A Detailed Review: FamilyTreeDNA
FamilyTreeDNA is a DNA-testing company operating out of Houston, Texas. Despite its name, the company does not allow you to build a family tree file like you can with Ancestry.com and MyHeritage. However, the company does have some great options for ancestry testing not offered by other companies. For instance, you can test your mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) or your Y-chromosome DNA to track your maternal line and paternal line all the way back to the dawn of humanity.
This is a detailed review of everything FamilyTreeDNA has to offer. Read on to see all the ways you can use FamilyTreeDNA to explore your genetic genealogy!
Comprehensive Review of FTDNA Products
FamilyTreeDNA offers several products, all related to exploring your ancestry DNA information. Their Family Ancestry DNA kit is similar to the kits provided by companies like 23andMe, Ancestry, and MyHeritage, but their Maternal Ancestry and Paternal Ancestry tests can only be found on a few other DNA analysis sites.
Family Ancestry Test
With the FTDNA Family Ancestry report, you will discover many ancestral relationships based on the genetic variants you carry. The basic ancestry test analyzes your autosomal DNA, which includes all of your chromosomes except the X and Y chromosomes.
After you send in your DNA sample in the form of a cheek swab, the company should get results back to you in about 6-8 weeks. In your report, you will find two basic breakdowns of your ancestry. The myOrigins report will give you an ethnicity estimate. This shows you where your genes came from globally, and in what percentages they are represented. The company determines these percentages by comparing your genetic variants to a number of global reference populations.
The second report, the ancientOrigins report, looks at special genes related to ancient groups of humans. For instance, you can see how you are related to Neolithic Hunter/Gatherer populations, the Early Farmers, or the Bronze-age Metal Invaders. The report will also show you interesting factoids about the different groups, and how your family may have been involved in mass migrations throughout history.
With this product, you can also search for your living DNA relatives within the FTDNA database and you can view which genes came from which ancestors with the chromosome browser.
If you have already tested your DNA outside of FamilyTree, you can still search the FTDNA database for family members by simply uploading your raw DNA data. You can check out how to do this in our article on using FamilyTreeDNA for free.
Maternal Ancestry Test
While many of the features above can be found at different DNA testing companies for a similar price, few companies offer users the ability to explore their maternal line. With an mtDNA test, you can see your entire maternal line back through antiquity to the beginnings of human history. Check out this video on what you can learn!
As opposed to autosomal DNA testing, mtDNA testing looks at the genetic data you carry on your mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondrial DNA is a type of DNA that exists within your mitochondria. These energy-producing organelles are part of every cell in your body. While the DNA in each cell nucleus came from both of your parents, mitochondrial DNA is inherited differently.
During fertilization, sperm add their nuclear DNA to an egg cell. However, none of the organelles are transferred from the sperm cell. This means that all of the mitochondria in your body are nearly identical copies of the original mitochondria you inherited solely from your mother’s egg cell.
This form of DNA mutates slowly. Plus, because it is only passed on through the female line, mtDNA results can be used to trace your ancestry back to the first human populations. With this report, you can see how your family spread out of Africa and began to populate the globe. It’s also a great reminder of how closely we are related to all other people.
Like mtDNA testing, Y-chromosome testing analyzes a portion of your DNA not covered in a normal autosomal DNA test. While women have two X chromosomes, males have one X and one Y. Therefore, the Y-chromosome is inherited in a similar pattern to mtDNA in the sense that only one sex passes it on.
Similar to mtDNA, Y-DNA is slow to mutate and Y-chromosomes have been passed from father to son in every generation. Thus, an analysis of the variants in your Y-chromosome can show exactly how your paternal line migrated around the globe. You can also get the Big-Y 700 Y-DNA test, which analyzes a huge portion of the chromosome. Using your results, you can search for family members and other surnames that are part of your family tree!
Y-chromosomes are only carried by men, so only men can take this particular test. But, if you are a woman who wants to explore her paternal side, you can have a brother, father, or uncle take the test. This will show you the history of your father’s side, without you having to actually take the test.
What makes FamilyTreeDNA unique, compared to other companies?
The mtDNA and Y-DNA offerings from FamilyTreeDNA make it fairly unique among the various ancestry DNA testing companies. These tests find your “haplogroup”, which are major branches of the human family tree that represent migration patterns and change within the human population.
The site also gives you several powerful family finder tools. You can search for matches in your autosomal DNA, mtDNA, or Y-DNA. In fact, FamilyTreeDNA has one of the world’s largest Y-chromosome databases. If you are looking for DNA matches, FTDNA is a great choice because you can search using several forms of DNA.
Otherwise, FamilyTreeDNA is fairly similar to other testing companies. It’s reference populations are slightly smaller than other companies that are more popular, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are worse. Each company uses a mostly-secret and proprietary method of determining their reference populations, so this is a hard comparison to make between different companies.
What are others saying about FamilyTreeDNA?
FamilyTreeDNA has quite a few reviews online, and users discuss their experiences in a variety of forums. We have compiled many of them here, so you can see what people are saying.
In general, the reviews on FTDNA are mixed-at-best. Several customers have been extremely dissatisfied with the customer support provided by FamilyTreeDNA. Others complain that their ethnicity estimate did not match other companies, but this is to be expected because of differences in reference populations. You can check out all the reviews for yourself, found here:
- 2 of 5 stars on Trustpilot, with over 30 reviews
- 3.3 of 5 stars on Amazon, with over 180 reviews
- 1.5 of 5 stars on Yelp, with over 50 reviews
- See what the Reddit Genealogy community is saying about FamilyTreeDNA
Compared to other basic ancestry DNA tests, the autosomal test (Family Ancestry) is slightly cheaper than 23andMe ($99) and AncestryDNA ($99). It is the same price as the MyHeritage basic ancestry test ($80). You can see the price of the different types of tests FamilyTreeDNA offers below:
- Family Ancestry: $80
- Maternal Ancestry: $200
- Paternal Ancestry:
- Y-37 analyzes 37 regions of the Y-chromosome: $170
- Y-111 analyzes 111 regions of the Y-chromosome: $360
- Big Y-700 analyzes 700 regions, plus 100,000 individual SNPs (almost your entire Y-chromosome): $650
But, be sure to check the site regularly for new deals. The company promotes its products with deep discounts around the holidays, like other genetic testing companies. You may be able to save 40% or more if you buy a DNA test kit at the right time.
Who should buy FamilyTreeDNA tests?
FamilyTreeDNA may not be the most popular ancestry testing site, but it does offer some serious advantages for users trying to find familial connections on their maternal or paternal side. This may include amateur genealogists or even groups of people looking for specific connections. In fact, you can start a “group” within family DNA that is run by a designated project administrator. This can help you determine the relationships between a large number of surnames and lineages at once.
Use FamilyTreeDNA if you want:
- An in-depth, but relatively cheap DNA ancestry test
- To find surnames related to your paternal line
- Are interested in discovering how your family migrated out of Africa
- A platform for testing the relationships within a private organization
Plus, if you are simply looking to try ancestry DNA testing, their basic package is often heavily discounted. Depending on when you buy, it may be cheaper than similar products from other DNA testing companies. You can also do the family finder test for free by uploading your raw data from another company. So, even if you choose another testing service, you can still search within the FamilyTree DNA database for common ancestors and DNA ancestry results.
However, if you are trying to build an actual family tree, Ancestry or MyHeritage are much better options because they include the software necessary to collect and store family history information and correlate it with your DNA results. They also have databases of European and North American historical records, which may back your test results up with actual evidence.