Steps to Managing a Successful Surname Project

From Terry's experience as a project administrator and the ideas that have been shared with us by other successful project administrators, we offer these tips for building a successful project.  We give special thanks to Emily D. Aulicino, NW Coordinator and Speaker for ISOOG, who has graciously allowed us to share with you some of the ideas she presented at the FTDNA 4th International Conference on Genetic Genealogy.  Her presentation, The Care and Feeding of a DNA Project, is the basis for much of the information presented below. 

Tips for Project Administrators

Learn to use the GAP at FTDNA       (You must be logged in as Project Administrator at to view many of the pages.)  

  • Access "Resources" in the dark blue bar across the top of the project's GAP
      • Read:  "Guidelines for Group Administrators"--important information about privacy, communication with project members, and other aspects of Project Administration
      • "How to" explains all the features offered to Project Administrators in the Project's GAP
      • "Interpretation" explains terms and answers questions Project Administrators often have.
      • GAP Quick Reference Guide
  • "Project Administration" in the dark blue bar across the top of the project's GAP gives you access to many tools.  Some that you will want to be sure to use:
    • Bulk Email--your tool to communicate with your project members.  Use this when you update the Results or Patriarchs pages, or when there is something new to share with the group.
    • Project Administrators--this is where you can invite a project co-administrator to join you.
    • Project Profile--this is where you can add or change the description of the project, add or change the surnames included in your project, and make sure the website url is correct.  Be sure to click "Save Project Profile"
    • Public Results Display Settings:  You can block from display the yDNA results of project members who do not have a direct male line back to the surname, but want to join the project. 
    • Welcome Email:  You can save a welcome email template in this frame so that it will be sent automatically each time a new member joins your project. 
  • My Account:
    • Change your password here
    • My Settings--Allows you to choose which emails you will receive about the project member's kits and matches.  Also lets you choose how to display the results on your FTDNA website. 
  • Member Reports
    • Member Information--access to information about each member of the project, with links to the member's personal page.  Also allows you to make a "Note" of any personal information about a particular kit or member.
    • Other links to all the information FTDNA provides about your project members and their results. 
  • FTDNA Resources for Administrators


Send a Welcome Message

  • The first contact is often the most important for setting the tone of your interaction with the project members.   You should be enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and helpful.  
  • FTDNA sends the Project Administrator an email notifying him/her whenever a new member joins the project.  
  • The administrator welcomes new members, explains our website and its resources, and asks the new member to provide ancestral information.
  • New project administrators assume this role right away as a way of making contact with project members.
  • You may want to begin with the standard welcome message provided by, but over time you will probably want to personalize it for your style and your project. 
  • Help project members become more informed about genetic genealogy.  Suggest they read the information pages at, particularly DNA Testing the Smart Way.
    You might also suggest they join the ISOGG Newbie List:
  • Explain your Sponsorship Program (also sometimes called a "scholarship program" (if you are not familiar with the General Fund at FTDNA, you can learn more about it by going to the GAP for your project and clicking on the link:  "General Fund Status" in the right hand column.)  For more information about establishing a Scholarship Fund, see Sponsorship Program below.
  • Encourage new members to share their pedigrees.  Be sure you have posted your own so that you can share it with them. If WorldFamilies is posting pedigrees to your project's Patriarch Page, send new members to this page for information on submitting their pedigree:
  • Encourage them to make good use of their Personal Page at FTDNA.  (Send them to our webpage "Your Personal Page at FTDNA" for more information on how to use the Personal Page 
  • For a sample welcome message that you can use, or edit as you wish, click here.
  • You can save a welcome email template at the GAP for the project so that it will be sent automatically each time a new member joins your project. Click on "Welcome Email" under "Project Administration"

