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Frequently Asked Questions, Facts and Tips

Why Y DNA testing?

Why DNA testing at a full platform genetic genealogy company?

Why Y STRs and how are they used?

Why Y SNPs and how are they used?

Why Big Y Next Generation Sequencing? (Lewis and Clark analogy)

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

What are SNP Packs and which should I consider?

What myFTDNA Profile Settings are important?

Why Y DNA testing?

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 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 understand where our people came from and how as we compare with historical and archaeological records. Your Y DNA has tremendous potential to track lineages from the head to the toe, from the ancient to the present.

The comparison method for tree building is simple, just compare validated mutations across potential relatives. If you have two brothers that have the same mutation unique to them then you can legitimately assume their most recent common ancestor, their father, had it. If you check a male cousin and he has the same mutation you can back up a step and know the grandfather had it. However, you need apples to apples comparisons of test results. It is of little value to do tests that few others are doing. Think of this as a team sport. You have to get others potentially related to take the same tests as you do or find them in the matching database. This is why the size of the matching database and recruiting efforts are so important.

Y DNA tracking is both very granular, sensitive to the generations, and consistent, due to the father-son inheritance staying intact. However, it only tracks a paternal lineage, your father's father's father, etc. Still, this can be applied across your family tree. Every mother has a father. The key is to find male relatives, male cousins and uncles, and get them Y DNA tested while you can.

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Why DNA testing at a full platform genetic genealogy company?

FTDNA provides much more than bare bones DNA tests. They have a true laboratory and our not just a test remarketeer. They have no annual subscription charges, but provide a comprehensive platform for genetic genealogy including:

1. A robust project management web based platform for sharing and categorizing information that is critical to the newbies, future generations and non-technicians.

2. The largest accessible and compliant matching database for Y genetic genealogy. This is a database of real people who’ve shown some inclination for spending their own money on DNA testing.

3. Integrated and backward-compatible data management, which is the foundation of a large matching database. Old Deep Clade, Advanced Test SNPs, SNP Packs and Big Y results are all used for haplotree and haplogroup assignment and project display.

4. Convenience because of multiple test types (Big Y, STR panels, SNP Packs, mtDNA, Family Finder, etc.) available based on DNA samples that are safely stored.

4. Family tree and GEDCOM support integrated to DNA matching results.

5. Reasonable pricing which helps attract the most genetic genealogy testers.

6. Faster test processing time for SNP Pack and Big Y tests because they own their lab and test in-house.

7. They are an early feeder of your SNPs into a broader set of offerings including products from National Geographic Society organization sponsored tests that are used all over the world.

8. Excellent record and prospects as a proven on-going, self-funding concern.

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Why Y STRs and how are they used?

STRs - Short Tandem Repeats:

STRs are very useful in a multi-pronged approach, but should not be used out of context with SNPs. STRs support the formation of useful matching database because:

1) They have long legacy of usage and standardization, even beyond genealogy into forensic sciences.
2) They are consistently measured in standard STR based panels.
3) For the legacy STRs (111), everyone gets measured and issues like no calls are rare.

STRs are useful in several ways

1) Team or cluster building and finding people who might be closely related to you.
2) Time to Most Recent Common Ancestor (TMRCA) estimates.
3) As a guide (only) for advanced and deeper SNP testing.
4) Cross-checking and validation of newly discovered SNPs.
5) As differentiators at the tips of the branches (the leaves) in tree building as fenced in by SNPs. However STRs should not be used to assume branch placement as a replacement for SNPs.

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Why Y SNPs and how are they used?

SNPs - Single Nuclear Polymorphisms

SNPs support the discovery of the paternal lineage tree of mankind because:

1) They have a very strict father-son inheritance property
2) They are generally very stable, making for a high reliability tree
3) They have a very high opportunity for mutation, providing great resolution in the branching

SNPs are critical for their benefits.

1) SNPs can document a Y DNA tree that is very accurate, granular and comprehensive from the ancient to current genealogy.
2) Time to Most Recent Common Ancestor (TMRCA) estimations.
3) Eliminating false matches caused by STR convergence.

Using either SNPs counting or STR variance, TMRCA estimates are subject to error ranges and anomalies. All mutations can occur in fits and starts. There is a lot we don't know.

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Why Big Y Next Generation Sequencing?

