By: Katy Rowe-Schurwanz

Explore the significance of Y-DNA and Family Finder testing in genetic genealogy and gain insights into paternal lineages and strategies to help your research.

Genetic genealogy has opened unprecedented avenues for unraveling ancestral mysteries, employing tools like Y-DNA and Family Finder testing. Explore the applications, benefits, and strategic recruitment approaches associated with these genetic tests, providing a comprehensive guide for those seeking to deepen their understanding of their family roots.

Understanding Y-DNA Testing Insights

Y-DNA testing specifically examines the Y chromosome, which is passed from father to son virtually unchanged through generations. The Y chromosome does have small changes, or mutations, over time, meaning that every male on the planet doesn’t have the same Y-DNA, and it can be used to match you to other testers who share a common ancestor on your direct paternal line.

Y-DNA is passed down from father to son with little to no changes for generations.
Y-DNA is passed down from father to son with little to no changes for generations.

Y-DNA testing can also provide you with a Y-DNA haplogroup, which is a placement on the Y-DNA Tree of Humankind. From testing current people and ancient DNA from archaeological sites, we know that each haplogroup mutated and occurred at a specific time and place.

Through your Y-DNA haplogroup and through matching with other testers, you can learn more about not just who your ancestors were but where they were from.

Understanding Family Finder Testing

The Family Finder test is the autosomal DNA test offered by FamilyTreeDNA. Autosomal DNA testing looks at chromosomes 1–22 and the X chromosome, which are passed down from parent to child.

Exploring the Random Recombination Process

For autosomes, or chromosomes 1–22, you’ll inherit one of each from each parent—so one copy of chromosome 1 from your mom and one copy of chromosome 1 from your dad, and so on. These chromosomes go through what’s called random recombination when they’re passed down, meaning you’ll receive a random mixture of your mom’s two copies of chromosome 1 to add up to a full chromosome and a random mixture of your dad’s two copies of chromosome 1 to add up to another full chromosome.

Random recombination is when DNA recombines at random from mother and father to child.
Random recombination is when DNA recombines at random from mother and father to child.

Understanding Unique X Chromosome Inheritance

The X chromosome is not an autosome and has a different inheritance pattern. Everyone will inherit a randomly recombined X chromosome from their mom. Genetic females will inherit another non-randomly recombined X chromosome from their dad.

The Family Finder test takes these chromosomes and allows you to match them to other testers that you share a common ancestor with, typically within about five to eight generations on any ancestral line, helping you to break brick walls and expand your family tree. It’ll also provide you with your inherited ancestral populations.

Y-DNA Testing in Family Tree Expansion

Y-DNA testing can help break brick walls even where the records don’t exist or can’t be found. While you may not have been able to find records that confirm the parents of the ancestor where your brick wall is, someone else from another branch might have that information. Y-DNA testing will match you to testers from other branches and allow you to view their family trees.

Y-DNA testing can be used to:

  • Determine a surname for your direct paternal line
  • Confirm if two or more males share a common direct paternal ancestor on a line you are researching
  • Confirm your paper trail research by connecting with matches
  • Expand your family tree and break brick walls
  • Distinguish between different groups with the same surname and determine if they are related or not</li
  • Determine where your paternal ancestors were from and help you discover more about your paternal lineage.

Why would you need to recruit Y-DNA testers?

The more data from a specific paternal line, the more information we can confirm about that paternal line, and the more testers, the more data. If you’re the only one from your direct paternal line who has tested, you won’t have matches, you won’t be able to confirm that’s the correct paternal line to research, and you won’t be able to confirm where your ancestors are from.

Finding another male who shares a common ancestor on your direct paternal line and recruiting them to test can confirm if your research is correct—at least back to the shared paternal ancestor between you and that tester.

If you match, then the research is highly likely to be correct.

If you don’t match, then someone’s research is off, and you may need to recruit more testers to determine whose it is.

Recruiting Y-DNA Testers as a Genetic Female

Another common reason you may need to recruit Y-DNA testers is if you’re a genetic female researching your direct paternal line or if you’re researching a different paternal line in your family tree, like your maternal grandfather’s direct paternal line. Since you can’t take a Y-DNA test to get the results you want in either of those situations, you’ll need to find and reach out to others to find a genetic male who can.

Finding those people to recruit can be tough. Luckily, you can use your Family Finder matches to find connections to the line you’re researching and recruit those testers.

Strategies to Find Y-DNA Testers in Family Finder Matches

There are many excellent filters and tools for your Family Finder match list that can help you find potential Y-DNA testers for the surname line you’re researching.

Identifying Y-DNA Candidates Through Family Finder Match Name Search

Probably the most obvious way to find candidates will be to search your match list by name. The search results won’t be limited by genetic sex, but don’t ignore the women in the search results; they may have a father, brother, or paternal uncle who would be willing to take the test for you. If they use their married name in their FamilyTreeDNA profile, then maybe their spouse would be willing to test.

Search your Family Finder Matches for similar surnames on the line you're researching.
Search your Family Finder Matches for similar surnames on the line you're researching.

