Wednesday, May 27, 2020

What Are the Origins of the Ackley Surname? - Part 3

This post is actually going to be a discussion of Y-DNA and therefore not specifically about the origins of the Ackley surname, but when this series of posts is complete I think you'll see where it fits in.

Y-DNA Review

We've discussed Y-DNA previously in several posts, including here ("How Could DNA Testing Help Us"), here ("DNA Revisited"), and here ("Update on Hackley/Ackley DNA"). To save you from having to go back and read those posts (although they are interesting if I do say so myself), here is a summary of the current state of Y-DNA testing.

The Y-chromosome is only present in men, and can be used to trace a man's paternal lineage, as the Y-chromosome is received from your father, who got it from his father, who got it from his father's father, and so on. For this reason, Y-DNA testing is extremely useful for our goal of determining if there is a relationship between Ackley, Hackley, Hagley, Oakley, and any other possible surname variant that has been mentioned in previous posts.

STR Testing

There are two types of markers that are tested in Y-DNA tests. The more common (and less expensive) test looks at short tandem repeats (STRs) at specific locations on the Y-chromosome. Family Tree DNA (FTDNA), the major tester of Y-DNA, describes their STR testing thus:

Paternal line DNA testing uses STR markers. STR markers are places where your genetic code has a variable number of repeated parts. STR marker values change slowly from one generation to the next. Testing multiple markers gives us distinctive result sets. These sets form signatures for a paternal lineage. We compare your set of results to those of other men in our database. The range of possible generations before you share a common ancestor with a match depends on the level of test you take. A match may be recent, but it may also be hundreds of years in the past. [1]

By counting the number of differences at these markers, we can calculate a measure known as genetic distance; the value of genetic distance can be used to assess the probability that two men are related; i.e., have a common ancestor. (The "DNA Revisited" post has some more detailed discussion and examples of genetic differences if you need a refresher.) FTDNA has offered tests at 12, 25, 37, 67, and 111 markers; 12 and 25 markers are generally considered too few to draw any real conclusions. They have recently streamlined their test offerings and now sell only a 37-marker test as an entry-level test and a 111-marker test as a higher-level, more advanced test. All of the Ackley men in the Ackley surname project have tested at 37 markers or above.

SNP Testing

The other major type of Y-DNA testing used in genealogy looks at single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs. A SNP is a mutation, which creates a new branch on the Y-DNA haplogroup tree. A haplogroup is a major branch on the Y-DNA tree that shares hundreds or even thousands of mutations that are unique to that group. Family Tree DNA has this to say about haplogroups [2]:

When humans left Africa tens of thousands of years ago, they departed in small groups that migrated into different parts of the world. Over many generations, each group developed distinct mutations allowing us to identify one from the other. We call these groups of mutations haplogroups, and they can tell us which migratory routes our paternal ancestors traveled.

Haplogroups are defined by letters of the alphabet, and each haplogroup can trace its origin to specific geographic areas and time periods. Mitochondrial DNA (passed from mothers to their children) also has haplogroups. The following map from National Geographic [3] shows the migration paths and development of Y-DNA (blue lines) and mitochondrial DNA (yellow lines) haplogroups.

Human Migration Map from National Geographic [3]

All Ackley men who have tested so far are members of the R haplogroup, specifically R-M269, which is the most common European haplogroup and is especially prevalent in western Europe. Two of us have taken the Big Y test offered by FTDNA, which they describe as follows:

The Big Y test is intended for expert users with an interest in advancing science. It may also be of great interest to genealogy researchers of a specific lineage. However, it is not a test for matching you to one or more men with the same surname in the way that our other Y-STR tests do, such as Y-37, Y-67 or Y-111. [4]
While I don't consider myself an "expert user" by any means, I do have an interest in advancing science and an interest in researching our specific lineage. The two of us who have done the Big Y test match each other and thus have established what I would consider the Ackley branch of the Y-DNA haplogroup tree, known as R-FGC52286. We each have a handful of what are known as novel variants, which are mutations unique to each of us and maybe the rest of our closest relatives (father, uncle, cousin, son), and are for the moment undefined since no one else who has them has tested. If we each tested one of these close relatives, these novel variants would become defined and we would establish our own sub-branches under the R-FGC52286 branch. That's probably enough background -- how can we use this information to explore the origins of the Ackley surname as related to the other surnames we are considering as possibly being related to Ackley?

