Quick Facts:

  • Pricing: $59-149
  • Tests: Family Finder, Y-DNA, mtDNA
  • Wait Time: 6-8 weeks
  • Database size: 850,000
  • Collection Method: Cheek Swab

Most people want to know where they’ve come from. Whether you’ve been adopted by people outside your birth family or you have a genealogy that’s incomplete for whatever reason, a DNA test can offer some of the answers you might be looking for.

Some DNA testing companies offer answers related to ancestry while others add genetic testing information to their product lines.

One of the companies that offers DNA testing services is FamilyTreeDNA. The company has been in business since 2000, and it soon began offering DNA testing for individual consumers. Over time, the DNA testing provided by FamilyTreeDNA has improved, and the company has added additional options for its customers. Those who want a simple DNA test that gives an idea as to their ethnicity can get one. Those who want to trace their ancestry to various parts of the world can trace their paternal or maternal DNA to see how their ancestors migrated throughout the ancient and more recent past.

If you’re looking for genetic information from your DNA test, FamilyTreeDNA will probably not be the best option. It is intended primarily to help people trace their ancestry. Those who may worry about carrying genetic abnormalities that could affect themselves or their natural offspring will not find the information they are looking for through FamilyTreeDNA. If you’re in this group, you’ll have to get additional testing from another DNA testing company or from a medical professional to get answers to those questions.

Pricing/Cost Structure of FamilyTreeDNA

There are three different tests that are available through FamilyTreeDNA. As the name of the company would indicate, these exams are intended primarily for learning about ancestry and genealogy. The cheapest option is the Family Ancestry package, which focuses on autosomal DNA. This will help users find out what region of the world their ancestors came from. Those who purchase the Family Ancestry package pay $79 and can learn much about their ethnic origins. This Family Ancestry package is one of the least expensive in the home-based DNA testing field when compared to competitors like AncestryDNA and 23andMe. Unlike some other options, FamilyTreeDNA will not go into deeper genetic analysis that could account for certain physical characteristics and genetic disorders.

The second option is the Y-DNA package, which tracks a customer’s male ancestors. This can show where a person’s paternal ancestry originated from. It can also track where ancient people originally migrated from. The basic Y-DNA option costs $169, and it tests for 37 markers on the Y chromosome. This package should allow users to confirm close relations. There are additional options that go into more depth, but they cost more. FamilyTreeDNA is able to increase the number of Y chromosome markers in the test to 67, 111 and 700. These tests cost $268, $359 and $649 as the complexity increases. These Y-DNA tests will also look for the halpogroup that a given individual belongs to.

FamilyTreeDNA also provides mitochondrial DNA testing that will follow maternal DNA. There are two packages that offer mtDNA testing. The first, the mtDNA Plus package, is more basic and traces the basic halpogroup and migration path a customer’s maternal ancestors belonged to. This package only examines two regions of mtDNA and costs $89. The second option for those who want to trace their maternal ancestry is the mtFull Sequence package. This test comes with a price of $199, and will examine all regions of mtDNA rather than the two offered by the mtDNA Plus option. This package claims to offer better results for genealogical research purposes. Once a user has an account set up, it appears that ordering an upgrade or an add-on is a pretty simple process.

These latter two options that look at Y-DNA and mtDNA are a bit more expensive than the pricing other leading competitors offer. However, the competitors tend to focus on autosomal DNA. AncestryDNA used to offer these tests, but discontinued them. Users have been unable to access their previous results online since 2014. In this regard, FamilyTreeDNA has a relatively unique option for consumers to consider.

One benefit customers can access through FamilyTreeDNA is the ability to purchase test bundles at one time. The basic bundle includes the Family Finder and Y-37 tests that look at autosomal DNA and the male-specific DNA tests. The so-called expert level includes the Family Finder, Y-111 and mtFull Sequence tests. There are a couple of options between the two extremes, and there is no discount associated with purchasing more than one test at a given time. The bundles cost the same as the tests would cost if bought separately. However, those who have the money and want to get all of their results at one time could go ahead and purchase a bundle to avoid having to make multiple purchases.

Refund Policy

Customers have to contact FamilyTreeDNA’s online “Contact Us” form to receive a refund. If you want a refund, you’d have to request it within 60 days of your purchase, and you’d have to place the request before the test reaches the company’s lab. The refund would be equal to the purchase price less $30 per kit. If the sample reaches the lab, there is no refund available. Additionally, requests made after the 60-day limit will receive no refund regardless of whether the sample has reached the lab. Refunds would be applied to the original credit card that was used in the initial purchase, and they should hit that account within 30 days.

Why Use FamilyTreeDNA?

