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"Signature Markers":  What They Are and How to Use Them
with a Group from the GIBSON Project as an Example
On the face of it, a Y-DNA STR haplotype appears to be just a string of meaningless numbers and without a lineage, it is.  For a haplotype to be useful, we need to understand what the values for the markers mean when used in combination with paper genealogy.  To simplify understanding them, I place these marker values into four categories:
1.  Modal Values.  These values are the most common ones for the entire haplogroup subclade; and, because they are the most common values to have, possessing them is literally unremarkable.

2.  Signature Markers.  These are non-modal marker values shared by everyone in a family.  They consistently and in combination uniquely distinguish a family.  These may or may not be the mutations possessed by the family's progenitor, but may be close.  In contrast, sharing the haplogroup modal values with a family is of virtually no significance beyond the fact that you're related somewhere back in time as we all are if you go back far enough.

3.  Private Markers.  These markers are unique to one test subject.  The mutation has happened in the individual's descent from the family progenitor, but we don't know in which generation.  As more cousins are tested, private markers will turn into branch markers, unless the mutation occurred in the test individual, himself.  Because the latter can be the case, it is not irrelevant to test a brother, father, or first cousin.  I urge anyone with a private mutation to test cousins (viz., a 1st cousin, 2nd cousin, 3rd cousin, etc.) until the location of the mutation is determined.

4.  Branch Markers.  These are marker values shared by two or more members of a family, but not the entire family, in other words, by a branch of the family.  Once someone has proven their membership in the family by possessing its signature markers, the branch markers become highly important because these markers most likely represent a shared common ancestor more recent than the family's progenitor.  (In some cases, a shared value on a volatile, fast mutating marker may mean the mutation happened more than once in the family; paper genealogy and the testing of cousins can determine which is the case.)

