How to Advance Your Male Line Research If You Are Not Ready To Buy a WGS or Big Y

I am a haplogroup researcher in J2 and I have developed software for YSEQ, including free analytical tools such as CladeFinder, Y Heatmap and STR Match Finder which began as my own project and we later integrated with YSEQ's public STR database.

If you can afford it, purchasing a WGS test is the most cost effective way to advance the research into your male lineage.

  • You can see your closest relatives on the YFull tree which is based on the more reliable type of Y DNA, SNPs.
  • The YFull analysis will provide you your STRs as well, which you can use to find who among the larger group of STR testers are your closer relatives.

Those who cannot afford to buy a WGS or Big Y test generally test STRs and/or a SNP panel of their haplogroup.

STR testing is one of the most practical ways to advance research into your male line and is the only practical way to find your closest relatives because not everyone can afford the more expensive tests.

(This point is valid for most haplogroups though with some subclades of R1b being an exception, having so many men with similar STR signatures due to convergence that a close STR match alone is not a guarantee of close relatedness - additional SNP testing is required in this case to filter out your distantly related samples)

  • More people are in STR databases than have done WGS / Big Y type of tests.
    • So while relationships determined by SNP comparison of WGS / Big Y tests are more reliable than STR relationships, it's more likely that your closest relatives have done STR tests and not done a WGS or Big Y test.
  • STRs can provide a measure of relative relatedness that is generally accurate.
    • You can learn you are more closely related to two persons B and C than you are to D, E and F.
    • Doing a SNP panel test gives you your terminal subclade but no information that can be used to determine which men in your terminal subclade are more closely/distantly related to you
    • You can look for shared rare STR alleles that define individual lineages of a clan. In this way you can construct a STR tree of your clan. As the members of each branch do WGS or Big Y tests, you can correct the tree in case any assumptions you had made were wrong.
  • All research projects have ungrouped samples, those men who only tested STRs and for whom the admins were unable to predict a specific subclade for on that basis. You will never know if any of them are your closest relatives unless you test STRs. If your STRs match one then you won't know what subclade you are but you will have found your closest relative, which may be more interesting.
  • The more STRs that you test, the more likely you will be able to make an accurate prediction of your terminal subclade, by using STR comparison tools like STR Match Finder.
    • Using STRs to predict subclade can be an alternative research strategy to ordering a SNP panel.
    • If you can predict your terminal subclade or get close enough for your research purposes, within four SNPs ordered at YSEQ ($18 each), then it is cheaper than most SNP panels ($88).
  • STRs provide an added bonus for researchers. Without STRs there is no way to know whether or not a certain sample is likely to split a subclade (meaning not being positive for all SNPs that define it), which is necessary to advance research into the geographic origin of a lineage. STR Match Finder provides a visualization showing rare alleles shared among a sample's lowest genetic distance matches.

If you have STRs, free things you can do to advance your research goals and get the most of your investment:

  • Join public projects on YSEQ or FTDNA, wherever you have tested.
    • Joining a haplogroup research project in addition to a surname project - haplogroup researchers tend to have more experience determining distant relationships that are not as obvious.
    • The only way to see GD 1/12 matches is if both of you are in the same project. Since my haplogroup J2b-L283>Z1043 was likely associated with Roman-mediated migrations, I've joined a number of geographic projects to cover the bases.
    • If you have no matches in the FTDNA STR matching system, no one will be able to find you as a potential distant relative unless you join a public project.
    • Contact the admin to ask them to help you with your research goals - though please be patient, keeping in mind they are volunteers.
    • Join a relevant Facebook group. It's a nice way to learn more about the geographic origins your haplogroup and interact with distant relatives around the world.
  • Create an account on mitoYDNA and upload your STRs.
    • This is a database that accepts STRs from those who have tested with any vendor.
    • The genetic distance matching limits are much less strict, so if you have no matches in FTDNA you may find matches on mitoYDNA, even if less total people are in the database.
  • Use STR Match Finder to identify relatives, near and distant. You can copy and paste STRs from public projects as well as automatically import STRs from all public YSEQ projects.

STR Testing Strategy

I think most researchers test:

  • YSEQ Alpha STR panel ($58) followed by the
  • SNP panel of their haplogroup as predicted by the STRs ($88)

For $146 they get:

  • Guaranteed terminal subclade
  • Not enough STRs to reliably determine genealogy time frame relationships

However, for my samples, I use a different strategy. I value additional STRs for the reasons outlined above. I order:

  • YSEQ Alpha + Beta STR panel ($85) followed by
  • individual SNP tests to determine subclade ($18 each)

For upwards of $103, I get:

  • Enough STRs to determine a genealogy time frame relationship though it may not be enough info to recreate a STR tree of your clan
  • Depending on which haplogroup you are and how lucky you are in possessing rare alleles within the Alpha + Beta panels (equivalent to the 37 of FTDNA), you may get to your terminal subclade or close for less total cost than the first option and have more STRs to show for it.
  • You should alter your strategy if your Alpha + Beta results do not provide a clear subclade prediction or if there are many levels of downstream lineages you are curious about. In that case order the SNP panel. You will have paid $27 more total and have the Beta STRs to show for this cost difference.

FTDNA does have more STR samples in its private database, but if you are J2 you have a 27% chance of not having any 37 marker matches (from a poll I did on Facebook of 48 respondents, limited only to those who did Big Y). So their bigger database is not helpful if their matching algorithm is too restrictive to show you anything.

Entry level STR testing is possible to do with FTDNA but it's more expensive and does not integrate automatically with STR Match Finder's superior rare-allele visualization matching system. $119 for their lowest entry level 37 STRs test, equivalent to Alpha + Beta.

Testing 111 STRs is however more economical at FTDNA than at YSEQ.

FTDNA also has haplogroup panels but in my experience the panels are updated by volunteers on an infrequent basis. Each time YSEQ tests a haplogroup panel they are looking at the newest version of the YFull tree and in some cases have a research tree with an expanded phylogeny.

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

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