DNA Testing FAQ

Why should I get tested?

You should get tested if it will aid in defining the DNA profile of your surname ancestors. When your DNA profile is combined with another descendant of a common ancestor, it can define the DNA profile of that earlier ancestor. When combined with your brother’s result, your test will define the common ancestor (your father). When combined with a 5th cousin’s DNA, your result will define the result of your gggg-grandfather.

For a man who has already had a close relative tested, there may be little value in his additional testing unless there are specific questions to be answered.

Of particular concern are the sole surviving male representatives of a family line. Once they are gone, their family cannot be directly represented. These men are particularly important to their family study and should be strongly considered for testing. Many families already have stories of DNA testing a family member who has since died, or of not getting a test on a family member before they passed on.

How useful will DNA testing be for me?

The answer will vary for each individual. For a man with a distinctive DNA profile who matches into a family whose profile has already been established, the result can be quite useful, as it can confirm his family and leave only the question of which members are his actual direct ancestors. For the man whose result matches multiple distinct families of the same surname, the result can be somewhat ambiguous. For the man who fails to match any other participant, the result can be quite frustrating. Over time, as additional markers and participants are added, we can hope that results for the latter two become as useful as they are for the first case.

Once I've decided to be tested, how do I choose a test?

You have a choice of three basic tests in the genetic genealogy field: yDNA for the male (paternal) line, mtDNA for the female (maternal line) and Family Finder (autosomal block DNA) which is often called the "whole ancestry" test..

  • Only males can take the yDNA (surname) test, which traces their father's father's ... father's paternal line.
  • Both males and females can take the mtDNA test, which traces their mother's mother's ... mother's maternal line.
  • Both males and females can take the Family Finder test.  It is most powerful for about 5 generations, identifying essentially all of your relations.  The resolution drops off quickly after that, meaning that only a portion of your more distant kin will be identified.  (you will have mostly more distant kin identified by the test - as you have so many more distant cousins.
  • You can also order combination tests.

Persons testing yDNA at Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) should test through a project, as the cost is a bit less for yDNA.  There is little advantage to test mtDNA and Family Finder through a project.

Here are the simple rules:

  • a man you are testing with yDNA must be directly descended from the (male) ancestor you are interested in researching - with no females between them (yDNA cannot pass through a female ancestor)
  • a person testing with mtDNA must be directly descended from the (female) ancestor you are interested in researching - with no males between the test taker and ancestor being researched (mtDNA cannot pass through a male ancestor)

How much does it cost?

Testing cost varies. If you know the surname you should match, you can probably get by with 25 markers. We have noticed that most folks who are serious about their genealogy will end up with at least 37 markers and possibly 67. If you are trying to match to a different surname without a paper trail – you will need at least 37 markers and will likely benefit from 67. One approach is to start with as many markers as you can comfortably afford and then upgrade later, as the need arises. You also have the possibility of going in steps, upgrading a bit at a time. Prices:

12 markers $49
25 markers $124
37 markers $149
67 markers $248
111 markers $339

Upgrades from 12 to 25 and from 25 to 37 ar $49, the upgrade from 37 to 67 is $99 and the upgrade from 67 to 111 is $129.

mtDNAPlus $49
mtFullSequence $199

Family Finder $99

The best way to be yDNA tested is as part of a Surname DNA Project. As there are some differences in the markers tested by the various testing companies, it is quite helpful to obtain a test from the same testing company as other men with your surname. When a Surname Project has not already been started, consideration should be given to starting one.

How do you protect my privacy?

Our approach is to separate the person providing the dna testing from the reported information. We use the FTDNA Kit Number. Only the person ordering the kit, the project administrators, and the FTDNA staff know his identity.  Or, you can completely hide the test representative's name or address - by using a dummy name and by sending the kit to the sponsor's home.  The people who your DNA matches will also be provided the name and email address listed for the kit. 

We report the dna results and tie them to the earliest known ancestor, the family pedigree (which stops around 1900), and the researcher associated with the test. It is up to the reseacher to divulge more info.

We will blind copy or forward a request for contact, but won't give out contact info except when the requester could have found the contact info on their own in their own FTDNA personal Page information..

The individual has the ability to allow comparisons only within the project. 

FTDNA has a good section on Privacy

I'm female. Can I be tested?

