Monday, October 24, 2022

The Search for Our English Ancestors Continues...

I promise this blog is not just about DNA, but I must admit I do write about it an awful lot. I view DNA testing as a valuable tool for helping us discover some of the mysteries of our family trees. For reference, here is a list of the posts I have written about DNA and how it can be used in Ackley genealogy:

Update on Ackley Surname Project Y-DNA Testing (May 2021)

An Analysis of the Ackley Y-DNA Haplotype (Feb 2021)

How to Join the Ackley Surname Project at FTDNA (Dec 2020)

A Report on the Status of the Ackley Surname Project Y-DNA Testing (Dec 2020)

Report on New Recruits - Part 2 (Sep 2020)

Report on New Recruits (Sep 2020)

Update on Y-37 DNA Test Recruiting Effort (Aug 2020)

I WANT YOU ... To Take A Y-DNA Test (Jul 2020)

What Are the Origins of the Ackley Surname? - Part 3 (May 2020)

Update on Hackley/Ackley DNA (Jul 2016)

DNA Revisited (Jun 2016)

How Could DNA Testing Help Us? (Feb 2016)

One of the objectives of the Ackley Surname Project at Family Tree DNA is to try to use Y-DNA testing to identify the English ancestors of Nicholas Ackley, the first known Ackley in America. To that end, I have identified two Ackley men with UK ancestors who have graciously agreed to test and join the project. As reported here, the first of these men is from New Zealand, but his father was born in England, and his Ackley ancestors were from England. His earliest known Ackley ancestor is William Ackley, born about 1858 in Manchester, Lancashire, England, and died in 1921 in Chorlton, Lancashire, England. There are some records giving his father's surname as Ackerley, but the paper trail ends there.

The most recent English Ackley tester was born in England, and his earliest known Ackley ancestor is John Ackley, born about 1818 in Lancashire, England. Interestingly, there is evidence that John's father's surname was also Ackerley, and the paper trail ends there as well. As with the New Zealand Ackley, the surname is consistently given as Ackley for all generations up to and including the project member. At this point, it is hard to know if the names were changed from Ackerley to Ackley for some reason, or if the names were recorded as Ackerley in error, or if an extra "er" was included in the pronunciation of the name for some reason.

What is known for sure is that neither of these English project members is closely related to any of the Nicholas descendants in the project, nor are they closely related to each other. The following sections will detail the DNA evidence from the two types of Y-DNA tests performed that prove there are no relationships between the various Ackleys.

Y-STR Results

The most common type of Y-DNA testing examines what are known as short tandem repeats (STRs) at specific locations on the Y chromosome. See this post for a more detailed discussion of STR testing. Y-DNA matches are measured by genetic distance; I won't repeat all the details on how this works here, but if you need a refresher, see this postThe relationship between genetic distance and relatedness is summarized in the table below. We will make our comparisons at the the 37 marker level since many of the testers in the project have tested only at that level.

Table of Relatedness for Y-DNA Testers

The table below shows the genetic distances between all pairs of Ackley men who are members of the Ackley Surname Project. Sorry for the small font; there is a lot of information to display in limited space. 

Ackley Surname Project Genetic Distances

The important thing to notice from this table is that there are four distinct groups of Ackley men in the project; the Eckler group (men whose surname is now Ackley, but was originally Eckler - see this post for an explanation of this group), the Nicholas Ackley Descendants, and each of the English testers who individually form their own groups, UK2 and UK1. 

Note that for each of these groups, the only blocks with genetic distances that indicate that two men being compared are related (colors other than red) are for other members within their group. Further, there are no relationships between any of the groups; the genetic distances between men in the Eckler group and the Nicholas Ackley Descendants group are all very large (greater than 30 in every case). Similar genetic distances are observed between the Nicholas Ackley Descendants and each of the UK testers as well as between the UK testers. This leaves no doubt that the groups are not closely related to each other at all. While this information is a disappointment in terms of our quest to find our English ancestors, it is helpful in that we know which Ackley lines in England we do not have to pursue when looking for future Y-DNA test candidates.

SNP Results

The other type of Y-DNA testing that is useful for genealogy is SNP testing, which examines mutations known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). The patterns of these mutations can be used to place individuals on the Y haplotree - the "Tree of Mankind". See this post for a more detailed explanation of SNP testing. The FTDNA comprehensive SNP test is called Big Y-700. Results for the Ackley groups identified above will be discussed below.

Before presenting a comparison of the various Ackley groups, it is useful to look at the position of the Nicholas Ackley Descendants on the haplotree.

Block Tree for Nicholas Ackley Descendants

As expected, you can see from the block tree above that the Nicholas Ackley Descendants who have done the Big Y-700 test are found close to each other on the tree of mankind. I have added some additional labels to identify the descendant groups as well as the block that represents Nicholas Ackley.

