Sunday, May 19, 2019

What unites people?

What unites people? Armies, gold, flags? STORIES. There's nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it. . . . [You] are our memory, the keeper of all our stories: the wars, weddings, births, massacres, famines, our triumphs, our defeats, our past. Who better to lead us into the future?

Tyrion Lannister

To family historians: Never forget how important your work is.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Y-DNA: Big Y test resolves STRs and convergence

The Big Y test can resolve a Y-DNA problem when STRs alone cannot tell you what you need to answer your genealogical questions. In this blog post we will start with the standard Y-DNA testing advice, then examine how your strategy might have to change if your results are not showing matches to others with your surname. This particular case will show how you might see false Y-DNA matches because of a process called convergence.

If you are new to Y-DNA testing, please read this post about STRs, SNPs, and haplogroups. It will open in a new window so that you won't lose your place here.

Standard Y-DNA testing advice

Here's what generally true about STRs and SNPs:

1. Start with STR testing. If you have too many, or not enough matches, upgrade the number of STRs to narrow down your list of matches, find new matches, and better determine your Y-DNA relationships.

2. Use SNP testing to trace your family further in time. SNPs are primarily for older genealogical relationships, but can be brought into the genealogical time frame.  Because SNPs generally occur less frequently than STRs, use STRs to refine the relationship.

Our Case Study:
More STRs do not always mean fewer matches

I initially tested a Mullins cousin with a 37-marker STR test from Family Tree DNA. He is a descendant of James Mullins who was first located in Rutherford County, North Carolina. James was listed in earlier census records as James McMullins and later as James Mullins. 

Over the years, I gradually upgraded the Y-DNA tests of Mr. Mullins, the descendant of James. His Y-DNA results take what is generally accepted about SNPs vs. STRs and turns it on its head.

37-marker STR test: Lots of matches

At 37 markers, Mullins had an astonishing 1804 matches:

37-marker STR matches
37-marker STR test: 1804 matches

Notice that there are a wide variety of surnames in the match list. This is obviously not caused by the usual "non-paternity event" or NPE, which means that one of the ancestors was not the natural-born son of the man who raised him. This many surnames and the large number of matches is due to convergence.

What is convergence?

Convergence in DNA is when mutations make it appear that two people are more closely related than they really are. Let's see an example of this using two ancestral lines that we will call A and B. We will examine only one marker. One of your ancestors, Mr. A, had a value of 19 at DYS570. An unrelated man, Mr. B, who lived at the same time as your ancestor, had a value of 16 at that marker.  In a more recent generation of the A family, the 19 mutated to 18. In an even more recent generation, the 18 further mutated to a 17.  In the meantime, in the B family ancestral line, the value at DYS570 only mutated once, from a 16 to a 17. Today the descendants in the A and B family both have a 17 at DYS570. At that one marker the two families now appear to be more closely related than they really are. They share different surnames, yet have identical values at that marker. Again, this is due to convergence, not a non-paternity event.

Finding matching surnames

As we saw above, Mullins had lots of matches, but we didn't immediately see anybody named Mullins or any variation of that name. We can search by surname to find a specific name. In the Y-DNA Matches, you will see a section to filter your matches. In the the Filter Matches section, I entered the first few letters of the surname McMullins, which is a variation of the surname Mullins.

search Y-DNA by surname
Filter by surname

Out of the previous 1804 matches, only one man has this surname. He is a genetic distance of 4 at 37 markers. He has a family tree as indicated by the family tree symbol under his name.

Family Tree symbol

His ancestors are from County Cavan, Ireland.

Now we will filter the matches by just "Mul" to find any variations of Mullins, Mullens, etc.

Filter DNA matches by surname
One Mullins match

There was only one Mullins, and again, he has a family tree. His ancestor is from Rutherford County, North Carolina. This looks promising because our ancestor James Mullins also lived in that county. Notice also that next to the family tree symbol you will see what tests this man has taken at Family Tree DNA. This Mullins man has taken the 37-marker Y-DNA and the Family Finder tests.

Because neither Mr. McMullin or Mr. Mullins have tested more than 37 markers, I will not see either of these men in a match list at 67 markers. However, I expect that if I order 67 markers, I will see a more manageable list of matches than a list of 1804 men. How many fewer matches will I see? Further, will ordering 67 markers show new Mullins matches that do not appear in the 37-marker list? I definitely wanted to find out, so I ordered an upgrade to 67 markers. The results shocked me.

67-marker STR test: Even more matches

After ordering 67 markers, the number of matches went up, not down as we would normally expect. I now saw 2631 matches with all kinds of surnames.

67 marker match list
67 markers: 2631 matches

Filtering by surname, I find four new McMullin men. 

McMullin results

Why didn't they show up in the 37-marker results? The answer has to do with the criteria used by Family Tree DNA to determine a match. You can find an explanation of what FTDNA considers to be a relevant match here:

This tells us that any matches at the 37-marker level must have a genetic distance of four or fewer. At 67 markers, the match must have a genetic distance of seven or fewer. So, if a person was a genetic distance of 7 at 37 markers, he would not show up as a match. But if no additional mutations occurred at the 38-67 marker level, he would show up as a match at 67 markers. It is very useful for people to join surname, haplogroup, and other projects so that we can see the actual mutations and where they occurred.

