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Where we come from is one of life’s biggest mysteries, and genealogical research can fill in some of the blanks. Want to take your family tree research to the next level? You should consider doing a DNA ancestry test.
DNA testing is a fun and informative way to discover more about your roots. Several online services offer DNA testing for ancestry, and FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA) is among the best out there.
Family Tree DNA
- Competitive pricing for DNA autosomal test and frequent sales
- Only site to offer separate autosomal DNA and in-depth Y-DNA and mtDNA testing kits and a good variety of bundled packages
- Provides ethnicity estimates for 24 global regions
- In-house laboratory certified by CLIA and accredited by CAP
- Stores your DNA sample for 25 years
- You receive email addresses for your genetic matches
- Chromosome browser tool to compare shared chromosomal segments
- Allows uploading of raw DNA results from 23andMe, AncestryDNA, MyHeritage and Geno 2.0
- Excellent online community forums and customer service
- Smaller database than some similar services (1+ million people)
- Only DNA ancestry test service that offers all three types of tests separately: Autosomal, mtDNA and Y-DNA testing
- Test is a simple cheek swab that you mail in
- Can transfer your genealogical, DNA results, and other data from similar services
- Ability to store your results for up to 25 years (but you have to have an ongoing subscription to access their database)
- Provides you email addresses of your DNA matches
- Ability to join select genealogical/ancestry projects within their network
- $79 Family Finder Autosomnal DNA Kit
- $89 mtDNA Plus DNA Kit
- $199 mtDNA Full Sequence Kit
- $169 Y-37 Markers
- $268 Y-67 Markers
- $359 Y-111 Markers
- $649 Big Y-700
- $9.95 Shipping
- View all options
Below are some critical differences between FTDNA and its main competitors.
- You can upload your raw DNA results from AncestryDNA, 23andMe and Geno 2.0 to FTDNA. AncestryDNA doesn’t allow uploading other companies’ results.
- FTDNA’s database is just over 1 million people, quite a bit smaller than AncestryDNA’s 10 million.
- FTDNA uses its own in-house laboratory. AncestryDNA’s is a third-party lab.
- FTDNA offers separate Autosomal DNA and in-depth Y-DNA and mtDNA tests, while AncestryDNA does not.
- 23andMe’s database has 5 million people compared to FTDNA’s, which is just over 1 million.
- FTDNA doesn’t offer any health-related DNA testing, while 23andMe does.
- 23andMe’s genealogical community forums are lacking compared to FTDNA’s.
- MyHeritage DNA has a quicker turnaround time for results than FTDNA.
- FTDNA offers separate Autosomal DNA and in-depth Y-DNA and mtDNA tests. MyHeritage DNA only offers an Autosomal test.
- FTDNA has much more extensive online resources about DNA testing for ancestry than MyHeritage DNA.
My mother was a genealogy fanatic long before tracing one’s family roots became a wildly popular pastime. After decades of poring over historical records, census data, birth and death records, she was able to fill in a lot of gaps in our family tree going back hundreds of years.
Our “people,” she found, originated predominantly in the British Isles. Just through a paper trail, my mother was able to trace most of our ancestors back to England and Scotland in the 17th century. One English line even connects to King Edward III (14th century). And another family line traces back to Tuscany, Lombardy, Switzerland, and France in the 15th century.
Why Did We Go With FTDNA?
At the time we tested (and still to this day), FTDNA is considered by serious genealogists the best of the best for DNA ancestry testing and finding people who share your DNA. FTDNA also makes it much easier to connect with your genetic matches than any other service. It’s one of the most reliable companies for ethnicity results, since they use 60+ solid reference populations to test against.
My FTDNA Results
FTDNA breaks down your results into three primary categories: myOrigins, ancientOrigins and Family Matching. Here’s a sample of how your results will appear once you access them online.
myOrigins gives you an ethnic and geographic breakdown of where your ancestors came from. You get a percentage breakdown of these regions, and the areas are color coded on a heat map. The map may also reveal related population clusters that mixed with others in ancient times.
As you can see from my results, I’m 85% British Isles — no big surprise there based on the research my mother had already done, but it’s exciting to see years of genealogical research confirmed by science. I was surprised to see 8% Southeast Europe. It’s still a mystery where that came from!
