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Surname DNA Signature

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  • Surname DNA Signature

    Does each surname DNA have a specific profile or signature?
    The reason I ask the question is that I have been stymied trying to find my paternal lineage. I consistently have another surname as my highest Y-DNA. The DNA Project Administrator for that surname says that its clan matches will be significant when they include DYS390 @ 21 and YCAII @ 22-23. I have both. I am not sure what to think about this. Any comments?

  • #2
    It seems to be generally believed that most STR patterns (such as the results you get from a Y 37 or Y 67 test) are relatively stable over several centuries. This conclusion explains why, for example, patrilineal descendants of the prolific early New England settler Edmund Rice are still easily recognizable today through Y DNA tests.

    However, even if most Y STR's remain unchanged for long periods, the same cannot always be said of surnames. In some areas, surnames only became "fixed", passed on from father to child in the way we usually experience them today, in the early 19th Century. In other areas, there was a period (somewhere between the 14th and 16th Centuries in the areas where I have some research experience) when surnames were in use, but were frequently not permanent.

    It is entirely possible that, whenever permanent surnames became fashionable in a particular area, genetically related families happened to choose different surnames, or, conversely, that genetically unrelated families happened to choose the same surname (such as Baker or Taylor, occupations). The history of surnames seems to be extremely diverse.

    Y DNA tests point some people to a group of matches who mostly have the same surname. Other people (me, for example) are pointed to a group of matches with many different surnames. Some surname projects consist mainly of descendants of one founding ancestor; others consist of descendants of dozens of unrelated groups, with more being discovered all the time. For me, the Big Y test was helpful: I turned out to be out on the end of a small twig of the Y chromosome haplotree, not closely related to the most frequent surname among my matches, and also definitely not related to the other McCoy's who have been tested. I can safely ignore all the other McCoy's, and I have a very small set of Big Y matches (with several surnames) who conceivably could share a common patrilineal ancestor many centuries ago.

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    • #3
      You mentioned a "clan". Are you dealing with a Scottish clan? If so, each clan usually has several surnames associated with it. Look up a list of surnames associated with your clan.

      But you say that you consistently have another surname as your highest Y-DNA matches. Have you considered misattributed parentage, a non-paternal event, like infidelity or adoption (formal or informal)? It may be painful after years of work. It happened to me though when I tested my cousin. He had no matches with his surname, but several with another. It took me over a year to solve the problem, but that was 6 or 7 years ago, when autosomal databases were very small. My 2nd great-grandmother's youngest son was not her husband's child. A neighbor was the father.

      Have you done any atDNA tests, like Family Finder here or Ancestry's DNA test? If so, does the surname you see most frequently in your Y-DNA matches also occur among your atDNA matches? Ancestry might be best for determining this because of the size of their database. Test the oldest generation in the suspect line. It doesn't have to be a male. I tested my mother, as her father and siblings were deceased.

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