Using the same 67-marker match list, we will now look for surnames that start with "mul." We again see several new matches that were not on the 37-marker match list.

"Mul" results

Now I was so curious to know what would happen at 111 markers that I upgraded again.

111-marker STR test proves that SNP testing is necessary

At 111 markers, the number of matches went down to 195. This is partially due to the fact that far fewer people ordered testing at this level.

111 markers: 195 matches

66 of the 195 men had taken the Big Y-500 test [I had to count them], but their haplogroups were very different. Here's just a sample:

STR match but not SNP match
Different haplogroups in men who ordered Big Y

Time to change strategy

Normally, we encourage our matches to upgrade their STRs to help with finding common ancestry. But in haplogroups with high levels of convergence, upgrading STRs may not provide any assistance. 111 STRs had not helped with finding a common Mullins ancestor, and the only thing that will prove relationships in this case is SNP testing. SNPs do not mutate back and forth the way STRs do, so SNPs are much more stable.  

It was pretty obvious to me by looking at the various haplogroups that Mr. Mullins belonged somewhere within haplogroup R-M222 which is known for large numbers of matches due to convergence. I was not going to bother with ordering a single SNP, or even a SNP Pack, to confirm this because what I really wanted to find were modern SNPs that could bring me into the genealogical time period. 

If I ordered the Big Y-500 [recently renamed the Big Y-700] test, how many of these men would be real matches? We're about to find out.

Examining the Big Y test

The initial results of the Big Y-500 test showed a terminal haplogroup of R-FGC57769 with four matches:

Big Y matching tab
Big Y Matching tab

The Unnamed Variants tab showed that Mr. Mullins had 10 variants that had not yet been given SNP names.

Big Y Unnamed Variants
Big Y Unnamed Variants tab

After the initial results are in, Family Tree DNA does a manual review to check for any new SNPs that have not yet been named. This usually occurs within a few weeks. After the manual review, there was only one match. These two men formed a new haplogroup, R-BY66397.

Big Y matches
New Big Y Matching results

After FTDNA's manual review, you may want to download your results. You can store them on your computer and transfer them to other databases. There is a blue Download Raw Data link. Be sure to request the BAM file.

Big Y Block Tree

You can see more detail about how the haplogroup changed by clicking on the Big Y Block Tree. You can access the Block Tree in the Big Y section of your homepage:

Big Y Block Tree
Click on Block Tree

Once you have clicked on Block Tree, you will be taken to your position in the tree. You can easily move up and down the tree and see details about various levels of the tree. Below we are seeing the position on the tree for Mr. Mullins.  

In Haplogroup R-FGC57769 there are currently a total of five men: Mr. Mullins (not shown because these are his matches), Mr. O'Brien, Mr. Martin, Mr. Carr, and Mr. Herberg. 

On the left, Martin and Carr are in their own haplogroup named R-FGC57762. They share three named SNPs: FGC57762, FGC57770, and FGC57771. They also have an average of five private variants each. 

In the middle we see the newly-formed haplogroup R-BY66397. This is the haplogroup of Mr. Mullins. We see his one match in this group. The tree shows that below R-BY66397 there are an average of eight private variants between Mr. Mullins and his match Mr. O'Brien. 

Mr. Herberg, on the right, currently has no matches below Haplogroup R-FGC57769. When he does, he and his match will form a new haplogroup.

Big Y Block Tree
Big Y Block Tree

Which position did Mullins and O'Brien share?

Here is the list of unnamed variants after the manual review:

New Unnamed Variants

There are now nine unnamed variants. The variant 7761527 is missing from the former list. This means it is the variant shared with Mr. O'Brien. Variant 7761527 was given the SNP name BY66397, and the new haplogroup R-BY66397 was formed. We can verify this by going to YBrowse and entering 7761517 in the search box. The results are shown below:

Position 7761527 at YBrowse

This verifies that the previously unnamed variant 7761427 has been named BY66397.

How closely are Mr. Mullins and Mr. O'Brien related?

Mr. Mullins has nine variants that are not shared with Mr. O'Brien. This indicates that their relationship is not recent. While SNP dating is not precise, it appears that the common ancestor of these two men lived at least 1000 years ago.

Filtering the STR lists of matches

Once you have taken a Big Y test, your STR lists of matches will have a new column called Big Y STR Differences. You will also see a new filter option to display only matches who have taken the Big Y test:

STR match list with Big Y
Big Y STR Differences column

Notice above that the Mullins list of 111-marker matches is now at 208 matches because more people have now taken the test. When we filter the matches by only those people who have taken the Big Y test, we see the following:

Big Y testees in STR results
Show only men who have taken Big Y

Notice that 73 of his 208 matches have taken the Big Y test. The closest match is a genetic distance of 7 at 111 markers. None of these men show up as a match in the Big Y match list of Mr. Mullins. Even though they are showing up as STR matches, they all belong in different haplogroups. None of these men is related to Mr. Mullins within at least a thousand years.