FamilyTreeDNA is primarily a genealogical tool. It takes DNA from people living today and compares it to other people living today to find relations. People who were adopted outside their family of origin, meaning those not adopted by grandparents, aunts or uncles, sometimes want to find out who their birth parents are. Many times, those who have adopted them will not have this information readily available for whatever reason. Perhaps there was a court order that sealed some records. Perhaps a child was adopted from an orphanage in another country. A DNA test could be a way to confirm relations between other people in the FamilyTreeDNA database. FamilyTreeDNA has a massive DNA database that allows people to learn about their relatives.

Additionally, FamilyTreeDNA can provide its customers with more information related to ancestors further down their family trees. Those who purchase one of the more advanced testing levels can learn quite a bit about their direct male and female ancestors. It’s possible to learn about the halpogroups that first emerged from Africa, when they left and where they went from there. Some groups traveled extensively over time while others were less migratory.

These tests can help people have a greater understanding of where they came from to give them a better understanding of who they currently are. It should be noted that FamilyTreeDNA does much of its comparison from European archaeological digs. Therefore those who have fewer ancestors from Europe will likely have a record that’s less complete than those who come from European origins. There have been attempts from people like the eminent scholar Henry Louis Gates to trace other DNA pools. Gates is most concerned with providing genealogical information for people of African descent, some of whom may have incomplete records because of their ancestors’ unfortunate position in the transatlantic slave trade.

Those who are looking for more advanced genetic information might opt for another service. For example 23andMe offers to test users to see if they are carriers of common genetic disorders that they might pass down to their children. Tracing your DNA through FamilyTreeDNA does not provide this option. Another source of information that is lacking with FamilyTreeDNA is the ability to trace certain physical features that are available with some of the other providers of in-home DNA tests.

FamilyTreeDNA Sample Collection Process

Much like most of the other options in the individual DNA testing market, the collection process for a FamilyTreeDNA test is quite simple and painless. First, you’d have to order a test kit through the company’s website. Unlike the collection process for competitors like 23andMe and AncestryDNA, there is no need to spit into a tube with FamilyTreeDNA. You’d simply need to swab the inside of your cheeks with the swabs provided in the kit. This is very similar to the dramatized version of getting a DNA sample that’s seen on common crime movies or TV shows. After swabbing your cheeks, you’d then send in the sample to FamilyTreeDNA for testing.

Waiting Period

As noted above, after snapping off the swab, you’d then mail the package back in the prepaid package FamilyTreeDNA provides with the kit. The company then states that you should expect to wait between four and eight weeks to get your results. Like other leading DNA testing companies, FamilyTreeDNA provides results online to an individual account each user will set up. The company will email each customer when the results are ready to view. This reduces the likelihood other parties might come into contact with the DNA results.

FamilyTreeDNA notes that kits shipped to the US and Canada should arrive within five to seven business days. International customers should expect their order to take between three and five weeks to arrive. Assuming a few days for getting the test from the company and then the amount of time necessary to actually perform the testing, domestic customers should be able to get their DNA results within approximately two months from the time they initially order the test. Those ordering from outside North America could reasonably expect their results to take about a month longer than those who order from North America.

The upper limit of the waiting period is tied to the mtDNA test results. Those who opt for the general DNA test or the paternal DNA test options can expect to wait for a shorter period of time. Those who order the simple Family Finder package should expect to receive their results in about two to four weeks while the Y-DNA tests take about three to six weeks to come back.

Results of FamilyTreeDNA Testing

The results you receive from FamilyTreeDNA will depend upon the package you chose to purchase. If you purchased the basic Family Finder program, you’ll get the information that’s tied to your ethnic percentages and the geographic regions your ancestors came from. This package also allows users to identify people who share their DNA through the maternal and paternal lines through its enhanced results. The Family Finder option finds matches from the past five generations.

FamilyTreeDNA claims to have the “most comprehensive DNA matching database.” This feature is supposed to allow users to discover their genetic matches and connect with their relatives through every family line. FamilyTreeDNA was a pioneer in the use of DNA for genealogical purposes. Therefore, their professionals are experts at this field of inquiry. The autosomal DNA taken from contemporary customers is compared to DNA taken from archaeological digs in Europe. This can allow people to know how much of their ancestry came from hunter-gatherers, Bronze-Age invaders or the early farmers that inhabited Europe at a given time in history.

By purchasing the additional tests that look at Y-DNA and mtDNA, the results can be refined so that customers are able to trace their genealogy more accurately through the halpogroups their family lines belong to. This can tell when their ancestors migrated from one part of the earth to another. The Y-DNA test will allow a customer today to see where his male ancestors came from and how they traveled from one region to another over time.

Purchasing one of the higher-level Y-DNA tests will allow users to access group projects that are tied to this genetic database. FamilyTreeDNA boasts that it has the largest mtDNA database on earth, and those who decide to purchase an mtDNA package will gain access to this tool. Mitochondrial DNA is passed down nearly unchanged from mothers to children. Therefore, this package can be a great tool to help you access your maternal ancestry and trace the migrations of your female ancestors the same way that the Y-DNA would trace your male ancestors back to their original halpogroup. Users can learn more about their distant ancestors with the mtDNA test than they will their more recent ancestors.

