Best Y DNA Test: How It Works And Which Companies Provide Y Tests

November 11, 2019 by MadAboutGenealogy

Y DNA testing is based on the male Y chromosome.

Every man has a Y chromosome that is almost identically to the Y chromosome of his father, his grandfather, his grand grandfather and so on. We are talking about the direct father’s line ancestry.

Having such a unique DNA marker is brilliant for genealogy research. Y DNA test can:

  • Prove if your son is really yours.
  • Help with finding your family tree and ethnicity.
  • Connect to the Y-chromosomal Adam (that one male descendant who’s DNA every man on the earth has a piece of).
  • Identify your Y haplogroup and see which brand of the tree growing out of Y-chromosomal Adam you are.

In theory, you can even figure out if you’re a part of and directly related to the George Washington’s ancestry line if you manage to wrestle out the Y chromosome out of Washington’s hair.

We will talk about the amazing Big Y DNA test (considered the best Y DNA test by far) further on.

For now, it’s important to understand that the Y DNA test is somewhat specific, and not all DNA testing companies can provide you with this parental lineage DNA test.

In the following post we’ll explain:

  • What does the Y DNA test show?
  • How does Y DNA work and what types there are – STR, SNP, Y67, Big Y are all types of DNA tests.
  • Which Y DNA testing companies you can choose from?
  • Which are the best Y DNA tests?

Let’s first look at what exactly the Y DNA testing tests.

Table of Contents

  • What Is Y DNA Testing?
    • What Does the Y DNA Test Show?
      • Y Paternity DNA Test For Fathers And Sons
      • Most Recent Common Ancestor Testing
  • Types Of Y DNA Tests
    • Y STR Marker Testing
      • Y-37, Y-67, Y-111 STR Test
    • SNPs Y Testing And The Part To Haplogroups
      • Haplogroup Determination Or Where Are You From
      • Big Y DNA Test
  • Y DNA Testing Companies
    • Y DNA Test
    • 23andMe Y DNA Test
    • FamilytreeDNA Test
  • Best Y DNA Test

What Is Y DNA Testing?

We are all built out of 23 pairs of chromosomes. The difference between a male and a female is just in the single chromosome; actually, it’s more like half of a chromosome.

The 23 chromosome – the only sex chromosome – is a combination of X part that we all get from our mothers and the X or Y part that we get from our fathers.

Women have XX chromosome and men have XY chromosomes. And it’s exactly that small Y chromosome that is used in Y DNA testing.

Fun fact: Y chromosome (with 63 genes) is tiny compared to the X chromosome (804 genes).

How can such a small Y chromosome give us such grand assumptions about our ancestry?

Because Y is special (and size doesn’t matter that much in genealogy).

Y DNA tests use the fact that when the Y chromosome is passed from father to son, it doesn’t change all that much.

That means that your Y chromosome is pretty much the same as the Y chromosome of your father, your grandfather, your grand grandfather and so on.

Just by looking at the Y chromosome you a man can determine all their male ancestors in the direct line for the past last centuries with astonishing accuracy.

Here are a few examples of when the Y DNA test can be especially useful:

What Does the Y DNA Test Show?

Y testing is incredibly useful (for men, obviously) in determining:

  • If your son is really yours (paternal DNA testing).
  • When two guys share their most recent common ancestor (MRCA testing).
  • Surname DNA project matches.
  • (For Women) Women can ask their male relatives (fathers, uncles, and so on) to provide them with a DNA sample and use the Y DNA test to find out their patrilinear line.

Y Paternity DNA Test For Fathers And Sons

If you’re a father and want to use the Y DNA test to determine if your child is really yours (or not), you can use the Y DNA test.

The paternity DNA test is single and by far the most accurate Y DNA test you can get because it only spans one generation: the father-son Y DNA match.

A father has a unique Y chromosome that passes on to his son nearly unchanged. In essence, a father and son have the same Y chromosome.

The Y DNA test can easily compare Y chromosomes of the father and the son. If they match, the ancestry relationship father-son is confirmed.

If they don’t match, these two test subjects obviously don’t fit into a father-son parental relationship.

In practice, these can have big ethical and even legal consequences. That’s why we further on speak about the best parental Y DNA test that will help you make the most accurate determination on the father-son front.

Most Recent Common Ancestor Testing

The Y DNA test can be used if two guys who pretty much know they are related want to find their 1st recent common ancestor in the direct father’s line. This is called the most recent common ancestor testing or MRCA for short.

For example, my relative Brian and I are related somehow but we really don’t know in what way – maybe 2nd cousins or something.

If we both do the Y DNA test and my father, grandfather, grand grandfather do the Y test, we can determine with whom our Y DNA matches the first.

That person – let’s say, my grandpa – is the most recent common ancestor, confirmed by the Y test and we can use that information to chart a family tree and figure out in what way we are related.