Using Ancestral Surname Search to Find Potential Matches With Surnames In Their Tree

You can also search your match list by Ancestral Surname. Maybe the surname you’re researching isn’t your match’s last name, but they may have a branch in their family tree with that surname. They may be able to find someone from that branch to test for you.

Use Ancestral Surname search to look for surnames your Family Finder matches have within their tree.
Use Ancestral Surname search to look for surnames your Family Finder matches have within their tree.

You’ll want to click “View Details” under each match’s Ancestral Surnames to see the full list and locations.

Click View Details next to Ancesteral Surnames in your Family Finder Matches list to view additional information.

Leveraging Family Matching For a Filtered Match List

If you have already linked matches to your paternal side on your family tree, the Family Matching tool can help filter candidates on your paternal side. If you’re researching a surname on your maternal side, then Family Matching can help filter candidates if you’ve linked a maternal relative to your family tree.

Use Family Matching to filter your paternal matches while looking for potential Y-DNA matches.
Use Family Matching to filter your paternal matches while looking for potential Y-DNA matches.

Keep in mind that the Family Matching filters are going to bucket matches from any ancestral line on your paternal side or maternal side, not just the direct lines.

Additional Family Finder Tools and Filters For a More Precise Search

If you’ve determined your connection to a Family Finder match on the surname line you’re researching, you can also use other tools like the Chromosome Browser, Matrix, and the In Common With/Not In Common With searches to triangulate more matches to the ancestor with that surname.

While these matches may not have the surname themselves or listed in their Ancestral Surnames, they may have the surname in their tree, and they may have a relative with that surname who would be willing to test for you.

Utilizing Your Match’s Family Tree to Find Y-DNA Testers

Another important step in finding Y-DNA candidates from your Family Finder match list is to check the family trees of your matches. The filters and searches mentioned above can help, but make sure to check out the trees of the matches in those results. If the match has filled out their family tree, you should be able to click on public results and collect information about people in their tree.

Look at your Family Finder matches trees and compare to yours for potential additional information.
Look at your Family Finder matches trees and compare to yours for potential additional information.

Navigating Y-DNA Haplogroup Search for Test Candidates

One last search feature that you can use to find potential Y-DNA candidates is the Y-DNA Haplogroup search.

If you’ve already tested one male from this surname, whether through Y-DNA or Family Finder, they’ll have a Y-DNA haplogroup. You can search your match list by Y-DNA haplogroup to find genetic males that may be on the same direct paternal line.

This can be helpful in situations where the surname you’re researching has changed over time, like if it’s a clan or occupational name or a patronymic or toponymic name.

Use the Y-DNA haplogroup search to filter Family Finder matches with close Y-DNA haplogroups to yours.
Use the Y-DNA haplogroup search to filter Family Finder matches with close Y-DNA haplogroups to yours.

Keep in mind the relative age of the haplogroup you’re searching for. If you’re using a predicted haplogroup from a Y-STR test (Y-37 or Y-111) to search, like I-M253, that haplogroup is tens of thousands of years old. Everyone with an older haplogroup may not be related to the same direct paternal line within a genealogical timeframe and may match you on a different ancestral line more recently since the Family Finder looks at all your ancestral lines.

Using a predicted haplogroup from an STR test is not the best strategy. Not only is the haplogroup from long before genealogical times, but both of you will have taken a Y-DNA test already, meaning that if you are related within genealogical times, they should already show up in your Y-DNA match list.

What To Do if You Match on Family Finder but not Y-DNA

Not everyone who has a Y-DNA haplogroup from the Family Finder test will have taken a Y-DNA test. The Family Finder includes some Y-DNA and some mtDNA information in the test, and we’re able to give a haplogroup as part of the results. Check underneath the matches’ names to see if they’ve already taken a Y-DNA test. If you and the match have already tested this line for Y-DNA, then the matches should show up on your Y-DNA match list if they’re related within a genealogical timeframe. If you or they just have a Family Finder and no Y-DNA testing, then those matches are better candidates.

Keep in mind that a haplogroup from the Family Finder test, like I-Z60, will be more recent than the predicted one from an STR test but may still be thousands of years old, and not everyone with it will be related to the same direct paternal line within a genealogical timeframe. Again, these matches may be from a different ancestral line with a more recent common ancestor.

Using Discover™ to Compare Haplogroups and Confirm Conections

The new Compare Haplogroups tool in Discover helps you find how a match's Y-DNA haplogroup relates to you.
The new Compare Haplogroups tool in Discover helps you find how a match's Y-DNA haplogroup relates to you.

If you’re not certain that an intermediate haplogroup from the Family Finder is along the same ancestral path as the haplogroup you may have received from the Big Y, the new Compare Haplogroups tool in Discover™ can help you figure that out.

Go to your Discover Haplogroup Reports and click on “Compare Haplogroups” in the menu on the left. Click on “Search a haplogroup” and enter the haplogroup of your Family Finder match.

Discover will let you know if your matches Y-DNA haplogroup is on the same ancestral path as yours.
Discover will let you know if your matches Y-DNA haplogroup is on the same ancestral path as yours.

