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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 Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) is among the best out there.
- 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
Family Tree DNA Review
- 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 and Geno 2.0
- Excellent online community forums and customer service
- Smaller database than some similar services (950,000+ people)
- Shipping fee is pricey
- $79 Family Finder Autosomnal DNA Kit
- $89 mtDNA Plus DNA Kit
- $199 mtDNA Full Sequence Kit
- $169 Y37 Markers
- $268 Y67 Markers
- $359 Y111 Markers
- $12.95 Shipping
- View all options
Family Tree DNA often has time-sensitive coupons!
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 less than 1 million people, quite a bit smaller than AncestryDNA’s 7 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 3 million people compared to FTDNA’s, which is just under 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 is probably the most innovative company to offer direct-to-consumer DNA testing. They are the only DTC DNA company to create an infrastructure for their customers such that the customers can start their own DNA projects and conduct their own scientific research. This far-sighted policy underlies the ethos of the company and has created a generation of citizen scientists. No other company has fostered the development of this branch of science more than FTDNA. I run over 20 such projects with the company and their customer service is second to none. They are responsive, they are quick, and they sort out any problems as soon as possible. They have a great team of dedicated people behind them, and because it started off as a “family business”, they have a very personal touch that other DNA-testing companies lack. – Maurice G., BBB 12/19/2017
I have been testing with [FTDNA] since 2004 and…with every single platform that is out there (including some that are now defunct) and also have clients who I also represent and always include FTDNA in their packages. What I can definitively say (because as both a professional and as a consumer) that criticisms can be levied with all platforms and companies. It’s a fluid science that is predicated on an ever changing landscape as the science evolves. With that said, no company out there has collectively taken care of me professionally in the face of adversity the way that they have. Have I had a lab error? Yes. A very large one. They took care of it very quickly and turned my perception of them around. Their platform is the largest in the industry, offering a panoply of testing platforms: atDNA (including ethnicity reports), Y-DNA, and mtDNA. Essentially, they do it all where no other company goes beyond atDNA. I am the child of two orphans and was desperate back in 2004 to find my biological family. With the aid of FTDNA, I was able to identify my father’s biological family, and the same applies to my mother’s. It simply could not have been possible at any other company because they do not offer the appropriate tests. In short, their services have been invaluable to me. – Bynorthemore B., Yelp 6/18/2017
BUYER BEWARE. I have been waiting over 9 weeks for results. I have been given lots of excuses. When I requested a refund due to THEIR delays, I was declined and directed to their (no) refund policy. Wish I had done my homework BEFORE using this company because evidently this is par for the course with Family Tree DNA. The kit was a Christmas gift for my 89 year old father. I only pray he lives long enough to see his results. Sad face. – Rachel M., BBB 3/15/2018
Sent in our DNA samples in the middle part of Dec. and we finally got one of the results. I did ask where & when our results were, they did tell us it would take 3-4 weeks so patience is a plus. Up until you get your results the page you sign into is mostly just ads to get you to upgrade. But once your info has been processed its really confusing. I thought the results would tell us what nationalities we were but they just give you clues to where you might be from (well the family tree plan $79) and you have to read the extensive guide on how to decipher the information they give you. It is more work than I signed up for. Wish I had used a different service even if it costed a bit more. There’s a few other perks but its too hard to figure out what they were. Very disappointing. – Gina K., Yelp 1/25/2018
Check out FTDNA’s video below that explains what a DNA ancestry test can tell you about your heritage.
Direct-to-consumer DNA genealogy testing hit an all-time high in 2017, with sales doubling from the previous year. Estimates now put the number of people who have had their DNA analyzed via at-home kits at more than 12 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 Family Tree DNA?
Sources: MIT Technology Review