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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STRs and SNPs – Are STR Markers Still Useful for Y DNA?

Some time back, I wrote an article titled, STRs vs SNPs, Multiple DNA Personalities, which you can read, here. In that article, I explained the difference between STR and SNP markers.

Y DNA is extremely useful for men to track their direct paternal line via the Y chromosome that they inherited from their father. You can see how various types of DNA are inherited, here. By way of comparison, mitochondrial DNA (red) is inherited from your matrilineal line, and autosomal DNA (green) is inherited from all lines.

The Y chromosome, shown in blue above, is passed from father to son without mixing with the DNA of the mother, so it is in essence tracked intact for generations – with the exception of occasional mutations.

Two kinds of mutations make Y DNA genealogically useful. They are STRs, short tandem repeat markers and SNPs, single nucleotide polymorphisms, pronounced as “snips.” If you’re looking for in-depth information about Y DNA, I have provided a Y DNA resource guide here.

How is Y DNA Useful?

For Estes males, we have identified several genetic lineages using these markers that show us where testers fit into the tree of Estes males, which of course in turn fits into the larger tree of mankind.

In some cases, Y DNA is the only clue people have as to their genealogy. In other situations, these tests confirm and further refine both the genetic tree and genealogy.

Let’s look at how these two types of Y DNA markers work, separately and together at FamilyTreeDNA.

STR Markers, Results and Matching

Y DNA STR results are returned in panels when men take Y DNA tests.

Every man who takes a Y DNA test at FamilyTreeDNA receives STR results, shown above. How many marker results he receives depends on the level of the test he orders. In the past, 12, 25, 37, 67 and 111 marker tests were available to purchase individually. Men could also upgrade to higher level tests. 500 and 700 STR marker results are only available when the Big Y test has been purchased.

Today, men can order the entry level 37 Y DNA test or a 111 marker test individually. However, a minimum of 700 STR markers are included in the Big Y-700 test, in addition to SNP results, which we will talk about in a minute.

Matching is Key

However, the benefit isn’t in the STR markers themselves, but in matching to other men. The markers are just the tool used – but the more information you have, the better the result.

STR results are used to match all Y DNA testers against each other. Matches are shown at each marker level.

My Estes male cousin has tested at the Big Y 700 level. He is matched against all other men who have taken a Y DNA test. He can see who he matches at 12 through 111 markers separately. For each man that he matches, if they have taken the Big Y test, he can see how closely he matches at the 500 or 700 marker level too.

This Estes match to my Estes cousin, shown above, has tested at 111 markers, but has not taken the Big Y test, so he has no STR markers above 111. He mismatches my cousin with 1 STR marker difference at 111 markers. That’s pretty close.

Additionally, we can see that the match’s haplogroup has been estimated as R-M269 based on STR results. For a more specific haplogroup, either individual SNP markers must be tested, or an upgrade to the Big Y-700 test can be ordered. I don’t recommend individual SNP marker testing anymore because the Big Y gives you so much more for your money by scanning for all Y DNA mutations.

Big Y-700 and SNPs

The only way to obtain the most detailed Y DNA haplogroup is to take a Big Y test. The Big Y test scans the Y chromosome to search for SNP mutations. The Big Y test doesn’t test any one specific location, like STRs or individual SNP tests, but scans for all mutations – currently known and previously unknown. That’s the beauty. You don’t have to tell it what to look for. The Big Y test scans and looks for everything useful.

More than 200,000 men in the FamilyTreeDNA database have been SNP tested and more than 450,000 variants, or mutations, have been found in Big Y tests. The database grows every single day. Sometimes DNA matching is a waiting game, with your DNA available for matching 24X7. When your DNA is working for you, you just never know when that critical match will be forthcoming.

The Big Y test keeps giving over time, because new variants (mutations) are discovered and eventually named as haplogroups. Many new haplogroups are based on what can best be called family line mutations.

Initially, SNP results and haplogroups were so far up the tree that often, they weren’t genealogically relevant, but that’s NOT the case anymore.

Today, SNP results from the Big Y-700 test are sometimes MORE relevant and dependable than STR results.

Each man receives a very refined personal haplogroup, known colloquially as their terminal SNP, often FAR down the tree from the estimated haplogroup provided with STR testing alone.

After Big Y testing, my cousin is now haplogroup R-ZS3700 instead of R-M269. R-M269 was accurate as far as it went, but only the Big Y test can provide this level of detail which is quite useful.

The Block Tree Divides Lines for You

The Block Tree is provided for all Big Y testers.

Looking at the Block Tree for my cousin, you can see that he and several other primarily Estes men either share the same haplogroup or parent/child haplogroups.

My cousin in R-ZS3700, while R-BY490 is the parent haplogroup of R-ZS3700, and R-BY154784 is a child haplogroup of R-ZS3700.

R-M269 is more than 15 haplogroup branches upstream of my cousin’s R-ZS3700.

You can also easily see that Estes men fall onto different “twigs” of the tree, and those twigs are very genealogically significant. Each column above is a twig, representing a distinct genealogical lineage. Taking the Big Y test separates men into their ancestral branches which can be genealogically associated with specific men.

My cousin is R-ZS3700, along with one other man. Two more men form R-BY154784, a subgroup of R-ZS3700, which means they descend from a specific man who descends from Moses Estes. All of these men descend from R-BY490 and all of those men descend from R-BY482, the parent of R-BY490, as shown on the public haplotree, here.

Men who take the Big Y test ALSO receive separate SNP matching – meaning they have BOTH STR and SNP matching which provides testers with two separate tools to use.

Of course, the only men who will be shown as SNP matches are the men who have taken the Big Y test.

Ok, how is this information useful?

Project View

Looking at the Estes DNA project, you can see that two men who have joined the project carry haplogroup R-ZS3700. Several others descend from that same genealogical line according to their paper trail, and STR matches, but have not taken the Big Y-700 test.

As the project administrator, I’ve grouped these men by their known ancestor, and then, in some cases, I’ve used their terminal SNP to further group them. For example, one man, kit 491887, doesn’t know which Estes line he descends from, but I can confidently group him in Estes Group 4 based on his haplogroup of R-ZS3700.

I can also use STR matching and autosomal matching to further refine his match group if needed for the project. But guaranteed, he’ll need to use both of those additional tools to figure out who his Estes ancestors are.

He was absolutely thrilled to be grouped under Moses Estes, because at least now he has something to work his paper trail backwards towards.

Test Summary

Men who take STR tests alone, meaning 12-111 only, receive STR matching and an estimated haplogroup.

Men who take the Big Y test receive STR results and matches, PLUS the most refined haplogroup possible, many additional STR markers, separate SNP matches and block tree placement.

STR 12-111 Tests Only Big Y-700 Test
STR markers through 111 Yes, depending on test level purchased Yes
STR marker matching with other men Yes Yes
STR markers from 112-700 Only if the tester purchases a Big Y upgrade Yes
Estimated haplogroup Yes Haplogroup is fully tested, not estimated
Tested, most refined haplogroup Not without an upgrade to the Big Y-700 test Yes
SNP Matching No Yes
Block Tree No Yes

Genealogy

Recently, someone asked me how to use these tools separately and together. That’s a great question.

First, if there is a data conflict, SNP results are much more stable than STRs. STRs mutate much more often and sometimes back mutate to the original value which in essence looks like a mutation never happened. Furthermore, sometimes STR markers mutate to the same value independently, meaning that two men share the same mutation – making it look like they descend from the same line – but they don’t.

Before the Big Y tests were available, the only Y DNA tools we had were STR matches and individual SNP mutations. From time to time, one of the STR markers would mutate back to the original value which caused me, as a project administrator, to conclude that men without that specific line-marker mutation were not descended from that line, when in fact, that man’s line had experienced a back-mutation.

How do I know that? When the men involved both took the Big Y-700 test, they have a lineage defining haplogroup that proved that there had been a back-mutation in the STR data and the men in question were in fact from the line originally thought.

Thank goodness for the Big Y test.

STRs and SNPs Working in Tandem

Click any image to enlarge

Looking at the Estes project again, the R-ZS3700 SNP defines the Moses Estes (born 1711) line, a son of the immigrant, Abraham Estes. The men grouped together above are descendants of Moses’s great-grandson. You can see that if I were to use STR markers alone, I would have divided this group into two based on the values of the two bottom kits. However, both genealogy and SNP/haplogroups prove that indeed, the genealogy is accurate.

STR markers alone are inconclusive at best and potentially deceptive if we used only those markers without additional information.

However, we don’t always have the luxury of upgrading every man to the right and Big Y-700 test. Some testers are deceased, some don’t have enough DNA left and cannot submit a new swab, and some simply aren’t interesting.

When we don’t have the more refined Big Y test, the STR markers and matches are certainly valuable.

Furthermore, STR markers can sometimes provide lineages WITHIN haplogroups.

For example, let’s say that in the example above the two men at the bottom were a distinct line of men descended from one specific descendant of Moses Estes. If that were the case, then the STR markers would be very valuable within the R-ZS3700 haplogroup. Maybe I need to reevaluate their genealogy and see if there are any new clues available now that were not available before.

STRs Within Match Groups

Using a different example, I can’t group these Estes men any more closely based on their genealogy or SNP results.

Only two men in this group have taken a Big Y test – those with haplogroup R-BY490. Unfortunately, this haplogroup only confirms that these men descend from the Estes lineage that immigrated to America and that they are NOT from the Moses Estes line. That’s useful, but not enough.

Two other men have taken individual SNP tests, R-DF49 and R-L21 which are not useful in this context. They don’t reach far enough down the tree.

We need more information. Fortunately, we have some.

We have two clusters of STR markers. We can see that three men have a purple grouping of 24 at marker DYS390 (the header with STR marker names is not shown in the screen shot) and a grouping of men that share a mutation of 12 at marker DYS391.

It’s likely, but not a given, that the men clustered together at the bottom with the 12 value descend from the same Estes male common ancestor. The men at the top with a value of both 12 and 24 could belong to that same cluster, with an additional small cluster of 24 further delineating their ancestor – OR – the mutation to 12 at location DYS391 could have arisen independently in two separate lines.

It’s also possible that back-mutations have occurred in some of the other men. We just don’t know.

If I were to advise these men, I’d strongly suggest that they all upgrade to the Big Y-700 with the hope that at least some of them would have SNPs that define existing or new haplogroups that would positively sort their lines.

Then, within those haplogroup groups, I’d focus on STR groupings, genealogy and possibly, autosomal results.

Evaluate All Three, Separately and Together

We have three separate tools (plus autosomal) that need to be considered together as well as separately.

  1. The first, of course, is known genealogy. However, Y DNA testing works well even without genealogy.
  2. Big Y haplogroup information combined with the block tree should be evaluated to define genetic lineages.
  3. STR groupings need to be evaluated separately from and within haplogroups and allow us to add people to the SNP-defined groups of testers. Known genealogy is important when using STR markers.

As a bonus, if the men have also taken the Family Finder test, some men may match each other autosomally as well as Y DNA, if the connection is close enough in time. Of course, Y DNA matches reach much further back in time than autosomal matching because Y DNA is never divided or combined with any DNA from the other parent.

Confirm or Refute

Genealogy can be either confirmed or refuted by either STR or SNP tests, independently or together.

Looking again at the public Estes DNA project, you can see that the first person in that group provided his genealogy as descending from the same Moses Estes line as the other men. However, the STR mutations clearly show that indeed, his genealogy is incorrect for some reason. He does not match any of the other men descended from Moses’s grandson or the rest of the Estes lineage.

This man’s haplogroup is estimated as R-M269, but were he to take the Big Y test, he would assuredly not be R-ZS3700. In fact, his STR markers match two men who have taken the Big Y-700 test and those two men share an entirely different haplogroup, not in the Estes or related branches at all. If this man were to take the Big Y-700 test, he would likely match that haplogroup.

Both STRs and SNPs can disprove a lineage relationship. As I mentioned earlier, of the two, SNPs are more reliable. Often SNPs are required to conclusively divide a group of men descended from a common ancestor.

STRs may or may not be useful, or correct, either without SNP-defined haplogroups, or within those haplogroups.

However, STRs, even alone, are a tool that should not be ignored, especially when we don’t have SNP data or it’s not conclusive.p

A Different View

To literally look at this a different way, I prepared a pedigree type Y DNA haplogroup spreadsheet for the Estes Project at WikiTree. I’ve divided the information by ancestor and included haplogroups. You can view that spreadsheet, here, and you can then compare the colored groups with the Estes DNA Project at FamilyTreeDNA which are grouped by ancestral line.

This is only a small portion of that pedigree showing the Moses lineage. The image is large, but you can see the entire spreadsheet (as of August 2020) here.