We can filter the list at each level of matching. Here is the filtered list at 67-markers. 376 men at this level have taken the Big Y test. We know that none of them is a match to Mr. Mullins because they do not appear on his Big Y match list.

Close STR matches with different haplogroups

In the above list, we see very interesting results. The first man on the list, McConnell, is only a genetic distance of one at 67 markers. There are other men here at a genetic distance of only two or three. This usually indicates that these men are closely related. However, in this case all the men have taken the Big Y test. Their haplogroups are not estimated; they are confirmed by SNP testing.  None of them is related to Mr. Mullins within the genealogical time period.

Finally, we will filter the 37-marker match list by men who have taken the Big Y test and whose surname begins with the letters "mul":

STR matches filtered by Big Y and surname
Filter STR results by surname and Big Y 

There are no Mullins matches, only a man named Mullican. As we can tell by his confirmed haplogroup, Mr. Mullican is not related to Mr. Mullins.

What did SNP testing tell us?

We now know that STR testing, even at 111 markers, may not be enough. It is definitely not enough in haplogroups with high levels of convergence. It is fascinating that the SNP results of Mr. Mullins does not match a single one of the hundreds of men who appear on his lists of STR matches who have also taken the Big Y test. Mr. O'Brien, who is his only Big Y match, does not appear on a Mullins STR match list at any level. SNPs will be the only way to determine if someone is related by Y-DNA to this Mullins line.

What do we do now?

At the current time, Mr. Mullins has nine private variants in his Big Y results. Each of these variants occurred somewhere in his Mullins line, but we don't yet know the order in which they occurred or in which ancestor each mutation occurred. We can find out some of that by testing more Mullins cousins. So far nobody else shares any of these private variants. We need to find someone who does so that we can find out more about the Mullins ancestry.

Looking through the STR match lists it is possible that of the thousands of STR matches, one of them might actually be relevant.  It is the man appears on the 37-marker match list and whose ancestor is Spencer Mullins. He is mismatching by four alleles at 37 markers, and that does not appear to be a close match. We cannot tell without examining the exact locations of the mutations. However, his ancestor Spencer Mullins appears to be the son of a William Mullins who lived in Rutherford County, North Carolina, at the same time as James Mullins lived there. William was about the same age as James. These two men could be brothers or another close relationship.  

STRs indicate that these men mismatch on four out of 37 markers, and even closer matches are not related. So this Mullins man could be just another convergence match. The only way to find out is to order the new Big Y-700 test for this man. I need to contact him to see if he agrees. If he is a genuine genealogical match, as I suspect, he will share at least one of the unnamed variants. The more unnamed variants the two men share, the closer they are related. If they share one or more of the currently unnamed variants, the two men will form a new haplogroup under R-BY66397.

Testing this potential Mullins match is only the beginning, but it can be a big step forward in tracing the Mullins ancestry.

What are some of the things you can do with the Big Y 
to find more about your paternal ancestors?

  • Examine your list of matches first. If your results have just arrived, they may change after a manual review. You may want to contact your matches to see if you can determine how you are related.
  • See how many unnamed variants you have. This can help determine how closely related you are to your matches.
  • Examine the new Block Tree to see where you fit in and to find more information about your more distant matches.
  • Be sure you add a family tree to your results. Your family tree should at least contain information about your paternal line.
  • Join surname and haplogroup projects. This allows you to compare your STR results and will help encourage potential matches to upgrade their STR and SNP results.
  • Go back to your list of STR matches and see how many of these people have ordered the Big Y test.
  • Encourage any matches to whom you think you may be related to take the Big Y test. 
  • Search through public family trees to find other possible male relatives for Y-DNA testing.
  • Test closer male family members to determine in which ancestor each mutation occurred and to find your true terminal haplogroup. 
  • Consider transferring your results to other websites to get further evaluation and to find even more matches. This step will be increasingly important now that the price of full genome sequencing has dropped significantly. See websites, such as and, that accept transfers from multiple companies.

What's next?

We have just examined the Big Y results of a man who has no matches in the genealogical time period and have determined our next step. We will next see a man who has one relevant Big Y match. We will find men who have a different surname who can help extend the family line. Ahhh, Y-DNA testing. I'm loving it!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Y-DNA testing for genealogy: Are these men related?

DNA testing is very popular, and millions of people are now using it to find their ancestors. Some people are unaware that there are more than one kind of DNA test. The tests can be put into four broad categories: Full Genome, autosomal, Y-DNA, and mitochondrial DNA. Autosomal DNA, Y-DNA, and mitochondrial DNA are subsets of the Full Genome test. We will use Y-DNA along with genealogical records to see how several men are related.

Autosomal DNA

The most common DNA test is the autosomal DNA test offered by companies such as 23andMe, Ancestry DNA, My Heritage, and Family Tree DNA's Family Finder. Current autosomal DNA testing uses segments from 22 of your chromosomes and compares your DNA results to the results of all the other customers who tested with that company. You then try to prove that these matching DNA segments came from particular ancestors. This is difficult, but very rewarding. It is generally accepted that these tests are useful for finding ancestors within the first five generations, but sometimes it is possible to go further. 


A Y-DNA test is very different from an autosomal DNA test. It looks in more detail at only one chromosome -- the Y-chromosome. Only men have a Y-chromosome, so their Y-DNA came from their father, their father's father, etc. Y-DNA is a great test for solving paternal lines. Unlike autosomal DNA, Y-DNA is not broken up with each succeeding generation, so you can use Y-DNA to go as far back in time as you'd like. If you are looking for the origins of a male ancestor, Y-DNA may be able to answer your question.

The problem: Multiple men with similar surnames

In this post we will examine a very difficult problem that can't be solved by genealogical records. This is a case of men with similar surnames living in the same area at the same time.

There were several men living in Colonial Virginia with variations of the surname Karnes. The variant spellings include Carn, Karn, Carns, Karns, Kern, Cairns, Carnes, Kearnes, etc. In this post we will use the spelling Karnes. Are these Karnes men related? If so, how? Researchers have been trying for years to use genealogical records to sort out the relationships. Genealogical records don't tell us enough, and only Y-DNA can give definitive proof of relationships.

Genealogical records

Today we are looking at three men named Karnes. Two of men are named Michael Karnes, and one is George Karnes. What can genealogical records tell us about them? 

For many years, the two Michael Karnes were confused, but land records tell us that that they were two separate men. Both of them had held land in Botetourt and Bedford counties in Virginia (as well as other counties). One of them died in Bedford County, and the other left Bedford County and moved to Grainger County, Tennessee, then to Knox County, Tennessee. We will call these men Michael of Bedford and Michael of Knox. Almost nobody could tell which of these men married a woman named Elizabeth and which married Catherine. Some even thought that Michael of Bedford had two wives--one named Catherine and one named Elizabeth. Genealogical records tell us that Michael of Bedford married Elizabeth, and Michael of Knox's wife was named Catherine. To add to the confusion, Hannah Karnes, the daughter of Michael of Bedford, married Charles Karnes, the son of Michael of Knox, on 13 Nov 1793 while they were all living in Bedford County. Surely these two Michaels were related! There are numerous family trees that call Michael of Bedford "Michael Gabriel Karnes," but there is no evidence whatsoever for this middle name. 

The third man, George Karnes, lived in Tennessee, but some of his sons state that they were born in Virginia. George settled in Hawkins County, Tennessee, which is adjacent to Grainger County where Michael of Knox had lived. We will call this man George of Hawkins. Many online family trees list him as the son of Michael of Bedford, but the following land records prove that George, the son of Michael of Bedford, was a different man. We will call him George of Botetourt. George of Botetourt married Elizabeth Persinger. In 1804 he received a tract of land in Botetourt County from his father Michael [Botetourt County, Virginia, Deed Book 8, page 412]. The deed is between "Michael Karns of the County of Bedford and State of Virginia of the one part and George Karns, son of said Michael Karns, of the County of Botetourt and said state." George of Botetourt died in Alleghany County, Virginia. In 1836, a deed is recorded describing the land in Botetourt County, Virginia, that George received from his father Michael [Alleghany County, Virginia, Deed Book 3, page 182]. In the deed, the land is passing to George's three children Michael, William, and Harriet Karnes (who married William Clarkson). These are not the children of George of Hawkins. This deed proves that George of Botetourt died in Allegany County, Virginia, and he was the son of Michael of Bedford. George of Hawkins is a different man.

George of Hawkins died 1816 in Hawkins County, Tennessee. The first mention of George in Hawkins County is a deed dated 1799. There is an even earlier deed by a man named John Karnes who was selling Hawkins County land in 1790. How is he related to George? Is he George's father? George's Last Will and Testament names his children Jacob, George, Andrew, William, and John Karnes, and his daughter Elizabeth Witty. His Will also names his wife Elizabeth, so it is easy to see how he was confused with George of Botetourt who had a wife named Elizabeth. One of the witnesses to the Last Will and Testament of George of Hawkins was a man named George H Etter. George H Etter had been living in Hawkins County since at least 1791 when he married his first wife. He married his second wife Maria Eva Karnes, daughter of Michael of Knox, on 31 Mar 1812 in Knox County, Tennessee, and continued to live in Hawkins County. George H Etter died 1842 in Hawkins County, Tennessee. Since he was a witness to the will of George of Hawkins, it appears that if George of Hawkins is related to either of the Michaels (or both), he is more likely to be related to Michael of Knox.

Although many Carnes, Cairns, etc. families were Irish, all of these Karnes men were German. Genealogical records can tell us where each man lived in America and can also tell us the names of their wives and children. We know from deeds and family records that Michael of Bedford and Michael of Knox were different men who appear to be related. George of Botetourt and George of Hawkins are also different men, one of whom is the son of Michael of Bedford; and the other appears to be related to Michael of Knox. Other than George of Botetourt, the records do not tell us the relationship between these men. How are the other three related?

The solution: Two types of Y-DNA tests

There are two types of Y-DNA that are used for genealogy. The first is a Short Tandem Repeat (STR) test. The second is a Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) test. For an explanation of these tests and how they work, see Y-DNA STRs, SNPs, and Haplogroups.

