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.
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:
- It does not take the incidence of shared rare STRs into account
- 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.