If you have taken a Y-DNA test, you may have felt overwhelmed with all the haplogroup names mentioned in the reports and found it hard to understand how they all relate to each other. There are now over 60,000 branches on the Y-DNA Tree of Humankind, and we are adding about 1,000 each month, so it can be hard to keep up. We are happy to announce that we have just released a new tool to help clear that up!

Y-DNA Haplogroup Naming History

In the old days, there were names like “R1b1c” (R-M269 in 2006) and “R1b1c7” (R-M222 in 2006). These longhand names weren’t too hard to remember and were user-friendly because it was easy to see that R-M222 was a subclade, a descendant haplogroup of R-M269. However, the Y-DNA tree grew quickly, and today, R-M222 is known as “R1b1a1b1a1a2c1a1a1a1.” Try saying that out loud!

And it doesn’t end there. As people continue to test with Big Y-700, we identify new splits and branches on the haplotree. More testing adds more details about our paternal line history on a daily basis.

Already 20 years ago, the Y Chromosome Consortium saw the problem of ever-changing and impossible-to-remember long haplogroup names and proposed a new nomenclature system for haplogroup names, which has since become the standard. This is why we use haplogroup names such as R-M269 and E-M2. If you have taken the Big Y-700 test, chances are that you have seen other names for more detailed haplogroups such as R-BY56066 (Abraham Lincoln’s haplogroup) or E-FTA86622 (Desmond Tutu’s haplogroup). So how does R-BY56066 relate to R-M269, and how does E-FTA86622 relate to E-M2? That’s where our new Ancestral Path tool comes in!

Ancestral Path: A Discover™ Tool

You can find the new tool in the Discover reports. If you have taken a Y-DNA test with FamilyTreeDNA, you can access your Discover reports by clicking the “Discover More” button on your dashboard after signing in. The new report lives under “Ancestral Path” in the Discover menu.

FamilyTreeDNA Y-DNA Dashboard

Your ancestral path starts at your assigned Y-DNA haplogroup and goes back in time, one haplogroup step (or genetic ancestor) at a time. If you have taken a Big Y test, this will be your most specific haplogroup. Every step in the ancestral path has an age estimate based on the FamilyTreeDNA TMRCA algorithm. This is an estimate of when the most recent common ancestor of this haplogroup lived, and the associated Archaeology Era roughly describes the time period in global human history that he lived in.

Abraham Lincoln’s Ancestral Path

Ancestral Path Example

Abraham Lincoln’s most recent haplogroup ancestor was born around the year 1700 CE, just some hundred years before himself, so it could well represent his great-grandfather in Colonial America. We know from Abe’s genealogy that his Lincoln line came from England.

You can see from the Ancestral Path report that before 1700 CE in Colonial America, 2,050 years had passed since the previous haplogroup ancestor in his ancestral path. This takes us back in time to pre-Roman Iron Age Britain. During this period, Celtic groups were moving into Britain from continental Europe. As more Lincoln relatives upgrade to Big Y-700, this long “bottleneck” will break up and more branch events and genealogical connections will be added to the path. (Hey Lincoln Project, no pressure!)

Extended Ancestral Path Example

As we continue to scroll down the ancestral path and rewind time, we quickly reach the Bronze Age, where branch events happen relatively rapidly. Just a few hundred years apart, with many immediate descendants at each step, these are both signs of a prolonged, rapid population expansion. We know from history and ancient DNA work that technology-advantaged Bronze Age groups were quickly expanding into Europe from the Eurasian Steppes at this time. These men are the ancestors of many Europeans today.

Abraham Lincoln Ancient Connections

This is also where Abe’s closest ancient connection appears, connecting him with a medieval man in the Balkans.

Nineteen steps before Abe, we find the well-known ancestral haplogroup R-M269. This haplogroup is very common in men with ancestry from Europe and is also one of the haplogroups predicted with Y-STR tests.

Ancient Connections Path
Estimated migration paths descending from Y-DNA haplogroup R-M269 (circled) from ca. 4500 BCE. Related ancient DNA samples from archaeological sites are shown with a shovel icon.

