Tuesday 8 December 2015

Surname Projects - Understanding what you See

Anyone who has recently taken a Y-DNA test will be encouraged to check out the FamilyTreeDNA website and see if there is a Surname Project running for their own particular surname. And if there is, they should join up. But for people who have never seen a Surname Project before, it can be a bit confusing to understand what they are actually looking at.

Below is a blog post I wrote for my Gleeson DNA Project (of which I am co-administrator). It helps to illustrate what you see, what it means, and how you can use the information to help move your own research forwards.

Maurice Gleeson
Dec 2015

The Gleason/Gleeson DNA Project has a number of different resources to help you trace your Gleason/Gleeson ancestry. If you are new to the Project, or even if you are an old hand, here is a useful summary of all the wonderful places you can visit and what each of them has to offer you.

But before we even get to the Project resources, the starting place for most people will be their own DNA results page on FamilyTreeDNA and here is my Dad's results page below as an example.

If you click on Matches under Y-DNA, that will show you what matches you have at different levels of comparison. The picture below shows that my Dad has 2 matches at 111 markers. But I could adjust the number of markers compared by clicking on the dropdown list beside the heading "Markers" (indicated by the red arrow) and choose 67 markers or 37 markers, etc. This will allow me to compare my Dad's results with other people within the FTDNA database who have tested to this particular marker level.

In the first column, the heading is Genetic Distance (GD), and my Dad has a GD of 6 and 9 for his two matches. As we are comparing at the 111 marker level, this can be written as 6/111 and 9/111. Genetic Distance refers to how close or how far away your marker values are when compared to another person. A Genetic Distance of zero means that the values for all of the markers are exactly the same - this is called an exact match.

Who qualifies as a match to you? Anyone whose marker values are sufficiently similar that they meet the criteria set by FTDNA to be declared "a match". And here are those criteria:
The ISOGG Wiki has a very nice summary of Genetic Distance and the criteria for matching.

However, your own webpage only shows you your own matches - it does not show you other people's matches. And it does not show you matches that fall outside of FTDNA's matching criteria but which may still be relevant to you. For that, you need to visit the Gleason/Gleeson DNA Project website.

Click to enlarge

And the most useful page is probably the Results page because this is where you can compare your results to everyone else in the project. Above is a screenshot of the results page.

Explaining the Columns

Reading from left to right across the table ...
  • the first column has the Identification Number assigned to each new member as they join the DNA project
  • the second column lists their kit number
  • the third column records the spelling of their surname (there are several common variants and a few probable NPE's - Non Paternity Events)
  • the fourth column list the Earliest Known Ancestor (also known as the Most Distant Known Ancestor) for each member - this could be written as EKA aka MDKA ... don't you just love acronyms!
  • the next column records the Haplogroup for each member using both the older "long-form" terminology along with the "terminal SNP" terminology (a Haplogroup is simply a collection of people with a broadly similar genetic signature)
  • and thereafter are the values for each marker, one by one, going all the way up to 111 markers (although only the first 37 markers are shown here)

Explaining the Rows

  • The first row contains the headers for the columns. Below that is the "Modal Haplotype" for Haplogroup R1b1 which is the Haplogroup to which all three R1b1 Lineages belong. The Modal Haplotype is simply the marker values that occur most frequently within that particular group.
  • Below that, is the Modal Haplotype for the group Lineage I. You can see that it differs from the R1b1 Modal Haplotype on a number of markers, indicated by the coloured columns (i.e. orange for marker 391, purple for marker 458, orange again for 447, etc). This in turn differs from the Modal Haplotype for Lineage II, further down the table. The colouring of the differences from the R1b1 Modal Haplotype helps distinguish the unique patterns for each Lineage.
  • Each of the subsequent rows contains the details for an individual member - it's as if the Y chromosomes for all of the members are stacked up on top of each other. This makes it easy to compare the values for each of the DNA markers to see if the members in a group match on a particular marker or have a different value. Any differences are again highlighted by coloured squares.

As Project Admins, Judy and I will allocate you to specific groups within the DNA project depending on who you match. So far there are four distinct groups or 'Lineages' within the project. Lineage I members are descended from Thomas Gleson of Cockfield, Suffolk, England (Judy's ancestor), whereas Lineages II & III are Irish groups with origins in Tipperary and Clare respectively. Lineage IV is a small group of people whose origins currently lie within the US. My own particular Gleeson branch belongs to Lineage II.

Click to enlarge

Another important page on the website is the Patriarchs Page. This is where we post the pedigree of each project member and as you can see in the screenshot above for Lineage I, it potentially helps in the reconstruction of the family tree of the Common Ancestor associated with each Lineage. All members are encouraged to submit their pedigrees for inclusion on this page. Have a look through it - you may discover your own ancestor there!

The other major resources associated with the Project include this blog and the Gleeson Genealogy Forum on Facebook. This currently boasts 178 members and is a great place for socialising with the other members of the project, sharing information, and making new friends.

And anyone who joins will get a brief "report" of their results courtesy of myself or Judy. This will include an analysis of haplogroup origins, interpretation of matches, what additional projects would be worth joining, and what further DNA testing might prove fruitful for their particular situation.

So do explore the website, this blog, and the Facebook group - there is lots to discover about your Gleason/Gleeson heritage. And come back to this blog often - it will be a repository of knowledge and a log of our ongoing discoveries.

Maurice Gleeson
16th July 2015