Features Offered by FamilyTreeDNA

Many of the features offered by FamilyTreeDNA have been discussed above. There is the basic Family Finder product and the Y-DNA and mtDNA options that trace paternal and maternal DNA throughout history. Another benefit that FamilyTreeDNA offers its customers is the opportunity to transfer the autosomal DNA information from other DNA testing providers to the FamilyTreeDNA databases. People with an account at FamilyTreeDNA can transfer the data from AncestryDNA, 23andMe and MyHeritage into their FamilyTree DNA account. This will allow them to search for new genetic matches more easily. A great benefit of this service is the cost. Transferring autosomal DNA data from these providers is free. There is no cost to those who have an account with FamilyTreeDNA.

After transferring the data, users can upgrade for $19 and gain access to the other features of the Family Finder program. This includes the Chromosome Browser, ancientOrigins and myOrigins. These features allow users to learn about where their ancestors came from and the percentage of their DNA that has ties to different ethnic groups.

Accuracy of FamilyTreeDNA

The FamilyTreeDNA site does not go into the accuracy of the tests it offers with much depth. It does mention that there are certain health conditions that could affect a sample’s accuracy in a negative manner. A recent illness that required an antibiotic to treat could cause problems with a test, and FamilyTreeDNA recommends waiting until fully recovered before submitting a sample. The specific example provided by the company is strep throat. A sample taken while a customer has strep throat could return the DNA of the strep bacteria rather than the person who actually submitted the test.

Other areas of concern related to the accuracy of a FamilyTreeDNA in-home test would be common with other individual DNA tests. Those who have known genetic disorders should check with the company to see if it’s possible to obtain a sample that’s usable. Additionally, those who have had a bone marrow transplant should check with the company. Bone marrow produces blood cells which could provide DNA that belongs to the bone marrow donor rather than the recipient who wants to have his or her DNA tested. Finally, the company’s website notes that people who have had facial reconstruction surgery that required the use of donor skin grafts inside their mouth could have trouble getting a usable sample. Outside of these issues, FamilyTreeDNA does not offer much in the way of concern.

There are concerns with all DNA testing and accuracy. No DNA test 100% accurate because of the way the samples get analyzed. It’s estimated that the testing performed on single nucleotide polymorphisms, more commonly known as SNPs, is about 99.9% accurate. However, if a test processes 1 million places within a genome, there are likely to be about 1,000 different errors that can skew the results. Also, like other companies, FamilyTreeDNA is looking at known references when making comparisons. The unknown references could change the data significantly were they added to the analysis.

As the knowledge of the human genome grows, this information will become more refined, and there will be more points of reference when testing who a person’s ancestors were and where they came from. Additionally, there is little variation for most European ancestries. As a result, there can be slight errors in estimating the percentage of a given ethnicity a DNA test will return. The existing DNA tests are quite accurate, but none can claim to have 100% accuracy when returning the results to their customers. There is always a margin of errors when dealing with DNA and genetics.

FamilyTreeDNA’s Privacy Policy

Like most other individual DNA testing companies, FamilyTreeDNA has a very robust privacy policy that states what they will and will not do with the personal information and data to which they have access. Customers provide their consent when they click the “Accept Terms & Complete Purchase” link on the purchase page of the FamilyTreeDNA website. By making a purchase, a customer effectively agrees to the company’s privacy policy.

FamilyTreeDNA collects data that its customers provide. This includes each person’s name, email address, kit ID, password, address and other such information. The genetic information provided by a given DNA test will also be maintained by the company. This is the way the company is able to provide the profile and testing results to its customers in an online format. The company will also maintain any additional information provided by customers in setting up a profile or in completing surveys provided by the company. An individual customer’s web activity on the FamilyTreeDNA site is also tracked through cookies, beacon technology and log files. Accepting the company’s terms and conditions allows FamilyTreeDNA to collect this information.

FamilyTreeDNA uses its customers’ personal information in a number of ways. These tend to be necessary for the operation of the service it provides. Personal information is required for such tasks as setting up an account and ordering DNA test kits. This information is also necessary for the company to provide the testing results. The company may use personal information to contact customers to inform them of new products or services that are available at a given time. FamilyTreeDNA also uses third-party ads and targeted advertising on its sites.

Users also agree to allow FamilyTreeDNA to use their genetic information for a number of purposes through the company’s terms and conditions. This genetic information allows the company to provide DNA matches with possible relatives although users have to provide their consent to allow this feature. The company can connect relatives through its DNA database. FamilyTreeDNA uses aggregate data for a variety of different scientific, historical and statistical research purposes. Additionally, in the event that a law enforcement agency requests genetic information, the company may be required by law to provide this information.

