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

January 26. 2016. 4 mins read
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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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  1. You can upload results from Ancestry, FTDNA and 23andMe to GEDmatch.com and look for cousins who may have tested at a site other than the one at which you tested. Basic comparisons are free.

    1. I’m not sure about anyone else, but I’m not keen at all about uploading my genetic data to an entity that says nothing about itself at all aside from asking you to register and upload your genetic data. Pass.

      1. I agree with you Nanalyze, I had my dna tested with one company, who recommended that I pass my results to FTDNA, which I did. However there was not much in it for me. I had hoped that I may have been informed of any news about what was happening with the results.
        There wasn’t much they could share with me unless I underwent more thorough testing and paid more money.
        In the end, I felt that there wasn’t much in it for me and wondered what was being done with my results?
        I asked them to destroy the results and hadn’t realised that my sample must have been passed onto them also.
        In the end I asked FTDNA to destroy the sample, (which they very kindly did)
        It does pay to be cautious and I still don’t really know what the results were used for.

      2. all of the suggested websites are shit. you have to pay for them all and none are free. you need a bank card number to see your family tree. they should do one for adopted or children whos parents have passed away.

        1. Nobody will provide free sequencing services. Maybe in the future when the cost drops, but not today.

  2. After an overly long kit-delivery period (in fairness, over Christmas) and a much longer DNA analysis period than either promised or envisaged, FTDNA did eventually provide me with (what I perceive to be) a fairly understandable set of results. As cited elsewhere, however, don’t expect these results to instantly identify those relatives and ancestors missing from your family tree. Equally, as inciteful as the results may appear at the outset, the amount of information available to you from FTDNA is somewhat limited (I can’t speak for Ancestry DNA or any other provider, as I have not used same).

    Far more helpful (to me, at least) was the wealth of information available to me from GedMatch.com (and, no, I have no affiliation with them or any other provider). Yes, you will have to upload your raw data to their site, but I found the resultant information to be far more informative and, specifically, more accurate than anticipated.

    I’m aware of the concerns expressed by some regarding Privacy issues. After some 7 years of researching my family origins by ‘traditional’ means, however, I’m also aware that I can (and did) ‘tailor’ the GedCom I uploaded to GedMatch and FTDNA such that I was able to remove any and all so-called Private data from that upload.

    As for the Privacy issue cited by others here about the DNA raw data istelf, the answer is simple. If you don’t want to find out about your ancestors, or if you would prefer not to be contacted by that 5th cousin you knew nothing about, then don’t participate; it’s that simple. Speaking for myself, I’m glad that I did.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience Frank! GedMatch claims to be non-profit but I couldn’t find much about who is actually running the site or what (if any) affiliations they might have. It’s interesting that you had the option to remove private data. I wonder how they determine what that is? This “private data” must not be useful in finding matches and must be information that is very specific to you only.


  4. I totally agree that family tree dna is a TOTAL WASTE of money. The basic family finder test is ok but paying the extra BIG BUCKS for the Y test is useless. I too think they misrepresented what they would provide. They did give me a look at results from thousands of years ago but coming forward no. My guess is most of us get the same useless information from thousands of years ago but nothing relevant to tracing back plausible ancestors!

  5. GO SOMEWHERE BESIDES FAMILY TREE DNA!! I was assured we’d get the results back by Christmas. I was guaranteed this by the company. It’s now Christmas Eve, and after logging in, I see the results wont’ be in for over a month from now, possibly not until February. What a failure and a disappointment! Do not count on this company, ESPECIALLY if this is for a gift! You could get your results back MONTHS after they guarantee you’ll get them. Major let down and highly unprofessional.

    1. Sorry to hear about that Joseph. As with any company, there are likely to be the occasional issues with delivery. We haven’t heard this to be a recurring problem with them but its best you just contact them directly.

  6. Family tree DNA has not lived up to my expectations.

    I agree with the others that there is a measure of misleading info as to what one will get for your money. In essence a lot of “package and parcel” with results that are of minimal value to the average person.

    May be fine for aficionados who are obviously passionate about genetic testing and genealogy and thereby invest what must be huge amounts of time and energy to study genetic testing and genealogy.

    If not, then the thing is useless.


  7. I’ve taken both tests. The results were very similar, but not exactly the same. I see they were done at 2 different labs too. What I need to find out will be nearly impossible for me to get. I KNOW I have a ‘blended’ great grandfather that will be impossible to find. Because no one will acknowledge the possibility in my family. I am 7% black. Both test confirmed this. Which means one of my parents is 14% black. Which means one of my grandparents are 28% black. I am pretty sure which one! It’s not hard to guess. The hair, the nose and the skin tone give this away. But that side of my family staunchly believes this to be IMPOSSIBLE. I am told that my grandmother had these features because she contracted ‘rheumatic fever’ as an infant which left her with such tightly curled hair. Really? Great. What about her other features?? She looks very different from all her other brothers and sisters, coming from a large family, that I believe her real father may have been someone other than my great grandfather! How can I find my family? My other family that no one acknowledges exists??

    1. Hi Lori,

      One thing we noted about these tests is that inevitably they will uncover some family secrets. When you say “my family staunchly believes this to be IMPOSSIBLE” then that leads us to believe that maybe there is some family secret here as opposed to the test being incorrect. These are very delicate topics and we can’t say what you can do to resolve this other than wait and see if other people take the test who can provide you with some additional detail.

      It’s pretty fascinating stuff technology these days!