Big Y is probably the most important Y DNA test that you can take because it goes beyond testing for public and known SNPs. Big Y discovers your own line of SNPs rather than just the known SNPs. Here's an analogy to help explain Big Y using the Lewis and Clark Expedition with an aviation twist.

Lewis and Clark's primary objectives included to explore and map the newly acquired territory, find a practical route across the western half of continent. They left St. Louis in 1804 and arrived at the Pacific Ocean late 1805. In this analogy, we think of the Pacific Coast as our genetic genealogy homeland, a place or status where our genealogically known family connects to the Y DNA tree of mankind. It is not the same for all of us, as each of our families has a distinctive location. Lewis and Clark founded what would be Fort Clastrop on he edge of Astoria, Oregon. From Astoria Column, a tower, you can see the Pacific Ocean, the Cascade Mountains and the Columbia River.

Single SNP testing is like flying a two seater from St. Louis and hoping to land in Astoria without knowing where Astoria is. The plane is low priced and reliable but has bad gas mileage. More importantly, Astoria may not even have coordinates on the map yet or a landing strip. This kind of approach is most applicable when someone who is highly probable to be on the edge of your genealogically known family has already done a Big Y test and has built a very tall tower or lighthouse to go with a new landing strip. That tower in Astoria could be thought as a super version of Astoria Column and it is built with 111 Y STRs.

Fixed SNP panel/pack testing is like flying the two seater from St. Louis hopscotching across the country, landing at a handful of small airports and getting out and taking a good set of photos at each location and then deciding the next location to fly to.  Fixed SNP packs/panels are a good, low entry price way to go, but suffer the same problem any fixed SNP test suffers. What if your Astoria hasn't been discovered? Perhaps, even your State of Oregon has not been discovered. You also might have troubles if your eyesight or navigation system isn't so good. For good navigation you'd want to have at least 67 Y STRs although 111 is a better long term investment.

Big Y Discovery testing is like having a super high speed, fuel efficient jet traversing back and forth on multiple paths high across the sky on mostly clear days taking special photos of the countryside between St. Louis and the Pacific Coast. It is scanning over 11 million locations. If your Astoria turns out to be San Diego, Long Beach or Tacoma, that's okay. Big Y is accomplishing what Lewis and Clark were doing, mapping the route for settlers to follow in the form of lower entry price tests. Unfortunately, your family of genealogical record might not even be on the maps for the mass migration of settlers to come, that is without Big Y discovery testing. It's just a fact of the Y chromosome just as it is of the geography. The settlers won't go to a place when they don't know where it is or even know it exists.

Only a member of your genealogical family can discover your Astoria and erect the Astoria Column of 111 STRs for the settlers. We need leaders from each family.

I'm asking you to start thinking about Big Y if you haven't already. Be a lead-explorer! There are now several thousand Big Y results completed for the R1b haplogroup. It works. Big Y results can come in as quickly as 4 weeks (FTDNA uses an 8-10 week estimate). Pooling of resources at the project/family/surname levels can help share the cost, but be look for holiday, DNA Day, Father's Day sales promotions.



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

Yes, upgrading can still be of benefit. There is no magic in the STR panels and what one panel, such as 1-12, shows does not guarantee that another panel, such as 68-111, will not have new matches. The STR panels are essentially a random arrangement of STRs.

Here is my personal case (as of June 2015). Every case will be different. We probably don't care about the averages, we probably just care about our individual case and the related individuals. I remember going through this by incrementally upgrading over the years and realized I would have been smarter to have bitten the bullet from the git go. I try not to add up the money of nickel and diming myself to death.

This is generally what I saw along the way. Although there were more people in the mix from when I actually went through the incremental STR upgrades from 12 to 25, then from 25 to 37, then from 37 to 67, then to 96 (to fill out Ysearch) and then finally to 111 which included a rebuy of some in the 96.

A) 48 people at 12 STRs; 6 at GD=0, 41 at GD=1.
I remember at the time when I had only 12 STRs. I was frustrated as there were no patterns and there were people with Italian names, those from Latin America and Central Asia. There was no one with my last name and very few that looked at Irish (my lineage) at all. It just didn't make any sense. I do have a surname variant in the mix today, but he wasn't there when I went through this step and he has never replied to my emails.
After encouragement from others and the recommendation received to go to the gold standard (I was told back then) of 67 STRs, I instead took a small step and upgraded to 25 STRs. Here is what I now see on that screen.

