Family Tree DNA is one of the leading DNA-testing companies. It was founded in 1999 as a division of Gene by Gene. At that moment, their parent company already had over 5 million DNA tests performed for countless organizations and individuals. Its headquarters is located in Houston, Texas. The idea was born when its founder Bennett Greenspan hit a roadblock trying to research his mother’s lineage. He was additionally inspired by the fact that genealogy tests weren’t commercially available at the time.

The concept of correlating ancestry and genetics came from two previously executed studies. One done at the University of Arizona and the second, showing the Y-chromosome match between US president Thomas Jefferson’s male descendants and male descendants of his former slave Sally Hemings. The concept of supplementing traditional genealogical research with genetics was already there, it just needed to be polished and made generally available. Read this objective Family Tree DNA review to learn more about this impressive company.

Family Tree DNA Homepages

How Family Tree DNA Works

Like with every direct-to-consumer DNA testing, the process starts with your online order. You will primarily be prompted to choose test(s) and payment method(s). Family Tree DNA receives payments through credit cards (MasterCard, Visa, American Express) or Paypal. Compensation is also possible via US money, US checks, and bank transfers for international customers. Family Tree DNA conducts numerous volunteer-based group projects, which offer discounted Y-DNA tests. Your order will be acknowledged via a confirmation e-mail.

The test kit is designed for one person and it contains:

  • 2 swabs
  • 2 tubes
  • A comprehensive instruction
  • A release form (paperback, not online)

The tubes come filled with antibacterial fluid, which guarantees the safety of your sample, no matter the weather conditions. The collected sample will stay intact and fresh for several months.

After you return your sample to Family Tree DNA, the average waiting period is:

  • Family finder test – 4-6 weeks
  • Big Y – 8-10 weeks
  • Everything else – 6-8 weeks

Once available, you will be able to inspect your results online and print a copy for free.

Why Choose Family Tree DNA

Aside from the usual benefits like confirming/disproving your paper trail, Family Tree DNA offers the following perks:

  • 3 different tests; several varieties and bundles offered
  • Cutting edge technology and facilities
  • Daughter company of an industry giant
  • Rich help center and knowledge database
  • Free autosomal transfer available from 23andMe and Ancestry DNA
  • The biggest DNA database
  • Jewish heritage exploration
  • Strict privacy policy and long-term anonymity
  • Worldwide shipping
  • Volunteer groups you can join
  • Frequent webinars
  • Automated result updates
  • Personalized user support

The one downside, however, is the absence of any medical/health info from the results.

Tests

This is the segment where Family Tree DNA truly shines. The basic offer is divided into 3 tests, encompassing a number of separate variations. They also have various bundle options.

The 3 main tests are:

  • Family Finder (89$) – The test finds your DNA matches, determines family connections, and traces your ancestral lineage through history. It also uncovers your ethnic percentages dating back to ancient times. “Family Finder” is just the chosen nomenclature for their autosomal DNA test, ergo the one testing 22 pairs of autosomal chromosomes (excluding the sex chromosomes, XX and XY).
  • Father’s line or Y-test –  This test is reserved for males only since females lack the Y chromosome. It ranges up to 340,000 years in the past and it will tell you everything about your direct paternal genetic heritage. 
  • Mother’s line or mtDNA test (mitochondrial) – Mitochondrial DNA passes down from mothers to children unchanged, which enables this test to reach 180,000 years in the past and reveal your direct maternal lineage. Mitochondria are not chromosomes, they’re organelles located outside of our cell’s nucleus, containing a small amount of DNA (but not genes).
Family Tree DNA family finder

The Family Finder group, besides its namesake test, also includes the following bundles:

  • Family Finder + Y37 (258$) – We’ve already explained the FF test somewhat, Y37 is a Y-chromosome test with 37 genetic markers checked.
  • Family Finder + Y67 (357$) – Same deal, only with 67 markers explored.
  • Family Finder + mtFull Sequence (288$) – FF alongside a full sequence mitochondrial test.

