How to start and administer your own Y-DNA project

Genealogical Society of Ireland

8:00 p.m. Tuesday 12 February 2019

Dún Laoghaire Further Education Institute, Cumberland Street

by Paddy Waldron

WWW version:

YouTube versions:

***** NB: FamilyTreeDNA kits will be available after this talk for anyone interested via the DNA Outreach IRL project *****


This talk will explain how individuals or surname or clan groups can set up surname DNA projects, hosted by, and show how the tools provided to project administrators can be used to investigate and explain the surname origins and history.
Y-DNA comparison and matching remains the best way to estimate the relationship between two men with the same or similar surnames:
The science or art of placing men on the human family tree or Tree of Mankind, often called the Y haplotree, has evolved rapidly in recent years.


Components of DNA

male offspring female offspring
sperm Y chromosome X chromosome
22 paternal autosomes
egg X chromosome
22 maternal autosomes
Males with an interest in their surname history should submit a sample of their own DNA for Y chromosome analysis and then recruit other men with the same or similar surnames to do likewise.

Females interested in the Y-DNA signature associated with their surnames do not have a Y chromosome, but can still recruit a father, brother, uncle, cousin or other male relative with the relevant surname and Y-DNA signature to swab.

Close relatives with the same surname will have virtually identical Y chromosomes, so should pool their funds and invest in more advanced analysis of a single sample, or of samples from unconfirmed relatives.

Surnames and Y-DNA

Two types of mutation can be found on the Y chromosome: Y-DNA analysis began many years ago by looking at patterns of STR values from the Y chromosome. These values mutate relatively frequently in both directions.
More recently, once-in-the-history-of-mankind SNPs began to be identified:
It was eventually realised that these SNPs are a much better way of categorising men than the patterns of reversible STR mutations which were originally used on their own.

STR analysis remains cheaper than SNP analysis, so it is still the starting point for Y-DNA analysis.
Sometimes, whether one goes further down the STR or SNP route is a matter of taste and a matter of debate.

 Y-DNA analysis can have various objectives, but the principal ones include:
In principle, your match list should contain dozens of men with your exact surname, e.g. Flannery or Marrinan.

In practice, there are many reasons why this may not be the case:

Remember these simple concepts:

Y-DNA will identify relationships that go back much further than the adoption of surnames, which in most cultures was around or after the year 1000 AD.

In practice, there are many exceptions to the foregoing cultural principles, which result in sons inheriting DNA from their genetic father, but inheriting their surname from someone else.

Among the myriad of, possibly one-off, circumstances causing surname/DNA switches (and other forms of NPE) are:

Grants of arms have historically been associated with descendants of specific individuals and never with surnames; thus sharing a surname or sharing a Y-DNA signature does not automatically confer the right to bear the same arms.

Similarly, sharing a surname does not automatically mean that two men carry the same Y-DNA.

FamilyTreeDNA and its competitors

A surname project or one-name study is a natural monopoly.

FamilyTreeDNA is now the only effective option for Y-DNA projects:
Unlike the Irish DNA Atlas Project, FamilyTreeDNA's main objective is to match those who submit DNA samples with their closest relatives in the database, and to facilitate exchange of e-mails between DNA matches.

The optimal order in which to purchase Y-DNA products depends on which objectives are of most importance, on the results of previous purchases, and on the budget available.

The prices are less if you join a surname or geographical project before or at the time of ordering. You may be able to find an appropriate project here. There are 10,312 to choose from as of 12 February 2019 (some with an unexplained [guild] icon).

Alternatively, you can just do a Google search for
[surname] FTDNA project
The next step is to order a Y-STR product. There are several possible routes:
New customers need to fill in the names of both their Direct Maternal (i.e. matrilineal) and Direct Paternal (i.e. patrilineal) Most Distant (i.e. most distant known) Ancestors here in order to help those looking for mitochondrial DNA matches and Y-DNA matches respectively. It is particularly important for anyone who has ordered mtDNA analysis and for men who have ordered Y-DNA analysis to fill in details of these ancestors which then appear in the relevant project reports and match lists.

Most people squeeze in names, places and dates to the limited string length of 50 characters available for the names of the most distant ancestors, but FamilyTreeDNA really should provide separate fields and columns for name, birth date, death date, country, county, etc., to help those scanning this information in the tables in surname projects and mitochondrial projects.

There is also a map-based system for recording locations of most distant known ancestors, but I have not found it very useful.

Types of Y-DNA projects

Y-DNA projects can be
Once you have your initial Y-DNA results, you can join appropriate haplogroup projects.

Most geography-based projects use some combination of Y-DNA, autosomal DNA and mitochondrial DNA, e.g. various Irish projects.

Some older project member and project administrator features have been disabled because of numerous changes prompted by GDPR fears.

You must Opt in to Sharing on the PROJECT PREFERENCES page or your pseudonymized DNA results and ancestor information will be missing from the public results pages.

You can also choose from that page whether to give each project administrator Minimum, Limited or Advanced access to your kit; reducing access to Minimum pretty much eliminates all the benefits of project membership.

It is also recommended that you set Y-DNA Match Levels to All Levels on the PRIVACY & SHARING page.

Application procedure

If there is no existing project for your surname of interest, then start your own ...

The first prerequisite (thanks to GDPR) is to have an e-mail address which you are prepared to expose to spammers and to other non-FTDNA customers; you may wish to establish a new e-mail address specifically for this purpose.

Wikipedia defines a data breach as "the intentional or unintentional release of secure or private/confidential information to an untrusted environment".

My long-standing guidelines on e-mail etiquette demand that my correspondents "please do not publish my e-mail address on any web page, news group, chat room, etc."

If you are an ordinary customer of FTDNA, only your matches can see your e-mail address.

If you are an FTDNA project administrator, everyone on the internet, whether an FTDNA customer or not, sees your e-mail address.

This is part of the FTDNA Terms & Policies.

If there is no surname project for your surname and you are happy to deal with the spam risk, then you can apply to set up your own project by following a simple five-step application process (which actually consists of only four steps!).

Project tools

Project members can be recruited in many ways:


Surname About page Results page
Clancy Clancy Results
Considine TBA TBA
Durkin Durkin Results
Flannery Flannery (external)
Kelley Kelley Results
Marrinan Marrinan Results
McNamara McNamara Results
Melican Melican Results
Merrigan TBA TBA
O'Brien O'Brien Results
O'Dea O'Dea Results
O'Gara O'Gara Results
O'Hara O'Hara Results
private private Results
Talty Talty HIDDEN (book)
Waldron Waldron Results

Conclusion: Why you should submit your DNA

Further reading