FamilyTreeDNA Review

Our most basic instinct is not for survival, but for family - Paul Pearsall 

The inherent curiosity that is part of the fundamental make-up of the human condition constantly encourages us to question, explore, and better our surroundings and our understanding of the universe.

We can’t help answering it’s call, it’s who are as a species and how we define ourselves. But finding solutions to the big questions inevitably leads us down a path that forces us to look inward and reevaluate and examine everything that we thought we knew about ourselves.

How can we possibly hope to figure out our place in everything unless we know who we are as a people and as individuals? 

We need to know who we are in order to properly quantify the world in which we live. 

Aristotle famously said that “knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom” and in that single sentence, he managed to encapsulate the eternal truism that applies to all of us.

If we want to fully appreciate the bigger picture, we have to learn everything that we can about the smaller canvas that everything that each of us was, is, and ever will be, is painted on.

And the best way to figure that out is by exploring where we came from, who our families are, the things that connect us, and ultimately, by coming to terms with all of that information.

Or to put it more succinctly, if you want to know who you, you need to know who your ancestors were. Which brings us, rather neatly to FamilyTreeDNA, one of the world’s leading specialists in genealogical study.

We want to know who we are, so we thought we’d turn to the experts to help us find out.

Who Are FamilyTree DNA?  

The old adage about mighty oaks and tiny acorns? That’s the FamilyTreeDNA story. They started small and grew and grew and grew until the became the globally recognized company that anyone with even a passing interest in their own, and their family’s, history is, on some level, familiar with. 

It all began with an idea that began to take shape in the mind of American entrepreneur Bennett Greenspan while he was completely absorbed in, and by, one of his favourite pastimes, genealogy, at the dawn of the millennium.

When he ran into a brick wall while attempting to trace his mother’s lineage, he remembered reading about a study that the University of Arizona had undertaken to prove that male descendants shared a common Y chromosome, and by tracing that through DNA testing, their familial lineage and ancestry could be established and ascertained. 

So Greenspan decided to utilise DNA testing to overcome the obstacles he’d encountered, only to be told that he faced another, at the time, insurmountable problem.

No laboratories offered DNA testing to the public and there were no commercially available tests or facilities that could or would do, the tests. Greenspan being who he was, decided to conquer those particular complications the only way he knew how.

By starting a company that would provide that service to the public. FamilyTreeDNA was born that day, and they are the longest-serving genealogical DNA specialist in the world. If you want to find out who you are you go to the company who started it all. You got to FamilyTreeDNA

What Do FamilyTreeDNA do?

In layman’s terms? They use your DNA to trace the lineage of your family and that of your father and mother by testing, and analyzing, genetic samples provided to them.

With one of the largest genetic databases in the world, around two million records, FamilyTreeDNA’s accuracy is second to none which is why they’re a global leader in the field of genealogy.

They offer three basic testing kits to help you establish your lineage - 

Family Finder

This is FamilyTreeDNA’s big gun, as it will set you on the path to answering everything that you ever wanted to know about yourself. It confirms your ethic and geographical origins, compares, and adds, your DNA to their records which will help you to discover, and connect with, family members you never even knew existed, and even compares your DNA to samples found on archaeological sites so you can discover just how much Neanderthal you have in your genetic makeup. 

The dream tool of amateur genealogists everywhere, Family Finder enables you to trace your roots all the way back to their beginning and find out where it all started for you and your family.

And we should also probably mention that you get more DNA bang, and access to historical information with Family Finder, for your real-world buck than you do with just about any other specialist DNA company.

Maternal Ancestry (mtDNA) Kit

The Maternal Ancestry kit tests your mtDNA (Mitochondrial DNA), which is passed down from mother to child, to track and find out more about your mother’s lineage, and your history, by comparing it to, and finding matches in, the world’s largest Mitochondrial genetic database. 

It’s an easy and effective way to find out where your mother’s, and your, family came from, where they went to, and how they ended up where you are. All of those old wives’ tales that your mother told you about her family?