Father’s line presents 3 different Y tests:

  • Y37 (169$) – It checks your personal ancestry, their history, and establishes genealogy by checking 37 genetic markers.
  • Y67 (268$) – All of the above, only with 67 markers.
  • Y111 (359$) – The most reliable test in the group, including 111 markers.

All of the tests reach 340,000 years into the past.

Mother’s line renders 2 mitochondrial tests:

  • MtDNA+ (79$) – It explores human hypervariable regions (HVR1 and HVR2). These are the mitochondrial control sections. They don’t contain any genes and are called “hypervariable” due to their quicker change rate compared to the “coded” mitochondrial parts.
  • MtFull Sequence (199$) – Also called “The Mega Test,” it will cover every mitochondrial region, including HVR1/2 and the coding region. It is the highest form of mitochondrial DNA test available in the world.

This group of tests goes 180,000 years into the past.

Understanding The Results

Family Finder

Here are the sectors within the autosomal test:

  • Your personal profile and the ability to share it with all potential DNA matches. You can fully customize the extent of visible personal information.
  • Up to 16 generations of DNA relatives.
  • The estimated degree of relationships with newly-found relatives in the database.
  • “MyOrigins” app, which breaks down the percentage of your biogeographical ancestry.
  • “Chromosome Browser,” where you can simultaneously compare actual chromosome matches with up to five people.
Family Tree DNA Family Tree DNA

An added benefit of using Family Tree DNA is the option of transferring your autosomal DNA test results from other companies by uploading your raw DNA data. This particular test is compatible with 23andMe (V3 and V4) and Ancestry DNA (V1 and V2).

You can do this absolutely free and receive the list of matches from Family Tree’s database. There is also a paid option (19$), where you unlock all of the Family Finder Features (MyOrigins, Chromosome Browser, and AncientOrigins).

There are benefits in both doing the test with the Family Tree DNA and transferring the results. Transferring results means up to a single week of waiting since there’s no need for processing your sample and extracting raw data. There will also be no lab delays or potential test failures. On the other hand, you won’t be able to do additional tests with Family tree DNA or receive updates on your results. The most important thing about transferring your raw data is the “fishing in multiple ponds” approach. Ponds being different unique DNA databases full of potential relatives.

Family Tree DNA family

Y-Chromosome DNA Test

Also known as the “Fatherline Test” due to its focus on the “male” chromosome, it paints an accurate picture of your direct paternal lineage throughout history.

This test is usually done because of surname studies. If your surname is Johnson, for example, and you choose to see whether you’re related to some other Johnsons, this is the right tool to go about it. Alternatively, you can simply identify who you’re connected to, following the paternal ancestry line.

Besides surname studies and paternal matches with disparate surnames, the Y test results also offer:

  • Y-DNA haplogroups – A story of your deep ancestral origins, geographical ancestry, and potential migrations of your paternal DNA relatives.
  • A list of matches – Relatives sharing common paternal lineage within 25 generations.

The results are viewed on your MyFTDNA page. In the top menu bar, just click Y-DNA and you’ll see a menu of 10 different result segments.

The Y-test taken with Family Tree DNA also provides additional benefits:

  • Free unlimited access to group projects and lineage experts
  • Automated result updates
  • Free webinars held by a genetic genealogist
  • Personalized user support

Family Tree DNA ydna

Mitochondrial test (mtDNA)

Also known as the “Motherline Test,” it focuses on mitochondria and provides insight into direct maternal lineage and ancestry. Simply put, it’s the same process as with the Y-test, only on the mother’s side of the family tree. The results of this test can’t be used for surname research, though, since females usually take their husbands’ surnames.

So, apart from direct maternal relatives, the mtDNA test results will basically include all of the result segments found in the Y-chromosome tests like deep ancestry (only maternal), geographical areas of relevance, migration maps, and so forth.

Differences between the two offered test varieties:

  • MtDNA+ – HRV1 match has a 50% likelihood of the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) living within 52 generations (approx. 1300-1500 years); HRV2 match lowers the number of generations to 28 (approx. 700-900 years)
  • mtFull Sequence – 90% likelihood of the MRCA living within 16 generations (400-500 years)

The additional benefits apply to these tests as well.