(For Women) Even women can take advantage of using the Y DNA testing despite not having a Y chromosome. Women have to ask their male relatives – father would be the best – for a DNA specimen to analyze the Y chromosome and you can use this information to track your relatives in a direct father’s line.

Additionally, if you want to discover your roots, there are several surname DNA projects – like this Irish surname project – where people track down their relatives in a two-step system:

  1. Gather all the people who share your surname in a surname DNA project and try to find a match based just on your document research and surname.
  2. Confirm that people you find are really your descendants using the most accurate Y DNA tests.

Types Of Y DNA Tests

We have looked at what the Y DNA tests are able to do; let’s now focus on the “how”.

How does the Y direct male line DNA testing work?

The basic principle is similar to the autosomal DNA testing. We are looking for genetic markers that everyone in the ancestorial male line share. While autosomal DNA testing only focuses on SNPs analysis, there are several additional varieties of how to conduct the Y DNA test.

These include (and we’ll cover them further on):

  • Y STR marker testing.
  • Standard SNPs markers together with the haplogroup determination (leads back to the autosomal-Adam)

Ok, this can get a bit scientific, I’ll try to delve into these Y DNA testing types and explain them as simple as possible:

Y STR Marker Testing

STR stands for Short Tandem Repeat. Translation: We’ll be looking at tandem (two nucleotide base pairs, for example, ATCG) that repeat themselves. And these repeats are usually short, hence the Short in STR.

Usually, the Y STR test gives us a Y STR value. Here’s how we obtain that value:

Y STR marker testing works by first selecting a section on the Y chromosome. We check the first tandem; let’s say the first nucleotide base pair is AT (adenine-thymine) and the second is CG (cytosine-guanine). That is the 1st tandem.

We look down the double helix and see another ATCG pair. That’s the 2nd tandem. We look further on and first the 3rd, 4th, and so on. In total, we find a short sequence of 10 ATCG tandem repeats, and the sequence changes – we come across the ATAT tandem, for example.

That means that the Y STR value is 10. In essence, the Y STR value tells us how many repeats of a tandem there were in a sequence.

The point of doing this is that some people have 5 repeats, the other 10 repeats, and the last 58 repeats, for example. The Y STR values are all over the place.

But if your father has 10 repeats, you will almost certainly have 9-11 repeats. And if you use this STR technique enough times, you will most certainly nail down two very similar Y chromosomes (father-son relationship) with incredible accuracy.

That’s why Y STR testing companies test between 12 and 111 STRs. Obviously, the 111 STRs test is much more accurate than the 11 STRs test.

Based on how close the STR results from two different Y chromosomes (DNA specimen) are, the Y STR testing companies use an algorithm to estimate how closely (or loosely) related the two individuals are. They can either choose to give that difference in the number of generations or in the number of years.

Y-37, Y-67, Y-111 STR Test

On the market, you will find several Y STR DNA tests. It’s important to understand that all of them give quite accurate results.

Nonetheless, some Y STR tests are obviously more accurate than others.

Accuracy of a Y STR test almost entirely depends on how many different STRs they compare. You will find Y-12, Y-37, Y-67, Y-111 tests and many others.

Y-12, for example, is the most basic test with a good (but not the best) accuracy.

The larger the number next to the “Y”, the more STRs the test compares and is, therefore, more accurate.

FamilyTreeDNA, which specialized in the Y DNA testing, went so far as to develop a Y-111 test that has the esteemed status of the most accurate parental direct-male line test. You can read more about the test here.

The same company also offered Y-500 and now the upgraded 2019 version of the Y-700 test. It’s important not to mix the Y-111 test with the Y-700 test because the Y-700 version is much more advanced. They use both STR and SNP matching (more in the next chapter) achieving the most accurate Y DNA results.

SNPs Y Testing And The Part To Haplogroups

While Y STR tests can be useful as far as determining parental status and can even indicate with fair accuracy our haplogroup, they are outmatched by the high-resolution Y SNP tests.

SNP test monitors Single Nucleotide Polymorphism in one’s DNA. The variety that tests Y chromosomal DNA can take into account 20,000 to 35,000 such nucleotide markers. In effect, this gives a much more accurate result as far as direct male line genealogy is concerned.

Even more, the Y SNP tests are so accurate that they can determine man’s haplogroup. Here’s is where the Y testing really becomes interesting.

Haplogroup Determination Or Where Are You From

All men are descended from a guy that lived around 240,000 years ago in Africa. This common ancestor is commonly known as chromosomal Adam.

Using our ancestral DNA at the SNPs level, we can see that every time a group of people branched out of this Adam, we find out their DNA also changed. We call these branches from the chromosomal Adam’s DNA haplogroups.

It so happens that about 70,000 years ago, we can pinpoint a specific DNA change in humans of European and Asian descent. That’s when homo sapiens finally left Africa for Europe. From that line we can trace more than 20 different branches – from haplogroup A to haplogroup R – and you can see the whole Y chromosome haplogroup list here.

