YDNA for Finding Surnames | Genealogy Brick Wall Buster!

Melanie Mohler

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YDNA can help you find surnames that go with a paternal family line. So helpful when trying to break down a brick wall for a male ancestor! Learn how YDNA testing helped Kathleen with not one but TWO genealogy brick walls.

YDNA testing can be a useful tool when researching paternal lineage. While YDNA can’t identify an exact person, it can help identify a surname. This proved helpful for Kathleen, one of our YDNA for Genealogy Course participants.  She has used what she learned from the class to help her with two family history brick-wall questions: who was her paternal great-grandfather, and who were the parents of Andrew Jackson Brasher, her maternal 2x great-grandfather? The former seemingly came out of nowhere and left very little information about himself, while the latter was born four years before the couple who raised him were married. Fortunately, YDNA testing has been able to help her begin to find answers.

Use YDNA to Find Surnames

Brick Wall #1: Unknown Paternal Great-Grandfather

Kathleen’s supposed paternal great-grandfather, Michael Dalton, married her great-grandmother in 1891, which was after Kathleen’s grandfather was born. Kathleen notes that Michael seemed to come out of nowhere and left very little information about himself. The limited records on Michael that she has found offer different birth years.

In 2004, Kathleen’s paternal uncle took a YDNA test as part of a Dalton International Society testing project. They told him that he did not match anyone in their database. Over the years, there have been no Dalton matches except for her brother and a cousin. But a little over half of her matches have surname variations on the name Graham. Hmmmm!

In 2013, Kathleen upgraded her uncle’s test to the 37-marker. Two years later she learned about a Graham surname project and was told that a particular SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism, which is a variant at a single base position in DNA) was considered a strong indication of Graham ancestry. When she ordered a test for that SNP, the results came back positive. In 2018, she then tried to test her uncle’s DNA with a Family Finder (autosomal) test at FamilyTreeDNA, but his DNA was unable to be further tested. She gave the test to her brother to use, and in 2022 paid for her brother to upgrade to the Big-Y test.

What next? Kathleen was unsure what to do with YDNA test results. So she took our YDNA for Genealogy Course. Looking at her brother’s YDNA results, she learned that there are five others with the same J-FT262754 haplogroup in her part of the block tree, and three of them had the Graham surname. Hmmmmm…….

What can she do with this insight? She can theorize that the birth father of Michael Dalton was a man with the last name of Graham. She can look around his mother’s neighborhood for any candidates: did any Graham families live near his mother’s family at the time of conception? Do any Grahams show up in family documents, signing wills or as baptismal sponsors or the like? It is possible that the father didn’t carry the Graham surname, of course. And now Kathleen can dig more deeply into her Graham matches and the block tree and, over time, DO GENEALOGY to help connect them.

Brick Wall #2: Unknown Parents of Maternal 2X Great-Grandfather

Kathleen also has a mystery on her maternal line. Her 2X great grandfather, Andrew Jackson Brasher, was born in 1818, but was raised by John Brasher and Elizabeth Crouch who married four years later in 1822. In the 1820 census, the households of Thomas Crouch (Elizabeth’s father) and Thomas Brasher (John’s father) were listed next to each other. The household of Thomas Brasher had no males under the age of 10, while the household of Thomas Crouch had two males under the age of 10. Kathleen believes that Andrew Jackson Brasher was one of those males.

To help solve the mystery, Kathleen asked her cousin to take a YDNA test (you always need to find the right person to test–this one had to be a male-line descendant from the mystery man; remember, this was Kathleen’s maternal side of the family, so she’d have to go a little further afield to find the right line of descent). His results from a BigY test showed no matches with the Brasher surname, but many with the Stewart surname. Her block tree shows five Stewarts with the same I-FT186345 haplogroup, and two of them are very close.

After doing some genealogy research on Stewarts in the nearby Kentucky counties where Andrew Jackson Brasher lived, Kathleen found the will of Washington Stewart that named an illegitimate son who was the end of line Stewart in the pedigree of one of the five matches in her haplogroup. With that discovery, she was able to extend that match’s pedigree by an additional generation. Interestingly, she also found an 1817 permit received by Thomas Crouch for a tavern at the residence of Washington Stewart, which could possibly explain how the mother and father met.

Do you see how she did genealogy to “put out feelers” along promising avenues? This is a great example of how genealogy and DNA can work together. Using both genealogical evidence and YDNA insights, Kathleen can continue to put those clues together to see how this theory plays out: whether indeed that Stewart son (or possibly one of his kin) fathered Andrew Jackson Brasher.

Kathleen credits the YDNA for Genealogy Course and Diahan Southard’s great instruction for the progress she’s made. YDNA has helped her discover the correct surnames to search for: Graham and Stewart. And now she has the tools and the knowledge to continue her DNA research to break down her two brick walls. In both cases, Kathleen still needs to do more research. A next possible step: look for those surnames amongst her autosomal DNA matches! Maybe she’ll find the cousins whose family trees could help her more confidently identify her biological ancestors.

Maybe you have a brick wall or two that you’d like to solve in your family. If it’s a male ancestor you’re trying to identify, YDNA could be a helpful tool for you like it has been for Kathleen. Take our YDNA for Genealogy Course. OR if you’ve never heard of YDNA and want a quick and helpful introduction, take our YDNA FREE Get Started Course.


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  1. Larry arounld revels Jr

    My surname is revels my grandfather my dad’s dad henry walter Revels senior call his son, which is my Uncle. It’s named Henry Walton revels. Junior which is my dad’s brother but I heard That my great-grandfather fromNorth Carolina and Was Some of my revels family. I don’t know if it Was my great great great great grandfather or Not also hard we were Lumby indian and the whole bunch of other mix Crimes do he went thank you and he helps appreciate it god bles Bless

  2. Lauri Sliney

    My problem is that my sister and I (born 1959 and 1960 in Anchorage Alaska) don’t know who our biological father was. Not our mother’s husband (estranged at the time) and not the man who raised me. We have all sorts of DNA matches for 1st/2nd cousin, but none of them admit to male relatives who were in Alaska during the right time period. I discovered I had a sister who had been adopted out when our mother died, so she’s not available to question. Given our ages, the man is probably dead and unlikely to take a DNA test. So how do we progress from there?

    • Your DNA Guide

      Hi Laura – I think your best bet is to work with any trees those 1st/2nd cousin matches have posted and do their genealogy yourself to find possible candidates.


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