Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Getting the Most out of your Y-DNA test (from FamilyTreeDNA)

The advice below pertains mainly to people who have tested their Y-DNA at FamilyTreeDNA, but some of the general principles apply to everybody, no matter which test you have done or which company you have tested with.

There are a few essential actions you should take to get the most out of your DNA test. You may not be able to do all of them all at once, so come back to this page often and check it out again to see if there is anything else you could be doing to maximise the value you get from your DNA test.

You may wish to share the link to this page with anyone else who might be interested in doing a DNA test so that they can see what they will get if they do.

Make yourself visible to your cousins

If no one can see you, you won't be able to connect with your cousins. So try to make yourself as visible as possible (or as visible as you feel comfortable with).

1) Prepare your surname's Ancestral Line (from you up to your surname's MDKA). This is the single most important piece of information that you can share. You will need this in your collaborations with other project members. In addition, many projects have a facility for posting this information somewhere on the project-related webpages. For example, in our Gleason/Gleeson DNA Project, these will go up on our Patriarchs & Matriarchs Page on the blog or the Patriarchs Page on the WFN website. This will potentially help other people to connect with you. It would help if you could provide it in the following format:
1) James GLEESON b c1835 Shallee, Co. Tipperary, d 12 Nov 1879 Longstone, Co. Tipperary, m 13 Apr 1860 Maria COYLE, Silvermines, Co. Tipperary
2) Morty GLEESON ...
3) John GLEESON ...
4) Abigail GLEESON … but not including dates for a) births <100 years ago, b) marriages <75 years ago, or c) deaths <50 years ago
Researcher: (insert your initials here)
Your email address
DNA Kits: (insert your DNA kit numbers)
Link to online tree: www.some-website.com

2) Use your kit number and password to Log in to your personal webpage and explore it. There are a lot of bits & pieces of information you can include on your personal webpage that will optimise your chances of successful collaboration with your DNA matches. And knowing what your DNA results can tell you will help you get the most out of them.

3) You should add your MDKA information (Most Distant Known Ancestor) including dates & locations for both birth and death. The format we recommend is the same as the one above, but you may have to abbreviate it as only a certain number of letters are allowed in this field. Location of birth is the most important piece of information. Here is an example:
James GLEESON b1835 Shallee, Tipp, d1879 Longstone, Tipp
To add this information, simply click on your name in the top right of your homepage - Account Settings - Genealogy - Most Distant Ancestors ... I have posted instructions on how to do this on the following link ... http://farrelldna.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/essential-information-everyone-should.html

4) Fill out your MDKA Profile. In essence, this is your Brick Wall. And the more information you can give about it, the better the chance of breaking through it. There are lots of clues and circumstantial evidence from documentary data that may help you identify a possible connection with other members of the group.  This applies to all project members but is most relevant to members with Irish ancestry given that the records tend to peter out about 1800. Check out the MDKA Profile page of the Gleeson DNA Project for instructions on how to complete the profile for your own MDKA. You can also view an example of it here.

5) Add your Ancestral Surnames (click on your name in the top right - Account Settings - Genealogy - Surnames). I suggest to put SURNAMES in capital letters and Locations in normal text, as this makes the surnames "jump out" and easier for the reader to scan through.

6) Upload your Family Tree as a GEDCOM file so that you have a version of your family tree on your FTDNA webpages.   This is particularly important if you have done a Family Finder test (autosomal DNA). You can also add your Family Tree manually if it is easier for you. And if you have a Family Tree online, leave a link to it in the About Me section of your Personal Profile. Click here for specific instructions on uploading a Gedcom file - https://www.familytreedna.com/learn/ftdna/how-to-family-tree/

7) Optimise your Privacy settings so that your potential cousins can see your results:
  • Hover over your Name in the top right
  • Click on Account Settings, then the Privacy & Sharing tab at the end of the menu bar above
  • Then simply change the settings under My DNA Results by clicking on the words "Project Members" at the end, and on the next screen checking the box beside "Make my mtDNA & Y-DNA data public". Then press Save.

Before the change
After the change

Check out Project-related Resources

There are a lot of resources that are particularly relevant for Surname DNA Projects and you should check out and use these as you feel appropriate.

1) Join the relevant Surname Project. There are over 9200 of them at FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA). You can either search for it via Google (simply type in: FTDNA & your surname) or you can search for it via the FTDNA Search page. Once you have joined, the Project Administrator should look at your results (within a week or so) and assign you to a particular group within the project. You can also email the Admin if you have any questions. Their email address is usually on the Home Page of the project.

