Proving Men Whose Y-Lines Don’t Match Are Related

Younger Store cropped

The old “Younger Store” in Halifax County, Virginia


Yes, I’m shouting.  This is a 30 year BINGO – a wall that DNA just tore down!!!  WOOHOO

Good thing you can’t see my happy dance.  I wouldn’t care right this moment, but I’m POSITIVE I’d be embarrassed later.

Ok, so taking deep breath here – here’s the story.

The Younger Men

I descend from Marcus Younger of Halifax County, Virginia, through his daughter Mary who married George Estes in 1786.  Marcus was born probably somewhat before 1740 in either Essex County, Virginia.  Our first positive record of him is in 1780 when he gave to the Revolutionary War cause “1 gallon, 2 quarts and 1/2 pint brandy.”  We don’t know who Marcus’s wife was, but she may have been a Hart or a Ferguson.  Marcus moved to Halifax County, Virginia shortly after the war and subsequently died there in 1815 with a will listing his children.  There were also subsequent chancery suits relating to his estate, thankfully, that reveal a great amount of information about his children and their lives.  Marcus had only one son, John, born in 1760.  Mary was probably his second child as her husband, George Estes, was born in 1761.

Also living in close proximity to Marcus Younger in Essex County, near the border with Queen and King, was Thomas Younger who was significantly older than Marcus, but was not his father.  Thomas appears in deeds in Essex County, Virginia in the 1740s, but was in King and Queen County in 1752.  Thomas moved to Halifax County by 1765 when he is found on a tax list and died there in 1791, with a will that was witnessed by both Marcus Younger and Marcus’s son John.  This alone suggests strongly that Marcus was not the son of Thomas because heirs generally did not witness wills unless they were nuncupative wills taken orally just before the person died, and Thomas’s was not.  Furthermore, there were chancery suits following both Thomas and Marcus’s deaths that tell us exactly who their heirs were.  This will-witnessing also suggests an extremely close relationship between Thomas Younger and Marcus Younger.  But what, exactly, was that relationship?

Thomas’s parents were Alexander Younger and Rebecca Mills.  Alexander died in Essex County in 1727, with a will.  He had three sons, Thomas, above, James who married a Nash and is well accounted for, and a John who died between 1725 and 1727 when Alexander’s estate is settled.  Almost nothing is known about John.  In addition, there were 5 sisters, only two of which are even somewhat accounted for beyond 1732 or as adults.  This indeed may be a very important clue to the Marcus puzzle.

Who’s Your Daddy?

Descendants of Thomas Younger and of Marcus Younger both took the Y DNA test some years ago, and we were absolutely stunned to discover that their Y DNA did not match.  We have two descendants of John, only son of Marcus, and they do match each other, but no other Youngers.

The several descendants of Thomas Younger match each other and also the descendants of Alexander’s other son, James.  So Marcus seems to be related to the family, carries the surname, but does not share a direct paternal ancestor on his father’s side.

Our candidates for his parents are quite limited.

Barring a totally unknown Younger person, we have the following candidates.

John Younger, son of Alexander, brother to Thomas – but that would also mean that John was not the biological son of Alexander but did share a mother since Marcus’s descendants autosomally match this line today.  Since Alexander’s estate paid to register the death of John, that implies that John was not yet married at the time of his death and responsible for himself.  This pretty much eliminates John.

The other alternative is that Marcus is the illegitimate child of one of Alexander’s daughters.  His daughters were named Ann, Mary, Janet, Susannah and Elizabeth.  Unfortunately, three of those names are repeated in Marcus’s daughters, but it could effectively eliminate Janet and Ann, unless Marcus had a child with that name that died young and he did not reuse the name as so many people did at that time.  As it turns out, Ann and Janet married about 1732, but we have no information on the other 3 daughters other than they were minors at their father’s death in 1727 and Thomas was appointed their legal guardian in 1732.

This scenario, that Marcus was the child of one of Alexander’s daughters would fit what we do know about this family both genetically and genealogically.

The DNA Jackpot

This brings us to today.  And what a day it is.  Until now, none of the descendants of Marcus Younger autosomally matched the descendants of Thomas Younger, at least not that we could prove.       pot of gold                 

I manage the kit of one of the descendants of John Younger, Marcus’s son, we’ll call him Larry.

I received a query from someone about matching Larry autosomally.  I sent the note that I always do, with some basic genealogy info.  What I received back was a pedigree chart screen shot from the match, who we’ll call David, that included Thomas Younger as his ancestor.  He descended from Thomas via a daughter.

Once again, I was stunned, because here was the link we had sought for so many years…a genetic bond between Thomas and Marcus.

Of course, the first thing I did was to ask about other lines as well through which Larry and David might be related.  There were none.

Then I turned to DNA.  On the Family Tree DNA match list, Larry matches me and Larry matches David, but David is not on my match list.  This could well be because we don’t have any segment matches above the match threshold of approximately 7.7cM at Family Tree DNA, but since we both match Larry, I could look at Larry’s matches and then drop the comparison level to below the matching threshold to see all of our common matches between the three of us.

Here are our default 5cM matches.

I am orange.  David is blue.  Larry is who we are being compared against.

younger 5 cm

Dropping the cM level to 1 shows us that golden nugget we have searched for so diligently.

