It seems like DNA testing is all the rage in genealogy today. More and more companies offer testing, and prices are low enough now that just about anyone can afford it. They’re even advertising it on TV. But for a lot of folks, all the different claims and tests available are just as confusing at the science behind them. Is it worth it? What can it tell you? Is it safe? What about privacy? Is it right for you?
You’re probably asking all of those questions, and a lot more. Let’s take a look a close-up look at FamilyTreeDNA (see latest price), one of the best known and most widely used DNA testing companies, for some answers.
Whether you’re already planning to get tested and want to know more about the process, or if you just want to know what all the buzz is about, this article will fill you in on what you need to know about FamilyTreeDNA.
Who is FamilyTreeDNA?
FamilyTreeDNA is one of several companies that have now offer genealogical DNA testing.
Established in 2000, they have a longer history of offering the service than most, and are highly regarded among the genealogy community.
The company started out offering only Y-DNA, mtDNA, and Cohanim DNA tests, as the company focus was to help people knock down brick walls in their paper research.
It wasn’t until 2010 that the company began to offer autosomal testing with their ‘Family Finder’ product.
In fact, FamilyTreeDNA is the leading choice among professional genealogists when it comes to DNA testing.
Because of this, the company has a very strong community of genealogists connected with it, and there is plenty of online support when it comes to understanding and using your test results.
FamilyTreeDNA is also the testing partner for the National Geographic Genographic Project, a non-profit scientific effort to learn more about world history, ethnic origins, migration through time, and more.
If you have contributed your test results to the Genographic Project, you can have them transferred to FamilyTreeDNA for free, letting you take advantage of all the site has to offer.
Types of DNA tests
There are three types of DNA tests used in genealogy:
- Autosomal DNA is a mixture of DNA that is passed on from all of your ancestors.
- YDNA is part of the DNA that only males have, and which is passed down directly from father to son.
- mtDNA is part of the DNA that is only passed on by mothers to their children (both male and female). More on mtDNA testing for genealogy here.
Because each test checks different parts of your DNA, they can tell you different things.
Some companies, like FamilyTreeDNA, offer a package deal where you can test all three types of DNA at once.
Each test will tell you different things, so picking the best one for you depends a lot on what you want to know.
Autosomal DNA test
An autosomal DNA test:
- Tells you about all of your ancestors, going back about five generations
- Helps you connect with living relatives
- Helps you identify the regions your ancestors came from and your ethnic origins
This test is your best bet for finding close living relatives.
Because autosomal DNA gets mixed together in every generation, it only provides good information going back about five generations.
That means it can help you find relatives out to about third or maybe 4th cousins.
But chances are, those close relatives are the ones who are researching the same ancestors as you, so that’s exactly who you want to get in touch with.
Autosomal DNA is also perfect if you or one of your parents were adopted, since you may not know any living blood relatives.
When it comes to telling you about the regions your ancestors lived in, your results will come as percentages.
For example, it might say that you have 52% British Isles, 27% Scandinavian, 18% Eastern European, and 3% Native American ancestry.
That can help you identify places to search for more records about your ancestors.
A YDNA test:
- Follows your direct paternal line (your father’s father’s father, etc) back 25 generations or more
- Provides information on the specific regions your paternal line came from, and how they migrated over time
- Is perfect for connecting with other people who have the same surname
Because YDNA tells you about your surname (father’s) line, it is often used to connect with others on a “surname project,” which is a group of people all researching back towards the same ancestor.
There are thousands of surname projects out there, and finding the right one can turn up tons of research that has already been done for you.
YDNA testing is incredibly useful if you have a common surname (Smith, Jones, Lee, etc), because it lets you find out if you are actually related to someone else with the same name.
FamilyTreeDNA offers three different YDNA tests, Y-37, Y-67, and Y-111.
The higher the number, the more of the DNA strand it tests, giving you more exact results and stretching further back in time across more generations. Unfortunately, the more thorough tests cost more, too.
Only males can take a YDNA test (females don’t have a Y-chromosome). But women can still get YDNA results by having a male relative tested (as long as they’re in the paternal line you want tested).
This could include:
- her father
- her brothers (or their sons)
- her father’s brothers (or their sons)
- but NOT her own son (since he gets his Y-chromosome from his father, not hers)
An mtDNA test examines part of the DNA that is passed on from a mother to her children, both male and female. The test:
- Follows your direct maternal line (your mother’s mother’s mother, etc) back 25 generations or more
- Provides information on the specific regions your maternal line came from, and how they migrated over time
Like the YDNA test, the mtDNA test only gives you information about one single ancestral line, but it goes back a very long way.
It can be used to find living relatives, but they could be as distant as 23rd cousins!
It is more useful as a tool to see where your maternal line lived and migrated in the past.
Like YDNA, you can buy a test for a family member to track down their maternal lines. For example your father’s maternal line.
FamilyTreeDNA also offers a variety of test bundles, combining two or more tests at the same time.
If you want to know everything you can, then a bundled test is your best bet.