Yes. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) looks at the DNA that both women and men inherit from their mother's side. A mother passes her mtDNA to her children, but only females can pass it on. This represents the mother’s mother’s…mother’s maternal line. Your mtDNA result can be compared with another person’s mtDNA to see if you share a common female ancestor. Anyone can take this test.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) tests the deep maternal ancestry (think 1000s of years) As mtDNA mutates very slowly, it becomes a link to your distant past - giving you the mtDNA of your mother's mother's ... mother's line. By testing, you learn your haplogroup – which tells you which "branch of woman" you descend from on your maternal side. In addition to learning your Haplogroup, you'll be told of the mutations that are present. These allow you the possibility of locating those with whom you share a maternal heritage. Often, this is too far in the past to be able to link paper trails, but there are many mtDNA projects - mainly focused on geography or Haplogroup. Click here for more information about mtDNA:

Females can take the Family Finder test.  It is most powerful for about 5 generations, identifying essentially all of your relations.  The resolution drops off quickly after that, meaning that only a portion of your more distant kin will be identified.  (you will have mostly more distant kin identified by the test - as you have so many more distant cousins.

Additionally, you can sponsor a male from your surname family of interest. This allows you to participate in your ancestral surname DNA project. Surname DNA (yDNA) looks at the DNA that a man inherits from his father's (paternal) side. This represents his father’s father’s … father’s line. The y-chromosome (yDNA) results are compared with two or more men to see if they share a common male ancestor. You will need to find a male who shares a common male ancestor with your female ancestor to be y-DNA tested. This male must be directly descended, through males, from your common ancestor. Sometimes you'll have to go back up the family tree and come back down to a living male that shares a x-grandfather with you and carries the surname you want tested.

For example: Did your great grandmother have brothers? Did they have sons? Did their sons have sons?
Did your great-grandmother father have brothers? Did they have sons? Did their sons have sons?
Any one of the men you find with the above questions can represent your family with a yDNA (surname) test.
Here's a link to an inheritance chart at Family Tree DNA that may help explain more clearly: http://www.familytreedna.com/tc.html

Can the DNA test determine paternity?

In some cases, these DNA tests can be used to determine paternity and or questions about siblingship.. If the participant needs something that will hold up in court or as proof for any legal purpose, these FTDNA tests will not be appropriate. If you only wanted to know out of curiosity, then it could be fine. Here are some examples given by Thomas, who runs the FTDNA lab in Houston.

Case 1: Two brothers
This can be (partially) solved by a Y-STR analysis. If you can exclude a paternity from another man in the direct male line, this is usually proof enough to confirm paternity. If it is a mismatch this is definitely an exclusion of a common paternity. No sample from the mother is needed.

Case 2: Two sisters:
This case can be solved very nicely with X-STR testing. The two sisters need to match at one
allele of their allele pairs at all markers, because the father has only one X chromosome that needs to be inherited to both daughters. A sample from the mother isn't needed, but it could improve the confidence.

Case 3: A brother and a sister.
This is the worst case to resolve. Only autosomal testing is possible because the siblings have different sex chromosomes from their father's side. Without a sample from the mother I would never recommend to try to test DNA because the result will not tell anything useful. Usually the likelihood of a shared paternity (versus unrelated) is smaller than 90% which means in (at least) 10% of the cases you receive the wrong conclusion from the lab. So to really get a satisfactory result you should check Case 4.

Case 4: Three or more siblings of any gender.
With two confirmed siblings you may be able to reconstruct a partial autosomal profile from the father's missing DNA. Then you can compare this reconstructed profile with the third sibling. A sample from the mother is strongly recommended, because it will dramatically increase resolution. To be able to reconstruct enough unique allele combinations"

Are there any downsides to getting tested?

A possible downside is that one may not get the result that one hopes for, or expects. For many people, that will be viewed as additional information and they will continue their research. However, for those individuals where that result causes significant distress, it could be a downside.

What if I get back results I don't like, such as indications of a non-paternity event?

Non-paternity results did occur and they may be obvious through DNA testing when the result is being compared in a well-documented family.

There are several scenarios that fit into the category of non-paternity event.

  • One, of course, is infidelity, but this may not be the most common
  • Another common event was the unrecorded adoption. As there were many adult deaths on the frontier, children were frequently raised by relatives or friends, with the adoptive parents giving the child their own last name.
  • Another occurrence that fits into this category is the unrecorded name change - which causes the same confusion

Where infidelities or adoptions have long been rumored and now proven, there can be some satisfaction. Where an infidelity or adoption occurred in a well-documented family, identifying it helps in clarifying the DNA profile of descendants. Where the non-paternity event occurs in a family without extensive documentation, it can be very disruptive and prevent the participant from obtaining matches within the surname.