Look at chromosome 1.  All 3 of us match on a small segment of DNA.  That DNA is Younger DNA.  And that little orange and blue segment proves that indeed, Marcus and Thomas were related.

younger 1 cm

This also means that there will be others who fall into this “too small to be a match but hugely relevant small segment” scenario.  In order to take a look, I triangulated all of the matches for my cousin Larry and David, and there were a total of 15 individuals.

But here’s the amazing part.

There are 16 people in total, including Larry and David who match.

I compared them in the chromosome browser, and downloaded all of them.  I then sorted them by chromosome and start/end segment.  Here is that oh so beautiful “proof” match on chromosome 1.

younger match chart

There are a total of 191 individual segments across all chromosomes where these people match Larry.

Of those 191 segments,  there are also 94 segments on which one or more of us also match each other.  Those are shaded green above for chromosome 1.

Of those 94 segments, only 8 were large enough to be above the matching threshold.  That means that there were a total of 86 segments that were below the matching threshold but that were useful genealogically.  On chromosome 1 above, only Larry and I would have been over that threshold, and we were already shown as matches.

Looking at those 8 large segment matches, some were between known relatives on both sides, like me and Larry on chromosome 1, but until there was someone who connected the dots and matched someone on both sides, like David, on a segment large enough to be counted as a match, the connection wasn’t there and the other matches weren’t meaningful to the question and answer of whether Marcus and Thomas were related.

David matches Larry on a large enough segment to be counted as a match on chromosomes 4 and 10, neither of which is a match to me in that location.

The golden “proof” egg, in this case, for the three of us, was hidden in a very small golden egg croppedsegment on chromosome 1 that would otherwise have gone entirely unnoticed and unreported because it was not over the match threshold.

What’s next, you ask?  I’m sending e-mails to all 15 people, of course, asking how they connect to the Younger family.  Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be doubly lucky today and one of them will descend from one of the unknown wives families.  We have a couple of those surnames that are theorized but unproven.  That would be like hitting the lottery twice in one day!


This story already has a most wonderful PS.  The genealogy Gods are at work.

As soon as I finished composing this article, I had an e-mail from a match to Larry.  This lady is actually his closest match, but was not in the triangulation group I had been working with.  She told me that she is an adoptee and that she was seeking information.  On the off chance that she might fit into the group I had been working with, I downloaded her segments too and added it to the spreadsheet.  Not only does she fit in the group, she also matches me as well and other proven Younger descendants. not on chromosome 1, but on 3 other common locations.

She matches Larry most closely, so she likely descends from John Younger’s line through Larry’s ancestor.  I sent this woman some photos of the Younger descendants in my line, and she replied saying this is the first actual biological family line she has ever found.  She started actively looking in 1994 when she applied for her redacted adoption information and received a razored out paper that was full of holes and looked like Swiss cheese.  I can only imagine how she must have felt.

So, of course, I did what any other insanely addicted genealogist would have done.  I stayed up half the night, literally, putting together all of my “notes” in some semblance of order so she can see her family line, photos of my trip to fine the Marcus Younger cemetery, etc.  I asked her how she feels, and she said she is very excited and it’s also a tad bit scarry.  Yes, I imagine so…knowing you’re related to a crazy genealogist.  But you know, I bet she’s doing her happy dance too.

happy dance 2Note:  Photo of Younger Store taken by Brownie Mackie in 2002 in Halifax County, Va.

DNA Testing for Genealogy 101

When I first began as a surname administrator for the Estes project, more than a decade ago, I wrote an “intro” basics document for anyone who might be interested in testing.  This saved me from having to repeat myself again and again.  I believe this is the 8th version of that document.  Genetic genealogy keeps changing, for the better, with more tests and tools available, so more to explain.

When the National Genealogical Society asked me to write an introductory article for them, which turned into a series, I decided that I’d use the opportunity to update my intro article.  People have asked if they can send this article to people themselves.  Absolutely, in fact, I’ve made it easy for you.  On my website,, under the Publications tab, with lots of other good stuff, you’ll find a pdf version of this document.  Feel free to share and pass it on.

DNA testing for genealogy didn’t exist a few years ago.  In 1999, the first tests were performed for genetic genealogy and this wonderful tool which would revolutionize genealogy forever was born into the consumer marketplace from the halls of academia, thanks to one very persistent genealogist, Bennett Greenspan, now President of Family Tree DNA.

Initially we had more questions than answers.  If it’s true that we have some amount of DNA from all of our ancestors, how can we tell which pieces are from which ancestor?  How much can we learn from our DNA?  Where did we come from both individually and as population subgroups?  How can DNA help me knock down those genealogy brick walls?

In just a few short years, we have answers for most of these questions.  However, in this still infant science we continue to learn every day.  But before we discuss the answers, let’s talk for just a minute about how DNA works.

DNA – The Basics

Every human has 23 pairs of chromosomes (think of them as recipe books), which contain most of your DNA, functional units of which are known as genes (think of them as chapters).  One chromosome of each pair comes from a person’s mother and the other from their father.  Due to the mixing, called recombination, of DNA that occurs during meiosis prior to sperm and egg development, each chromosome in 22 of the 23 pairs, which are known as autosomes, has DNA (think of it as ingredients) from both the corresponding parent’s parents (and their ancestors before them).


Two portions of our DNA are not combined with that of the other parent.  The 23rd chromosome, in the box above, determines the sex of the individual.  Two X chromosomes produce a female and an X and a Y chromosome produce a male.  Women do not have a Y chromosome (otherwise they would be males) so they cannot contribute a Y chromosome to male offspring.  Given this scenario, males inherit their father’s Y chromosome unmixed with the mother’s DNA, and an X chromosome from their mother, unmixed with their father’s DNA.