And by using the bundle, you save money over take the tests separately.
FamilyTreeDNA versus other companies
FamilyTreeDNA is the leading company for genealogical DNA testing.
Why is that?
Because they have more to offer than other companies.
Family Tree DNA vs AncestryDNA
Here are some of the differences between FTDNA and AncestryDNA:
- FTDNA offers all three types of tests (Ancestry only offers autosomal)
- FTDNA has a chromosome browser (see below for more on that)
- FTNDA makes it easier to connect with matches
- FTDNA doesn’t require an ongoing subscription to get the most out of your results
See my complete comparison of Family Tree DNA vs Ancestry.
Family Tree DNA vs 23andMe
Here are some of the differences between FTDNA and 23andMe:
- Offers all three types of tests (23andMe only offers autosomal)
- Promises to store your results at least 25 years (23andMe doesn’t say how long)
- Has a much larger and more active online genealogical community
- Makes it easier to connect with matches
How the testing works
Taking any of the DNA tests offered by FamilyTreeDNA is easy and painless. All you have to do is:
- decide which test or tests you want
- go to the FamilyTreeDNA website and buy the test online
- the test kit gets shipped to you
- swab your cheek following the simple instructions in the kit
- mail your kit back to FamilyTreeDNA with the prepaid shipping label included in your kit
And as simple as that, in about six to eight weeks, you will get an email saying your results are ready and they can be viewed online.
Then all you have to do is go to the FamilyTreeDNA website and access your results.
What do results look like?
The results you receive depend on the type of testing that you have done.
Autosomal DNA (“Family Finder”) Results
FamilyTreeDNA’s ‘Family Finder’ test lets you see your results in a variety of charts, graphs, and maps, including:
- a graph of your personal ethnic breakdown
- a map display of regions where your ancestors originated
- a migration map of your ancient ancestors compared to archaeological digs
- sortable tables of genetic matches
- contact information for genetic matches who have shared it
You can also use the website’s chromosome browser. This is a tool that lets you graphically compare your results to one or more other people to see which chunks of DNA you share in common. Read more about what is a chromosome browser.
That can help you figure out where someone else fits in your family tree.
The Y-37, Y-67, and Y-111 tests all tell you the same sorts of thing. The higher the number, the greater the detail and accuracy. Your results will include:
- your paternal haplogroup, which may trace back thousands of years
- a map of how your paternal line has moved through history
- sortable lists of matching results
- access to surname projects that are managed by volunteer genealogy enthusiasts
FamilyTreeDNA offers two mtDNA tests, Plus and Full Sequence.
They both tell you the same thing, but the Full Sequence is more detailed and accurate. Your results will include:
- your maternal haplogroup, which may trace back thousands of years
- a map of how your maternal line has moved through history
- sortable lists of matching results
- access to projects that are managed by volunteer genealogy enthusiasts
Connecting with others
One of the most important reasons to have genealogical DNA testing done is so that you can connect with others. This can:
- help you find long lost family members
- Give you clues to places to search for records
- help adoptees locate their biological family
- let you locate other genealogists researching the same ancestors as you
- let you connect with a surname project to trace your paternal line back through history (FamilyTreeDNA has almost 10,000 active surname projects – you can even check their website before getting tested to see if your surname is listed)
FamilyTreeDNA lets you directly email any matches you find who have agreed to share their contact info. Because of that direct email access, it is easier to connect through FamilyTreeDNA than any other DNA testing company.
You do have the choice of whether you want your email to be visible to other genealogists or not.
But if you say no, you’re really missing out and you won’t be able to see other people’s contact details.
Sure, you’ll still have your test results, but connecting with others is a huge advantage of DNA testing, and the chances of your email address ending up in the wrong hands are extremely low.
After all, the only people who can see your email are others who have taken the same test as you, and gotten you as a match. And those are exactly the people you want to talk to.
Like we already said, sharing your email is optional, but not something to worry about. Only other researchers who have matching DNA will see it.
FamilyTreeDNA takes your privacy very seriously and will never share your test results with any other company.
In fact, one of the reasons they are so popular is because they have a great track record of keeping your information safe, and of never sharing it.
How much does it cost?
Pricing for the various DNA tests tend to fluctuate throughout the year, so we don’t want to list them here.
Instead, click here to head on over to their website to see the latest pricing.
Very often you can find a special or discount being offered, so be sure to check the website for the current price.
The prices include the cost of the kit and the actual lab work. There is an additional small fee for shipping for each kit (a bundle of two or three tests is still just one kit).
The cost of each test is one-time only. There are no subscriptions or ongoing fees required to access your results.
The price you pay during checkout is the total price – there are no other fees for lab work or seeing your results.
Kits can be purchased directly from the FamilyTreeDNA website by clicking here.
Only you can decide if a genealogical DNA test is right for you, or which test matches your research goals. But if you do decide to go for it, you won’t go wrong by picking FamilyTreeDNA.
I hope this article was helpful. If you have any questions, please ask in the comments below.