Comparing the DNA of Ackley and Associated Surnames

In previous installments of this series on the origins of the Ackley surname I've thrown around several variations of names that are similar to Ackley that have been included in the analysis so far for various reasons. Some of the names don't exist anymore or maybe never did and were just misspellings of other names, but many of them can be found in records being used for this analysis and therefore may have living people who have taken DNA tests. The names I have considered so far include Ackley, Achley, Ackerley, Akeley, Arkley, Ashley, Askley, Atcherley, Atchley, Hackley, Hagley, Oakley, and Ockley. Acle, Ackly, Hackluite, and Hakluyt have also been mentioned, but those names do not appear in any more recent records and thus have little possibility of having living people who have taken DNA tests. Of the other names mentioned, besides Ackley I found surname projects on FTDNA for Ashley, Atcherley, Atchley, and Oakley. We also have Ackerley, Akeley, and Hackley men (one each) who have joined the Ackley project because they did not have projects for their own surnames.

I collected data from each of the projects I found for a total of 125 men. I found a nifty little web-based application called "Y-DNA Family Grouping App" [5] developed by Chase Ashley, the administrator of the Ashley surname project on FTDNA, that can calculate the genetic distances between all men in a given input file and then group those men together based on the criteria established by FTDNA for predicting relationships based on genetic distance. For example, at 37 markers, the predictions for relationships based on genetic distance are [6]:

 0 - Very tightly related
 1 - Tightly related
 2 - Related
 3 - Related
 4 - Probably related
 5 - Possibly related
 6 or greater - Not related

For 67 and 111 markers the idea is similar, but more differences are allowed because more markers are being tested.

Here are the numbers of each surname in the data:

Ackerley - 1
Ackley - 10
Akeley - 1
Hackley - 1
Ashley - 54
Astley - 1
Atcherley - 9
Atchley - 5
Oakley - 35
Miscellaneous (not one of the above names) - 8

The miscellaneous names were all associated with the non-Ackley projects.

The application created a total of 22 groups of men who could be grouped together based on genetic distances, plus a list of 19 men who could not be grouped with any other men; i.e., their genetic distances were too great at their level of testing to be considered a match to anyone. The results can be summarized as follows:
  • Not surprisingly, all 10 Ackley men who have tested were put in the same group, and no other men with any of the other surnames were members of that group. Five of the Ackley men have done additional testing to put them on the R-FGC52286 branch mentioned above, and the other five are all R-M269 (a higher (less specific) branch on the R tree). Given the fact that all 10 Ackley men were grouped together, it is a good bet that all 10 of them would wind up on the R-FGC52286 branch if further testing was done.
  • The Ackerley, Akeley, and Hackley men were all in the unassigned group, meaning they didn't match any of the other 125 men in the data. All three of them are haplogroup R.
  • The Ashley men were divided into nine different groups. This would imply that there are several branches of families that are not genetically or genealogically related. Two of the Ashley groups were haplogroup I, while the other seven were haplogroup R. There were ten Ashley men in the unassigned group, and their haplogroups were I, J, and R.
  • The Oakley men were divided into seven different groups. One of these groups was haplogroup I and the other six were haplogroup R. There were also four Oakley men in the unassigned group, and their haplogroups were E, I, and J. One of the Oakley groups consisted of the Astley man matched with an Oakley man; both were haplogroup R.
  • Six of the Atcherley men were in a group along with one Ashley man and one Atchley man. They were haplogroup R; two of the Atcherley men and the Ashley man have done additional Y-DNA testing that puts them further down the R tree on the R-BY73511 branch. There were two Atcherley men in the unassigned group; one was haplogroup I and the other was haplogroup R.
  • The one Atchley group had only two men in it who were haplogroup I. Two Atchley men were in a group that was characterized as inconclusive because they had only tested at the 12-marker level, and they were haplogroup R. As mentioned above, the other Atchley man was grouped with the Atcherley men.