Keep your Group Informed 

  • Make sure you let everyone in the project know whenever new results are posted on the project website.  (Learn how to use the "Bulk Email Members" tool on the GAP at FTDNA)  Try to interpret the new results as they are meaningful to the project, if you can, and suggest what steps might be called for now.  Personal emails may be in order for some members whose own results are affected by the new results. 
  • Let everyone know when a new pedigree is posted to the Patriarch page.  If some participants have not yet posted a pedigree on the forum, ask them to do so.  If you find a connection in the pedigrees, make sure the participants are aware of it.  Help connect the pedigrees to the test results whenever possible by showing the code identity number of the test taker at the end of his pedigree on the Patriarch page.
  • Answer questions.  Genetic Genealogy is such a new field that most project members have lots of questions and concerns.  You can answer many of them from your own knowledge, or with the help of our "Questions Frequently Asked of Project Administrators".  If you cannot answer the question, send it on to us at and we'll do our best to help.

 Arranging Testing   

  • Encourage prospective project members to order their yDNA test through the project's order page at FTDNA, to get a lower price for the test and to automatically become a member of the project. 
  • Family Tree DNA has a nice demo of their testing process

  Update Results and Conclusions

  • FTDNA will notify you when new results are available for a member of your project.   You may have taken on the job of posting these results on the Results Page of your project's website, or you may have asked to do that task for you.
  • has a new results tool that allows us to quickly and automatically update project's results pages.  If you would like to take over using this tool to post the results for your project, please email so he can authorize your use of this tool. 
  • When reporting results, we recommend you:
    • Group similar results together, using the same background "fill" color for the matching numbers.
    • List results by the "Earliest Known Ancestor" for the tester (this should be on his Personal Page at FTDNA and/or shown with his pedigree on the pedigree forum) and by his code identity number (or kit number if you prefer). 
    • Declare a "lineage" when 2 or more participants who share a common ancestor have test results that match.
    • Arrange a "Line Leader" for each lineage.  This person should be familiar with the family and agree to be the contact and coordinator of information on that family. 

Analyze the Test Results 

  • In the simplest case, analyzing results can be a review of the number at each marker to confirm a perfect match (say  25/25).  However, in most cases, there will some matches and some mismatches.  Results are evaluated by counting the number of exact matches and the number of mismatches.  (If the mismatches are one number apart, they are considered a “one step” mutation.  If they are two numbers away, they are considered a “two step” mutation, etc.  Typically, a two step mutation is counted as two mismatches.  In these cases, contact the testing firm for guidance.)
  • Most researchers want to know if they are “related” to another person or family.  (Current genetic theories consider that all people are related at some point in the distant past, but most researchers are interested in the period after surnames came into use, or a maximum of about 900 years.)    (If your results are border-line for these guidelines and/or you don’t agree with these conclusions when evaluating your results against known family genealogies, contact us to discuss the specifics.)
  • General Guidelines for Analyzing Results
  • Lineages, Haplotypes and MRCAs (Most Recent Common Ancestors)
    • A glossary of terms is available at this link
    • Lineage (or Haplogroup) is a group of Haplotypes, which are closely linked, but not identical. Typically, the Haplotypes are a close, but not exact match, such as 23/25 or 24/25.
    • A Haplotype is an exact set of markers, which is used to identify the DNA of one or more test participants. When two participants are from the same documented genealogy, their results can define the DNA of their first common ancestor (Haplotype)
    • If there is an exact match (such as 25/25) between the two participants, then a Haplotype has been established for their common ancestor and for all the intervening ancestors between the participants and the common ancestor. This is an important concept and result, as it aids in understanding the genealogy of a Surname and can help in matching orphan lines to known genealogies.
    • If there are mutations separating the two participants, then an exact Haplotype for their common ancestor has not been established. In this case, additional testing may be able to determine where the mutation occurred and establish a Haplotype for the common ancestor and a related haplotype for each branch carrying the mutation.
    • Until an individual has an exact match with another individual, the Haplotype applies only to him and not to any relatives. Once a perfect match is identified, the Haplotype includes the two participants and all the direct ancestors of both participants to the common ancestor.
    • Note that men from another Family of the Surname, who were not previously known to be related, may share the Haplotype found in a Family. This indicates that they share a common ancestor who lived even earlier. In this situation, the Haplotype extends through both participants to each one’s earliest known ancestor If the first round of data is inconclusive due to mutations, than additional Family representatives can be selected and tested to clarify the specific issue.
    • MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestor) is a term that is frequently used in y-chromosome testing.
      • The Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) is easy to visualize in a known family’s genealogy. He is the ancestor where the two lines of descendants merge. Ironically, this is the situation where the MRCA analysis can be the most confusing. MRCA uses the probabilities of Statistics. If the analysis provides a median or 50% probability that is close to or the same as the same number of generations in the known family tree, the MRCA calculation is “reassuring.” This is pretty unusual. From a statistical vantage, anything within the 90% confidence interval should also be reassuring. Much of the time, this will be true in known family trees, but there is a regular occurrence of mutations within a family which lay outside of the confidence interval. For this reason, we recommend against using MRCA calculations within a family tree.
      • MRCA can be useful when trying to understand how long ago the common ancestor of two unrelated men (or Families) lived. Again, caution is recommended, as the 90% confidence interval is often between 1-5 and 20-30 generations. This is typically not very enlightening. Use of the 50% probability as a specific answer can be very misleading. For most Surname Projects, we recommend against the use of MRCA or its inclusion in the posted data
      • Comment: Our Barton DNA Project does not use the MRCA discussion with participants. A significant number of Surname Project Coordinators are on record in discouraging the use of this concept with participants. That said, we encourage a Coordinator to do what is best for their project.
      • For those who want to include this information or to understand it better, here is a discussion.

