Puzzling on Y DNA and Relatedness

One of the things I haven’t been sure how to approach is the tangle of time, movement, location and relatedness presented in these genetic studies of ancient and modern people. As usual, conversations with my genetic cousins have helped me think about some of this complexity.

If you’ve read any of my other Y DNA posts, you’ll know that my perspective has been shaped quite a bit by being in a fairly small group of men within one of the largest groups in Europe. Roughly 150 men spread around the Americas and Europe. At the end of the day, many men will find themselves in small groups of more closely related men. Our group was small near the beginning of the day though. Our group is both old and relatively young. Family Tree DNA has us all splitting from an ancestor around 700 BCE with about 1500 years between our group and its parent R-Z18, whereas other groups may have a few hundred years between a parent and a child branch.

So in my mind, it is like having 150 pieces of a puzzle that should have 1000 pieces. Most of the picture is unknown. These 150 pieces are similar and form parts of a picture with clusters of pieces that obviously go together. We have some good chunks of our corner…but enough blank spots to be deceiving.

What I’ve been trying to describe is how similar we all are, but how we may not all fit together the way you’d think, given the clues at hand.

puzzle pieces in a corner on a table.

Location and Relatedness

If I go by FTDNA aging estimates, there is a big gap between our group and our parent where there is missing information, but there is an even bigger gap between our common ancestor and the testers today. Roughly 2600 years give or take a few hundred.

At first, you could look at a location map and see that there are men in our Y haplogroup who claim their origins in many different countries in Europe and you could suspect that the men in England, for instance, were probably more closely related to each other and the men from Germany were more closely related to each other and the men from Norway…etc. Then we identified that some of us had an STR DYS458.2 that seemed to split the tiny group.

All of a sudden, men with origins in close proximity, even in this small group, found themselves on either side of a divide. A man in England ends up more closely related to a man in Norway than to a man in the next county in England.

With big Y testing, the picture becomes even more complex, pairing men from multiple different countries into smaller sets more closely related. For example, We’re all in R-CTS12023, but my Elmer family, from southeast England, is more closely related to the Stanuszek family in Poland than to the Porter family in Essex, or the Old family in Dorset. You’d have to go all the way back to 700 BCE to meet up with the Pipkin family, also from England (possibly Bedfordshire). Before you get to them, there are closer relatives in Germany, Poland, Denmark, Norway, and Ireland,

I’ve thought for some time that “like” people end up in “like” places, but proximity and Y DNA don’t seem to go hand in hand every time.

On the macro level, yes definitely CTS12023 has been moving around Northern Europe but on the micro level a CTS12023 man in Germany may be more closely related to a man in Norway than to another CTS12023 man a few miles away in Germany.

Our physical locations can be deceptive.

Swinging back to the Anglo-Saxon study for a minute.

continental sources for Anglo Saxon DNA showing sites in the low countries, northern germany, denmark and sweden.

This map shows Continental Northern Europeans that were autosomally related to the Anglo-Saxons. The dotted lines give a geographic boundary to “like” people who ended up in England. These include people who were autosomally like our R-CTS12023 men found in the study.

The map below gave the researcher’s best estimates of migration groups, with one totally CNE group heading for The Wash in East Anglia and another group showing CNE with Southern admixture heading to Kent. CTS12023 men were part of both of these migration groups. Like people were in like places, but Y DNA was reasonably diverse.

Anglo Saxon source areas and migration routes based on DNA with full CNE in northern germany, denmark and Sweden and another group traveling south with mixed CNE and Frankish DNA.
from https://the-past.com/feature/transformations-in-early-medieval-england/

As a point of interest, one of the CTS12023 men from Kent, BUK009, who may have been on the southern route and has a small amount of that green group admixture, is more closely related to modern testers from Norway and Denmark.

Meanwhile, the all-red Angle from the northern route, HAD005, is most closely related to modern continental testers from Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, and Poland (not counting the many people from Britain).

I would have expected the reverse for these two men, given the geography of modern-day Y testers.

Although these men were both Continental Northern Europeans, they had different individual genetic journeys with their own groups of people. Although they were both CTS12023 men, they belong to seemingly different migrations, and their shared CTS12023 Y DNA only connects way back in 750 BCE. The ancestors of these men were brothers or close cousins in 750 BCE, but we have to recognize that it took them almost 1000 years to reach England by different paths, and they may have had different backgrounds, identities, and “people” when they got there.

