YDNA Tips: 7 Strategies for YDNA Testing

Melanie Mohler

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Need some YDNA tips? Most people do. YDNA testing can provide you with valuable insights into paternal lineages, but a lot of people aren’t sure how to get the most out of it. Here are 7 helpful strategies for YDNA testing.

Thinking about taking a YDNA test, or have you already taken one and need some guidance on next steps? Here are some helpful tips and strategies to utilize your YDNA test results.

Must-Use YDNA Tips and Strategies

1. Remember that YDNA can’t uniquely identify a person

YDNA deals with the Y-chromosome and can only be found in genetic males. A lot of males share the same YDNA, which limits what you can learn from YDNA. YDNA can’t identify an exact person, but it can identify a family in many cases, including distinguishing between families of the same surname.

If someone is concerned about being identified through their YDNA when they take a test, you can assure them that a YDNA test doesn’t identify an exact person.

2. “No” can be just as valuable as “yes”

If a YDNA test shows that you’re NOT biologically related to a particular person, you don’t need to do the genealogy research to confirm it (and in fact, often genealogy research CAN’T confirm undocumented paternity). This helps you keep from putting additional effort into unconnected lines. When you get a “no” answer from a YDNA test, test another male descendent with the same surname to see what you can then determine from their YDNA.

Similarly, if a YDNA test shows a lack of connection to the traditional surname, but a strong connection to another surname, be willing to follow that lead. That’s what Margaret did when her research into her Clarke great grandfather’s paternity indicated a biological connection to the MacDonald surname, and eventually to the Macdougall surname. She hit the genetic genealogy jackpot when a unique YDNA signature connected her family to the progenitor of the Scottish Macdougall clan. Read her story.

3. When multiple testing, use more distant relatives

Unless you are asking a question about a specific close family relationship (such as whether two brothers share the same biological father, which autosomal testing may be able to tell), you don’t need to do YDNA tests on multiple, closely-related men who should all have the same YDNA. YDNA changes slowly, and their results should be identical or close to it.

We recommend only repeating YDNA testing among relatives who are second cousins or more distant. Even then, think about what question you have in mind: will testing that second cousin help answer it? For example, let’s say you have evidence that at some point in the past, there was a disconnect with the paternal surname. If you think it might have happened at the father, grandfather or great father’s generation, testing that second cousin may help. But if it looks like it was further in the past, you may learn nothing new.

4. What to do when you can’t find someone else to test

If you do not have anyone else alive on that ancestral line who can or will test, there are three things you can do:

  • Wait for someone else to test (the database is growing every day!)
  • Expand your search for more distant relatives along that paternal line
  • Celebrate your uniqueness. You’ve created a unique record that no one else has yet to create, which is amazing!

Tara, whose story we have shared, didn’t have initial success finding YDNA matches in a search for her biological grandfather. But eventually, a third cousin autosomal DNA match showed up, who descended from the theorized ancestral line. He was willing to test–and the results confirmed her theory and helped lead to the biological grandfather’s identity. Read Tara’s story. 

5. Explore Big Y test when you’re ready

Taking a Big Y test can be valuable in a few ways. One big reason is knowing that Big Y contributes to citizen science! But Big Y will also give you a lot of cool information about your own lineage and DNA.

You shouldn’t necessarily always update to Big Y. The real reason to upgrade is if other people on your match list have taken a Big Y test. Taking the same test as these matches will then help you understand how you’re related to them. The Big YDNA test is good at telling you how lineages connect together, and you can see distinctions at the brother level, which even the 111-marker are unable to do. 

One of our expert DNA coaches, Kelli Bergheimer, didn’t have any good YDNA matches for her husband’s test for a long time. But she was patient, and continued to learn what she could along the way. Eventually, she invested in Big Y. See how that helped: read her story.

6. Join a surname project

Once you’ve taken a YDNA test, joining a surname project is the most valuable thing you can do with your results. These groups allow you to look for best matches to help determine a surname and distinguish between various branches of a family. This is also a great next step for those that don’t have any best matches.

Not finding a surname project for the surname you’re exploring? When that happened to research team Linda and Toni, they created their own surname project and got several men to test. Read their story.

7. Combine autosomal and YDNA results

YDNA and autosomal DNA have different strengths. Autosomal DNA testing gives you DNA connections on all branches of your family within recent generations. But because autosomal DNA changes so quickly. these connections fade within a few generations. And additional research is always required to identify where your connections are across your entire family tree. YDNA goes much deeper into the past than autosomal does, and focuses laser-like on paternal lines. When you combine YDNA and autosomal evidence, you may get much better answers to your questions!

Tara’s story, mentioned above, uses both YDNA and autosomal DNA connections. So does Linda and Toni’s story! In fact, a lot of our most successful stories combine DNA test types. We have an entire webinar on this topic in our free webinar series.

Take our free webinar series

Ready to make YDNA discoveries? If you’re brand new to YDNA, get started with our YDNA FREE Get Started Course. It will introduce you to the possibilities of YDNA. If you already know something about YDNA–maybe you’ve already tested and are ready to dive into results–take our unique YDNA for Genealogy Course. We cover all of the above strategies and more, and create a YDNA testing plan appropriate for the questions that you want to answer with YDNA.

Take the YDNA for Genealogy Course

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