STR tests can answer the broad question, are Michael of Bedford, Michael of Knox, and George of Hawkins related? STR tests cannot, however, tell us a precise relationship, but SNP tests often can. Genealogical evidence suggests that these men certainly might be related, but only Y-DNA can prove this.

Michael of Knox

We used Y-DNA STRs to find and prove the ancestry of Michael of Knox. We were even able to trace his ancestry to a specific town in Germany. Several men were tested and were proven to be descendants of Michael's father Nicolaus Karnes who died in Frederick County, Virginia. You can read the incredible story, and see the genealogical and DNA evidence here: The Amazing Power of Y-DNA. This link will open in a new window so that you will be able to easily go back and forth between posts.

Here are the STR results from descendants of Nicolaus Karnes, the father of Michael of Knox:

Matching STRs surname project
Kern DNA Project

Notice in the second column that three of the men have haplogroups shown in red: J-M172. One man has a green J-1296. His haplogroup is different because he did some SNP testing, but did not do a Big Y-500 test that could potentially bring his haplogroup into the genealogical time period. Two men did Big Y-500 testing. Their haplogroup is shown as J-BY45500. If we ask either of them for the match list in their Family Tree DNA account we will see this screen:

Big Y-500 step chart
Big Y-500 Matches

This shows that each man has only one match. Below the chart, the name of the match appears. That match is the other man in the Kern DNA Project. One of the men is a proven descendant of Michael of Knox. The other man is a descendant of Jacob Karnes, and he does not know where Jacob fits into the family of Nicolaus Karnes. He needs at least one more Karnes Big Y-500 test to be able to determine his ancestry.

Michael of Bedford

At the time of the post about Michael of Knox (The Amazing Power of Y-DNA), we only had one Y-DNA test from a descendant of Michael of Bedford. His Y-DNA results did not match the family of Michael of Knox, but this might have been because he was not a biological descendant of Michael of Bedford. We needed at least one more descendant of Michael of Bedford to prove whether or not these two Michaels were related.

We now have two descendants of Michael of Bedford. The first man is a descendant of Michael's son Michael Jr.:

Kerns Family Tree
Kerns family tree

The second man is a descendant of Michael's son Jacob:

Karnes Family Tree
Karnes family tree

They both ordered Y-DNA tests, and here are their STR results:

Matching STR Results
Matching STR results from two descendants of Michael of Bedford

In order to determine the Y-DNA of Michael of Bedford, we must test two or more descendants from two or more of his sons. We have done exactly that--we tested a descendant from Michael's son Michael and a descendant of Michael's son Jacob. The Y-DNA of the two descendants match. 

However, they do not match the results of Michael of Knox. So even though Michael of Bedford and Michael of Knox lived in the same areas and Hannah Karnes, daughter of Michael of Bedford, married Charles Karnes, son of Michael of Knox, the two Michaels were definitely not related. One is in Haplogroup J, and one is in Haplogroup R. They aren't even remotely close!

To know more about Michael of Bedford's paternal ancestry, we will need to do some SNP testing.

George of Hawkins

When we look at the Kern DNA Project, there is only one man who claims to be a descendant of George of Hawkins. His STR results are as follows:

Karnes STR results
STR results from a descendant of George of Hawkins

The results of one man don't tell us anything. What we do know is that his Y-DNA results don't match either Michael of Knox or Michael of Bedford. We need another descendant of George of Hawkins to confirm these DNA results. Notice that this man has not only done STR testing, but he has also done SNP testing because his confirmed haplogroup is shown in green: R-A6704. As it turns out, this man did a Big Y-500 test, so he is set up to really find the origins of George of Hawkins.

Although we don't see any matches in the Kern DNA Project, we have to ask this man for his Y-DNA match list from Family Tree DNA to see if he is matching anybody with the surname Karnes.

Here are his list of his matches from Family Tree DNA:

Y-DNA match list
Matches based on 37 STRs

The descendant of George of Hawkins has no matches at the 111 STR level, but he has three matches at 37 STRs. There are two men with the surname Karns/Karnes and one who appears to be a descendant of a man with the surname Kernen. As you can see by the genetic distance in the first column, the descendant of George of Hawkins appears to be more closely related to the two Karnes descendants that to the Kernan descendant. We would need for these men to join the Kern DNA Project so that we could examine the exact STR differences. While two of these men appear to have family trees
(as shown by the  symbol),
neither of them really does. Here is the "tree" for one of them:

No ancestors in family tree
A family tree with no ancestors shown

The other man's tree is similar. So what can we do? 

  • First, contact these men and ask if they know their ancestry; email addresses are provided in the match list. Encourage them to enter the name of their Most Distant Known Ancestor into their Family Tree DNA account and to join the Kern DNA Project. Even though the man descended from George Kernen does not have a tree, I have traced his ancestry. The Kernens came from the Reutigen area of Switzerland.
  • Next, encourage further DNA testing. 37 STR markers are not enough to determine an exact relationship, but a Big Y-500 test could do precisely that. Encourage one descendant of George of Hawkins and the descendant of George Kernen to take a Big Y-500 test. The three men will then be able to compare approximately 500 STRs as well as the essential SNPs.

