Michael Cooley's Genetic Genealogy Blog
18 May 2020

The Long and Slender Y-DNA Trail of the Suffolk Fisks

The first article about the Fisk DNA Project was published on this site last July. Repetition will be avoided here. Suffice it to say that Group-02 of the project is largely concerned with Symond Fisk/e (1399-) of Suffolk, England and his descendants, many of whom are found in a book by Frederick Pierce, Fiske and Fisk Family (1896). Genealogy of the 19th century can often be mistrusted (and, perhaps, should be). Nevertheless, it would be a happy encounter should any of our Fisk members connect to it. And detailed Y-DNA data just might get many of us there. In fact, with the book as a guide and finding the right testers, we just might identify some of the listed individuals with unique Y-DNA fingerprints.

We have one Fisk member who has Big Y tested. This advanced test sequences about 15 million positions on the Y chromosome, providing a great deal of data with which to work. Two non-Fisks have also tested but are relatively close matches. Their results provide some perspective to the Fisk Y chromosomal lineage. Because we have only the one tester, we must resort to the larger perspective.

A little genetic stuff

Let's start with some terminology.

The more DNA we share with another person, the closer we're related. By that reckoning, we're more closely related to our parents than to our siblings (50% as opposed to about 35%). Many Americans periodically do such calculations, especially as children, and we tend to remember those percentages all out lives. I am, for example, one-quarter French, one-quarter Walloon (typically French Belgian), and the other half largely English and Scottish (nary an Irish name is found among my Irish immigrant ancestors). There's some German and a smattering of Welsh in both halves.

Those who have tested their autosomes (chromosomes 1 through 22) have learned quite a lot more detail about the admixture of their various heritages. One merely needs to compare the number of centiMorgans (a unit of genetic measurement) with other testers. If two people share about 425 cM (roughly 6.25% of their DNA), they could be related in any number of ways: "First cousins once removed, half first cousins, great-great-grandparent / great-great-grandchild, great-great-aunt/uncle, half great-aunt/uncle."1 Of course, you need to know something about your genealogy to sort it out. If you don't know, perhaps your match does and will be able to fill in some of the blanks. In other words, the principal value in autosomal testing is to make contact with those in the know. The results amount to genetic queries. (Many of you would remember the now passe genealogy queries in magazines, society quarterlies, and even in newspapers three or four generations back).

The value of autosomal testing drops precipitously after about five or six generations, as shown in these graphics from UC Davis:2

But the Y chromosome is different and doesn't appear in genetic reports from Ancestry.com and others. Whereas autosomes report something about virtually all of our lineages, Y-DNA data is found only for the paternal lineage (father's father's father). It's very specific. One need not sort through the threads of dozens of lineages. This happens because men inherit their Y-DNA, which carries the male gene, through the fatherline. In other words, my Y chromosomal inheritance comes from John Cooley (c1738-1811). Likewise, Prince Harry's son, Archie Mountbatten-Windsor (who happened to be born on my 69th birthday), descended straight down a long line of Dukes, Princes, and Kings, and with it came an exact copy of the Y chromosome of Christian IX, King of Denmark, a lineage that is known as far back as 1000 CE.

An Example of R1b Inheritance

Friedrich > Friedrich > Christian IX > George > Andrew > Prince Philip > Prince Charles > Prince Harry > Archie

The Fisks are also of the major R1b haplogroup, but it emerged about twenty thousand years ago. There's little chance of claiming royal descent!

Test Results

The R1b marker was born in a sperm cell that created a specific man who has very many more living descendants than Genghis Khan. Until we travel 20,000 years into the past with a DNA test kit in hand, with practical knowledge of the local dialect, and find willing saliva donors, we'll never know the first R1b's name. But a more precise estimation of the marker's location and era of origin is conceivable through extensive testing of living men. For now, we can be satisfied that R1b is the most common Y-DNA haplogroup in Western Europe.

The first of the group of six markers that form the R1b-BY13089 block, came into the lineage about 3600 year ago. The last one, known as the terminal SNP, is estimated to be about 1900 years old.3 Here's the Fisk, Jones, Dolehanty portion of the BY13089 SNP tree.

R1b-BY13089 Descent

Considering that each marker saw the light of day about once every three to five generations, this represents a lot of time. Using the terminal age for BY13089, we can roughly calculate the age for each haplogroup. Let's start with SNP counts. Going down from BY13089, we have,

FT55474 block4 SNPs
FT185390 block26 SNPs
Average novel SNPs8.6 SNPs

The three testers in this lineage have a varying number of novel SNPs, as we would expect. Dividing the total novels (26 SNPs) by 3, we get an average of 8.6 SNPs. Now we'll divide that it into the terminal "date" for BY13089 (we don't know yet in what order its SNPs came), and we came up with an approximate birth rate of about every 49 years per SNP, which is in keeping with the calculations with the other projects I work with.

1900 years / (4 + 26 + (26 / 3)) = 49

We can now chunk these up into a timeline.

