Stirring up excitement for DNA testing, and especially for going beyond the usual autosomal DNA (at-DNA only gives the overview of the last few hundred years), has been my love and my livelihood. People might not know many people or places in their ancestries, but they can learn much from their haplogroups, which can be found with other DNA tests from a limited number of companies. Family Tree DNA offers full service with all the bells and whistles for DNA testing. Both 23andme and LivingDNA do tell you presumed haplogroup,s but without the values of the added markers. And for this story we are talking about y-DNA and using y-DNA to confirm families, and for that you do need all of those features at ftDNA.
I always urge people to get their haplogroups and I write about what some of them might mean. When you get these DNA results, you can learn about the migrations of your haplogroup since people first left Africa. No matter what, you will receive a wealth of knowledge about your personal anthropology.
Before I talk about the wonders of identifying family groups in the surname projects, I need to remind everyone that surnames kept changing, and some have only been around for a fairly short time. All the STRs in the y-DNA databases might not be enough to give you the answers you are looking for; you might need to test small and test multiple people of the same surname or who had ancestors in the same locations at the same times.
This is how the surname projects came to be, and have been used, for going on 20 years. Put simply, a bunch of males who carry the same surname and have ancestors in one place can compare y-DNA and sort themselves into family groups, knowing which ones descend from which ancestor.
Remember the y-DNA can trace only one of your many ancestral lines. But it is the y-DNA of the father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s father, so it follows the same line as the surname you were born with.
Once you get your haplogroups from the y-DNA of many of your ancestral families, you can confirm your relationships with the test-takers by comparing autosomal DNA with multiple family members.
For example: Mr. Lewis takes a test and he matches a family group. He knows where to start looking for a link to that branch of the family, based on the traditional, on-paper research of his new y-DNA relatives.
When there is a non-paternity event (aka misattributed parentage) in any of your lines, you just might be able to identify the correct father or mother. This is easier if it happened in recent years but you can go several generations and sometimes hundreds of years – depending.
DNA has changed genealogy forever. We now know we must confirm every line, every person, all over again using DNA. All things considered – it is easy!
But for confirming lines and joining projects for surnames and geographical places? The y-DNA is magic! Men are buying tests – beginning from 12 STR markers to hundreds. For some, yes, 37 markers is about the minimum – OOPS – maybe 37 will do nothing because it might turn out you have a prolific haplogroup.
Here is where I diverge from some: I say start small, today. Do not wait; get yourself multiple kits for every male 2nd cousin you have, and for your father and both grandfathers if they are still with us.
(And of course, while you are at it, you would also want their autosomal DNA. And the at-DNA and mt-DNA for the women.)
When you test a male with 12 markers, you will learn so much from this initial test. (And if you want to upgrade with more markers, you can wait for a sale.)
From the 12 marker y-DNA test, you will get a presumed haplogroup and basic information. You will get lots of matches at 12 markers and yes, your common ancestor with many of them will be many — maybe hundreds or even thousands — of years ago. But some of them can do a lot to help identify your surname family.
These days, a 12 marker y-DNA test is frowned on by most folks, who say it’s too small to tell you anything. Well, if your goal is to expand DNA science for posterity, go for the biggest, most expensive test. But if you just want to confirm or eliminate a family group, you can often do that with just 12 markers.
There are also times when even the biggest test still gives a person nothing for their research. When you start with 12 markers, you can add what are called SNP packs — or even test for just one SNP — to confirm a match with a likely relative.
So you test 12 markers. You have your paper tracing back to Papa Patriarch, born 1700. You match at 12 markers with another male descendant of Papa Patriarch who has already tested his SNPs. You look for his most recent SNP, the one they say is furthest “downstream” (you will learn this lingo – really fast – hang in there). You then can order a test for just this SNP, and if you match you confirm your relationship.
I have to be real: This will not always work. But I caution about the bigger tests with more STRs, especially if you belong to one of the prolific haplogroups. The 12 markers might not do squat. BUT 111 markers or 500 or 700 might not do squat either. The larger tests are great for science and the future – and the project administrators’ research – but often a man does not need more STR markers. What he needs are more SNPs and more test takers! This leads us back to good ole gumshoe detective research to see if a target family can be found in proximity to your family. Then find a male descendant of that family to test. Again – begin with a 12-marker STR test and go from there.
Time and again I see people who are disappointed with their results so they add more STR markers and then add still more. But they really needed to buy more 12- marker test kits and test more people to identify family groups. Sometimes you might need to get more family members to test autosomal; that way you can verify the family lines, generation by generation, and identify patriarchs and matriarchs through family groups.
If you do not match anyone, there are steps you can take with DNA to find each family line. There is a different strategy for every problem. We will work through some problems, each in its own blog. Possible solutions to some of the problems are explained in blogs from previous years – check the contents list or ask for anything you need.
For more than 15 years now, Family Tree DNA has supported projects enabling folks who share y-DNA to get together. Also, over the years, databases that we hope will one day return.
When you have a Lewis family line, and you have a male confirmed Lewis cousin who can test his y-DNA, you can see which Lewis family line, if any, that his y-DNA matches. Also test the cousin’s autosomal DNA; that will verify his relationship to you.
Many of the surname projects have multiple families with multiple members. Even in the matched-family groups, often you will find participants who descend from multiple sons of a patriarch. So you want to confirm a family line with a DNA signature: That is, a haplogroup with a terminal SNP; not just lots of STR markers but a SNP (and yes, there is more semi-scientific language that has to be learned by us all). You will find in my links where the best and the brightest of DNA folks explain the science for novices; this blog is for practical use and for sharing techniques that have helped us do DNA for genealogy.
We have used surname projects to identify and categorize countless families with countless surnames. If your surname is not there, you can just start a new surname project. And you can join geographical projects and others.
One in 10 with mistaken ancestry for father
Alex Shoumatoff is an exciting writer who has brought the world to us in so many ways with his Dispatches From The Vanishing World and other publications. You can read his page and follow him on Facebook.
The above excerpt is from his story, The Mountain Of Names.
Join all the projects and don’t forget the Facebook Groups. Some of them have magnificent information about the haplogroup they study. And there are groups for autosomal and for y-DNA and mt-DNA.
You want to find your exact groups – so what is your, are your Haplogroup(s)?
There are groups for G2a for I2b or R1b – actually many R1b groups and subgroups. R1a and others. My mt-DNA was so rare that we started a group and we use the Facebook groups to organize private small family research and sharing groups.
This fun video about early life in NE Germany adds to the family history stories – We all have many many ancestors what ever continent they lived on.
The groups share amazing videos and links to every kind of study there is.