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

+27 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 in The Tree House by Julie Ricketts G2G6 Pilot (201,810 points)
reshown Nov 3 by Julie Ricketts
Thanks everyone. Really enjoying the above discussion points, but I only have a vague understanding of the detail. To Jim; even worse that Arnold - they could be Trump !.

I'm not looking for 9th specifically. At this stage any y-DNA match would be rewarding, regardless of surname, since there are zero at the moment. If a match does come up, how certain can we be of our n'th degree of cousin distance. Getting heaps of like surname males to test is the first hurdle. Since many are likely to be descendants from people in the Ulster parishes I mentioned above, relativity would correlate with proximity (Newton would be pleased). Hopefully a few males will appear and with a bit of luck, on WikiTree.

Ancestry autosomal testing has accurately defined known first and second cousins and daughter of a first cousin and plenty of others with 'extremely high' or 'very high' probability of relationship to follow up, but not the right surnames, so probably thru female lines. As I understand it, metasomal DNA changes much more quickly than y-DNA, so it is harder to analyse relationships after 5 generations or more.
In depth research by me (5 minutes on the web !) indicate the Y chromosome has about 60 million base pairs and is around 20mm long (Tanush Jagdish). WikiTree tells me I have tested for 37 markers and that I am in haplogroup R-M269. Wikipaedia says this haplogroup has a mere 10 million European males alive today, so little to be gained from that. Next step is the 37 markers (out of the 111 available in FT-DNA). To rephrase my earlier question, how many of these markers, or what % of them, will I share with: My late father; My brothers; My sons; My male first cousins; My male n'th cousins. If my as yet unknown n'th cousin shows up, will 37 markers tell the story or will we both need to do 111 markers to determine 'the truth' ?. My ANCESTRY autosomal test has placed my strongest links with northern England, which could be true for both my parents (my fathers mother and my mothers father). More expert comments would be most welcome.
Y-dna is passed from father to son, Allen, so you (should) have the same (100%) as your father, your brothers, your half brothers of the same father, your uncles (with the same last birth name), their sons (but not the sons of your aunts). Three things can mess this up: adoption, adultery and mutation. The first two result in a big change in Y-dna (and often a big change in family concordance), the latter causes a very minor change in the Y-dna. Mutation also occurs infrequently. If the 37 marker Y-dna test gives more than 1 genetic difference, ignore the link. Don't throw good money after bad... Spend it on yourself. I am in the 10 million plus R1b-M269 Haplogroup, not very useful to know. By taking the 111 marker test and the big-Y I now gave been given my own group R1b-A8043 by ISOGG; number of members: three. When I locate another A8043, I know he is related.
Thanks Gus, much appreciated. I am aware of the father-son connection, and am also aware that Y mutations are very rare. Can you extend your answer a bit further and advise if I have identical y-DNA to my 10G grandfather, or even 20G ?, or is there room for 1 or more mutations over this time period (10-20 generations or 300-600 years; give or take). I know all 20 living male descendants of my great-grandfather and believe he had no male siblings so there are probably no third cousins. You appear to be saying that any other male with identical y-DNA on the 37 marker test will be related to me (regardless of surname), but for absolute proof the 111/Big-Y/ISOGG test is required. You also appear to be saying anyone not identical at 37 marker cannot be related. Is that correct ?. Presumably the myriad of y-DNA 12 marker relatives that appear on an almost daily basis have no real value at all even if the surname matches ?.

We have one known skeleton in the cupboard, so at least one different surname could potentially appear out of the blue.
Well what I want to know is if a relative takes a Y test to 37 receives 8X25=200 people all with different surnames matching at only 12 what is the point of getting more people further back in the past before there were surnames I could be wrong here but to me it just points to an indigenous population without surnames in the past somewhere which the map of where your ancestors came from will tell you anyway.

Alan:  Your Y-dna should be of the same Haplogroup sub-clade as all of your directly paternal grandfathers, even 20 generations back, provided no mutation, adoption or adultery (forced or voluntary) occurred.  I asked four days ago: "How much certainty do you want?". You gave me no guidelines. How often does mutation occur? There are expert answer on that; I'm not such an expert. Same for adultery, I gave a reference four days ago. Have you read it? It is wonderful that you know 20 living male descendants of your grandfather. Would you spend the funds to have all 20 take a 37 marker Y-dna test to proof what....? That one or two don't match? Is that your level of certainty? Or would you spend that money on more precisely defining who you are in the Y-dna Phylogenetic tree (to look that up, google "Eupedia, R1b) and then compare with your nephew (father's brother's son, I dislike the term "cousin")? I humbly recommend reading:

Gus: Thanks for the big-Y test article. I will need to read it several times to understand it and get used to the jargon.

Sorry I missed your question about what I'm trying to achieve. Will this help ?; I met a lady some time ago who's single name was Uprichard (note the different spelling). We have kept in occasional contact, but when her ANCESTRY test identified her as a "high" chance of being a 4-6 cousin, interest surged. Could she find a male relative willing to FT-DNA test ?. Yes she did - so now waiting results. Presuming the results confirm we are related, can we tell from y-DNA how many, or about how many, generations ago ?. The same question applies to two more Uprichards I have found via the phone directory, if they are willing to test.

If y-DNA does enable us to approximate the generations, we can gradually build what I call a BIG TRIANGLE back to the oldest common ancestor, and maybe where he lived, whether we know his surname or not. Does Big-Y help answer this question ?.

Your point about adoption etc is a good one, as a Uprichard not related by y-DNA only excludes him and his descendants from 'my' BIG TRIANGLE, not necessarily his adoptive ancestors. Similarly, someone with a different surname could well be included.
This is really helpful, Allen,i.e.being specific. I checked Upritchard on Y-Search, found only one, must be you? If your lady acquaintance's Y-dna sample matches yours, you will match the male person she got to submit his Y-dna for big Y testing. She and he should then compare their maternal dna to confirm their relationship, to obtain that certainty we spoke about. If the Y-dna matches, somebody should change the name spelling, to make searching back in time more efficient. You have to go back in time in order to triangulate. For that (going back in the family tree) you have to follow the paper trail. By googling "Uprichard" I got the impression there is quite a bit recorded already. Good luck. Let me now when the big -Y results come in, I'm hooked now.
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.


120 Answers

+18 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 by Jacob Goodman G2G2 (2,180 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."
+13 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 by Colin Thomson G2G Crew (590 points)
+14 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 by Greg Lavoie G2G6 Mach 3 (37,140 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.

+12 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 by Kathy Jo Bryant G2G6 (9,290 points)
+14 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 by Kelly Dazet G2G Crew (900 points)
+10 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 by S. Ford G2G1 (1,790 points)
+8 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 by Don Castella
+9 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 by David Roberts G2G Crew (470 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).
+6 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 by Philip van der Walt G2G6 Pilot (126,220 points)
+12 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 by Thom Anderson G2G6 Mach 1 (11,190 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.
+8 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 by Billy Huff G2G Crew (440 points)
+8 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 by Richard Hollenbeck G2G6 (7,870 points)
+8 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 by Lynda Crackett G2G6 Pilot (194,100 points)
+12 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 by Derrick Watson G2G6 Mach 1 (11,540 points)
+7 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 by David Harvey G2G1 (1,010 points)
+7 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 by Sharon Casteel G2G6 Mach 5 (59,470 points)
+7 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 by Tim Partridge G2G6 (6,410 points)
+7 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 by Mags Gaulden G2G6 Pilot (414,280 points)
+4 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 by Erik Granstrom G2G6 (9,050 points)
+7 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 by Dawn Ellis G2G6 Mach 6 (60,880 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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