yDNA Testing Overview
We are, by no means, experts on DNA (DeoxyriboNucleic Acid) testing or the interpretation of DNA results; however, we have acquired a significant understanding of this subject over the years. The following overview is our understanding of the subject and attempts to frankly address the questions that we have been asked and the concerns of a few folks. FTDNA has posted some significant information, but it seems difficult to find and assess. There are also many other excellent online resources that address much more detailed information on this subject.
We have been asked many times why the surname DNA projects are limited to male participants. The answer to this question is found in the characteristics of DNA. DNA is passed from parents to their children. There are four kinds of DNA that provide varying degrees of genealogical usefulness: yDNA, xDNA, atDNA and mtDNA. yDNA is based on the Y chromosome which is one of a pair the sex determining chromosomes. Males inherit a Y from their father and a X from their mother. In ideal circumstances, yDNA should follow a surname forever. Some of the reasons for deviations from the ideal are discussed below. Since most lineages are based on male surnames, the vast majority of surname DNA projects use yDNA. atDNA DNA is a mixture of male and female DNA, so autosomal DNA tests can be utilized by both males and females.
An individual's yDNA test results have little meaning on their own. Test results cannot be plugged into some magical formula to determine the name of an ancestor. The value of an individualís test results depends on how they compare to other test results. Matching results indicate that the individuals share a Common Ancestor (CA). Depending on the number of markers tested and the number of matches, the comparison will indicate, with a certain degree of probability, how long ago this common ancestor lived. The tests will not show exactly who this ancestor was, but when combined with conventional research (i.e.; paper trails), the results can be used to confirm a suspected connection between two families or disprove a connection. Although it is impossible to pinpoint a common ancestor from the test results alone, with a proven paper trails, it is possible to do so.
The test results can be very useful to anyone that has a short/medium paper trail. That is, family historians that are confronted with a dead-end or brick wall. In that case, matching results with results associated with a proven longer paper trail would indicate ancestor candidates and the geographical area to concentrate research.
Of course, the test results can confirm good research and may refute less than perfect research.
The tests are also a good indicator of events that have occurred in almost every
family history. These events are collectively known as "non-paternity events". Such an event may not be known to the yDNA submitter and his
results may be surprising. In our research of several family lines, we
have become aware of the following non-paternity events:
1. "Adoptions" - In earlier times, frontier life could be very harsh and formal adoptions were rare. When the parents of young children died, their neighbors sometimes "adopted" the orphans. Sometimes the orphans kept their parents name; sometimes they grew up using the surname of their foster parents. Sometimes these children were never told of these events.
2. Unions (civil, common law or other) that, for one reason or the other, resulted in children that were given the surname of their mother. One specific example is that of the children of an unmarried mother. These children were often given the surname of their mother and sometimes raised as children of their mother's parents. Sometimes these children were never told of these events.
3. Name/Identity changes - At one time, it was relatively easy for an individual to assume a different name without using the legal system.
4. Marital indiscretions - Stuff happens.
Although, these events were relatively rare, they did occur and such a discovery may cause the submitter some concern. Unless the submitter agrees, the DNA testing companies do not release submitter's given name. Virtually all yDNA projects use the same ground rules as the testing companies. These projects compare yDNA results with lineages, not individuals. Unless specifically asked to do so, most yDNA projects do not contain lineages with the names of living people or possible living people born less than 100 years ago.
Personal Privacy - If they so chose, participants in the project can remain virtually anonymous: however, since the project compares the results and lineages of project members, the project administrator needs to be able to communicate with participants.
Medical Privacy - The yDNA used for
genealogy is sometimes called "Junk DNA" by the scientific community. That is because the
exact function of this yDNA has not been identified. Therefore, this yDNA has no
relationship to medical conditions and cannot be used by people, businesses or
organizations to identify medical conditions.
Payment of Testing Fees - The person being tested does not have to pay for for the testing himself. The testing company does not care who pays for the testing and neither do project administrators. In fact, it is not unusual at all for the testing fees of participants to be paid for by a relative or other interested person. The DNA testing fee makes an interesting gift.
Another concern is that yDNA results will refute long established family traditions, legends and/or imperfect lineage assumptions/paper trails. In other words: Don't confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up. Again, it is up to the participant to make his name public, so if he chooses, he can go on living, telling and publishing his legend.
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Revised Jun 13, 2018