The Ultimate FamilyTreeDNA Testing Kit Review

FamilyTreeDNA is one of the five biggest direct-to-consumer DNA testing services presently available. As the only service that offers all three types of DNA tests – autosomal, Y-DNA, and mtDNA – FamilyTreeDNA gives itself an edge against the competition.

Check out our guide on the Best DNA Test.

With affordable kits, their own in-house lab, and slightly more secure privacy policy, FamilyTreeDNA might look like an attractive first choice. Their range of products gives clients a wide selection that fine-tunes their results, letting you build your information with tests that become gradually more sophisticated.

FamilyTreeDNA puts itself ahead of the competition by offering tests and bundles that no other service can. Of course, prices also tend to soar as you rise through the kits which are recommended for more advanced and expert researchers. 

Albeit with an estimated database size of just two million records, FamilyTreeDNA is a formidable choice on the DNA testing market. Their wide test selection and in-depth results provide a deeper understanding of your roots and exactly where in the world you came from.

RATINGPROSCONSBEST FORPRICE
3.8 / 5.0Offers all the types of tests available as well as varying degrees of depth; faster results for autosomal DNA tests; highly informative results and intuitive tools for mapping out family tiesResults only become more accurate and detailed if you purchase more expensive kits; bundles don’t save you anything; information from multiple tests might be overwhelming to handle; outdated interfaceIndividuals hoping to discover specific ancestral origins dating back to haplogroupsStarts at $79

The Company Behind FamilyTreeDNA

Gene by Gene was founded in 2000 with the birth of FamilyTreeDNA. The commercial genetic testing company is based in Texas and is the parent company of the direct-to-consumer DNA testing service brand, FamilyTreeDNA.

Presently, the company has on-boarded several genetics specialists and even some experts from Germany to build their own Genomics Research Center. Here, they conduct research for over a handful of partner companies, including the National Geographic for their Genographic Project.

The dedicated, in-house lab established by Gene by Gene is where all FamilyTreeDNA testing kit samples are processed and analyzed. The facility also processes private tests for various companies and individuals who supply their own samples.

In this way, Gene by Gene does not dip into its pool of DNA profiles to provide sample populations for partners conducting research.

The FamilyTreeDNA Testing Kits

FamilyTreeDNA offers their testing kits as single kits or as bundles. They offer three different types of test, and their mtDNA and Y-DNA tests have distinct sub-types.

All of these different tests provide similar information but with varying details and specifics. Depending on your level of dedication towards your research, you might also consider buying a kit that’s more comprehensive and thus more expensive.

Keep in mind that different tests explore different areas of your family tree. So, the results you get from an autosomal test will be different from what you’ll get from a Y-DNA or an mtDNA test which are paternal and maternal specific respectively.

If you’re wondering which kit you should purchase, it’s important that you take the time to consider your needs. Understanding what you want to learn out of your test should make it easier for you to pinpoint a choice that can bring you just that.

  • Family Finder (Autosomal DNA test) – Best for individuals who want to learn about their ethnic mix. The test also lets you reach out to recent, living relatives.
  • mtDNA Tests – Both of the mtDNA tests offered by FamilyTreeDNA help you explore your mother’s female lineage. It traces all of the women in your mother’s maternal lineage to bring you to your maternal haplogroup.
  • Y-DNA Tests – Does the same thing as the mtDNA test, but instead focuses on your father’s paternal lineage. So, it considers all DNA from your father, his father, and so on.

Each test has its benefits, but there are also limitations. If you want to really get the best possible picture of your family history, your ethnicity, your ancestry, and their migratory patterns, a combination of different tests would be ideal.

But keep in mind that because the mtDNA and Y-DNA tests only consider the female lineage of your mother’s maternal line and the male lineage on your father’s paternal line, they leave out your maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother.

That said, there are some researchers who take the autosomal test, Y-DNA test, and mtDNA test for themselves, and then have their maternal grandfather or a maternal uncle perform the Y-DNA test. Their paternal grandmother or a paternal aunt then undertake the mtDNA test.