Family Tree DNA mtDNA

Research

Family Tree DNA currently doesn’t endorse this option. Due to popular demand, though, they are working with NCBI GenBank and population genetics to make this request a reality.

Privacy And Security

Your privacy is taken very seriously by the company. You will get your personal ID with the test kit, which is used to connect you with your results. It is also a part of the log-in info for your myFTDNA page. The ID is nonsequential and completely random, doesn’t contain any personal info, and cannot be recovered from FTDNA if lost.

Furthermore, FTDNA is a follower of The European Commission’s Directive on Data Protection, the so-called “U.S.-E.U. Safe Harbor program. None of your personal info will be stored or shared with third parties. You can choose to disclose some information for easier communication with your newly-found relatives, but you can also choose to remain anonymous, even after you’ve received your results.

Shipping And Handling

The standard shipping method for FTDNA is USPS first class shipping. The combined shipping/handling charge is 12.95$.

You can also choose Federal Express. Next-day shipping for the US costs 35$ and 3-day shipping 25$. Saturday delivery costs 50$ for both options. International prices are variable. Note that the expedited shipping price comes on top of the 12.95$ shipping/handling fee.

FTDNA ships their tests to all international locations except Iran and Sudan. The return postage is not included for international shipments due to their sheer volume.

Bottom Line

This Family Tree DNA review can give you a deeper insight into the inner workings of this top-of-the-line DNA-testing company. The company was developed upon the tried-and-true recipe of its parent corporation and made a stoic example for all other DNA testers to follow.

The testing technology is the final word of the genetic science and the results are thoroughly explained through the abundance of information available on their website. Connecting with your DNA matches is made easy through your personal profile on the site. FTDNA really opted for the proactive approach in providing the best service imaginable.

The autosomal transfer allows dipping into several unique databases, upping the chances of locating unknown relatives. Unlike most leading DNA companies, FTDNA ships worldwide, which goes to show the number of relevant and influential partnerships they’ve made over the years. The only downsides are the lack of health-related results and of any scientific research endorsed by the company.


Family Tree DNA Rating

Our ratings are the result of an objective and independent evaluation of Family Tree DNA, generating the final rating that reflects the overall quality of the company. Ratings may change as the service changes.

Scope Of DNA Test(s)
Test Processing Times
Privacy & Security
Value For Money
Overall Experience
Final Rating 8.9/10

User Reviews (12)

    Family Tree DNA user rating based on 12 user reviews.

    The reviews listed below reflect the opinions and experiences of real users and are in no way influenced by the reviewed companies. Before publishing each review, our team checks whether it was submitted by an actual user in an effort to prevent false or spammy reviews.