B) 7 matches at 25 STRs, but only two of those were on the 12 STR matches report so there are five new individuals. (0 at GD=0, 0 at GD=1, 7 at GD=2).
It was apparent to me there was no magic in the first 12 STRs. They were not scientifically selected to support genetic genealogy. I think they were just happenstance of the early academic studies and what worked for them. At 25 STRs still I saw no patterns although I got rid some of the strangest geographies. I probably stewed for a year before going to 37 STRs.

C) 4 matches at 37 STRs, but only two of those were on the 25 STR matches report, so I have two new individuals at 37 STRs. (0 at GD=0, 0 at GD=1, 0 at GD=2, 2 at GD=3, 2 at GD=4).
I thought was getting somewhere at 37 STRs as I now was down to British Isles sounding names but nothing that seemed to have a relationship to my family's genealogy and history. A GD of 3 at 37 STRs is not that good so I knew I should have gone to 67 STRs prior. I am slower learner, but I went ahead to the next step. I resigned myself that I probably wasn't getting anywhere, but at worst case I would be a leader and establish where I fit in the matching database so others could find me in the future.

D) 19 matches at 67, but I dropped one of my 37 STR matches while gaining 16 new matches. (0 at GD=0, 0 at GD=1, 0 at GD=2, 0 at GD=3, 2 at GD=4, 2 at GD=5, 4 at GD=6, 11 at GD=7).
What's up with that? I have 19 people on 67 matches screen while only 4 on my 37 matches. The answer is there is no magic in the STRs included by panel at 1-12, 13-25, 26-37 and 38-67. It turns out I can see I have a couple red herring STRs in my 1-12 and 13-25 panel results which were throwing things off. These were very recent mutations that made me look more distantly related to people I was related to 300-500 and 500-1100 years ago.

At 67 STRs, a clear pattern emerged, FINALLY. The clear majority of matches were either residents of Wales or had Welsh surnames. There was one new person, with the a surname that just didn't fit at all. I pretty much ignored him, which was a mistake, and started contacting the Welsh related people. Since my surname is Walsh this all started to make sense. Another clear pattern emerged that the veteran hobbyists pointed out to me. I had a pair of slow moving STRs that was emerging as a distinctive pattern within the matches.

E) 3 matches at 111, one that appeared for the first time at 111 STRs, the other two were only on the 67 STRs matches screen. None of these three 111 matches were on my 12, 25 or 37 STR matches screen. (0 at GDs 0 thru 6, 1 at GD=6 2 at GD=10).
The GD=6 at 111 is pretty good, but it was the unexpected surname. I knew I had to contact him. It turns out he had not (at the time) updated his MDKA and he knew there was a surname change. The ancestor was of a surname variant of mine and from the same county in Ireland as my most distant known ancestor. We've now both taken Big Y and have identified an SNP that only we two share that is in the range of 200 to 500 years old. It's now included in SNP packs and panels so someone else may stumble up on us without having to go through the expense we did. These people in my 111 STR matches group are ones that I would be willing to contribute/pool money for discovery testing like Big Y. Ironically, there is some magic (rhyme or reason) in the panels. The 68-111 panel was organized last and was specifically organized for smoothly behaving STRs that are useful for genetic genealogy. The problem is you have to buy the other STRs to get to the 68-111 panel anyway. There are over ten thousand R1b people in the database at 111 STRs. It is has been the new gold standard for some time.

Will you see patterns like I saw as I upgraded? Maybe, maybe not. Your individual case might be entirely different. However, here is the key and it depends, it depends on your curiosity and interest in genetic genealogy. You don't know what you will find until you test, which is why we test. Essentially, we are on an exploration and discovery mission. We don't know what's on the other side. No guarantees, and for goodness sake, don't spend money you need for something else, but if you are interested I think advanced testing can be very valuable.

STRs are additive to SNPs at the end of the branches and twigs of the tree. In Big Y, there is an SNP about one of every four generations, actually father-son transmissions. If you go all the way to 111 STRs, the rate of a change to 1-111 STR panels is about one every three generations. When you multiply the probabilities we see that there is an opportunity for mutation one of every two father-son transmissions or 50% of the time on average. This is very granular. We are moving towards discerning grandfathers from grandsons. This is very helpful when your genealogical records trail hits a brickwall.

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What are SNP Packs and which should I consider?

