Michael Cooley's Genetic Genealogy Blog
4 May 2020

Haplogroups and the Uttley DNA Project

Uttley genealogy doesn't come to me naturally. In fact, I can't count a single Uttley among my known ancestors. Still, the name has appeal as an historical artifact thanks to one of my earliest immigrant ancestors, Mrs. Mary Ann Utie (later Bennett) who arrived in Jamestown on the Seaflower in February 1622. Her first husband, John Utie (the first recorded fiddler in America) arrived about eighteen months earlier on the Francis Bonaventure. The couple appears with their infant son on the 1623 List of the Living and the Dead and on the Muster of 1624. I came to the Uttley DNA Project in search of a possible Y-DNA lead for John ... and I stayed.

A number of genealogical fallacies have arisen in the last twenty or more years about John and Mary Ann, including the unfounded notion that John was born into an Uttley family of Yorkshire. However, Delia Horsfall of the Somerset and Dorset Family History Society wrote that Utie "is a French name from the Pas de Calais." After examining poorly interpreted documentation, I'm now certain that an overzealous family "historian" came up with the Yorkshire idea as well as several other unlikely connections. Of course, this isn't the time and place to discuss the details of these non-Uttleys. I offer the story merely to explain my entrée into the project. For those who might remotely be interested, the product of my recent research is found in A Case Study in Ancestor Abuse: Mary Ann Utie Bennett.

(Scroll down for pretty pictures.)


The Uttley DNA Project is quite small. Only eleven Y-DNA results are represented and are arranged into three categories. U001 is comprised of the majority of the members, including a couple of matching non-Uttleys, Lewis and Stapleton, and U002 has one Uttley not related to the first group. U100 has two non-matching non-Uttleys who have decided to come along for the ride. Three additional project members have other than Y-DNA results, and that's fine. However, this is a surname project and is principally focused on the Y chromosome, which passes biologically from a father to his sons. This manner of inheritance approximates our social convention of paternally-derived surnames. The convention is not always reliable but the DNA is indisputable. This unusual correlation between two separate means of propagation, one biological and one social, makes the Y an extraordinarily powerful resource for genealogists.

Because the Y chromosome, which carries the male sex gene, is inherited only from man to son, it doesn't go through the usual genetic reshuffling that renders unique properties to chromosomes 1 through 22, properties that provide a varied inheritance of genetic features among siblings. These diverse outcomes offer a distinct advantage to most species. The Y chromosome, having very few real genetic consequences other than the male sex gene, is not the product of recombination. It clones itself each time a cell divides. There is no exchange of 50% of its genetic material with a maternal equivalent, which doesn't exist. Every male's Y, therefore, is nearly identical to his 5th great-grandfather's Y, as well as to the Y chromosomes found in the cells of his father, brothers, and distant male cousins. Much like an inheritable disease, one of which women are happily devoid, reproductive luck propagates specific Y-DNA fingerprints into the population. This is simply one of those facts we can hang our hats on. No greater provider of foolproof evidence for descent exists.1

Furthermore, the Y is loaded with what used to be referred to as junk DNA. I now call these genetic bits silent witnesses to history. They rarely remove themselves from the genetic parade and pass whole hog, history and all, to sons. This somewhat unusual means of inheritance has provided an encyclopedia inside each our cells, and we're still at the very beginning of exploring the archival material.

Y-DNA projects look at two general types of mutation on the Y chromosome, Short Tandem Repeats (STRs) and Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs), including indels. I like to refer to STRs as DNA's shifting sands (you never know when and to where the dunes will move), and SNPs as the Himalayas of the Y chromosome (they're not going to budge for a very, very long time). The public face of the Uttley DNA Project lists only eight of the eleven testers.2 These are STR results and are useful for grouping testers into patrilineally-related subgroups. (We can immediately see that the Non-Uttleys are not patrilineally-related to the Uttleys.) STR volatility generally prevents us from describing the degree of relationship between group members with any kind of accuracy. So we look to SNPs, especially those residing in highly stable regions of the Y. In other words, a SNP mutation doesn't mean a lot if it's sitting in the middle of a flaky string of STRs. It can't be relied upon. It could disappear from one lineage or another and would not be present among all descendants. Such SNPs should be noted but not seriously considered.

