16 February 2010

Family Finder Test by Family Tree DNA Just Announced!

No one disputes the fact that tracing women is by far one of the most difficult feats for a genealogist, especially before DNA testing existed. Lineages stop at women for several reasons. Prior to the
twentieth century it was a man’s world. By law and custom husbands controlled society: men purchased land, paid taxes, served in the military, and left wills; children carried the male surname to the next generation; and many genealogies neglected female lines. Fewer records recorded women’s actions and with their names change at each marriage, it is most difficult to follow their trail.

Ten years ago Family Tree DNA began genetic testing with the genealogist in mind. At first the Y-chromosome test for men was established and later the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) test for both men and women, but only for the HVR1 and HVR2 segments.

The advent of mitochondrial DNA testing has allowed women to join the world of DNA testing. Through mtDNA tests both men and women can find others who are related, even when the paper trail does not exist. A match on the HVR1 and HVR2 can be thousands of years ago, but through careful testing and good genealogical research, testers have found their common ancestor. The difficulty in finding cousins lies in the slow marker mutation of the mitochondria.

For the past several years, testing the full mitochondria (full genome sequence or FGS) has been more useful. This test can provide a genealogist with matches, even though the common ancestors for those matches could be a few hundred of years ago.

That can now change as genetic testing has progressed to a new level.

Just today Family Tree DNA announced its new Family Finder test. In their press release just hours ago, FTDNA stated:

“This is the most exciting genetic genealogy breakthrough since the company launched its Y-DNA test, which uncovered relatives in the direct paternal line”, says Bennett Greenspan, founder and President of Family Tree DNA.

Family Tree DNA is pleased to inform you of the pre-launch of our newest test: the autosomal-based Family Finder test. This pre-launch will progress in phases so that we do not exceed our lab’s capacity, and to ensure delivering results in a timely basis. A limited number of our customers are being offered the Family Finder Test during the prelaunch. We anticipate Family Finder will be offered for general release in the middle of March at the breakthrough price of $249.

Special Note: Since the Family Finder test requires an untouched vial of DNA, we cannot transfer DNA from Arizona to run the test. If a kit does not have an extra vial on file, we will mail a collection kit for a new FREE DNA extraction. After ordering, you will be notified whether we are able to use a stored vial or will be mailing a new collection kit.

This test analyzes your autosomal markers in all the chromosomes to determine shared blocks of markers with other testers. We inherit approximately 50% of our DNA from each of our parents as they did from their parents. In our autosomal markers that DNA mixes differently with each conception, therefore, different sections of the genes are passed along from generation to generation, picking up new segments from new family members. Mathematically, geneticists can determine possible sizes of shared segments with each generation at an accurate level for up to our fifth cousins. Thus, the size of the shared blocks of DNA helps determine the level of cousinship between two people. This autosomal test allows you to find people who are your fifth cousins or closer, thus putting a tighter, more exact genealogical time frame for matches.

The Family Finder test has many advantages for genealogy and for the genetic genealogy world.

I have thirteen DNA projects which include a haplogroup project, several surname projects, and three geographical projects. Within these projects there are people who do not know their biological surname due to an adoption, an illegitimate birth or some other surname change in the past. ALL of these projects will benefit from this new type of test.

For mitochondrial testing, a person can now determine if their matches are recent or more distant. I have six people who match me on the FGS. We cannot connect the paper trails and have no idea when the common ancestor lived. By all of us taking the Family Finder test, we can determine if the six of us are fifth cousins or less … or if we are more distant.

A group of people matching on their mtDNA can determine who in the group is more closely related with whom and who is more distantly related. Take the six of us. By everyone testing, we can determine if two or three of us are more closely related with each other than we are with some of the others.

With the result of the Family Finder test showing us who is closely related, we can begin to see the migration patterns of our collective line. This may help us track more ancestors.

For Surname groups, the new Family Finder test has wonderful opportunities to allow females to join the project. Women have long felt left out in Surname Projects, although many of them are the administrators or do most of the research for the project. Bringing more participants into the surname project creates more interest which can open avenues for research. With this test, a female does not have to locate a family member to do the testing for her, but still may. Females can find out how closely they are related to the men who have tested.