It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t go further into the lineages of the other CTS12023 men; they are interesting unknowns with a Y haplogroup stuck in time at the founding of Rome. They could be any branch of CTS12023.

A More Contemporary Example

samuel stone statue hartford

Back to the Old family. Robert Old lived in Windsor, Hartford Connecticut in the same timeframe as Edward Elmer. They basically lived across the river from each other. Ed was a puritan, and Robert was likely a puritan, I’m guessing. One was from Dorset, the other likely Essex. Probably autosomally pretty similar. Both men were part of the small CTS12023 Y haplogroup, yet you’d have to go back to 650 BCE, over 2000 years to find their common Y male ancestor in this tiny group.

Maybe this one is more relatable to me as well because of my perspective as an American. My Y DNA line has only been on this continent since the 1630s. Immigration from Europe is one of the more recent stories for this entire hemisphere. The Old Y DNA line ended up in the same location in the 1660s. The Normans, Vikings, and Anglo-Saxons seem so old and far away, but the Y DNA common ancestor for these two families is older than all those migrations. Their proximity in Connecticut is more about community and culture in 1600s England, and Y DNA is along for the ride.

For all they had in common, their Y DNA may have taken very different routes, only to end up in the same place at the same time.

Sure, but Does it Work in Theory?

Let’s take Buckland 9, R-CTS12023->R-PH1163. He’s a Jute, from Kent, with about 11% Continental Western European DNA. They think he hopped over on the short route, maybe just across the channel from France, possibly overland picking up that small bit of CWE DNA, or maybe hopping down the coast. His modern testing counterparts are from Norway and Denmark. The common Y DNA ancestor is estimated to be 300 BCE about 700 years before BUK009 was born.

We can speculate that Jutes are from Jutland and that Denmark is somewhere on the journey for BUK009. BUK009 is a few hundred years earlier than the Viking invasions of England. Would it be impossible for a distant Y DNA relative to have hopped down from Denmark or Norway and left R-PH1163 descendants in Ireland and the Danelaw? You could end up with the same Y DNA haplogroup in England, a few hundred miles apart, arriving hundreds of years apart in different migration events.

What if they also settled in Norman France? You could end up with R-PH1163 in the same county in England coming from Denmark with the Jutes, Vikings, and Normans. What if they had settled in Flanders…they could show up in England as Flemish weavers hundreds of years after the Normans. Then you could find two R-PH1163 men on either side of a river in America, in Hartford, Connecticut in the mid-1600s one of them having arrived in England in 400 CE with the Jutes and the other arriving almost 1000 years later with Flemish weavers, now both English Puritans with the same language, customs, and religion, both also related to one man in Denmark 2000 years earlier.

HAD005 and R-ZP121

Looking at the time tree, we’ve got eight lines of descent from R-ZP121. Hatherdene 5 is stuck at R-ZP121, not necessarily because that is where his line stopped, but that is as far as they could get with the SNP coverage they had. He could be more closely related to any of those eight lines, or he could be down his own line that hasn’t been discovered yet.

He’s locationally significant to my family because the Elmers, Elmores, and Aylmers are prolific in East Anglia, particularly Norfolk. Mythologically, my family are Aylmers from the area of King’s Lynn. In the case of our mythical family, Aylmer was chosen in the 1500s as a throw-back spelling of Elmer, meant to recognize the family’s Anglian roots. It was during a revival of Anglo-Saxon naming as people wanted to identify with “Englishness” rather than carry on with any post-Norman, French association.

Map of the Fens including Cambridge
By Rcsprinter123 – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=117908854

There is no paper or genetic evidence we can find to show that we’re actually connected to that Aylmer family from King’s Lynn, but the proliferation of the surname Elmer in Norfolk gives us greater odds of being from some family in the area. It’s hard to Ignore the fact that the recent Anglo-Saxon study had the Wash identified as a probable entry point for a Continental Northern European migration and it’s hard for me to ignore Elmham there in Norfolk as one of many possible place names where a later “Elmer” might be from.

image of the Wash with anglo saxon settlements and monastaries including North Elmham.
By Amitchell125 at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20800088

It is not impossible that my branch under R-ZP121 is directly related to that guy in Cambridge. I can’t say for certain that we’re not. His testing only goes to ZP121 which pre-dates him by several hundred years. Does his locational significance in 500 CE have relevance to my family in 1600 CE over a thousand years later? Maybe.

