Big Y DNA Test: When To Use It

Diahan Southard

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Family Tree DNA’s Big Y DNA test can help you distinguish fine shades of relationship on the paternal side of your family tree using YDNA. What is Big Y, and when is it worth taking?

Big Y DNA test FTDNA family history IO (1).pngIn January 2019, Family Tree DNA* released the latest-and-greatest version of its Big Y DNA test: the Big Y-700. As the name suggests, this is a Y-chromosome DNA test that genetic males can take, useful for sorting out genealogical relationships on your paternal side (father’s father’s father’s father, etc.). A regular 37- or 111-marker DNA test can help you determine whether two men with the same or similar surname are related, or help you find a surname for an unknown male line.

The Big Y-700 test just takes those same principles to the next level. It is especially good at helping you determine HOW you might be related to someone that the regular Y DNA test says you are related to. More on that later.

Need to back up? What is Y DNA and when to take a Y DNA test

What is Big Y-700?

Big Y-700 explores two different kinds of genetic markers: STRs for more recent DNA connections and SNPs for more distant connections.

STRs are short repeating sections of DNA that can have a lot of variability between generations, making them good for identifying genetic relationships within the past 10 generations or so. So while the 67 marker Y-DNA test looks at 67 STRs, the Big Y-700 test looks at 700 STRs (hence the name of the test!).

SNPs are single changes in the DNA, and lots of times they change SUPER slowly (like, over thousands of years), so they point to your paternal ancestors’ ancient populations and migrations. However, there are lots of SNPs that may have changed in more recent generations, but just haven’t been well documented yet.

The Big Y test is helping us build a database of those newer SNPs. It does that by finding unique Y DNA SNPs specific to your paternal line for the time frame of about 10 – 20 generations back—effectively filling part of the genetic gap between what STRs can reach, and the more commonly reported deep ancestral SNP markers that tell you about ancient migrations.

When should you use Big Y-700?

The Big Y-700 test is most useful when you have solid paper trails for a paternal line and traditional YDNA testing with good matches going back at least 8 generations. This test can help you make genetic connections in the shadowy, pre-genealogical timeframe most people encounter at 10-20 generations, where records often don’t survive, surnames didn’t exist, and autosomal testing isn’t helpful.

The “700” part of Big Y-700 can help make greater distinctions between lines you know are related: for example, help you distinguish your ancestor from among his three brothers. Lower-marker Y DNA testing (even at the 111-level marker level) may not be able to answer that question for you. However, it will only be helpful if you can get you matches to take the test also. Having just your own Big Y results won’t be very insightful.

Get the Big Y Test

If I took the original Big Y test, do I need to upgrade?

Family Tree DNA ad YDNA.jpg

Well, that depends. According to the white paper published by FTDNA, “Big Y-700 customers can expect to receive 40% more STRs and 50% more high-quality SNPs than they did with Big Y.” That means more data to help determine family relationships.

Family Tree DNA has the world’s largest Y DNA database. Whether you’re ready for Big-Y 700 or starting at a lower level, Family Tree DNA is the place to take your Y DNA test.

Explore YDNA Testing at FTDNA

Learn What Your YDNA Is Telling You

If you’re looking into Big Y, you may be ready for the ultimate DNA learning experience: our YDNA for Genealogy Course. You’ll explore haplogroups in greater depth and learn how they can help with your genealogy. You’ll also learn how to use your Y-DNA matches to investigate specific family history questions; what value surname projects have and how to participate in them; whether and how Big-Y might be helpful to your research; and what next steps you can take.

Get a free preview of the YDNA Course in our FREE mini-course: Why the YDNA.

 

 

<a href="https://www.yourdnaguide.com/author/guideyourdnaguide-com" target="_self">Diahan Southard</a>

Diahan Southard

As founder and CEO of Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard has been teaching people how to find family history answers in their DNA for several years, and she's been in the genetic genealogy field since its infancy. Diahan teaches internationally, writes for popular magazines, consults with leading testing companies, is author of Your DNA Guide–The Book, and producer of Your DNA Guide–the Academy, an online learning experience.