Some Surname Project members have tested fewer markers than others, leaving the administrator to wait until the test is upgraded before placing the tester in a particular group. There’s just not enough data to make the determination. However, with this test, I will be able to assign testers to the correct branch in a lineage even without the paper trail.

The Family Finder test helps determine whether the testers are closer or more distant cousins, thus better defining the branches in a family tree.

Many projects have groups who have a perfect or near-perfect match, but the common ancestor has not been located. With the Family Finder test those larger blocks of matches can be better defined, creating sub-branches of closer related members.

For example: In one of my projects I have several men who match perfectly on 37 markers and in some cases on 67 markers. However, with this autosomal test, I will be able to see who among them is more closely related. The size of the matching segments of DNA will vary with the testers and thus determine the cousinship probably.

Geographical Projects can be overwhelmingly large. Administrators are reduced to just maintaining the website, answering general questions, and watch for patterns that may indicate a certain haplotype location. The Family Finder test can uncover new clues to extended family groups among the members. This can bring more relevant lineages to the project and open up new avenues for research as new connections are discovered. Testers can explore the lost family connections behind migrations. Testers in other projects can find cousins in geographical projects, thus helping them find relatives in their homeland. Family Finder test can also break up large blocks of matches into more closely related groups as well as find connections between different surnames.

Adoptees can greatly benefit from the Family Finder test as any matches would be close matches. You can find aunts, uncles, half siblings, and recent cousins. The match would not be just on the unknown line, but anywhere in your lineage, thus you could connect with family members to find clues to help you trace your missing line.

How wonderful is this! A very useful test from a company who pioneered genetic genealogy!

NOW, I can have a central place to organize and track all my project participants.
NOW, I can find all those missing cousins and add new lines to my chart!
AND, it is so exciting that women and men can now be compared with equal status!

For more information on this test see: http://www.familytreedna.com/landing/family-finder.aspx



Tony said...

Interesting article. Thank you for all of the detailed info. How do you think this service compares to 23 and Me's Ancestry/Relative Finder? Certainly the price point is attractive. Thanks!

Matt said...

You seem to know more about DNA than me but I am troubled by how FTDNA is promoting this as a great leap forward for surname projects. Even you say this creates equal status for women in such projects. I just don't see it. I have been beta testing the similar 23andme test since it started and while it is fun it has its drawbacks.

Due to inheritance and recombination there seems to be no guarantee that an ancestor farther back than 3 or 4 generations will even show up in our genome and if they do the person you are looking to determine cousinship with might not have inherited that same block of DNA. It certainly isn't accurate at predicting the level of cousinship within a surname project as you suggest. Yes it is accurate if the two people are 1st, 2nd or 3rd cousins beyond that not so much. I think there are going to be a lot of disappointed customers if this is marketed as a way to determine if two people are descendants of a specific ancestor. It is a crap shoot for this purpose and a very expensive one. Autosomal testing seems to be much more useful at finding random cousins that could be related to you on any branch and then working together to find who the common ancestors were. Maybe you know more about FTDNA's test that will make it more accurate within the frame of a surname project versus 23andme's version. Also it is disappointing that FTDNA's version doesn't include the X-chromosome.

Genealem said...

Tony...Forgive the delay in replying.

The short answer is that the customer database for 23andMe differs from that of Family ?Tree DNA. From the feedback I get and my own experiences (I've tested with both), most people took the 23andMe test as they were interested in the health portion, and most people I've run into or others I know who have emailed their matches at 23andMearen't avid genealogists. At Family Tree DNA the customers tend to be genealogists as that is the focus of the company.

Each of the two companies use a different chip, and their parameters vary some, but both will find matches in about the same range. However, most people I know test with both companies so they have every opportunity to find any cousin they can.

I will be posting more articles on this type of testing, its benefits to genealogists, and its limitations in the next few weeks. Stay tuned! LOL

Genealem said...


I appreciate your comments and will address a few here. But as I just stated earlier, I will be posting more articles on this type of testing in the next few weeks (June 2010), including its limitations. None of us interested in genetic genealogy want dissatisfied customers.

