How to Join a Y DNA Surname Project

Diahan Southard

Share with a friend: 

There are many reasons to join a Y DNA surname project (or start one!). As you build your family tree, a YDNA surname project can help you explore questions about paternity and distinguish between various branches of a family. Here’s how to join a surname project.

YDNA Surname Projects Start Join IO.png

In many cultures, surnames carry over from father to son over the generations. Well, guess what? So does Y DNA; any genetic male can take a Y DNA test to explore their paternal ancestry. From the point of view of a genetic genealogist, this is just TOO convenient! Two kinds of evidence to support someone’s paternal lineage!!

Of course, the genealogical (and therefore, genetic) chain can get broken. At some point, perhaps your Sloane ancestor was actually fathered by an unknown MacNeil. Or maybe you are in the situation where “team Sloane” may have had so many potential players in town, that you’re not sure which of the many brothers (or cousins or unrelated men) is really your next generation back. For these and other reasons, you might consider joining a Y DNA surname project.

What is a Y DNA surname project?

Long before DNA testing for family history was available, genealogists used surname projects to document, organize and sort out the identities of ancestors who shared a specific surname (or one of its variants). You may also have heard these one-name studies.

Now that Y-DNA testing is available for paternal line research, many new surname studies have been built around Y DNA signatures associated with those surnames. Additionally, many traditional one-name studies have incorporated DNA into their work.

Why join a Y-DNA surname project

Chances are, if you’ve taken a Y DNA test (or arranged to have someone take it), you’ve got a specific question on your mind. For example:

  • Is the tester genetically connected to others who share this surname?
  • To what other surnames is the tester genetically connected?
  • To which specific branch of a surname is the tester connected?
  • What places of origin are associated with this Y DNA sample?

Participation in Y DNA surname projects may reveal clues to these and other questions. Project participation also reveals the actual YDNA values that you share (and don’t share) with those to whom you are related. More clues about your paternal line connections!

How to join a YDNA surname project

  1. Find an existing surname project

Your first task is to find a project connected with the surname. You can accomplish this a few ways. Read all the options before deciding what you want to do.

If you already have Y DNA test results at Family Tree DNA* (FTDNA), log in to your account. Under myProjects, select Join A Project (there are two places to do this, shown below).

how to join a ydna surname project.png

Search for the surname of interest and click on possible matches. Read about them. If you want to join, scroll down to the Join button and click it. You can also scroll down below the list of search results and browse alphabetically by surname.

Family Tree DNA test kit cropped.jpg

If you haven’t tested yet, you can still search for surname projects listed at FTDNA. This is the only one of our “big 5” DNA testing companies that offers Y DNA testing. Go to Family Tree DNA’s website. Scroll down until you see the search box below. Enter your surnames of interest, and explore promising search results. You will need to purchase a Y DNA test to join a project.

Learn more about YDNA testing

YDNA surname projects FTDNA Family Tree DNA search.jpg

To search beyond FTDNA’s list:

  • Google the surname plus either the phrase “surname project,” or simply “Y DNA,” and explore search results.
  • Browse the list of surname projects at the ISOGG Wiki. (Here you’ll also see a link to projects listed at Cyndi’s List, a popular genealogical directory.)
  • Visit the Guild of One-Name Studies to see what studies may be underway there. The bulk of these are longtime, traditional genealogical surname studies; some may not yet incorporate DNA evidence.

How to start a Y-DNA surname project

If you don’t find a Y DNA surname project, or if existing projects for a surname don’t meet your needs, you can start another. FTDNA is the place to do this. Fill out the project application on FTDNA’s website.

What’s next? YDNA project participation

What happens after you join a Y DNA surname project? You may receive requests to supply additional genealogical information, upgrade your test results, submit your raw data to additional projects, or the like. If you’re not quite sure about this whole Y DNA thing yet, test out the waters with our YDNA FREE Get Started Course. It covers the many ways YDNA might help you answer your questions about your family history.

Check out the YDNA FREE Get Started Course

Get More DNA Inspiration

Our free monthly newsletter delivers more great articles right to you.

<a href="" 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.


  1. Terry (Meehan) Gardner

    If your surname is NOT represented in YDNAmatches, but there are a couple other surnames that repeat, should you also join those (if available)?

    • Diahan Southard

      Generally we recommend not joining surname projects for surnames that aren’t your own. One of the main reasons is because even if you have several YDNA matches that are showing up with the same surname, they may not actaully be realted to you in a meaningful way (ie their genetic connection to you may predate surnames). If you are not seeing your expected surname in your YDNA match list, you’ll want to do some more research first. Your best YDNA matches are those that are a genetic distance of 3 or less (if you’ve tested at 37 or 67) or genetic distance of 5 or less (if you’ve tested at 111). If your matches have a genetic distance more than that, it’s unlikely you connect with that person within the last 8-10 generations. If your matches with different surnames are related to you at less than that genetic distance, then you’ll want to do some more research to look into how they are related to you. You can learn more here:

  2. Susan Hughes

    Do you have a guide explaining what to do with a YDNA Surname study? There are 15 men in my husband’s matched group. My husband is one of them, and the other 14 are all a match for him. Matched Group 19 includes all 8 of the men who have the same surname as my husband and who are a match for my husband at 37 markers. Can the information in this matched group help me to find his earliest ancestor if each man has declared a different person as there earliest ancestor?


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend