Question of the Week: Has Y-chromosome DNA testing helped you with surname research?

+32 votes

Note that if you're researching a surname using Y-DNA, there are a couple of features here at WikiTree that can be very valuable:

If using DNA for genealogy is new to you, check out the Getting Started with DNA on WikiTree tutorial.

asked Nov 2, 2017 in The Tree House by Julie Ricketts G2G6 Pilot (227,510 points)
reshown Nov 3, 2017 by Julie Ricketts
Another point, Allen. Did you take the Big-Y yourself? Then your Haplo Group should be much better defined than R1b-M269. What did FTdna tell you about your subclade?   Also, I reread your Nov 7 comment about  the large group of namesakes "back home" and that you have a "few male suspects" willing to test there. If you can spare the cash to give yourself a Xmas present, invite all of them to take the FTdna 37 marker test. It's on sale now!!. If one of them comes back zero genetic difference with you, go for the Big-Y update (111 marker results are  included free), again if/when funds allow.

Thanks for your patience Gus and yes, Y-search is me, (Upritchard-7), email reunion(at) I wish a few Uprichard group males in the Ulster Counties of Armagh and Down would also get hooked !. The 'suspects' unfortunately are all in NZ.

What set me off was the Griffiths Valuation of Ireland published in1862 (see Google). It lists 34 Uprichard group families, all of whom are in an ellipse around 8m/13k long with the towns of Moira and Gilford at the ends and Lurgan top west. An even smaller ellipse within, about 1.5k long with Bleary on the West edge, has 16 . I have tabulated and mapped all 34 (See my first contribution, now way above). Allowance should probably be made for a 10-20% increase for families living in the same dwelling. There are certainly lots of Uprichard group hits on Google but pre about 1850 can be difficult to link to a specific family. Post 1850 (G or GG grandparent distance) you need to be local to be able to find interested people. Facebook and Linkedin bait gave zero response.

I argue that common sense indicates, because of their close proximity in the mid 1800's, that all these people come from one or very few common ancestors around the early 1600's; possibly people transplanted under King James-1. Further back and we end up in Wales. Hence my BIG TRIANGLE project.

My theory, which you support, is that I need quite a few Y-37 matches to form the base of the triangle. My problem is that points along the base of the triangle are separated by genetic distance or "cousin-distance". Y-37 will not give this and I need an expert (you) to tell me if Y-111 will.

Spending a lot on Y-111 and Big-Y has merit, but for this project, only if more 'cousins' test; only if these advanced (and expensive) tests can identify cousin distance; and only if at least one more will also do advanced testing.


My brother and I have dna testing and loaded onto WikiTree with ged match done as well - we don’tknow The first thing about how to make it work for us.  Help would be great!
Late to the party here. Alan, if you post your interest as a new G2G Question, it will get more attention. Right now it's buried way down here in a thread run off topic, and I wouldn't have noticed it save for Barbara's new post.

Barbara, so we drive things further off-topic, I'll send you a PM with a couple of pearls of genetic genealogy wisdom that will be worth every penny you paid for them. :-)  But I'll at least include some links to a few good articles.
Thanks Edison. I'm not keen on a new question as interesting points in the above comments will be 'lost'. However I do agree the thread has gone well off topic in places. Since I am better informed on what I want to know, I will post a new question along the lines of 'will y-37 or y-111 indicate cousin distance ?'.

Alan: I'm not the message board police  :-)  but my point was that deep topic-drift dives down tangential rabbit holes do a disservice to the original post, and render any resultant information unlikely to be found in the future for those who might have a similar interest.

You're asking some rather basic questions about the application of yDNA to genealogy. That's a conversation that might be of interest to others.

Will y-37 or y-111 indicate cousin distance?

In a word, no. Y-STR and Y-SNP testing doesn't work that way. The relationship inferences for non-recombinant DNA like mitochondrial and Y-chromosomal DNA don't--and can't--be interpreted similarly to those for autosomal DNA. Apples and oranges. No predictive assumptions can come from yDNA about 5th cousins versus 6th cousins because the Y-chromosome doesn't recombine. STR and SNP values change only by mutation, not recombination.

One place to do some informational exploring is the Family Tree DNA Learning Center (scroll down to the section on "Y-DNA Testing." A quick Google search will give you some good study material, including a link to a 2015 nearly two-hour FTDNA webinar on YouTube titled, "Y-DNA Markers, Matching & Genealogy."

Edison - I have posted a new question as you suggested. Would you be so kind as to copy your response above across to it, as it contains very useful comment for viewers. STiR the SNiP, so to speak.