This inheritance pattern is what makes it possible for us to use the Y chromosome to compare against other men of the same surname to see if they share a common ancestor, because if they do, their Y chromosome DNA will match, either exactly or nearly so, because it has been passed intact directly from those paternal ancestors.

Autosomal DNA, X chromosomal DNA and, in males, Y chromosomal DNA are all found in the nucleus of a cell.  A fourth type of DNA call mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA for short, resides within cells but outside the cell’s nucleus.  Mitochondrial DNA packets are the cell’s powerhouse as they provide the entire body with energy.

For both genders, mitochondria DNA is inherited only from the mother.  Men inherit their mother’s mtDNA, but do not pass it on to their offspring.  Women have their mother’s mtDNA and pass it to both their female and male offspring.  Given this scenario, women inherit their mother’s mtDNA unmixed with the father’s and pass it on generation to generation from female to female.  This inheritance pattern is what makes it possible for us to compare our mtDNA with that of others to determine whether we share a common maternal ancestor.


Autosomal DNA, the rest of your DNA, those other 22 chromosomes that are not the X/Y chromosome and not the mitochondrial DNA, tends to be transferred in groupings, which ultimately give us traits like Mother’s blue eyes, Grandpa’s chin or Dad’s stocky build.  Sometimes these inherited traits can be less positive, like deformities, diseases or tendencies like alcoholism.  How this occurs and what genes or combinations of genes are responsible for transferring particular traits is still being deciphered.

Sometimes we inherit conflicting genes from our parents and the resolution of which trait is exhibited is called gene expression.  For example, if you inherit a gene for blue eyes and brown eyes, you can’t have both, so the complex process of gene expression determines which color of eyes you will have.  However, this type of genetics along with medical genetics does not concern us when we are using genetics for genealogy.  Let’s focus initially on the unrecombined Y chromosomal DNA, called Y-line for short, and mtDNA as genealogical tools.

How Can Unrecombined DNA Help Us With Genealogy?

I’m so glad you asked.

During normal cell combination, called meiosis, each ancestor’s autosomal DNA gets watered down or divided by roughly half with each generation, meaning each child gets half of the DNA carried by each parent.

However, that isn’t true of the Y-line or mtDNA.  In the following example of just 4 generations, we see that the Y chromosome, the blue box on the left, is passed down the paternal line intact and the son has the exact same Y-line DNA as his paternal great-grandfather.

Similarly, the round red doughnut shaped O represents the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and it is passed down the maternal side, so both the daughter and the son will have the exact same mtDNA as the maternal great-grandmother (but only the female child will pass it on).

yline mtdna

The good news is that you may well have noticed that the surname is passed down the same blue paternal path, so if this is a Jones family, the Y-line DNA travels right along with the surname.  How it can help us with genealogy now becomes obvious, because if we can test different male descendents who also bear the Jones surname, if they share a common ancestor somewhere in recent time (the last several hundred years), their DNA will match, or nearly so.  Surname projects have been created by volunteer administrators at Family Tree DNA to facilitate coordination and comparison of individuals carrying the same or similar surnames.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is useful as well, but not as easily for genealogical purposes since the maternal surname traditionally changes with each generation.

There have been several remarkable success stories using mtDNA, but they are typically more difficult to coordinate because of the challenges presented by the last name changes.  Sometimes joining regional projects is more useful for finding mtDNA matches than joining surname projects.  A case in point is the Cumberland Gap projects, both Y-line and mtDNA, which have helped many people whose families lived in close proximity of the Cumberland Gap (at the intersection of Va., Tn. and Ky.) connect with their genetic cousins.  What mtDNA as well as Y-line DNA testing can easily do for us is to confirm, or put to bed forever, rumors of Native American, European, African or Asian ancestry in that direct line.

What About Mutations?

Another really good question.

Y-line DNA testing actually tests either 12, 25, 37, 67 or 111 locations on the Y chromosome, depending on which test you select.  What is actually reported at these locations is the number of exact repeats of that segment of DNA.  Occasionally, either a segment is dropped or one is added.  This is a normal process and typically affects nothing.  However, for genealogy, these changes or mutations are wonderful, as the number of segments in a particular location will typically be the same from generation to generation.  These mutations differentiate us and our families over time.  Without mutations, all of our DNA would look exactly alike and there would be no genetic genealogy.

For mitochondrial DNA, you can test at the entry level, the intermediate “plus” level and at the full sequence level.  If you think of the full sequence level, which tests the entire mitochondria, as a clock face, the entry level test tests from 5 till the hour to “noon” so from 11AM to 12 on the clock face.  The second intermediate level tests from “noon” to 5 after, or 1PM.  The full sequence level tests the entire clock face.  Ultimately, if it’s matches you’re looking for, you’ll want the full sequence test to provide you with the best matches and the ones closest to you in time, plus it provides you with your full haplogroup, or clan, designation.

When a change, called a mutation, does occur at a particular location, it is then passed from father to son (or mother to daughter) and on down that line.  That mutation, called a “line marker mutation” is then forever associated with that line of the family.  If you test different males with the same surname, and they match except for only a couple of minor differences, you can be assured that they do in fact share a common ancestor in a genealogically relevant timeframe.

