A Basic Review of the “Family Tree DNA” Heritage Tests

Genetic tests that determine genealogy are a valuable and growing source of genetic information right now with companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe offering a genetic ancestry test that links up to a database of 1 million records from others who have taken their tests. Each company uses their own database which seems like a real lost opportunity since it could be likely your long lost relative decided to get tested at 23andMe and you decided to use Ancestry.com. We wrote previously about the differences between these two tests.

Now that 23andMe has resumed offering health-related tests, they appear to be moving in the direction of “health” while Ancestry.com flaunts their family tree functionality and seems to be moving in the direction of genealogy. Since you cannot upload records from one company to the other, if you are really serious about searching for lost relatives, you may just have to purchase both tests. There is one other company, “Family Tree DNA” which offers genetic genealogy tests and they really seem to take the whole “genealogy” aspect very seriously.

Family Tree DNA – The FTDNA Heritage Tests

Click for company websiteFamily Tree DNA was founded by Bennett Greenspan, entrepreneur and life-long genealogy enthusiast, who left semi-retirement to create a test platform that would help him solve some of his own lineage investigations at the time. After founding Family Tree DNA, he then created Gene by Gene, a commercial genetic testing company based in Houston, Texas and then placed Family Tree DNA under it as a division which offers an elaborate suite of genetic tests for ancestry in addition to the simpler type of test offered by Ancestry.com and 23andMe which is called an “autosomal test”. Family Tree DNA gives a good description of an autosomal test as follows:

Our autosomal test is known as Family Finder. This test is designed to find relatives on any of your ancestral lines within the last five generations. Family Finder uses autosomal DNA, which is the mixture of DNA you received from both parents (about 50% from your mother and about  50% from your father). Because autosomal DNA is a mixture of your mother’s and father’s DNA, it is unique to each person. Both men and women can complete this test.

So that’s what we would call the basic ancestry test offering. The tell you who your DNA matches to in the database along with less actionable info such as what percentage of you is European or Asian and in the case of 23andMe, how much caveman you have in you. While all three tests offer similar value propositions, the Family Tree DNA test is different in that they allow you to import genetic data from their two competitors and find matches for free. If you have already bought a genetic ancestry test from either 23andMe or Ancestry.com, you can export your genetic data and find matches for free in the Family Tree DNA database by clicking the below links:

Click here to upload existing DNA data to find new matches

After taking the basic autosomal test, you can then choose to take some of the more advanced genetic ancestry tests on offer that help you better find out who you are related to like the mtDNA Maternal Ancestry test or the YDNA Paternal Ancestry test. Aside from the advanced genetic ancestry test offerings, the other value add of Family Tree DNA is that they allow you to serious research your genealogy beyond just what the test results say. They’ve founded an entire community around genealogy testing which includes a forum with +10,000 users along with over 8,000 “surname projects” as seen below:


A cursory browse through the projects shows a great deal off activity and participation. You can even create your own project website and let family members donate to help facilitate your research efforts. If you are really serious about studying your ancestry, and you have the time on your hands as well, Family Tree DNA is the clear choice here.

While Family Tree DNA is owned by a parent company, the operation does not appear to be under the constraints of investor pressure. The focus seems to be on community building, educating, and enabling. Ancestry.com on the other hand is owned by a private equity firm which will certainly want a return on their investment so revenue growth and profitability will be the focus. 23andMe has venture capital backing so they will face these same sort of external pressures. Family Tree DNA on the other hand doesn’t seem to have these external pressures. They can focus more on enabling their community to create crowdsourced content which will attract more users. Anyone who takes an Ancestry.com or 23andMe test and wants to know more can upload their information to Family Tree DNA and find matches for free. They can then take the more advanced tests and start learning from the community.

From an investor’s perspective, the ability to capture someone’s genetic information and attach a name to it, then to show where that name fits in a much bigger family tree, provides a tremendous value in terms of selling future products. That is the real value add here. Once one person takes a “genetic health test”, suddenly the whole family can be notified about your increased risk for any particular ailment, and then be sold treatments or therapies. At any time in the future, you can develop additional products and then sell them to anyone who has ever taken a genetic test, and their entire family. It’s just a goldmine of future revenues. As for which test is better, Family Tree DNA is the test to take if you are serious about researching your genealogy. Order the basic family finder test here for just $79.

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