Of note, R-BY490 defines the entire Abraham Estes line (green above). Within that line, other SNP lineages have been defined, including R-ZS3700 and R-BY154784.

However, many lines have additional STR motifs that define or suggest associations with specific genealogical ancestral lines, as you can see in the Estes FamilyTreeDNA project, here. I’ve included only a snippet above.

Bottom Line

To answer the original question – yes you can and should use STR and SNP markers both separately and together. If you don’t have enough SNP data, use STR matches along with genealogy information and Family Finder results to augment what you do have.

The more Y DNA information you have in hand, the better prepared you are to analyze and utilize that information for genealogical purposes.

Do you have genealogical questions that Y DNA could potentially solve? What are they and can you find someone to test?

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Thank you so much.

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DNA for Native American Genealogy – Hot Off the Press!

Drum roll please…my new book, DNA for Native American Genealogy, was just released today, published by Genealogical.com.

I’m so excited! I expected publication around the holidays. What a pleasant surprise.

This 190-page book has been a labor of love, almost a year in the making. There’s a lot.

  • Vendor Tools – The book incorporates information about how to make the best use of the autosomal DNA tools offered by all 4 of the major testing vendors; FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, Ancestry, and 23andMe.
  • Chromosome Painting – I’ve detailed how to use DNAPainter to identify which ancestor(s) your Native heritage descends from by painting your population/ethnicity segments provided by FamilyTreeDNA and 23andMe.
  • Y and Mitochondrial DNA – I’ve described how and when to utilize the important Y and mitochondrial DNA tests, for you and other family members.
  • Maps – Everyone wants to know about ancient DNA. I’ve included ancient DNA information complete with maps of ancient DNA sites by major Native haplogroups, gathered from many academic papers, as well as mapped contemporary DNA locations.
  • Haplogroups – Locations in the Americas, by haplogroup, where individual haplogroups and subgroups are found. Some haplogroups are regional in nature. If you happen to have one of these haplogroups, that’s a BIG HINT about where your ancestor lived.
  • Tribes – Want to know, by tribe, which haplogroups have been identified? Got you covered there too.
  • Checklist – I’ve provided a checklist type of roadmap for you to follow, along with an extensive glossary.
  • Questions – I’ve answered lots of frequently asked questions. For example – what about joining a tribe? I’ve explained how tribes work in the US and Canada, complete with links for relevant forms and further information.

But wait, there’s more…

New Revelations!!!

There is scientific evidence suggesting that two haplogroups not previously identified as Native are actually found in very low frequencies in the Native population. Not only do I describe these haplogroups, but I provide their locations on a map.

I hope other people will test and come forward with similar results in these same haplogroups to further solidify this finding.

It’s important to understand the criteria required for including these haplogroups as (potentially) Native. In general, they:

  • Must be found multiple times outside of a family group
  • Must be unexplained by any other scenario
  • Must be well-documented both genetically as well as using traditional genealogical records
  • Must be otherwise absent in the surrounding populations

This part of the research for the book was absolutely fascinating to me.

Description

Here’s the book description at Genealogical.com:

DNA for Native American Genealogy is the first book to offer detailed information and advice specifically aimed at family historians interested in fleshing out their Native American family tree through DNA testing.

Figuring out how to incorporate DNA testing into your Native American genealogy research can be difficult and daunting. What types of DNA tests are available, and which vendors offer them? What other tools are available? How is Native American DNA determined or recognized in your DNA? What information about your Native American ancestors can DNA testing uncover? This book addresses those questions and much more.

Included are step-by-step instructions, with illustrations, on how to use DNA testing at the four major DNA testing companies to further your genealogy and confirm or identify your Native American ancestors. Among the many other topics covered are the following:

    • Tribes in the United States and First Nations in Canada
    • Ethnicity
    • Chromosome painting
    • Population Genetics and how ethnicity is assigned
    • Genetic groups and communities
    • Y DNA paternal direct line male testing for you and your family members
    • Mitochondrial DNA maternal direct line testing for you and your family members
    • Autosomal DNA matching and ethnicity comparisons
    • Creating a DNA pedigree chart
    • Native American haplogroups, by region and tribe
    • Ancient and contemporary Native American DNA

Special features include numerous charts and maps; a roadmap and checklist giving you clear instructions on how to proceed; and a glossary to help you decipher the technical language associated with DNA testing.

Purchase the Book and Participate

I’ve included answers to questions that I’ve received repeatedly for many years about Native American heritage and DNA. Why Native DNA might show in your DNA, why it might not – along with alternate ways to seek that information.

You can order DNA for Native American Genealogy, here.

For customers in Canada and outside the US, you can use the Amazon link, here, to reduce the high shipping/customs costs.

I hope you’ll use the information in the book to determine the appropriate tests for your situation and fully utilize the tools available to genealogists today to either confirm those family rumors, put them to rest – or maybe discover a previously unknown Native ancestor.

Please feel free to share this article with anyone who might be interested.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

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Genealogy Books

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Free Webinar: 10 Ways to Find Your Native American Ancestor Using Y, Mitochondrial and Autosomal DNA

I recorded 10 Ways to Find Your Native American Ancestor Using Y, Mitochondrial and Autosomal DNA for Legacy Family Tree Webinars.

Webinars are free for the first week. After that, you’ll need a subscription.

If you subscribe to Legacy Family Tree, here, you’ll also receive the downloadable 24-page syllabus and you can watch any of the 1500+ webinars available at Legacy Family Tree Webinars anytime.

In 10 Ways to Find Your Native American Ancestor Using Y, Mitochondrial and Autosomal DNA, I covered the following features and how to use them for your genealogy:

  • Ethnicity – why it works and why it sometimes doesn’t
  • Ethnicity – how it works
  • Your Chromosomes – Mom and Dad
  • Ethnicity at AncestryDNA, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage DNA
  • Genetic Communities at AncestryDNA
  • Genetic Groups at MyHeritage DNA
  • Painted ethnicity segments at 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA
  • Painting ethnicity segments at DNAPainter – and why you want to
  • Shared ethnicity segments with your matches at AncestryDNA, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage DNA
  • Downloading matches and segment files
  • Techniques to pinpoint Native Ancestors in your tree
  • Y DNA, Native ancestors and haplogroups
  • Mitochondrial DNA, Native ancestors and haplogroups
  • Creating a plan to find your Native ancestor
  • Strategies for finding test candidates
  • Your Ancestor DNA Pedigree Chart
  • Success!!!

If you haven’t yet tested at or uploaded your DNA to both FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage, you can find upload/download instructions, here, so that you can take advantage of the unique tools at all vendors.

Hope you enjoy the webinar and find those elusive ancestors!

_____________________________________________________________

Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Uploads

Genealogy Products and Services

Books

Genealogy Research

FamilyTreeDNA Relaunch – New Feature Overview

The brand-new FamilyTreeDNA website is live!

I’m very pleased with the investment that FamilyTreeDNA has made in their genealogy platform and tools. This isn’t just a redesign, it’s more of a relaunch.

I spoke with Dr. Lior Rauchberger, CEO of myDNA, the parent company of FamilyTreeDNA briefly yesterday. He’s excited too and said:

“The new features and enhancements we are releasing in July are the first round of updates in our exciting product roadmap. FamilyTreeDNA will continue to invest heavily in the advancement of genetic genealogy.”

In other words, this is just the beginning.

In case you were wondering, all those features everyone asked for – Lior listened.

Lior said earlier in 2021 that he was going to do exactly this and he’s proven true to his word, with this release coming just half a year after he took the helm. Obviously, he hit the ground running.

A few months ago, Lior said that his initial FamilyTreeDNA focus was going to be on infrastructure, stability, and focusing on the customer experience. In other words, creating a foundation to build on.

The new features, improvements, and changes are massive and certainly welcome.

I’ll be covering the new features in a series of articles, but in this introductory article, I’m providing an overview so you can use it as a guide to understand and navigate this new release.

Change is Challenging

I need to say something here.

Change is hard. In fact, change is the most difficult challenge for humans. We want improvements, yet we hate it when the furniture is rearranged in our “room.” However, we can’t have one without the other.

So, take a deep breath, and let’s view this as a great new adventure. These changes and tools will provide us with a new foundation and new clues. Think of this as finding long-lost documents in an archive about your ancestors. If someone told me that there is a potential for discovering the surname of one of my elusive female ancestors in an undiscovered chest in a remote library, trust me, I’d be all over it – regardless of where it was or how much effort I had to expend to get there. In this case, I can sit right here in front of my computer and dig for treasure.

We just need to learn to navigate the new landscape in a virtual room. What a gift!

Let’s start with the first thing you’ll see – the main page when you sign in.

Redesigned Main Page

The FamilyTreeDNA main page has changed. To begin with, the text is darker and the font is larger across the entire platform. OMG, thank you!!!

The main page has been flipped left to right, with results on the left now. Projects, surveys, and other information, along with haplogroup badges are on the right. Have you answered any surveys? I don’t think I even noticed them before. (My bad!)

Click any image to enlarge.

The top tabs have changed too. The words myTree and myProjects are now gone, and descriptive tabs have replaced those. The only “my” thing remaining is myOrigins. This change surprises me with myDNA being the owner.

The Results & Tools tab at the top shows the product dropdowns.

The most popular tabs are shown individually under each product, with additional features being grouped under “See More.”

Every product now has a “See More” link where less frequently used widgets will be found, including the raw data downloads. This is the Y DNA “See More” dropdown by way of example.

You can see the green Updated badge on the Family Finder Matches tab. I don’t know if that badge will always appear when customers have new matches, or if it’s signaling that all customers have updated Family Finder Matches now.

We’ll talk about matches in the Family Finder section.

The Family Finder “See More” tab includes the Matrix, ancientOrigins, and the raw data file download.

The mitochondrial DNA section, titled Maternal Line Ancestry, mtDNA Results and Tools includes several widgets grouped under the “See More” tab.

Additional Tests and Tools

The Additional Tests and Tools area includes a link to your Family Tree (please do upload or create one,) Public Haplotrees, and Advanced Matches.

Public haplotrees are free-to-the-public Y and mitochondrial DNA trees that include locations. They are also easily available to FamilyTreeDNA customers here.

Please note that you access both types of trees from one location after clicking the Public Haplotrees page. The tree defaults to Y-DNA, but just click on mtDNA to view mitochondrial haplogroups and locations. Both trees are great resources because they show the location flags of the earliest known ancestors of the testers within each haplogroup.

Advanced Matches used to be available from the menu within each test type, but since advanced matching includes all three types of tests, it’s now located under the Additional Tests and Tools banner. Don’t forget about Advanced Matches – it’s really quite useful to determine if someone matches you on multiple types of tests and/or within specific projects.

Hey, look – I found a tooltip. Just mouse over the text and tabs on various pages to see where tooltips have been added.

Help and Help Center

The new Help Center is debuting in this release. The former Learning Center is transitioning to the Help Center with new, updated content.

Here’s an example of the new easy-to-navigate format. There’s a search function too.

Each individual page, test type, and section on your personal home page has a “Helpful Information” button.

On the main page, at the top right, you’ll see a new Help button.

Did you see that Submit Feedback link?

If you click on the Help Center, you’ll be greeted with context-sensitive help.

I clicked through from the dashboard, so that’s what I’m seeing. However, other available topics are shown at left.

I clicked on both of the links shown and the content has been updated with the new layout and features. No wonder they launched a new Help Center!

Account Settings

Account settings are still found in the same place, and those pages don’t appear to have changed. However, please keep in mind that some settings make take up to 24 hours to take effect.

Family Finder Rematching

Before we look at what has changed on your Family Finder pages, let’s talk about what happened behind the scenes.

FamilyTreeDNA has been offering the Family Finder test for 11 years, one of two very early companies to enter that marketspace. We’ve learned so much since then, not only about DNA itself, but about genetic genealogy, matching, triangulation, population genetics, how to use these tools, and more.

In order to make improvements, FamilyTreeDNA changing the match criteria which necessitated rematching everyone to everyone else.

If you have a technology background of any type, you’ll immediately realize that this is a massive, expensive undertaking requiring vast computational resources. Not only that, but the rematching has to be done in tandem with new kits coming in, coordinated for all customers, and rolled out at once. Based on new matches and features, the user interface needed to be changed too, at the same time.

Sounds like a huge headache, right?

Why would a company ever decide to undertake that, especially when there is no revenue for doing so? The answer is to make functionality and accuracy better for their customers. Think of this as a new bedrock foundation for the future.