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39 Comments

  1. Don Quigley

    Diahan,

    Can you please elaborate on this statement:

    "The “700” part of Big Y-700 can help make greater distinctions between lines you know are related: for example, help you distinguish your ancestor from among his three brothers."

    That is exactly what I am trying to do, but have not found a clear explanation of how to go about it. I have Y-111 results and will soon have Big Y results for descendants of different sons of our MRCA. My line is and NPE, so I don’t know which brother I descend from.

    Don Quigley,
    Safety Harbor, FL

    Reply
    • Diahan Southard

      Don, yes, interpretation is tricky. You are looking for a pattern of mutations. It seems like you may have what we need to do it effectively, as it requires DNA from the descendants. This is something that we could help with.
      Now, this doesn’t always work – as the YDNA doesn’t always cooperate. How far back is the NPE? Too far to use autosomal (which would be more than 5 generations back).

      Reply
  2. Daniel

    Hello, I’m wondering if I’ll glean anything worthwhile by doing the Big Y test. I know my father and some information about his father, who was born in Poland, but that’s all. I did a test on 23andme that gave me my paternal haplogroup, but I don’t know if the Big Y will tell me anything beyond that. What do you think?

    Reply
    • Diahan Southard

      I think you should start with just a regular YDNA test from Family Tree DNA. Like say a 37 or 67 marker test. Then join the Polish YDNA group (which is fantastic) and then they can help you decide what to do from there.

      Reply
  3. Lyle Acton

    Our family is from Ireland, but we don’t know where.
    Will 700 puta finer point on our search? We have an
    Unusual last name in ireland, found in specific areas
    Lyle Acton

    Reply
    • Scott E. Ellis

      Without a doubt… I was able to determine I wasn’t an Ellis, but a Ryan through Big Y 700. You’ll just want to join a project to see others with similar DNA, then the rest somewhat unfolds in front of you.

      There’s an Irish Ancestors project you can join which may help you quickly get to your answers.

      Reply
      • Diahan Southard

        Thanks for sharing your experience, Scott. Yes, Lyle, the BigY has potential to help, but it really depends a lot on your haplogroup and who else has been tested.

        Reply
  4. Erik

    I just want to know the origins of my paternal line in ancient times would I be better off with a y37 or y700?

    Reply
    • Diahan Southard

      Erik, for deep ancestral origins, you will want BigY-700, for sure. The Y37 is really just for family matching.

      Reply
  5. SS

    I’m not sure if I should go with a Y700. I just want to be able to fill out a paternal family tree as much as possible. And on the side, I would like to see how close of a paternal haplogroup i can find about myself. The most recent haplogroup that I know I have is R-Z94, but I want to see what sub groups and sub-sub groups etc I am. Would the Y700 be good for that even though I only know up to my great-great grandfather?

    Reply
    • Diahan

      The BigY700 WILL help you find out which sub-sub-sub group you are a part of. So if that is one of your primary goals, the BigY is going to be worth it. But it will unlikely help you find out who your 3X great grandfather is. However, the YDNA combined with the autosomal DNA may be able to help you fill in that ancestor.

      Reply
  6. Ludwig

    I have no idea. could the Big Y-DNA change my Y haplogroup if it appears something by Y-DNA67? you got me? I mean the big hug differences.

    Reply
    • Diahan

      You will not get a completely different haplogroup with BigY. It will be in the same haplogroup family. It will just be significantly more defined.

      Reply
  7. Mike Slaney

    Something I’ve not yet found information about is what the next stage will be. We had BigY500, now 700, so is there something even more refined in development, and what sort of timeframe?
    Regards.

    Reply
    • Diahan

      Great question. I am sure our DNA testing companies will continue to advance in their efforts to provide the latest and greatest. But I am not privy to any details about further BigY updates at FTDNA.

