Bretz Y-DNA

The Bretz family males carry the genetic signature of Y-DNA haplogroup J2, also known as J-M172. We know this because two members of previously unlinked family lines have been tested and found to have nearly identical Y-DNA markers, and suggesting a common ancestor within 20 generations. We await the testing of further, more distant, Bretz males to see how far across the surname the same markers are evident.

Christopher Bretz, descended from Jacob Bretz (1766-1843), first underwent Y-DNA testing with Oxford Ancestors in 2005, and the results showed 10 markers indicative of the broad haplogroup J. However the testing was not detailed enough to provide any further insights beyond the main group. In the years since then, the genetic ancestry field has been undergoing huge advances, both in the cost of testing,, and of our understanding of the relationships. In 2014 Christopher repeated Y-DNA testing to 67 markers with Family Tree DNA. A full record of his markers can be found here.

Christopher Bretz's Y-DNA marker values from Oxford Ancestors:

DYS 19 DYS 388 DYS 390 DYS 391 DYS 392 DYS 393 DYS 389i DYS 389B DYS 425 DYS 426
14 15 23 10 11 12 10 16 12 11
  13 DYSii 29

Norton Bretz, a Bretz family member in the United States descended from John Bretz (1737-1812), had himself tested with Oxford Ancestors and also belongs to the J haplogroup. His branch of the family was originally from the Rapho area of Pennsylvania and migrated to Ohio in the 1820s. He has publicly posted his markers as:

DYS 19 DYS 388 DYS 390 DYS 391 DYS 392 DYS 393 DYS 389i DYS 389B DYS 425 DYS 426
14 15 23 10 11 12 10 12 12 11
  13 DYSii 25

Although we have not identified a common ancestor, the 10 markers tested show only a single difference at DYS 389B. This indicates they are probably related within 20 generations, but once again, further testing with more markers would help refine our conclusions. Our physical records show no common ancestor for at least the past 7 generations.

What the newer Family Tree DNA results show is that this branch of the Bretz tree belongs to SNP Z387. Specifically the J-L24 (L25+, Z438+, Z387+, L70-).

YCC 2010: J2a4h2
ISOGG 2012: J2a1a1b

A good blog about our clade can be found here.

Oxford Ancestors calls haplogroup J the Clan of Re and provides these visualizations of it's relationship to other groups.


History of J2

The J2 haplogroup's origin is thought to have coincided with the expansion of agricultural peoples during the Neolithic period. The age of the J2 mutation has been estimated at around 18,500 years ago, or during the peak of the last ice age. It is found with high frequency in many Semitic peoples, including many modern Jews and Arabs, but also Turks, Greeks, Lebanese, some Persians, and some of the senior castes of southern India. It was present in the ancient cultures of the Etruscans, Minoans, Greeks, Thracians, and southern anatolians cultures of the Hittites, Hurrians, Phoenicians, Babylonians, Akkadians and Assyrians. It was also present in Levant peoples.

In Europe, J2 reaches its highest frequency in Greece (especially in Crete, Peloponese and Thrace), southern and central Italy, Malta and Sicily, and southern Spain. The maximum concentrations of J2a specifically are in Crete, being some 32% of the male population. The ancient Greeks and Phoenicians were the main driving force behind the spread J2 around the Mediterranean starting some 3,500 years ago as they set up trade routes and new colonies.

Interestingly, J is a relatively rare group for European males who mostly belong to haplogroup R, which originated in central Asia.

The J2 people's origin seems to have been the northern parts of the near east, on the shores of the Black sea around the modern nations of Turkey, Lebanon, Georgia, Chechnya, and northern Iraq. Some groups of J2 migrated into Europe through Greece and Italy as far back as 8,000-10,000 years ago, and can be associated with Neolithic artifacts, such as figurines and clay pottery.

When the ice age ended and people started moving around much more, J2 started to split into many more subgroups. For example, one subgroup, J2a8 is only found on the island of Crete. Another is only found in the upper castes of ancient southern India. Yet another is found in Tharu people of Nepal.



So what does this mean?

Our branch of the Bretz family, and indeed most Bretz families in North America, can reliably be traced back to Pennsylvania, and through immigration, to Germany by the early 1700s. There are other branches of the Bretz family in Germany with family records dating back to the 1500s, some of which have information on their Y-DNA showing they too belong to haplogroup J2. There are even isolated records of possible Bretz's in Europe from as far back as the 900s.

As a result of genetic analysis, sometime prior to 900 a Bretz ancestor must have come into Germany from the south, from Italy or Greece where the haplogroup J2a is more common. J2a in northern Europe has been theorized to be spread by the Romans, although this has not been proven.

Some researchers have suggested a family connection to Fabius Bretius, a Roman General, who came from the districts of Capua and Taranto in southern Italy to the town Trier, Germany around 224. Whether this connection is genuine or not, and it is impossible to know for sure, perhaps Roman conquests did bring Bretz DNA north 1,800 years ago as they did with so many other things. For some additional thoughts on the possible Latin origins of the family, also read  the Genealogia Bretius.

The current genetic research also indicates that our SNP is quite frequent among both Ashkenazi ans Sephardic Jews. Ashkenazim are a Jewish ethnic division which coalesced in the Holy Roman Empire around the turn of the first millennium.

Around 3,000 years ago a Bretz ancestor could have been part of the Phoenician or Greek civilizations as they were spreading trade far across the sea. There are still pockets of J2 populations along areas of the Mediterranean coastline which correspond to old Phoenician and Greek trade routes. Tantalizingly, Taranto, Italy was founded as a Greek colony of Sparta in 706 BC.

Before 3,500 years ago a Bretz ancestor could have been in Crete as part of the great Minoan civilisation. In fact it is quite likely some of our ancestors were part of many of the first civilisations of the world.

Before 11,000 years ago, a Bretz ancestor was likely on the grassy steppe of eastern Anatolia in modern Turkey, part of the earliest cultivator cultures. And further back, the original father of our family line would have been born near the southern Caucasus mountains around 28,000 years ago.

To think about these timescales another way lets put them in terms of generations. The original father of haplogroup J2 would have lived about 1100 generations ago. The ice age ended 440 generations ago, and the height of the Minoan civilization was 140 generations ago. Migration around the Mediterranean into Greece and Italy would have been by ancestors that lived 120 generations ago, and the height of the Roman Empire was 75 generations ago.


Christopher Bretz Patriline