Reliable SNPs, then, comprise data useful for affixing lineages in both place and time. For any one lineage, advanced SNP testing, however, might uncover only one SNP mutation once every 300 to 500 years, if that. Still, YFull has demonstrated that the SNPs derived from FTDNA's Big Y-500 product emerge in a lineage on average about once every 144 years. However, Y-700 sequences about 50% more sample and is closing the gaps.

The project's original aim — to show that the Uttleys of Yorkshire were indeed related to one another — was accomplished through Y-STR testing and the project was eventually all but closed. Still, some researchers want to push their lineage back before the onset of the so-called "genealogical timeframe." History and archaeology helps to a degree, but genetic genealogy can cut through the clutter — as long as there are sufficient numbers of testers. And then there are those researchers, such as myself, who occasionally adopt projects like this, if only to satisfy yet another agenda. (But, hopefully, to the benefit of project members.)

The Stapleton and Lewis matches show a genetic distance (GD) with the Uttleys to as little as one STR marker out of the first 37 tested. It climbs to a GD of about 7 or 9 out of 111 markers. The connection, then, isn't terribly close but might well put the testers within about 400 years of common heritage with the Uttleys. Revealing anything about their nearest mutual ancestor might aid in the research of all lineages involved. As we know, little documentation for commoners is found during that and earlier periods. The emergence of surnames about 600 to 700 years ago has left that era somewhat open to familial studies and clan relationships. Surnames tend to disappear as we travel back into time but the lineages were concrete. In the last two decades, Y chromosomal "archaeology," if you will, has uncovered a gold mine of material that can be used by genealogists trying to penetrate the medieval period and beyond. Yes, only the merest skeletons have been analyzed, but history, geography, and genetic genealogy are providing some of the flesh and bones. But make no mistake about it. It's a long road ahead.

The Results

Our Big Y testers share a Y-DNA haplogroup (a collection of SNPs that haven't yet been sorted outside the bucket) called R1b-BY2914. But it's quite old. We know this because they share 32 markers, markers not revealed in for other testers — for now, anyway. But the Uttleys are known only to have descended from R-269, a haplogroup with more than a hundred companion SNPs and estimated to be nearly 20,000 year old.

(about 18,500 years old)

The first thing to note is that most of the SNP mutations, because of their advanced age (more on that in a moment), are not shared solely by Stapleton and Lewis but likely the Uttleys. And that means the families share a long paternal ancestry.

The second thing to understand is that each mutation listed was first born inside every cell of a specific man on a specific day at a specific place. (In other words, our paternal lineages are encoded in our Y-SNPs.) The carrier's lineage was then passed down to all his sons, to all their sons and, thusly, down to all the family's male progeny of the present generations. In this way, the mutations accumulate through a procession of sons. Y-SNPs are not born, as far as anyone knows, into every generation. But every male has thousands of the accumulated ancestral markers. According to Thomas Krahn of YSEQ, there are now over one million Y-SNP mutations in the Ybrowse.org database, with some unintentional duplication.

The Uttleys, I'm told, assumed the name during the 14th century when they moved from the village of Utley in Yorkshire to Heptonstall of the same county. That might be as deep the history of the family will get. But why stop with the creation of the surname? These folks also had parents. And we have some new fodder to ponder. Our new SNP tree is packed with data, most of which will probably be found among the Uttleys. (The relative nearness of the Y-111 STR results tell us that.) To get a better handle on this, we can set up a tentative timeline. (Tentative because new test results change the texture of the worldwide SNP database.)


