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DNA Project Notes
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ)
Y-DNA SURNAME STUDIES
24 July 2010
These questions address surname studies using Y-DNA. For more information about other types of genetic genealogy tests such as mtDNA, SNP (deep clade, deep ancestry, anthrogenealogy), autosomal, or "ethnic ancestry" DNA tests, see my DNA Project Notes and the web site of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG).
A few remarks have been added below (in green) for National Geographic Genographic Project participants who chose to upload their results to Family Tree DNA (FTDNA).
Most of the participants in the above listed projects tested with Family Tree DNA (FTDNA). If you have already tested with another company, contact the volunteer group administrator for additional information.
There is now a DNA test that females and males who are not of the direct Y-DNA (or mtDNA) line can use in their genealogical research (FTDNA’s Family Finder test). See HOT TOPICS
1. What is a DNA Surname Project? Includes Confused about chromosomes?
2. What are the Project Objectives?
3. Is it a blood test? Do I have to go to a lab?
4. Is this a paternity test?
5. How much does it cost?
6. What is a marker?
7. How many markers should I order?
8. Can I participate if I am a female
Can I participate if I am a male with a different surname?
9. What about privacy?
10. Will we get to know who everybody is? In case we want to contact them?
11. What about other testing companies?
12. Why do different companies offer different marker tests?
13. I do not live in the U.S. How might I go about having the testing done?
14. Do I need to complete a Customs Declaration form?
15. What if someone else starts a project later just for my exact spelling?
16. What else should I know? - includes Project Policies and other important information
17. I want to do it. What do I do next?
A DNA surname project involves the Y chromosome testing of males who share the same surname; only males have a Y chromosome. For hundreds of years the Y chromosome has been passed from father to son unchanged except for very infrequent mutations. The test result is a series of numbers, called a haplotype (see Note at end of question list). By comparing your numbers to others with your surname you can determine with a high degree of probability if you share a common ancestor; the results do not tell you exactly how you are related. A single test is useless - it must be compared to others carrying the same surname and used in conjunction with traditional research (e.g., pedigree/ancestor chart, etc.). In addition to testing, we need information (e.g., pedigree chart) on each participant's line of descent from the earliest known male ancestor. This helps to identify the various unconnected lines.
Confused about chromosomes?
A group project is coordinated by a volunteer Group Administrator as a labor of love. There are no "kickbacks" to the administrator or anyone else involved in the project.
Most surname projects begin with the objective to identify others who are related; throughout the project the other objectives are achieved simply as a result of the project.
1) Identify others who are related [It will not
tell you exactly how you are related]
2) Prove or disprove theories regarding ancestors [Results may help you focus your research]
3) Solve brick walls in your research
4) Determine a location for further research
5) Validate existing research
6) Develop a DNA database for future researchers [If we don't find our answers now, perhaps our descendants will]
See also Objectives
No. It is a buccal test (sounds like buckle). You take the test at home. The sample is obtained by "scraping" the inside of the cheek. I tried it and it is painless; it felt like rubbing the inside of the cheek with the edge of a spoon. You take one sample and put it in a little vial of "soapy" solution; you take another sample at least 8 hours later. The kit includes instructions (read them all the way through first!), two "scrapers," two vials of "soapy" solution, a release form, and a return envelope (requires two postage stamps). For more details, see DNA Collection Method; this has the full instructions, tips, and link to picture of the test kit).
Note to National Geographic Genographic Project Participants: You have already taken this test.
No. A Y-DNA test only looks at the Y chromosome (one of 23 chromosomes that a man has). A paternity test does not look at the Y; it looks at the other 22 which recombine in each generation. The Y does not recombine which is why it can be so successfully used for male direct line descent genealogy.
FTDNA prices mentioned below are as of 24 July 2010 and are subject to change.
The group rate prices (including any special sales) are available online at
FTDNA. Locate the project, click on the
order link, and see the products/prices.
Clicking on the order link does not require that you order at that
time. For example, here’s a link
There are various genetic genealogy tests and all are described at the link. The test of interest to this project is the Y-DNA test. Prices for that test range from $99 to $239 depending on how many markers you order (plus shipping and handling). Order as many markers as your budget permits; see FAQ’s #6 and #7 below.
The special rate for group projects offers a substantial savings. For example, the 67 marker Y-DNA test group rate is $239 and the non group price is $268.
A group project is coordinated by a volunteer Group Administrator as a labor of love. There are no "kickbacks" to the administrator or anyone else involved in the project
Shipping and handling as of 24 July 2010:
Foreign orders: $6.00
Prices are in US $. Payment may be in US $ denominated check or credit card. You may need to complete a Customs Declaration form when you return your test kit. FTDNA recommends that you put "genealogy swabs" on the form. The time for the kit to arrive back at FTDNA will depend on your country, the route the package takes through customs, and Homeland Security.
