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FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions


This is intended to be a series of broad-based answers to questions that occur quite often on our Activity Feed.  If you don't find the answer you're looking for, please feel free to ask for more specific details by posting your question on the Feed.

Why should I test YDNA?
What are STRs and how are they used?
What are Y SNPs and how are they used?
At what level should I test and should I consider BigY?
What should I do with my Big Y results?
Should I upgrade Y STRs, even if I have limited or no matches?
What are SNP Packs and which should I consider?
What are terminal SNPs; Novel SNPs; & Private SNPs?
Why are my FTDNA Account Profile Settings so important?



Why should I test YDNA?

If you're searching for historical paternal links, YDNA testing is the standard.  The Y chromosome can only be passed from father to son and as such is passed almost completely unchanged. Changes or mutations occur every couple of generations but those mutations are also passed on giving each male lineage a unique signature that grows in uniqueness over the generations. The mutations can be thought of as a path of bread crumbs or footprints in the snow that never wash away. As we follow the path back through the woods we can find common paternal ancestors with other people and potentially origins information.

Comparisons between potentially related people allows us to build a descendants tree back to a common ancestor. This can be used as a proof for genealogical records but can go way back into ancient times to help us understand where our people came from as well as where & how they traveled. Your YDNA has tremendous potential to reliably track paternal lineages from the ancient times to the present. This is substantially beyond autosomal DNA testing capabilities, wherein DNA mixing between parents after a few generations makes it difficult to reliably determine accurate relationships. Remember, YDNA testing relates only to the paternal side of your family tree e.g., great grandfather > grandfather > father > son > grandson.

Quite often people ask, "why don't I have any YDNA matches?"  And most often, it's because their paternal ancestors have yet to test or at least haven't tested to the same level (as you have). Think of this as a team sport. You have to get others potentially related to take the same tests as you before they can be found in the database. This is why the size of the matching database and recruiting efforts are so important.  The key is to find male relatives, male cousins and uncles, and get them deeply Y DNA tested while you can.
www.familytreedna.com/why-ftdna.aspx



What are STRs and how are they used?

STRs - Short Tandem Repeats:

A short tandem repeat (STR) occurs when a pattern of two or more nucleotides are repeated and the repeated sequences are directly adjacent to each other.  So, in testing YDNA, FTDNA examines known locations on the Y chromosome to determine the number of STRs present at each location.  Each repeat is noted, counted and reported.  These repeats are shown at each location tested.  

In your YSTR results for example, FTDNA labels each location as "Marker" (i.e., DYS393) and the number of repeats as "Value" (i.e., 13).  Each individual contains a unique pattern of STRs.  When values at each marker line up closely between 2 persons, one can quite readily assume there is a patrilineal relationship between them.  Testing YDNA STRs at the Y111 level is recommended as it provides testers with the optimal number of tested markers.  In essence, the Y111 test defines a person's YDNA signature.  More about STRs below.



What are Y SNPs and how are they used?

SNPs - Single Nuclear Polymorphisms:

A SNP is simply a change in the DNA code at a specific point on the chromosome.  For example, the DNA code ATCG may mutate to ATGC.  These mutations happen over time and provide definition to the paternal lineage tree of mankind.  Within this "over-time" context, changing SNPs establish new branches on the tree.  Male testers are assigned to tree branches (also called clades or subclades) as SNPs are tested and the presence of mutations are confirmed.  

For example, through initial STR testing, FTDNA may confirm a persons haplogroup as E and his presence on the tree at the E-M35 Clade - where M35 is the defining SNP.  This place on the tree reflects commonality approximately 35000 years ago. As time progresses, SNPs mutate and paternal lineages continue onward each according to their specific mutations. For members of the E haplogroup, one may mutate to follow the E-V13 pathway and yet another, both with common ancestry at E-M35 could mutate in another manner so as to follow the E-Z827 pathway.  SNPs are generally very stable, making for a highly reliable tree over a long period of time.  At the same time, their mutations provide great branching resolution.  The formation of a subclade defined by a mutated SNP is regularly estimated in YFull within the term "Formed" as found on their haplotree at a specific SNP.

SNP testing is beneficial in that SNPs can document a YDNA tree that is relatively accurate and comprehensive from ancient to current genealogy.  Although, as people test, new branches (subclades) are exposed every day.  SNPs also provide an estimation for when a person's common ancestor (within a given subclade) can be determined.  This is called "Time to Most Recent Common Ancestor."  However, since mutations do occur in fits and starts, we cannot define exactly when they occur. So we rely on statistical methods provide the best interpretation of time periods and occurrences therein.   More about SNPs below.



At what level should I test and should I consider BigY?