A father can potentially sire several sons, some with no mutations, and others with different mutations, as shown by the red mutation bar in the following illustration.

accumulated genetic difference

In the above example, John Patrick Kenney had two sons, one with no mutation and Paul Edward Kenney who had one mutation.  All of the male descendents of Paul Edward Kenney have his mutation and a second mutation is added to this line at a new location in the generation above Stan Kenny.

John Patrick Kenney’s son who had no mutations sired a son Joseph Kenney, who had a mutation in yet a different location than either of the mutations in the Paul Edward Kenney line.

In the span of time between 1478 and 2004, this grouping of Kenney/Kenny families has accumulated 4 distinct lines as you can see across the bottom of the diagram, line 3 with no mutations, line 1 with 2 mutations, and two other lines with only one mutation each, but those mutations are not in the same location so they are easily differentiated in descendants testing today.  These are called “line marker” mutations and allow testers to quickly and easily see which line of the Kenny family they descend from.

What Do the Results Look Like?

Y DNA results are reported in the following format at Family Tree DNA where locus means the location number, the DYS# means the name of that marker location, and the number of alleles means the number of repeats of DNA found in that location.  This is a partial screen shot from the Family Tree DNA results page for a participant.

y results

This is interesting, but the power of DNA testing isn’t in what your numbers alone look like, but in how they compare with others of similar surnames.  So, you’re provided with a list of people that you match, along with access to their Gedcom file if they have uploaded one, most distant ancestor information, and most importantly, their e-mail address by clicking on the little envelope right after their name.

y matches

As a DNA Surname Project Administrator of several projects, I combine the groupings of participants into logical groupings based on their DNA patterns and their genealogy. Haplogroup projects are grouped by subgroup and mutations, and surname projects are grouped by matching family group.

The following table is an example from my Estes surname project which has very successfully identified the various sons of the immigrant ancestor, Abraham Estes born in 1647.  Based on his descendent lines’ DNA, we have even successfully reconstructed what Abraham’s DNA looked like, shown in green, through a process called triangulation, so we have a firm basis for comparison, and everyone is compared to Abraham.  Mutations are highlighted in yellow.

I have shown only an example of the full chart below.  Moses through John R’s line does have line marker mutations on markers that are not shown here.  Elisha’s line matches Abraham’s exactly.  We have had 4 descendents test from various sons of Elisha and so far we have found no mutations.

estes gridTo form a baseline within a family, we generally test two individuals from two separate lines of the common ancestor, just in case an undocumented adoption has occurred.  If these two individuals match, except for minor mutations, then we know basically what the DNA of your ancestor looks like and others can then test and compare results against that established line.

If you’re a female and can’t test for y-line markers, you’re not left out.  You’ll need to use traditional genealogy to find male lineal descendants of your ancestor that carry the family name.  Consider offering a scholarship for a descendent of that line to be tested and then advertise on Rootsweb lists and boards, on Yahoo groups, on Facebook and anyplace else that you think would be effective.

Mitochondrial results look slightly different from Y-line, but the match information is in essence the same.

What Else Can We Tell?

The results of your tests not only tell you about your genealogy, they can also tell you about your deep ancestry and identify your deep ancestral clan.

Have you ever wondered where your ancestors came from before contemporary times?  We know that for the most part surnames did not exist before 1066, and in some places did not exist until much later.  The likelihood of us ever knowing where our ancestors were prior to 1066, unless we are extremely lucky, is very remote using conventional genealogical research methods.

However, now with the results of our DNA, we can peer through that keyhole and unlock that door.  Based on the results of our tests, and the relative rarity of the combined numbers, humans are grouped together in clans called haplogroups.  We know who was a member of which clan by both the tests shown above and a different kind of test, called a SNP (pronounced snip) test.

Population geneticists use this type of information to determine how groups of people migrated, and when.  We may well be able to tell if our clan is Celtic, or Viking, African, Native American or related to Genghis Khan, for example.  Based on our clan type, we may be able to tell where our group resided during the last ice age, and then trace their path from there to England or America over hundreds or thousands of years.  While this sounds farfetched, it certainly isn’t and many people are discovering their deep ancestry.  For example, we know that the Estes clan wintered the last ice age in Anatolia, and we know this because that is where other people who have this very rare combination of marker values are found in greater numbers than anyplace else on earth.

How Can I Test My Family?

It’s easy to get started.  For Y-line testing, you only need one male volunteer that carries your surname who is descended from your oldest progenitor by the same surname.  To order a test kit, be sure to join a surname project for the best pricing.  You can check on various surname projects by going to and entering the surname in the search box on the right hand side of the page where it says “Search Your Last Name.”

ftdna header

I searched for Estes and the information returned tells me how many people, both male and female, have tested with that surname, if an Estes project exists, and the link, and any other projects where the administrator has specifically entered the Estes surname.  So join the surname project and be sure to check out any others shown.

projects page

Anyone, males or females can test their mitochondrial DNA.  To test your own mitochondrial DNA, just order a test kit, and then follow the branch on your pedigree chart directly up your maternal line of the tree (your mother, her mother, her mother, etc.) to see whose mitochondrial DNA you carry.

Autosomal, the Third Kind of DNA Testing

In the past two or three years, autosomal DNA testing has really come into its own.  This type of testing does not focus on one line, like the Y-line focuses only on the direct paternal surname line and the mitochondrial focuses only on the direct maternal line.  The Y-line and mtDNA are wonderful tests and provide you with huge amounts of information, but they can’t tell you anything about your other lines…not unless you can find a cousin from that other surname line and beg to have his or her DNA tested.  This process (the testing, not the begging) is called building your DNA pedigree chart.

You can see an example of my DNA pedigree chart below.  Being a female, I obviously can’t test for any Y-lines, so I had to find cousins to test for those lines.  I can test for the direct mitochondrial line, but that still leaves most of the 14 great-great-grandparents with no information at all.  By mining surname projects and begging cousins to test, I have filled in a number of these slots, but certainly not all.

DNA Pedigree

But the time comes that you can’t complete the chart, or you have other genealogy questions to answer, and you’ll need to move to the third type of DNA testing, autosomal.

Autosomal testing provides you with two primary features.

First, autosomal testing provides you with percentages of ethnicity.  This may or may not excite you.  Understand that when you’re looking for that elusive Native American great-great-great-grandmother, that you may or may not carry enough or a large enough piece of her DNA to be identified.  But you’ll never know if you don’t test.


Second, you receive a list of cousin matches.  These are people who match you on your autosomal results.  This means that they are related to you on one line or another.  It’s up to you to figure out which line, but there are tools and techniques to utilize.  You probably won’t recognize the names of most of your matches, and you may or may not recognize a common ancestor.  In some cases, the genealogy isn’t far enough back or there are other challenges in identifying a common ancestor.  However, some huge brick walls have fallen for people and continue to fall daily by using autosomal tools to identify common ancestral families.

ff matches

I wrote a series on “The Autosomal Me” which describes in detail how to utilize your Autosomal results.

Ok, now you’re convinced.  You want to see who you match and meet those new cousins just waiting.

Summary – Who Can Test For What???

Just to be sure we all understand, here’s a handy chart that summarizes who can test for what at Family Tree DNA and what you discover!

who can test

What About The Test…

You may wonder why I recommend Family Tree DNA for testing.  It’s simple.  They are the only DNA testing company that offers the full range of tests and tools needed by genetic genealogists.  They are the oldest company and have the largest data base, in addition to tools that facilitate using multiple types of test results togetherFamily Tree DNA has been wonderful to work with, sponsors free surname, haplogroup, geographic and special interest projects and are infinitely patient and extremely helpful.  They are also a partner to the National Geographic Society and participants from the Genographic project can transfer results into the Family Tree DNA database for free.

Testing is done at Family Tree DNA using a cheek swab that looks like a Q-tip.

swab kit

A test kit is shown above.  Just swab the inside of your cheek, put the swab back in the vial and mail back to the lab.  It’s that easy.

To see someone collecting a sample from receiving the envelope in the mail to mailing it off again, click here

Receiving your Results

After you receive your Y-line or mitochondrial results at Family Tree DNA on your personal page, please consider our Y-Line or Mitochondrial DNA Personal DNA Reports.   Family Tree DNA customers who have minimally tested at 37 markers for the Y-line or the mtDNAPlus for mitochondrial can also order their reports directly through Family Tree DNA on their personal page.

What you discover from your own DNA will be priceless – and there is no other way to make these discoveries other than DNA testing.  Your DNA results are notes in bottles that have sailed over time from your ancestor to you.  Begin your adventure today, open that bottle and see what secrets your ancestors sent!

Be sure to sign up for the blog to keep current with genetic genealogy.  There is great introductory and educational material there as well, and it’s free.

Happy ancestor hunting!!!

Graphics courtesy of Roberta, Family Tree DNA, and the ISOGG wiki at

Copyright 2002-2013, DNAeXplain, all rights reserved.

Mythbusting – Women, Fathers and DNA

I’m sometimes amazed at what people believe – and not just a few people – but a lot of people.

Recently, I ran across a situation where someone was just adamant that autosomal DNA could not help a female find or identify her father.  That’s simply wrong. Incorrect.  Nada!  This isn’t, I repeat, IS NOT, true of autosomal testing.

Right here, on Family Tree DNA’s main page, it says as much.

mythbusting ftdna

Here is the product description for their Family Finder autosomal test:

“Family Finder uses autosomal DNA (inherited from both the mother and father, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, etc.) to provide you a breakdown of your ethnic percentages and connect you with relatives descended from any of your ancestral lines within approximately the last 5 generations.”

Now the genetic genealogists among us will know right away where this myth that women can’t find their father using DNA came from.  Indeed, it’s a true statement when you’re talking about Y-line DNA.  Women don’t have a Y chromosome because it is passed only from father to son.  The mitochondrial DNA that she does carry is from her mother’s maternal side, so before autosomal testing, there was no ready tool for women to identify or find missing fathers.  For a long time, before autosomal testing, it was said as a general statement that women could not test for their father’s DNA.  That statement was true in that context at that time.  Not anymore.

The Times, They are A’Changin’

Today, however, there are 4 different DNA tests/tools for DNA testing, all with different purposes and that can be used in different ways, often in tandem.

Where the Y-line test tests just the Y chromosome, the paternal line, and the mitochondrial DNA tests only the direct maternal line, autosomal testing tests your DNA contributed from all of your ancestors, males and females alike.

You can see in the chart below that the son and daughter carry some of every color of the DNA of their great-grandparents.  The daughter carries the blue of her great-grandfather’s autosomal and the yellow of his wife’s autosomal, but not the short blue Y chromosome of her father.  Only the son has that.

mythbusting autosomal chart

Therefore, you can indeed utilize the information to find missing fathers, for women and men alike, in exactly the same way.  The only difference is that men can take the additional Y-line test that women can’t take.