Let’s look at haplogroup C and it’s sub-branches as an example:

The red CF lines demonstrate a group of people (male DNA) leaving the African continent. That specific DNA is further branched at the C-M130 spot in the modern-day Middle East. There are 4 specific groups we can trace with C haplogroup:

  1. C-V20 group. These guys went towards Europe and settled in modern-day Czech Republic, Belgium, Poland, and southern Russia.
  2. C-M217 group. Went toward Mongolian steppe and further branched when going to Russia, Japan, and even North America. This is a very adventurous group.
  3. C-M8 group. Went toward Korea. South Koreans are frequently a part of the C-M8 group.
  4. C-B477 group. This group went towards Australia. It’s very frequently found in Aborigins but not in Australians (because they usually came out of England).

Here’s another great map of haplogroups that people with European ancestry will more than likely have:

Big Y DNA Test

The main test that dwells the deepest into which haplogroup you are in the Y-700 DNA test also known as the ‘Big Y’ test.

The Big Y test is recommended for advanced lineage researchers and experts in the field of genealogy. The Big Y test – Y-700 DNA test – was developed from the Y-500 test.

It tests an incredible 700 STRs that give the most in-depth lineage and haplogroup determination results.

For comparison, most of the other commercially available Y DNA tests only test up to 111 STRs. In addition, it also takes into account 100.000 SNPs of the Y chromosome, making it one of the most formidable DNA tests and the best Y DNA test by far.

It was developed and it is solemnly offered by the FamilyTreeDNA. If you want to get the most comprehensive ethnicity test based on the male Y chromosome, you can check it out and order the test at FamilyTreeDNA. They will also kindly answer all the specific questions you may have about the test details.

A while ago The Genetic Genealogist published a piece about the older Y-500 DNA test.

Y DNA Testing Companies

The Y DNA testing is not in a general portfolio of the DNA test companies. Only specific companies conduct such analysis; most of them base their results on “who you are related to” or “where you come from” on autosomal DNA testing.

The two big testing companies are and 23andme. Therefore it’s only reasonable that people ask the following two questions: Y DNA Test

Does do Y DNA testing?

Actually, no, they don’t. Their main tests are base on autosomal DNA and the great advantage of is in how large their database of people is, not in how many different tests they can perform.

It is yet unknown if will develop their own Y DNA test. All we can state for now to answer the question if conducts direct-line male Y DNA tests is “No”.

23andMe Y DNA Test

Does 23andMe do Y DNA testing?

Yes, they do. 23andme offers a test where they, in addition to autosomal DNA, use the Y DNA as well as women-specific mitochondrial DNA and even does basic haplogroup reporting.

Admittedly, the 23andme Y DNA test is pretty standard and it can be used as a parental test as well as a test that will uncover your origin based on haplogroup determination and connect you to the chromosomal-Adam.

Nonetheless, the Y chromosome test by 23andme is basic and if you wonder which one is the best Y DNA test on the market, you really have to look at companies that specialize in the Y DNA testing. The most well-known ones are FamilyTreeDNA and Living DNA.

FamilytreeDNA Test

FamilytreeDNA is a genetics company that is recognized as the best company for Y DNA testing. They specialize in this area and produce the best Y DNA tests.

Being the best Y DNA testing company, they have established:

  • The largest Y DNA database (perfect for tracking down your male relatives).
  • In-depth haplogroup reporting (you can follow how your ancestors came out of Africa and track them throughout history).
  • A variety of the Y DNA tests with increasing accuracy and the best Big Y test.

If you check their website offer for Y chromosomal tests here, you can see that they offer 4 Y DNA tests:

  • Y-37. Tests 37 STRs on the Y chromosome for $169.
  • Y-67. Tests 67 STRs for $268.
  • Y-111. Tests 111 STRs for $359.
  • Big Y test (the Y-700). Tests the incredible 700 STRs and 100.000 SNPs, making it the best commercially available Y DNA test by far. It costs $649.

As we’ve learned this far, the more STRs you test, the better results you will get.

For paternity tests, the Y-37 is already enough.

If you want to check out who you are related to in the male line, you should opt for Y-67 or even the Y-111. The FamilyTreeDNA has the largest Y DNA database that will help you find your lost relatives and the Y-111 increased accuracy really makes the difference.

Best Y DNA Test

The biggest achievement in commercially available Y DNA test is, of course, the Big Y test. It is built on the bases of the most advanced STRs tests as well as SNPs and encompasses both techniques to achieve near perfect-match making system.

It is recommended for people who want to truly find their haplogroup origin and track the steps of their male descendants back to Africa. The Big Y test is usually used by experts in genealogy, anthropology scientists and so on.

All the advances that we have in Y chromosome genetic analysis are fused together to make the Y-700 test, making it the best Y chromosome test by a large margin.