The First Company To Offer DNA Testing For Ancestry
Although AncestryDNA and LivingDNA are the names that usually come to mind for using DNA to trace your family lineage, FamilyTreeDNA asserts itself as the pioneer in direct-to-consumer DNA testing for ancestry since 2000. It’s worth noting that FamilyTreeDNA now offers a health test called FamilyFinder + myDNA Wellness, in addition to other tests. Here are the three test kits they provide for ancestry:
- “Family Finder” autosomal ancestry test: This test examines autosomal DNA to trace both sides of your family lineage.
- “Y-DNA” paternal ancestry test (exclusive to men): This test traces the ancient family line of your father.
- “mtDNA” maternal ancestry test (available for both sexes): This test traces the ancient family line of your mother.
It’s particularly exciting to take the autosomal test to verify if the claim made by my father, regarding our Jewish roots, holds true. Let’s discover if he was right.
A Detailed Look at the “Family Finder” Ancestry Test
For this review, I took the Family Finder autosomal ancestry test, and I can tell you up front that it took longer than I expected to get from ordering my test to receiving my results.
Taking the Test
The test kit took around three weeks to arrive, but it was easy to use. The box contained two cheek swabs and two vials, a bag to place the vials in, a return envelope, an instruction booklet, and a registration form:
You just have to follow the instructions to swab your cheeks, swirl the swabs in the vials, seal them in the bag, then post back in the envelope provided.
You can check the progress of your test – that your sample has been received, that it’s being analyzed, and that your results are available – on the FamilyTreeDNA website.
The whole process took more than two months. However, I give FamilyTreeDNA the benefit of the doubt here and put some of the blame on the slow postal service. It’s called “snail mail” for a reason!
Reading Your FamilyTreeDNA Results
When the link to my results finally arrived, I could click the “myOrigins” section to see my ethnic breakdown presented on an interactive map:
According to these results, my ethnic makeup is 66% African, 22% European (centered on Spain), and 9% from the New World (i.e., the Americas). I could dig down to see more details about my African, European, and New World origins:
Most of this makes sense since my father is Jamaican (where many people went from West Africa), and my mother was born in the Dominican Republic (to where many Sephardic Jews were exiled from Spain in the 15th century). So FamilyTreeDNA has finally helped me solve the family mystery of my father always telling me that I had Jewish heritage.
Value Added Features
- Accurate percentage breakdowns of your ethnic makeup
- Additional historical background information about the regions your relatives came from
- A long list of possible living relatives
- Especially precise assessment of your probable ancient European heritage
- The ability to compare matching segments of your DNA with genetic matches
Other FamilyTreeDNA Test Kits Available
Although I took FamilyTreeDNA’s autosomal test, two others are available:
- The Y-DNA test (for men only) analyses the DNA on the Y chromosome that is only passed down from fathers to sons. It allows you to trace the migration patterns of your male ancestors throughout history.
- The mtDNA test (for either sex) analyses your mitochondrial DNA. This allows you to trace the migration patterns of your female ancestors throughout history.
Similar Tests to Consider
- MyHeritage – probably the most comprehensive ancestry DNA tests available
- AncestryDNA – an autosomal test with the benefit of having the largest DNA reference database on the market
- 23andMe – reports that cover more than 1,500 geographic regions
Separate Prices, Some Discounts, and Free DNA Data Upload
On the face of it, FamilyTreeDNA’s pricing is simple enough, with separate prices for the Family Finder autosomal DNA test and the (more expensive) Paternal Ancestry Y-DNA and Maternal Ancestry mtDNA tests.
I would have welcomed a package price for all three, but this would be of no use to women who can’t take the Y-DNA test. A further complication is that the Y-DNA price is only a “starting price” and there are two more (much pricier) options.
The price of the basic autosomal test was discounted at the time of this review, making it a better value. I could have saved even more money by uploading my raw DNA data from a previous test with another provider such as AncestryDNA, 23andMe, or MyHeritage. Uploading for basic results is free, but you have to pay a small fee to unlock all the features.
Payments can be made by major credit cards, PayPal, or (after contacting customer service) by US check or money order. There are no ongoing subscription costs, as far as I know.
My Experience Wasn’t as Bad as Customer Complaints Suggest
Some customers have complained that FamilyTreeDNA’s customer support is the worst, terrible, or extremely slow. Instead of just taking their words for it, I set out to see for myself.
For self-support resources, I found a comprehensive set of FAQs and a practically useless community forum.
When it came to communicating with an actual person, I never received an email response, but I enjoyed and informative conversation with a live chat agent:
My assessment, therefore, is that FamilyTreeDNA’s support is inconsistent.
Do One Thing, and Do It Well!
In conclusion, FamilyTreeDNA stands as a trailblazer in the realm of direct-to-consumer DNA testing for ancestry. With a rich history spanning over two decades, they have solidified their reputation as one of the pioneering companies in the industry. While their main focus is on ancestry testing, it’s important to highlight that they now offer a health test called FamilyFinder + myDNA Wellness, broadening their range of services.
While some potential drawbacks may include longer turnaround times for results and slower customer support, the wealth of ancestral insights and the opportunity to connect with DNA-matched relatives make FamilyTreeDNA an appealing choice for those seeking to unravel their family history.
How accurate is FamilyTreeDNA?
FamilyTreeDNA has 20 years under its belt and claims to be the best in the industry. Being around for so long, it has one of the largest DNA reference databases in the industry and has a lot of experience in genetic testing. I took the test myself, and I can say based on personal experience that I found the results to be very accurate.
Can you upload FamilyTreeDNA to different vendors? (e.g., AncestryDNA)
If you’ve previously tested your autosomal DNA with AncestryDNA, 23andMe, or MyHeritage, you can upload that raw data to FamilyTreeDNA.
How much does a FamilyTreeDNA test cost?
FamilyTreeDNA’s pricing is simple enough, with separate prices for the Family Finder autosomal DNA test (RUB6,480) and the (more expensive) Paternal Ancestry Y-DNA and Maternal Ancestry mtDNA tests. However, there are other tests that you can purchase, and the costs can quickly skyrocket to approximately $400 by the time you get to checkout. For example, the Y-DNA price is only a “starting price” and there are two more (much pricier) options.
Who should consider taking a FamilyTreeDNA test?
You should really consider this vendor if you want reliably accurate DNA test results for your European ancestry, including Jewish ancestry. However, you might want to look at other companies if you’re looking for insights into Asian or African Ancestry. It’s not that FTDNA doesn’t cover these broad regions in its analysis; it’s just that other vendors have a better (more specific) focus on these areas, such as MyHeritage and AncestryDNA.