Recruit New Participants

  • Make use of the "Tell a Friend" feature in the left sidebar of the website to increase interest in your project, and encourage project members to do so as well. 
  • Make personal contact with researchers you have met over the course of your traditional research.  Seek out the families that you weren’t related to, as well as those that are “known kin” and “believed to be kin”.  All three groups are important when conducting a Surname DNA Project.  The “most distant” “known kin” will help you best to define the DNA of your earliest ancestor.  You’ll likely want to take this opportunity to establish whether those “believed to be kin” are actually related or not.  And, the ones you previously concluded “weren’t kin” will help you define the other Families in the Surname if you choose to expand the test to all who carry the Surname (and it might turn out that those “aren’t kin” folks are related after all.)
  • Encourage every researcher you work with to contact their own circle of researchers - and to make the same requests of them to participate and to contact their circle of researchers. 
  • Recruit representatives of specific families that are important to your family project 
  • Recruit the key researchers who have their own network of contacts and may become line leaders 
  • Establish a "sponsorship fund" at FTDNA to pay for tests for those whose test results are important to your project.
  • Recruit a co-administrator – ideally, someone with different contacts and skills who is easy to work with. This will make your job so much easier!  
  • A male researcher can represent his own surname in the project, but a female researcher will need to arrange for a brother, father or cousin to represent her line.  A researcher working on a maternal line will have to find a male relative carrying the surname to represent the family.  
  • Utilize your Family Historical Society, Family Reunion, or other organization of your family name to help you find interest, participants and support.  (i.e. sponsorships, links & info on their websites, etc.) If necessary, start one  
  • Allow the enthusiastic members of the greater surname family to help.  It’s likely that they will identify Family Lines and contacts that are unknown to you.  They may even choose to sponsor participants to get information on a Family that is of particular interest to them.  
  • Post notices on the Surname Boards and Forums such as GenForum.  There are some good ways and some bad ways to do this.   Lauren Boyd posted a message: "How to win friends and influence List Admins" on Genealogy-DNA-L that spells out appropriate ways to use the forums, boards & lists.  
  • Use the new Surname Forums at WFN Forums or the  Family Tree DNA Forum .  It will be useful in providing updates to your participants and may help in your quest to reach more possible participants.   (Pick one Forum and concentrate all discussion) 
  • Be prepared with extra test kits.  FTDNA will allow you to order test kits on invoice so that you can take them to family reunions or when visiting relatives, just in case.  You will only pay for the kits when they are returned for processing.  Be sure you fill out the forms with the appropriate names, emails, and addresses when you send the kits back to FTDNA.  To order extra kits, go to the GAP and click on "Order Multiple Kits for Distribution" in the left column.