Very Ancient Connections

Ancestral Path Example 2

At the end of the ancestral path, you will notice that it goes way back in time—over 700,000 years—to pre-human days. The last row represents the common ancestor between modern humans and Denisovans, called “A0000.” On the row above, we can see the split between modern humans and Neanderthals, referred to as “A000-T.” We all share these very distant patrilineal relationships with the Denisovans and the Neanderthals.

Next, we find A-PR2921, or “Y-Adam,” who is the most recent common direct paternal line ancestor of all modern humans that have taken a Y-DNA test to date. We also all share this very distant ancestor, going back over 230,000 years to somewhere in the African continent, possibly near present-day Cameroon.

Things start to diverge between Y-DNA testers after Y-Adam. Different families have different ancestral paths leading up to this common ancestor, and we also have a varying number of haplogroup steps back to Y-Adam. The number of steps will differ based on how well your haplogroup path is explored through Y-DNA testing. It will increase over time as more people test their Y chromosomes and we expand the tree of humankind with new discoveries. As you can see above, Abraham Lincoln is currently 44 haplogroup steps from Y-Adam. Come back and look at it a year from now and see how it has grown.

The Shape of the Tree and Population History

Ancestral Path Example 3

Two interesting Ancestral Path columns are Time Passed and Immediate Descendants. They describe the shape of the tree, like how we sometimes talk about a “long” branch or a “wide” part of the tree.

Looking at Step 19 and R-M269, there is a long bottleneck of over 7,500 years where we don’t have any intermediate information other than a single male lineage survived during this time span, and eventually, two sons of the R-M269 most recent common ancestor went separate ways and had sons whose lineages survived into the present day. But just after R-M269, things started to happen quickly, with many immediate descendants appearing in time intervals of just a few hundred years. This sign of rapid population expansion can be inferred from the tree structure.

At step 10, we have R-L2 around 2500 BCE. With no less than 32 recorded immediate genetic descendants, we are well into the Metal Ages. This does not mean that he himself had 32 or more sons, but for a pattern like this to appear on the tree, the R-L2 man must have had many sons who themselves had many sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons within a short period of time. If genetic legacy is used as a measurement of success, Abraham Lincoln surely had some successful Bronze Age ancestors 4,500 years ago!

The shape of the tree of mankind together with the age estimates allows us to infer changes in ancestral population dynamics at specific times, which gives us the opportunity to speculate about the where, who, and how.

Desmond Tutu’s Modern and Ancient Connections

Desmond Tutu Ancestral Path

Two other new columns are Tested Modern Descendants and Ancient Connections. They show how many distant DNA-tested patrilineal relatives you have at each step in your ancestral path. In Desmond Tutu’s example above, you can see that his first Ancient Connection appears seven steps above him at E-CTS99, estimated to be 2200 BCE. He shares this ancient connection within the 2200 BCE timeframe with 81 other present-day DNA testers. These 83 men, including Desmond and Kindoki 2, all share a direct paternal ancestor who lived around 4,200 years ago.

Desmond Tutu Ancient Connections
Desmond Tutu’s ancient connection to Kindoki 2

Detailed Haplogroup Path

But don’t worry if you yearn for the old days of long haplogroup names. Or maybe you just want to message your fellow haplogroup researchers about your detailed haplogroup path. There is a new function that allows you to copy it to your clipboard.

Desmond’s detailed haplogroup path, when spelled out, is:
E-M96>CTS9083>P147>P177>V38>M2>M4901>M180>CTS1001>M4895>CTS229>U175>P277>M4232>M4257>M4041>Z21821>Z21822>CTS2504>U290>CTS6613>CTS99>Z5953>M3917>CTS7262>FT41175>FT40765>FTA86622 (Try saying that out loud!)

We hope that you will find this new tool interesting and learn something new about your genealogy! Sign in to check your own path, share your findings with friends and family, and help spread the word about Y-DNA testing.

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