Haplogroup DF13, at the top of the Stapleton/Lewis tree, is estimated by YFull to be about 4200 years old. The SNPs immediately below it — and more — were likely part of DF13's initial haplogroup when it was first discovered in 2011. I can't even begin to know how to research the evolution of a haplogroup, but I did record a partial history of my own upstream haplogroups for an early article written for my flavor of Cooleys. The first graphic illustrates how the first eighteen novel SNPs, found in our first tester (Hackett), parsed into four haplogroups. The members of the initial block are shown in gray. The next graphic, written for a later article, illustrates a method for tracking the rough geographical movements of the lineage. Both are animated GIFs; neither have been updated. (Don't stare at these too long. I absolve myself of responsibility for any consequences.)

Haplogroup parsing

Traveling into the past

So what about a timeline? We simply do a SNP count and multiply it by the average rate of SNP mutation. Since the number of novel variants between the two testers is different, we add the number of Novel SNPs for each and divide the product by 2. YFull's average of one SNP every 144 years per lineage during the Y-500 epoch has been challenged by Y-700, which processes samples that are 50% greater. This has resulted in the discovery of a larger number of SNPs, most of which will be moved some degrees upstream of the tester. I'm not sure that a new average has been calculated, but we have enough good data to do our own calculation. We need for now to accept accept the DF13 estimation — that the Stapleton-Lewis tree is about 4200 years old.

9 – Average number of novel variants
32 – Members of the BY2914 haplogroup
9 – Remaining SNPs below DF13

50 – Total SNPs since DF13

Dividing 50 into DF13's 4200 years provides an average SNP rate of about one per every 84 years, roughly every three generations. The testers' novel SNPs, then, emerged over a period of about 756 years, somewhat greater than the STR Y-111 estimate. But while we're playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey, it's reasonable to suggest that the Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) for all three families lived about 600 years ago. Even so, the Uttleys might be closer related to one of the Big Y families than the other. That would provide an inheritance of all the BY2914 SNPs plus a few belonging to the more recent generations, thereby adding some of the novel SNPs into the Uttley column.

Click image to play

The great American philosopher, Fats Waller, once said, "One never knows, do one?" But there is a way to know. An upgrade at FTDNA from Y-111 to Y-700 has been reduced to $239.

Where does that leave me? Mary Ann Utie Bennett is my favorite colonial ancestor. The young mother set sail on a hazardous voyage for Jamestown with her infant son late in 1621. Only a month after her arrival she endured the Jamestown Massacre of 1622, which left 347 of her neighbors dead. Her first husband, John Utie, was arrested for being part of a plot to overthrow the colonial governor of Virginia and died in England before his trial in 1637. In 1652 her second husband, Richard Bennett, of a wealthy Puritan plantation family, ousted Sir William Berkeley, the Royal Governor of Virginia, with the support of Cromwell's parliament and became governor himself. It's remarkable that a young woman, probably born into a family of little means (she married a fiddler, after all), would survive and flourish for at least 37 years in such a social and political environment. Still, she's very much a mystery. Even proving who her husband was not will add some flesh to her story.

Utie's male lineage is believed to have died out three or more generations later. I'll likely never have an opportunity to measure his Y profile against that of the Uttleys, and the resolution of the theory that Utie was not of the Yorkshire Uttleys may never be realized. Still, (insert Fats' quote again here).

1 Because of human failings, DNA betters public documentation. There's mitochondrial DNA, but it doesn't have the diversity and granularity of the Y and has largely been abandoned by genealogists. Autosomes are great for near relatives, but they're difficult to interpret before five-plus generations.

2 Sharing your results with the public is vital. Here are the factors to consider: the Y tells us something about the hundreds and thousands of years of any paternal lineage. They reveal nothing personal about an individual other than, perhaps, his "tribe." There is no medical information involved. A public presentation of the results (not your personal identity), serves to advertise your lineage and resembles the now antiquated genealogical queries of the recent past: "Oh, I was always told we came from Yorkshire. Is Michael Utley my guy? I should test to find out." Revealing Y-DNA information to the public can only benefit the public, as well as one's own research through the mutual exchange of data.