Identify the Appropriate Participants for Your Project 


  • Considerations in choosing the right participants
    • You’ll eventually want at least two representatives from each Family Line, but testing often starts with only one.  (In this context, “Family Line” is a many generation family group, not the 2-3 generations we normally call our family.)
    • Typically, there hasn’t been a large advantage in having many participants from a single Family, but each additional result does add detail and confidence to the results.  (If you find mutations between the initial participants of a Family, additional testing to isolate where those mutation originally occurred can sometimes be useful.)
    • There is usually little advantage in getting a father and son, an uncle and nephew, brothers or first cousins to both be tested, as the probability is quite high that their results will be identical. 
    • Of course, if someone “insists” on being included, their participation should be welcomed, as there is always some value added by each participant.  We know of several cases where a cluster of related men provided special and unusual information.
  • Ideal Separation:  The “ideal” approach is to have descendants of two different sons of the earliest known ancestor to represent the Family.  If they have matching results, they establish the Haplotype of the earliest ancestor.  (For most of us, this is difficult-to-impossible, but do get as much “separation” between participants as possible.   The next best is descendants of two sons of one son of the earliest ancestor.  5th cousins are preferred over 4th cousins, 4th over 3rd, and so on.) 
  • Targeting: Some projects target specific Families for testing.  Hopefully, there is a researcher known for each targeted family who can help identify and recruit the needed representatives for testing. Here is the ideal place to use your Scholarship Program.  Typical Targets include: 
    • Families of the Project Coordinator or sponsoring organization 
    • Families suspected to be related to the first Target List
    • Families who can trace their genealogy to the legendary home country or family seat 
    • Families who can trace their genealogy back many centuries, possibly even to the time when surnames began common usage (typically, but not always,  11th to 13th centuries)
    • Families whose members include the famous and infamous  
  • Approaching New Testers
    • Know a few previous generations of their line.
    • Show desire to determine a specific relationship or crumble a brick wall. 
    • Ask if there is a family genealogist. 
    • Offer to check your database for your family.
    • Refrain from mentioning DNA initially.  In fact, be prepared to have several conversations before mentioning DNA testing.

 Sponsorship Program 

  • The "FTDNA General Fund" is an easy way to set up a Sponsorship Fund for your project.  (See the link on the GAP for your project. )  The advantage of doing your fund this way is that FTDNA will allow the donations to be made with a credit card or a check, and the funds will be held in your General Fund until you tell FTDNA how they are to be used for tests. 
  • Establish your criteria:  minimum markers?, maximum amount for a sponsorship?, sliding scale for different tests?, proof of lineage needed?, requests in writing?, recipient must contribute for future testers?
  • Get help raising funds: 
  • Encourage project members to donate on a regular basis
  • Suggest contributions can be made in memory of or in honor of a beloved family member
  • Have an email-a-thon--Set the time, set the challenge, announce the pledges daily, and solicit matching funds.


Become the editor of your project's website 

o        Edit the pages any way you prefer, or use our Default Text, or use a combination of both
o        Post results using our new feature that allows you to upload your results table (saved as an html file) to the Results Page and to upload your entire Patriarch page, saved as an html file, to the Patriarch's Page.
o        Post pedigrees to the Patriarch Page, adding code identity numbers and contact info, organizing them chronologically and by lineage.
o        Choose the pages to include, the project's name, and other information to appear on each page 
o        Add links and other information that are specific to your project. 

For complete editing instructions, click here.


<<See the left sidebar for quick navigation to all the pages that help Project Administrators.