SNP Packs are a set of SNPs known to be relevant to a particular subclade (branch). They represent FTDNA's known version of the haplotree for that particular subclade and may have additional SNPs where the exact branching position is unknown. Packs may also have phylogenetic equivalent SNPs which are extremely powerful for finding new branching and cross-checking results. Everyone who orders a pack gets tested for every SNP in the pack. This is a major difference between the old tree-traversing one a time SNP deep clade testing packages. FTDNA SNP Packs are not dependent on the tree as all SNPs in the pack are tested.

Big Y is a more advanced testing for SNPs as described in the Lewis and Clark Expedition analogy. SNP Packs can not discover your own lineage of SNPs, just check you against the tree of known SNPs. However, SNP Packs are very economical as they include from 100 to 160 SNPs per pack. Generally, the price is less than a dollar per SNP.

Below is a list of SNP Packs currently available. If you are unsure which pack you want, ask for help. The general and safe rule for people who have done limited or no SNP testing is do Big Y but if your budget doesn't allow that, do the R1b-M343 & M269 Backbone SNP Pack. It is the lowest price pack to date and will place you in a major haplogroup that will allow the administrators to move you to the right subgroup in the R1b project and add you to the correct major subclade haplogroup project.

R1b-M343 & M269 Backbone (bridge to below packs as well as backbone SNPs)

R1b-Z2103 (old L23* or Armenian Haplotype) [Subgroup B. Z2103+ R1b-M343>L278/P25>L389>P297>M269>L23>Z2103]
R1b-L51 (L23+ L51+ P312- U106-) [Subgroup L. L51+ R1b-L51>L278/P25>L389>P297>M269>L23>L51] <---- new!
R1b-P312 top-layer and misc (with DF19,L238,DF99 focus) [Subgroup P. P312+ R1b>M269>L23>L51>P311>P312 (includes DF19,L238,DF99)]

R1b-DF27 support [Subgroup Pd. DF27+ R1b>M269>L23>L51>P311>P312>DF27 & Subclades]
R1b-DF27 top-layer and misc subclades (bridges to Z198 and Z209)
R1b-Z198 (SRY2627 & L165)
R1b-Z209 (North-South Cluster & Basque M153)

R1b-L21 support [Subgroup Pl. L21+ R1b>M269>L23>L51>P311>P312>L21 & Subclades]
R1b-L21 top-layer and misc subclades (bridges to the below)
R1b-CTS4466 (Irish II/South)
R1b-DF21 (xZ246 xZ3000 xS3058 xS5488) top-layer and misc subclades (bridges to Z226, Z3000, S3058 & S5488)
  R1b-Z246/DF25 (includes DF25, DF5)
  R1b-Z3000 (Clan Colla)
  R1b-S5488 (Ely Carroll, etc.)
R1b-DF49 (xM222) (bridges to M222)
  R1b-M222 (Northwest Irish)
R1b-L1065 (Scots Modal & most L1335 people)
R1b-L513 (xS5668 xS6365) top-layer and misc subclades (11-13 Combo, bridges to S5668, S6365)
  R1b-S5668 (xS5982)
  R1b-L555 (Clan Irwin under Z251)
R1b-Z253 (xZ2185 xL226) top-layer and misc subclades (bridges to L226 & Z2185)
  R1b-L226 (Irish III)
  R1b-Z2185 (L1066/Irish IV)
R1b-Z255 (L159.2/Irish Sea/Leinster)

R1b-U152 support [Subgroup Pu. U152+ R1b>M269>L23>L51>P311>P312>U152 & Subclades]
R1b-U152 top-layer and misc subclades (bridges to the below)
R1b-Z43 (~Z56)
R1b-L2 (xZ367 xZ49) top-layer and misc subclades

R1b-U106 support [Subgroup U. U106+ R1b>M269>L23>L51>P311>U106 & Subclades]
R1b-U106 top-layer and misc subclades (bridges to the below)
R1b-L48 (xL47 xZ8 xZ326)

FTDNA's SNP Pack product line for R1b is intended to cover the R1b haplotree in no more than two pack tests. The recommended first order is the R1b-M343 Backbone SNP Pack. In some cases, the R1b-M343 test will result in a final haplogroup but that is rare. The M343 Pack has pointers to the other R1b SNP Packs listed above. You may choose to skip right to your predicted major subclade SNP Pack based on your Y STR results. This is part of the reason at least 67 or 111 STRs are recommended. The caveat is there are always at least a little risk when basing a test decision 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. If you order you will receive a convoluted warning message that you will have to click through by hitting "Order Now". This message is not correct but is intended to make you think twice. If in in doubt, ask here what pack you want.

