By: Rachel Unkefer

We all have multiple goals within our genealogy research, so joining multiple Group Projects only makes sense.

Every individual has lots of group identities. You might be a library volunteer, a skier, and a member of the local genealogical society. Each of these groups allows you to express an important part of yourself. They complement each other, and you wouldn’t be fully who you are if you had to choose just one.

Your DNA also has group identities. You have two or three types of DNA, depending on whether you were born with a Y chromosome.

  • Y-DNA is located on the male Y chromosome.
  • Mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA, is found within the mitochondria of your cells.
  • Autosomal DNA, or atDNA, is the name for the 22 chromosomes that are not sex chromosomes.

Each represents different aspects of our genetic inheritance.

Your DNA also has historical, geographic, and population-level identities. FamilyTree Group Projects, administered by volunteer citizen scientists, can help illuminate all these identities when they work together.

Different Types of Group Projects Allow You to Focus on Different Areas of Your Research

Looking at your family history as a whole is multi-faceted. The further you go back on your lines, the more diverse your results will become. Organizing your research into different goals can help make your objectives easier to reach. With that in mind, FamilyTreeDNA has different Group Projects for each of those goals.

There are four categories of Group Projects:

  • Y-DNA Group Projects are designed to look directly at the Y-DNA of project members. These types of projects could include Surname Projects and Y-DNA Haplogroup Projects.
  • mtDNA Group Projects focus on the maternal lineages and mtDNA of project members. These types of projects include mtDNA Lineage Projects and mtDNA Haplogroup Projects.
  • Geographical Group Projects look at the overall Y-DNA or mtDNA profiles of a specific region. These projects focus on either Y-DNA, mtDNA, or both for a comprehensive look at the genetic history of a region.
  • Family Finder Group Projects were designed to target a specific couple, around 5–6 generations back, and their descendants.

It might make sense for you to belong to a project in each category, depending on your situation. Projects differ in their focus and what they can help you with. That’s why it’s important for Group Project Administrators to work together and help their members get the best understanding of the multiple facets of their genetic inheritance.

Focusing on a Specific Line with Surname and Lineage Projects

One type of Group Project is the mtDNA Lineage Projects. mtDNA Lineage Group Projects are collaborative initiatives focused on exploring and understanding maternal ancestry using mtDNA analysis. These projects bring together individuals who share a common maternal lineage.

These projects can be valuable for individuals interested in tracing their maternal lineage, discovering relatives on their direct maternal line, and exploring the deep ancestral origins of their maternal ancestors.

Similarly there are Y-DNA Surname Projects. Y-DNA Surname Group Projects are collaborative efforts among members who share a common surname or variant spellings of a surname.

These projects aim to explore and understand the genetic ancestry of individuals with the same or similar surnames by focusing on the Y-DNA. By comparing test results, participants can identify genetic matches and determine relationships within the group.

How do Surname Group Projects Help with mysterious surnames?

Your Y-DNA might match multiple surnames, not just the surname that your paternal line uses. There could be clear historical reasons why your surname or lineage is connected with the other(s).

It could be the timing of surname adoption in the part of the world where your family originated. Throughout history, families and individuals have modified or adopted new surnames for various purposes, such as assimilation, migration, or personal preference.

It could be your lineage’s migration. Throughout history, populations have migrated across regions and continents, often leading to changes in surnames as families adapted to new languages, cultures, or naming conventions.

It could be other factors reflected in the upstream Y-DNA or mtDNA haplotree. This connection might not be so obvious without understanding something about the haplogroup to which you belong.

Why are there no mtDNA surname projects?

mtDNA lineages tend to follow a different practice. Surnames are typically passed down from the father instead of the mother. Additionally, women typically would take on the surnames of their husbands when they were married. For this reason, mtDNA lineages do not typically follow surnames but instead follow lines discovered through family history research.

Surname projects compare Y-DNA analysis and earliest known ancestors to break through brick walls.

One of the projects I am the administrator of is the Bacharach/Bachrach Surname Project. This project is for Y-DNA testers who have the Bacharach/Bachrach surname in their family lines.

As it happens, the majority of the members of this group belong to a particular branch of the larger J2a Y-DNA haplogroup. They share a common ancestor (J-Y13373) who was born sometime around 1450 CE.

This common ancestor explains how they came to have the same surname.

The snapshot above of the Y-DNA public results display shows a small portion of the members of the Project and their Earliest Known Ancestors (EKA).
The snapshot above of the Y-DNA public results display shows a small portion of the members of the Project and their Earliest Known Ancestors (EKA).

How does joining a haplogroup project help me with my surname research?

Joining the appropriate haplogroup project can put your family name into context with the surnames of your matches, look farther back into history to see how recently you share a common paternal ancestor, and possibly explain the surname divergence.

What are “upstream” projects, and why should you join them?

As a Project Administrator, I also encourage my members to join two upstream projects. Upstream Projects are Group Projects for broader haplogroups that are on your paternal line.

For example, the members of the Bacharach/Bachrach Surname Project could join the WIRTH Project, which is essentially a haplogroup project for Y-DNA haplogroup J-L556.

These upstream projects will help put the member’s Earliest Known Ancestors in the context of their ancestors going back hundreds and thousands of years.

Remember: A paternal line doesn’t exist in a vacuum but is part of a continuum.

Should I join a surname project if I don’t share the same surname?

Email the Project Administrators to ask if it is appropriate for you to join if your Y-DNA seems to match a surname other than your own. Knowing the history of other surnames that share DNA with yours can give you historical insights into your own family.

Does everyone with the same surname or lineage come from the same SNP?

The simple answer is no. There are theories about why the surnames of people on the same SNP may differ. Perhaps a more recent ancestor changed the surname. Or maybe they belonged to a branch of the family that never adopted the surname back in the late Middle Ages.