Deciding to test at the BigY level is probably the most important YDNA decision you can make.  By providing results tailored specifically for you and by generating extensive data for ongoing scientific endeavors, testing at the BigY level has a tremendous two-pronged value.  Having said that, BigY testing still may not be for everyone.  Members are consistently advised to take the time to generate their goals and objectives before embarking on a testing regime.  Your personal goals and objectives should always drive your testing strategies.  For example, if your goal is to advance science and at the same time perhaps discover ancient patrilineal ties, one should consider BigY.  On the other hand, if your goal is to simply determine if your neighbor is your birth father, then no, BigY may not be a cost-effective means to meet your goal.  There are, of course, many optional goals so we strongly recommend that members work with Project Administrators to determine the most effective course of testing.


In general, YDNA STR testing should begin no lower than the Y37 level.  Y67 is quickly becoming the beginning standard and Y111 the "signature" standard.  Of course the availability of funds will often drive one's decision making.  There is substantial data which shows that over time the most cost-effective STR tests end up being those with the highest up-front costs.  The lesson here is, if you are seriously searching for answers, and can afford to test at the signature level, do so. Results from the Y111 level form the basis of your DNA profile from which your direct ancestors and progeny alike share with one another.  More about STRs below.

A word of caution here.  Your STR test results at any level will include a defined haplogroup such as I, R, E, J, etc. plus a projected subclade to which you belong...historically.  For example, this information could be provided as E-M35 where E is your haplogroup and M35 the SNP which defines your projected subclade designated as E-M35.  Generally, this early projection will remain the same regardless of whether you test STRs at the lowest level or the highest level.  To bring your subclade into a current perspective, SNP testing is necessary...testing additional STRs will not confirm your subclade beyond that initially projected.


In general SNP testing is very important If your goal is to examine older ancestral ties, determine potential ancient tribal affiliations, to attempt to find out when your DNA mutations occurred over time and build out your haplotree, or perhaps simply to confirm that two individuals occupy the same branch (subclade) on the haplotree.  There are several means to test SNPs - single SNP tests, SNP Packs, and of course BigY.  

Single SNP tests, while being inexpensive, only test one SNP - remember there are a countless number of SNPs.  A single SNP test can provide validation that you do or do not belong to a particular subclade.  If you test negatively, you may wish to test another appropriate SNP thereby incurring another "inexpensive" cost.  Depending upon your goals and the outcome of such tests, costs can mount very quickly.  Please also note that not all SNPs are available for single testing at FTDNA. Depending on your goals and test results, you may find yourself in need of additional SNP testing.

SNP Packs are a bit more costly than testing single SNPs however they could test hundreds of SNPs depending upon the Pack you choose or need.  Overall, SNP Packs provide a substantial per-SNP cost reduction over testing each SNP individually.  

While the upside is that SNP Packs test many SNPs which will provide you with a defined pathway up the haplotree and will confirm your subclade as it exists today, there is also a downside.  The SNPs to be tested within each Pack have been carefully identified and included in the Pack by FTDNA professionals. While the number and character of the SNPs within a Pack could be modified on occasion, overall, the test is static.  Once your results are tabulated, your subclade will remain as determined by the SNPs tested within that Pack as it existed when your test occurred.  

Under normal circumstances, as more people test, the haplotree sprouts more branches - new subclades are formed bringing relationship data closer and closer to the present.  As this occurs, you may feel the need for additional information...and your next step? BigY.  So, as you can see, this builds a strong case for foregoing which could be unnecessary early-on bit by bit testing costs by deciding to test at the BigY level from the beginning.  This is why establishing your goals and objectives are important.  More about SNP Packs below.


BigY testing will discover your personal line of SNPs and identify the subclade to which you belong.  Unlike SNP Packs, BigY is a dynamic test which is unconstrained by testing a limited number of SNPs.  Your subclade will be identified not only as it exists today, but the test will also provide ongoing upgrades as new people test.  Yes, your subclade designation could, and probably will eventually change as additional data is gathered.  

Not only does BigY test your "signature level" STRS (Y111) but also goes substantially beyond that, presently to the area of 700 STRs, hence the name BigY700.  We do find, however that most of the value of STR testing is available within the initial 111 STRs.  This too could expand over time as the science advances.  

Members often ask why we would recommend testing at the BigY level and the answer is actually pretty straight forward...more information, better information, dynamic information.  For those of you testing for the first time - the opportunity to have all your DNA information at hand with less overall cost than what you'd pay by undertaking individual DNA tests (while your goals expand-as they often do).  

Yes, if you are serious about genetic genealogy and can afford the up-front cost, do consider upgrading to or taking on BigY from the beginning. FTDNA offers frequent sale promotions which make the cost more reasonable.  Always discuss your plans with a YDNA Project Administrator before embarking on your journey.


What should I do with my Big Y results?

