FamilyTreeDNA was the first in ancestral DNA testing, and their product line reflects that. They offer a number of DNA test kits, separated by autosomal DNA, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), and Y-chromosome DNA (Y-DNA). Each of these tests has different levels, which test more sites and increase the specificity of the results. The company’s platform offers a variety of information on your personalized ancestry. As of now, the company does not perform any medical or health related genetic testing. Check out the full review of their offerings below.
FamilyTreeDNA – Advantages and Disadvantages
Here’s an executive summary for FamilyTreeDNA, and the full review follows.
- The oldest ancestry DNA testing company
- A large user database to compare DNA with
- One of the most thorough haplotype testing services
- Tests for both STRs and SNPs in various tests
- Has some of the most advanced Y-chromosome tests available (See Big Y-500 below)
- The company uses its own laboratory – uncommon among DNA testing companies
- The service does not test for health or medical information
- The service is intended to aid a family tree project, not to build one
- Some claim STR analysis is outdated and less accurate
Our Rating: 87.5%
FamilyTreeDNA Review’s Essential Data
|Can be used for||Genealogical and Haplotype testing|
|DNA collection||Cheek Swab Method|
|Number of SNPs tested||690,000 Autosomal SNPs
100,000 Y-DNA SNPs
Unknown mtDNA SNPs
|DNA sample stored||For a minimum of 25 years|
|Availability||Global Shipping Available|
|Price||Sliding Scale from $49-$500 depending on the test|
|Platform matching for family||Yes|
|Geographical analysis of ancestry||Yes, for both personal ancestry and deep ancestry|
|Special Features||Allows for integration between maternal and paternal haplogroups, and the platform has a Family Finder tool.|
|Number of users||Around 1,000,000|
|Ownership||Gene by Gene, Ltd.|
|Address||1445 North Loop West, Suite 820, Houston, TX 77008|
|Client Reviews||Few reviews online, ranging from 2-3 of 5 stars|
Company background for FamilyTreeDNA
The company that owns FamilyTreeDNA is Gene by Gene, Ltd. It was the first company to offer genetic genealogy testing. The company first formed in 2000, and FamilyTreeDNA is one of their main divisions. In 2000, they were one of the first companies to offer genetic testing kits for ancestry purposes. The company quickly partnered with the University of Arizona, which performed all their initial genetic testing. Their first tests were Y-chromosome and mtDNA tests, and the results were intended to help those building out a family tree.
By 2006, the company was thriving. They bought a laboratory and equipment, and opened the Genome Research Center in Houston, Texas. Using the Center’s resources, FamilyTreeDNA is one of the only direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies which can keep all their testing in-house. The company has also expanded their offerings to include a number of levels of test, as well as autosomal DNA testing. Below is a full review of their offerings.
FamilyTreeDNA’s Offerings Review
FamilyTreeDNA has a wide variety of ancestry testing options, for both newbies and people who really want to dig deep into their ancestry. They have three basic packages which test different portions of your DNA. The Family Ancestry kit is the cheapest, and tests only your autosomal DNA. The other tests are for Y-DNA (males only) and mtDNA, and can help determine your haplotype. Each test has a variety of levels, which can offer increased refinement.
The Family Ancestry kit is the most basic offering from FamilyTreeDNA, yet it tests a significant amount of autosomal SNPs. The test can match you to 18 different population clusters and 4 “blended” clusters. The Family Ancestry package comes with several tools to help you understand your autosomal DNA.
The first is the myOrigins tool. This tool provides a map and an estimation of which geographic populations your most recent ancestors were a part of. The second tool is the ancientOrigins tool, which gives you a deeper look into your ancestry, going back to ancient European civilizations. The Chromosome Browser allows you to visualize your chromosomes, and see which genes came from which populations.
The platform also offers a Family Matching feature, though it is unclear if the Family Ancestry testing kit allows you to match with others. Their database relies on maternal (mtDNA) and paternal (Y-DNA) matching, which they do a small part of in the Family Ancestry package. For more comprehensive testing of the mtDNA or Y-DNA, you must purchase a different test.
Typically, the Family Ancestry kit is $79, though it is currently on sale for $49 as a seasonal promotion. The kit includes a cheek swab, which is then mailed back to the company. This process is repeated for additional tests you wish to purchase, found below.