What does all of this say about the relationships between the Ackley surname and all of the other surnames considered in this analysis? Using the "Y-DNA Family Grouping App", which employs the genetic distance calculations and relationship predictions used by Family Tree DNA, we know that the Ackley men are in a group all by themselves, implying that there is no genetic relationship between Ackley and the other surnames studied. We also saw that in other surnames, there are multiple haplogroups among the members with that surname, which implies that there are multiple branches of that surname that are not related at all. For example, within the Ashley surname, there were some members in haplogroup I, which has its origins in Scandinavia, while there are others in haplogroup R, which is most common in western Europe and the British Isles. Similarly, the Oakley men were in haplogroups I and R, as well as E (Africa) and J (Cretan Greeks, Iraqi Jews, Moroccan Jews). For certain, men who are members of different haplogroups are not related to one another within a genealogical time frame; even members with the same high-level haplogroup, such as R-M269 might not be related within a genealogical time frame because the mutations forming the sub-branches occurred thousands of years ago. Although we did find a few instances of men with different surnames being grouped together, in general there was pretty good separation of the surnames into distinct groups that did not overlap with one another, again implying that none of these surnames are genetically and genealogically related to one another; in fact, some of the surnames may have unrelated branches with the same surname.

Having said all of that, there is a caution I want to present. The sample size is small in some of the cases; for example, we have only a single person for each of the Ackerley, Akeley, and Hackley surnames. While it is true that there is not a relationship between the ten Ackley men and each of those individuals, it is a stretch to say that in general the surnames as a whole are not related. There could be other men with those surnames who are related to the Ackley men who have not tested. Although the same could be true of the other surnames, the sample sizes are much larger (especially Ashley and Oakley), and the case for concluding that those surnames are not related is a little stronger. There is also a lot we don't know about the Ackley surname. It is entirely possible that there are separate branches of our surname as we have seen with Ashley and Oakley, and that these individuals just haven't tested yet. I have communicated with several Ackley men who haven't proven on paper they have a relationship to Nicholas Ackley; they could be members of a completely separate Ackley branch, but we won't know if that is the case unless/until they test.

The next part of this exercise is to complete the analysis needed to generate surname distribution maps for each of the surnames. It will be interesting to see if there are geographical differences between the surnames (I suspect there are). We have already seen a glimpse of this; for example, Atcherley is known to be a Shropshire name, and a preliminary look at the census data for Arkley seems to indicate they are predominantly from the northern counties of Northumberland and Durham. Hopefully the data will tell us more about the Ackley surname and the other surnames in the study.

Side Note

If you have visited this blog before, you may have noticed that the layout of the page has been altered slightly recently because I didn't like the way some of the tables were being displayed. The items that used to appear in the right sidebar have been moved to the bottom. I may continue to experiment with the appearance, but the content that was there before has not changed.

Link of the Day

This is a link to the Y-DNA Haplogroup Tree at the International Society of Genetic Genealogy website:

Quote of the Day

"There is nothing impossible to him who will try."

-- Alexander the Great


1. Family Tree DNA. "Paternal Lineage Tests."
2. Family Tree DNA. Explore your paternal ancestry with Y-DNA. "What is a Haplogroup?"
3. National Geographic Society. Resource Library. "Human Migration."
5. Ashley, Chase. "Y-DNA Family Grouping Map."
6. Family Tree DNA. "If two men share a surname, how should the genetic distance at 37 Y-chromosome STR markers be interpreted?"

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