      Reply
  8. Charles Hill

    I did a YDNA 111 and found out I’m R1b R-M269 and was talking to Family Tree yesterday and they said I should take a BigY test. I have done my tree with Ancestry and male line to Rollo Ragnvaldsson 860-930 but what I hear nobody has DNA from him or his grandson’s, so what would be the point? Also in my tree has many King’s & Queen’s. What are your thoughts?

    Reply
    • Diahan

      You have hit the nail on the head here. If there isn’t anyone to compare your DNA against, then your match page will be empty. However, given your extensive paper trail, it is very likely that you could be a kind of standard for others who have not yet pushed their paper trail back this far. So you would be helping to record this extensive DNA profile for your ancestors that may help others find and connect to your ancestral line. Also, there is a small chance that another descendant of this family HAS taken a YDNA test. But that far back, they may not look like a close match at the 111 marker level, but the BigY SNP test will show your connection.

      Reply
    • Mike Slaney

      Diahan, my recorded line goes to c1000, France/Normandy. I would like to work with Charles Hill on this if you could pass my contact to him.
      Mike Slaney

      Reply
      • Diahan

        That’s amazing, Mike! I believe Charles will get an alert that someone else has posted here. But I don’t have contact information for either of you.

        Reply
  9. Renato Jordan

    Hi, I already have my analysis and haplogroup definition and I’d like to know the effective impact of BigY. I have 11 basic Y mutations. Will BigY refine these mutations and add more after the 11th, creating more geographic discoveries related to minor changes in the Y mutation? I’m actually not interesting in recent history of my relatives, only in the big picture of these migrations, because I have several!

    Reply
    • Diahan

      I am not sure what you mean exactly by ’11 basic Y mutations" but absolutely YES BigY will add to your knowledge about the history and migration of your direct male line.

      Reply
  10. Michael

    My question is why is Y DNA testing so expensive and why does nobody else offer it? I dont want to over simplify but testing process usually gets cheaper with time. I have a break in my paternal line in 1865. I did a Y111 test two years ago but the results were poor. I have no matches at Y111, 3x 4 gen matches at Y67 and 8 at Y37. I’ve seen two new matches above Y25 in two years. I’ve recently doubled down on Big Y because my father is dying and if possible i’d like to solve the mystery for him but i’m not hopeful because nobody is Y testing. My conclusion is that its an expensive test and of limited use so most people don’t bother. If it were cheaper more people would bundle it in at purchase, the database would be bigger and it would be more useful so more people would buy it. I have persuaded several potential relatives to take atDNA testing. I’ll usually offer to pay but under a $100 people seem to be OK to find out something about themselves and help. Nobody is interested in taking Y-DNA testing at these prices.

    Reply
    • Diahan

      The short answer is: I don’t know. But one reason that YDNA testing is so expensive is that other industries are not using it. One reason autosomal DNA testing is so inexpensive is because there are LOTS of other industries using this same chemistry to investigate a variety of things. The same is not true for YDNA.
      And is HAS gotten cheaper over time. Perhaps just not as fast as we hope. At $119 it is not too far from your $100 mark, and often you can find it on sale.
      But I agree, we need a bigger database!
      If your brick wall in 1865 is closer than a 3X great grandparent, you could try to solve it using autosomal DNA…

      Reply
  11. Clyde Hood

    My oldest known direct paternal ancestor, going back six generations, has solid YDNA matches with descendants from seven other men with the same last name. The DNA results along with a genealogical paper trail show the men are related, but the question is what is their relationship? If I can get men recruited from each of the lines to take the Big 700 YDNA test, would the results tell us the nature of their relationship?

    Reply
    • Diahan Southard

      I think BigY would be the perfect next step. But there may be things you can learn about your relationships at the current level of testing. We are actually enrolling in our YDNA Course that starts on February 21. I think that would be a great next step for you to learn how to put your current data to the best use, as well as learn more about the BigY. https://www.yourdnaguide.com/ydna-course.