Once your BigY tests are completed, FTDNA will update the haplotree and your haplogroup/subclade designation automatically. This may happen in a few days to several weeks after receiving your results. The full results are generally phased-in and are not available one time. You can see your SNP results and where you fit it in the haplotree under the "HAPLOTREE & SNPs" button on your FTDNA account. 

After completing BigY testing, you may wish to contact your close STR matches at the Y67 and Y111 levels and ask them to also consider Big Y testing. This close-match testing will assist in clarifying branching of the haplotree to bring the branches (subclades) ever closer to the present.

Make no bones about it, the DNA results generated by BigY testing is at times not as straightforward or as easily comprehended as one would hope. You'll get the most out of your results by reading related guidance, articles, blogs, and YouTube presentations which are all readily available. Please see the references below.  This is also a critical time to continue to work with your Haplogroup Project Administrators and ask questions as they arise. Haplogroup Administrators are best equipped to guide you through all of the information at your fingertips.  Remember however, FTDNA Administrators are all volunteers so be as patient with them as you can.


When your BigY results are posted by FTDNA, you may wish to add another level of analysis of your data.  The company YFULL offers such an analysis for a small fee.  The other option is to transfer your BY data to YFULL only for the purpose of including you on their haplotree.  YFULL will send an invoice upon completion of their analysis.  Instructions for transferring your data can be found by using the following link:  
https://dna-explained.com/2019/11/04/dna-file-upload-download-and-transfer-instructions-to-and-from-dna-testing-companies/



Should I upgrade Y STRs, even if I have limited or no matches?

Upgrading can still be of benefit depending upon what it is you wish to achieve. 

Generally, the initial STR panel Y12, provides little information other than to establish a haplogroup designation (E, I, J, etc.) and an initial subclade placement.  Any matches you see there could be "background noise" or very ancient matches with little or no value.  Remember, testing 12 markers out of the full panel of 111 markers is only seeing 10% of your genetic signature.  Very little can be gleaned from matches at this level.  Similarly Y25 offers very little in terms of useable STR matching data.  

At Y37 one can begin to see a bit of continuity if matches are present. However, there is no magic elixir in STR results contained in individual STR panels.  Matching (or not matching) at one level does not guarantee that subsequent panels will or will not have new matches.  Ideally we'd all like to see lower level matches continue through the upper-level panels. Realistically, however, we sometimes see matches skipped between panels which tells us the randomness of mutations limits the value of focusing on single STR panels.  

Of course, there may be lower level matches who have tested to higher level panel(s) but you have not.  They would love to see if you match them at their testing levels and you should too.  Since they've already completed advanced testing, they must rely on you to confirm the closeness of your match by you testing additional STR panels.  It's always best financially and genealogically to test at the highest STR level practicable.  If you are contemplating upgrading your STR test, its best to discuss the strategy with your Haplogroup Administrator to determine the optimal course of testing based on your own personal goals and objectives. 



What are SNP Packs and which should I consider?


Each haplogroup, i.e., E, I, J, etc. has it's own set of SNP Packs.  Packs have been assembled to provide an analysis of a specific haplotree pathway for each haplogroup.  Before proceeding to purchase a SNP Pack, we strongly recommend you discuss your particular situation with one of our Administrators.
 

Alternatively, you may choose to select a SNP Pack based on your personal interpretation of the STR results received from your test.  You may opt to use Nevgen to help determine which Pack would be best for you, but doing so, your decision should not be based on anything less than 67 STRs. The caveat is there is always at least a little risk when self-selecting a test based solely on STRs. 

To order an SNP Pack, log into myFTDNA, click on the blue "UPGRADE" button, then click on the blue "BUY NOW" button in "ADVANCED TESTS." Next, enter "SNP PACK" in "SELECT A PRODUCT" and a list of packs will show up. Upon ordering you may receive a convoluted warning message that suggests you may not be ordering the appropriate product. This message is intended to make you think twice about what you are purchasing. If you are comfortable with your order, click on "ORDER NOW" and proceed accordingly.  If in in doubt, please ask one of the Project Administrators for assistance. 



What are terminal SNPs; Novel SNPs; & Private SNPs?

You may encounter the term "Terminal SNP" as you read through articles and posts.  In the true sense of the word, your terminal SNP is that SNP which will eventually denote your final subclade or in some cases it could be your last discovered SNP.  The term is quite often used (inappropriately) as being the SNP which denotes a person's current subclade.  As we've said previously, your BigY results coupled with results from additional testers will add new subclades over time.  Accordingly, your subclade designation (along with it's defining SNP) may change.  Therefore, the term "Terminal" is ambiguous because it can reflect either a possibly temporary location along your SNP genetic pedigree or your final place on the tree.   