Note: Family Tree DNA also has a multilingual site in
A marker is a location on the Y chromosome that may be tested for genetic genealogy. These locations, or markers, have names, such as DYS #19 or DYS #385a or DYS #439. When a marker is tested, the result is reduced to a number, which represents the number of repeated patterns in the DNA at a specific location on the Y chromosome.
Don't worry if this makes no sense to you (see the second paragraph under Note at the end of the question list).
The more markers, the better. If you can afford it, order the 37 or the 67 marker test. If not, you may wish to start with the 12 marker test. If you get a match, you will mostly likely want to upgrade to more markers (see prices in the above chart). Some participants have a common haplotype - they match many people with different surnames. In these cases, more markers are needed to make a determination about relationship to others in the study.
If you share the same surname (or variation) and match others in the project, it is likely you share a common ancestor. If you have a paper trail to a line with an established DNA signature, you already know who the common ancestor is. If you do not have a trail, the MRCA (most recent common ancestor) may have been in recent generations or may have lived 1,500 years ago. For example, if there is a perfect match on the 37 marker tests, there is a 50% probability that your MRCA was no longer than five generations ago. The statistical probabilities vary depending on results. See the table and other information at Results - Meaning. Note to National Geographic Genographic Project Participants: You already have the results of the 12 marker test. Depending on interests, you may or may not wish to upgrade to more markers.
8. CAN I PARTICIPATE IF I AM A FEMALE?
CAN I PARTICIPATE IF I AM A MALE WITH A DIFFERENT SURNAME?
We can not use your DNA in this study. But you may have a qualified family member (male carrying the surname). For example, I am a female using my father's DNA. Other female family historians/researchers are using a brother, cousin, or uncle (male researchers are using a cousin or uncle). If no there is no longer a qualified male in your line, you may choose to donate towards the testing of a qualified male who descends from a line of interest to you (someone who is willing but cannot afford the test).
If you are confused about why your DNA won't work, see Confused About Chromosomes?
Your privacy is protected by both the company processing the tests and by your group administrator. See the below Note and Privacy. Your surname variation, and in some cases initials, will appear on our web site (see example); if this is a concern, that presentation can be modified.
When there is a match, FTDNA sends automatic emails to anyone with a close match (assuming you, and they, signed the release form). Their names and emails appear on your personal pages at FTDNA. If you change your email, be sure you change it at FTDNA (and notify me, your Project Administrator). I also post general updates (but don't name names) to our web site and to the various surname lists on RootsWeb (many of the participants belong to these lists). I am in frequent communication with most participants. However, if something unexpected happened to me - remember that everything you need is at your personal pages at FTNDA. These are discussed more in After You Test.
If your surname has an established surname project, it is to your advantage to test with the same company. Our study uses FTDNA, but if you have already tested with a different company (or do not wish to use FTDNA), you can still be part of the project. If you provide your results, I'll include them on the web site. If you test elsewhere, be sure you order a Y STR chromosome test (preferably 25 or more markers) and not one of the other type of DNA tests that are available. Not all companies test the same DYS numbers but you will still be able to compare your results (see number 12).
12. WHY DO DIFFERENT COMPANIES OFFER DIFFERENT MARKER TESTS?
At this time, no one company offers testing on all currently known markers. The several markers tested by all companies are those for which testing protocols have been available for the longest period of time (but that does not necessarily mean they are the "most important" markers). After a scientist (usually in a government funded research lab) discovers a new marker and is granted a new DYS number, the information to duplicate the test is made available to the scientific community. However, a commercial laboratory's entire testing protocol would have to be redesigned each time a new marker test is added and this is an expensive procedure. Companies have to standardize what they offer or they would "go broke" very fast.
Here are links to results of two people who "Y" DNA tested with more than one company (some markers require adjustments due to different reporting conventions):
Easy to read chart by person who "Y" DNA tested with three
More complicated chart by person who tested with many companies:
13. I DO NOT LIVE IN THE
FTDNA handles many international orders. The prices quoted are in US $. The only difference for foreign orders is that the mailing feel is $4 instead of $2 for domestic first class mail. Payment may be in US $ denominated check or credit card. You can also write FTDNA personally if you wish, and ask questions about "foreign" orders. But if you sign up, do it with this study so you can get the group rate.
New! Family Tree DNA has a multilingual site in
14. DO I NEED TO COMPLETE A CUSTOMS
For those who are at an international destination, you may need to complete a Customs Declaration form at the post office when you return your test kit. FTDNA recommends that you put "genealogy swabs" on the form. If you are at an international location, the time for a test kit to arrive back at FTDNA will depend on your country, the route the package takes through customs, and Homeland Security. (Prior to "9/11", FTDNA had no problems with international orders. Later, during the "anthrax scare," there were two cases in which nervous postal workers saw DNA on the address and refused to accept the package.)
15. WHAT IF SOMEONE ELSE STARTS A
PROJECT LATER JUST FOR MY EXACT SPELLING?
