Michael Cooley's Genetic Genealogy Blog GEN • GEN
1 March 2018

The Man Who Would Be BY23988

The first batch of Big Y DNA results for the Strother DNA Project (Group 01) came back at the end of August 2016, and I followed up with Article 26 [link] a month later. More than 30 novel SNPs were discovered, markers that had not been found in any previous tester. While digesting the results, however, I found that fewer than half of the markers were shared by a Simpson tester (who has since dropped from the radar), and constituted a large new subclade under ZP70.

Last fall, two new Strother Big Ys were completed, a handful of the earlier-discovered SNP mutations were tossed out for one reason or another, and I published Article 42. The original trove of the 30-odd Strother SNPs went from

two subclades (in green)
to three subclades.

FTDNA is notoriously slow at providing any kind of Big Y interpretation. Other groups, such as YFull.com, Yseq.net, and The Big Tree, do what they can to fill in the blanks, but a large number of FTDNA clients have never shared their data with them. We simply need to wait for FTDNA to reveal those matches. As it turns out, I wrote to them several weeks to ask about a problem in a member's data and provided my interpretation of the recent results based on the second diagram. They went to work right away and provided new matches to the project. With that data, we can construct the following tree:

The 30-plus SNPs resulting from that first Big Y have been parsed to five subclades and now provides a much better picture as to the genetic and family origins of the Strother family. It appears that they might have been once part of an early post-Roman or pre-Viking clan that included not only future Struthers and Strother families but Allison, Reid, and very likely others.

Everyone needs a name

FTDNA reports only one SNP in haplogroup R-BY23988, hence the title of this article. There is a second SNP, A20316, but it's not recommended for testing due to reliability issues. (SNP viability is determined not by nature but by researchers.) This means that the families in question share a common ancestor who lived about 1200 years ago. (Note that this timeline is a gross guesstimate. YFull.com uses a formula based on SNP count for each lineage and averages their results. I've simply taken the six SNPs in R-A12273 and multiplied by 144 years, subtracting that from the one date we do have—the birth of Jeremiah Strother in about 1700. That's good enough for our purposes, for now.)1

Every Y chromosome, found among fifty percent of the millions of gamete cells (sperm) produced by an individual, are essentially clones. But slight differences occasionally creep into those vast numbers. About 1200 years, ago, a man's mother was inseminated by a cell that had such an alteration: Instead of having a C at position 14676970 on the Y chromosome, this little sperm-that-could had an A, a mutation recently dubbed BY23988. In other words, a man, born on a specific day at a specific place, upon whom we can place no face nor assign any name, came into the world with BY23988 and passed it to all of his sons, a mutation that has stayed in the lineage to this day. We might as well give this Pictish barbarian a name: BY23988. From this point on he'll serve as a reference from which we can study subsequent Allisons, Reids, Struthers, and Strothers (and perhaps more).


What's more, all these families appear to have had origins in Lanarkshire, Scotland. The Reid ancestor (Thomas) was born in that place in 1812. According to the Allison DNA Project, group C has its origins in there. And my own Struthers ancestors immigrated to Virginia from Lanarkshire in the 1790s. For our purposes, it would be reasonably safe to suggest that R-BY23988 has Lankarshire (and environs) origins and that our guy might have been born in—or the seat of his family relocated to—that area sometime around the year 850. Of course, details are impossible to come up with but, for now, these generalities will help our research.

Further research into the upstream BY23818 haplogroup would largely be academic and is likely more properly in the purview of population geneticists rather than genetic genealogists. But what of the downstream haplogroup R-A12273? Obviously, the Struthers / Strother family emerged during that timeframe. Eventually, some of the older SNPs will be pealed off by non-Strother testers. For now, however, we can refer to the six as the Strother SNPs. To what extent can they be further parsed? Can we get a fix on the era that the Strother family emerged from the Struthers (or vice-versa)?

Next steps

Big Y testing is about SNP discovery—finding those novel SNPs that belong only, up to that time, to the tester. They are placed downstream of (or collateral to) all previously known SNPs. The Allison tester, having about eight novel SNPs, and the Reid tester, who has six novel SNPs, will likely see benefit from more Big Y testing among their respective clans. But is it necessary?

SNPs can be tested individually at FTDNA.com for $39 each but can also be tested at Yseq.net for only $18 a piece. The six "Strother SNPs," then, can be reported on for a total of $108. If you can't afford a Big Y, this is an excellent next-best. No new SNPs will be discovered but, if you belong to Group 01, you're sure to be positive for some of these six: A12273, BY24200, BY23497, BY24733, BY24824, and BY23798. There are no "correct" results, but there's a chance that some new parsing will occur. For example, it wouldn't be a stretch to learn that two of the six belong to non-Strothers, that those and two more belong to Struthers, that those and another belong to all Group 01 Strother testers, and that the sixth SNP emerged with an immediate ancestor of Jeremiah's. But that's mere speculation for demonstration purposes. We need only to test to sort them out.

Of course, the three Group 01 Big Ys tested so far have personal SNPs that emerged since Jeremiah. Those who wish to know their personal SNPs will require a Big Y. But please be warned. The outcome can just as likely be nil, that is to say no new SNPs, than it is to identify a more immediate ancestor with new SNPs. The data will be welcomed, but the results could be disappointing.

No BAM files yet

We're presently at a disadvantage due to the fact that FTDNA hasn't released any BAM files (raw data files) for several months. That data is required to make a full accounting of the results. Once sorted out, our diagram will likely look a little different. I have some software with which to do some poking around, and YFull.com can do a much fuller analysis than FTDNA has ever offered, and not just SNPs—they also report on nearly 500 STRs embedded in the BAM.

As always, I'm happy to answer any questions. In the meantime, Group 01 has some choices: Order a Big Y or (I recommend) test the six "Strother" SNPs at Yseq.net (which will require sending a new sample). At minimum, you might want to verify that BY23988 is your guy by testing that SNP at FTDNA.com for $39. Finally, it would be in every Group 01 member's best interest to join the DF49 Project. This is a large haplogroup several degrees upstream from the Strother SNPs. YFull esitmates that it formed about 4300 years ago, likely (it seems to me) in the British Isles.

DF49 -> ZP20 -> ZP21 -> ZZ33_1 -> ZP23 -> ZP70 -> A12264 -> BY23818 -> BY23988 -> A12273

1 Let's suppose Jeremiah's father, William, possessed all six SNPs in that haplogroup. That would make for an older estimate. However, there's no rule that says SNPs must be born every 144 years. The law of averages tell us that the results can be all over the map for any one lineage. The whole thing is really quite fluid. As I often say, We won't know until we know. In fact, there's a fighting chance that, given enough time and resources, we will know.