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August 12, 2007 5:30 PM   Subscribe

Which of the genealogical DNA testing companies is the best for testing Y-Chromosome information? Experiences?
posted by Atreides to Science & Nature (1 answer total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I highly, highly recommend, for many reasons:

- They have the biggest customer base of all the big testing firms (over 100,000 people tested, and growing all the time), which gives you many more people to compare your sample against, and therefore many more possible matches.
- They send you e-mails automatically any time a new person signs up and tests as a close match to you, so you don't have to log into their website all the time just to see if you got a new match.
- They have over 4,200 surname projects that you can join (I run three there myself). So now you can find out exactly *which* branch of the Smith's your family is descended from, and stop wasting time and money researching the branches you clearly don't descend from.
- They also have a number of geographical and ethnic projects you can join (I contribute to the Sephardic Heritage one, for example, but you can also join projects for different countries or US Counties or even y-chromosome haplogroups).
- They have terrific e-mail tech support if you have questions or problems about your test kit. Their CEO's e-mail signature actually includes the line "E-mail me anytime!" and he does respond to queries, although the first-line tech staff is great too.
- They can auto-transfer the results of your test to the National Geographic Society's Genographic Project (co-run by IBM) if you give your assent, so you can use your results anonymously to help scientists, not just yourself.
- They store your sample in their freezers indefinitely so you can upgrade your test results later on without having to send in more spit, because you either want more markers tested for more detailed results, or in case they come out with a new test you want to order, which they usually do every six months or so.

Some caveats:

- Like all genetic genealogy firms, their customer base is highly restricted to people who are 1) already highly interested in traditional genealogy quite a lot *and* 2) financially willing and able to shell out the bucks for the tests. That cross-section means that their customer database has a *huge* over-representation of Caucasian Americans of British Isles origin (and it's skewed more British and Scottish than Irish or Welsh within that sub-set), and to a much lesser extent Ashkenazic Jews (who are over-sampled relative to their percentage of the US population). So if you're Korean-American or Navajo, say, you may not find quite as many matches in the database as you might like. This will hopefully even out as more and more people get tested, but just keep in mind the current self-selection bias. You can always try to help correct the bias yourself by signing up lots of people for testing from Under-Represented Minority Of Your Choice. I've personally gotten a decent number of Sephardic Jews tested, for example, relatives of my husband, the most recent two being test kits I mailed out to Israel and Brazil just in the past week.
- There's a secret to getting a big discount on the test kit pricing that they purposely hide from you on the website. If you go for a 37-marker test just from the main "pricing" page of the FTDNA site, the test would cost you $259. But if you join up as part of an existing surname or ethnic or geographical group (and once you're registered, your kit can join as many projects as it wants, to cover all your research interests), it would only cost you $189, which is a decent savings. You need to go to your surname project's order page and order from *that* page; here's the Smith project order page, for an example. If your surname doesn't have a project yet, try a geographical project instead; it's the same discount there.
- It is possible you could discover a "NPE", a non-paternal event (as genetic genealogists like to call it euphemistically), in your family tree through the testing. It's definitely been known to happen. But, on the bright side, you'll simultaneously be finding out something about the people who actually are your relatives. And if you're an adoptee who doesn't know your paternal line, you can take the test and get a list of some possible family names to look up. A fifteen-year-old British boy born via sperm donor figured out his birth father through a service like this within the last year; there should be an archived news story about it online somewhere.
- Finally, I urge you to test at least 37 markers. I know it's much more pricey than the $99 12-marker test (that's the lower group rate price), but I really, really think that the low-resolution low-marker tests don't help anyone that much because lots and lots of people match 12 out of 12 or 11 out of 12 markers, and yet that common ancestor could have lived 1,000 years ago. If you match with someone on 36 out of 37 markers, though, then you know you've really got something there to build on (something like 300-600 years ago, in that case), and isn't that the whole point of getting tested in the first place? For example, my brother has like 50 exact 12/12 matches, from all over Eastern Europe, but when I upgraded his test kit to the full 67 markers, I found that the people he matches at 60/67 markers or higher (i.e. very very closely genetically related) almost all came from towns within a 100 mile radius of Lviv, Ukraine in the past 300 years. Now *that's* useful information to me and to focusing my paper-genealogy research, unlike the 12 marker stuff, which basically only told me that I had a bunch of Jewish relatives, no surprise there.
- I did find a neat surprise, though, when I tested my maternal DNA (mitochondrial DNA, which can only be passed on the direct maternal line). Apparently Scots and Jews not only share a love of smoked salmon and frugality, but also occasionally each other. :-) Full story here. Maternal DNA is nice to test, but not nearly as useful (at this point in time) as testing one's y-chromosome, since y-chromosomes both mutate quickly (meaning any close genetic matches share a relative fairly recently) and also tend to follow surname patterns (which is helpful). That's why, as a woman, it was important that I get my brother to do the test for me so I could get a sample to trace my maiden name.

Feel free to e-mail if you have questions; genetic genealogy is one of my big hobbies these days and my family is getting tired of hearing me talk about it. :-)

Obligatory advertisement for my own projects: if anyone reading this knows anyone with the last names Russo/Rousso, Schreier/Shrier, or Ganz/Gans, or some other similar spellings, send 'em my way, please!
posted by Asparagirl at 9:12 PM on August 12, 2007 [6 favorites]

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