Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What's Your ySNP Testing Strategy?

In my last post Tested 67 ySTR Markers? Now What?, I discussed how you could get some idea of what your more recent ySNPs might be than the ones estimated by FTDNA. This knowledge can be useful whether or not you want to pursue further SNP chasing aggressively or not.

To build on the example in that last post, it looks like most if not all of those who had ySTR matches in that group actually belong to the R-S1026 haplogroup. This is a small clan that is now thought to have split from DF13 about 3,500 years ago. S1026 was just added to the FTDNA SNP Tree about a month ago. It still has not been added to the ISOGG yTree although the L21-DF13-S1026: R-S1026 and Subclades Project is linked from there. Our mechanisms for organizing new findings have been overwhelmed by the SNP tsunami of the last two years. 

If you have gone through the process of finding the project for your matches who have done extensive SNP chasing, you can get a general idea of where your personal ySNP trail was located. For example, in the example I have been following, S1026 is the pale pink group of boxes in the bottom right-center of the following diagram created by volunteer super SNP chaser Mike Walsh:

Only a small fraction of these SNPs were known two years ago. We are still in the early days of understanding SNPs. We are about where we were about 10 years ago in our understanding of STRs. 

Even more specific information can be found by following the SNP trails of our STR matches. The group of pink boxes associated with S1026 above have been expanded by another volunteer super SNP chaser Alex Williamson:

Now I must introduce the concept of a block of SNPs. In Alex's chart above most of the SNPs between S1026 at the top and the individuals tested at the bottom are located in blocks (or boxes). These blocks may contain only a couple of SNPs or as many as 30. We know that these SNPs in a given box are located contiguously but we are still working to determine their exact sequence chronologically. In addition it is thought that these SNP mutations occur at random but about once ever 150 years. That number will be refined as more individuals are tested and our knowledge base grows.

In the chart above some of the men listed at the bottom would be the ones that are likely to have been your 67 marker STR matches in my previous post. In this case they are the ones under the large fat SNP block in the center of the chart. Your results will differ. This example is a little skewed because several of us encouraged our closest ySTR matches to take the BIG Y test -- a strategy you may wish to employ if you do decide to take the BIG Y test.

If you are fortunate enough to be chasing a SNP that is below R-L21, you will be able to use the tools created by Mike and Alex to learn more about your own SNP path. If you are a member of a different haplogroup, hopefully there will be an experienced SNP chaser in your group who can guide your search. These volunteers are absolutely the most knowledgeable individuals about your haplogroup. 


I am going to continue to use my own haplogroup for illustration purposes. Of course your situation will differ. 

Within our haplogroup project we have proved that those with close ySTR matches also appear to have relatively close (pun intended) ySNP paths of descent down through the eons.
The three strategies from which you can choose going forward depend on your genealogical goals and the amount of disposable cash you can use to feed this addiction. This is clearly not the case where one strategy is the best fit for all.

Those three strategies are: 

  1. to test one SNP at a time and hope, by lucky guess or the process of elimination, to document one's actual SNP trail;
  2. to take one of the NextGen comprehensive ySNP tests such as FTDNA's BIG Y or Full Genomes Y Elite 2.0; or
  3. to test with one of the bundled panels that are being assembled by various labs.

Of course you can choose a 4th option -- none of the below. That would be to travel through ySNP-land vicariously as we have been doing in this post and the post that preceded it. However, if you wish to further explore your own situation, I would encourage you to chose ONE of the strategies below and not to flip-flop back and forth between them.

