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Family Tree DNA

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Family Tree DNA
Type Ltd
Industry Genetic genealogy
Founded 1999
Founder(s) Bennett Greenspan, Max Blankfeld and Jim Warren[1]
Headquarters Houston, Texas, USA
Area served International
Products mtDNA Tests, Y-STR Tests, Y-SNP Tests, Autosomal testing

Family Tree DNA is a division of Gene by Gene, a commercial genetic testing company based in Houston, Texas. Family Tree DNA offers analysis of autosomal DNA, Y-DNA, and mitochondrial DNA to individuals for genealogical purposes.


Concept and founding (2000 - 2002)

Family Tree DNA was founded based on an idea conceived by Bennett Greenspan, a lifelong entrepreneur and genealogy enthusiast.[2] In 1999, Greenspan had entered semi-retirement and was working on his family history. He began work on his mother's Nitz lineage. When faced with a roadblock in his work, he remembered two cases of genetics being used to prove ancestry that had recently been covered by the media. These were a study by University of Arizona researchers showing that many Cohen men from both Ashkenazic and Sephardic groups share the same Y-Chromosome[3] and a study that showed that male descendants of US President Thomas Jefferson and male descendants of his freed slave Sally Hemings shared the same Y-chromosome and a recent common ancestry.[4] Greenspan had Nitz cousins in California and had discovered someone in Argentina with the same ancestral surname and the same ancestral location in Eastern Europe. Wishing to use the same method of DNA comparison for his own genealogy, he contacted Dr. Michael Hammer at the University of Arizona. Greenspan discovered that academic labs did not offer testing directly to the public and that in general direct to consumer testing for genealogy was not commercially available either. Their conversation inspired him to start a company dedicated to using genetics to solve genealogy problems.[5][6] It was early 2000 when Greenspan, with his business partners Max Blankfeld and Jim Warren, officially launched Family Tree DNA. Initially, the Arizona Research Labs at the University of Arizona performed all testing for Family Tree DNA.

Family Tree DNA includes among its scientific staff, Dr. Michael Hammer (PhD), one of a team of scientists that first published on the Cohen Modal Haplotype in 1997 in the journal Nature. Family Tree DNA began with a proof of concept group of twenty-four that returned results in January. They began by offering 12-marker Y-chromosome STR tests, much like those used in many scientific publications of the time, in March 2000.

Family Tree DNA became widely known for its Y-chromosome STR testing for the Cohen Modal Haplotype. Soon, they were offering not only DNA tests but an interface by which dedicated genealogists could run surname research studies. The first person to create such a project through the Family Tree DNA site was Doug Mumma. It was the Mumma project. A list of the early pioneer projects at FTDNA can be found in the genetic genealogy timeline.

Early testing (2000 - 2006)

The first tests offered by Family Tree DNA were Y-chromosome STR and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) tests like those used by published academic studies at the time. Family Tree DNA's initial Y-chromosome tests were described as 11 marker tests. They eventually began to call this a 12-marker test as one of the STRs (DYS385) almost always had two copies. This they billed as a method to affirm or disprove a genealogical connection on the direct paternal line.

Family Tree DNA's first mtDNA tests were for HVR1 (hypervariable region 1) of the mtDNA. Eventually, they added a Plus test that tested for both HVR1 and HVR2, and a full mitochondrial sequence test later became available.

In the early days, they did not confirm haplogroups for either mtDNA or Y-DNA.

Genomics Research Center

In 2006, Family Tree DNA bought out the assets of DNA-Fingerprint, which was a German paternity testing company that offered al la carte testing to the genetic genealogy testing community. With this buyout, Thomas and Astrid Krahn who had owned DNA-Fingerprint moved to Houston, TX and helped open the Genomics Research Center. The Genomics Research Center initially did testing for many of the same products that had been sold by DNA-Fingerprint. They began to offer individual and panels of Y-chromosome SNP tests using Sanger testing methods. They also offered the mtDNA full genome test and upgrades to it using the Sanger testing method. Soon came the launch of the Walk Through the Y test. The WTY test offered the most adventurous of citizen scientists the chance to seek the discovery of new Y-chromosome SNPs. Meanwhile, most testing continued to be done at the University of Arizona lab. The demand for additional test types led Greenspan and Blankfeld to move all testing to their own testing lab in Houston, Texas under the Genealogy by Genetics, Ltd. parent company. In February 2009, Family Tree DNA announced that they, in partnership with the National Geographic Genographic Project, had tested over 500,000 kits.[7]

Family Tree DNA offer their group administrators the chance to tour the lab while attending the annual group administrators' conference. See the following reviews:

parent company Gene by Gene

In September 2012, Greenspan and Blankfeld restructured Family Tree DNA's parent company, Genealogy by Genetics, Ltd. This included their renaming Genealogy by Genetics, Ltd. as Gene by Gene, Ltd. After restructuring, the business comprises four divisions, one of these being Family Tree DNA for genealogical DNA tests. It is Gene by Gene, Ltd. that now operates the Genomics Research Center (GRC) lab in Houston, Texas.