By way of example, let’s look at some of my results at Family Tree DNA.

I have a total of 333 autosomal (Family Finder) matches.  My mother has a total of 180 matches and we have a total of 66 common matches.  That means that I also have 267 matches from my father’s side.

So let’s say I’m adopted and I’m not really sure which side is which.

I would then begin to construct family trees based on my matches suggested relationship and their common ancestors.

mythbusting vannoy matches

On the chart above, my Vannoy cousins are shown, all with matches to me, and all from my father’s side of the tree.  Family Tree DNA’s estimates are very accurate, within one generation, and all are within the range they provide.  Their ranges and estimates are more accurate the closer in time they are to you.

If these people are my second cousins, we share common great-grandparents.  Third cousins, common great-great grandparents.  You’ve just gone from “unknown” to within 3 or 4 generations in one fell swoop.  Wow!

If you find a group of people with the same surname or the same ancestral surname, like I did on my Vannoy line, then you can, based on their estimated relationship to you, begin building a combined pedigree chart.  All three of these men have uploaded their GEDCOM file, so you can easily see their common ancestor.  Their common ancestor is also your common ancestor.  You can then narrow the list of possible links from them to you.  Once you identify their common ancestor, then continue to work down the tree to current to find someone in the right location at the right time.

On the chart below, which is my DNA pedigree chart, you can see how close the common ancestor of these matches really is to me.  We’re only 3 generations from my father.  This common couple, Joel Vannoy (1813-1895) and Phoebe Crumley (1818-1900) had 7 children, both male and female.  My father descended from one of those 7.  Now I’m only two generations from my father.  Going from “father unknown” to only two generations away is extremely powerful.  This is exactly why these tools hold so much promise for adoptees and others who are searching for their parentage.

mythbusting common ancestor

In the meantime, you may get lucky and click to open your personal page one day to find a very close, sibling, aunt/uncle or first cousin match.  Yes indeed, that can do a world of good to narrow the possible choices of parents.  That’s also why I always suggest to people seeking unknown parents that they swim in all of the autosomal pools, Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and Ancestry.  You just never know where that answer or critically important hint is going to come from.

I hope you are now a believer and any confusion has been removed.  Women cannot take a Y chromosome test to find their father, but that has nothing to do with autosomal DNA tests.  Women can, and indeed do find their missing fathers using autosomal DNA.


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Smith and Jones

I just love a good mystery – don’t you?  To be good, it has to have some romance of course, a villain, an interesting plot with a twist, a couple red herrings and an unexpected outcome.  Personally, I like happy endings too – I just don’t want them to be too predictable.

Well, welcome to the Smith and Jones mystery.  And no, those names have not been changed to protect anybody.  They are quite real.

When I receive an order for a Personalized DNA Report, I send the client a short questionnaire to complete.  They have the opportunity to tell me why they tested their DNA, their goals, ask any specific questions, and to provide their genealogy so I have something to work with.  In addition, I customize the cover of their report with their family photos if they so desire.

When Mr. Jones returned his questionnaire, in answer to the questions about why he tested, he gave this response:

“My paternal grandfather was the son of an unwed mother.  So my paternal line doesn’t go back very far.  I really hope the DNA can help me find out who my paternal ancestors were.  So far, the indicators are they are Smiths from Bladen County, North Carolina.”

I cringed when I saw this.  Here’s a Jones who thinks he’s a Smith.  How am I ever going to straighten this out with these extremely common surnames?

In the genealogy section, he gave me a little more information.

His paternal grandfather, William Hobson Jones, below, was born in 1902 in Bladenboro, NC to unwed mother Emma Elizabeth Jones.

Those are all the facts I had to work with, other than his DNA results themselves, of course.

To begin, I checked the haplogroup hoping for something exotic that will serve as a differentiator.  R1b1a2-U106 – so no luck there.  However, when I prepared his marker frequency chart, he did have 3 very rare marker values.  Great.  Now we are getting someplace.

I divide marker values into three categories.  Very rare marker values occur in 6% or less of the haplogroup population, rare markers in less than 25%, and the balance are just unremarkable.  It’s the rare and very rare markers that give me something to work with, because they form a very specific genetic family surname “fingerprint.”  In this case, Mr. Jones’ marker 458 carried a value of 15 which occurs in 2% of the haplogroup R1b population, 576 with a value of 16 which occurs 6% of the time and 444 with 14 that occurs only 1% of the time.  These are the litmus paper tests of a real match.  In addition to these very rare marker values, he had 9 additional rare markers that can be used to refine the match criteria.  We’re in good shape for matching.

Mr. Jones had tested at 67 markers, but he had no matches at that level.  However, at 37 markers, he had 3 matches, and they were all to Smith men, none of whom had tested at 67 markers.  Now there’s a good indicator that he was right, that his genetic line is indeed Smith.  His exact match listed his oldest ancestor as being from Germany, but gave no name.  His one mutation match showed his oldest ancestor as Jeremiah Smith born 1795 NC and his 2 mutation match showed no information at all.  None of these matches had uploaded GEDCOM files.  Disappointing. With more information, this would have been much easier, but it wouldn’t be a good mystery without some glitches!

At 25 markers, he only had 7 matches, but at 12 markers, he had a whopping 536.  Obviously his first panel was too vanilla to be very useful, but of course, I did check for additional Smith men.  None to be found.  Just the 3, but those 3 are all very solid.