A "quick" Google search on this subject !. Unlikely if you are wandering round in the dark like me and don't really know what the question is in the first place.

Sorry, Alan. Didn't know you'd posted a new question. I had to go hunting for it. But I did offer, few words in answer. :-)

Yes, I have been able to identify more than 10 Lane men who descend from  Thomas Lane (1634-1709) with wife Elizabeth Shepherd.  At this point, there are descendants from both of his sons: Thomas (1662-1734) and Joseph (1665-1730).  If you think your Lanes are part of this family, have your male Lane do Y-chromosome.

Thanks for your attention.
YDNA was incredibly helpful to me in researching my Harris family.  Other family members had identified a certain Harris individual as an ancestor and I had serious doubts, since there were no first source records.  Then a quite distant cousin who had done YDNA testing reached out to me, having seen one of my WikiTree profiles, and I started learning. There were four men who had tested and one of them had great documentation from my known ancestor, to his father.  However, that individual was the result of an NPE, so my uncle also tested and now we had five men matching and identified as a separate group from 63 other Harris families in the US as identified in the Harris Research Project in FTDNA.  It let me start the (very) hard work of identifying my line of Harris ancestors from the starting point of knowing that all those other families were NOT related to me.  That was incredibly invaluable information.

125 Answers

+19 votes
After my 2nd great grandfather Thomas Goodman was killed in 1906, several papers reported his last name was Goodwin and that he came from a well-known Goodwin family in the area. Indeed his father did list his last name as Goodwin on his first marriage certificate, but all my research showed that they were descendants of an Arthur Goodman who settled in the Hart County, Kentucky area by 1813 from Virginia . My Y-DNA test confirmed that we are in fact Goodmans and most likely descendants of Benjamin Goodman who arrived in Maryland in the late 1600s and died in Virginia in 1735. Our Arthur Goodman's exact lineage to Benjamin is unclear, and all of my closest Y-DNA matches also hit brick walls in the late 1700s/early 1800s. So the Y-DNA test helped link my Goodman family to our first colonial American ancestor but so far has not been useful in establishing our lineage from Benjamin to my 5th great grandfather Arthur.
answered Nov 4, 2017 by Jacob Goodman G2G2 (2,240 points)
As told to my father by a local Goodman......."Mr Carey, in the old days everyone was named Goodman, but to keep the name, you had to "live up" to the name.   Pretty soon a Goodman got caught for horse stealing and he changed his name to Smith.   Another Goodman ran off with another man's wife and he changed his name to Swain.   Mr Carey, there's only a few of us remaining."
+14 votes
My surname is Thomson and I have contact with a relative with whom I share DNA with our common ancestor being a Thomson born 1739.

Most of my Y-DNA matches have the surname Williamson.

This supports my Norse Viking Y-DNA as the surnames on the Orkney and Shetland Islands were not fixed until around 1830.
answered Nov 4, 2017 by Colin Thomson G2G Crew (620 points)
My mothers surname - Tulloch - is widespread on Orkney and dates back to the 1300s. My understanding is that Norse origin surnames became regularly handed down in Orkney from the 1600s.
+17 votes
When I considered joining WikiTree, I noticed that there was another Lavoie family on the site that had already done Y chromosome testing.  Comparing trees, I noted that we only shared in common the Québécois pioneer ancestor René de la Voye (1628-1696).  My lineage runs through his first son René, while their lineage runs through the second son, Jean François.

This meant that testing could establish paternity going back about 10 generations on each side.  I received my results back within a couple months of joining the site, and was pleased to find a convincing match between the two families.

I should add that there weren't any suspected non-paternity events in my lineage, so this wasn't going to resolve any deep mysteries about my paternal background.  That said, it was still great to see DNA being put to use to establish paternity across so many generations.
answered Nov 4, 2017 by Greg Lavoie G2G6 Mach 7 (74,680 points)

By you matching your cousin's Y DNA you did him and you a big favor. Up till that time you were probably from the same line. Now you know for sure. Be thankful that there were no NPEs. They are almost impossible to figure them out.

I just recently joined, added my Big-Y and DNA-Y 37 results and very quickly authenticated into Greg and the other Lavoie's connection.  I was able to validate two points on my Lavoie lineage which just builds a stronger case.  Thanks to trailblazers, your subsequent cousins may find things a bit easier down the road!
+13 votes
MY answer is: Yes! Absolutely! I have a lot to tell. PARKER Y-DNA GROUP #1. Anyone in this group, please contact me!
answered Nov 5, 2017 by Kathy Jo Bryant G2G6 Mach 1 (13,000 points)
+15 votes
I have submitted a Y-DNA67 test for  first my cousin Bill Dietrich at Family tree DNA and the big Y at FTDNA.  Our Dietrich family are haplogroup E-M35, sub-clade E-BY4543.  Has this helped  for finding our Dietrich ancestors beyond what my genealogical research has already found?  No, it has not!.  It has only created new questions for me as to the origins of our family in Germany. Our closest Y DNA matches were from Dresden, Saxony, and yet our ancestors emigrated to Hungary about 1786.  Most of the Lutheran Germans that emigrated to the Batschka were from the Alsace and from the Pfalz.  I've not found any yet from Saxony.