Discover will let you know if the haplogroup is on the same ancestral path as yours. Remember that while you may have shared a common ancestor a few thousand years ago, you may not have shared a common ancestor in genealogical times.

However, someone on the same ancestral path as the line you’re researching is more likely to share a common ancestor in genealogical times than someone who is not.

Exploring Y-DNA Testing Candidates Beyond FamilyTreeDNA

While FamilyTreeDNA is the only genetic genealogy company that offers Y-DNA testing, many other companies offer autosomal tests like the Family Finder. Autosomal testing is very popular, and you can find potential Y-DNA testing candidates in your match lists at other companies, too.

Leveraging Relatives at RootsTech for Y-DNA Testing Candidates

FamilySearch offers a great tool for several weeks around the RootsTech conference each year– Relatives at RootsTech. If you’re registered for RootsTech and have your tree on FamilySearch, then you can see others who are registered and share an ancestor with you. Roberta Estes has some great tips for how to use Relatives at RootsTech to find testing candidates.

Note: Registration for the virtual conference is typically free.

Connecting with Y-DNA Testing Candidates on WikiTree and Geni

WikiTree and Geni are two additional global family tree sites that can connect you to potential testers like Relatives at RootsTech, and these sites can be utilized year-round.

Once Candidates Are Identified, You Can Begin To Contact Them

Once you’ve determined who you want to recruit, contact them! Each FamilyTreeDNA tester has their email address provided on their match profile, allowing you to easily reach out to them.

Make sure your email is brief, to the point, and polite, and make sure the subject line is something informative and specific, like “Family Finder match at FamilyTreeDNA.”

Some things to make sure you include are:

  • How do you match the person you’re contacting? Make sure to use the name on the accounts for both you (or the tests you manage that you’re researching) and the match. Many people manage multiple tests for their family members and use the same email address for each.
  • What are you researching? Briefly describe what you know and what you don’t know. Potentially include a pedigree chart or a few lines describing how you and the match connect.
  • How can Y-DNA help you with what you don’t know? What brick wall will Y-DNA help you break down?
  • What would you like them to do? Would you like them to purchase an add-on or upgrade to a specific Y-DNA test.
    *If you’re willing to pay for all or part of the test, let them know.
  • Do they have any questions? Consider addressing privacy concerns and including educational materials.

Additional tips:

  • Be cognizant of the length of the email and utilize paragraphing so you don’t have giant bricks of text, which are difficult to read.
  • Pictures can help tell the story and break up text to make it easier to read, but be wary of the size of those pictures as well.
  • Make sure to send the email from the email address on your match profile. Sometimes matches will first go search their match list for the person who contacted them to see if the email is legitimate; it helps if the email address matches.

Sample Email Template For Contacting Potential Y-DNA Testers From Family Finder Matches

Subject line: Family Finder match at FamilyTreeDNA (Match Name and My Tester’s Name)

Hi (Match Name),

I hope this message finds you well. I’m (Your Name), and I manage the test for My Tester’s Name at FamilyTreeDNA. My Tester’s Name and you are Family Finder matches, with a predicted relationship range between us.

Our potential connection seems to be through My Tester’s Name’s direct paternal line, which I believe is also your direct paternal line. The common link is (common direct paternal Ancestor). My Tester’s Name’s connection to them is from Tester > Dad > Grandfather > GGF > GGGF > Ancestor.

Currently, my research is stuck at that ancestor, and after checking your shared family tree, it appears you might be facing a similar challenge. If you have any additional information about Ancestor’s parents and beyond, I would greatly appreciate your insights.

To overcome this brick wall, I’m exploring Y-DNA testing, which can confirm our connection through the direct paternal line. Moreover, it could connect us with others who share a common ancestor on that line, potentially aiding us in discovering more about Ancestor’s lineage.

If you’re open to it, I’m more than willing to cover the cost of the Y-DNA test for you. To help you make an informed decision, I’ve found these resources about Y-DNA testing valuable:

I understand this is a unique request, but I believe it could unravel some intriguing family history. Please let me know if you’d be willing to upgrade to Y-DNA, and I look forward to hearing back from you.

Best,

Your Name

Additional email templates are available.

Remember To Be Patient While Waiting For a Response

Not everyone is eagerly waiting by their email for their matches to contact them. Not everyone will see your email or respond to you promptly. Sometimes, matches take weeks, months, or even years to get back to you. It may take a while to pay off, but the genealogical rewards are worth it!

Katy Rowe-Schurwanz - Product Manager at FamilyTreeDNA

About the Author

Katy Rowe-Schurwanz

Product Manager at FamilyTreeDNA

Katy Rowe-Schurwanz has always been interested in genealogy, inspired by her maternal grandparents, who told her stories about their family and family history when she was little. After studying anthropology and history in college, she joined FamilyTreeDNA in 2015 and became the Trainer for Customer Support. Katy created and improved training processes and was fundamental in the creation of the Big Y Specialist team. In September 2021, she became Product Manager and has focused closely on improving FamilyTreeDNA’s genetic genealogy products.