Hybrid Tea Rose by Mrs. Herbert Stevens (4 May 2008) via Wikimedia Commons Open Rose Y-DNA Surname Project
Hybrid Tea Rose by Mrs. Herbert Stevens (4 May 2008) via Wikimedia Commons
FAQ's about DNA Testing at FamilyTreeDNA
1. Why do I need to join a project?
2. What do patrilineal and matrilineal lines mean?
3. Which test should I take to be of most value?
4. Do I need to send in another sample to have additional tests done?
5. Should additional family members be tested?
6. What about the senior members of my family?
7. Can I join more than one project?
8. Can my test results be used for my mother's ancestry?
9. How is the sample taken?
10. What about privacy?
11. What is Ysearch?
12. What about SNP testing?
13. Is this a commercial project?
14. Will you sell my sample or my data?
15. How much will it cost?
16. Can I transfer my results to FTDNA?
17. How can I get my GEDCOM to upload?
1.  Why do I need to join a project?

The obvious reason would be to get the group discount on pricing (see below), but the most important reason is to gain the assistance of the project administrator and to facilitate the sharing of your results and lineage. 


2.  What do patrilineal and matrilineal lines mean?

Everyone has just one patrilineal line and one matrilineal line, that is, an unbroken line of male ancestors of one's father and an unbroken line of female ancestors of one's mother.  A patrilineal line can be Y-DNA tested, while a matrilineal line can be mtDNA tested.  All other ancestral lines zig-zag between males and females, so cannot be Y-DNA or mtDNA tested.

Everyone inherits their mother's mitochonrial DNA, so both males and females can be mtDNA tested.  But because only males have inherited a Y-chromosome from their father, only males can participate in Y-DNA surname projects. 
Male Female Male Female Male Female Male Female
Male Female Male Female
Male Female
Male test subject has a Y-chromosome and_  mitochondria
Male Female Male Female Male Female Male Female
Male Female Male Female
Male Female
 Female test subject has only mitochondria, no Y-chromosome


3.  Which test would be of most value?

Which tests you take depends in part on what you are trying to accomplish, and your Project Administrator will be happy to advise you depending on your needs. While all levels of testing are useful for something, I have standardized my projects on 67 markers as that seems to be the "sweet spot" for making unambiguous decisions about relatedness. How many markers you ultimately need to test depends in part on whether you have a common haplotype or a rare one, but of course, you won't know that until after you've been tested.

It's parallel to the situation with names, that is, identifying you is more difficult if you have a common name, like John SMITH, than if you are named Engelbert HUMPERDINCK. In identifying John SMITH, it helps greatly to know his middle initial and, better yet, to know his middle name. Adding more markers to someone's haplotype is parallel to knowing John SMITH's middle name to help separate him from other John SMITH's. Just as in paper genealogy, in genetic genealogy the more clues you have to someone's identity, the more confident you can be of the identification, and the more common the name and/or haplotype, the more clues you need.

From the standpoint of the project, we would ideally like everyone to begin with 67 markers, but you certainly have the option of starting with 37, then upgrading to 67, then to 111 DNA testing on the installment plan. But the bottom line is, sooner or later, you will probably want all the markers you can get, and it's cheaper to do it at the outset (see prices below).

While analysis of Family Finder autosomal-DNA test results is not within the scope of a Y-DNA surname project, such testing is proving useful to family researchers, so you may want to consider purchasing a bundled test that includes Family Finder.


4.  Do I need to send in another sample to have additional tests done in the future?

For Y-DNA STR test upgrades, not usually.  Your sample will be kept in cold storage for a guaranteed 25 years, so it will be available for additional testing.  It can be assumed that, over the next few years, more refined tests will be discovered.  Having your sample in storage will make it possible to have these tests done without submitting additional samples.  If for some reason a larger, fresher sample is needed, FTDNA will contact you.


5.  Should additional family members be tested?

If you get an unexpected result, yes.  But even if you get an expected result, one reason to test additional family members is to get them interested in their genealogy and identifying themselves with their ancestry.  DNA testing makes a wonderful gift to bring your family together.

But just as we are warned not to do our genealogy unless we can handle finding out something we'd rather not have known, anyone being DNA tested has to be prepared for an unexpected result because about 2-5% of people tested turn out through hidden adoption or illicit paternity not to be descended from their "paper" ancestor.  Such a result is known as an "NPE" (non-paternity event).  In the case of an NPE, the testing of cousins (beginning with a first cousin, then progressing to increasingly distant cousins) can pinpoint where the NPE took place. I describe the NPE's that have occurred in my projects and the degree to which they have been resolved on this web page.

