y-DNA. What is it? Who has heard of it? All the excitement about admixture aka ethnicity in at-DNA testing and matching trees took some of the focus away from the original DNA-for-genealogy testing and my own favorite test: — y-DNA.
What is your y-DNA, if you are a man? (Only men carry y-DNA.) Is it your father’s y-DNA? Your mother’s father’s y-DNA? And what is your haplogroup? (These are the oldest genetic families that have passed an ancient gene through centuries and millenia; we all belong to one of them.)
There are three main tests for DNA for genealogy. The at-DNA, or autosomal DNA test, is the most popular and all the major companies that provide DNA testing have this test in some form. AncestryDNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage, LivingDNA, others and the company that I am talking about today: Family Tree DNA. (Their autosomal test is called the ‘Family Finder’.) There is also the mt-DNA test, for maternal DNA. 23andme and LivingDNA tell you a presumed haplogroup when you test, but don’t not give the specifics. AncestryDNA and MyHeritage don’t offer it at all; they only test for at-DNA. Family Tree DNA has the mt-DNA testing and gives the specifics. But I always remind people to test with caution if you are looking for genealogy information, this test cannot answer as many questions as the other tests can and often do. Then there is y-DNA, which you can only get from Family Tree DNA. They give you very specific results and you can join projects with other people who share your family name or your direct paternal lineage from far back in time. Then you can begin the journey of what was the true first test of DNA for genealogy.
I am a girl and have no brothers and I wanted the DNA of my late father, Sam, Samuel Harry Knight. Sam had no brothers, my paternal grandfather had no brothers, but my paternal great grandfather James Jim Knight had a known paternal half brother. That half brother had male sons and one son had a son and that led to his son my 2nd cousin, once removed Don Knight. This this distance of relationships, one should verify that the two people are in fact related and in this situation the autosomal test is perfect. Don and I both tested our autosomal and this test shows we are cousins, and so I can be certain that the y-DNA that Don carries would be the same y-DNA that my father had because the two men descend from a shared paternal ancestor, Stephen Samuel Knight.
Dai’s, my husband’s, y-DNA ancestry is from Wales. With few written records before 1800 and with the custom of no surnames late in time his paternal line ancestry comes to an abrupt halt (his earliest that we found was recorded as “John, son of John”). And worse, my husband’s y-DNA is relatively rare. For nine years he only had matches from 1,000s of years ago, or at least many 100s of years ago with nothing tracible.
But what we do have is the story of his y-DNA and how it fits in the ancestry of all y-DNA.
No man has to become a rocket scientist or geneticist to learn all about their y-DNA thanks to people who have been testing and enjoying y-DNA since the first DTC, direct to consumer, tests hit the market, and there are websites easily and freely available to help make every person an expert in their own genetic ancestry.
y-DNA helps to identify biological families and to group families to help to confirm ancestral lines. y-DNA will help to learn about the migration of modern humans across the entire earth through time.
I have a few favorite websites that were created and are maintained by folks who make DNA come alive, be part of life, be part of your life. But you have to test first and learn your y-DNA.
It is recommended to get 37 markers of y-DNA STRs tested. After that, once you learn your haplogroup you will want to get your terminal SNP (pronounced snip) if you can. But you can’t order a SNP pack until you know your haplogroup. Sometimes you might not even need to order more, maybe you will match a person from a family that is near in time, your family, and they might have added SNP testing you can learn from (You will see there are many different numbers of markers to get. Most people will never need or want to add large numbers of STRs. But it is good to know that as a general rule the first 12 markers are very old and then they progressively reach into the future toward today).
For every stage of learning about y-DNA there will be free pages of explanations to find so no one has to see these letter number names and think they need lots of research work to know about them.
Mascimo Hay and the site Eupedia – this site will tell you so much about most of the root haplogroups. What there is known about them for when they lived and where they lived. All is being updated on all sites all the time. So in the example of the G2a haplogroup I show above on the tree. Use the search slot and google to find their page for your personal haplogroup.
Wikipedia keeps a great and updated site. They have many great volunteers who are keeping the sites updated and monitored for accuracy. Here Wikipedia’s page is the root Haplogroup G and you can read down the page that the father G had son G2 and son G2 had son G2a and so on.
Blaine Bettinger – Blaine’s pages are magic – there are several sites and projects and you can follow him through your DNA journey with utter confidence. He has lessons and info like my pages, but he has so much more information and so many more lessons than I have been able to write.
And of course from me Cherie Lynns Herstory – I have many stories about y-DNA but this one is a bit the same questions to answer in the page. When you test a man for their DNA you need to be careful you are testing the right man with the right DNA.
Another blog of my own is about the work of the late Jean Manco. Her pages were saved on archive.org. Everyday I think about her work, which is often, I say a hope that we will keep those pages for posterity. My blog here tells you about how to navigate the pages to search for your genetic ancestors in the database she created of ancient peoples whose DNA has been sequenced. We have begun planning vacations (pre-pandemic of course) around where we know our own personal ancients lived in the past.
There is also the wonderful site Haplogroup.org
I love haplogroup.org to make my DNA trees, to check and update the accuracy of the ancestry. From any page you will go back in time or forward. So once you have your results you can search for your haplogroup on this website, and then learn abut each mutation haplogroup (man) back in time and forward in time.