This covers all aspects of your family tree across all branches, giving you the most complete information you could need as a basis for your research.

What’s in the Kit?

Included in the kits are two cotton toothed swabs, a collection tube, a complete instruction manual, and the Release Form. This form is essentially a document that confirms your consent for FTDNA to release your information including your name and email address to users on their platform that match with your DNA.

Upon receiving your samples, the lab will take between 2-4 weeks to release the results for an autosomal test and 6-8 weeks for Y-DNA and mtDNA tests.

Compared to other services, you might say that FTDNA offers faster turn-around rates especially for their autosomal tests that can take less than half the time that other companies require.

How Much Does It Cost?

Kits are available as single tests or as bundles. More affordable tests analyze fewer areas of your mitochondria or Y chromosome. The more expensive ones explore greater areas to give you better, more detailed results.

FamilyTreeDNA’s range of tests include the following:

TESTTYPEDETAILSPRICE
Family FinderAutosomal DNA testReceive a detailed ethnicity broken down into percentages, connect with DNA matches in the FamilyTreeDNA database79
mtDNA PlusmtDNA testConsiders 2 regions of your mitochondira, identifies your generalized haplogroup and migration path, connect with DNA matches on your maternal line89
mtFull SequencemtDNA testExamines the entire mitochondria, identifies your specific haplogroup on the maternal line, connect with DNA matches on your maternal line199
Y-37Y-DNA testFor male testers only, analyzes 37 short tandem repeats (SRTs), lets you connect with DNA matches on the paternal line169
Y-67Y-DNA testFor male testers only, analyzes 67 SRTs, lets you connect with DNA matches on the paternal line268
Y-111Y-DNA testFor male testers only, analyzes 111 SRTs, lets you connect with DNA matches on the paternal line395
Big Y-700Y-DNA testFor male testers only, analyzes 700 SRTs and ~100 thousand single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), lets you connect with DNA matches on the paternal line649

Unlike the traditional bundle scheme, the bundles from FamilyTreeDNA don’t actually bring you any savings. The cost of the bundle totals the same if you choose to purchase the kits separately.

It’s also worth mentioning that all the prices for the kits are inclusive of shipping fees and taxes. So, if you’re buying a bundle, you don’t really save on an of those charges either despite all of the kits being shipped in a single package.

BUNDLEPRICE
Family Finder + Y-37$248
Family Finder + mtFull Sequence$278
Family Finder + Y-67 + mtFull Sequence$546
Family Finder + Y-111 + mtFull Sequence$637

Tools and Resources from FamilyTreeDNA

Just like any other DNA testing service, FTDNA gives their users access to several tools through their platform. These help you further your research and allow you to extract more relevance and worth out of the raw data that you get from the lab.

Tools and resources vary from service to service. On the FTDNA website, their tools include:

  • Family Matching Tool – A large chunk of the users who buy into DNA testing kits do so in search of long-lost family. For that reason, FTDNA stays true to its name by offering a unique Family Matching tool that streamlines your search.

This feature lets you build an elaborate family tree, incorporating information from any FamilyTreeDNA tests that these individuals might have taken. The webs of connections become more and more elaborate the more matches you link.

Essentially, the feature puts your connections into perspective. By plotting out each match onto a family tree, you get a better idea of how everyone in your family is related to you and the others you match with.

  • myOrigins – One of the ways that FTDNA tries to simplify the process of understanding your ethnicity is by way of their myOrigins feature. This tool helps shed light on the different threads of your DNA that represent specific Population Clusters.

Each Population Cluster is given a percentage in your DNA representing its prominence in your bloodline. You have the opportunity to learn about each cluster’s narrative to help piece together how you might have arrived where you are today.

There are a modest 24 Population Clusters in the FTDNA database, and although that might not seem like a lot compared to other services, they are highly detailed.

