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DNA Could Reveal Your Surname, Of Course

allelic length variation among 6 individuals

Image via Wikipedia

New research from Mark Jobling’s lab at the University of Leicester suggests that Y-DNA can be used to determine a male’s surname.

I know, I know, this is obvious to anyone who is familiar with genetic genealogy.  Just check out the many instances of this type of determination at ISOGG’s Success Stories website, for example.  However, as you’ll see below, this research has resulted in some new and interesting information.

Method

Dr. Turi King, who conducted the research, recruited over 2,500 men with roughly 500 different surnames to submit Y-DNA samples.  The sample set included a group not sharing surnames as well as sets of men (between 2 and 180) who shared a surname (including recognized variants).  She then typed 9 SNPs and 17 STRs.  There’s much more information about this research at the Jobling lab’s website regarding this project.

Results

Although this research may seem obvious, what makes it interesting are the actual statistics.  According to Dr. King’s research, there is a 24% chance that two men who share the same surname share a common ancestor through that name, and this increases to nearly 50% if the surname they share is rare. Keep in mind, of course, that this study was conducted solely in the U.K., so it is unclear how it applies to other countries.  From the press release:

“Dr King then went on to look at 40 surnames in depth by recruiting many different men all bearing the same surname, making sure that she excluded known relatives. Surnames such as Attenborough and Swindlehurst showed that over 70% of the men shared the same or near identical Y chromosome types whereas surnames such as Revis, Wadsworth and Jefferson show more than one group of men sharing common ancestry but unrelated to other groups.”

Implications

The implications of Dr. King’s research have strong significance for genetic genealogists, but the press release focused only on forensic science, stating that “the fact that such a strong link exists between surname and Y chromosome type has a potential use in forensic science, since it suggests that, given large databases of names and Y chromosome profiles, surname prediction from DNA alone may be feasible.”

For more analysis, see Anthropology.net.

Blaine Bettinger

Intellectual property attorney, genealogist, and author of The Genetic Genealogist since 2007