2) If you join a surname project, check out the various pages of the project website - they usually have a lot of useful information that will help you understand your results. See the Gleason / Gleeson DNA Project blog as an example.

3) Join the relevant Haplogroup projects
Your results will reveal your haplogroup (your branch of the human Y-DNA tree and/or human mtDNA tree). Once your results arrive, make sure you join all the relevant projects as these will assist in the further analysis of your data and in particular your deep ancestry (where in the world your particular ancestors originated several thousand years ago). The projects are run by volunteer project administrators and they are a rich source for advice, guidance, and support. Frequently there is an associated mailing list or Facebook group you can join to keep abreast of up-to-date developments (this is a fast-moving field).

As an example, relevant Y-DNA haplogroup projects for each of the Gleason Lineages identified thus far include the following:

If your haplogroup project is not listed here, you can see if there is a specific project for your haplogroup on this list: http://www.isogg.org/wiki/Y-DNA_haplogroup_projects

4) Join the relevant Geographical Projects
As an example, relevant Y-DNA geographical projects for each of the Gleason Lineages identified thus far include the following:
There may be other geographical projects that are relevant to your ancestral line and you can find them on this list: http://www.isogg.org/wiki/Geographical_DNA_projects

Check out General Resources

There is a lot of information out there about genetic genealogy in general and it can be a bit confusing knowing where to find it. Below is a selection of our "best bits".

1) FTDNA have a lot of useful information in their Learning Centre. Be sure to check out the FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions).

2) The ISOGG wiki is a great place to start looking for general information about any topic related to genetic genealogy, including your particular type of test.

3) Read Kelly Wheaton's beginners’ guide to genetic genealogy: https://sites.google.com/site/wheatonsurname/beginners-guide-to-genetic-genealogy

4) Download and read the e-book from the resources tab on your myFTDNA homepage.

5) There are a variety of different YouTube videos on genetic genealogy which have been prepared by ISOGG members and Project Administrators.
6) Sign up to the relevant genetic genealogy mailing lists, forums and Facebook groups. These can be great sources of help if you have a specific question. See the list here: http://www.isogg.org/wiki/Genetic_genealogy_mailing_lists.
I particularly recommend:

7) Read blogs written by experienced genetic genealogists. See this list of genetic genealogy blogs: http://www.isogg.org/wiki/Genetic_genealogy_blogs

8) Read the relevant articles about your specific DNA-test ...

Y-DNA - traces your father's father's father's line
Y-DNA basics: http://www.familytreedna.com/learn/dna-basics/ydna

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) - traces your mother's mother's mother's line
mtDNA testing for advanced users: http://www.familytreedna.com/learn/mtdna-testing

These two pages are relevant if you have taken the full mitochondrial sequence (FMS) test:
mtDNACommunity: http://www.familytreedna.com/learn/mtdna-community
mtDNA scientific collaboration: http://www.familytreedna.com/learn/mtdna-results-donation

Autosomal DNA (atDNA) - traces all your ancestral lines
Understanding Family Finder results: http://www.familytreedna.com/faq/answers.aspx?id=17
Understanding Population Finder results: http://www.familytreedna.com/faq/answers.aspx?id=22

Please let me know if any of these links are broken or cease working.

Maurice Gleeson
Jan 2017


  1. Great information Maurice! I'm in the process of managing several DNA tests for relatives and I appreciate these reminders.

  2. I may have missed your instructions on this point but once you have found your common ancestor with another person, should you enter their connection (from the person who took the DNA test to the common ancestor) into your family tree database?

  3. My brother's 37 markers show that our great grandfather is not the biological son of his dad. He was with his dad when his dad married, so it's believed his mother is his step mother. Which test will best help us find his true paternal line?

    1. Look at the list of surnames in your brother's Y37 results. Is there one surname that predominates? This may be the surname of your great grandfather's biological father. You may have to upgrade to 67 or 111 markers in order to see the signal more clearly. Also, SNP testing might help place him on the human evolutionary tree and this could help you see what surnames are "nearby" (i.e. on the same terminal branch).

    2. Thanks for your reply. Yes, Watson keeps popping up. To our knowledge, we do not have any Watsons in our family.We kind of thought that might be his true surname. We will upgrade to the 111. I will tell him about the SNP testing also .