SNP Tree Explorer

Enter a SNP or surname to begin.
No surname patterns at the current settings.

Basic Usage

Type a SNP or surname into the input box and hit Return or click the blue Go button. If your SNP or surname is known to the FTDNA tree, you will see the relevant parts of the tree displayed (the surname must have 5% or more prevalence in a SNP to be shown). Select any of the examples or click the random SNP button . Use the male/female button ( , ) to toggle between the Y and mitochondrial DNA trees. Hold down the Option key and click the random button to select a random surname.

Use the Open All and Close All buttons to adjust the tree display; you can also click any ► or ▼ to expand or contract a section of the tree. Each row of the table is one SNP, followed in gray by the number of kits that have this SNP, followed by a bar chart showing percents paternal origin. Note that only those countries selected with the Clan Finder Options (see below) get a color bar. Finally any surnames that account for 5% or more of all kits under this SNP are shown in prevalence order.

All paternal origin and surname values shown are aggregated -- they represent the full data for the given SNP, the sum of all its descendants. Note that this is not the way that nationalities and surnames are presented in other trees, which tend to show only the new origins or names that attach to the SNP alone and not its descendants.

In many cases the display will show a trail of 'breadcrumbs' above the SNP table; these are the SNPs that come before (are the ancestors of) the SNP you entered. Click any of these to show their full details -- but be aware that very old SNPs (like A-PR2921 = Y Adam) will create over 20,000 rows to the table while may stall your browser.

Some SNP rows end in ">>" which indicates that the tree continues deeper at this point, but is not shown in order to keep the total list at a reasonable size. Click (?) to open the SNP info box and then click "Move to Top" to see the branching below this point.

Time Scale

The Toggle Axis button lets you see your section of the tree with a horizontal time axis, in units of years-before-present. In this mode the twist-arrows on each row are replaced by vertical blue lines (to the left of the SNP label) which indicate the formation date for that SNP. All SNPs formed before 5000 years ago are set at the left margin so that there is room to show the more historically interesting recent relationships. Dates, as in SNP Tracker, are interpolated from the YFull values -- though this tool does not do the extensive smoothing and curation of SNP Tracker so there may be some minor differences. Nonetheless, the data-axis display makes it easy to recognize starburst expansions.

SNP dates are estimated as they are for SNP Tracker: I use YFull's SNP formation dates which match about 25% of the much larger FTDNA haplotrees, so I linearly interpolate dates for the other SNPs (a fair assumption given the constancy of the molecular clock). Recent SNP dates will have huge uncertainty due to their low-number statistics; 95% confidence limits are shown in the SNP table of SNP Tracker.

Data Source, Paternal Origins, and Surnames

This tool depends entirely on the generous availability of FTDNA's Y and mtDNA haplotrees. These are the largest and most up-to-date of any SNP collections and include paternal origins and surnames as optionally entered by DNA testers. No kit numbers or any personal data are known or used.

The legend at the right of the SNP tree view shows percents by paternal origin and surname. For highly populated SNPs and surnames the percents are probably reasonably accurate, but for small groups the values will be biased by specific circumstances. While the paternal origins may seem like the 'ethnicity' reports from autosomal DNA analysis (such as FTDNA's Family Finder, AncestryDNA, 23andMe, and others), the results will differ -- because user reporting here is uncontrolled, relatively small in number for recent SNPs, and also because single-lineage ancestry (i.e. Y or mtDNA) can be very different from overall ancestry -- for example, Y or mt ancestry samples just one of your great-grandparents, while autosomal DNA samples all eight. Note that surnames are not available for mtDNA because FTDNA does not collect the data, which makes sense for most European patronymic traditions.

Surname Spelling Variants

Searches by surname will find similarly spelled names in the haplotree; this is generally desirable because surname spelling was certainly not always consistent. If you see names that you don't care about, simply ignore them -- just as you ignore items in a Google search that don't interest you.

Surname Similarity

The tab "Surname Similarity" shows a new and different type of surname similarity; the methods and examples are discussed at . It's important to note that two surnames are 'similar' here if they have a similar pattern of corresponding SNPs; in other words, this is about common ancestry, in most cases long before surnames arose.