FTDNA has recently added a new feature to Big Y-700 results called "Discover More". One of the more useful pieces of information available in "Discover More" is the haplogroup story for each haplogroup, which describes the formation dates of each haplogroup and its parent haplogroup, as well as how it is related to other haplogroups. Here is the haplogroup story for R-FGC52286, the haplogroup for Nicholas Ackley (I have added notes to explain some of the information):

R-FGC52286 Haplogroup Story

Note that Nicholas Ackley's haplogroup is estimated to have branched off its parent group (R-FGC52285) around the year 850, which is before surnames were commonly in use. From the block tree, we can see that there are many equivalent SNPs in the block with R-FGC52285. At this time, due to lack of enough test subjects, it is impossible to tell which of these equivalent SNPs occurred first, so they are all lumped into one block. Therefore, it is likely that there were many branches between R-FGC52285 and R-FGC52286 that occurred between the years 850 and 1635, the year that Nicholas Ackley was born.

The diagram below gives yet another view of the information from the block tree and the haplogroup story that is now available in the new "Discover More" functionality for Big Y testers. The diagram shows the time-based relationship between a given haplogroup and the upstream (older) and downstream (more recent) branches in the haplotree.

Note the four branches of the time tree that are at the right-hand edge of the tree. These are the four haplogroups representing the testers in the Ackley project; note that the mutations represented in these haplogroups are all estimated to have formed in modern times (i.e., within the last 500 years). In fact, all of them are estimated to have formed between 1800 and 1900.

Another interesting bit of information on the time tree is the brown circle with a shovel in it at around 500 CE. This represents a set of remains that have been determined to be an ancient relative of the Ackley men (known as Birsay 78), having haplogroup R-BY10450, which is an upstream (older) branch from all of us. I wrote about the discovery of these remains here. FTDNA is making a concerted effort to add Y-DNA data from many different excavation projects to the haplotree, and our project members currently have 18 sets of ancient remains that have been determined to be on upstream branches from us. I plan on writing a detailed post about these samples in the near future.

None of the men in the Eckler group have done the Big Y-700 test, so they have not been placed on the haplotree as of yet. However, high-level haplogroup predictions can be made from the STR tests they did, and their predicted haplogroup is G-M201. Note that the beginning letter of the haplogroup is "G", while the Nicholas Ackley Descendants are "R". This is certain evidence that the Nicholas Ackley Descendants and the Eckler group are not at all closely related to each other.

The two UK testers have both been found to be in the "R" haplogroup, the same as the Nicholas Ackley Descendants. However, the subbranches of the three groups are far from each other, confirming that none of the groups are closely related to each other. The branches are far enough apart that they cannot be captured in one graphic, so the easiest way to visualize this is to compare the SNP paths of the three groups to see what the common branches are. A SNP path is simply a list of the SNPs (mutations) that have occurred over time leading up to a given haplogroup. The following SNP paths for the three Ackley groups were found on the SNP Tracker website [1].

The red box in the graphic above encloses the most recent SNP that is common between the Nicholas Ackley Descendants and the UK1 tester (R-Z39589). This means that these two groups had a common ancestor at that point in time, which according to the chart was approximately 2410 BCE (Before Common Era), which was about 4,400 years ago. Clearly, these two groups are not closely related given that their common ancestor lived 4,400 years ago.

Likewise, the blue box encloses the most recent SNP that is common between all three Ackley groups, which is R-P312. According to the chart, the common ancestor lived around 2800 BCE, which was about 4,800 years ago. With a common ancestor who lived 4,800 years ago, it is certain that these three groups are not closely related.

What's Next?

While the search for our English connection has been unsuccessful so far, the quest will continue. The process is slow -- the first difficulty is identifying a living Ackley man who would be a candidate for testing. The usual method for doing this is to use historical records (such as census records) to identify an English Ackley line and then tracing records forward in time until a living male candidate is found. Once a candidate is identified, the next trick is to find a way to contact him, which is easier said than done. As often happens in dealing with DNA in genealogy, the next step is a waiting game -- some people will respond to communications, and some queries will go unanswered.

If anyone reading this post is a suitable candidate or knows someone who would be a suitable candidate for testing, please don't hesitate to contact me in the comments section. A suitable candidate would be a male with the Ackley surname who was either born in England or can show that a recent male Ackley ancestor was born in England. Any leads on possible testing candidates would be greatly appreciated! 


1. Spencer, Rob, SNP Tracker [website], "SNPs" tab, accessed 22 Oct 2022.

Link of the Day

This is a link to the "Discover More" tool on the FTDNA website for the Nicholas Ackley SNP (R-FGC52286). There is a wealth of useful information available here. Make sure to explore all of the various tools listed on the left of the page.

Quote of the Day

"Do not judge me by my successes; judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again." ― Nelson Mandela

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