FamilyTreeDNA has made computational changes and implemented several features that require rematching:

  • Improved matching accuracy, in particular for people in highly endogamous populations. People in this category have thousands of matches that occur simply because they share multiple distant ancestors from within the same population. That combination of multiple common ancestors makes their current match relationships appear to be closer in time than they are. In order to change matching algorithms, FamilyTreeDNA had to rewrite their matching software and then run matching all over to enable everyone to receive new, updated match results.
  • FamilyTreeDNA has removed segments below 6 cM following sustained feedback from the genealogical community.
  • X matching has changed as well and no longer includes anyone as an X match below 6 cM.
  • Family Matching, meaning paternal, maternal and both “bucketing” uses triangulation behind the scenes. That code also had to be updated.
  • Older transfer kits used to receive only closer matches because imputation was not in place when the original transfer/upload took place. All older kits have been imputed now and matched with the entire database, which is part of why you may have more matches.
  • Relationship range calculations have changed, based on the removal of microsegments, new matching methodology and rematching results.
  • FamilyTreeDNA moved to hg37, known as Build 37 of the human genome. In layman’s terms, as scientists learn about our DNA, the human map of DNA changes and shifts slightly. The boundary lines change somewhat. Versions are standardized so all researchers can use the same base map or yardstick. In some cases, early genetic genealogy implementers are penalized because they will eventually have to rematch their entire database when they upgrade to a new build version, while vendors who came to the party later won’t have to bear that internal expense.

As you can see, almost every aspect of matching has changed, so everyone was rematched against the entire database. You’ll see new results. Some matches may be gone, especially distant matches or if you’re a member of an endogamous population.

You’ll likely have new matches due to older transfer kits being imputed to full compatibility. Your matches should be more accurate too, which makes everyone happy.

I understand a white paper is being written that will provide more information about the new matching algorithms.

Ok, now let’s check out the new Family Finder Matches page.

Family Finder Matches

FamilyTreeDNA didn’t just rearrange the furniture – there’s a LOT of new content.

First, a note. You’ll see “Family Finder” in some places, and “Autosomal DNA” in other places. That’s one and the same at FamilyTreeDNA. The Family Finder test is their autosomal test, named separately because they also have Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests.

When you click on Family Finder matches for the first time, you will assuredly notice one thing and will probably notice a second.

First, you’ll see a little tour that explains how to use the various new tools.

Secondly, you will probably see the “Generating Matches” notice for a few seconds to a few minutes while your match list is generated, especially if the site is busy because lots of people are signing on. I saw this message for maybe a minute or two before my match list filled.

This should be a slight delay, but with so many people signing in right now, my second kit took longer. If you receive a message that says you have no matches, just refresh your page. If you had matches before, you DO have matches now.

While working with the new interface this morning, I’ve found that refreshing the screen is the key to solving issues.

My kits that have a few thousand matches loaded Family Matching (bucketing) immediately, but this (Jewish) kit that has around 30,000 matches received this informational message instead. FamilyTreeDNA has removed the little spinning icon. If you mouse over the information, you’ll see the following message:

This isn’t a time estimate. Everyone receives the same message. The message didn’t even last long enough for me to get a screenshot on the first kit that received this message. The results completed within a minute or so. The Family Matching buckets will load as soon as the parental matching is ready.

These delays should only happen the first time, or if someone has a lot of matches that they haven’t yet viewed. Once you’ve signed in, your matches are cached, a technique that improves performance, so the loading should be speedy, or at least speedier, during the second and subsequent visits.

Of course, right now, all customers have an updated match list, so there’s something new for everyone.

Getting Help

Want to see that tutorial again?

Click on that little Help box in the upper right-hand corner. You can view the Tutorial, look at Quick References that explain what’s on this page, visit the Help Center or Submit Feedback.

Two Family Finder Matches Views – Detail and Table

The first thing you’ll notice is that there are two views – Detail View and Table View. The default is Detail View.

Take a minute to get used to the new page.

Detail View – Filter Matches by Match Type

I was pleased to see new filter buttons, located in several places on the page.

The Matches filter at left allows you to display only specific relationship levels, including X-Matches which can be important in narrowing matches to a specific subset of ancestors.

You can display only matches that fall within certain relationship ranges. Note the new “Remote Relative” that was previously called speculative.

Parental Matching and Filtering by Test Type or Trees

All of your matches are displayed by default, of course, but you can click on Paternal, Maternal or Both, like before to view only matches in those buckets. In order for the Family Matching bucketing feature to be enabled, you must attach known relatives’ DNA matches to their proper place in your tree.

Please note that I needed to refresh the page a couple of times to get my parental matches to load the first time. I refreshed a couple of times to be sure that all of my bucketed matches loaded. This should be a first-time loading blip.

There’s a new filter button to the right of the bucketing tabs.

You can now filter by who has trees and who has taken which kinds of tests.

You can apply multiple filters at the same time to further narrow your matches.

Important – Clearing Filters

It’s easy to forget you have a filter enabled. This section is important, in part because Clear Filter is difficult to find.

The clear filter button does NOT appear until you’ve selected a filter. However, after applying that filter, to clear it and RESET THE MATCHES to unfiltered, you need to click on the “Clear Filter” button which is located at the top of the filter selections, and then click “Apply” at the bottom of the menu. I looked for “clear filter” forever before finding it here.

You’re welcome😊

Enhanced Search

Thank goodness, the search functionality has been enhanced and simplified too. Full name search works, both here and on the Y DNA search page.

If you type in a surname without selecting any search filters, you’ll receive a list of anyone with that word in their name, or in their list of ancestral surnames. This does NOT include surnames in their tree if they have not added those surnames to their list of ancestral surnames.

Notice that your number of total matches and bucketed people will change based on the results of this search and any filters you have applied.

I entered Estes in the search box, with no filters. You can see that I have a total of 46 matches that contain Estes in one way or another, and how they are bucketed.

Estes is my birth surname. I noticed that three people with Estes in their information are bucketed maternally. This is the perfect example of why you can’t assume a genetic relationship based on only a surname. Those three people’s DNA matches me on my mother’s side. And yes, I confirmed that they matched my mother too on that same segment or segments.

Search Filters

You can also filter by haplogroup. This is very specific. If you select mitochondrial haplogroup J, you will only receive Family Finder matches that have haplogroup J, NOT J1 or J1c or J plus anything.

If you’re looking for your own haplogroup, you’ll need to type your full haplogroup in the search box and select mtDNA Haplogroup in the search filter dropdown.

Resetting Search Results

To dismiss search results, click on the little X. It’s easy to forget that you have initiated a search, so I need to remember to dismiss searches after I’m finished with each one.

Export Matches

The “Export CSV” button either downloads your entire match list, or the list of filtered matches currently selected. This is not your segment information, but a list of matches and related information such as which side they are bucketed on, if any, notes you’ve made, and more.

Your segment information is available for download on the chromosome browser.

Sort By

The Sort By button facilitates sorting your matches versus filtering your matches. Filters ONLY display the items requested, while sorts display all of the items requested, sorting them in a particular manner.

You can sort in any number of ways. The default is Relationship Range followed by Shared DNA.

Your Matches – Detail View

A lot has changed, but after you get used to the new interface, it makes more sense and there are a lot more options available which means increased flexibility. Remember, you can click to enlarge any of these images.

To begin with, you can see the haplogroups of your matches if they have taken a Y or mitochondrial DNA test. If you match someone, you’ll see a little check in the haplogroup box. I’m not clear whether this means you’re a haplogroup match or that person is on your match list.

To select people to compare in the chromosome browser, you simply check the little square box to the left of their photo and the chromosome browser box pops up at the bottom of the page. We’ll review the chromosome browser in a minute.

The new Relationship Range prediction is displayed, based on new calculations with segments below 6 cM removed. The linked relationship is displayed below the range.

A linked relationship occurs when you link that person to their proper place in your tree. If you have no linked relationship, you’ll see a link to “assign relationship” which takes you to your tree to link this person if you know how you are related.

The segments below 6 cM are gone from the Shared DNA total and X matches are only shown if they are 6 cM or above.

In Common With and Not In Common With

In Common With and Not In Common With is the little two-person icon at the right.

Just click on the little person icon, then select “In Common With” to view your shared matches between you, that match, and other people. The person you are viewing matches in common with is highlighted at the top of the page, with your common matches below.

You can stack filters now. In this example, I selected my cousin, Don, to see our common matches. I added the search filter of the surname Ferverda, my mother’s maiden name. She is deceased and I manage her kit. You can see that my cousin Don and I have 5 total common matches – four maternal and one both, meaning one person matches me on both my maternal and paternal lines.

It’s great news that now Cousin Don pops up in the chromosome browser box at the bottom, enabling easy confusion-free chromosome segment comparisons directly from the In Common With match page. I love this!!!.

All I have to do now is click on other people and then on Compare Relationship which pushes these matches through to the chromosome browser. This is SOOOO convenient.

You’ll see a new tree icon at right on each match. A dark tree means there’s content and a light tree means this person does not have a tree. Remember, you can filter by trees with content using the filter button beside “Both”.

Your notes are shown at far right. Any person with a note is dark grey and no note is white.

If you’re looking for the email contact information, click on your match’s name to view their placard which also includes more detailed ancestral surname information.

Family Finder – Table View

The table view is very similar to the Detail View. The layout is a bit different with more matches visible in the same space.

This view has lots of tooltips on the column heading bar! Tooltips are great for everyone, but especially for people just beginning to find their way in the genetic genealogy world.

I’ll have to experiment a bit to figure out which view I prefer. I’d like to be able to set my own default for whichever view I want as my default. In fact, I think I’ll submit that in the “Submit Feedback” link. For every suggestion, I’m going to find something really positive to say. This was an immense overhaul.

Chromosome Browser

Let’s look at the chromosome Browser.

You can arrive at the Chromosome Browser by selecting people on your match page, or by selecting the Chromosome Browser under the Results and Tools link.

Everything is pretty much the same on the chromosome browser, except the default view is now 6 cM and the smaller segments are gone. You can also choose to view only segments above 10 cM.

If you have people selected in the chromosome browser and click on Download Segments in the upper right-hand corner, it downloads the segments of only the people currently selected.

You can “Clear All” and then click on Download All Segments which downloads your entire segment file. To download all segments, you need to have no people selected for comparison.

The contents of this file are greatly reduced as it now contains only the segments 6 cM and above.

Family Tree

No, the family tree has not changed, and yes, it needs to, desperately. Trust me, the management team is aware and I suspect one of the improvements, hopefully sooner than later, will be an improved tree experience.

Y DNA

The Y DNA page has received an update too, adding both a Detail View and a Table View with the same basic functionality as the Family Finder matching above. If you are reading this article for Y DNA only, please read the Family Finder section to understand the new layout and features.

Like previously, the match comparison begins at the 111 marker level.

However, there’s a BIG difference. If there are no matches at this level, YOU NEED TO CLICK THE NEXT TAB. You can easily see that this person has matches at the 67 level and below, but the system no longer “counts down” through the various levels until it either finds a level with a match or reaches 12 markers.

If you’re used to the old interface, it’s easy to think you’re at the final destination of 12 markers with no matches when you’re still at 111.

Y DNA Detail View

The Y-DNA Detail and Table views features are the same as Family Finder and are described in that section.

The new format is quite different. One improvement is that the Paternal Country of Origin is now displayed, along with a flag. How cool is that!

The Paternal Earliest Known Ancestor and Match Date are at far right. Note that match dates have been reset to the rerun date. At this point, FamilyTreeDNA is evaluating the possibility of restoring the original match date. Regardless, you’ll be able to filter for match dates when new matches arrive.

Please check to be sure you have your Country of Origin, Earliest Known Ancestor, and mapped location completed and up to date.

Earliest Known Ancestor

If you haven’t completed your Earliest Known Ancestor (EKA) information, now’s the perfect time. It’s easy, so let’s do it before you forget.

Click on the Account Settings gear beneath your name in the right-hand upper corner. Click on Genealogy, then on Earliest Known Ancestors and complete the information in the red boxes.

  • Direct paternal line means your father’s father’s father’s line – as far up through all fathers as you can reach. This is your Y DNA lineage, but females should complete this information on general principles.
  • Direct maternal line means your mother’s mother’s mother’s line – as far up through all mothers that you can reach. This is your mitochondrial DNA lineage, so relevant for both males and females.

Completing all of the information, including the location, will help you and your matches as well when using the Matches Map.

Be sure to click Save when you’re finished.

Y DNA Filters

Y DNA has more filter options than autosomal.

The Y DNA filter, located to the right of the 12 Markers tab allows testers to filter by:

  • Genetic distance, meaning how many mutations difference between you and your matches
  • Groups meaning group projects that the tester has joined
  • Tree status
  • Match date
  • Level of test taken

If none of your matches have taken the 111 marker test or you don’t match anyone at that level, that test won’t show up on your list.

Y DNA Table View

As with Family Finder, the Table View is more condensed and additional features are available on the right side of each match. For details, please review the Family Finder section.

If you’re looking for the old Y DNA TiP report, it’s now at the far right of each match.