Now you can find out exactly how true they are with the records provided by  FamilyTreeDNA that includes a video that charts, and shows you, the history of your mother’s family.

And just as the Family Finder does, this kit will help you to open all sorts of doors that can lead to family you never knew you had for a reassuringly affordable fee.

Paternal (Y-DNA) Testing Kit

Now you can find out the answers to all of those questions that you always wanted to ask your dad about his, and your family, but were always too afraid, or never managed to find the time, to ask.

FamilyTreeDNA’s paternal testing kit compares your Y-DNA to all of their records to establish where your dad, and his and your family, came from. 

It doesn’t just visit the recent past, it goes as far back and traces your lineage as far back as possible. This is the best way to find out just how much caveman you’ve still got in you and whether or not you were related to knights, pirates, and gunslingers of old.

The Y-DNA testing kit will tell you everything that you always wanted to know, and a whole lot more, and won’t damage your bank account too badly. 

Keep It In The Family

So, we know that FamilyTreeDNA are the world’s first specialist, commercial genealogical DNA testing frim and that they have the largest genetic database on file, but is that enough reason to trust them with your DNA? Well, it is if you want to find out as much information about yourself and your family as you possibly can. 

Bigger may not always be better, but when it comes to genealogy, you can never have too much information, which realistically means that the biggest really is the best.

Which is why FamilyTreeDNA are still around and are still considered to be the best at what they do. Besides, who doesn’t want to find out about, and even meet, family members they knew they had? Your Christmas present and birthday card lists will never be the same again

It’s An In House, Expert Thing That’s All Down To Experience

Most DNA testing firms use outsourced laboratories to test the samples that you send them, but FamilyTreeDNA don’t. In fact, they make a point of stressing that every sample sent to them is kept in-house and tested at their state of the art facility. They even show you, via their website,  the people responsible for testing and keeping your samples safe. 

And let’s be honest, if you’re going to share your DNA with anyone, you’re going to feel a lot safer handing it over to the people who pioneered and developed the field of genealogical testing and have been doing it far longer than anyone else has.

Plus, FamilyTreeDNA like to push the envelope as far as they can, and in the last twenty years have exponentially upped their technological testing capability. Just because they’re obsessed with everyone’s history, it doesn’t mean that they have to be stuck in the past.   

How Do FamilyTreeDNA Do What They Do? They Don’t Use Needles Do They?

Everything, well all of the genealogical stuff at least, that FamilyTreeDNA do is done via a kit that they’ll send you through the post. You just open the kit, look over all of the legal stuff and agree to their terms and conditions, take your sample, put it in the provided container, seal in the envelope, send it back to them and they do the rest.

And no, there are no needles involved in the process. It’s all done via a handy, easy to use swab that you use to take a sample from your mouth, snap the end off, and then send to FamilyTreeDNA. There are no needles involved in any stage of testing. Trust us, we’d tell you if there were as we’re deathly afraid of needles too. 

So It’s All Genealogy Systems Go And I Should Report Straight To FamilyTreeDNA HQ?

Well, yes and no and this is where things get a little complicated. While, and probably because, they’re the biggest, and one of the best, DNA testing companies in the world, things don’t always go to plan and there are some issues with the service that FamilyTreeDNA provide that need to raised and addressed.

While their competitors offer a similar, although admittedly less comprehensive, service, FamilyTreeDNA’s competition also offers a much broader range of testing, which includes numerous genetic and health tests that explore the possibility of future issues and allow you to identify current problems.

None of FamilyTreeDNA’s kits provide those options. They’re a genealogical testing firm and that’s about it, so if you’re looking for something more than an encyclopedic personal and family history from your DNA test, then you’ll need to start casting your eyes further afield than FamilyTreeDNA.

The biggest problem with FamilyTreeDNA though is the amount of time that it takes for the results to come back. We live in a rush, rush world where everybody wants everything straight away and most DNA testing firms have firmly latched on to, get behind, and run with that idea.