Examples of History Written in DNA
The examples in the dropdown menu illustrate patterns that you may see in your lineage.
  • SNP R-FGC13508 is the last SNP before a geographic and surname split into what became families of Fitzpatricks and McPhersons. By STR dating this occurred around 780 CE, long before most recorded local history or clan identity. In both cases the STR signatures of these families show the pattern of descendants of single American immigrants a millenium later, which illustrates the power of DNA to reveal specific events in pre-history.
  • Two lineages of Morrisons and McCowns have common ancestry in R-FGC5585, and STR dating puts their split about 940 CE, again before most known clan history or surname acquisition. The northern Irish branch quickly splits again into surnames McClelland and McCown. As before, the STR data show a simple branch at 33 generations ago into two American immigrant family groups with tMRCAs about 13 generations ago, so there is no intermediate detail which might, for example, suggest separation at the time of the Ulster plantations.
  • R-BY20835 tells a similar story but all with the common surname Dunn, where one branch is Irish and the other English. Unfortunately the Dunn surname project is restricted so that STR dates cannot be estimated, though the common name under a single SNP suggests that the split occurred after the surname arose.
  • The Moore and Dunbar examples illustrate the great diversity possible within a single surname, which simply suggests that these surnames were imposed on pre-existing and unrelated lineages.
  • Little is interesting: under a single SNP this common-surname branch splits into Scottish, Northern Irish, and English branches all at about the same time.

Clan Finder

This tool has two different modes. The default is Search: you type in a SNP or surname and see the relevant parts of the Y or mtDNA trees. But the "clan finder" mode is a different kind of search: it lets you apply filters to paternal origins and surnames in order to find clan-like SNP-defined groups. By filtering the SNPs to show only those with a high percentage of a given national origin (typically Scottish or Irish), and a high percentage of a single surname, this tool becomes essentially a "clan finder." But please do not take "clan" literally in the formal sense of Scottish or Irish clans -- those are determined (somewhat controversially) by a single self-appointed authority ( My goal here is to present a tool which may help you to find clan-like groups of people; some of these will indeed be very good matches for traditional Scots or Irish clans, while others may not -- but they will meet your criteria for paternal origins and surname consistency, which you can see and adjust with the Options button that appears when Clan Finder is selected from the Search drop-down menu. I'm called these "SNP-clans" for lack of a better term: like traditional clans they are defined by surname and paternal origins, but unlike traditional clans they are precisely defined by paternal ancestry as reflected in their SNPs.

The countries that you select for paternal origins will appear as colored or striped sections of the small bar charts that accompany every SNP in the output table. The legend shows all contributions; those with white bars are simply informative and are not used to restrict the search.

The Options dialog has a button that will download a CSV file of the SNPs and surnames that meet your criteria. The values in the cells are the numbers of men with that surname and SNP, scaled to the total number of men under the SNP (i.e. as if 100% of users put in their paternal origin). Also note that the SNPs here are "rolled up" to 2500 years ago (see to see why this date). This keeps the number of rows in the table to a more reasonable number than showing every terminal SNP and also emphasizes shared history. The SNP rows are also in tree clustering order, which means that adjacent rows are close to each other on the Y tree. For Irish settings look for R-M222 and for Scottish, R-L1065 (which is just under R-L1335 = Alpin lineage) -- two high populated SNPs with legendary associations.

Find the ends of your branch

With BigY testing at record high coverage and low prices, more and more tests continue to expand and extend the Y SNP tree. What was a terminal SNP only a few years ago may now have much more downstream detail; this applies especially to those who only ever did STR testing (Y12 to Y111) which can only give a general (= ancient) idea of one's location on the SNP tree. Likewise SNP kits made good economic sense not too long ago, but their results may now seem far behind the growing front edge of the tree. Enter your own terminal SNP here to see if there are more recent new branches; once those new branches get sufficiently populated and diverse, your own terminal SNP may change (i.e. one of your private variants will be promoted to a public named SNP). This is to be expected with a growing dataset -- your heritage doesn't change, only the labels applied to it.

Caveats, questions, comments, requests

This tool is entirely free and it comes with no guarantees. The Y and mtDNA trees with associated data are accessed from FTDNA and will change over time. I generally update both trees on a monthly basis.

Please tell me about your ideas for improvement and stories where this tool has been of particular interest to you.

Rob Spencer    
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