If you join this project, and some day, someone starts a project that includes variations (or results) more conducive to your
interests, you can simply ask them to include your results in their study (indeed, they would want to have them!). When you test, you get a series of numbers and you may give them to anyone you wish.
16. WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW?
<> PROJECT POLICIES:
▪ Your kit number, results, surname variation and initials will appear on our public results page.
▪ When results are in, the project administrator will upload data to Ysearch. You will be notified of your Ysearch ID and pass code.
▪ Your full name and other private information will never appear on our public websites.
▪ If you have a sensitive situation (for example, an adoption), we will discuss this with you privately to find a solution that works for you and the project.
▪ Your known lineage information for direct paternal line is required for project participation. If you are new to genealogy we may be able to help you with this. You may join if you are adopted and have the surname. You may join if you have a different surname but believe your Y-DNA line may be from a project surname variation.
<> Be sure to read Non-Paternal Events. There is always a chance there was an unknown adoption, infidelity, etc in the past. That is why it is desirable to have two or more males who are distant cousins tested for each known line to prove the line to a common male ancestor and establish the genetic identification of that line. If you know that you, or an earlier ancestor with your surname, were adopted into the family, you do NOT want to participate in a project for your legal surname because you carry a different Y chromosome.
<> Results take several weeks. They can take longer if reruns are
required. You may receive partial results at different times.
See FTDNA Mail and After You Test for more details.
Note to National Geographic Genographic Project Participants: If you chose to "upload" your results to Family Tree DNA (FTDNA), the results of your 12 markers are already at FTDNA - they sent you your access codes when you uploaded from the Genographic Project site.
<> This is the beginning of a long-term project. If you don't have a paper trail to an established DNA line, you may have to wait for many more participants before you have a match. It is possible you might never get a match. No matter what happens, your results - and ancestry information - are contributing to a database that will assist family researchers now and in the years to come. (For example, a future descendant of yours who lost track of his family history might test 50 years from now and match to you. You may not be around to enjoy this - but it will be quite a thrill for him!)
<> Genetic genealogy is a new, exciting, and rapidly changing field. All of us (including you, if you participate) are pioneers. The first company to offer testing to the public was formed in 1999. The few companies in the business of testing, and most surname project managers, have had their ups and downs, and many are still going through a learning curve. (See also the remarks in the Preface to After You Test.) Methods of reporting tests by different companies may vary but standard methods are evolving; some companies have different markers. As researchers discover more, offers from testing companies change. For example, an early surname project was only able to test 4 markers; now there are many more markers that can be tested. It is believed that in time test prices will go down.
<> These questions address surname studies using Y-DNA. For more information about other types of genetic genealogy tests such as mtDNA, SNP (deep clade, deep ancestry, anthrogenealogy), and "ethnic ancestry" DNA tests, see my DNA Project Notes and the web site of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG).
<> If you are interested in the history of genetic genealogy, see this Timeline.
17. I WANT TO DO IT. WHAT DO I DO NEXT?
If you have more questions, email me.
If you have no further questions and are ready to participant, you can order the test at the below JOIN CODE link. Order as many markers as your budget permits (if you decide you need more markers, you can upgrade later when/if budget permits). When your order has been confirmed by FTDNA, see the Welcome & Links page link (also below). If you do not hear from me (or the project co-administrator) within seven days, it means we are traveling and do not have easy access to our email.
Note to National Geographic Genographic Project
Participants: You have already "joined" - see this page:
Note: When you test, your
results will be a series of numbers (markers, allele values). This set of
numbers is called a haplotype. A haplotype, or genetic haplotype, is often
referred to as a DNA "fingerprint" or "signature." However,
be assured that there is a big difference between a real fingerprint and the
project's Y test result. Generally speaking, a real fingerprint is unique to an
individual (no two are alike) and can be used to identify that individual. The
project's Y test result is not unique to an individual. Several persons from
different lines can come up with exactly the same results - in fact, we hope
they do! (See also Privacy .)
In additions to terms such as haplotype you will also see other terms: DYS#, STR, locus/loci, scores, alleles/allele values, and more. You don't need to know what these all mean to take the test and understand the results of the test. However, if you wish to learn more now, check the links throughout my DNA Project Notes, including the glossary links at DNA Terms, and the links in the Misc. Notes (such as Blair's DNA 101).
FAQs at other sites - Reading the FAQs of others may help. Here are some other site recommendations:
http://blairgenealogy.com/dna/dnafaq.html [Blair] after reading his FAQ's, click on his DNA 101 link
JOIN CODE & WELCOME LINKS
DO NOT USE the below Join Codes to order tests until after you have read the above Frequently Asked Questions. Then order as many markers as your budget permits (if you decide you need more markers, you can always upgrade later when/if budget permits). When your order has been confirmed by FTDNA, see the below Welcome & Links page. If you do not hear from me (or the project co-administrator) within seven days, it means we are traveling and do not have easy access to our email.
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