With maternal ancestry testing, FamilyTreeDNA has two main options. The first is mtDNA Plus, which explores two regions of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Once tested, the results can be view via FamilyTreeDNA’s website. Using your mtDNA, the laboratory can determine your maternal haplotypes. These groupings show large groups of people you are related to based only on mitochondrial DNA.
Using their tools, you can use this information to track your maternal ancestry, including possible migrations they may have been a part of. The platform also offers information unrelated to genetics, such as archaeological digs which are associated with your ancestral history. This test is $89.
The second offering in the maternal ancestry line is the mtFull Sequence, which conducts thorough testing of your mtDNA. This will further refine your genetic matches, and allow you to connect with other people which share your mitochondrial DNA. This test runs a bit more, costing $139.
Paternal Ancestry testing is only available for men, as only men carry a Y chromosome. This test has the highest number of levels, with over 4 different versions of the test. The most basic version is the Y-37, a sort of “foot in the door” to Y-DNA testing. The results from this test allow you to see your paternal haplotype. The platform also uses some of this information to provide information on how your ancestors have migrated through the world. This test is $99.
The next level is the Y-67, which includes analysis of more STRs. This level also allows you to track your paternal haplotype. In addition it allows you to join Group Projects, which are administered by various organizations to track ancestry. This test runs $179, but is only their second most advanced Y-DNA test.
The third package is the Y-111 kit, which tests even more STRs, and is most beneficial for directly comparing the relationship between two living men. Each man can purchase and take the test, and their Y-DNA can be compared directly. Since Y-DNA is passed directly from father to son, this makes for a very thorough paternity test. This test is $219.
Their most comprehensive offering is the Big Y-500. This kit tests over 100,000 SNPs, in addition to a wide number of STRs. While this will not improve your matching results, this information can be used by researchers and a number of third party platforms to better understand and match your Y-DNA to your ancestry. This large and comprehensive test is intended only for experts, and comes with a $499 price tag.
While Y-DNA testing is only available for men, it is possible for women to understand their paternal ancestry. Simply buy one of the kits above for your father, or brother. Their Y-DNA will have information on your father and his paternal history.
What separates FamilyTreeDNA from other companies in that regard?
FamilyTreeDNA holds the title as the first ancestry testing service. Their tests are based on testing short tandem repeats (STRs), as opposed to most companies which test for single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). However, the company has a variety of tests utilizing a number of methods. What really makes FamilyTreeDNA stand out are their in-house laboratory and in-depth tests.
Using their Genome Research Center in Houston, the company tests all of their own samples. This is a big advantage over many companies, which simply contract the service to a third-party lab. Their site is fully accredited, and allows them to conduct a variety of more in-depth ancestry tests.
While some companies test maternal and paternal haplotypes, they rarely test them as in-depth as FamilyTreeDNA. This is especially true of Y-DNA, as FamilyTreeDNA is one of the only companies which can analyze the entire chromosome (for a hefty fee).
FamilyTreeDNA compares to other ancestry sites in terms of their results offerings, which can show you biogeographical information about your family history. The platform has a family matching feature, which can be used to find unknown relationships and connect with those people. The platform lacks access to government records or a family tree service, but offers a solid amount of information on deep ancestry.
How it works, what will your kit include?
Included in the kit you receive is a simple cheek swab device. Swab the inside of your cheek and send the sample back to the company according to the procedure provided. The company will analyze the sample in their own laboratory, and upload the results to your account in about 8-10 weeks.
Understanding the results
The Family Ancestry package contains information on your autosomal DNA, and will tell you about which ethnic groups contributed to your DNA. This information can then be incorporated into a map, and has information about where the different groups you belong to are from. The two basic results pages (myOrigins and ancientOrigins) will give you different information relating to different timescales.
The myOrigins report will give you a percentage breakdown of your ethnicity, based on the 22 regions the company has identified. While this is a much broader view than many companies take, it is likely more accurate. The data is imaged into a heat map, which can provide a little more specificity. These maps can be used to confirm your family history and origins.
The ancientOrigins report will dive deeper, analyzing parts of your genes which came from ancient groups, such as the Neanderthals or Neolithic Hunter/Gatherers. This information can be explored to learn about possible migrations your family may have been a part of, and which groups you are a part of.
The Family Ancestry kit will also allow you to compare and match your results to other users, and can give you a determination of your relatedness based on these matches. The tool could be used to identify biological parents or the family of an adoptee.