You are most correct that these tests will not find all your cousins. That is the nature of autosomal testing. Each of us inherits a different combination from our ancestors and these tests (at both companies) have parameters to determine cousin-ship. Sometimes the blocks of DNA aren't large enough to be confident of a match. That doesn't mean you aren't cousins with a person who doesn't show up as a match if your paper trail indicates they are related and you are confident in that research.

Mathematically, each company feels they can estimate rather well back to 5th cousins; however, it really becomes a range of cousin-ship past the 3rd or 4th generation. As you can see from my blog, it is possible to find much more distant cousins. It all depends upon how much DNA appears in each person and how far you can take the paper trail. I've actually found people connected to my Hartzfelder line who tested, but who did not match.

No, you are right...it cannot predict a cousin-ship in a surname project. I probably wasn't really clear on that. In some cases we know that families stayed in the same areas for a long time and sometimes marrying cousins. I have a case in my Talley project where the man has two lines of Talley...one on his surname and the other not. He will likely match another person (especially a woman) who couldn't test for the surname project, but has a Talley in rather recent times. That is how it can broaden the surname projects and bring women into the mix.

With any DNA test, you need a good paper trail as well.

I do think that if we don't help the public understand what this test can and can't do, there will be some disgruntled customers. At the price of these tests, anyone should first learn about the test, establish their goals for testing, and clarify with the company or other persons who understand the tests if a test can meet their goals.

You wrote: Autosomal testing seems to be much more useful at finding random cousins that could be related to you on any branch and then working together to find who the common ancestors were.

This is exactly what this test does in that it is an autsomal test, and it will find matches to cousins. AND, that it is up to the two people matching to find that common ancestor. (Same with a Y-DNA test...you still have to find how you fit into the surname branch and only good genealogy research can do that.)

Regarding the X...FTDNA has tested it and will be releasing that result when the web pages for it are done. The X is inherited in a very unique way, and the company wants their web pages to reflect how best to use the X.

There is a lot going on at Family Tree DNA right now, so give them some time and you will see more offerings and some improved ones. I know of a few in the works.

I hope this reply has helped.. I appreciate you pointing out that I needed to clarify part of what I wrote. My posts scheduled for late June and early July will reflect how to use this type of testing, what to expect from it, and what not to expect.

Thank you,

Matt said...

Thank you. I had heard a rumor some time ago, but I was curious if FTDNA was going to allow people to upload (transfer) their 23andme raw data to FTDNA? I know FTDNA and 23andme don't test all the same SNPs but there is some overlap. I have tested with both companies but have some other family member's results at 23andme.

Basically with these tests like you said you need a good paper trail and you have to know the test's limitations, which you said you will cover in more detail in the future. But with the standalone autosomal test you really don't know where your shared DNA is coming from. If you have a shared surname with your match, is the shared DNA from that line or is it just a coincidence? If you have a known common ancestor, is the shared DNA really from that ancestor or is the shared DNA from another unknown ancestor from another branch that the two of you share?

I actually have a match that has an ancestor with my surname. That is the only surname we share in common among our known ancestors. I have a brick wall with my surname and can't trace back far enough to know whether me and this person share the same ancestor farther back on that line or if it is just a coincidence. The sister of my match has tested and we don't share any DNA at all. Since I've had other family members tested (father, mother, paternal grandmother) I know I would have to be related to them on my paternal grandfather's side. However with my match, since only the brother and sister have tested I don't know if I am related to them on their paternal or maternal side. Their maternal side is the side of our common surname we share. I have done a y-dna test in the past with no matches. I was actually thinking though of tracing their ancestor that shares my surname down to present day to find a living direct male descendant and testing him (y-dna) to see if I am a match. This would be one way, although expensive that the two tests (ydna surname tests and the Family Finder/Relative Finder) could be used together.

Christina said...

My mother who recently passed away was told many years ago by an angry sister that their father was not my mother's biological father. The parents and siblings are all deceased. Can I confirm if this is true by submitting my DNA with DNA of her brother's daughter (my cousin)?