Sometimes, at this point, projects are a saving grace.  Project administrators are amazing people and put forth a lot of work, sort families, collect genealogies, etc.  The Smith DNA project does not have a public website at Family Tree DNA, but they do have a private site.’231289

At their site, I found a group of Smiths who match Mr. Jones, descended from one Moses Jones of Bladen County.  Huh?  This stopped me in my tracks for a minute, until I realized that this is my client’s kit number, and the Jones family, meaning Emma’s father’s line, indeed, does go back to a Moses Jones.  This would be irrelevant were it not incorrect, because Moses Jones’ male Y-line does not match the Smiths.  The only Jones line that matches a Smith is the one descended from his daughter Emma who had a child outside of wedlock, apparently by a Smith.

By this time, I was chomping at the bit to work with the genealogy records.  William Hobson Jones was born in 1902, so I was hopeful I could find his mother, Emma Jones, in the 1900 census.  The first rule in begetting is that the begetters must have physical proximity to each other – and the traveling salesman is the exception, not the rule.

Sure enough, in the 1900 census, there was Emma, right with her parents Nathan and Elizabeth Jones.  Emma was much older than I had expected, age 36.  She would have been considered a spinster in that time and place, and was probably considered a burden to her family.  Having a child would not have improved that situation any.

However, we have hit the proverbial jackpot here.  Take a closer look… the next door neighbor.

Claudius Smith is the neighbor….but wait….with his wife Glenora Smith.  Ok, let’s see if any of their sons are old enough to be the father of Emma’s child.  Nope, the oldest son is only 13, but Claudius himself is 38, just 2 years older than Emma.  Hmmm…..looks like maybe Claudius is the father, or at least he’s our best candidate right now.  Now Claudius might not be the father, but I’d wager that it is someone in his family, like a brother or uncle perhaps, if it is not him.  This Smith family is the best candidate due to the old begetters proximity rule.

This also might explain why Emma didn’t marry the father.  I wonder if she ever told anyone the identity of the father.  The family today certainly didn’t know.

Simple morbid curiosity got the best of me at this point.  I just had to look in the 1910 census to see if Claudius Smith and the Jones family were still neighbors. Was there a feud?  Did someone move?  Imagine my surprise to see Claudius married to Emma who had borne 4 children by this point.  What happened to Glenora?  And why did my client not tell me about this?  Surely he must have known.  Looking closer, this Emma is all of age 28 and her oldest child is 4….and flipping the census page, Emma Jones, along with her son Willie, age 6, indeed are still living next door, now in her brother’s household.  It seems that perhaps Claudius liked woman named Emma.  Maybe he was a widower when Emma Jones became pregnant.

I wondered if I could connect Claudius Smith with the Jeremiah Smith born in 1795 in NC shown as the oldest ancestor of one of Mr. Jones’ Smith matches.  I checked various sources, and Ancestry had a tree that pushed this particular Smith family back another generation, but not to Jeremiah.  This could probably be done, but not with the time alloted for genealogy in a DNA report.  I needed to look for other tools.

Chess Smith is shown as Claudius’s father and Elizabeth Ann Blackburn as his mother.  And yes, I’m fully aware that online trees should not be taken at face value, but they are good starting points and cannot be presumed to be incorrect either, especially if they confirm a suspected fact.  In this case, that didn’t happen – no Jeremiah.

Fortunately, Mr. Jones had also taken a Family Finder test.  He of course had Smith matches.  Who doesn’t?  But he also had three Blackburn matches.  The addition of this single female line surname gave me something concrete to look for.  I suggested that Mr. Jones contact his Blackburn autosomal matches to see if they can connect to the Chess Smith line.

So, at the end of the day that began with some level of apprehension that I might not be able to help Mr. Jones identify his genetic paternal line, we had a great research plan in hand.

We had discovered that the neighbor’s name was Smith, and he was married with 11 children in 1900, which might just explain why Emma never married the father of her child.  Of course, there might be other reasons too, like the father wasn’t Claudius, but another Smith relative.  It looks very promising, using autosomal tools to find Chess Smith’s wife’s surname, Blackburn, that this is indeed the correct Smith family.

Mr. Jones has some genealogy homework to do on the Chess Smith line, and some contact homework to do with his Blackburn matches, but now he does indeed have the information along with the tools he needs to solve the Jones-Smith mystery and break down that brick wall!

And thank you, Mr. Jones for permission to share your exciting family story!

Surprise Y Matches – What do they Mean?

One of our blog followers, Tom, encountered the following situation, which, really isn’t so uncommon.

“I started up a Y-DNA surname project and recruited my only three living male 1st cousins who carry that name.

The first set of 67 results have recently been posted and within a day an exact match appeared with an individual who had only tested to 37 markers back in 2008.  Apparently the individual has had very few close matches and never a perfect match like my cousin’s.  But the individual has a different surname.

Is it possible to have an identical match as a random event?  How common are such occurrences?  What possible explanations could there be?”

Let’s look at Tom’s situation from different perspectives and see what we can find.

When I do DNA Reports for people, I still find people who don’t have any matches.  It’s not as unusual as people think.  In a way, it’s a blessing as compared to people who have so many matches that they can’t even begin to sort through them.  But to the person who doesn’t have any matches, it surely doesn’t seem like there’s a positive side to the situation.