The descendant of Karnes of Hawkins took a Big Y-500 test. Right now he has no matches:

No Big Y-500 matches
No Big Y-500 matches at this time

Testing another descendant of George of Hawkins will form a new branch under R-A6704 that will bring the haplogroup closer in time. The test will also reveal SNPs that are specific to each ancestral line.

What did we learn from Y-DNA?

  • Multiple descendants of Nicolaus Karnes, father of Michael of Knox, have taken Y-DNA tests. Their results match and allowed us to prove the names of the brothers of Michael, prove the name of his father, and to trace his ancestry back to his hometown in Germany.
  • Two descendants of Michael of Bedford have now taken Y-STR tests. Their results match and prove that these two men are biological descendants of Michael Karnes. The results also prove that Michael's DNA is within haplogroup R, and he was definitely not related to Michael of Knox. Researchers can stop looking for a biological connection between these men and direct their research to finding the ancestry of Michael of Bedford through further DNA testing.
  • We have not yet learned anything about George of Hawkins, because one Y-DNA test is not enough. We must test at least one more descendant to confirm these results. If confirmed, we will know that George of Hawkins was not related to either Michael of Bedford or Michael of Knox. This will be critical in correcting all of the current online family trees. 

Review: What's next?

  • Michael of Knox: Get at least one more descendant of Nicholas Karnes (father of Michael of Knox) to do a Big Y-500 test to detemine the Y-DNA profile of Nicholas Karnes. This will also help us see where Jacob Karnes (one of the Big Y-500 testers) fits into the Karnes family. Further, as stated in The Amazing Power of Y-DNA, the two previous testers [Mr. Karns and Mr. Carnes] have unique variants that have not yet been seen in anyone else. Mr. Karns has four, and Mr. Carnes has five unnamed variants. These mutations occurred in their own family line and not in the line of the other man. These unnamed variants can be named and tied to specific ancestors by testing more Karnes descendants. When any of these unnamed variants is found in another man, a new haplogroup will be formed.
  • Michael of Bedford: Get at least one descendant of Michael of Bedford to do a Big-Y-500 test. By comparing his results to any people on his Big Y-500 match list, we may begin to find Michael's German origins. This test will also begin to establish the Y-DNA profile of Michael of Bedford which will be useful in determining relationships of possible male relatives.
  • George of Hawkins: Get at least one descendant of George of Hawkins to do a Big Y-500 test to verify the lineage. Ask the descendant of George Kernen to do a Big Y-500 test to see how closely he is related to these two Karnes descendants. This could tell us if George of Hawkins was originally from the area around Reutigen, Switzerland, and can also tell us the approximate date of the common ancestor.

Y-DNA can do what nothing else can. With Y-DNA we can focus on specific genealogical lines, determine relationships, and prove or disprove our genealogical theories. Y-DNA is amazing!

What are the next steps?

Sometimes our Y-DNA results don't follow the normal pattern. See what happens with a man who has thousands of results at 67 markers and how many of those match in the Big Y results. It's actually quite shocking.  See Y-DNA: Big Y test resolves STRs and convergence

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Using the new Family Tree DNA Y-DNA Haplotree

Family Tree DNA has just released new a Y-DNA haplotree that is open to the public. Using the new FTDNA public haplotree can help you decide whether you want to do your own Y-DNA testing and whether you want to recruit others for testing. It can also help you better understand the results you already have. The tree not only includes SNPs from Big Y tests (recently renamed "Big Y-500" tests); it also includes results from FTDNA SNP packs and individual SNP tests. Roberta Estes wrote a good post on how to use this new tree here.

I want to focus on how this new haplotree can help you with interpreting and enhancing your Big Y results. It can also be a good tool for recording your ancestry. Let's start with a Big Y-500 test to see how this process works. 

Your Big Y-500 list of SNP matches

If you took a Big Y-500 test, one of the most confusing parts about your Big Y-500 results is your list of matches. Below we see what many refer to as your step chart. The chart shows the "terminal" SNP which is the most recent SNP that you share with at least one other man. I put the term "terminal" in quotes because this SNP may not actually be your terminal, or most recent, SNP. Your most recent shared SNP can change if you test more closely-related individuals. If you have tested a father and son or two brothers, then you probably do know the real terminal SNP. Note the terminal SNP J-BY45500 and its four upstream branches.

Big Y-500 Step Chart
Step Chart

In the above chart, the most recent shared SNP is BY45500. J-BY45500 is the haplogroup assigned to this person. To the right of the haplogroup is the number 1 indicating that this SNP is shared with only one other man. But the four haplogroups above also seem to show that each of the SNPs is shared with only one other man. When you click on the icon of the male, you will see the name of the match.  In this case the kit belongs to a man named Karns, and his only match at all five levels is a man named Carnes.

Because there is only one match at haplogroup J-Z1295 we could conclude that only two people, Carnes and Karns, have tested within this haplogroup. These results can be very misleading unless you understand that Family Tree DNA is only showing genealogically-relevant matches. Family Tree DNA will not display matches who have more than a 30-SNP difference with you. So the Matches list does not mean that only two people have tested positive for SNPs Z1295, Z631, Z1043, Y98609, and BY45500. 