  • Submitted By Vernon Williams on 02/11/2018
    If I had a PhD in genetics, I’d analyze my DNA myself, I wouldn’t ask you to do it for me. Fortunately, the lady from customer support was nice enough to explain a couple of things so it wasn’t a total waste of money.
    Reply
  • Submitted By Gerald Chamberlain on 02/09/2018
    I didn’t understand the results, they seemed inaccurate and the customer support was really not eager to help. If they expect me to give them so much money, they could at least explain the results so I could get at least something for my money.
    Reply
  • Submitted By Samantha Watkins on 01/29/2018
    Yeah, according to this company, my children, whom I gave birth to, and I, their biological mother, have absolutely nothing in common. Can’t believe I paid for this.
    Reply
  • Submitted By Nelly on 01/28/2018
    You need to be a genealogist to interpret your results. Language is all in geneologist lingo: haplogroups, HV1, RSDS, what the F***? Waste of money. Then it stated I could send it to someone who could interpret my results for $300! Really??? I don't think do!
    Reply
  • Submitted By Ron Prosper on 01/04/2018
    Doesn’t matter what the tests do, or the service features offered. I spent $442 and still have not received after three weeks. There is no phone contact. Email response takes over one week and is poor. Big mistake. Take your business elsewhere.
    Reply
  • Submitted By Lexie Romeo on 12/07/2017
    I spent half of 2016 researching before deciding on testing through FamilyTreeDNA. I was aware of some of my maternal ancestry, and none of my paternal. The results showed that my parents were actually very similar (not related, just similar ethnic makeup). This led to a conversation with my father, who I didn't know until later on in life (not adopted, but parents were divorced and we weren't allowed to communicate with him). The test was accurate and he was very impressed. So was I. I uploaded my data to GEDmatch and all the algorithms there painted a similar picture. DNA.LAND even correctly identified my Amerindian tribe which my father had already told me about. You may think, "What does that have to do with FTDNA?", but different companies test different SNPs. There is some overlap between them, but currently only about 61% with Ancestry and 23% with 23&Me (as of 12/07/17). So the fact that my FTDNA data led to a correct identification of my paternal grandfather's tribe is impressive for FTDNA, not simply "the world of genetics". It's true that I don't have many matches, owing to the fact that I am South American, but I chose FTDNA because they won't misuse my DNA and ask me to forfeit the right to do something about it (like the more popular alternative). I love the chromosome browser, I really like the look of the website, I like the privacy settings, I love that they ship overseas, and I love that they took exactly as long as I expected to provide my results. They were actually a few days early by my calculations. Oh, I also love that they update my results for free when something changes. In fact, they're just getting through updating all previous BigY results. The database isn't as small as people think. According to FTDNA, it is 922,438 strong, including National Geographic (and possibly MyHeritage) transfers. No word on the number of Ancestry and 23&Me transfers, but in most circles, transferring is advised, so I doubt those numbers are small. I know people with thousands of matches in the database. So to sum it up, I would give them 10 stars if I could. FTDNA has not disappointed me.
    Reply
  • Submitted By Vickie Meyer on 12/02/2017
    I would like to adjust my review from one star to three. I do feel they were wrong on my results, especially since they showed my son and I share 21% ethnicities at best, and show zero Scandinavian for me knowing I come from a verified line from Sweden (from my grandmother (on my dad's side) back. However, since I have no knowldge of the ethnicities of my mother as she was adopted, nor of my grandfathers side on my dad's side, I can not say they were totally wrong. And with the great customer service I received, I feel one star was unfair. So for those reasons, I'm upping it to 3 stars.
    Reply
  • Submitted By Vickie Meyer on 11/30/2017
    I uploaded my raw dna to FTDNA. The results were completely wrong. My grandmother was from Sweden, confirmed, but FTDNA showed me with zero Scandinavian. . My son also uploaded his raw dna. Though we did show relative match of parent, son, we shared 21% ethnicities at best. (His 16% west & central Europe to my 89%) and 5% Iberia to my 8%). Interesting he did show Scandinavian, 41% and British Isles, 30%, both of which I had neither of. My understanding is children receive about 50% from each parent. Will say though that FTDNA was very patient with me regarding uploading my raw dna. Great customer service.
    Reply
  • Submitted By Lora Cunning on 09/03/2017
    The help center gave me all the information to properly understand what's being done with my sample and money.
    Reply
  • Submitted By Jackson Fury on 08/22/2017
    Very detailed results, I only wish there were some health tests to tell me if i'm in danger of something serious
    Reply
  • Submitted By Laura May on 06/18/2017
    I like all the little bundles you can get. It's like doing 3 or 4 tests with a hefty discount.
    Reply
  • Submitted By Clive Bronson on 05/16/2017
    They made me wait good 2 months before results. The results weren't haf as bad thogh
    Reply
  • Show More Reviews ...

Want to know even more about Family Tree DNA?

Family Tree DNA is a well-known provider of top-quality ancestry DNA testing solutions launched in 1999 in Houston, Texas. There’s definitely a lot to be said about this company, so if you want to go beyond our main Family Tree DNA review, you can browse through our list of additional resources below.

Family Tree DNA Review
Updated : 02.14.2018.
Rating : 8.9/10
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