Will this test tell me about medical conditions?

Generally No. (The exception is the Full Sequence mtDNA test, which can provide some medical information.)

Will it tell me if I'm illegitimate?

Not unless your father is also tested. (There are other DNA tests that consider different markers that are more useful for legitimacy testing.)

Who has access to my results?

Testing Companies and Surname Projects historically allow the test participant control of access to their identity and disclosure of their results. Confidentiality is paramount in all testing companies listed here. You can share your data publicly on databases by encoding your results with a kit number and an ancestor’s name. This is sufficient for others, who have a genealogical interest to find and to contact you. In this manner, you can share your test data without revealing your identity or the identity of the testee, if it is from some one other than yourself.

Typically, the results are identified by a code. Only you, the Surname Project Coordinator and a small number of employees of the testing company can correlate your identity to your code number.

Most Surname Projects list the results of all participants together in a table, with most only identifying the participant by his kit number, code number and/or by the earliest known ancestor. A number of projects allow the participant to self disclose his identity.

Can insurance companies use my findings against me?

There is nothing in your DNA result that is of interest to an insurance company. Many DNA tests have a sponsor's name instead of the sample provider.  Y-DNA testing is extraordinarily specific to just the markers of interest to genealogists. These markers exist in so-called “non-coding” regions of the Y-chromosome. (The DNA evaluated in this test is often called “junk DNA” because of its lack of medical information.) The Y-chromosome contains very little genetic data, and those regions of the Y-chromosome are not tested in any case.

What about police investigations?

The forensic and paternity DNA test (CODIS) is a different test from the ones used for genealogy. Your result cannot be correlated to DNA samples used in police work.

Will the testing company sell my results to anyone else?

No. Each testing company makes a written commitment to you respecting your privacy. You have to sign a release to even get your results compared to other participants in their database.

Will I find out I'm a different race?

I am not sure whether this is a hope, a fear, or a curiosity. We sometimes run across a white American who is absolutely sure of his paternal heritage who has an African result. As the Roman soldiers were from all over their Empire, including Africa, it is easy to imagine an African-born soldier settling in Northern Europe nearly 2000 years ago, taking a local wife and having a son, who had a son, ... and so on. After so many generations, that man looks as Northern European as anyone can,. but still carries the yDNA of that ancient ancestor.  A portion od slave descendants will carry a european signature.

What will my yDNA results look like?

The appearance varies by testing company, but the critical information typically comes in a simple table. The result is primarily a listing of the markers that have been tested, plus a number for each marker. Click here to see the results for Participants of Barton Lineage II Project. (The Markers are listed in the first two gray rows, while results for Participants A-48, B-2, … are shown in rows down the chart.)

How do I interpret my results?

Generally, you interpret your results by comparing them with the results of other participants. (See Understand Your Results.)

How do I compare my results to other people?

Results are compared by tabulating the number of “matches” you have with one other participant. A comparison for a low-resolution test might give a result of 8/12, 11/12 or 12/12 or 23/25, while a higher resolution test might result in a 34/37, 65/67 or 103/111 result. (If you have a 37 marker test and are comparing with someone who had a 12 marker test, the best result that you can have with them is 12/12)

In the Barton Lineage II example, A-48 and B-2 are 26/26 matches, which indicates that they share a common early ancestor. The same A-48 is a 25/26 match to B-4, B-33 & C-17, who are only 24/26 matches with each other. All of these men share a common early ancestor. Another example from this page is A-22 and A-52, who are only 4/26 and who do not share a common ancestor

How do I test for Jewish ancestry?

In order to test for Jewish ancestry, you will need to have just the right connection between the ancestor you believe was Jewish and the person being tested. As the Jewish tradition is handed down through the mother, you would first consider the mtDNA test, which tests your mother's mother's ... mother's maternal ancestry.

For a male Jewish ancestor, you will use the yDNA test. If there is any female in the direct line between the man being tested and this Jewish ancestor, you will be testing some other ancestor's yDNA and will not get what you seek. yDNA is passed from a father to his sons.