So what is important to understand about Y-DNA results is that often the matches can be from thousands of years ago.  This is not very helpful for genealogical purposes. Most of my matches are not Dietrich. Of cours,e this may or may not mean anything.

From my experience, autosomal DNA is much for useful as a genetic genealogy tool.  Especial the Ancestry DNA test, since they by far the largest data base of testers   I have found many important clues through my test and the tests of my siblings.  Of course the problem with all of these DNA tests is the reliability of the information provided by those that have tested.  Many have no trees attached.  And those that do, I personally question some of the accuracy.  Also when submitting questions to those DNA cousins, most don't respond.  Many of those that do, know less about our common ancestors than I do.

Anyway, for what its worth, this has been my experience.
answered Nov 5, 2017 by Kelly Dazet G2G Crew (930 points)
+11 votes
YDNA testing can be very helpful when you have a common surname. My grandfather and his cousins in both Illinois and Tennessee consistently claimed that "Ford" was the anglicized version of a French name, and we did have circumstantial evidence to link us to the Faures of Manakintown, Virginia. But there were many different Ford families living in Virginia, the Carolinas, and Tennessee in the 1700s and early 1800s, often quite near one another, so YDNA testing was an obvious choice for us. We were lucky in that my brother did closely match a group of Fords and Fores who appear to be descended from the Faures of Manakintown. Unfortunately, we've been unable to find a Ford/Fore male to test who has a solid paper trail aaall the way back to Jacques. (I'm beginning to wonder if anyone really does!)
answered Nov 5, 2017 by S. Ford G2G2 (2,370 points)
+9 votes
I orderrd the FTDNA Y37 test in hopes that it would help me extend my paternal CASTIGLIA line in Palermo Province, Sicily. After about two months, I received results that included six matches with varying genetic diatances. None of the matches were Southern European, let alone Sicilian/Italian. It appears our common ancestors were from the Arabian Peninsula  thousands of years ago. I hope to find more matches as the databasee grows. Autosomal tests have been much more useful for confirming my research.
answered Nov 6, 2017 by Don Castella
+10 votes
It's worth people paying attention to what DNA tests come with Y-DNA included. 23andme does, correct me if I'm wrong, AncestryDNA doesn't.
answered Nov 6, 2017 by David Roberts G2G Crew (500 points)
Living DNA does too, and I was very impressed with how deep the haplogroup information they provided.  It was much better than any of the FTDNA STR tests, which I also have (Y111).
+7 votes
Yes and no. Some interesting connections surfaced and I do get new DNA matches mails all the time. But no confirmations by DNA. However, the physical lines Are all massively entertwined and part of our {{Dutch Cape Colony}} project and if that is not finished and correctly filled in, the DNA results will still not make any difference. All those thousands of profiles need to be primarily validated first. Besides, it is a separate branch of genealogy that I understand too little of, and need to make the time for (after all the project work has been done) to understand and triangulate.
answered Nov 6, 2017 by Philip van der Walt G2G6 Pilot (129,150 points)
+14 votes
ABSOLUTELY NOT!  I have done the 111 marker test and get no matches at that level and not good matches at any other level.  In fact, I don't see my surname in any matches except the 12 marker level and most of those matches did 37 or 67 marker tests (meaning they are not positive matches).

