Family Tree DNA Review - UPDATED Nov 2017
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.
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
- 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.
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$) – The test finds your DNA matches, determines family connections, and traces your ancestral lineage through history. It also uncovers your ethnic percentages dating back to ancient times. “Family Finder” is just the chosen nomenclature for their autosomal DNA test, ergo the one testing 22 pairs of autosomal chromosomes (excluding the sex chromosomes, XX and XY).
- Father’s line or Y-test – This test is reserved for males only since females lack the Y chromosome. It ranges up to 340,000 years in the past and it will tell you everything about your direct paternal genetic heritage.
- Mother’s line or mtDNA test (mitochondrial) – Mitochondrial DNA passes down from mothers to children unchanged, which enables this test to reach 180,000 years in the past and reveal your direct maternal lineage. Mitochondria are not chromosomes, they’re organelles located outside of our cell’s nucleus, containing a small amount of DNA (but not genes).
The Family Finder group, besides its namesake test, also includes the following bundles:
- Family Finder + Y37 (258$) – 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$) – Also called “The Mega Test,” it will cover every mitochondrial region, including HVR1/2 and the coding region. It is the highest form of mitochondrial DNA test available in the world.
This group of tests goes 180,000 years into the past.
Understanding The Results
Here are the sectors within the autosomal test:
- Your personal profile and the ability to share it with all potential DNA matches. You can fully customize the extent of visible personal information.
- Up to 16 generations of DNA relatives.
- The estimated degree of relationships with newly-found relatives in the database.
- “MyOrigins” app, which breaks down the percentage of your biogeographical ancestry.
- “Chromosome Browser,” where you can simultaneously compare actual chromosome matches with up to five people.
An added benefit of using Family Tree DNA is the option of transferring your autosomal DNA test results from other companies by uploading your raw DNA data. This particular test is compatible with 23andMe (V3 and V4) and Ancestry DNA (V1 and V2).
You can do this absolutely free and receive the list of matches from Family Tree’s database. There is also a paid option (19$), 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.
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
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 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.