      Reply
  12. John Serisier

    Hi, my ancestry beyond from my 2x great grandfather back (paper trail to 6x great grandfather) is 100% French. Given that the French are “not allowed to do DNA tests for genealogy” is it worth doing a Y DNA test, and, if so, which Y DNA test? There is a family story of adoption somewhere along the line so surnames would be a great help. The family pretty much died out in France in the 1800s apart from my line so maybe Y DNA would not be much help.

    Reply
  13. Diane Nelson

    I purchased Y37 and was disappointed that I got ONE match! I purchased add ons, thinking I would get more matches. Nope! Early on, I did have more than one match. After the system was improved, I went to one match and have stayed there 2 years.

    Will Y111 help me get more matches?

    Reply
    • Diahan Southard

      Probably not. When you don’t have matches and you want more, you have two choices: target test or be patient. Target testing can be valuable if you go back to your earliest known ancestor (let’s say your 3X great grandfather) and come back down to another one of his descendants through a different son. Testing that person can help verify your connection back to your earliest known ancestor.

      Testing at 111 won’t find more matches, but it does further document your own line, which someday will have more matches.

      Reply
  14. Geoff Coy

    Hi, I am wondering why for a particular Y-DNA match there is a genetic distance of 3 steps at 67 markers yet this increases to 5 steps at 111 markers.
    I recently upgraded to the Big Y 700 but was disappointed with the results. I have 25 matches at 67 markers and 5 matches at 111 markers.

    Reply
    • Diahan Southard

      Hi Geoff. At each level you are reviewing (37, 67, 111) FTDNA shows you the number of differences you have from that person AT THAT LEVEL. So when you are comparing just the 67 markers you have 3 differences, but at the 111 marker level you have 5. I do have a quick sheet on YDNA that goes over the test in detail, if you are interested. https://www.yourdnaguide.com/product/ydna-quick-reference-guide

      Reply
  15. James Drummond

    I had a test by a well known geneology organisation. I was bitterly disappointed and felt misled. It turning up some real odd connections about a few times a year. However I am in strying to solve a victorian geologist who has all my ilk coming from some ficticious Hungarian Prince. How much should I pay for the big Y700 and what is a likely good
    suppliers who has a reasonable turnround. Thanks

    Reply
    • Diahan Southard

      The only place to take the BigY test is Family Tree DNA. So that makes it easy!

      Reply
  16. Herman Hardebeck

    Diahan,

    I have taken the FTDNA Y111 with very few matches and a “Predicted” Haplogroup of E-M35. To receive a confirmed haplogroup FTDNA wants me to purchase more SNPs. They say “E-M35 is part of E – V13 SNP Pack
    Remove the guesswork. Get 140 SNPs related to E-M35 for only $119.” However, I can upgrade to the Y-700 for $229. I am new to all this DNA and have hit roadblocks in both paternal and maternal family tree research. Do you have any recommendations on SNPs or Y-700 purchases? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Diahan Southard

      Our advice is the more the better! If you have the budget, we recommend upgrading to the Big Y-700. The Big Y significantly narrows down your haplogroup to a smaller area and more recent time, and that can be really useful in genealogical research.

      Reply
      • Herman Hardebeck

        Roger that!!

        Thanks!

        Reply
  17. Maureen Ann Connolly

    Diahan,
    The one male family member I have for Big Y-700 testing has Down Syndrome. (He is capable of giving consent and understanding how/why the test will be used.) Would Down Syndrome otherwise affect the Y results? Thank you.

    Reply
    • Danielle Francis

      Good question! Down Syndrome doesn’t affect the Y Chromosome, so that family member would be a great candidate for the YDNA test 🙂

      Reply
      • Maureen Ann Connolly

        Great news! Thanks so much for you quick reply.

        Reply

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