Here is what FTDNA has to say: "Jewish ancestry is not an exact result. By way of comparison we can see whether or not the direct line being tested is likely to be Jewish in origin. We have the largest Jewish ancestry database of this kind. This comparison is included on the recent ancestral origins page. There are 4 scenarios for individuals who think there may be Jewish origins: mainly matches who have listed Jewish origins (indicates probably of Jewish origins), some matches who have listed Jewish ancestry and some who have not (tougher to call, Bennett can help answer some of these questions), has matches, but not of Jewish origin (probably not Jewish in origin), or no matches at all. The last case, means you're not matching anyone of Jewish origins when compared against the database, but you are also not matching anyone of non-Jewish origins. This is a "wait and see" situation in most cases. There is a Cohen Modal Haplotype that we automatically compare everyone against. It is a 12 marker set of results. If you match this haplotype we put a CMH badge on your personal page which is linked to information on what that means."

We suggest that you work through the Jewish Heritage Project. (Click on "Projects" at the top of the page and then scroll down to "Dual Geographic Projects", then click on "J" then "Jewish Heritage Proj")

How do I test for Native American ancestry?

In order to test for Native American ancestry, you will need to have just the right connection between the ancestor you believe was Native American and the person being tested.

For a female Native American ancestor, you will use the mtDNA test. You will need to locate a person whose mother's mother's ... mother is the targeted Native American. If there is any male in the direct line between the person being tested and this ancestor, you will be testing some other ancestor's mtDNA and will not get what you seek. mtDNA is passed from a mother to her children. Men carry their mother's mtDNA, but cannot pass it on.

For a male Native American ancestor, you will use the yDNA test. You will need to locate a man whose father's father's ... father is the targeted Native American. If there is any female in the direct line between the man being tested and this ancestor, you will be testing some other ancestor's yDNA and will not get what you seek. yDNA is passed from a father to his sons. Women do not carry yDNA at all.

The Family Finder test provides a section called "Population Finder" which provides an estimate of heritage based on geography.

Which company should I choose for testing?

It's completely your choice. Family Tree DNA hosts more Surname DNA Projects than any other testing company. WorldFamilies.net has chosen to partner with them because of the value of their unique markers to our tests, their extremely responsive customer service and the additional information and services that come with the actual test.  There are other testing companies.  If your Surname project is operating from FTDNA, you will be at a disadvantage when testing at another company, though FTDNA will transfer results from some testing companies for a fee.

How do I order a test from FTDNA?

You can go to any page of the World Families website (www.worldfamilies.net) and click on the link in the navigation menu across the top of the page that says "Order Test". Or you can go to your surname project's website and click on the link that says "Order" in the light gray navigation bar across the top of the page.

What will I learn from a 12-marker test?

The basic $49 test tells you your deep ancestry (called Haplogroup - think 1,000s and 10,000s of years). The haplogroup will give you an idea of the migrations of your ancestral family from earliest times and can confirm Native American, African or Jewish ancestry.

In addition, you can identify families that do not share a recent common ancestor with you and can usually confirm known paper trails. It will also provide an indication of the families who may share a recent common ancestor with you.

A 12 marker test is insufficient for broad genealogical purposes, for confirming relationship to families where there is no connecting paper trail, or confirming relations with different surnames. These goals require more markers

How do I fill out the FTDNA order form?

The order form is in two parts that you can think of as pages.

First Page:

  • Ordering for yourself
    1. Put your name as the person being tested. This is also the name that will be on the Certificate.
    2. Fill out the 2-page form, being sure to include your email address
    3. Choose to either pay now, or have an invoice sent to you
  • Ordering for another person
    1. If you want the kit sent directly to the person being tested, list their address.
    2. If you want the kit sent to you, list their name and then put c/o (your name) in the first address box and your regular mailing address, beginning with the second address box.)
    3. Put your email address in the first position, as this is how you will know control the kit. (Be sure the person you sponsor includes your email address if they place the order)
    4. You can list the email address of the person you are sponsoring in the second email address field.
    5. If you have someone who is terribly concerned about their privacy, you can list your own name in the order or you can list the name of their earliest ancestor. (When the kit isn’t in the tester's name or address, they aren’t associated with the sample other than through your knowledge. )

Second Page:

  • You choose to pay by credit card or invoice.
    1. If you pay by credit card - fill out the info - and you're all done.
    2. If you want to pay by check, you list your address in the second page so they can send you the invoice