The analysis of your mtDNA will allow a deeper understanding of your maternal haplotype, and allow the company to create a more detailed picture of your maternal ancestry. Depending on which package you bought, your results and matches will be of different tests. The better the test you choose, the narrower your results will be. This also means that the matches you receive through this test will be more accurate.
The paternal ancestry information provided by FamilyTreeDNA is some of the most comprehensive in the industry. The data will show your paternal haplotype, which is similar to your maternal haplotype. These reports will allow you to track your father’s family heritage, and show various groups and migration they could have been a part of. As with the maternal ancestry tests, the paternal tests come in a variety of levels.
The highest level, the Big Y-500, is likely unnecessary for anyone just getting into DNA testing. This test is almost comprehensive, and could be used for things like academic research and expert-level genealogy research. This package is probably not necessary for most users, and cannot provide an additional information on their platform.
Will your data be shared?
According to their Privacy Statement, the company will not share your data with any third-party companies. This is largely believable, especially considering the company has an in-house laboratory. But, this is taken with the caveat that FamilyTreeDNA can share the information with its parent company, Gene by Gene. Like other genetic testing companies, they offer you the ability to opt out of storing your DNA or sample, and will delete your information upon request.
Media coverage and user opinions
The company got a lot of press for being the first genetic ancestry testing company, but that was quickly overshadowed by reviews and competition. While a lot of the reviews rate it as mediocre at best, many also point out general inaccuracies. Although many of these may just be misunderstandings about genetic complexity, one interesting story stands out. In 2017, Inside Edition tested several companies using identical triplets, the ultimate test. Because they all have the same genetics, they should all yield the same results. That did not happen, and the results were strikingly different.
Other stories include the fact that the company was co-founded by Elizabeth Warren’s ex-husband. An interesting article noted that FamilyTreeDNA is starting a partnership with the company Vitagene, which means they may start expanding their health and medical related offerings in the near future.
- PR Newswire – Family Tree DNA Will Never Sell Your Genetic Data
- ScienceNews – What I actually learned about my family after trying 5 DNA ancestry tests
- PR Newswire – Vitagene Partners with Family Tree DNA to Enhance Product Offerings
- Washington Examiner – Elizabeth Warren’s ex-husband founded DNA testing company
- Inside Edition – How Reliable Are Home DNA Ancestry Tests? Investigation Uses Triplets to Find Out
The few users who have reviewed FamilyTreeDNA services online don’t have glowing reviews. On Amazon, there are only 132 and 46% of them are only 1 of 5 stars. Of these, many people claim that the company provided inaccurate results or seemed less robust than other testing companies.
On Trustpilot, there are only 13 reviews, 54% of which are “Poor” or “Bad”. This high amount of low ratings gives the company only 2 of 5 stars, but this sample size is very small. Users on Yelp found the company to be lacking. In 51 reviews, users rated the service at less than 2 stars. Many users complained of the company’s accuracy, claiming their results criticized their established family tree.
Users who are happy with FamilyTreeDNA mentioned the following points:
- The site uses its own laboratory
- The platform guarantees your data privacy, and doesn’t sell your data
- FamilyTreeDNA has some of the most comprehensive haplotype tests
- You can analyze both your recent and deep ancestral history
- The site has a number of tools for understanding the history around your ancestry
- You can use the Family Match feature to find living relatives
Users giving Ancestry a 1-star review mentioned the following worthy points:
- A general lack of customer service and shipping aptitude
- Inaccurate results, especially when compared to other companies
- The site and results are unintuitive
- With only 22 regions, the results are vague and unspecific
- Does not make a presentable gift
- Comes with confusing extra paperwork, some hidden fees
FamilyTreeDNA Review: Executive Summary
Reputation and credibility - 97%
Quality of results - 94%
Comprehensiveness of test - 98%
Level of professionalism - 98%
Pricing - 77%
As standalone family tree - 61%
Summary of our findings
This testing company has been around since the beginning of at-home genetic testing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best. While most companies have ditched STR testing as more expensive and less accurate, FamilyTreeDNA still mainly uses this method. The results can still be revealing, but many reviews online criticized FamilyTreeDNA for providing strikingly different results than other companies. This could be for a number of reasons, including the complexity of analyzing DNA in general. While the company does have a number of offerings other companies do not, these are really only for advanced analysis, and likely above the needs of the average consumer.