  • FTNDA Time Predictor – The FTDNA Time Predictor tool or the FTDNATiP for short, is a special, unique tool that’s specific for users who have opted to purchase the Y-DNA test in any of its variations.

Basically, this tool uses short tandem repeat sequences or STR’s in your DNA that match with another man’s in the database to tell you information about your most recent common ancestor.

Using powerful algorithms and accurate calculations, the FTDNATiP tool can produce interesting results that point to the Time of The Most Recent Ancestor, which is basically the generation of your shared common ancestor.

Comparing your results with more men in the same lineage can help fine-tune your results. If you’re looking for a long-lost relative or biological parent, then this tool can be of particular importance.

FTDNA offers a range of tools that can help elaborate your results. On your dashboard, these are divided into Member’s Information, Genetic Reports, and Project Administration. Under each category, you’ll find related tools sorted together for easy navigation.

FamilyTreeDNA – Is It Accurate?

This is a common question that many DNA test-takers want the answer to. How accurate are my results? The most important thing to keep in mind is that no single direct-to-consumer DNA testing service provider will claim that their tests are 100% accurate.

There will always be gaps that make it difficult to conclude with absolute certainty that your results are completely true. That’s because no such technology exists that can paint a clear, vivid picture of what truly happened during the times of your ancestors.

It’s also important to remember the way by which DNA works. Matches in segments of your DNA that resemble those in another person are an indication of a possible relationship. But even if FTDNA calculates the extent of the similarity, there is no way they can tell you for certain how you’re related. All they can say is that you likely are.

So when you get these results and these matches, you’re expected to do your own research to find out where these matches came from, who their parents are, where they live, and all of these other bits of information to find out how your DNA struck a match.

All of that said, FTDNA and all the other DNA testing kits like it provide you raw, uninterpreted data. Whatever findings are given to you should not be treated as conclusive results with finality. Instead, they should be seen as clues that should serve as your basis for your research.

Discovering your family history, your ethnicity, and your ancestry are all constant efforts that don’t truly end. The more information that these companies collect, the better they’re able to help you with your research.

With time, as FTDNA grows their database and resources, they might be able to provide you more tools and guidance that can further improve and define the information you get from your test. So, you can expect your research to go on for several years, perhaps a lifetime.

Confidentiality and Privacy Policy

FamilyTreeDNA is the only testing kit that delivers a Release Form straight to your home included in the package. The form requires your signature and basically gives the company your permission to share your DNA results and your identity with others on their platform.

If at any time, you decide you want to keep your information private, then you can opt-out of sharing through your dashboard. Keep in mind however that when you choose to cease sharing your information, you won’t be able to see any DNA matches on your profile as well.

Aside from that, it’s also worth mentioning that the FTDNA does not sell your DNA information to any third-party research partners. That means that all of your information will be kept within the FTDNA database unless you personally distribute it.

The Benefits of FamilyTreeDNA

There are lots of DNA testing services out there. So why should you opt to have FamilyTreeDNA handle your information? Based on our research, there are quite a few factors that set it apart from the rest of the available choices. These differences make it a viable choice for certain types of users.

  • Elaborate family tree mapping – There isn’t a single tool on any other DNA testing service as elaborate or intricate as the FTDNA Family Matching tool. With it, you can create extensive family trees that connect every single match on your profile.

What’s especially interesting about the tool is that it puts everything into a clear visual representation. So, you get a better understanding of how everything fits together and how relatives fit into your family.

Of course, the tool is also loads of fun to use. And because it also comes with a feature that reveals important details from any tests that matches have taken on the platform, it becomes easier to map your relations without navigating away from the page.

  • Every commercial test available – Another thing that makes the FTDNA service stand out is the variety of tests they offer. No other service offers Y-DNA and mtDNA tests, so individuals who want to learn about specific lineages will only be able to do so with FTDNA.

We also appreciate that the company had the practicality to break tests down into varying degrees of extensiveness. Not only does it bring down the cost, but it also gives users the option to choose the depth of the test they need.

