My Dad’s Norwegian great great grandfather, Lars Monsen, was originally from the Bergen area we had been told. He left his ship to marry a girl from Farsund and then settled in Kristiansand. My cousin Dick and I tried to find records about him, but this name was quite common in Hordaland (think Tom Smith). There were 10 candidates for our Lars in the Bergen area, so I used Y DNA testing to figure out which one he was. This is discussed in several previous blog posts (click here and here)
Kristiansand Boat Basin 2015
Sigmund, a friend in Norway, found a paternal line descendant of Ole Monsen Åstveit, my suspected 5rh grandfather. Then Sigmund sent him a Y 37 marker test from Family Tree DNA. This cousin, Einar, and my father subsequently matched at 3 steps, meaning there were three STR markers that were different. Since the common ancestors lived in the 1700s this seemed reasonable, especially after I looked at each of the markers and found them to be faster mutators (click here for that article). On the other hand, my second cousin, also in the R1b haplogroup, matches a 5th cousin of his, descended from an ancestor in the 1600s, at zero steps. Basically any match in the 0-3 range is usually recent enough for the genealogies to line up.
For Christmas this past year, I gave myself the gift of upgrading Einar’s Y STR test to the BigY700 at Family Tree DNA. I had long since upgraded my Dad and that upgrade included more STR markers. For more about the different Y tests try my article Why Y? (irresistible title!) which has links to more resources as well. This upgrade also took Einar’s STR test from 37 markers to 111. Imagine my surprise when I found that at 111 markers they still had only a 3 step difference!
However the purpose of the BigY700 is to look at SNPs rather than the STRs. The SNPs will tell you more about your deeper paternal line ancestry. It is also a good way to confirm a STR match. Another reason to do the big Y is that when you have an active project administrator, you will be able to see the bigger patterns and branches of your section of the Y tree. There are projects for specific surnames as well as for regions and haplogroups and subsets of haplogroups. You can join projects at Family Tree DNA from your dashboard by clicking Group Projects then Join a Project, as shown below.
Sometimes testing the Y chromosome can help when you are looking for a missing father, grandfather, or further back as long as you have a tester descended on the male only line. Remember the Y is passed father to son, so any changes are rare and are caused by mutations not recombination. Typically a man would start with a Y 37 STR marker test at Family Tree DNA to see if this avenue is worth pursuing. A STR test gets the most recent changes rather than the haplogroup, thus can suggest a surname. Click here for my article explaining Y testing.
The Y results will not help if no other men from that Y lineage have tested unless you have a theory. In that case you need to test someone else descended on the male only line from the presumed ancestor.
Y testing can be very useful when the unknown parentage occured many generations ago, such that autosomal testing may not be able to solve it.
If your ancestors have been in the USA for some time then a Y 37 STR marker test may find a probable last name. In that case there may be a surname project with other Y testers at Family Tree DNA. I recommend contacting the admins of that project as they can often be a great help in your quest. However if you are from a population group which has only had inherited surnames for two hundred years or less, quite likely you will have no luck.
Father’s day is always an occasion for the DNA testing companies to offer discounts on their kits and this year is no different. Give Dad a DNA kit is the message. Why should you? Well his autosomal DNA might find cousins you had lost track of, discover ethnicity you were curious about, or solve an unknown parent mystery. After all, he is one generation closer to your ancestors. I tested my late father long ago and am grateful to have that information. Click here for my evaluations of the different autosomal testing companies.
Dad and I in about 1953 (he was in the Air Force)
Only men have a Y chromosome and there are tests for just the Y. Those tests can give you information about your surname and your deep father line ancestry. Family Tree DNA is the place to test just the Y although both LivingDNA and 23andme will give you a high level Y haplogroup, plus there are tools to determine the haplogroup from an AncestryDNA or MyHeritage test (discussed at the end of this post).
If you know what a Y haplogroup is you can skip this paragraph … The 23rd pair of chromosomes is an XX for a woman and an XY for a man. The problem or benefit is that there is no second Y for that Y to recombine with. Thus unlike the other 22 chromosomes a man’s parents give him, the Y is unchanged from his Dad’s and his Dad’s and his Dad’s and so on, except for mutations. Those little changes accumulate over thousands of years and allow scientists to catalog the Y and trace the migration of mankind around the globe. Each set of Y mutations is assigned to a haplogroup, and subgroup, which can tell you where your ancestors came from thousands of years back. Here is the latest diagram from the
wikipedia article on Y
Y haplogroup world expansion – start at the big Y in Africa (A was the first haplogroup) -image from wikipedia by Maulucioni [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]
If you are of European origin then click here for the Eupedia articles on each haplogroup
Esto’s cartoons often really hit the spot. This one really reminds me of my husband and myself.
Cartoon by Esto Frigus of Geneapalooza, used by permission
When I told my 98% Ashkenazi husband that his Y-DNA haplogroup (E1a1 aka E-M44) probably originated in Timbuktu, he started dancing around the room shouting “I am black!”
There is a wonderful site at http://www.y-str.org with many good tools for Y DNA and autosomal DNA that run as programs on your PC plus a cool ISOGG Y tree add-on for the Chrome browser. My specific interest at the moment is figuring out which Y SNPs are already tested by 23andme so as not to test them again at FamilyTreeDNA since my Dad has kits at both places. I blogged about how to do that manually back in February, but now there is a program that will do that for you. However it took me a while to figure out how to do what I wanted from the instructions given, so I will do a step-by-step tutorial in this post in order to remember what I did.
First download your raw data from 23andme by going to the “Browse Raw Data” Page which is listed in the menu that appears under your name on the top right. Then on the raw data page click on “Download” in the second top bar on the right hand side. This takes you to a page with various warnings and requires that you reenter your password as well as the answer to your secret question before it starts the download.
Save the download file somewhere that makes sense for you. I have a folder called RawData in the folder DNA that I use. Once the raw data file is downloaded, you will need to unzip it before using it with the various tools. To unzip in windows all you need to do is open a file explorer window (a manila envelope is the icon) and then right click on the file name to get a little menu that includes “extract all” which is the one to click.