First of all, remember that mutations can happen at any time in any generation….or not.  In the Estes line, Abraham Estes, one of two Estes immigrants to colonial America was born in 1647.  He had 8 sons.  We had DNA from the descendants of all 8 sons.  We reconstructed Abraham’s DNA using triangulation, so we know what his original genetic “signature” looked like.  One of those sons’ lines has 4 mutations in 8 generations, and one line has none.  The rest fall in the middle someplace. 

I only mention this to illustrate that mutations are truly random events.  We use statistics to look at the “most likely” scenario, based on averages, but mutations are personal events and while they, as a whole, fall nicely into statistical models, individually, they happen when they happen.  You can see that the mutation rate can vary quite a bit, even within families.  Keep that in mind during the rest of this discussion.

Family Tree DNA gives us some tools to work with these kinds of situations.  The TIP calculator, available for every match by clicking on the little orange TIP button, tells us, statistically, how likely people are to match at which generational level.  This is called the time to the most recent common ancestor, or MRCA.  I did an earlier blog about this.  

Comparing two exact 37 marker matches, below, we see that, statistically speaking, on the average, these two people are most likely to share a common ancestor about the second generation, meaning grandparents.  Again, word of caution, these are averages, which is why you have a range shown here.  DO NOT TAKE THEM LITERALLY.  I can’t tell you how many people obsess over these numbers and think that these numbers are telling them exactly when they share a common ancestor.  They don’t.

So let’s answer the questions that Tom asked.

Is it possible to have an identical match as a random event? 

No, it’s not.  These men share a common ancestor at some point.  The question is, when and where.  However, it is possible to match on many markers, and then not on others.  I would suggest that these men upgrade to 111 markers and see how closely they match at that level.  I have seen at least one instance where 2 men matched at 37 and then had 5 or 6 mutations at the 67/111 marker level.  Unusual?  Yes.  Impossible?  No. 

How common are such occurrences?

This isn’t as unusual as you would think.  I see this fairly often.  I always tell people to do four things. 

First, upgrade the people you have to 111 markers.  If they continue to match at 111 markers, exactly, you probably have a very close match genealogically.

Second, find a second person to test from each line, as far back as possible.  In other words, if you’re testing the Abraham Estes line, you would want to find another son from Abraham to test to see if the DNA of the two sons match.  If they do match, then you know you have the lines proven back to 1647.  If not, then you know you have a non-paternal event (NPE) of some type, otherwise known as an undocumented adoption.  I call them undocumented adoptions because everyone knows what that means, and regardless of how it happened, it’s “undocumented” because we didn’t know about it.  In Tom’s case, he already has his 3 cousins, so his line is proven back to the common ancestor of those men.  Hopefully the person with the other surname can also find someone else from his line to test.

Third, enter the results into Sorenson at and also into for Y-line results to see if you come up with any other people who also match with that surname.  This is especially useful if you are having difficulty finding people to test. 

Fourth, look around the neighborhood – genealogically.  Are there reports of the two families in question being allied or intermarried in some location?  Were they neighbors in the same county?  In many cases, once you figure out that an undocumented adoption occurred – you can figure out in which generation through selective DNA testing, and often, which families were involved through DNA combined with historical and genealogical records.

In essence, to solve this type of puzzle, you need to become somewhat of a genealogical detective.

Tom’s last question was what kinds of situations could explain these results.

In some cases, especially where there are some mutations involved (meaning not exact matches), suggesting some time distance between common ancestors, matches between surnames occur because the families involved simply adopted different surnames.  When surnames were adopted varies dramatically by the location of the families and the circumstances involved.  For example, in the US, some Native American families were still using Native names in the 1880s.  Freed slaves adopted surnames upon obtaining their freedom in the late 1860s and early 1870s, and sometimes changed that surname at will.  In the Netherlands, some families didn’t take names until in 1811 when Napoleon mandated that they do so.  In England, some wealthy families had surnames by 1066, but peasants didn’t adopt surnames, for the most part, until in the 1200s and 1300s.  Jewish families in some parts of Europe didn’t adopt surnames until in the early 1800s.

Sometimes surname changes that look to us like undocumented adoptions occurred not at birth, but later in life.  Some people simply changed their names for a variety of reasons.

In one case, a man named John though he killed a man in Tennessee, ran off to the frontier which was at that time in Texas and changed his name, only to discover years later that not only had the man he shot not died, but that man had then married John’s wife he abandoned when he left.  Hmmm….karma at work.

One of the most common reasons for ‘undocumented adoptions’ is that a step-father raised the children and the kids simply used his name….forever.  So maybe John’s kids, above, took the surname of the man John shot.  Now this is getting interesting!!!  No wonder we have trouble figuring these things out retrospectively.

Another reason, of course, is that illegitimate children took the mother’s surname, but carry the father’s DNA signature.  In Native American cultures, matrilineal naming was very common, as is it in the African American culture, especially immediately after the end of slavery.  Children took whatever surname their mother adopted at that time. 

Of course, the one thing we haven’t mentioned is the obvious….where someone was unfaithful.  Generally, that’s the first thing people think of…but it’s really not the most common reason.  But sometimes, indeed, it appears that Granny might have been a “loose woman.”  Don’t judge Granny too hardly though, because you really never know what happened in Granny’s life.  She could have had no choice in the matter, or her husband could have been abusive. We often see these conceptions during periods of war, especially the Civil War.  In one case, we know that a woman exchanged sexual favors for food for her children.  It’s really hard to be critical of that woman.

So the real answer for Tom is that there is no cut and dried answer, but lots of possibilities to explore.  You’re going to have to get out your Columbo tools and sleuth away….