Novel SNPs are previously unknown SNPs (for a particular company or organization) which are discovered from 
Next Generation Sequencing testing such as FTDNA's BigY test. They are novel/private to a particular individual at that company until the SNP is confirmed in the results of another tester.  The SNP then may be deemed as being accepted.  It is worth noting that the first BigY tester with novel SNPs may find the SNPs remaining as Novel for quite some time.  Once SNPs become accepted, i.e., confirmed they are shared between two or more individuals, the discovery of a new branch (subclade) on the haplotree occurs in most cases. ISOGG is stricter and requires several requirements to be met before a new subclade is established.  Once this process is formalized, persons sharing the now accepted SNP(s) will see their subclade designation change.  This will be reflected on your dashboard page unannounced.  No cause for alarm, the system is working within its capabilities and has provided the recipients valuable information about a common patrilineal ancestor.



Why are my FTDNA Account Profile Settings so important?

We ask that you please take some time to review and update the information in your account as this information is critical in defining you and your needs to FTDNA and our volunteer Project Administrators.  

You can tend to this as follows:

Access your profile settings by logging into your account to open your dashboard page.  Select the "Manage Personal Information" link under your photo.  Once the link is accessed, there are quite a number of things you should configure in keeping with the present knowledge of your ancestors and your affinity to maintain privacy.

By selecting "Manage Personal Information," your "Account Settings" page will open and you'll see the following subheadings:  Account InformationGenealogyPrivacy & SharingProject Preferences; and Notification Preferences.  As noted below, there are additional sub-sub headings which prompt your attention.  In particular, we ask that you please address the following items in keeping with your personal needs:

ACCOUNT INFORMATION  -

Complete your contact information including your current mailing address. This is used in case FTDNA needs to send you a new test kit to upgrade your kit. It is also useful should a Project Administrator need to contact you if your email is not working properly. 

A secondary email address is always appreciated. This is helpful if your email address stops working for any reason. If you have a beneficiary or relative that might assume management of your kit someday, input their email address too.  

If the contact person is not the person who gave the DNA sample, then please input the name of the DNA donor and insert the contact person as c/o (Care Of) in the address line. For example, John James Smith, c/o Donna Smith Jones.

Your Password and Beneficiary information is also located under the Contact Information sub-heading.  The importance of this information is self explanatory.


GENEALOGY  -

Under the sub-sub heading of Surnames, it's important for connecting with others to list your known and suspected ancestral surnames.  This helps others identify potential connections and will help you too as others list their surnames.

Under the sub-sub heading of Earliest Known Ancestors, you should do your very best to identify both your direct maternal and paternal ancestors...those that flow directly up your tree.  List them and the locations where they were born or resided to the best of your knowledge.  These names will be shown in the Results Section of our Project and are used in many cases to locate your data. 


PRIVACY & SHARING -

Under the sub-sub heading of Profile, fill in complete information in accords with personal preferences.  I personally like to share my matching information at all levels with others in the Project.  Similarly, I encourage you to share your family tree to the extent you feel comfortable.  If you haven't created a tree, this is an ideal time to do so.  Trees are very helpful to everyone attempting to find how one match fits in another's tree.  If you have a tree you've developed in another company, it is relatively easy to create a gedcom file of the tree and upload it into FTDNA.  Initiate this process by clicking on the Family Tree button on your dashboard page.  For Ancestry users, see  http://www.nixternal.com/export-gedcom-file-from-ancestry-com/


PROJECT PREFERENCES - 

Upon opening the page subtitled Group Project Administrator Access, you'll see a list of Projects you've joined.  Each Project lists the Administrators associated with a particular project.  This is your opportunity to limit access, maintain default access, or expand access for each Administrator individually.  To modify Administrative access, click on the small pencil on the right side of the page.  You'll open another page which provides options for your preferences.  

FTDNA's default access is "Limited" - which provides ample access for Administrators to view your results and assist with your questions.  

"Minimal" access limits access to essentially all of your testing results and unless you don't wish a particular Administrator to see those results or any of your information.  This would be sufficient access only if you don't wish any assistance in interpreting your results. We recommend that the "Minimal" access setting be discounted.  

"Advanced" access gives Administrators complete access to the information contained in your entire Kit and allows them to modify your personal settings.  "Advanced" access settings are not necessary unless you have agreed with the Administrator of the Project that you require such a level of assistance. 

Moving back to the Group Project Administrator Access page, near the bottom, you'll find the heading "Project Sharing."  We recommend that you opt into sharing to provide Administrators an effective means to interactively share information without identifying the source of the results.  By opting in, Administrators can, for example, use your results as a sample to help others.  To maintain a member's privacy, these results will only be presented without revealing the source of the data.  


NOTIFICATION PREFERENCES -

Please select the notifications accordingly to meet your personal needs.


Note: These project web pages and the project in general are geared towards genetic genealogy as a hobby and should not be considered a platform for forensic, legal or academic research.