While people today are generally open about adoptions, in the past an adopted infant was much less likely to have ever been told they were adopted.  Likewise, a wife's infidelity was more likely to be hushed up than to result in divorce, even if the infidelity was uncovered.  For these reasons, assume that an NPE occurred in distant generations, rather than near ones, and don't jump to any conclusions because you get one.  Still, consider the feelings of everyone in the family before bringing the NPE out into the open.  By the way, this is the real reason to keep this testing anonymous, not because these STR test results reveal anything medically important about you (they don't).  So, I recommend quietly testing yourself, first. Then, after you have the result, decide whether to share the news with your family (or your fellow genealogists).

There is also some logic to the idea that everyone doing their genealogy would do well, at the outset, to test themselves and at least a first cousin, just to be certain they don't spend literally years working on the wrong surname. On the other hand, if other descendants of your progenitor have already been tested and you match them, you have your answer.


6.  What about the senior members of my family?

There may be some urgency involved with testing your family's senior members.  For example, my father was 86 years old when I paid for his testing. He even joked with me at the time, "Oh, you want to get this done before I die."  Well, yes, actually, and I'm relieved that his testing was completed because he died two years later. As for my mother, she passed away decades ago, so she was never tested, and both of my parents died before Family Finder testing became available. Do have your parents Family Finder tested. It is far easier to analyze your own Family Finder results if both parents have been tested.


7.  Can my test results be used with other projects?

Yes.  Typically, one would first join their surname project, then, once results are returned, possibly join one or more appropriate haplogroup, regional, or ethnic projects.  To join a project, login to your member page at FTDNA, then click "Projects" from the menubar, then select, "Join a Project." There is no cost for joining additional projects.


8.  Can my Y-DNA test be used for my mother's surname?

No, your Y-DNA test cannot help you with your mother's ancestry.  Your Y-chromosome came from your father, and only from your father, so Y-chromosome DNA testing will be of no help in elucidating your mother's ancestry.  To research your mother's surname, you will need to get her father or one of her brothers or uncles or nephews of that surname to be tested for you.  I know this limitation is frustrating, but it's precisely because the Y-chromosome is handed down only from father to son that makes it useful to genealogists. To test yourself for your mother's line, you need to use mtDNA testing.


9.  How is the sample taken?

The sample is a simple, painless cheek swab. Just read the directions carefully and don't hurry.


10.  What about privacy?

You establish your level of privacy by the way you join and the options you select.

If you want complete privacy, you should not join a project, but simply order and pay for your testing on your own.  That way, your identity and results are known only to you (and to FamilyTreeDNA, obviously).

If you join a project, the project administrator knows who you are (i.e., has access to your full name and contact information), but only your test data, lineage, and surname not your given name(s) or email address will be placed in public view on the project's web sites.  The administrator will not reveal your identity to anyone, not even to other project members or administrators.  That doesn't prevent you from revealing yourself, just that neither FTDNA nor I will do it.

Alternatively, there is a way to join the project without allowing FTDNA to know your identity, and that is by having the project administrator purchase the kit for you. Your given name would simply be "Anonymous" in the FTDNA database, and the project admin would be the contact person. The project admin will sign the Release and your data will be shared with the project.

By signing the Release that comes with your kit, your name and email address will be shared with others tested at FamilyTreeDNA whose DNA test results match yours (and vice versa), but your name and email address will still not be displayed at the project web sites nor be released by the project administrator.  Signing the Release is a condition for joining my projects as it is unfair to refuse to share your results with others when others are sharing their results with you.  If you don't want to be the contact person (i.e., if you don't want to be emailed by contacts), we can substitute your family genealogist or me as the contact person.

To have your results show up on the project's test results page, please go to the "Privacy & Sharing" tab on your member page at FTDNA and, under the heading "My DNA Results," heading, answer the question, "Who can view my DNA results in group projects?" by changing the answer to, "Anyone." Unless you do so, your results will not display on the project's Results page, and sharing of results is a requirement for membership in this project. This sharing applies only to your results and lineage, not your identity. You, your parents, and, if living, your grandparents will remain anonymous, unless you choose to reveal them in the GEDCOM you upload to your Family Tree.