I should be getting my BIG-Y results soon, I am hopeful but pragmatic.
answered Nov 6, 2017 by Thom Anderson G2G6 Mach 1 (13,610 points)
My experience is the same as Thom's here.  For me, I was not expecting any great discoveries when i did the test, so with low expectations I was not disappointed and don't regret having done it.  I have traced my male ancestors back 10 generations and I am currently trying to verify two more generations beyond the 10th from the same Bavarian village in the late 1500s.  My closest match in the 98-99% is about 16 to 20 generations back.  None of my connections have the same last name as me, nor a similar one.  From Church records I can see that in the early 1700s my family name changed slightly, but not significantly.  I guess with the connections on FamilyTreeDNA that I have so far, the unknown shared common ancestors date from the time before last names in Europe were used.  The majority of my connections are from Britannia, so a huge branch went that way from Europe a long, long time ago.
Me too.. or at least not yet. Perhaps when there is more widespread coverage it will be more useful.
+9 votes
Yes, the Y-DNA matches on FTDNA show a large number of matches to the Hough (pronounced Huff) surname.  The BigY test then provided SNP matches to others connected to William Hough from Cheshire, England.  In addition, the BigY data also shows matches with other Cheshire Houghs but with an earlier common ancestor. The data enabled us to conclude that the Houghs from Cheshire, England who arrived in MA and PA in the 17th century and those who arrived in VA earlier are in the same Haplogroup and matching SNPs.
answered Nov 6, 2017 by Billy Huff G2G Crew (630 points)
+9 votes
After several years since my y111 test and various SNP packs, I stlil have not received a single match higher than 25 markers, and only three matches at 25 markers. None of the 3 have my surname and they all have a genetic distance of 2. I am still very hopeful, but sadly disappointed so far.
answered Nov 6, 2017 by Richard Hollenbeck G2G6 (8,360 points)
Richard:  Any connection with the Dutch line "Hollenbeek"?

Gus, you wrote:

Richard:  Any connection with the Dutch line "Hollenbeek"?

I don't know.  My earliest "known" ancestor is Jasper Hallenbeck (1774-1861), with many different spellings, from Schenectady or Montgomery County, New York.  Yes, one of the spellings is Hollenbeek.  But also Hollenbach and Hollinback and Hollenbeak and Holsombeck.  In other words, I can't be sure of anything.  My basic haplogroup is R-L48 and my other Hollenbeck/Hallenbeck people in my Y-DNA project are haplogroup "I."  There is no way they are related by direct paternal line.  I did a "SNP Pack" and upgraded to 111 and learned that a more specific designation of my haplogroup is R-S18372. The other specific haplogroup in my  project is I-CTS616 and  the rest are all I-M223.  None of that group are even "R."

There are some Hollandbeck from West Virginia and Hollabaugh from North Carolina with R-M269.  My ancestors were from New York.  I don't know more than that.  I am in the Hollabaugh Y DNA Project and Hollenbeck Y DNA project at Family Tree DNA.  Any and all help is appreciated.  :-)  Thanks.

Hi Richard: I see your problem! Google: "". When it opens, switch from Dutch to English (click "EN" , top bar). Insert Hollenbeek into the Search box and you get all Hollenbeek's on record in the Netherlands. You can try your other name variants also. This tool may be useful to others as well, but our discussion gets off-subject. Better to switch to my e-mail address if you have more questions: "". Best.
+9 votes
Not in my case. I tested my brother in the hope of trying to find out whether our Crackett surname might have originated from Crockett, but I am no further forward.
answered Nov 6, 2017 by Lynda Crackett G2G6 Pilot (293,540 points)
+13 votes
Absolutely YES.

As a tool within a one-name study it is invaluable.

It has proved the link between the line of Henry Kingman who emigrated to America in the 1630s and the Kingmans of Somerset who stayed in England - where there is no paper trail to connect them.

It has proved the link between Robert Kinsman who also emigrated to America in the 1630s and my own (maternal) Kingsman family from Wiltshire - again there is no paper trail to connect them.

It can also throw up problems. Within the tree of Robert Kinsman there is a branch for which the yDNA just doesn't fit, contrary to published histories of the family. I know where the break is - but who the real progenitor of this branch is remains work in progress.

The key is patience. It takes years for matches to come to light as volunteers are few and far between. Personally, I'm a case in point. I was one of the early testers - hoping for a clue as to my illegitimate G3 paternal grandfather. Twelve years on and I'm still waiting for a yDNA match. BigY has taken me a step closer, but my most recent branch point on that is still some 1500 years ago. I'm ever hopeful of a closer match.
answered Nov 6, 2017 by Derrick Watson G2G6 Mach 1 (16,650 points)
+8 votes
Yes, it has helped me greatly. I hit a brick wall with my 4x great grandfather and because of my YDNA test I matched up with other Harveys who were able to find how they were related and so I knew in general how I might be related to them but couldn't connect the dots. Thankfully I had a great surname project leader researching the Harvey's and got me in touch with members in my group who were also very helpful. After a lot of research and collaboration we discovered one person who had to be the father of my brick wall. So it's with YDNA testing and a very helpful project group we were able to break through the brick wall. Not everybody will have that much success. Obviously others will have other issues like adoption or a name change or just no relatives testing. But for me, it was awesome. Couldn't have gotten back to the 1500s without YDNA testing and collaboration.
answered Nov 6, 2017 by David Harvey G2G1 (1,100 points)
+8 votes
Not yet. The only person who's matched Dad at 67 markers is his brother, useful information but not helpful in figuring out further back generations. They get a lot of 12- and 25-marker matches, but so far they've only had one 37-marker match besides each other. That match has a different surname and genetic distance of 4, so I suspect their common ancestor is too far back to say anything definitive about NPEs.