To demonstrate the above, I've taken an example from a cohesive lineage group in the GIBSON project as shown in the table below (thank you, Valentine Van Zee, Gibson Project Administrator, for your assistance and cooperation).  We are all related to one degree or another, so it would be superfluous for me to say all the individuals in the table below are "related."  The question is whether or not they are related in genealogical time, that is, since the adoption of surnames and the keeping of records for common citizens.  For most of us, that means being related within 15 to 20 generations or within about 450 to 600 years.
One thing obvious from the table below is that everyone needs to upgrade to 67 markers to really understand what is going on.  The  GIBSONs who have not tested 67 markers will have to remain in an "unassigned" group until they upgrade.  I have found the need for 67 markers to be the case for Haplogroup R1b in all my projects.  If a haplotype is rare, you can sometimes get away with fewer markers, but not in R1b.  Haplogroup R1b is the most common haplogroup in western Europe, reaching a frequency of 70-80% in the British Isles (please see distribution map).  Sixty-seven markers is minimal for an R1b, in my opinion.
Modal Values
The first row in the table below is the modal haplotype for Haplogroup R1b, which is highlighted in cyan (this shade of blue).  Like most individuals, the test subjects match their haplogroup's modal haplotype at most markers.  Being R1b and matching a modal value for R1b should be considered of minimal genealogical significance.  It simply supports that you are a member of a large group originating tens of thousands of years ago.  The genealogically significant values are those that differ from the R1b modals, so please ignore all the values highlighted in cyan and consider the sea of blue simply background noise.  My use of the R1b modal should not be taken as implying that it is the ancestral haplotype for either the haplogroup or the family, nor that the genetic distance from it can be used to estimate the distance in time from the haplogroup's common ancestor.  There are many paths from the haplogroup's ancestor to its descendants, none of them direct (i.e., without innumerable twists, turns, and reversals on each and every marker).  With the aid of DNA test results and paper genealogy, we can, at least, hope to unravel the last fifteeen to twenty generations. 
Signature Markers
Ignoring the markers highlighted in cyan, we are struck by the agreement of most of the differences, that is, the six columns highlighted in the muted orange color I've selected for the GIBSON family, plus two columns highlighted in bright green.  These are this GIBSON family's signature markers.
Private Markers
Scattered around the table are cells highlighted in bright yellow.  These are private mutations, ones acquired by these individuals in their descent from the family's progenitor.  When testing 67 markers, you can statistically expect one mutation event to occur about every seven generations, and experience has shown (empirical evidence demonstrates) that the number of mutation events typically ranges from 0 to 3 in an individual's descent from a common ancestor in genealogical time.  (This number can be higher in families with deep roots, such as some Scottish clans with paper genealogies tracing back into the 13th Century.)
Branch Markers
I've highlighted the branch markers in purple.  The mutation at DYS413a represents a major division in this GIBSON family.  If everyone's pedigree is carried back far enough, the lines will presumably converge on the ancestor in whom this mutation occurred.
There are three other cases where this GIBSON family has individuals sharing what would otherwise be a "private" mutation (i.e., a value that is neither modal for the haplogroup nor signature for the family).  In one case, it's clear that it's a true branch mutation, that is, a case of two individuals sharing the same common ancestor, one more recent than the family progenitor.  In several cases I suggest this is a "possible" branch marker because the mutations are on volatile markers.  We'll need confirmation from paper pedigrees to confirm whether the match reflects relationship or a simple coincidence.  
  The certain branch marker is shared by G-6 and GX-1 who have a value of 14 at DYS392 when everyone else is 13 at that marker.  A check of their pedigrees suggests John (G-6) is the great-grandfather of Gideon (GX-1).  It appears a value of 14 at DYS392 will identify descendants of John, with the inference that no one else in the table descends from him.
  The value of 41 at CDYb for G-20 and G-23 does not appear to be a branch marker.  CDY is a volatile multi-copy marker; and, because G-20 and G-23 differ at DYS413a, I believe this is a case of the same mutation happening twice on CDYb, making each of these a private marker, not a branch marker.  Note that these two individuals cannot be placed on a logically branching tree unless either the CDYb mutation happened twice or the DYS413a mutation happened numerous times.  As the former is far more probable, I'm assuming that is the case here.
  There are possible branch markers at DYS576 where a value of 19 is shared by G-106, G-113, and G-11, while a value of 17 is shared by G-23 and G117, and at DYS391 for G-117 and G-106 who share a value of 10.  However, all three mutations cannot be branch markers and still be placed in a logically branching tree.  As DYS391 is a fairly stable marker and DYS576 is rather volatile, it's more likely the DYS391 mutation is a branching marker, while one or more of the DYS576 values are private.  The paper pedigree and testing cousins can resolve which. 
Panel 4, the 38-67 marker panel, is generally considered the most stable of the four panels, so many consider it not worth testing because of its lack of variability.  While our GIBSONs follow the pattern in being less variable in Panel 4, the fact is we find the single most important branching marker in the family in Panel 4, namely, the values of 22 vs. 23 at DYS413a.  Had most members not tested Panel 4, it's significance for the family would likely have been overlooked.
Two individuals, namely the HURST and the COLLINS, appear to have NPEs in their lineages, that is, they are really GIBSONs.  Ironically, each of these matches 67/67 to the GIBSON modal haplotype (and, no, I don't see any particular significance to that fact).
It appears the JUSTICE individuals are related to these GIBSONs, though it's unclear whether it's through an NPE or simply that their connection is prior to surname adoption, though I would bet on the latter.  In a cladogram, their haplotype would be the most ancestral one, which is the reason they are placed at the top of the table.  The ancestral haplotype is followed by the addition of the mutations at DYS449 and CDYa (bright green table cells), then followed by the mutation at DYS413a (dark purple table cells), then followed by the "private" mutations (bright yellow table cells).  If you consider these GIBSONs and JUSTICEs to be just one family, then the markers highlighted in green switch from being GIBSON signature markers to being GIBSON-JUSTICE branch markers.
Bottom line:  everyone needs to upgrade to 67 markers!  And the person tested elsewhere (GX-1) needs to join the project at FTDNA, then upgrade to 67 markers.
Haplogroup R-1b1a-2a1a-1b = R-P312
To see more of the table without scrolling, reduce the text size in your browser.
ID Earliest Ancestor Haplotype as determined by STR testing
Panel 1: Markers 1-12 Panel 2: Markers 13-25 Panel 3: Markers 26-37 Panel 4: Markers 38-67
3
9
3
3
9
0
19
/
3
9
4
3
9
1
a
|
3
8
5
b
|
3
8
5
4
2
6
3
8
8
4
3
9
i
|
3
8
9
3
9
2
ii
|
3
8
9
4
5
8
a
|
4
5
9
b
|
4
5
9
4
5
5
4
5
4
4
4
7
4
3
7
4
4
8
4
4
9
a
|
4
6
4
b
|
4
6
4
c
|
4
6
4
d
|
4
6
4
4
6
0
H4
|
G
A
T
A
IIa
|
Y
C
A
IIb
|
Y
C
A
4
5
6
6
0
7
5
7
6
5
7
0
a
|
C
D
Y
b
|
C
D
Y
4
4
2
4
3
8
5
3
1
5
7
8
a
|
S1
3
9
5
b
|
S1
3
9
5
5
9
0
5
3
7
6
4
1
4
7
2
S1
4
0
6
5
1
1
4
2
5
a
|
4
1
3
b
|
4
1
3
5
5
7
5
9
4
4
3
6
4
9
0
5
3
4
4
5
0
4
4
4
4
8
1
5
2
0
4
4
6
6
1
7
5
6
8
4
8
7
5
7
2
6
4
0
4
9
2
5
6
5
R-P312 Modal Values (XQJ7H) 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 12 13 13 29 17 9 10 11 11 25 15 19 29 15 15 17 17 11 11 19 23 16 15 18 17 36 38 12 12 11 9 15 16 8 10 10 8 10 10 12 23 23 16 10 12 12 15 8 12 22 20 13 12 11 13 11 11 12 12
           