FT55474 group spanned about 192 years122 CE - 302 CE
FT185390 group spanned about 1248 years302 CE - 1562 CE
MRCA to present spanned about 438 yearsfrom 1562 CE

If the records are right, Symond Fisk was born about 1399 — about 620 years ago. If the genealogy and the SNP projections are accurate, then the MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestor) for the three testers was Symond Fisk or one of his immediate forebears. But that might not be true. In the grander scheme of things, the difference between 620 and 438 years is marginal and timelining SNPs is still more of an art than a science. For now, we can consider the estimate to be near the cusp of the two, or an average. After all, parsing SNPs isn't as straight-forward as parsing tree rings, which we know develop annually. SNPs perhaps emerge every three to five generations, and even that can vary widely for every lineage. (Reproduction, and everything associated with it, doesn't occur by the clock.)

Broadening the perspective

Let's further develop the bigger picture by looking at our Y-genetic neighbors via an FTDNA graphic. The Fisks, Jones, Dolehantys, et al. are buried in that long, slender trail of SNPs on the right (in white). Look at all the SNP/haplogroup parsing to the left. Obviously, we have a long way to go before acquiring truly significant data.

Family Tree DNA

Lastly, I'll turn to three other projects to further aid the long view: the Strother DNA project, Group CF02 (not mine) of the Cooley DNA Project (both of which I also work with), and a table from the R1a Project, with which I am not involved. (None are current.)

The Strother tree clearly demonstrates that a well-developed SNP tree neatly overlaps the known genealogy. This is powerful information Specific markers for specific branches have been discovered. and we're closing in on how the Butlers came into the picture, a connection that was previously only guessed at. We also know that the Glasgow Struthers are rather distant from the immigrant William Strother, and a test now in the works that might clarify that.

Struthers, Strother, Butler and haplogroup R1b-BY23988

For a long time, all the CF02 Cooleys were thought to have been descended from Benjamin Cooley, a Puritan-era immigrant to Massachusetts. SNP results have proved otherwise. Nehemiah, whose line stayed in the Tring, Hertfordshire area, was hoped to be related to Benjamin, and we was. What I call the "Goshen" Cooleys (Goshen, NY) were a big surprise. They're ancestor immigrated more than a century later. And we now know that Samuell Coley was not Benjamin's brother. (That SNP tree has been further developed.) But what we do know is that they all originated in Tring and shared a common ancestor, who probably lived in the 1500s. Luckily, the Tring Cooleys of the 16th and 17th centuries are reasonably well documented in civil records. Once someone takes a good look, much of this might be sorted out.

The Tring, Hertfordshire Cooleys
of Haplogroup R1b-Y15296

And here's a four-year old haplogroup tree (ancient in present terms) for the R1a Project, light years from R1b. But what is known about R1a is a fraction of what we know for R1b. This serves to illustrate the granularity achieved with multiple advanced Y-DNA testing. A far as I know, this is the last full tree to be produced by the project. (It's tough to keep this genie in the bottle.) Frankly, I think it's a masterpiece of the kind. My Cooley clan, quite distinct from the one above, is stuffed into the very narrow, light blue YP355 line.

Click to see the full image


You might have observed that these charts are reminiscent of a Mandelbrot set or fractals — iteration upon iteration of a similar pattern, each unit having the same properties. It looks like family tree. That long, white Fisk string of SNPs can be similarly rendered.

We orphaned Fisks

That's the grand tour. Hopefully it offers a small overview of what has been done, a tiny glimpse into what can be done, and an inkling as to what the Fisks can contribute to the world-wide Y-DNA family tree, which now boasts more than one million Y-SNP markers. The catalog grows with every advanced SNP test. I'd like to see more SNPs with "Fisk" stamped on the them (figuratively speaking, of course).

Several members of the Fisk DNA Project know their lineage back to Symond Fisk. Many of us don't. Our Big Y tester, kit IN76274, was descended from John Fisk (-1682) of Seething, Norfolk. He and his immediate descendants remained in the area. These results compared with the known genealogy informs us that his family was descended from the Suffolk family.

Kit 575967 is in the neighborhood of a 3rd cousin to me. Our ancestors were Richard Fisk (1781-1843+) and Mahala Kemp (1786-1821) who immigrated to New York with their children in 1821.

Further testing could reveal the the Most Recent Common Markers (MRCM — I think I just made that up) between our Suffolk Richard and the Norfolk John. The trick is understanding that every marker was born in a specific man. If we're lucky, the MRCM will be mapped to the MRCA. Only SNPs can do that, and we orphaned Fisks would like to know.

I'm happy to answer any and all questions.

1 "Autosomal DNA statistics," International Society of Genetic Genealogy Wiki, (web: https://isogg.org/wiki/Autosomal_DNA_statistics).

2 Graham Coop, "How much of your genome do you inherit from a particular ancestor?", The Coop Lab: Population and Evolutionary Genetics, UC Davis, January 27, 2020, (web: https://gcbias.org/2013/11/04/how-much-of-your-genome-do-you-inherit-from-a-particular-ancestor/).

3 Per YFull's age estimates.