Please note that the FTDNA database is not searchable or browsable, not even by project administrators, much less by the general public, which has no access to the database. Public access is entirely limited to FTDNA clients being put in contact with other FTDNA clients who are a genetic match.

If you want to get the most from your testing, then share the most, that is:  join a project, sign the Release, allow "Anyone" to view your results, and upload your results to Ysearch (see next FAQ).

Speaking personally (not as a representative of FamilyTreeDNA), I frankly do not see the need for privacy.  To demonstrate just how unconcerned I am, I have placed my mtDNA results online at my website and put my FMS (Full Mitochondrial Sequence) online at GenBank (EU979542).  You should be much more concerned about someone knowing your Social Security number or reading your bank account number off your checks or your credit card numbers off your sales slips.  (And I'd much rather have someone know my DNA test results than my weight!)  I do have these caveats:  I recommend keeping the fact that you are being tested quiet until you've seen the results because, if your results uncover a hidden adoption or illicit paternity, you may want to limit with whom you share that information.  I made certain I was an mtDNA match with a first cousin before I "went public" with my HVR1+HVR2 results; and I got a clean slate from a medical analysis of my full sequence mitochondrial DNA (FMS) before I uploaded the results to GenBank.  With regard to Y-DNA testing, my father has passed away since being tested, so I have de-privatized his name (scroll to the right to see the lineage).  I didn't see any reason to keep his identity secret in the first place, so I certainly see no reason to keep it secret now.

It bears mentioning that once the Y-DNA haplogroup and modal haplotype have been determined for your progenitor, your haplogroup and matching (or near-matching) haplotype are therefore also known by anyone who knows you descend from that progenitor, whether you even get tested, or not. There is nothing left to keep secret, so why make a big deal out of privacy? (The exception possibly being in the case of an NPE, though even then, the best policy is to reveal it, so you can resolve it.)

As for your FamilyFinder results, no one is going to see them, unless you deliberately download them from FTDNA, then upload them to a public database (e.g., GEDmatch) and it, too, has a Privacy Policy. No one will see your results or discover your identity, unless you allow them to do so. If you want to get the most out of your FF testing, I recommend doing so, but otherwise, there is no way anyone can access these not even project administrators.  You have to be logged in to your member page at FTDNA as the owner of the kit to download raw FF data.

See also FamilyTreeDNA's privacy policy.  Your privacy is further maintained by Federal Law:  see the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) summarized on the FTDNA web site. FTDNA also subscribes to the Safe Harbor program protecting personal information for those in the European Union and Switzerland.


11.  What is Ysearch?

Ysearch.org is a publicly available and searchable database on the internet, sponsored by FTDNA, but open to anyone regardless of where they were tested. Once your test results have returned, the upload is a few easy clicks from a link on the "Y-DNA Matches" tab of your member page.

Even if you upload your data to Ysearch, your anonymity is still maintained if you so wish.  At Ysearch, only the test results and surname of the test subject are necessarily displayed. You have the options of including the name and origin of the most distant ancestor, uploading a GEDCOM, and/or revealing your name as the contact person (if you wish to remain anonymous, just enter "name witheld" in the contact name field). Visitors contact you via a form that reveals neither your name or email address, giving you the option whether or not to respond and reveal yourself.

The question then becomes, why upload to Ysearch? One reason is to seek a match in a larger database, one that includes individuals tested at other companies, not just FTDNA.  The other is to make your data available to researchers, in particular, to ones studying larger issues, at the paleoanthropological level.  Anything you do to help them ultimately helps you better understand your origins.

Lastly, I hope you will upload just to have mercy on your project admin.  If you don't upload your results, I have to manually enter your test data into Ysearch every time I want to check to see if you have any matches.  Please spare me this tedium!


12.  What about SNP testing?

Results from STR (Short Tandem Repeat) testing should correlate with results from SNP (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism) testing.  In other words, haplotypes should correlate with haplogroups, and they do.  Therefore, in some cases your base haplogroup can be deduced from your haplotype.  In cases where the prediction of the haplogroup from the haplotype is weak or equivocal (most likely due to a rare or unique haplotype), FTDNA will do a "backbone" SNP test (without charge) as part of its "haplogroup assurance policy."  This policy means being STR tested at FTDNA assures that you will know your basic haplogroup with certainty, without the added expense of a backbone SNP test.

Deep SNP testing determines your haplogroup subclade and is offered by FTDNA usually without having to submit another sample.  This determination (and, thus, this testing) is not a requirement for participation in the project, but I hope you will consider doing it, for a number of reasons.