JUSTICE Family Modal Values 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 29 15 15 16 17 11 12 19 23 15 15 18 17 36 40 12 12 11 9 15 16 8 10 10 8 10 10 12 23 23 17 10 12 12 16 8 13 22 20 13 12 11 13 11 11 12 12
G-54 JUSTICE, John (c1690s-1766) 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 29 15 15 16 17 11 12 19 23 15 15 18 17 36 40 12 12                                                            
G-53 JUSTICE, John 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 29 15 15 16 17 11 12 19 23 15 15 18 17 36 40 12 12                                                            
G-55 JUSTUS, N. 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29                                                                                                              
G-56 JUSTICE, E. 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29                                                                                                              
           
GIBSON Lineage III-A Modal Values 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17 11 12 19 23 15 15 18 17 35 40 12 12 11 9 15 16 8 10 10 8 10 10 12 23 23 17 10 12 12 16 8 13 22 20 13 12 11 13 11 11 12 12
G-51 HURST, William P. (c1830- ) 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17 11 12 19 23 15 15 18 17 35 40 12 12 11 9 15 16 8 10 10 8 10 10 12 23 23 17 10 12 12 16 8 13 22 20 13 12 11 13 11 11 12 12
G-39 GIBSON, Benjamin (c1792- ) 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17 11 12 19 23 15 15 18 17 35 40 11 12 11 9 15 16 8 10 10 8 10 10 12 23 23 17 10 12 12 16 8 13 22 20 13 12 11 13 11 11 12 12
G-20 GIBSON, Irving Thos (1850-1920) 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17 11 12 19 23 15 15 18 18 35 41 12 12 11 9 15 16 8 10 10 8 10 10 12 23 23 17 10 12 12 16 8 13 22 20 13 12 11 13 11 11 12 12
G-118 GIBSON, David (1798-<1862) 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17 11 11 19 23 15 15 18 17 35 40 12 12 11 9 15 16 8 10 10 8 10 10 12 23 23 17 10 12 12 16 8 14 22 20 12 12 11 13 11 11 12 12
G-6 GIBSON, John (c1635- ) 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 12 13 14 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17 11 12 19 23 15 15 18 17 35 43 12 12 11 9 15 16 8 10 10 8 10 10 12 23 23 17 10 12 12 16 8 13 22 20 13 12 11 13 11 11 12 12
GX-1 GIBSON, Gideon (1720s- ) 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 14 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17 11 12 19 23 15           12 12                                                            
           