The actual calculator hasn’t changed yet. I know people were hoping for the new Y DNA aging in this release, but that’s yet to follow.

Other Pages

Other pages like the Big Y and Mitochondrial DNA did not receive new features or functionality in this release, but do sport new user-friendly tooltips.

I lost track, but I counted over 100 tooltips added across the platform, and this is just the beginning.

There are probably more new features and functionality that I haven’t stumbled across just yet.

And yes, we are going to find a few bugs. That’s inevitable with something this large. Please report anything you find to FamilyTreeDNA.

Oh wait – I almost forgot…

New Videos

I understand that there are in the ballpark of 50 new videos that are being added to the new Help Center, either today or very shortly.

When I find out more, I’ll write an article about what videos are available and where to find them. People learn in various ways. Videos are often requested and will be a popular addition. I considered making videos, but that’s almost impossible for anyone besides the vendor because the names on screens either need to be “fake” or the screen needs to be blurred.

So hurray – very glad to hear these are imminent!

Stay Tuned

Stay tuned for new developments. As Lior said, FamilyTreeDNA is investing heavily in genetic genealogy and there’s more to come.

My Mom used to say that the “proof is in the pudding.” I’d say the myDNA/FamilyTreeDNA leadership team has passed this initial test with flying colors.

Of course, there’s more to do, but I’m definitely grateful for this lovely pudding. Thank you – thank you!

I can’t wait to get started and see what new gems await.

Take a Look!

Sign in and take a look for yourself.

Do you have more matches?

Are your matches more accurate?

How about predicted relationships?

How has this new release affected you?

What do you like the best?

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Books

Genealogy Research

Where Did My Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroup Come From?

Mother’s Day is approaching, so I’m writing articles about mitochondrial DNA inspired by the most common questions in the Mitochondrial DNA for Genealogy Facebook group. I’ll be adding these articles to the Mitochondrial DNA Resource page, here.

FamilyTreeDNA has already started their Mother’s Day sale where both the mitochondrial DNA test and Family Finder are both on sale. Take a look.

I can’t believe how much the prices have dropped over the years – as the technology has improved. I took the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test when it was first offered and I think it was something like $800, as was the first autosomal test I ordered lo those many years ago.

Today, these tests are $139 and $59, respectively, and are critical tools for everyone’s genealogy.

Where Did My Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroup Come From?

This is one of the most common questions about mitochondrial DNA. Everyone wants to know something about their haplogroup.

The answer is multi-faceted and depends on the question you’re actually trying to answer.

There are really two flavors of this question:

  • Where did my ancestors come from in a genealogical timeframe?
  • Where did my ancestors come from before I can find them in genealogical records?

Clearly, the timeframes involved vary to some extent, because when records end varies for each ancestral line. Generally speaking, genealogy records don’t extend back beyond 500 years or so. Whenever your genealogy records end, that’s where your haplogroup and match information becomes critically important to your research.

Fortunately, we have tools to answer both types of questions which actually form a continuum.

Some answers rely on having taken a mitochondrial DNA test at FamilyTreeDNA and some don’t.

  • We’ll discuss finding haplogroup information for people who have taken a (preferably full sequence) mitochondrial DNA test at FamilyTreeDNA.
  • We’ll discuss how people who have obtained their haplogroups through autosomal testing at other vendors can find information.
  • We’ll talk about finding haplogroup information when other family members have tested who carry the mitochondrial DNA of ancestors that you do not.

Tools exist for each of these situations.

Genealogical Timeframe

If you’re trying to answer the question of where other people who carry your haplogroup are found in the world, that question can be further subdivided:

  • Where are the earliest known matrilineal ancestors of my mitochondrial DNA matches located?
  • Where are other mitochondrial DNA testers who carry my haplogroup, even if I don’t match them, found in the world?

Let’s start at FamilyTreeDNA and then move to public resources.

FamilyTreeDNA

Mitochondrial DNA Tests

FamilyTreeDNA provides a great deal of information for people who have taken a mitochondrial DNA test. We’ll step through each tab on a tester’s personal page that’s relevant to haplogroups.

To find the location of your matches’ most distant ancestors, you need to have taken the mitochondrial DNA test at FamilyTreeDNA in order to obtain results and matches. I know this might seem like an obvious statement, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t realize that there are separate tests for Y and mitochondrial DNA.

Your most detailed, and therefore most accurate and specific results will result from taking the Full Sequence test, called the mtFull test and sometimes abbreviated as FMS (full mitochondrial sequence.)

Taking a full sequence test means you’ve tested all three different regions of the mitochondria, HVR1, HVR2, and the Coding Region. Don’t worry about those details. Today, the Full Sequence test is the only test you can order, but people who tested earlier could order a partial test. Those people can easily upgrade today.

click on images to enlarge

You can see, in the upper right-hand corner of the mitochondrial section of my personal page, above, that I’ve taken both tests. The “Plus” test is the HVR1 and HVR2 portion of the test.

If you haven’t taken any mitochondrial DNA test, then the mitochondrial section doesn’t show on your personal page.

If your Plus and Full buttons are both greyed out, that means you took the HVR1 level test only, and you can click on either button to upgrade.

If your “Full” button is greyed out, that means you haven’t tested at that level and you can click on the Full button to upgrade.

Entering Ancestor Information is Important

Genealogy is a collaborative sport and entering information about our ancestors is important – both for our own genealogy and for other testers too.

Your matches may or may not enter their ancestor’s information in all three locations where it can be useful:

  • Earliest Known Ancestor (found under the dropdown beneath your name in the upper right-hand corner of your personal page, then “Account Settings,” then “Genealogy,” then “Earliest Known Ancestors”)
  • Matches Map (found on your Y or mtDNA personal page tab or “Update Location” on Earliest Known Ancestors tab)
  • Uploading or creating a tree (found under myTree at the very top of your personal page)

Please enter your information by following the notes above, or you can follow the step-by-step instructions, here. You’ll be glad you did.

Your Haplogroup

You’ll find your haplogroup name under the Badges section of your personal page as well as at the top of the mtDNA section.

click all images to enlarge

The mtDNA section at FamilyTreeDNA has five tabs that each provides different pieces of the puzzle of where your ancestors, and therefore your haplogroups, came from.

Checking all of these tabs in the mtDNA section of your results is critical to gather every piece of evidence provided by your matches and the scientists as well. Let’s take a look at each one and what they reveal about your haplogroup.

Let’s start with your matches.

Matches

On the matches page, you’ll only be matched with people who carry the same haplogroup – or at least the same base haplogroup.

The haplogroup level of your matches depends on the level of test they have taken. In other words, if your match has only taken the HVR1 level test, and they only have a base haplogroup of J, then you’ll only see them, and their haplogroup J, on your HVR1 match page. If they have tested at a higher level and you match them at the HVR1 level, you’ll see the most specific haplogroup possible as determined by the level they tested.

The (default) match page shows your matches at the highest-level test you have tested. In my case, that’s the “HVR1, HVR2, Coding Region” because I’ve taken the full sequence test which tests the entire mitochondria.

At the full sequence level match page, I’ll only see people who match me on the same extended haplogroup. In my case, that’s J1c2f.

Viewing your matches’ Earliest Known Ancestor shows where their ancestors were located, which provides clues as to where your common haplogroup was found in the world at that time. Based on those results, the geographic distribution, what you know about your own ancestors, and how far back in time, your matches’ information may be an important clue about your own ancestry.

Generally, the closer your matches, meaning the fewer mutations difference, the closer in time you share a common ancestor. I say “generally,” because mutations don’t happen on a time schedule and can happen in any generation.

The number of mutations is shown in the column “Genetic Distance.” Genetic Distance is the number of mutations difference between you and your match. So a 3 in the GD column means 3 mutations difference. A GD of 0 is an exact match. At the HVR1 and HVR2 levels, no genetic distance is provided because only exact matches are shown at those levels.

The little blue pedigree icons on the Matches page indicate people who have created or uploaded trees. You’ll definitely want to take a look at those. Sometimes you’ll discover that your matches have added more generations in their tree than is shown in the Earliest Known Ancestor field.

Is Taking the Full Sequence Test Important?

Why is taking the full sequence test important? Looking at my HVR1 matches, below, provides the perfect example.

This shows my first four HVR1-only matches. In other words, these people match me on a small subset of my mitochondrial DNA. About 1000 locations of the total 16,569 are tested in the HVR1 region. You can see that utilizing the HVR1 region, only, the people I match exactly in that region have different extended, or full haplogroups, assigned when taking the full sequence test.

Crystal and Katherine have both taken the full sequence test as indicated by FMS (full mitochondrial sequence,) and they are both haplogroup J1c2f, but Peter is haplogroup J1c2g – a different haplogroup.

Peter is shown as an exact match to me at the HVR1 level, but he has a different full haplogroup, so he won’t be shown as a match at the HVR1/HVR2/Coding Region (full sequence) level.

Crystal and Katherine will match me at the full sequence level if we have three or fewer mutations difference in total.

Susan has only tested to the HVR1 level, so she can only be assigned to haplogroup J from those 1000 locations. That tells us that (at least) one of mutations that defines haplogroup J resides in the HVR1 region.

At the HVR1 matching level, I’ll be matched with everyone I match exactly so long as they are in haplogroup J, the common denominator haplogroup of everyone at that level.

If Susan were to test at the full sequence level, she would obtain a full haplogroup and I might continue to match her at the full sequence level if she is haplogroup J1c2f and matches me with three or fewer mutations difference. At the full sequence level, I’ll only match people who match my haplogroup exactly and match at a genetic distance of 0, 1, 2 or 3.

Now, let’s look at the Ancestral Origins tab.

Ancestral Origins

The Ancestral Origins tab is organized by Country within match level. In the example above, I’ve shown exact matches or GD=0.

The match total on the Ancestral Origins tab shows the number of people whose ancestors were from various locations – as entered by the testers.

The most common places for my full sequence exact matches are in Norway and Sweden. That’s interesting because my ancestor was found in Germany in the 1600s.

There is also a comments column, to the right, not shown here, which may hold additional information of interest such as “Ashkenazi” or “Sicily” or “Canary Islands.”

The Country Total column is interesting too because it tells you how many people are in the database who have indicated that location as ancestral. The Match Percentage column is pretty much irrelevant unless your haplogroup is extremely rare.

Matches Map

The matches map falls into the “picture is worth 1000 words category.”

This is the map of the earliest known matrilineal ancestor locations of my full sequence matches.

My ancestor is the white pin in Germany. Red=exact match, orange=1 mutation difference, yellow=2 mutations difference. I have no GD=3 matches showing.

By clicking on any pin, you can see additional information about the ancestor of the tester.

You can also select an option on the map to view lower testing levels, such as my HVR1 matches shown below.

While some people are tempted to ignore the HVR1 or HVR2 Matches Maps, I don’t.

If the question you’re trying to answer is where your haplogroup came from, viewing the map of where people are located who may match you more distantly in time is useful. While we know for sure that some of these people have different full haplogroups, we also know that they are all members of haplogroup J plus some subclade. Therefore, these matches shared a common haplogroup J ancestor.

J subgroups are clearly European but some are found in Anatolia, the path out of Africa to Europe, although that could be a function of back-migration.

When looking at match maps, keep two things in mind:

  • The information is provided by testers. It’s possible for them to misunderstand what is meant by providing the information for their earliest known “direct maternal ancestor.” I can’t tell you how many male names I’ve seen here. Clearly, the tester misunderstood the purpose and what was being asked – because men don’t pass mitochondrial DNA to their offspring. Check the pins for surnames that seem to fit the pin location, and that pins have been accurately placed.
  • Testing bias. In other words, lots of people have tested in the US as compared to Europe, and probably more people in the UK than say, Turkey. Testing is still illegal in France.

Haplogroup Origins

While the Ancestral Origins tab is organized by the locations of your matches ancestors, the Haplogroup Origins tab is focused on your haplogroup by match level only.

In many cases, the numbers will match your Ancestral Origins exactly, but for other test levels, the numbers will be different.

For example, at the HVR1/HVR2 level, I can easily see at a glance the locations where my haplogroup is found, and the number of my matches in those various locations.

This page is reflective of where the haplogroup itself is found, according to your matches.

There may be other people with the same haplogroup that you don’t match and won’t be reflected on this page.  We’ll see them either in projects or on the Public Mitochondrial Tree in following sections.

Migration Map

The migration map tab shows the path between Mitochondrial Eve who lived in African about 145,000 years ago and your haplogroup today. For haplogroups J, Eve’s descendant left African and traveled through the Middle East and on into Southwest Asia before turning left and migrating throughout Europe.

Clearly, the vast majority of this migration occurred before genealogy, but not all, or you wouldn’t be here today.