They don't match anyone else in the FTDNA Casteel surname project, but as far as I can tell no one else who descends from either the definite paper trail ancestor or his suspected grandfather has tested, so we haven't been able to confirm or deny anything from that yet.

The relative on my mom's side who's tested has had a couple matches with people who descend from a person of the same surname who's in the right state a hundred years before our ancestor, though not the same county. It's a promising possibility, but it hasn't gotten us through our brick wall on that line.
answered Nov 7, 2017 by Sharon Casteel G2G6 Mach 6 (67,360 points)
+8 votes
Not yet. I have no matches with my surname at all. Just one person 2 away at Y-37 from the county next door.  A handful of related people at 3 away.

At Y-67 I have no close matches at all.

So a bit disappointing, especially for some Americans trying to get across the Atlantic.
answered Nov 7, 2017 by Tim Partridge G2G6 (8,630 points)
+8 votes

Yes. With an not so common Surname it wasn't easy to find where we fit in. We are officially part of the Golden DNA study. Spent a while with my Dad''s DNA kind of  floating around the project until two distant cousins tested and confirmed my paper trail back to John Gaulding

I have just recently gotten permission to add one of the two testers to WikiTree so I can DNA confirm my Paternal line back to this John Gaulding.


answered Nov 7, 2017 by Mags Gaulden G2G6 Pilot (428,030 points)
+5 votes
Y-DNA testing has helped me a little bit with surname research.  More so just by identifying what haplogroup I am in as well as my maternal grandfather’s y haplogroup.  My paternal line goes back to Northern Sweden so there are a few different patronym last names, however I have found quite a few descendants from other branches of my old paternal line (both through family search and from a auDNA match's family tree).  So if I can get a few of them to take a Y-DNA test as well then we can compare.  For my grandfather’s test we have found a couple matches with the same Lukens last name so that all matches up nicely.
answered Nov 7, 2017 by Erik Granstrom G2G6 Mach 1 (12,110 points)
+8 votes

We were at a 25 + year brick wall. The other Ellis progeniture, William Ellis the shipbuilder, on Prince Edward Island was supposed to be related to my ancestor Robert Ellis. We had William's line back to the 1540's but could not fit my ancestor into the family. They were from north Devon but Robert's tombstone says he was born in London. I am thinking that his wife knew something that we don't and I am willing to think that his parents may have lived in London for a time.

Before my mom died, she came up with a theory of who Robert's parents were. There were a bunch of deeds concerning the Peacock Inn in Bideford with all the correct names and dates, some wills leaving a Robert some houses in Bideford, a receipt for the rents on some houses in Bideford sent to my Robert's widow, Roberts daybooks indicating that he had been an innkeeper.

Instead of spending a large amount of money on hiring a researcher in Bideford to search out all the deeds, I decided to have my dad and his third cousin from New Zealand tested and then hope I could find and convince one of "the other bunch" on PEI to test. If they didn't match there would be no point in looking into the deeds. It took awhile, but eventually it did prove that my Robert and William shared a common ancestor and it would be worthwhile to continue the search.

Finally, at long last, I found the voters lists that must not have been available when mom was alive. She wouldn't have missed them. After several years of a Robert and a William (his brother) both living in the same places (one place being the Peacock Inn), in 1841 the voter's list said Robert had removed to Prince Edward Island. I knew from his daybooks that that was exactly when he came back to the Island. I knew I had it and would have done cartwheels if I was able.

Having the matching Y-DNA gave me the encouragement I need to go on and finally find the key. I still have not found Robert's birth, but I am thinking that his wife did know something that we didn't as I found a baptism in London in the correct year, and with the correct parents. I may never be able to prove that it is my Robert, but I think it is...

answered Nov 8, 2017 by Dawn Ellis G2G6 Mach 7 (73,630 points)
No. There is only one match with the same surname and thousands with many other surnames. There is somewhat of a pattern with the same root part of a surname with changes according to the language of the country where the match's most recent ancestor came from. That root is in my tree and I have DNA matches to it, but no close link to my father's surname. There are a lot of Irish and Scandinavian surnames, but also some Ukranian, French and other northern Europeans. The closest surname in spelling/sound to my surname is German. The only record in the "old world" is in Germany, but it's sketchy.

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