That’s why they’ll get the results of the tests that you’ve paid for back to you within a week or, at most, ten days after they receive your sample. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with FamilyTreeDNA.

We understand that they’re thorough, that they want to do a good job, and that they want to keep everything in-house and do it themselves to avoid errors and mistakes.

We also understand that because of the popularity of their service, some reports and tests are inevitably delayed, but when it takes between three and six weeks to get the results of your test when even the slowest of their competitors only take, at most, half of that time, then we fear that strange things, as Ted Theodore Logan said to Bill S. Preston, are afoot at the Circle K and that FamilyTreeDNA need to either up their testing game or increase their testing capacity.

Those sorts of waiting times are pretty much unacceptable in this day and age.

It isn’t just the test results that are slow to get back to you either, as FamilyTreeDNA’s customer service have a reputation for being, at best lackadaisical and at worst, just really, really slow when it comes to dealing with enquires and handling complaints. Speed is of the essence in every aspect of modern life and the sort of delays that plague FamilyTreeDNA’s service could well be enough to put you off using them.

It doesn’t end there though, as some of their customers have also complained that their results are vague, difficult to understand, not as thorough as they were led to believe they’d be and look old and outdated.

That said, FamilyTreeDNA have modernised the way they prepare and send out out results, so it does show that they’re willing to listen to, and learn from, their customers. 

All Of Which Means… In Conclusion

The burning question, the one that really needs to be answered is simple. Should you use FamilyTreeDNA for your DNA test? Our answer? That depends.

If you’re an amateur genealogist or you’re just looking to find out more about who you are, where you came from and your family history, then yes, there’s no better way to find all of the answers to any and all questions that you may have about your, and your family’s, history than using the comprehensive service that FamilyTreeDNA provide.  

That said, if you’re looking for something more than a through genealogy report and a way to reach out to some lost cousins who you’d never have known otherwise, then maybe you should keep on looking. FamilyTreeDNA are the best at what they do, but genealogy is all that they do. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Y-DNA?

Y chromosome DNA tests are genealogical tests used to measure, record, and analyse the genetic markers passed directly from a male parent to their offspring. They are used to trace the male parent’s patrilineal line and ancestry to provide a clear and definitive image of their familial history. 

The test can also be used to legally prove parentage when, and if, it’s called into question, and as the test is ninety-nine point nine percent accurate, is considered to be definitive proof when used to determine if a male parent is the biological father of a child. 

What Is mtDNA / Mitochondrial DNA?

mtDNA or mitochondrial DNA is DNA that is located in the mitochondria (a double-membrane bound, semi-autonomous cell found in any animal whose nucleus is enclosed within a nuclear envelope) and is passed directly from mother to child. Genealogical DNA tests use mtDNA to analyse and record matrilineage, or the mother’s, ancestry in relation to family history. 

In the rare cases, it’s been needed, it can also provide definitive proof of parentage and establish whether or not a female parent is the biological mother of a child. 

What Is Genealogy?

Genealogy is the study of family lineage and history and is used to provide definitive proof and establish familial links and connections and the geographical origins of families and their place in history.

Directly translated from the Greek word ‘genealogia’, which means ‘to make a pedigree’, genealogy was traditionally a branch of history that used oral, historical, and family records and other available information to provide an as definitive as possible historical record of a family their place in, and importance to, history. 

However, after Francis Crick and James Watson definitively proved (following in the speculative footsteps of Friedrich Meischer’s groundbreaking nineteenth-century work in biology) the existence of DNA, genealogy as a field of study took a whole new aspect.

DNA can provide definitive proof of direct biological connections and can be used to trace familial ancestry through both the patrilineal (father) and matrilineal (mother) history of a family and can be used to ascertain an individuals, and their family’s, historical record.

It is also specific enough to not only locate a familial country of origin but can also pinpoint the village, town or region from which they came. 

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