Thousands of my ancestors brought my mitochondrial DNA from Africa through Anatolia, through Europe, to Scandinavia, and back to Germany – then on to the US where it continued being passed on for five more generations before reaching me.

Additional Features – Other Tools

On your personal page, scroll down below your Mitochondrial DNA results area and you’ll see Public Haplotrees under the Other Tools tab.

This tree is available to FamilyTreeDNA customers as well as the public.

Public Mitochondrial DNA Haplotree

The public mitochondrial haplotree provided by FamilyTreeDNA includes location information and is available to everyone, customer or not, for free. Please note that only full sequence results were used to construct this tree, so partial results, meaning haplogroups of people who tested at the HVR1/2 levels only, are not included because the haplogroup cannot be refined at that level.

If you’ve received a haplogroup from a different test at another vendor, you can use this public tool to obtain location information. FamilyTreeDNA has the single largest repository of mitochondrial tests in the world, having tested customers for 21 years, and they have made this tree with location information available for everyone.

If you are a customer, you can sign in and access this tree from your account, above.

If you access the haplotree in this manner, be sure to select the mtDNA tree, not the Y DNA tree which is the default.

Or you can simply access the mtDNA the same way as the public, below.

Go to the main FamilyTreeDNA page by clicking here.

On the main page, scroll to the very bottom – yes, just keep scrolling.

At the very bottom, in the footer, you’ll see “Community.” (Hint, if you don’t see Community at the very bottom of this page, you’re probably signed in to your account.)

Click on “mtDNA Haplotree.”

Next, you’ll see the beginning, or root, of the mitochondrial DNA tree, with the RSRS at the top of the page. The tree structure and haplogroups are defined at Phylotree Build 17, here. All of the main daughter haplogroups, such as “J,” are displayed beneath or you can select them across the top.

Enter the haplogroup name in the “Branch Name” field in the upper right. For me, that’s J1c2f.

I don’t match all of the J1c2f people in the database, because there more total country designations shown here (82) than I have full sequence matches with locations provided (50 from my Ancestral Origins page.)

If you click on the three dots at right, you’ll see a Country Report which provides details for this haplogroup and downstream haplogroups, if there are any. I wrote about that, in detail, here.

There are no “J1c2f plus a daughter” haplogroups defined today, so there is nothing listed downstream.

However, that’s not always the case. There may be a downstream clade that you’re not a member of, meaning you don’t carry that haplogroup-defining mutation.

Or, you may have tested someplace that provides you with a partial haplogroup, so you don’t know if you have a subclade or not. You can still glean useful information from partial haplogroups.

Partial Haplogroups From Autosomal Tests

There’s nothing “wrong” with partial haplogroups. It’s nice to know at least some history about your matrilineal ancestry. What you don’t receive, of course, aside from matching, is more recent, genealogical, information.

Both 23andMe and LivingDNA provide autosomal customers with partial mitochondrial haplogroups. Both of these vendors tend to be accurate as far as they go, as opposed to other vendors, who shall remain unnamed, that are often inaccurate.

Autosomal tests don’t specifically test the mitochondrial DNA directly like a full sequence mitochondrial DNA test does, but they do use “probes” that scan specific haplogroup defining locations. Of course, each of the autosomal chips has a finite number of locations and every location that is used for either mitochondrial or Y DNA haplogroups is a space the vendors can’t use for autosomal locations.

Therefore, customers receive partial haplogroups.

In my case, I’ve received J1c at LivingDNA and J1c2 at 23andMe.

Both vendors provide basic information about your haplogroup, along with migration maps. Wikipedia also provides basic haplogroup information. Google is your friend – “mitochondrial haplogroup J Wikipedia.”

DNA Projects

Most haplogroups have a DNA project at FamilyTreeDNA. Note that these projects are administered by volunteers, so your mileage will vary in terms of participant grouping, along with whether or not results or maps are displayed. You can just google for “mitochondrial haplogroup J DNA project at FamilyTreeDNA” and you’ll find the project or perhaps multiple projects to select from. Some haplogroups have a main “J” project and perhaps a subproject, like “J1c,” for example.

You can join the project, either from this page if you’ve tested at FamilyTreeDNA, or from your personal page via the “myProjects” tab at the top of your personal page.

If you’re looking for public haplogroup information, click on “DNA Results.”

If the Haplogroup J DNA testers have joined this project, authorized displaying their results in projects, and provided ancestor information, you will be able to see that on the “Results” page. Projects are often grouped by haplogroup subgroup. Please note that the default page display size is 25, so scroll to the bottom to see how many pages are in the project. Multiply that number times 25 (182 pages total X 25 = 4550) and change the page display size to that number (4550, in this case.)

One of the most useful tools for haplogroup discovery is the project map which offers the same subgroups as the project groupings.

You can select “All” on the dropdown to display the locations of the earliest known ancestors of everyone in this haplogroup project, or you can select a subclade. This map is displaying haplogroup J1c2 as an example of my partial haplogroup.

The Public Mitochondrial Tree and Partial Haplogroups

To find more comprehensive information for partial haplogroups, I can use the free mitochondrial tree at FamilyTreeDNA. While projects only reflect information for people who have joined those particular projects, the tree provides more comprehensive information.

Anyone with a partial haplogroup can still learn a great deal. Like with any haplogroup, you can view where tester’s ancestors lived in the world.

In this case, it doesn’t matter whether I’m looking at partial haplogroups J1c or J1c2, there are many subgroups that I could potentially belong to.

In fact, haplogroup J1c has subclades through J1c17, so there are pages and pages of haplogroup subclade candidates.

Does a Full Haplogroup Really Matter?

How much difference can there be? Is J1c or J1c2 good enough? Good questions.

It depends – on what you want to know.

  • For general interest, perhaps.
  • For genealogy, no.

Genealogists need the most granular results possible to obtain the most information possible. You don’t know what you don’t know. But how much might that be, aside from full sequence matches?

There’s a significant difference in the country details of haplogroup J1c, J1c2 and J1c2f. I created a chart of the top 10 locations, and how many people’s ancestors are found there for J1c, J1c2, and J1c2f.

Wow, that’s a big difference.

How accurately do J1c and J1c2 results reflect the locations in my full J1c2f haplogroup? I color-coded the results and removed the locations from J1c and J1c2 that are not reflected in J1c2f.

As it turns out, the 5 most frequent locations in J1c and the top 3 locations in J1c2 aren’t even in the top 10 of J1c2f. Obtaining a full haplogroup is important.

Current and Past Populations

It’s worth noting that where a current population is found is not always indicative of where an ancestral population was found.

Of course, with genealogy, we can look back a few generations by seeing where the ancestors of our close and distant matches were found.

My earliest known ancestor is found in a marriage record in 1647 in Wirbenz, Germany when she was 26 years old. However, the majority of my exact mitochondrial DNA matches are not found in Germany, or even in Europe, but in Scandinavia. I’m sure there’s a story there to be told, possibly related to the Thirty Years’ War which began in 1618 and devastated Germany. The early German records where she lived were destroyed.

Even in the abbreviated genealogical timeframe where records and surnames exist, as compared to the history of mankind and womankind, we can see examples of population migration and shift with weather, warfare, and opportunity.

We can’t peer further back in time, at least not without ancient DNA, except by a combination of general history, haplogroup inference, and noting where branching from our mother clade occurred.

We know that people move. Sometimes populations were small and the entire population moved to a new location.

Sometimes, the entire population didn’t move, the but descendants of the migrating group survived to take DNA tests, while the population remaining in the original location has no present-day descendants.

Sometimes descendants of both groups survived.

Of course, throughout history, mutations continued to occur in all lines, forming new genetic branches – haplogroups.

Thank goodness they did, because mutations, or lack thereof, are incredibly important clues to genealogy as well as being our breadcrumbs back into the mists of distant time. Those haplogroup-defining mutations are the umbilical cord that allows us to connect with those distant ancestors.

These tools, especially used together, are the best way to answer the question, “Where did my Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroup Come From?”

Where did your haplogroup come from?

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Books

Genealogy Research

Misleading 23andMe Paternal Haplogroup Emails For Females

I received an email for a 23andMe kit that I manage stating “Your Paternal Haplogroup Report is waiting for you.” Really? Cool!!!

Only problem is that the tester is a female – and females don’t have a paternal haplogroup available because females don’t have Y DNA.

Clearly, this is just not possible.

Three things crossed my mind:

  1. Erroneous email, as in “oops.” Some marketing person is going to be in a heap of trouble.
  2. Incompetence following the sale of the company. There have been other recent changes that caused me to wonder, although some were reversed.
  3. Bait and switch. Surely not. 23andMe has never been like that, so this is a distant third.

I knew for an absolute fact, beyond any doubt that this close family member is female.

I also realize that any female who receives this email would excitedly check their Paternal Haplogroup report – thinking that maybe, just maybe, some new scientific discovery had been made so they CAN actually see a paternal haplogroup from their own DNA test.

Time to see what’s going on.

I Signed In

I signed in and saw an unopened Paternal Haplogroup report under “Next Reports” at the top of the main page.

click to enlarge

I checked another female kit that I manage, plus my own. The same thing appeared on both of those accounts too.

This e-mail was clearly not an “oops” email inadvertently sent to a female group of testers. It has to be something else.

Sure enough, on the Ancestry tab, if I scroll down, I see these two placards.

click to enlarge image

Maternal Haplogroup, which everyone has, and Paternal Haplogroup, which only males have. Did 23andMe make some kind of mistake? I clicked on the “View Your Report” button for Paternal Haplogroup. It took me to the same page the Paternal Haplogroup link on my main page did.

click to enlarge image

My heart just sank.

Sure enough, it’s a pitch to test another family member, a father or brother. 23andMe explains that no, the female tester really doesn’t have a paternal haplogroup.

So, it IS bait and switch, the least likely scenario I expected. I’m really disappointed. I never thought I’d see the day 23andMe would adopt this type of disingenuous marketing technique.

Why Does This Bother Me So Much?

In general, acquisitions make people uneasy, and 23andMe was acquired in February.

We don’t know what to expect of the new owners, or the direction they will take a company. In this case, the company involved, 23andMe, not only has my DNA, they provide information about my health as part of my test.

Consumers need to be able to have confidence that the information 23andMe provides is accurate. We need to be able to trust them, to believe what they tell us about our DNA results without having to wonder if there is something more, or less, in this case, to the story. In other words, that there’s no ulterior motive in their message.

I grew up on a farm and my old farmer Dad used to tell me that “if someone will lie to you about one thing, they will lie to you about anything.”

I would have NO PROBLEM whatsoever with 23andMe sending an email telling females how to obtain a paternal haplogroup for their paternal line.

There’s a significant difference, though, between that and telling female testers that their “Paternal Haplogroup report is waiting for you,” when it’s very clearly not. The email says the report “includes insights about your DNA,” which it clearly does not, because there is no report. 23andMe knows this. That email says “View Report” twice, with links. It’s not a mistake. It’s a hook, using my own DNA as bait, and I’m the fish.

This tactic is misleading, at best. In my opinion, it’s an unethical and dishonest attempt to manipulate unwary or naïve customers. And truthfully, I’m shocked. I never expected behavior like this from 23andMe. It seems so out-of-character about what I thought I understood about Ann Wojcicki. In this 2015 interview in PLOS Genetics, she said, “I think that for our mission, it’s really important that people trust the company.” What happened?

If I WAS inclined to test another family member, given this deceptive bait and switch sales tactic, I assuredly wouldn’t. Telling me I “have” something only to discover I don’t in an attempt to sell me that same “something” is just not a technique I would have expected 23andMe to embrace.

Come on 23andMe, you are, or were, better than this. ☹

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Books

Genealogy Research

Haplogroup Matching: What It Does (and Doesn’t) Mean

“Our haplogroups (sort of) match, so that means we’re related, right?”

Well, maybe.

It depends.

Great Question

This is an oft-asked great question. Of course, the answer varies depending on the context of the question and what is meant by “related.” A haplogroup match may or may not be a valid match for genealogy. A “match” or a “not match” can mean different things.

The questions people often ask include:

  • Does a haplogroup have to match exactly in order for another person to either be considered a match to you?
  • If they don’t match exactly, can they still be considered as a possible match?
  • Conversely, can we rule someone out as a match on a specific genealogical line based on haplogroup alone?

These questions often arise in relation to DNA testing at Family Tree DNA, sometimes when people are trying to compare results to people who have haplogroup estimates, either at FamilyTreeDNA or from testing elsewhere.

In other words, if one person is haplogroup J and someone else is J1, either at the same vendor or at another, what does that tell us? This question pertains to both Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests no matter where you’ve tested.

Family Tree DNA offers different levels of Y DNA testing. Interpreting those match results can sometimes be confusing. The same is true for mitochondrial DNA, especially if your matches have not taken the full mitochondrial sequence (mtFull) test.

