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In the absence of surnames: taking the “journey of historical discoveries” in deep Y DNA studies

For those who test the waters in Y DNA testing… say, taking the Y-37 test… it’s just the beginning. For one, if you test at Y-37… don’t rest on what you’re seeing, as it’s too shallow in the study, and those “matches” you see may not be as close as you think they are. For those who test at Y-111, it’s closer, though not quite there. You learn if there are “close” relatives who have taken a test, and Y relatives who are a little further out (the “Genetic Distance” or “GD” begins to improve over that which one saw at the Y-37 level). Regretfully, the highest benefit of Y DNA studies is in a pricy Big Y-700 test. At that point, you get the “terminal haplogroup“… where you are “at” in the big tree of Y… begin to look more carefully in the “Block Tree“, and make sense of your place (and compare it with the place, in the haplotree, of other test takers). Yet, while one might be surprised what Y DNA testing reveals (for one… that the surname you carry, might not be the Y DNA you carry… and that can be quite interesting), I wonder how many are left with more frustration than answers, or are simply at the point of… “yes, I took the test, but it didn’t tell me anything interesting”. I’d say the best yields result from time spent looking more closely… but regretfully, this first means more money spent.

Y DNA Map, from Wikipedia

In my case, testing has made me jump generations. More specifically, I’ve found no definitive additions (new names) to the family tree (though I’ve recently cracked open one avenue of possibilities in a line of Moores near Dublin, Ireland, who appear to have links to County Antrim… the Ulster Plantation years). Instead, from my ancestor who settled in colonial Maryland, before 1670, I’ve jumped a few generations, based on matches, to Muir roots in Ayrshire, Scotland. To some, I think this signals a shallow victory. There are no additions to the family tree, and the search (to some test takers, I believe) is about like a journey into the mists of history… and, to some, I think this equates to about as much fun as trying to capture the fog in your hands. The excitement of an “instant answer” (especially connecting names to a tree) is rarely found in Y DNA, and though it opens a door to historical discovery, it might be road down which some don’t wish to travel, as it means demands on time, to make sense of that discovery.

I don’t see it as such, because, now, I do have the confidence of knowing origin (there was uncertainty for many years… are our ancestors Irish or are they Scots). Further, identifying what appears to be the the emergence of surnames within BY3368 haplogroup (based on the projected age of emergence of that haplogroup), that “pin in a particular place in the chronological map” of time is BIG. Not only is it a step-off point for moving forward, but also moving back in time, and, for some reason, the moving back part has particularly gripped my interests… connecting with the Kingdom of Strathclyde, the Iron Age Damnonii, and the Brythonic Bronze Age people. When considered in relation with US history, the “thousand + years” in one place suddenly dwarfs the “four hundred +” years of familial connection with US history. That period before surnames has taken me down a different road of discovery. The search for the history of the place, however… especially prior to the 12th century… is a challenge, as it is a period without recorded history. Instead, the “history” often only comes 1) in the form of what bards and poets from what others observed about the people in that place… and 2) the archaeology of the place, to try to find what “things found” seems to tell us.

So, if you’ve tested, what are your conclusions on your test? Are you left motivated for the potential for discoveries, or are you frustrated at the absence of answers? Additionally, if you haven’t tested yet, have you considered the long-term benefits (the science of Y DNA and the potential to put your test results “out there” for the benefit of discoveries by your descendants, somewhere down the line) of those tests, whether they provide answers now, or not?


Published by Robert Moore

Historian, writer, hypertext & Web literacy theorist

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