Y Line DNA Testing

by Craig Laurence

[The author is an active Clan Urquhart member who administers several non-Urquhart surname projects.]

It is my guess that everyone has heard of, or knows something about, DNA testing by now due to its mention in the media.

But how many are aware of the benefits of DNA testing for genealogy purposes? Everyone involved in genealogy research is familiar with the ‘paper trail’. We’ve all had our share of interviewing older relatives, visiting court houses, library archives, reading microfilm, and tromping through cemeteries. Frequently while doing research we have hit the ‘brick wall’ with one or more of our ‘Tree’s’ branches. We may even have a possible ‘cousin’ that we know of but we can’t connect to our tree through paper records.

That is when DNA testing can be useful: DNA testing can’t provide you with your entire family tree or tell you who your ancestors are but, DNA testing can:

Determine if two people are related.

It can determine if two people descend from the same ancestor.

It can show if we are related to others with the same surname.

It can prove or disprove our family tree research and old family legends as to country of origin.

It can provide clues about our ethnic origin.

What is testedY Line Tests – More recently, the Y chromosome in DNA is being used to establish family ties. The Y chromosomal DNA test (usually referred to as Y-Line DNA) is only available for males for the Y chromosome is only passed down the male line from father to son. Tiny chemical markers on the Y chromosome create a distinctive pattern, known as a haplotype, which distinguishes one male lineage from another. Shared markers can indicate relatedness between two men, though not the exact degree of the relationship. Y chromosome testing is most often used by individuals with the same last name to learn if they share a common ancestor.

Why can only males of the surname be tested?

Our fathers have a Y and an X chromosome, and our mothers have two X chromosomes. If a newborn has a Y chromosome from the father, and an X chromosome from the mother, this newborn will be a boy. In boys, that same Y chromosome gets passed from father to son, generation after generation. So, when a son has his DNA markers tested for genealogy purposes, he is also testing his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather’s markers. Because your great-grandfather passed on his Y chromosome to all of his sons, who passed it on to all of their sons, your male cousins of the first and second degree, etc. will share the same DNA testing results. The genetic markers tested for genealogy purposes pertain to all the males in the same family. As DNA is passed down from one generation to the next, some parts remain almost unchanged, while other parts change greatly. This creates an unbreakable link between generations and it can be of great help in reconstructing family histories. Females don’t carry the Y-chromosome. Therefore a female’s male line can only be traced through the DNA of her father or brother.


A test kit can be ordered, and paid for by credit card, on-line. The cost is provided in US dollars. FAMILY Tree DNA mails a test kit to your home address, you swab the inside of your cheek, and you return the test kit through the post back to the lab. The lab offers 12 marker, 25 marker, 37 marker and 67 marker tests.

The 37 marker test is recommended. At this level marker variations are usually seen which assist in sub grouping. A marker is defined as a gene or other segment of DNA whose position on a chromosome is known and whose inheritance can be monitored. While a mutation is any heritable change in the DNA sequence; usually a rare and harmful change in the DNA sequence. A mutation is present in less than 1% of the population.

Once a test kit is received back at the lab, it should take approximately 2 months for the results to be culled from the swab sample.

BENEFITS OF FAMILY TREE DNA TEST: a personal page will be set up for you on the Family Tree web site, with a username and password, from which you can privately monitor your test’s progress, your test’s results, and see others in the project with whom your results match. Your results will also be posted on the Urquhart surname web page for others to view, and to see how all the different Urquhart individual’s results compare.

PRIVACY ISSUES: Because names are not posted with results. No one can learn anything about you personally from the Family Tree DNA website. You will be informed if your DNA markers are a match with other results in the general database provided that both you and the other individual has given written permission to releases the results and contact information.


The Urquhart Clan Y Line DNA Project results are shown on the Urquhart surname group, of the Family Tree DNA Testing Results. The purpose is to compare an individual’s results to that of other Urquharts in order to link Urquhart branches to the main Urquhart tree (that is to identify groups with common Urquhart male ancestors). To date, 28 males including two bearing names of variant Urquhart spelling and one with the Clan recognized sept name Cromartie have ordered Y-DNA test kits and been tested.

In the Urquhart surname group there have been some identical matches on the 25 marker test- indicating a common ancestor. To date all Urquhart Y line results fall in the haplo groups I and R , the European groups, of individuals with the same genetic characteristics, proving the ancestral lineage is as expected from legend.

Why are all Urquhart males have their DNA results compared to all the male test results in the Family Tree DNA data bank, not just to those within the Urquhart surname group?

The value of this comparison is that can show that the surname now used is not the original surname but was changed to the Test group’s Surname at some point. The experts refer to this as Non-Paternal Events (NPE) and it usually occurred in the past.  It may have been an adoption of a family member or friend’s child, the adoption of a child from the Orphan Train, or an illegitimate birth. Other possible circumstances could be: i.e. ancient individuals affiliations by name with larger clans, loss of original name in records due to illiteracy, immigration or census takers errors, or the assignment of at totally different surname because it was simple and easy to spell (a documented fact), criminal activity, or participation in witness protection programs, could be other reasons. Whatever the circumstances, it usually creates obstacles for genealogists. Genetic testing has provided genealogists with a powerful tool to aid in tracking an individual’s true genetic source.

How does this happen? Should your 37 marker results not match that of your surname group but Family Tree can provide a surname group in which you have a 36/37 marker match; then individual needs to correspond with individuals who are that new DNA match to identify area of location time periods and sort-out the possibilities of proving a real documented connection.

Family tree DNA provides this example in its wealth of literature. A man in tracking his great great-grandmother through census records in the 1800’s, the records revealed that her three children were born out of wedlock.  The children were listed in the census with their mother’s maiden name as their surname.  Later, the mother married and the children adopted their step-father’s surname, but the man suspects that the step-father was not the children’s natural father. He takes the 37-marker DNA test, and is told that if there are other males in the database, with a 36/37 marker match he should begin corresponding with the 36 match. This he did and he now knows the common ancestor. The man just needs to identify which one of the ancestor’s sons fathered his g-g-grandmother’s children. The common ancestor’s family appears in the census in close proximity to his g-g-grandmother’s family.

View The Urquhart Surname Group on: www.familytreedna.com/public/Urquhart/default.aspx

Family Tree DNA’s website: www.familytreedna.com

After reading this, should you wish to participate in the Urquhart Male Y-line DNA testing, please e-mail William Craig Laurence at wclaurence@aol.com.