You might be comparing apples and oranges, or you might be comparing a whole orange (detailed test) with a few slices (haplogroup estimate.) How can you know, and how can you make sense of the results?

If you’re comparing a haplogroup between sources, such as a partial haplogroup determined by testing through a company like 23andMe or LivingDNA to complete tests taken at FamilyTreeDNA, the answer can be less than straightforward.

I discussed the difference between autosomal-based haplogroup assignments and actual testing of both Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA which result in haplogroup assignments, here. In a nutshell, both LivingDNA and 23andMe provide a high-level (base) haplogroup estimates based on a few specific probes when you purchase an autosomal test, but that’s not the same as deeper testing of the Y chromosome or mitochondrial DNA.

The answer to whether your haplogroup has to match is both “yes”, and “no.” Don’t you hate it when this happens?

Let’s look at different situations. But to begin with, there is at least one common answer.

Yes, Your Base Haplogroup Must Match

To even begin to look further for a common ancestor on either your Y DNA line (direct patrilineal) or direct mitochondrial matrilineal line (your mother’s mother’s mother’s line on up the tree), your base haplogroup much match.

In other words, you and your matches must all be in the same base haplogroup. Haplogroups are defined by the presence of specific combinations of mutations which are called SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) in the Y DNA.

Click to enlarge images

All of these men on the Y DNA matches page are a branch of haplogroup R as shown under the Y-DNA Haplogroup column. There are more matches on down the page (not shown here) with more and different haplogroups. However, you’ll notice that all matches are a subset of haplogroup R, the base haplogroup.

The same is true for mitochondrial DNA haplogroups. You can see in this example that people who have not tested at the FMS (full mitochondrial sequence) level have a less specific haplogroup. The entire mitochondria must be tested in order to obtain a full haplogroup, such as J1c2f, as opposed to haplogroup J.

The Y DNA Terminal SNP Might Not Match

For Y DNA testers, when looking at your matches, even to close relatives, you may not have the same exact haplogroup because:

  • Some people may have tested at different levels
  • Some people in recent generations may have developed a SNP specific to their line.

In other words, haplogroups, testing level, and known genealogy all need to be considered, especially when the haplogroups are “close to each other” on the tree.

For Y DNA, FamilyTreeDNA:

  • Provides all testers with base haplogroup estimates based on STR tests, meaning 12-111 marker panels. These are very accurate estimates, but are also very high level.
  • Offers or has offered in the past both individual SNP tests and SNP packs or bundles that test individual SNPs indicating their presence or absence. This confirms a SNP or haplogroup, but only to that particular level.
  • Offers the Big Y-700 test, along with upgrades to previous Big Y test levels. There have been 3 versions of the Big Y test over time. The Big Y reads the entire gold standard region of the Y chromosome, reporting the known (named) SNP mutations customers do and don’t have. Additionally, the test reports any unnamed SNPs which are considered private variants until multiple men on the same branch of the Y DNA tree test with the same mutation. At that point, the mutation is named and becomes a haplogroup.

That’s why the answer is “no,” your haplogroup does not have to match exactly for you to actually be a match to each other.

A father and son could test, with one having an estimated haplogroup of R-M269 and the other taking the Big Y-700 resulting in a very different Terminal SNP, quite distant on the tree. Conversely, both men could take the Big Y and the son could have a different terminal SNP than the father because a mutation occurred between them. An autosomal DNA test would confirm that they are in fact, father and son.

However, a father and son who test and are placed in different base haplogroups – one in haplogroup I, and the other in haplogroup R, for example, has a very different situation. Their autosomal test would likely confirm that they are not father and son.

Having said this about paternity, especially if haplogroups are estimated and specific Y DNA SNP testing has not been done, don’t have a premature freak-out moment. Look at autosomal DNA, assuming you DO want to know. Y DNA alone should never be used to infer paternity without autosomal testing.

Let’s look at some examples.

Matches and Haplogroups

In the example shown above, you can see that several people have taken the Big Y test, so their SNP will be shown on further down the haplotree than those testers who have not. These are a leaf, not a branch.

You can see by looking at the Terminal SNP column, at far right, that people who have either taken the Big Y, or had any positive SNP test will have a value in the Terminal SNP column.

Anyone who has NOT taken the Big Y or taken a SNP test will have their base haplogroup estimated based on their STR tests. In this case, that estimate is R-M269. People with estimated haplogroups will not show anything in the Terminal SNP column.

It’s possible that if all of these men took the Big Y test that at least some would share the same Terminal SNP, and others might be closely related, only a branch or so different on the tree.

These men in this example are all descendants of Robert Estes born in England in 1555. All have Estes surnames, except for one man who is seeking the identity of his paternal line.

Let’s Look at the Tree

Our tester in the screenshot is haplogroup R-ZS3700 and matches men in the following haplogroups:

  • R-M269
  • R-L21
  • R-BY490
  • R-BY154784

There are a few additional haplogroups not shown because they are further down on his match list, so let’s just work with these for now.

After determining that these men are on the same branch of the Y tree, haplogroup R, the real question is how closely they are related and how close or far distant their terminal SNPs are located. More distance means the common ancestor is further back in time.

However, looks can be deceiving, especially if not everyone has tested to the same level.

The haplogroup furthest up in the tree, meaning the oldest, is R-M269, followed by the man who took the single SNP test for R-L21. Notice that R-M269 has more than 15,000 branches, so while this haplogroup could be used to rule out a match, R-M269 alone isn’t useful to determine genealogical matching.

There are a lot of branches between R-L21 and the next haplogroup on the tree.

Finally, here we go. Our tester is haplogroup R-ZS3700 that has one descendant branch. R-ZS3700 is a branch of R-BY490 that has 2 branches.

R-BY154784 is the last SNP on this branch of the tree. Our tester matches this man too.

Another way of viewing these matches is on the Block Tree provided for Big Y testers.

In this view, you can see that the Estes men all match back to about 18 “SNP generations” ago according to the legend at left, but they don’t match men further back in time who have taken the Big Y test.

Notice the up-arrow where haplogroups R-L21 and R-M269 are shown across the top of the display.

If you click on R-L21, you’ll see that that it appears about 61 SNP generations back in time.

Haplogroup R-M269 appears even further back in time, about 174 SNP generations.

The only reason you will match someone at either the R-L21 or R-M269 level is because you both descend from a common long-ago ancestral branch, hundreds to thousands of years in the past. You and they would both need to take either the Big Y-700 test for Y DNA, or the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test in order to determine your full haplogroup and see your list of matches based on those full sequences.

Public Trees

You can view FamilyTreeDNA‘s extensive public Y DNA tree by haplogroup, here.

You can view their public mitochondrial DNA tree by haplogroup, here.

And the Answer Is…

As you can see, there is no single answer to the question of haplogroup relationships. The answer is also partly defined by the context in which the question is asked.

  1. For two men to be “related” on the Y DNA patrilineal line, yes, minimally, the base haplogroup does have to match. Base haplogroups are defined by the leading letter, like “R” in the examples above.
  2. “Related” based on base haplogroup only can be hundreds or thousands of years back in time, but additional testing can resolve that question.
  3. “Related” can mean before the advent of surnames. However, a match to a man with the same surname suggests a common ancestor with that surname in the past several hundred years. That match could, however, be much closer in time.
  4. For two men to be closely related, assuming they have taken the same version of Big Y test, their haplogroup branches need to be fairly closely adjacent on the haplotree. FamilyTreeDNA will be introducing haplogroup aging soon, meaning SNP/haplogroup branch dates on their haplotree. At that time, the “distance” between men will be easier to understand.
  5. You can exclude a genealogical relationship on the direct paternal line if the two men involved have a different base haplogroup. This question often occurs when people are trying to understand if they “might match” with someone whose haplogroup has been estimated.
  6. This holds true as well for mitochondrial DNA haplogroups and matching.

And there you have it, six answers about what haplogroup matching does and does not mean.

The bottom line is that haplogroups can be a great starting point and you can sometimes eliminate people as potential matches.

However, to confirm genealogical matches, you’ll always need more granular testing that includes actual Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA matching based on marker mutation results, not just haplogroups.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research

Books

Genetic Genealogy at 20 Years: Where Have We Been, Where Are We Going and What’s Important?

Not only have we put 2020 in the rear-view mirror, thankfully, we’re at the 20-year, two-decade milestone. The point at which genetics was first added to the toolbox of genealogists.

It seems both like yesterday and forever ago. And yes, I’ve been here the whole time,  as a spectator, researcher, and active participant.

Let’s put this in perspective. On New Year’s Eve, right at midnight, in 2005, I was able to score kit number 50,000 at Family Tree DNA. I remember this because it seemed like such a bizarre thing to be doing at midnight on New Year’s Eve. But hey, we genealogists are what we are.

I knew that momentous kit number which seemed just HUGE at the time was on the threshold of being sold, because I had inadvertently purchased kit 49,997 a few minutes earlier.

Somehow kit 50,000 seemed like such a huge milestone, a landmark – so I quickly bought kits, 49,998, 49,999, and then…would I get it…YES…kit 50,000. Score!

That meant that in the 5 years FamilyTreeDNA had been in business, they had sold on an average of 10,000 kits per year, or 27 kits a day. Today, that’s a rounding error. Then it was momentous!

In reality, the sales were ramping up quickly, because very few kits were sold in 2000, and roughly 20,000 kits had been sold in 2005 alone. I know this because I purchased kit 28,429 during the holiday sale a year earlier.

Of course, I had no idea who I’d test with that momentous New Year’s Eve Y DNA kit, but I assuredly would find someone. A few months later, I embarked on a road trip to visit an elderly family member with that kit in tow. Thank goodness I did, and they agreed and swabbed on the spot, because they are gone today and with them, the story of the Y line and autosomal DNA of their branch.

In the past two decades, almost an entire generation has slipped away, and with them, an entire genealogical library held in their DNA.

Today, more than 40 million people have tested with the four major DNA testing companies, although we don’t know exactly how many.

Lots of people have had more time to focus on genealogy in 2020, so let’s take a look at what’s important? What’s going on and what matters beyond this month or year?

How has this industry changed in the last two decades, and where it is going?

Reflection

This seems like a good point to reflect a bit.

Professor Dan Bradley reflecting on early genetic research techniques in his lab at the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College in Dublin. Photo by Roberta Estes

In the beginning – twenty years ago, there were two companies who stuck their toes in the consumer DNA testing water – Oxford Ancestors and Family Tree DNA. About the same time, Sorenson Genomics and GeneTree were also entering that space, although Sorenson was a nonprofit. Today, of those, only FamilyTreeDNA remains, having adapted with the changing times – adding more products, testing, and sophistication.

Bryan Sykes who founded Oxford Ancestors announced in 2018 that he was retiring to live abroad and subsequently passed away in 2020. The website still exists, but the company has announced that they have ceased sales and the database will remain open until Sept 30, 2021.

James Sorenson died in 2008 and the assets of Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, including the Sorenson database, were sold to Ancestry in 2012. Eventually, Ancestry removed the public database in 2015.

Ancestry dabbled in Y and mtDNA for a while, too, destroying that database in 2014.

Other companies, too many to remember or mention, have come and gone as well. Some of the various company names have been recycled or purchased, but aren’t the same companies today.

In the DNA space, it was keep up, change, die or be sold. Of course, there was the small matter of being able to sell enough DNA kits to make enough money to stay in business at all. DNA processing equipment and a lab are expensive. Not just the equipment, but also the expertise.

The Next Wave

As time moved forward, new players entered the landscape, comprising the “Big 4” testing companies that constitute the ponds where genealogists fish today.

23andMe was the first to introduce autosomal DNA testing and matching. Their goal and focus was always medical genetics, but they recognized the potential in genealogists before anyone else, and we flocked to purchase tests.

Ancestry settled on autosomal only and relies on the size of their database, a large body of genealogy subscribers, and a widespread “feel-good” marketing campaign to sell DNA kits as the gateway to “discover who you are.”

FamilyTreeDNA did and still does offer all 3 kinds of tests. Over the years, they have enhanced both the Y DNA and mitochondrial product offerings significantly and are still known as “the science company.” They are the only company to offer the full range of Y DNA tests, including their flagship Big Y-700, full sequence mitochondrial testing along with matching for both products. Their autosomal product is called Family Finder.

MyHeritage entered the DNA testing space a few years after the others as the dark horse that few expected to be successful – but they fooled everyone. They have acquired companies and partnered along the way which allowed them to add customers (Promethease) and tools (such as AutoCluster by Genetic Affairs), boosting their number of users. Of course, MyHeritage also offers users a records research subscription service that you can try for free.