Testing individual SNPs

  1. The strategy that appears to be the least expensive at the beginning can become the most expensive over the long term. Both FTDNA and YSEQ offer single SNP tests for thousands of SNPs. To employ this strategy you choose a SNP to be tested from a catalog list of those offered. If you choose wisely, you may be able to advance your search for a modest cost. However, if you are ordering single SNP tests at random you can easily spend more, over time, than you would by starting with a more comprehensive test in the beginning. Ordering single tests in sequence is also time consuming because you really should order one at at time, wait weeks for the results and then decide whether another single SNP test would be useful. Single tests are currently $39 at FTDNA and about half that at YSEQ. Both are legitimate labs. FTDNA is in Houston, TX, and YSEQ is in Berlin, Germany. YSEQ is a nimble two person operation that specializes in yDNA. FTDNA offers more comprehensive DNA testing products and services including easy integration into thousands of volunteer led projects.                                                                            
  2. Your needs may better by hanging on to the money you have available now and waiting until you can afford a more comprehensive test. While the single SNP testing above is somewhat like dispatching a census taker to a specific location to see in a given SNP is negative or positive, the more comprehensive testing is more similar to taking satellite photographs of the 58 million or so SNPs along your Y chromosome. Many passes are made and stitched together by a computer algorithm. While it may not be as exact in every case as the individually targeted SNP testing (Sanger), it is certainly more cost effective and gives results for locations which at present have no single SNP test yet available. At this writing the listed price for BIG Y is $575 and Y Elite 2.0 is $775. The latter is more comprehensive although both will give most genetic genealogists more data than they can process. FTDNA will not sell such advanced tests to anyone who does not yet have STR test results or Geno 2.0 results. Full Genomes has no such entry requirement. These comprehensive tests have the added advantage of yielding not only a haplogroup designation but providing a list of unique SNPs that may be approaching offering a terminal SNP that could serve the same family identifying function that did the coats of arms of old.                                                                                         
  3. The newest commercial offerings to ySNP chasers are a wide variety of "panels". These are bundles that offer many tests of individual SNPs in one or two steps to narrow in on a specific haplogroup. These are offered by both YSEQ and FTDNA and generally are priced about $88 to $120. While these can screen many SNPs at one time, they generally only identify only one or two SNPs along your migratory path. Buyers should beware that such offerings actually have potential benefit for them.  

In the last analysis the advice posted in the FTDNA learning center:
Please order SNPs with the help of an expert, if you aren’t sure which SNP(s) will benefit your research.
Before ordering, you should ask the advice of an expert on your haplogroup and subclade. We recommend joining an appropiate [sic.] Y-DNA Haplogroup group project. You may then consult the administrators. 

Happy SNPing, but let the buyer beware!


  1. I love the "Big Tree" chart. I'd like to borrow that concept for my own corner of R1b (Z18). Is there any significance to light brown vs dark brown sections? Thanks, Rich

  2. Hi Rich, I'm not aware of any special significance except to illustrate grouping of the various blocks of SNPs that have yet to be arranged definitively into chronological order. However, only Alex Williamson could tell you whether he intended some deeper meaning.

  3. Hi Doc,

    This week, through testing via FTDNA, I was able to narrow down my subclade from R-L21 to R-S1026, the same as yours. My family's earliest known paternal ancestor was a Hessian shepherd/cooper named Hans Schmidt who was born in Germany in about 1594. The fact that our Schmidt family has the YDNA haplogroup R-S1026 indicates to me that it is likely our family had its origin in Scotland, and one of them at some point in the Middle Ages or Early Modern Era came down to Germany and started our branch of the family. Hans Schmidt's birth record doesn't exist (because they were destroyed during the Thirty Years War), so I can't be sure that he was born in Germany, but I don't think that Hans was the one who came from Scotland to Germany. The presence of an already-existing extended Schmidt family in the region indicates that this Schmidt family was well-established in that area far earlier than Hans Schmidt's lifetime.

    Some hypotheses I have come up with are that a Scottish Crusader may have been marching through continental Europe on his way to the Holy Lands and either deserted the army and settled in Germany, or had relations with a German woman along the way and left behind his YDNA in the form of my ancestor. Another hypothesis is that a Scottish peddler came and landed at a German Hanseatic port city (sometime between 1300-1500 AD, when this was a more common occurence), then he (or his descendants) peddled their way down to the Hessian region, where a branch of the family decided to settle down in a more agrarian lifestyle.

    My question that you might be able to help me out with is: Is this hypothesis of mine (that my family has deep roots in Scotland, and came down to Germany during the Middle Ages) legitimate? Is it known for certain that the R-S1026 haplogroup definitely came into existence in Scotland? Or, is it possible that the R-S1026 came into being on continental Europe, and then a large segment of R-S1026 men broke away, migrated northward, and settled in Scotland, thereby becoming a dominant haplogroup in Scotland through the "Founder Effect," leaving the original R-S1026 men to continue passing down that YDNA in Germany? If the second option is the case, then might my paternal ancestry run thousands of years back in Germany, rather than having ever woven its way through Scotland?

  4. Hi Josiah,

    I wish I knew where S1026 originated. Where ever it was, it was a long time ago. Most estimates are that it was at least 3,000 years ago and maybe even more that 4,000 years. Of the men now in our project, two have recent (last few hundred years) French roots. One has deep roots in Brittany. But even in his case it is not clear if his ancestors never made it to the Isles or if they were part a back migration across the English Channel after backing the losing side in one of England's many civil wars.

    We need to explore where your might fit into our project and who your nearest matches may be! Welcome to the exploration of the deep yDNA space.