How FamilyTreeDNA Shares Personal Information

There are a few reasons FamilyTreeDNA might share a customer’s information. The reasons this might be the case are listed in the company’s privacy statement. Some of the most common reasons are noted below.

Users can set up their accounts to have their information shared with other FamilyTreeDNA users. This would primarily be the case for those who are looking to connect with relatives through the service. Those who do not choose to share this information can update their user settings to limit what gets shared and with whom it gets shared. Additionally, service providers might have access to some of a customer’s personal information. Common examples would include shipping companies or payment processing companies that run transactions for FamilyTreeDNA.

FamilyTreeDNA will sometimes share user information with commonly owned entities. Basically, what this refers to is any other companies that fall under the same corporate umbrella as FamilyTreeDNA. The purpose, according to the company’s privacy statement is to “provide you better service and improve user experience.”

As noted above, there are some legal reasons why FamilyTreeDNA might have to share a customer’s information. The company has to comply with regulatory and legal requests from government bodies. A customer’s DNA might be subject to a subpoena or warrant, and under these conditions, any company would be required to comply with the law. This is not unique to FamilyTreeDNA.

FamilyTreeDNA may also create special law enforcement accounts. The matches that law enforcement will be able to see are those user accounts that have opted into matching. Additionally, a customer must have not specifically opted out of Law Enforcement Matching, the user account and the Law Enforcement Account must have the same matching levels selected, and the user must be a genetic match to the DNA uploaded to the Law Enforcement Matching account. All of these stipulations must be met before FamilyTreeDNA will provide the Law Enforcement Matching account with any information. The reasons why law enforcement agencies might set up these accounts would be to identify a dead person’s remains or to identify a person who perpetrated a rape or murder.

If FamilyTreeDNA is acquired by another entity, the personal information of its users would be shared with the entity that might acquire the company. The promises that are provided by FamilyTreeDNA through its privacy statement would be transferred to the entity that takes over the service.

Furthermore, FamilyTreeDNA is in compliance with some of the more important Privacy Shield Frameworks. These are related to the US and EU and the US and Switzerland. These guidelines are intended to protect people through the collection, use and retention of personal information transferred to and from the US and any other nations involved. While data breaches happen in the corporate world, FamilyTreeDNA notes its commitment to using “commercially reasonable efforts” to protect the data that users provide. The company frequently reviews security and privacy standards and practices, and it also employs the use of secure server software. This software encrypts any financial information that users provide through the company’s website. Additionally, FamilyTreeDNA promises to only deal with other companies that meet the security standards that FamilyTreeDNA espouses.

FamilyTreeDNA notes its commitment to protecting the privacy of children. The service is intended for adults who have reached 18 years of age. Minors cannot open accounts, but parents or guardians can open accounts for their children who are between 13 and 18 years of age. Should a parent or guardian choose to open an account for a minor, they assume the responsibility for the security of the information provided to FamilyTreeDNA. The company’s privacy policy does not mention accounts for children below 13 years of age. This would lead a reader to assume that these accounts are prohibited.

One final piece of information that FamilyTreeDNA notes regarding its privacy policy is the fact that it reserves the right to change the Privacy Statement at any time. The company will inform users of any material changes before they take effect. This information will come via an email or a post to the company’s website, and it should give users enough time to look over any changes and make an informed decision on whether to continue using the service provided.

For any specific questions related to privacy, a customer should check the updated Privacy Statement. The current updated statement is available through a link at the bottom of the FamilyTreeDNA home page. Privacy statements can change frequently as new legislation is enacted. Therefore, a perusal of the most recent statement is a good idea before deciding whether to utilize FamilyTreeDNA.

Conclusions

FamilyTreeDNA is a solid home-based DNA testing option for individuals who want to learn more about their ancestry. There are several levels of service that users of FamilyTreeDNA can access. There is a basic Family Ancestry package that costs only $79. This tests only autosomal DNA, and it is a cheaper option than similar testing offered by some of the other leading home-based DNA testing companies.

Those who want to go deeper into their ancestry can opt for Y-DNA or mtDNA testing that looks into paternal and maternal ancestry. These tests go back to the origins of the human family tree. While these tests will come with a higher level of depth, they will also come with a higher price tag. The most expensive service offered by FamilyTreeDNA will set customers back more than $600.

Those who are looking to learn why they have certain physical characteristics will not have access to that information through FamilyTreeDNA. Likewise, those who want to learn whether they carry certain genetic markers that might indicate they are likely to develop or pass down certain genetic diseases will not be able to obtain this information. Therefore, those who want to access this deeper genetic information might opt to look at another option in the individual DNA testing field. For those who are just concerned with learning about their ethnicity and their ancestry, FamilyTreeDNA is a solid offering that’s also quite cost-effective.