One reason is simply to "contribute to science."  Every one of us who undergoes both STR and SNP testing is contrbuting to the databases that allow these correlations to be made and is contributing to the success of researchers engaged in reconstructing human origins.  And then, there's your own curiosity.  I'm fascinated by the progress being made, and I find it far more meaningful to know that I'm part of the process of discovery and advancement.  If you want recent history to come alive for you and your children, do your family's genealogy.  If you want human history and earth history to come alive for them, have the family DNA tested and once you have your test results, join the National Geographic Society's Genographic Project (a few easy clicks on your FTDNA member page).

On the practical side, haplogroups are a logical way to organize the project because people in different haplogroups have a zero probability of being closely related, so breaking up the project by haplogroups is simply useful.

But the bottom line here is that, as the size of the FTDNA database increases, the problem of coincidental Y-DNA STR matches increases, especially in Haplogroup R-M269, by far the most common haplogroup in western Europe, with a frequency of 80-90% in the British Isles. The testing of 67-markers is usually sufficient for most haplogroups, but not for Hg R-M269 where coincidental 67/67 matches have been uncovered with SNP testing. I recommend every family have at least one member BigY tested, they have other family members test the discovered terminal SNP to prove their STR matching is not merely coincidental.


13.  Is this a commercial project?

FamilyTreeDNA is a for-profit business.  The projects based at FamilyTreeDNA are administered by volunteers (I'm a retired zoologist/paleontologist whose hobby is genealogy).  This arrangement is parallel to the mailing lists at RootsWeb.com and the message boards at Ancestry.com, which are administered by volunteers, but owned by a for-profit business.


14.  Will you sell my sample or my data?

No.  The sample legally belongs to the person who supplied it. For that reason, the name of the test subject should be the one entered in the Name fields of a Kit's account, not the name of the person's contact or the name of the person who paid for the test. The latter gain their access to the account by having their email addresses added to the list of emails associated with the account. The sample will be kept in storage at FamilyTreeDNA for 25 years, in case you wish to have more tests run (without having to submit another sample) or you can have the sample destroyed if you so direct.  Your test results will be made public on the project's web site free of charge, which means there can be no incentive for anyone to try to sell the data.


15.  How much does it cost?

FamilyTreeDNA offers a variety of tests and services.  Please see descriptions of products at their web site:
FamilyTreeDNA Products and Prices
While I do my best to keep this FAQ up-to-date, the FTDNA web site is always the final word on prices.

When joining a project, please first order a Y-DNA test, if you're male, or an mtDNA test, if you're female, followed later with a Family Finder or other tests.

Your project admin recommends the tests highlighted in bright yellow.  In most circumstances, males will need 67 markers to be confident a match isn't coincidental*.

Gender Test List Price Group Price Holiday Sale Price
Y-DNA37  169 149 139
Y-DNA67 268 248 228
Y-DNA111 359 339 309
mtFullSequence  199   169
Family Finder    99      89
Plus shipping and handling (includes return shipping): $9.95

*If your haplotype is rare (i.e., distant from the modal haplotype in an uncommon haplogroup), you won't need to test as many markers as someone whose haplotype is common (i.e., close to the modal haplotype for a common haplogroup).. The problem is, you won't know which yours is until after you've tested and, by definition, the majority of people will have a common haplotype.

It's ultimately cheaper to purchase the maximum markers from the outset.  Upgrading the number of markers in stages reduces the initial sticker shock, but testing in stages will cost more in the long run.

Gender Test Regular Price
Y-Refine 12 to 37   99
Y-Refine 12 to 67  189
Y-Refine 12 to 111 339
Y-Refine 25 to 37   49
Y-Refine 25 to 67 148
Y-Refine 25 to 111 249
Y-Refine 37 to 67 99
Y-Refine 37 to 111 220
Y-Refine 67 to 111 129
add mtFullSequence to HVR1 159
add mtFullSequence to HVR2 149


16.  Can I transfer my Y-DNA test results to FTDNA?

Yes, if you were tested with any company using the Sorenson laboratory to run their customers' tests (viz., SMGF, GeneTree, or Ancestry), you can have your 33- or 46-marker results transferred to FTDNA.  The Transfer fee will give you an account at FTDNA and give your project administrator access to your results, allowing the results to be displayed at the project web site.  However, the transfer fee, alone, will not give you haplogroup prediction or allow you to receive automatic match notifications.  To enjoy the full benefits of being a project member at FTDNA, you need to be retested at FTDNA.  The retesting is done at a considerable discount (compare above prices), so I highly recommend doing so and from the outset. Ancestry.com bought both SMGF and GeneTree, then stopped doing Y-DNA testing, itself, so this transfer is only going to be relevant to those Y-DNA tested before 2013, in some cases, much before.

