply called a variant. In other words, it varies from the nucleotide that is normally found in that position in that one man.
  2. When the SNP is found in multiple men, assuming it’s found consistently in multiple scans, and it’s in an area that is “clean” and not genetically “noisy,” then the SNP is given a name like R-ZS3700 or R-BY154784, and the SNP is placed on the tree in its correct position. From my article last week about using Y DNA STR and SNP markers for genealogy, you can see that both of those haplogroups have multiple men who have been found with those mutations.
  3. Some SNPs are equivalent SNPs. For example, in the image below, the SNP FT702 today is equivalent to R-ZS3700, meaning it’s found in the same men that carry R-ZS3700. Eventually, many equivalent SNPs form a separate tree branch.

One day, some man may test that does have R-ZS3700 but does NOT have FT702, which means that a new branch will be formed.

When men tested that had R-BY154784, that new branch was added to the left of R-ZS3700, because not all men with R-ZS3700 have the mutation R-BY154784.

You’ll notice that the teal blocks indicate the number of private variants which are mutations that have not yet been found in other men in this same branch structure, and those variants are therefore not yet named SNPs.

If You’ve Already Tested, How Do You Receive a New Haplogroup?

It’s worth noting here that none of the terminal SNPs that define these branches were available using the older Big Y tests which illustrates clearly why it’s important to upgrade from the Big Y or Big Y-500 to the Big Y-700.

In my Estes line, the terminal SNP in the Big Y-500 was R-BY490. These same men upgraded to the Big Y-700 and have now been assigned to four different, distinct, genealogically significant lineages based on SNPs discovered after they upgraded. Some men have three new SNPs that weren’t available in earlier tests. In real terms, that’s the difference between the common ancestor born in 1495 and descendants of John R. Estes who died in the 1880s. Genealogically speaking, that’s night and day.

If you haven’t taken a Big Y test, I heartily recommend it – even if you don’t have STR matches. I talked about why, here. Men can purchase the Big Y initially, or sign on to your account and upgrade if you’ve already taken another test.

In a nutshell, the Big Y-700 test provides testers with two types of tools that work both together and separately to provide genealogically relevant information.

Not to mention – you may be responsible for growing the tree of mankind, one branch at a time. What’s waiting for you?

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19 thoughts on “Y DNA Tree of Mankind Reaches 50,000 Branches

  1. Roberta I had my now deceased Father tested up to the Big Y 500. But there’s not enough sample left to upgrade. I found out when I tried get his MTDNA results. I’ve also had my brother tested. Should I get the Big Y 700 for my brother? Will it be same as my Father’s would have been?

    • Yes, test your brother. He could have a mutation your father doesn’t, but it will be a variant. The haplogroup will be the same.

    • They do not. The quality standards for inclusion are much different at those two organizations. YFull does not have nearly as many samples as FTDNA and many branches are missing. Conversely, they include reads FTDNA considers low quality. So the trees are different.

  2. I have a quick question. I know that 23&me gives you haplotypes. There is debate between folks in the Baker line as to whether the Richard b.1797 really is Rev. Andrew Baker’s grandson like circumstantial evidence indicates.

    If the 23&me haplotype sufficient to support that, or do I need to start saving up to get the 37 marker kit from FT-DNA next year?

    Thanks!!

  3. Rally a great – informative article ! Honestly being a pretty well informed and well read person ..For some reason I have a hard time wrapping my mind about ” mutations” ..Why do they happen ?
    Unfortunately I am the last ( that I know of ) ..On my Patriarcal line ..bio- dad had 2 brothers ..none of which had any bio children ..just me ..a daughter .I do have 2 grandsons …but they would be no help with the Y …is there anywhere I could from here ??

  4. A milestone, indeed. It feels good to be a part of this tree, constantly growing and developing new branches, even at my personal level.

  5. I have a family member who is S haplogroup. We never did a BIG Y and I think I need to actively seek out another family member, one willing to participate to do a BIG Y for that S haplogroup.

    I also have one more branch to test, looking to see if we are of that S haplogroup. So far, the two Hawaiian branches I’ve tested (my maternal grandfather & maternal grandmother’s father’s line) are just C, not S. But it does exist in Hawaii and other parts of Polynesia.

  6. I can take my paternal line back to Lindsay Halcomb (1805-1850). Lindsay had 3 sons. I have tested a male descendant for the Big-Y for all three sons. Would there be any benefit in doing another Big-Y test for other male descendants from the 3 sons of Lindsay? I have tested all for the autosmal test but was not sure about doing more Big-Ys.

    Thanks,
    Jeff

    • I would test yourself of course. If the haplogroups of the 3 men all match, then no. You have one person from all 3 sons. Now, other Holcomb/Halcomb men upstream would be a different discussion.

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