With the Bacharach/Bachrach Project, there are testers who belong to the Y-DNA haplogroup J-Y13373 and have joined but don’t carry the Bacharach surname. They share an ancestor who was born about 1450 CE with the majority of the Bacharachs.

Regardless, they belong to the same lineage as these Bacharachs by virtue of their Y13373 Y-SNP. The Bacharach Project, as with most other surname projects, welcomes those who carry the “Bacharach SNP,” regardless of surname.

Not everyone with the Bacharach surname is descended from that J-Y13373 ancestor. Although they are in the minority, we have Bacharachs in three other haplogroups.

You can see in the orange, olive green, and red strips below, that we have a few Bacharachs in the E haplogroup, a different J2 haplogroup, and the R haplogroup.
You can see in the orange, olive green, and red strips below, that we have a few Bacharachs in the E haplogroup, a different J2 haplogroup, and the R haplogroup.

These project members don’t share a paternal ancestor on their surname line within the range of the existence of surnames. From this, we have evidence that there is not just one Bacharach surname line but at least four.

Surname Projects and Haplogroup Projects Work Together to Better Understand Your DNA Results

As a Project Administrator, I often contact other Surname Project Administrators who have members who belong to my Surname or Haplogroup Projects to let them know of the potential connections. I also ask them to recommend that other members join my projects (or other projects) where appropriate.

In most cases, the Project Administrators are happy to cooperate and share information, since it increases everyone’s understanding of their family history.

I have encouraged my Group Project members outside of the Y13373 SNP to join their respective Y-DNA Haplogroup Projects, and as the Surname Project Administrator, I work closely with the Haplogroup Project Administrators to share information I have about the history of the Bacharachs.

As a Surname Project Administrator, I am the subject-matter expert on my surname. As Haplogroup Project Administrators, they are the subject-matter experts on how a surname or lineage fits into the larger history of their haplogroup.

The coordination between the Y-DNA Surname and mtDNA Lineage Projects with the Haplogroup Projects helps give the project members a broader understanding of their DNA.

Geographical Group Projects Provide Answers for Lineages from a Single Region

Some Group Projects are geographical, seeking connections within an ancestral home country or region. These Group Projects are collaborative initiatives focused on exploring and understanding genetic ancestry within specific geographic regions.

Geographical Group Projects aim to facilitate connections and collaboration among individuals who share a common geographic origin.

Below is a small sample of a display for the Suwalki-Lomza Jewish Project. You can see below how members whose Jewish ancestors were from the Suwalki-Lomza portion of Lithuania/Poland are grouped by Y-DNA and mtDNA results.

This Geographical Project allows members to see who they match on Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA within the context of a particular region. The co-administrator of this project has also done work with the Family Finder results.

Similar to the Surname and Lineage Projects, we also encourage all these members to join other Group Projects that relate to their Y-DNA surname and haplogroup and their mtDNA lineage and haplogroup.

Family Finder Group Projects Are Designed for More Recent Ancestral Goals

Family Finder Group Projects were designed to target a specific couple, around 5-6 generations back, and their descendants. Other Family Finder projects allow the exploration of specific surnames by those who do not yet have a Y-DNA test candidate or are connecting collateral lines.

For example, what if you’re interested in your maternal grandfather’s line but can’t test a Y chromosome for that line? Some surname and geographic projects welcome members who have Family Finder test results connected to their surname.

Including autosomal results in Y-DNA Surname projects can provide several benefits and enhance the overall understanding of genetic ancestry within the group. By incorporating Family Finder results into a Surname or Geographical Project you can reap the benefits of:

  • Confirmation of Paternal Lineage: Family Finder results can serve as a powerful tool for confirming and validating the paternal lineage identified through Y-DNA testing. By comparing Family Finder matches within the Group Project, members can verify the connections and relationships established through Y-DNA analysis. This can help to build a more robust and accurate understanding of the shared genetic heritage among individuals with the same or similar surnames.
  • Enriched Genealogical Research: Family Finder results can provide additional clues and information for genealogical research. By comparing autosomal DNA segments and shared matches, participants may uncover shared ancestors, fill in gaps in their family trees, and gain insights into the migration patterns and historical connections of their families. The combination of Y-DNA and autosomal results can offer a more holistic and comprehensive approach to genealogical investigation.

The Bacharach project is one of the projects. We have members who are descended from Bacharachs but not through a paternal line. Their information won’t be displayed in our project, because Discover only shows Y-DNA for now, but we keep in contact with them and share new findings, as representatives of their respective lines.

Do all Y-DNA Surname Projects and mtDNA Lineage Projects accept Family Finder results?

No. Each Group Project is different and may not accept Family Finder results and a family tree as reasons to join. You can email the administrators to ask if they are interested in adding you to the Group Project.
Sharing Data for Everyone’s Benefit
It’s important for the administrators of all different types of projects to coordinate, share information, and encourage their members to join all appropriate Group Projects.

DNA testing is a team sport. We can help each other, through different types of projects, to get the most out of our test results and situate our genetic heritage in its historical, social, and cultural contexts.

When project administrators work together to fuse their subject-matter expertise, testers can reach a deeper level of understanding.

Rachel Unkefer | Group Project Administrator Series - FamilyTreeDNA Blog

About The Author

Rachel Unkefer

Genealogist, Group Project Administrator

Rachel Unkefer has been a genealogist since 1984 and a project administrator since 2009, and is currently an administrator for 3 surname projects, 5 haplogroup projects, and 2 geographic projects. Her current focus is the Bacharach One-Name Study, which includes nearly 16,000 individuals from the Middle Ages to the present. She has published numerous articles and presented at international conferences about genetic genealogy.