Transfer Only (33 or 46 markers) $19
Upgrade later from Y-DNA33 to Y-DNA25 39
Upgrade later from Y-DNA46 to Y-DNA37 39
Transfer Y-DNA33 including upgrade to FTDNA Y-DNA25 58
Transfer Y-DNA46 including upgrade to FTDNA Y-DNA37 58
See also FAQ at FTDNA.


17.  How can I get my GEDCOM to upload?

Some people have no difficulty uploading a GEDCOM to their FTDNA account, while others fail despite repeated attempts. If you are in the latter category, experience has shown me that the method outlined below does work.  (I'm assuming you are using standard genealogy software that will export a standard GEDCOM.)

To begin with, do not try to extract a subset of your existing database.  Create a new database expressly for this purpose.  While this may seem to be a waste of time, it doesn't take nearly as much time as you will waste trying and failing to get an "extracted" GEDCOM to upload.  The new database should have the following attributes:

Make certain the first person you enter in the database is the test subject, so they are ID No. 1 in the database (and, thus, @I1@ in the GEDCOM).  Also make certain they are marked as the root person in the tree.

Enter only 15 generations, including the test subject.  FTDNA will not display more, so there's no point in including more.

Enter only these five items:

name, birth date, birth place, death date, death place
Nothing else will be displayed and no one can download your GEDCOM so there's no point including anything else.  With regard to entering the name, don't bother including prefixes (e.g., Rev., Dr., etc.), suffixes (e.g., Jr., Sr., III, etc.), titles, nicknames, or alternate names; they won't be displayed.  If you want a prefix or nickname to show up, you'll need to place it in the given name field; if you want a suffix or alternate surname to show up, you'll need to put it in the surname field.  If you do this, be certain to use a single quote ('), not a double quote ("), to enclose a nickname; and be certain not to use a slash (/) to separate alternate names.

Do not skip adding locations.  Locations are important in helping your matchees decide whether an ancestor may be related, which may influence their decision whether or not to contact you.

Do not use "upper" characters, such as ø, ß, ü, etc.  They will likely display as "garbage."  I presume there will eventually be a fix for this, but not as of the last time I checked.

Include only your ancestors (viz., parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.), no other kin.  Do not include siblings, aunts, uncles, children, additional spouses, or adoptive parents include biological ancestors only. This tree is not your entire genealogy, it is your genetic ancestry only, your biological pedigree. If you are genetically related to someone, this tree has to intersect with theirs at some point (i.e., you must have a common ancestor in your pedigrees in order to be related). Don't make their search of your tree harder by including genetically irrelevant kin they have to wade through. If you want your full genealogy online and you have no web site of your own, I recommend My Heritage, which is affiliated with FTDNA.

With regard to privatization, I don't see the need for privacy here.  Your pedigree is not on public display and cannot be downloaded, so the only people seeing it will be your genetic matches.  I have given my full name as test subject and the full names of my parents and everyone else.  To make certain everyone showed up, I deliberately set the Living Flag to "No" for the entire database before exporting it.  If you don't want someone to show up, then set the Living Flag to Yes before doing the export.  Do make certain the Living Flag is set, one way or the other, if you want control over the individuals displayed.  Otherwise, FTDNA's software will decide, and you may get unexpected results for people who don't have a death date.

Lastly, even if you do not know your ancestry (e.g., you are adopted), please include a GEDCOM with your name as test subject and with a father and mother named, "Adopted."  That way, your matchees won't waste your time and theirs emailing you to ask for your pedigree or to urge you to upload a GEDCOM.

Whatever effort it is to create this special "lean and clean" database is likely to be well repaid in how small the file is and how easily it uploads.  If you continue to have difficulty, I can only recommend you contact FTDNA, directly, because if you follow the above, you've avoided all the reasons I know of why the upload might fail.  That is, I've never known a file created as I've described above to fail to upload.


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Hybrid Tea Rose by Mrs. Herbert Stevens (4 May 2008) via Wikimedia Commons.
Privacy Policy ______
Hybrid Tea Rose by Mrs. Herbert Stevens (4 May 2008) via Wikimedia Commons