Using the FTDNA non-public haplotree

To see if there are other people with these SNPs, let's first examine the haplotree that you see within your account. This tree is only available to people who have tested with Family Tree DNA. This is the only haplotree that has been available until the release of the new public haplotree, so it is useful to see the comparison.

To find the haplotree click on myDNA at the top of the screen, then click Y-DNA, then Haplotree & SNPs.

Haplotree SNPs

You will see your position within the human haplotree, and you can see other SNPs associated with your haplogroup by clicking the word "More" next to the haplogroup. You will not see information such as surnames or how many people tested at each level.

FTDNA haplotree

Is there a way to find out how many people have tested at the various levels and maybe even see surnames? Yes, finally there is.

Using the new Family Tree DNA Y-DNA Haplotree

To see the FTDNA public haplotree, you must either log out of your account or open another browser so that you can see your account and the public haplotree at the same time.

If you have logged out of your account, you will be taken to the Sign In screen.

FTDNA Sign In screen

Click the Family Tree DNA logo at the upper left of the screen. On the next page, scroll all the way to the bottom until you see this:

FTDNA Y-DNA Haplotree


You can go directly to the tree by clicking
The tree will open in a new window so that you can explore the tree while reading this.

The Y-DNA Haplotree will take awhile to load. You will then see the tree below. The Countries view is the default, but you can change to the Surnames view or the Variants view. We will leave it in the Countries view.

FTDNA haplotree countries

Using the Countries view

We want to find out if more than two people tested positive for SNP J-Z1295 (the top level of the step chart). Enter the haplogroup name in the "Go to Branch Name" box. You must list the full J-Z1295, not just Z1295, but you don't need to type capital letters. 

Y-DNA Haplotree countries

You will be taken to the precise position on the tree:

Y-DNA Haplotree countries

Haplogroup J-Z1295 is highlighted in blue. Next to J-Z1295 is the number 41. This is the current number of branches within haplogroup J-Z1295. Click the + sign at the left to see the branches.

Y-DNA Haplotree subclades

We now see two branches (subclades) within J-Z1295: J-Z631 has 34 subclades, and J-CTS5789 has five subclades for a total of 41. We can continue to see the further branching of the tree by clicking the + sign next to each branch we want to view.

What else do we see in the above screen? Aside from knowing that J-Z1295 has 41 branches we see four icons on this line. These are flags representing the countries of origin reported by the testees. Each person reports his own country of origin, so if a person believes, for example, that his ancestor came from Scotland you will see the flag of Scotland. You can hover over each flag to see the name of the country it represents. Obviously, since these countries of origin are self-reported, they may not be accurate. The last icon is a question mark which indicates that 21 people did not report a country of origin. So it appears that there are a total of 26 people who currently have haplogroup J-Z1295 as their terminal haplogroup. Since they do not belong to the two branches below J-Z1295 there may be at least one other subclade that has not yet been discovered. As more people take the Big Y-500 test, these people could be moved into a new subclade.

Instead of clicking on each subclade and adding the number of people with flags, we can see a better report by clicking the three dots to the far right of J-Z1295 

Y-DNA Haplotree options

Click Country Report on the menu. 

haplotree country report

We will now see the total number of people who have tested positive for J-Z1295 and its branches.

haplotree country report

We see that 26 people have J-Z1295 as their terminal haplogroup. Their countries of origin are shown. For example, one person in haplogroup J-Z1295 reported Germany as his country of origin, and 17.18% of the people within this haplogroup and subclades reported Germany as their country of origin. We must scroll down to see all reported countries. 379 people are within haplogroup J-Z1295: 26 at J-Z1295, and 353 in its branches. This is far more than the two people we assumed from our Big Y-500 match list! Furthermore, these numbers will continue to grow. 

We can see the total number of men for each branch in our step chart. Here is the Country report for haplogroup J-Z631:

haplotree country report

345 people have been placed in this haplogroup or one of its branches. Now we'll see the number of people in J-Z1043:

haplotree country report

241 people have been placed within this haplogroup by Family Tree DNA. The next subclade, J-Y98609, is where it gets interesting.


There are a total of three testees above. Notice that there is only one man who has haplogroup J-Y98609. His ancestor was from the Czech Republic. The two additional men broke off and formed a new subclade.

Here is the terminal haplogroup J-BY45500:


In this final screen, these are the two people, Carnes and Karns, who are reported as matches in the Big Y-500 Matching list we originally saw. I will repeat the beginning screen:


What we know is that these two people [the "You" (Karns) and the one match (Carnes)] do not share at least 30 SNPs with the man who is still in haplogroup J-Y98609. He is not on the list of matches. We can see a partial list of the SNPs by changing to the Variants view instead of the Countries view in the new Y-DNA Haplotree.

Using the Variants view

Go to the top of the page and select Variants. We still have J-Z1295 in the "Go to Branch" search box.