The Jutes

One of the Jutes was taken to R-PH1163, but not all of them. Two were left back at CTS12023. I can’t assume they are directly related on the Y to the R-PH1163 man. They weren’t identified as an autosomal family. They could be members of the same community and have Y DNA separated by 1000 years. Here in Dover we have multiple known CTS12023 men. CTS12023 has nine currently known lines of men. These two could be related to one of them, or none of them.

Our closest non-Elmer family, the Knowltons, are mythologically from Knowlton in Kent. About 9 miles from Dover. The Lunsfords (the next closest family) are likely named for a land holding in Sussex, about 40 miles from Dover. Not too far from Hastings.

kingdom of Kent

It’s not impossible that we three families are directly related to one of these two men. Our cluster of families is thought to have formed (currently) around 500 CE. These men show some Continental Western European heritage that the Anglo-Saxon study identifies as most like samples from Belgium and France. Although our small family cluster is all English, our closest brother branch under parent R-BY41998 sitting at around 250 CE (hundreds of years before this migration) contains both an English family and a Family from Belgium, and one from the Netherlands, and a family from Poland.

That timing, from the 500s CE to as far back as we can take our little cluster of families genealogically, gives us about 1000 years for the Lunsfords to make it 40 miles to Sussex, and roughly 600 years for the Knowltons to go 90 miles to Uxbridge and for the Elmers to make it 85 miles to Braintree Essex.

That scenario is not impossible, it might even be most likely depending on your perspective, but it’s also not the only possible explanation.

Like People Keep Moving to Like Places for Hundreds of Years

Assuming these estimates of time are getting better, the split for the Knowltons and Elmers is being knocked back to 900 CE (from roughly 1100 CE in earlier estimates), and the split with the Lunsfords is being knocked back to 500 CE (from roughly 700 CE). Within the time of these three Y DNA families, you have the history of Anglo-Saxon England, Viking England, Norman England an influx of Flemish, the Hanseatic League…etc. Plenty of time for basically the same Continental Northern Europeans from Norway to Belgium to continually wash over the British Isles. For all I know, the Lunsfords were deposited by the Jutes, the Knowltons by the Vikings, and the Elmers came over with the Flemish. All of them could be related to the same man from Jutland in 400 CE, and each family could take different routes at different times to end up on the same island.

The Irony

It’s amazing to have our small group make an appearance in ancient DNA. I feel lucky to have been alive to see it.

Ironically, the ancient DNA samples exhibit the same issues R-CTS12023 men deal with today. All of them, including the guy from Hungary, appear in the same time period. We don’t know how closely related they might be. With the knowns and unknowns of their haplogroups, each individual has to go back to 700 BCE to reach the other individuals. HAD005 and BUK009 are 1200 years apart in Y DNA, but they arrived around the same time in England and lived 120 miles apart on the map. I18184 is also 1200 years away from the others and about 1200 miles away on the map, but lived around the same time. Because people were making the journey from Scandinavia and Northern Europe to Hungary in a single generation (as proven by isotope analysis of the guys in Szolad), it’s possible I18184 is more closely related in Y DNA to one of the men from England than the men from England are to each other.

I don’t think it’s hopeless to try to figure it out. We keep getting closer and closer.


In the end, I think the thing we can use to exclude an origin story may be the age estimates for our different haplogroups. So, for instance, the Vikings are not relevant for R-A2284, because it has an age estimate in the 1700s. Give or take a few hundred years, we’ve still left the Vikings behind. It would be better to look at colonial-era migrations. That particular split is probably a colonial-era split.

As you go farther back and the gaps widen out between matches, I have to say that there is a lot of room in there for twists and surprises.

I should also say that we only know about R-ZP121 and R-PH1163 among the Anglo-Saxons in the study results above because men today ran through Big Y testing. Every test helps to complete our corner of the puzzle.

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