Another cool feature of the myOrigins map is that you can click on the pinpoints to see where the earliest known paternal (orange) and maternal (green) ancestors lived from your Family Finder matches. Here’s what mine looks like:
ancientOrigins compares your DNA to DNA from archeological dig sites throughout the European continent. Here you get to see the amount of autosomal DNA you still carry of the ancient European groups: Neolithic Hunter/Gatherers, Early Farmers and Bronze-age Metal Invaders.
You also get to see the migration patterns of each group with color-coded arrows. When you click on each archeological dig site (the pinpoints) they give you a historical write up about each site, including the estimated age of the find and how it sheds light on our collective genetic history.
Here’s just the start of what you’ll see in your family matching results. I have a whopping 3,670+ matches that go as far out as “5th or Distant Cousins” and a ton of 2nd-4th cousin matches from both sides of my family. The family matching system is undoubtedly FTDNA’s best feature.
Here are some of the things you can do with the Family Matching System tools:
- View, sort and compare DNA matches by parental lines
- Click on a match and use the “Compare With” tool to see what other matches the two of you share
- Use the “Chromosome Browser” to see which sections of the chromosome you and your matches share
- Get in touch with your matches via email
- View your matches’ family trees if they’ve created one in FTDNA
What Did I Learn From FTDNA’s Test?
For me, the biggest benefit of testing with FTDNA was confirming a lot of relationships and shared ancestors that my mother had pieced together over years of genealogical research. My DNA test also was able to confirm the father of an illegitimate 3X great grandfather in England who was previously unknown because he was not named on the birth record.
I’m one of the lucky ones to have a serious genealogist in my family, but you can see how invaluable the family matching system is if you don’t know much about your roots. It’s an excellent way to begin or enhance your family tree — and even to find long-lost relatives.
Below you’ll see a sampling of both positive and negative reviews we found online about FTDNA.
Familytreedna has the complete package of analysis that is relevant for a serious genetic genealogist. Although the website could be better user-friendly, but its the results that matter. Theyr variety of Y-DNA analysis is one of the very best, if you would like just to know your haplogroup or invest in a advanced Big-Y. The advanced will not only confirm how closely two paternal lineages is connected, but also identify new branches and find your unique leaf on the tree. You can connect yourself back to ancient times or recent…Theyr mtDNA analysis can analyze the whole mt-DNA and give you more than just a haplogroup, but also identify new branches and who shares your maternal lineage. I use Familytreedna because it is a trusthworthy scientific company, that takes the customers privacy serious, dont test for genetic diseases or health, have the complete package of analysis that a genealogist would ever need. They have some great projects, run by genealogists from all over the world, dedicated to help and expand the knowledge of each branch. And lastly they store your DNA-sample for the future, you never know if you can get another sample and there could be better analysis in the future. – David H., Trustpilot 11/15/2018
I got my kit which was very easy to use ASAP. My results showed up exactly when they said it would and they were very surprising. The website is easy to navigate thru though I wish the results would update more regularly the way others do. – CJ M., Yelp 9/20/2018
I purchased 2 tests. Received them quickly, and returned them quickly as well. Kits were recieved and confirmed as of 2/19/19. The company delayed my results by two weeks, then at that deadline, delayed them 2 more weeks. As of today 3/27, no results. When I contacted CS I was only told there was a lab delay and there was nothing they could or would do for me. Terrible customer service. I want my money and my dna back. Cant get either. I’m considering a chargeback with my credit card company, I feed like this is fraudulent as no service has been provided to me at all. – Crystal O., Yelp 3/27/2019
Bad, unacceptable experience and unreasonable. I ordered a ydna kit, that the company’s own website guaranteed would arrive by Christmas – it did not. So I sent an email stating that I would like a refund due to the unfulfilled promise – I received no response. I have to call the next day and explain the situation, and I’m told there is a $30 fee to send the kit back! I would better understand if had just changed my mind wanting to send the kit back, but it’s the companies error that I am sending the unopened not just kit, but unopened piece of mail back because of. They guaranteed their customer something, and did not provide that. – Jessie M., Trustpilot 12/28/2019
Check out FTDNA’s video below that explains what a DNA ancestry test can tell you about your heritage.
Estimates now put the number of people who have had their DNA analyzed via at-home kits at more than 26 million. A majority of those tested are in the U.S. With more and more people testing their DNA and getting online to find common ancestors, your chances of filling in even more blanks are promising. FTDNA is an excellent way to start or continue your ancestry journey, but we encourage you to look at all your options. Check out our review of all the major players in our DNA ancestry test kit reviews.
What have you discovered about your family history and genealogy through FamilyTreeDNA?
Sources: MIT Technology Review
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