GIBSON Lineage III-B Modal Values 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17 11 12 19 23 15 15 18 17 35 40 12 12 11 9 15 16 8 10 10 8 10 10 12 22 23 17 10 12 12 16 8 13 22 20 13 12 11 13 11 11 12 12
G-73 GIBSON, Joseph Fisher (1791- ) 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17 11 12 19 23 15 15 18 17 35 40 12 12 11 9 15 16 8 10 10 8 10 10 12 22 23 17 10 12 12 16 8 13 22 20 13 12 11 13 11 11 12 12
G-76 COLLINS, J.B. 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17 11 12 19 23 15 15 18 17 35 40 12 12 11 9 15 16 8 10 10 8 10 10 12 22 23 17 10 12 12 16 8 13 22 20 13 12 11 13 11 11 12 12
G-75 GIBSON, Shepherd (1765-1842) 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17 11 12 19 23 15 15 18 17 35 40 12 12 11 9 15 16 8 10 10 8 10 10 12 22 23 17 10 12 12 16 8 13 22 20 13 12 11 13 11 11 12 12
G-72 GIBSON, Jonathan (1790-1860) 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29 17 9  9 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17 11 12 19 23 15 15 18 17 35 40 12 12 11 9 15 16 8 10 10 8 10 10 12 22 23 17 10 12 12 16 8 13 22 20 13 12 11 13 11 11 12 12
G-41 GIBSON, James (c1791- ) 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17 12 12 19 23 15 15 18 17 35 40 12 12 11 9 15 16 8 10 10 8 10 10 12 22 23 17 10 12 12 16 8 13 22 20 13 12 11 13 11 11 12 12
G-81 GIBSON, Dotson (1824- ) 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17 11 11 19 23 15 15 18 17 35 40 12 12 11 9 15 16 8 10 10 8 10 10 12 22 23 17 10 12 12 16 8 13 22 20 13 12 11 13 11 11 12 12
G-23 GIBSON, Martin (c1766-1833) 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17 11 12 19 23 15 15 17 17 35 41 12 12 11 9 15 16 8 10 10 8 10 10 12 22 23 17 10 12 12 16 8 13 22 20 13 12 11 13 10 11 12 12
G-117 GIBSON, Owen (c1810s-c1875) 13 24 14 10 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17 11 12 19 23 15 16 17 17 35 40 12 12 11 9 15 16 8 10 10 8 10 10 12 22 23 17 10 12 12 16 8 13 22 20 13 12 11 13 11 11 12 12
G-106 GIBSON 13 24 14 10 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17 11 12 19 23 15 15 19 17 35 40 12 12 11 9 15 16 8 10 10 8 10 10 12 22 23 17 10 12 12 16 8 13 22 20 13 12 11 13 11 11 12 12
G-113 GIBSON, J. 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17 11 12 19 23 15 15 19 17 35 40 12 12 11 9 15 16 8 10 10 8 10 10 12 22 23 17 10 12 12 16 8 13 22 20 13 12 11 13 11 11 12 12
G-11 GIBSON, Archibald (1760- ) 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 30 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17 11 12 19 23 15 15 19 17 35 40 12 12 11 9 15 16 8 10 10 8 10 10 12 22 23 17 10 12 12 16 8 13 22 20 13 12 11 13 11 11 12 12
           
GIBSON Lineage III-unassigned 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17 11 12 19 23 15 15 18 17 35 40 12 12                                                            
G-5 GIBSON, John (c1740s-1803) 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29                                                                                                              
G-101 GIBSON, Isham (1826- ) 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17 11 12 19 23 15 15 18 17 35 40 12 12                                                            
G-105 GIBSON, Joseph Fisher (1791- ) 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 13 13 13 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17                                                                                    
G-108 GIBSON, L.M. 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 14 13 13 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17 11 12 19 23 15 15 18 17 34 39 12 12                                                            
G-109 GIBSON, Champane (1746- ) 13 24 14 11 11 14 12 12 15 13 13 29 17 9 10 10 11 25 15 19 28 15 15 16 17 11 12 19 23 14 15 18 17 35 40 12 12                                                            

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