How I Found My Relatives Through Three Testing Companies, YFull Analysis and Brute Force

My journey in male lineage genetic genealogy began when I received the result of J-Z631 from National Geographic's Geno 2.0 test. My curiosity became piqued when I read theories that this lineage may have originated in the Balkans and migrated to other parts of Europe mediated by the Roman Empire. While this theory now appears validated by an ancient Roman DNA sample, this article describes my successful quest for living relatives. But Rome wasn't conquered in a day... It took years, three testing companies (FGC, FTDNA, YSEQ), test analysis company YFull and code I wrote myself.

I tested 67 markers at FTDNA and found one match right at their cutoff of GD 7/67. I'm of Belgian descent and this man was of unknown descent. He wasn't interested in testing further so I hit a brick wall that persisted for a few years.

I eventually decided to invest in a WGS, Whole Genome Sequence, product in the event that I would one day become as interested in the rest of my DNA as I was in the male lineage. I then had YFull analyze my result. It was a surprise! My closest match was a Tuscan man from a scientific study. YFull calculated that our common ancestor lived about 2800 years ago. While I cannot contact the man from the study, the analysis also provided me a SNP, PH1080, that I could recommend someone to test for $18 to confirm our relationship on the male line.

Note: This branch isn't yet known by FTDNA because they do not incorporate  competitors tests or scientific studies into their tree. NA is one of many codes designating a sample as from a study. Link to this branch of the YFull tree.

My interest gradually increased. I began writing software, for our own J-M241 private research, to visualize geographic distributions of sibling haplogroups. My hope was to at least get an idea of where my ancient ancestors were living since I had no recent matches. I became an assistant haplogroup administrator in J-M241.

Over a few years administering J-M241 and J-Z2453, I learned that in many cases, real relationships were lurking in the STRs below the level shown in the FTDNA match results.

I wanted to identify a cluster of men who have relatively lower genetic distance to myself and to each other. This function isn't provided by FTDNA, which shows you only genetic distance between two men. So I wrote a script to do it automatically because it was tedious to manually compare so many dozens of people through the FTDNA GAP project management system.

Keep in mind that this method, clustering by genetic distance, is a very simplistic method and not guaranteed to always discover a true clade, men who descend from a single most recent common ancestor, because:

  1. It does not take the incidence of shared rare STRs into account
  2. Founder effects - someone from some unrelated, but prolific group will have randomly converged to your STRs due to chance

Better STR cluster finding tools than my original method have been developed by David Vance (SAPP) and myself (STR Match Finder) and I'm sure others. Article about an Indian migration to the Azores in my haplogroup I predicted using my advanced method and which was confirmed by SNP testing.

By applying the script to my 67 STRs, I found that there was a group of men, all from the British Isles, who matched me in this manner. Interestingly, they formed an in-group with themselves, which due to genetic distance was very likely a clade. On the other hand, my match to them all was more distant and it was not at all certain that these men were truly my closest relatives.

I contacted these men and one of them was interested to test the SNP at YSEQ for $18. He came back positive! This really shocked me, having spent such a long time with no matches and not having been convinced of our relationship on the basis of STRs. He was so interested in the match that he went on to do a Whole Genome Sequence test himself. The YFull analysis confirmed that we are more closely related to each other than we are to the Tuscan.

I wrote this article to explain how instrumental YFull is in the process of finding one's relatives at a time when many FTDNA-aligned bloggers are discounting the benefits of doing the YFull analysis. This is because FTDNA has recently introduced a $99 fee for downloading their Big Y results. Their goal is to make the FTDNA private data silo look better by undermining the public YFull tree which people from all testing companies can submit to.

Genetic genealogy and genetic research do not belong to FTDNA. Because FTDNA is now acting to reduce the effectiveness of a fundamentally important genetic genealogy resource, I have resigned as haplogroup administrator from my projects on FTDNA. I will not assist in this goal.

These posts are the opinion of Hunter Provyn, a haplogroup researcher in J-M241 and J-M102.

8 thoughts on “How I Found My Relatives Through Three Testing Companies, YFull Analysis and Brute Force”

  1. Hunter, I completely understand your decision. Thanks so much for what you did for me (my brother, actually, of course) with Y-line research.

    I think it would be helpful to many if you (or someone friendly… :)) posted this on Bettinger’s Facebook page. So that people can see what’s going on.

    Meanwhile, is there some way we can follow your work on this issue outside our FTDNA group?

    1. You are welcome, Kate. You can sign up for the PhyloGeographer email list to hear updates about this theoretical migration calculation project.

  2. I am being very serious when I say that you have probably been the most effective FTDNA project manager I’ve ever seen. I, too, have a kit in the J-M241 project, and I’ve seen you do your own STR analysis, predict haplogroups, and convince several men to order Big Y tests based on what you tell them. When the tests results came back, your predictions were correct. You have helped immensely with helping us find closer matches and know more about our ancient migrations. I am extremely saddened that you will no longer be the project administrator. Thank you for all you did.

    1. Thanks very much. I will continue to write research articles and communicate with administrators Flor, Robert and Chris R on interesting developments in J-M241 research.

  3. Thanks for all your work and help Hunter. You have been a true scholar in your research and the help of others like me. Thanks for your explanation of where you are with all this.

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