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What myFTDNA Account Profile Settings are important and what should they be?

Please take some time to review and update the information in your kit at Family Tree DNA.

Go to https://www.familytreedna.com/
Click the LOGIN TAB on the top of the screen and enter your kit number and password to open your MyFTDNA page.
Click the
MANAGE PERSONAL INFORMATION link on the left of the page. Or, use the drop-down menu at top right to open your profile.
There is a lot you can configure. Please take some time to click around and setup your profile.
In particular, please check and consider the following.


Input 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 if a DNA Project Administrator wants to contact you and your email is not working.
Input multiple email addresses if you can. This is helpful if your email address stops working for any reason. If you have a beneficiary or relative that you might want to take over your kit someday, input their email address too. If you want, input the email address of your DNA Project Administrators. Any email that you input here could someday takeover management of the kit if you are no longer able to do so.
If the contact person is not the person who gave the DNA sample, then please input the name of the DNA donor and put the contact person as c/o (Care Of) in the address line. For example, John James Smith, c/o Donna Smith Jones.


Change the Personal Information default from Private to Basic or Full. This allows others with FTDNA login access to view the information you share in your profile. This is useful for people who match you and for others in any DNA project groups you join.
If you have a web site or family tree online, you can show the link in the ABOUT ME box. If the DNA donor has passed, or is no longer able to donate additional DNA, then you might want to include a note explaining this in the ABOUT ME box.


Even if you have not yet created a family tree on FTDNA, please change the default Family Tree privacy settings. Hopefully, someday you will create or upload a tree. Or, a project admin might do it for you. So, it will help if these settings are configured. In order to use DNA for genealogy, you want people to check your tree. I set my tree to Public for deceased people, but individually select those I wish to retain as Private (because they are living). If you have a gedcom file of your family tree, please upload it by clicking on the FAMILY TREE button on your kit's main page.
If you don't have a gedcom file, and can't make one, then you can manually create a tree by clicking on FAMILY TREE then clicking the profile icon. If you have a tree on Ancestry.com or elsewhere then you can get a gedcom.

Or, if someone else has you in their tree, they might be able to give you a gedcom. If you need help creating a gedcom or extracting your tree from Ancestry, go to   http://www.nixternal.com/export-gedcom-file-from-ancestry-com/


Input your Most Distant Ancestors. These should be the most distant known ancestors you have in your direct paternal and direct maternal lines. Only input names that you know with high confidence. It helps if you include dates and location info with the name, although you may have to abbreviate words.
If the date is approximate, use the letter "c" as abbreviation for circa in front of the date. Circa is the standard term meaning around or about.
For example, John Henry Smith, bc.1822, Scotland

Input all the surnames of your known ancestors on all branches of your lineage. This is very useful because the matching tools allow people to search matches for surnames. If you have a surname with variations in spelling, it can help to input each variation. That way you will show up whichever variation some uses to search their matches.


Input the name and contact information of someone you want to take over the kit should you pass away or become unable to manage it. If you don't have anyone to make your beneficiary, then ask one of your DNA Project Administrators for their contact information to make them your kit beneficiary. It is very sad that many people pass away without designating a kit beneficiary. That makes their DNA kit of limited use for future researchers.

7. On the PRIVACY & SHARING tab:

Change most of the default settings here. FTDNA has made the defaults extremely limiting. That makes it harder to use the DNA results for genealogy.
Change "Who can view my Most Distant Ancestor" so that ANY ONE can see it. Otherwise, it is hidden. This is a public project so it is important to have this turned on but it does divulge your personal contact information or given name.
Change "Who can see me in project member lists" so that others can see you. It helps if people can see you and contact you to share their research.
Change "Who can view my ethnic breakdown" to allow matches to view it.
Change "Who can view my mtDNA Coding Region" to allow project admins to view them if you want their help in researching your direct female lineage. You can give project administrators full access to your account. This allows the administrator to view all of your DNA results and keep your account information up to date. This makes it easier to manage the DNA project. To give a project administrator full access to your account, you must tell them your kit number and password. Giving administrators full access can also ensure that your kit remains useful for future researchers should you pass away. And, administrators can help your relatives or beneficiaries take over the kit someday if they need help. If you give an admin full access, then you can ask them to make changes for you.

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