FTDNA haplotree variants view

The view will change to show SNPs instead of countries.

haplotree variants view

Here we see that the two men at haplogroup J-BY45500 share three SNPs with the man at haplogroup J-Y98609. These shared SNPs are Y98609, BY38005, and Y105578. After that, Carnes and Karns formed their own subclade because they shared 13 named SNPs and had some unnamed variants that the other man did not have. 

The man at J-Y98609 no doubt has a large number of unnamed variants because he is not within 30 SNPs of the other two men. He can recruit another cousin with his surname who will share some of his unnamed variants. They will then form a new subclade of haplogroup J-Y98609. As more distant cousins and closer family members are tested the haplogroups will move closer to the present time, and we can begin to see at which generation each SNP occurred.

Using the Surnames view

We saw in Haplogroup J-Z1295 that there was an option for a Country Report.  The Surname Report has no link, so there are no surnames available for this haplogroup.

haplotree reports

If we go to the top of the Y-DNA haplotree we can search by surname. I removed the branch name from the "Go to Branch Name" search box, so we are now searching for the surname Karns in the entire haplogroup J.

haplotree surnames

There are no results.

Why aren't surnames showing in all haplogroups?

If you choose the surname view you will notice that sometimes you will see surnames, and other times you will not. Here are the reasons you may not be seeing surnames in your haplogroup:

  • At least two men must share the same terminal haplogroup and the same surname.
  • Each man has to have opted into public sharing in his account settings.
  • The surnames currently held by these men must be spelled exactly the same.

In haplogroup J-Y98609 there is only one man in the group, so there can be no matching surname. In haplogroup J-BY45500 you also do not see any surnames. Although the two men in this haplogroup share the same terminal SNP, share a common ancestor named Nicolaus Kern[s], and both have opted into public sharing, the current surnames of these men are not spelled exactly the same. One man spells his surname Carnes, and the other spells his surname Karns, so no surname appears on the haplotree.

Finding a surname

Let's use another example where we have two men with matching surnames. Here we will use my Thompson example from previous blog entries. Thompson is a very common surname, so we should expect to find the name in a surname search of Haplogroup R.

haplotree surname search

The search results say that the surname Thompson is found a total of 27 times and is found 14 times within Haplogroup R.  The screen will then display every Thompson within Haplogroup R.  Here are a few examples:

Thompson haplotree

The haplogroups are highlighted in blue that have at least two Thompsons with that haplogroup as their current terminal haplogroup. In order to appear on the list, they also had to agree to public sharing.

Here are my Thompsons. Their current terminal SNP is FGC65820,  and only the two Thompsons share this SNP. 


Notice that there are options to see both a Country Report and a Surname Report. Here is the Surname Report:


In the surname report for this haplogroup there is only one surname. We can see exactly how many Thompsons have this terminal SNP. The terminal SNP will change as more Thompsons are tested, and they will form subclades of R-FGC65820.

It's pretty exciting seeing my ancestor's surname appearing in this haplogroup.

How can I make sure that my results are on the 
FTDNA public Y-DNA Haplotree?

1. Take a SNP test from Family Tree DNA. You must take a Y-DNA test and be SNP tested. If your test results show the haplogroup in red (such as R-M269), your haplogroup is estimated and has not been confirmed. You must order some kind of SNP test from Family Tree DNA to confirm it. Once you have been SNP tested your haplogroup will be shown in green. I highly recommend ordering the Big Y-700 test if you can afford it because you will likely find new SNPs that have never been discovered, and you may even form a modern haplogroup. The Big Y-700 test can help get your ancestor's name in a haplogroup in the genealogical time frame.

2. Opt into public sharing. Log into your account, and click your name at the upper right of the screen. Then click Account Settings. On the next screen click the Privacy & Sharing tab:

Click the boxes next to "Opt in to sharing," especially the box for Origin Sharing.

3. Enter the country of origin for your most distant known paternal ancestor. Click the genealogy tab:

Under Earliest Known Ancestors choose the Country of Origin for your Direct Paternal ancestor. Family Tree DNA used to ask you not to enter United States unless your ancestor was Native American. This is no longer the case; there is now a choice between United States and United States (Native American). So, for example, if your ancestor lived in the United States and you aren't sure of the country of origin, you should choose United States. You can change the country when you discover more information.

4. Recruit other relatives. In the Carnes/Karns example above I need to recruit more closely-related men.  We would then see two subclades below J-BY45500: one with the surname Carnes and one with the surname Karns.


The new public haplotree is a big step forward. You no longer need to be tested at Family Tree DNA to view the haplotree. The countries of origin, the surnames, and the number of people tested are all new additions to the haplotree. I am grateful to Family Tree DNA for finally making this tree public and for adding these very helpful enhancements. The tree motivated me to do even further Big Y-500 testing to get my ancestral surnames assigned to modern haplogroups on the Y-DNA haplotree.

This tree will allow me to leave a lasting record of many of my ancestors, proved by Y-DNA.

What's next?

In an upcoming blog entry we will compare two public haplotrees: FTDNA's new Y-DNA Haplotree and the YTree at YFull. We will see the advantages and disadvantages of each. You may want to consider getting into both. Good news just keeps coming!


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