Family Tree DNA Review: Everything You Need Know

Last Updated: May 23, 2018

Family Tree DNA Review

Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) is one of the most established and highly respected companies within the genealogy community. It is one of the only direct-to-consumer DNA test providers to sell all three types of ancestry-related test: Y-DNA, mtDNA, and Autosomal (more on these below). If you are serious about learning more about your ancestry, you can’t go wrong choosing FTDNA to analyze your DNA.

Review Summary

Pros

  • Very strong community and support
  • Many package choices that meet your needs (all three ancestry tests)
  • Offers an impressive set of analysis tools such as their FTDNATiP™ program and Family Matching tool

Cons

  • Family Tree DNA does not offer any health-related information
  • With so many tests offered, finding the right one can be difficult for newbies (don’t worry, we’re here to help)

Bottom Line

Family Tree DNA is the go-to choice for professional genealogists. Go with FTDNA if you want the results from all three DNA tests and do not need health-related information.

Family Tree DNA Rating by

4.5 stars (5 stars if your sole interest is serious genealogy)

Reviewed on

Pricing and Options

One of FTDNA’s biggest strengths is the number of tests they make available, but this can make choosing which one to purchase a chore unto itself. The company tries to simplify the process by initially giving you 3 choices:

However, if you do a little digging, you will find that FTDNA also sells “bundles” which give you a discount if you buy multiple tests. We think they make the bundles a little harder to find so as not to confuse or overwhelm brand new customer. You can purchase EVERYTHING they have to offer for around $500. But read the bundle descriptions carefully, because the Y-DNA tests can only be taken by males.

Another set of options makes FTDNA truly fantastic for ancestry testing, setting it apart from other companies. FTDNA offers standard Y-DNA and mtDNA testing (which test 37 Y-DNA markers and roughly 10% of your mitochondrial DNA, respectively), but you have other, more powerful options as well. FTDNA also offers Y-DNA tests that cover 67 or 111 markers. And on the mtDNA side, they offer a full sequence mtDNA test (covering all of your mitochondrial DNA). These more advanced tests will cost more. Right now, the 111-marker Y-DNA test costs $359, compared to the 37 markers at $169. The full sequence mtDNA test costs $199 compared to $89 for the standard mtDNA test.

Confused yet? Luckily, FTDNA’s website has an excellent explainer graphic that can also be found, along with pricing, by clicking on the image below:

FTDNA Products

Lastly, if you would like to learn more about the differences among Autosomal, yDNA, and mtDNA tests and much more, you may want to check out our handy Guide to DNA Testing

Discounts

Like the other DNA test providers, all the various tests FTDNA offers go on sale from time to time.

Submitting your DNA

Once you place your order, your saliva collection kit should arrive in 3 to 5 business days. After you receive it, you just activate your kit online and send the kit back in the prepaid package. It takes approximately 2-6 weeks after sending for your reports to become available online. If you are ordering multiple tests, such as Y-DNA, mtDNA, etc., you will get the results as they come in, not all at once. This is something that I appreciated the analysis of my Y-DNA were available after only 2 weeks!

Family Tree DNA’s submittal process is fast, easy, and painless. Unlike the tests of other providers that require you to spit into a tube, this company’s process simply requires that you swab your check twice for 45 seconds. In order to get the most accurate results, it is recommended that you refrain from eating, drinking, and brushing your teeth at least 30 minutes prior to swabbing your cheek.

Reports and Features

Family Tree DNA offers many different kinds of reports and features, and your options expand based on the types of tests you take. The more you invest in testing, the more you get out of it. Take the FTDNATiP tool, for instance; when you’ve connected with a distant relative who shares a common ancestor with you, this tool aims to calculate the amount of time from now to when your common ancestor lived. This tool is useful for genealogists but it becomes increasingly accurate as you invest in additional testing with FTDNA.

Here’s a rundown of features of broadest interest as you begin testing.

Family Finder

myOrigins screenshot

Family Finder is FTDNA’s term for their autosomal test. Autosomal tests are the most popular kind of DNA test. While they don’t take you back thousands and thousands of years like the Y-DNA and mtDNA tests, they give you the most complete look at your ethnic heritage by analyzing DNA you’ve inherited from the past 5 generations of ancestors. Reports include:

  • myOrigins lets you explore your ethnic heritage using handy percentages and map displays
  • ancientOrigins is a report you can use in order to explore deep ancestral migration patterns with helpful maps
  • Family matching is a cool report that lets you peruse and compare DNA matches from their large database, finding near and distant relatives

Y-DNA (Y-37, Y-67, Y-111---Males Only)

FTDNA migration map for yDNA results

Results of the Y-DNA testing allow FTDNA to share historical information and reports about your paternal haplogroup. This is an ancestral group with a common ancestor whose genetic code was the origin of a particular, unique mutation. With this information, FTDNA presents migration maps focused on your haplogroup, compared with other major haplogroups, and also connects you with distant relatives who share DNA with you. But best of all, FTDNA works with a truly impressive array of DNA projects focused on haplogroups. By connecting you with the people running those projects, FTDNA unlocks a new world of information for you to explore aobut your Y-DNA ancestry stretching back thousands of years.

FTDNA gives you a lot of power as a consumer to choose tests based on your budget and commitment to getting the most powerful DNA data you can. The 111-marker Y-DNA test costs much more than the 37-marker test, but the amount of data it tests (and what you can learn as a serious genealogist) is commensurate with the price.

mtDNA (Standard and Full Sequence)

The mtDNA test is for your maternal ancestry what the Y-DNA test is for your paternal ancestry; it traces your mtDNA (inherited from your mother and passed down from mother to daughter) thousands of years into the past. As with the Y-DNA test, FTDNA will show you migration maps and deliver information about your haplogroup and where it fits into the broader ‘haplotree’. But when your results are ready, you should definitely visit their ‘projects’ menu area and explore potential mtDNA projects to join. FTDNA makes it easy to join by showing you ‘matching’ projects—the projects that would be most relevant to you, based on your results. Joining relevant projects will allow you to make the most of your exploration of maternal ancestry.

FTDNA offers “mtDNA Plus” and “mtDNA Full Sequence” packages, depending on your budget and how extensively you want your data to be.

Other Considerations

Haplogroups

FTDNA’s haplogroup projects (for both Y-DNA and mtDNA) are arguably the finest example of online genealogical community involvement in the business, allowing you to take your exploration of your DNA results to the next level. You can really learn a lot of fascinating and enriching information by participating in a project through Family Tree DNA.

Privacy

Family Tree DNA has demonstrated greater sensitivity than some of their competitors, when it comes to to customers’ desires for privacy. Like other test providers, has a robust system in place to protect your privacy. Customers are only identified using an anonymous ID number and test lab technicians never have access to your name. Only you get to decide whether or not you want to share any of your information (usually in order to make yourself findable by other potential relatives). They commit to never selling or leasing your individual-level information to any third party without your explicit consent.

But beyond that, FTDNA also allows you to keep your anonymized data private as well. This data isn’t personally identifiable, but some people don’t want even their anonymized data to be used by third parties. If you share those concerns, then you can rest assured, you are in good hands with FTDNA.

Here is how Family Tree DNA explains in their own words its promise to never sell your data:

Database Size

We estimate that FTDNA has around 1,000,000 people in its family finder database, although we do not know for sure; for some reason, they’re one of the only companies that chooses not to make their database size public.

Data Exportability

Family Tree DNA really shines in terms of data exportability. It not only allows you to easily download your results raw DNA data, but it also allows you to upload your data from other test providers. Other providers like AncestryDNA allow neither. At FTDNA, you can upload autosomal results for free from elsewhere, and uploading Y-DNA or mtDNA results costs only a small fee. It’s well worth the fee, if you’ve tested elsewhere, because you can then benefit from FTDNA’s thriving haplogroup and surname projects.

Family Tree DNA vs AncestryDNA

For a look at how Family Tree DNA stands up to competition, let’s compare it to AncestryDNA. Here’s a clash of the titans, in terms of ancestry testing. Neither company does any health DNA testing; ancestry testing is the sole focus.

Types of Ancestry Test

FTDNA lets you take all three types of ancestry test; AncestryDNA only offers the autosomal test.

Community and Database

FTDNA’s community is robust and their haplogroup projects are really what make it special. But AncestryDNA, on the other hand, has a much larger community and by all accounts a database that dwarfs any other DNA company.

Specificity of Ethnic Regions

One of the biggest draws of DNA testing for many people is the ability of the autosomal test to give them the clearest possible picture of the rich ethnic tapestry that each of us represents. Here, AncestryDNA has an edge because they carve up the world into 150 ethnic regions, which is over three times as many as FTDNA. Some will complain that AncestryDNA and others have sacrificed accuracy in favor of trying to wow us with as many regions as possible. But from our standpoint, they do quite a good job with it, thanks to having such a huge database.

Price

This gets a bit tricky; as mentioned above, FTDNA offers far more testing options than AncestryDNA, so let’s compare just the basic autosomal test (apples to apples). Typically, FTDNA’s test is cheaper than AncestryDNA right out of the gate, but seasonal sales are incredibly frequent. Currently, a sale at AncestryDNA puts its price on equal footing to FTDNA’s autosomal test on its own. But there’s a surprise awaiting some people: in order to use many of AncestryDNA’s powerful and popular reporting and family tree features after doing the DNA testing, you must pay a monthly subscription fee. That kind of fee doesn’t exist at FTDNA.

Bottom Line

Choose Family Tree DNA if you are looking for a rich, rewarding exploration of your deep ancestral roots. Their testing options are unmatched and the haplogroup projects will help you make the most of your studies. They offer levels of ancestry testing that are kind of staggering compared to their competitors; AncestryDNA offers only the one autosomal test.

And if you want to keep your anonymized data to yourself—no third parties allowed—then FTDNA should be your choice. AncestryDNA is one of the companies that has come under fire for offering no opt-out.

However, if your goal is to build a family tree or get the most accurate picture of your specific ethnic heritage—and for many testers, these are the goals—then AncestryDNA would be an excellent and arguably better choice. They have more granular ethnic regional breakdowns, and Ancestry.com’s family tree interface (which you can tie into your DNA results) is hard to beat.

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