In summary:

One of the wonderful things that happened was that some vendors began to accept compatible raw DNA autosomal data transfer files from other vendors. Today, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and GEDmatch DO accept transfer files, while Ancestry and 23andMe do not.

The transfers and matching are free, but there are either minimal unlock or subscription plans for advanced features.

There are other testing companies, some with niche markets and others not so reputable. For this article, I’m focusing on the primary DNA testing companies that are useful for genealogy and mainstream companion third-party tools that complement and enhance those services.

The Single Biggest Change

As I look back, the single biggest change is that genetic genealogy evolved from the pariah of genealogy where DNA discussion was banned from the (now defunct) Rootsweb lists and summarily deleted for the first few years after introduction. I know, that’s hard to believe today.

Why, you ask?

Reasons varied from “just because” to “DNA is cheating” and then morphed into “because DNA might do terrible things like, maybe, suggest that a person really wasn’t related to an ancestor in a lineage society.”

Bottom line – fear and misunderstanding. Change is exceedingly difficult for humans, and DNA definitely moved the genealogy cheese.

From that awkward beginning, genetic genealogy organically became a “thing,” a specific application of genealogy. There was paper-trail traditional genealogy and then the genetic aspect. Today, for almost everyone, genealogy is “just another tool” in the genealogist’s toolbox, although it does require focused learning, just like any other tool.

DNA isn’t separate anymore, but is now an integral part of the genealogical whole. Having said that, DNA can’t solve all problems or answer all questions, but neither can traditional paper-trail genealogy. Together, each makes the other stronger and solves mysteries that neither can resolve alone.

Synergy.

I fully believe that we have still only scratched the surface of what’s possible.

Inheritance

As we talk about the various types of DNA testing and tools, here’s a quick graphic to remind you of how the different types of DNA are inherited.

  • Y DNA is inherited paternally for males only and informs us of the direct patrilineal (surname) line.
  • Mitochondrial DNA is inherited by everyone from their mothers and informs us of the mother’s matrilineal (mother’s mother’s mother’s) line.
  • Autosomal DNA can be inherited from potentially any ancestor in random but somewhat predictable amounts through both parents. The further back in time, the less identifiable DNA you’ll inherit from any specific ancestor. I wrote about that, here.

What’s Hot and What’s Not

Where should we be focused today and where is this industry going? What tools and articles popped up in 2020 to help further our genealogy addiction? I already published the most popular articles of 2020, here.

This industry started two decades ago with testing a few Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA markers, and we were utterly thrilled at the time. Both tests have advanced significantly and the prices have dropped like a stone. My first mitochondrial DNA test that tested only 400 locations cost more than $800 – back then.

Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA are still critically important to genetic genealogy. Both play unique roles and provide information that cannot be obtained through autosomal DNA testing. Today, relative to Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA, the biggest challenge, ironically, is educating newer genealogists about their potential who have never heard about anything other than autosomal, often ethnicity, testing.

We have to educate in order to overcome the cacophony of “don’t bother because you don’t get as many matches.”

That’s like saying “don’t use the right size wrench because the last one didn’t fit and it’s a bother to reach into the toolbox.” Not to mention that if everyone tested, there would be a lot more matches, but I digress.

If you don’t use the right tool, and all of the tools at your disposal, you’re not going to get the best result possible.

The genealogical proof standard, the gold standard for genealogy research, calls for “a reasonably exhaustive search,” and if you haven’t at least considered if or how Y
DNA
and mitochondrial DNA along with autosomal testing can or might help, then your search is not yet exhaustive.

I attempt to obtain the Y and mitochondrial DNA of every ancestral line. In the article, Search Techniques for Y and Mitochondrial DNA Test Candidates, I described several methodologies to find appropriate testing candidates.

Y DNA – 20 Years and Still Critically Important

Y DNA tracks the Y chromosome for males via the patrilineal (surname) line, providing matching and historical migration information.

We started 20 years ago testing 10 STR markers. Today, we begin at 37 markers, can upgrade to 67 or 111, but the preferred test is the Big Y which provides results for 700+ STR markers plus results from the entire gold standard region of the Y chromosome in order to provide the most refined results. This allows genealogists to use STR markers and SNP results together for various aspects of genealogy.

I created a Y DNA resource page, here, in order to provide a repository for Y DNA information and updates in one place. I would encourage anyone who can to order or upgrade to the Big Y-700 test which provides critical lineage information in addition to and beyond traditional STR testing. Additionally, the Big Y-700 test helps build the Y DNA haplotree which is growing by leaps and bounds.

More new SNPs are found and named EVERY SINGLE DAY today at FamilyTreeDNA than were named in the first several years combined. The 2006 SNP tree listed a grand total of 459 SNPs that defined the Y DNA tree at that time, according to the ISOGG Y DNA SNP tree. Goran Rundfeldt, head of R&D at FamilyTreeDNA posted this today:

2020 was an awful year in so many ways, but it was an unprecedented year for human paternal phylogenetic tree reconstruction. The FTDNA Haplotree or Great Tree of Mankind now includes:

37,534 branches with 12,696 added since 2019 – 51% growth!
defined by
349,097 SNPs with 131,820 added since 2019 – 61% growth!

In just one year, 207,536 SNPs were discovered and assigned FT SNP names. These SNPs will help define new branches and refine existing ones in the future.

The tree is constructed based on high coverage chromosome Y sequences from:
– More than 52,500 Big Y results
– Almost 4,000 NGS results from present-day anonymous men that participated in academic studies

Plus an additional 3,000 ancient DNA results from archaeological remains, of mixed quality and Y chromosome coverage at FamilyTreeDNA.

Wow, just wow.

These three new articles in 2020 will get you started on your Y DNA journey!

Mitochondrial DNA – Matrilineal Line of Humankind is Being Rewritten

The original Oxford Ancestor’s mitochondrial DNA test tested 400 locations. The original Family Tree DNA test tested around 1000 locations. Today, the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test is standard, testing the entire 16,569 locations of the mitochondria.

Mitochondrial DNA tracks your mother’s direct maternal, or matrilineal line. I’ve created a mitochondrial DNA resource page, here that includes easy step-by-step instructions for after you receive your results.

New articles in 2020 included the introduction of The Million Mito Project. 2021 should see the first results – including a paper currently in the works.

The Million Mito Project is rewriting the haplotree of womankind. The current haplotree has expanded substantially since the first handful of haplogroups thanks to thousands upon thousands of testers, but there is so much more information that can be extracted today.

Y and Mitochondrial Resources

If you don’t know of someone in your family to test for Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA for a specific ancestral line, you can always turn to the Y DNA projects at Family Tree DNA by searching here.

The search provides you with a list of projects available for a specific surname along with how many customers with that surname have tested. Looking at the individual Y DNA projects will show the earliest known ancestor of the surname line.

Another resource, WikiTree lists people who have tested for the Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA lines of specific ancestors.

Click on images to enlarge

On the left side, my maternal great-grandmother’s profile card, and on the right, my paternal great-great-grandfather. You can see that someone has tested for the mitochondrial DNA of Nora (OK, so it’s me) and the Y DNA of John Estes (definitely not me.)

MitoYDNA, a nonprofit volunteer organization created a comparison tool to replace Ysearch and Mitosearch when they bit the dust thanks to GDPR.

MitoYDNA accepts uploads from different sources and allows uploaders to not only match to each other, but to view the STR values for Y DNA and the mutation locations for the HVR1 and HVR2 regions of mitochondrial DNA. Mags Gaulden, one of the founders, explains in her article, What sets mitoYDNA apart from other DNA Databases?.

If you’ve tested at nonstandard companies, not realizing that they didn’t provide matching, or if you’ve tested at a company like Sorenson, Ancestry, and now Oxford Ancestors that is going out of business, uploading your results to mitoYDNA is a way to preserve your investment. PS – I still recommend testing at FamilyTreeDNA in order to receive detailed results and compare in their large database.

CentiMorgans – The Word of Two Decades

The world of autosomal DNA turns on the centimorgan (cM) measure. What is a centimorgan, exactly? I wrote about that unit of measure in the article Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs and Pickin’ Crab.

Fortunately, new tools and techniques make using cMs much easier. The Shared cM Project was updated this year, and the results incorporated into a wonderfully easy tool used to determine potential relationships at DNAPainter based on the number of shared centiMorgans.

Match quality and potential relationships are determined by the number of shared cMs, and the chromosome browser is the best tool to use for those comparisons.

Chromosome Browser – Genetics Tool to View Chromosome Matches

Chromosome browsers allow testers to view their matching cMs of DNA with other testers positioned on their own chromosomes.

My two cousins’ DNA where they match me on chromosomes 1-4, is shown above in blue and red at Family Tree DNA. It’s important to know where you match cousins, because if you match multiple cousins on the same segment, from the same side of your family (maternal or paternal), that’s suggestive of a common ancestor, with a few caveats.

Some people feel that a chromosome browser is an advanced tool, but I think it’s simply standard fare – kind of like driving a car. You need to learn how to drive initially, but after that, you don’t even think about it – you just get in and go. Here’s help learning how to drive that chromosome browser.

Triangulation – Science Plus Group DNA Matching Confirms Genealogy

The next logical step after learning to use a chromosome browser is triangulation. If fact, you’re seeing triangulation above, but don’t even realize it.

The purpose of genetic genealogy is to gather evidence to “prove” ancestral connections to either people or specific ancestors. In autosomal DNA, triangulation occurs when:

  • You match at least two other people (not close relatives)
  • On the same reasonably sized segment of DNA (generally 7 cM or greater)
  • And you can assign that segment to a common ancestor

The same two cousins are shown above, with triangulated segments bracketed at MyHeritage. I’ve identified the common ancestor with those cousins that those matching DNA segments descend from.

MyHeritage’s triangulation tool confirms by bracketing that these cousins also match each other on the same segment, which is the definition of triangulation.

I’ve written a lot about triangulation recently.

If you’d prefer a video, I recorded a “Top Tips” Facebook LIVE with MyHeritage.

Why is Ancestry missing from this list of triangulation articles? Ancestry does not offer a chromosome browser or segment information. Therefore, you can’t triangulate at Ancestry. You can, however, transfer your Ancestry DNA raw data file to either FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, or GEDmatch, all three of which offer triangulation.

Step by step download/upload transfer instructions are found in this article:

Clustering Matches and Correlating Trees

Based on what we’ve seen over the past few years, we can no longer depend on the major vendors to provide all of the tools that genealogists want and need.

Of course, I would encourage you to stay with mainstream products being used by a significant number of community power users. As with anything, there is always someone out there that’s less than honorable.

2020 saw a lot of innovation and new tools introduced. Maybe that’s one good thing resulting from people being cooped up at home.

Third-party tools are making a huge difference in the world of genetic genealogy. My favorites are Genetic Affairs, their AutoCluster tool shown above, DNAPainter and DNAGedcom.

These articles should get you started with clustering.

If you like video resources, here’s a MyHeritage Facebook LIVE that I recorded about how to use AutoClusters:

I created a compiled resource article for your convenience, here:

I have not tried a newer tool, YourDNAFamily, that focuses only on 23andMe results although the creator has been a member of the genetic genealogy community for a long time.

Painting DNA Makes Chromosome Browsers and Triangulation Easy

DNAPainter takes the next step, providing a repository for all of your painted segments. In other words, DNAPainter is both a solution and a methodology for mass triangulation across all of your chromosomes.

Here’s a small group of people who match me on the same maternal segment of chromosome 1, including those two cousins in the chromosome browser and triangulation sections, above. We know that this segment descends from Philip Jacob Miller and his wife because we’ve been able to identify that couple as the most distant ancestor intersection in all of our trees.

It’s very helpful that DNAPainter has added the functionality of painting all of the maternal and paternal bucketed matches from Family Tree DNA.

All you need to do is to link your known matches to your tree in the proper place at FamilyTreeDNA, then they do the rest by using those DNA matches to indicate which of the rest of your matches are maternal and paternal. Instructions, here. You can then export the file and use it at DNAPainter to paint all of those matches on the correct maternal or paternal chromosomes.

Here’s an article providing all of the DNAPainter Instructions and Resources.

DNA Matches Plus Trees Enhance Genealogy

Of course, utilizing DNA matching plus finding common ancestors in trees is one of the primary purposes of genetic genealogy – right?

Vendors have linked the steps of matching DNA with matching ancestors in trees.

Genetic Affairs take this a step further. If you don’t have an ancestor in your tree, but your matches have common ancestors with each other, Genetic Affairs assembles those trees to provide you with those hints. Of course, that common ancestor might not be relevant to your genealogy, but it just might be too!

click to enlarge

This tree does not include me, but two of my matches descend from a common ancestor and that common ancestor between them might be a clue as to why I match both of them.

Ethnicity Continues to be Popular – But Is No Shortcut to Genealogy

Ethnicity is always popular. People want to “do their DNA” and find out where they come from. I understand. I really do. Who doesn’t just want an answer?