For instance, some men with very rare surnames won’t actually need the full spectrum of their Y chromosome tested. So, they can get extensive, detailed results even with a less elaborate exploration of their DNA.

  • Free raw data upload – If you already had your DNA tested through other direct-to-consumer DNA testing service like Ancestry DNA, 23andMe, or MyHeritage, then you have the option to download that raw data and upload it to FTDNA.

Doing so allows you entry into their database for absolutely free. This means you’ll find new matches in their population of 2 million people, and that you’ll be able to use the tools available on the website for their paying users.

Keep in mind though that because the tests from all of these services are autosomal, you won’t be able to use Y-DNA or mtDNA specific tools. To gain access to those resources, you’ll have to take the test through FTDNA.

Areas for Improvement

Sure, there’s a lot to love about the FTDNA system. But there are some gaps in their service that could use some improvement. If the company can enhance these aspects of their system down the line, then they might just become far more capable of leading the industry.

  • Small population – It’s true – the FTDNA online community is strong and active. So, if you strike a match, you can be certain that you’ll be able to reach out and establish contact with relative ease.

The problem lies in the size of the population. With just 2 million tested members on their database, it might be hard to find a significant number of matches on their site.

It’s also important that you consider the number of those individuals who took the whole range of available tests. For instance, some only used the Family Finder autosomal tests, while others exist on the website because they uploaded raw data from a different service provider.

So, if you’re using the Y-DNA or mtDNA tests, you can expect that the available population to match your results against might not be as large. In fact, the number of FTDNA test takers is actually just 900 thousand, so 1.1 million of the individuals in the system were raw data uploaders.

  • Expensive – The best way to get the most accurate results out of the service would be to take more tests. Sure, the Family Finder test might look affordable up-front. But because it might seem limited in a sense, the best way to build on detail would be to purchase other kits to go with it.

Unfortunately, that could mean shelling out up to $600 USD for the extra services, which might seem steep. Of course, you also have the option to buy extra tests in future to enhance your results and add information to your research.

It’s also worth mentioning that it seems slightly impractical for the service to price the tests the same way regardless of whether you’re buying a single kit or a bundle.

Shipping fees are baked into the cost, but because you’re paying the same amount for bundles if you add up the cost of the single kits, you’re not really even saving on shipping fees either.

  • Confusing interface – If we’re being honest, the FTDNA interface is the most confusing, outdated-looking interface outright. The dashboard looks complicated, fonts are too small, and information is clumped together making it difficult to pick out specific details.

It definitely doesn’t help that the information you receive can be so elaborate, especially if you opt to take the different tests they offer. So, as extensive as your results might be, their interface makes it hard to truly appreciate the value of that information.

The Bottom Line

Now, the ultimate question – is the FamilyTreeDNA test worth it? That really depends. What are you interested in learning and what information is most valuable to you? Are you trying to find a long-lost family for the biggest family reunion ever? If that’s the case, then you might be better off looking into a service with a bigger database.

The FamilyTreeDNA service has a modest 2 million users, and that means that your matches will be limited to that population. If you’re looking for living family members, then there might not be enough of them in the FTDNA system.

But if you were interested in tracing migration paths out, discovering prehistoric haplogroups, and perhaps even finding how your bloodline developed from Y Chromosome Adam or Mitochondria Eve, then FTDNA’s tests can be immensely helpful.

All in all, they offer extensive service with a bounty of information that proves to be invaluable for genealogical research. But improvements to their database and interface can help further improve the user experience for better results and satisfaction.

REFERENCES:

  1. Limits of mtDNA Testing. Retrieved from https://genetics.thetech.org/ask-a-geneticist/limits-mtdna-testing on September 9, 2019
  2. What I actually learned about my family after trying 5 DNA ancestry tests. Retrieved from https://www.sciencenews.org/article/family-dna-ancestry-tests-review-comparison on September 9, 2019