Of course, it’s not that simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s not disappointing to people who test for that purpose with high expectations. Hopefully, ethnicity will pique their curiosity and encourage engagement.

All four major vendors rolled out updated ethnicity results or related tools in 2020.

The future for ethnicity, I believe, will be held in integrated tools that allow us to use ethnicity results for genealogy, including being able to paint our ethnicity on our chromosomes as well as perform segment matching by ethnicity.

For example, if I carry an African segment on chromosome 1 from my father, and I match one person from my mother’s side and one from my father’s side on that same segment – one or the other of those people should also have that segment identified as African. That information would inform me as to which match is paternal and which is maternal

Not only that, this feature would help immensely tracking ancestors back in time and identifying their origins.

Will we ever get there? I don’t know. I’m not sure ethnicity is or can be accurate enough. We’ll see.

Transition to Digital and Online

Sometimes the future drags us kicking and screaming from the present.

With the imposed isolation of 2020, conferences quickly moved to an online presence. The genealogy community has all pulled together to make this work. The joke is that 2020’s most used phrase is “can you hear me?” I can vouch for that.

Of course while the year 2020 is over, the problem isn’t and is extending at least through the first half of 2021 and possibly longer. Conferences are planned months, up to a year, in advance and they can’t turn on a dime, so don’t even begin to expect in-person conferences until either late in 2021 or more likely, 2022 if all goes well this year.

I expect the future will eventually return to in-person conferences, but not entirely.

Finding ways to be more inclusive allows people who don’t want to or can’t travel or join in-person to participate.

I’ve recorded several sessions this year, mostly for 2021. Trust me, these could be a comedy, mostly of errors😊

I participated in four MyHeritage Facebook LIVE sessions in 2020 along with some other amazing speakers. This is what “live” events look like today!

Screenshot courtesy MyHeritage

A few days ago, I asked MyHeritage for a list of their LIVE sessions in 2020 and was shocked to learn that there were more than 90 in English, all free, and you can watch them anytime. Here’s the MyHeritage list.

By the way, every single one of the speakers is a volunteer, so say a big thank you to the speakers who make this possible, and to MyHeritage for the resources to make this free for everyone. If you’ve ever tried to coordinate anything like this, it’s anything but easy.

Additonally, I’ve created two Webinars this year for Legacy Family Tree Webinars.

Geoff Rasmussen put together the list of their top webinars for 2020, and I was pleased to see that I made the top 10! I’m sure there are MANY MORE you’d be interested in watching. Personally, I’m going to watch #6 yet today! Also, #9 and #22. You can always watch new webinars for free for a few days, and you can subscribe to watch all webinars, here.

The 2021 list of webinar speakers has been announced here, and while I’m not allowed to talk about something really fun that’s upcoming, let’s just say you definitely have something to look forward to in the springtime!

Also, don’t forget to register for RootsTech Connect which is entirely online and completely free, February 25-27, here.

Thank you to Penny Walters for creating this lovely graphic.

There are literally hundreds of speakers providing sessions in many languages for viewers around the world. I’ve heard the stats, but we can’t share them yet. Let me just say that you will be SHOCKED at the magnitude and reach of this conference. I’m talking dumbstruck!

During one of our zoom calls, one of the organizers says it feels like we’re constructing the plane as we’re flying, and I can confirm his observation – but we are getting it done – together! All hands on deck.

I’ll be presenting an advanced session about triangulation as well as a mini-session in the FamilySearch DNA Resource Center about finding your mother’s ancestors. I’ll share more information as it’s released and I can.

Companies and Owners Come & Go

You probably didn’t even notice some of these 2020 changes. Aside from the death of Bryan Sykes (RIP Bryan,) the big news and the even bigger unknown is the acquisition of Ancestry by Blackstone. Recently the CEO, Margo Georgiadis announced that she was stepping down. The Ancestry Board of Directors has announced an external search for a new CEO. All I can say is that very high on the priority list should be someone who IS a genealogist and who understands how DNA applies to genealogy.

Other changes included:

In the future, as genealogy and DNA testing becomes ever more popular and even more of a commodity, company sales and acquisitions will become more commonplace.

Some Companies Reduced Services and Cut Staff

I understand this too, but it’s painful. The layoffs occurred before Covid, so they didn’t result from Covid-related sales reductions. Let’s hope we see renewed investment after the Covid mess is over.

In a move that may or may not be related to an attempt to cut costs, Ancestry removed 6 and 7 cM matches from their users, freeing up processing resources, hardware, and storage requirements and thereby reducing costs.

I’m not going to beat this dead horse, because Ancestry is clearly not going to move on this issue, nor on that of the much-requested chromosome browser.

Later in the year, 23andMe also removed matches and other features, although, to their credit, they have restored at least part of this functionality and have provided ethnicity updates to V3 and V4 kits which wasn’t initially planned.

It’s also worth noting that early in 2020, 23andMe laid off 100 people as sales declined. Since that time, 23andMe has increasingly pushed consumers to pay to retest on their V5 chip.

About the same time, Ancestry also cut their workforce by about 6%, or about 100 people, also citing a slowdown in the consumer testing market. Ancestry also added a health product.

I’m not sure if we’ve reached market saturation or are simply seeing a leveling off. I wrote about that in DNA Testing Sales Decline: Reason and Reasons.

Of course, the pandemic economy where many people are either unemployed or insecure about their future isn’t helping.

The various companies need some product diversity to survive downturns. 23andMe is focused on medical research with partners who pay 23andMe for the DNA data of customers who opt-in, as does Ancestry.

Both Ancestry and MyHeritage provide subscription services for genealogy records.

FamilyTreeDNA is part of a larger company, GenebyGene whose genetics labs do processing for other companies and medical facilities.

A huge thank you to both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA for NOT reducing services to customers in 2020.

Scientific Research Still Critical & Pushes Frontiers

Now that DNA testing has become a commodity, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that DNA testing is still a scientific endeavor that requires research to continue to move forward.

I’m still passionate about research after 20 years – maybe even more so now because there’s so much promise.

Research bleeds over into the consumer marketplace where products are improved and new features created allowing us to better track and understand our ancestors through their DNA that we and our family members inherit.

Here are a few of the research articles I published in 2020. You might notice a theme here – ancient DNA. What we can learn now due to new processing techniques is absolutely amazing. Labs can share files and information, providing the ability to “reprocess” the data, not the DNA itself, as more information and expertise becomes available.

Of course, in addition to this research, the Million Mito Project team is hard at work rewriting the tree of womankind.

If you’d like to participate, all you need to do is to either purchase a full sequence mitochondrial DNA kit at FamilyTreeDNA, or upgrade to the full sequence if you tested at a lower level previously.

Predictions

Predictions are risky business, but let me give it a shot.

Looking back a year, Covid wasn’t on the radar.

Looking back 5 years, neither Genetic Affairs nor DNAPainter were yet on the scene. DNAAdoption had just been formed in 2014 and DNAGedcom which was born out of DNAAdoption didn’t yet exist.

In other words, the most popular tools today didn’t exist yet.

GEDmatch, founded in 2010 by genealogists for genealogists was 5 years old, but was sold in December 2019 to Verogen.

We were begging Ancestry for a chromosome browser, and while we’ve pretty much given up beating them, because the horse is dead and they can sell DNA kits through ads focused elsewhere, that doesn’t mean genealogists still don’t need/want chromosome and segment based tools. Why, you’d think that Ancestry really doesn’t want us to break through those brick walls. That would be very bizarre, because every brick wall that falls reveals two more ancestors that need to be researched and spurs a frantic flurry of midnight searching. If you’re laughing right now, you know exactly what I mean!

Of course, if Ancestry provided a chromosome browser, it would cost development money for no additional revenue and their customer service reps would have to be able to support it. So from Ancestry’s perspective, there’s no good reason to provide us with that tool when they can sell kits without it. (Sigh.)

I’m not surprised by the management shift at Ancestry, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see several big players go public in the next decade, if not the next five years.

As companies increase in value, the number of private individuals who could afford to purchase the company decreases quickly, leaving private corporations as the only potential buyers, or becoming publicly held. Sometimes, that’s a good thing because investment dollars are infused into new product development.

What we desperately need, and I predict will happen one way or another is a marriage of individual tools and functions that exist separately today, with a dash of innovation. We need tools that will move beyond confirming existing ancestors – and will be able to identify ancestors through our DNA – out beyond each and every brick wall.

If a tester’s DNA matches to multiple people in a group descended from a particular previously unknown couple, and the timing and geography fits as well, that provides genealogical researchers with the hint they need to begin excavating the traditional records, looking for a connection.

In fact, this is exactly what happened with mitochondrial DNA – twice now. A match and a great deal of digging by one extremely persistent cousin resulting in identifying potential parents for a brick-wall ancestor. Autosomal DNA then confirmed that my DNA matched with 59 other individuals who descend from that couple through multiple children.

BUT, we couldn’t confirm those ancestors using autosomal DNA UNTIL WE HAD THE NAMES of the couple. DNA has the potential to reveal those names!

I wrote about that in Mitochondrial DNA Bulldozes Brick Wall and will be discussing it further in my RootsTech presentation.

The Challenge

We have most of the individual technology pieces today to get this done. Of course, the combined technological solution would require significant computing resources and processing power – just at the same time that vendors are desperately trying to pare costs to a minimum.

Some vendors simply aren’t interested, as I’ve already noted.

However, the winner, other than us genealogists, of course, will be the vendor who can either devise solutions or partner with others to create the right mix of tools that will combine matching, triangulation, and trees of your matches to each other, even if you don’t’ share a common ancestor.

We need to follow the DNA past the current end of the branch of our tree.

Each triangulated segment has an individual history that will lead not just to known ancestors, but to their unknown ancestors as well. We have reached critical mass in terms of how many people have tested – and more success would encourage more and more people to test.

There is a genetic path over every single brick wall in our genealogy.

Yes, I know that’s a bold statement. It’s not future Jetson’s flying-cars stuff. It’s doable – but it’s a matter of commitment, investment money, and finding a way to recoup that investment.

I don’t think it’s possible for the one-time purchase of a $39-$99 DNA test, especially when it’s not a loss-leader for something else like a records or data subscription (MyHeritage and Ancestry) or a medical research partnership (Ancestry and 23andMe.)

We’re performing these analysis processes manually and piecemeal today. It’s extremely inefficient and labor-intensive – which is why it often fails. People give up. And the process is painful, even when it does succeed.

This process has also been made increasingly difficult when some vendors block tools that help genealogists by downloading match and ancestral tree information. Before Ancestry closed access, I was creating theories based on common ancestors in my matches trees that weren’t in mine – then testing those theories both genetically (clusters, AutoTrees and ThruLines) and also by digging into traditional records to search for the genetic connection.

For example, I’m desperate to identify the parents of my James Lee Clarkson/Claxton, so I sorted my spreadsheet by surname and began evaluating everyone who had a Clarkson/Claxton in their tree in the 1700s in Virginia or North Carolina. But I can’t do that anymore now, either with a third-party tool or directly at Ancestry. Twenty million DNA kits sold for a minimum of $79 equals more than 1.5 billion dollars. Obviously, the issue here is not a lack of funds.

Including Y and mitochondrial DNA resources in our genetic toolbox not only confirms accuracy but also provides additional hints and clues.

Sometimes we start with Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA, and wind up using autosomal and sometimes the reverse. These are not competing products. It’s not either/or – it’s *and*.

Personally, I don’t expect the vendors to provide this game-changing complex functionality for free. I would be glad to pay for a subscription for top-of-the-line innovation and tools. In what other industry do consumers expect to pay for an item once and receive constant life-long innovations and upgrades? That doesn’t happen with software, phones nor with automobiles. I want vendors to be profitable so that they can invest in new tools that leverage the power of computing for genealogists to solve currently unsolvable problems.

Every single end-of-line ancestor in your tree represents a brick wall you need to overcome.

If you compare the cost of books, library visits, courthouse trips, and other research endeavors that often produce exactly nothing, these types of genetic tools would be both a godsend and an incredible value.

That’s it.

That’s the challenge, a gauntlet of sorts.

Who’s going to pick it up?

I can’t answer that question, but I can say that 23andMe can’t do this without supporting extensive trees, and Ancestry has shown absolutely no inclination to support segment data. You can’t achieve this goal without segment information or without trees.

Among the current players, that leaves two DNA testing companies and a few top-notch third parties as candidates – although – as the past has proven, the future is uncertain, fluid, and everchanging.

It will be interesting to see what I’m writing at the end of 2025, or maybe even at the end of 2021.

Stay tuned.

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Y DNA Resources and Repository

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.

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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!

Educational Articles

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.

Webinars

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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