DNA testing

For details on FTDNA kit numbers and the approximate date ranges see the article on FTDNA kit numbers.

FTDNA kit content (2009): two cotton 'toothed' swab kits

Y-chromosome DNA

Family Tree DNA offers Y-STR testing of the Y-chromosome for identification of the ethnic and geographic origin of the patrilineal line, the line which is usually associated with the transmission of surnames. Also, it is used to affirm or disprove a genealogical connection on the patrilineal line. A haplogroup is determined and backed by Family Tree DNA's SNP Assurance Program. The company also offers a comprehensive Y-SNP test known as the Big Y which was introduced in November 2013 (see Y-sequence). Custom single Y-SNPs are available to order a la carte, see Y-DNA project help.

Mitochondrial DNA

Family Tree DNA offers the analysis of mitochondrial DNA, which is found in both men and women. mtDNA traces the matrilineal all-female line. Family Tree DNA offers testing of the HVR1 region, HVR2 region, and the Full Mitochondrial Sequence (FMS) which sequences the entire mitochondrial genome. Results identify the ethnic and geographical origin of the matrilineal line.

Autosomal DNA

In February 2010 Family Tree DNA began the phased launch of a new autosomal DNA test known as the Family Finder. The test looks at around 500,000 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) across the 22 autosomal chromosomes. Close relations have large shared segments of DNA. More distant relations have smaller segments of shared DNA. The test works best at finding relations up to the fourth or fifth cousin level.


Family Tree DNA regularly offers sales with discounts on the regular prices and in Nov. 2014 introduced Mystery Reward codes; examples[8][9][10]:

  • Mystery Reward codes: Holiday Sale 2015 off Y $5/10/20, off Big Y $25/50/75, off FMS $5/10/20, off FF $5/10; Holiday Sale 2014 off any $5/10, off Y $5/10, off Big Y $100, off FMS $10/25, off FF $5/10/20/49;
  • Y-DNA12 to Y-DNA37: Holiday Sale 2018 $69 (reg. $109), Holiday Sale 2015 $79 (reg. $99), Holiday Sale 2014 $78 (reg. $99)
  • Y-DNA37: Holiday Sale 2018 $99 (reg. $169), Holiday Sale 2015 $139 (reg. $169), Holiday Sale 2014 $129 (reg. $169), End of Summer 2014 $129 (reg. $169), Holiday Sale 2013 $119 (reg. $169)
  • Y-DNA37 to Y-DNA67: Holiday Sale 2018 $69 (reg. $109), Holiday Sale 2015 $79 (reg. $99), Holiday Sale 2014 $78 (reg. $99), End of Summer 2014 $79 (reg. $109)
  • Y-DNA67: Holiday Sale 2018 $179 (reg. $268), Holiday Sale 2015 $228 (reg. $268), Holiday Sale 2014 $199 (reg. $268), End of Summer 2014 $199 (reg. $268), Holiday Sale 2013 $189 (reg. $268)
  • Y-DNA67 to Y-DNA111: Holiday Sale 2018 $89 (reg. $129), Holiday Sale 2015 $103 (reg. $129), Holiday Sale 2014 $109 (reg. $129), End of Summer 2014 $109 (reg. $129), Holiday Sale 2013 $109 (reg. $129)
  • Y-DNA111: Holiday Sale 2018 $219 (reg. $359), Holiday Sale 2015 $309 (reg. $359)
  • Big Y: Holiday Sale 2018 $499 (reg. $649), Holiday Sale 2015 $525 (reg. $575), Holiday Sale 2014 $525 (reg. $575)
  • mtFullSequence (FMS): Holiday Sale 2018 $139 (reg. $199), Holiday Sale 2015 $169 (reg. $199), Holiday Sale 2014 $169 (reg. $199), Holiday Sale 2013 $169 (reg. $199)
  • FamilyFinder: Holiday Sale 2018 $49 (reg. $79), Holiday Sale 2015 $89 (reg. $99)
  • Project Discounts and additional test availability: Example order link in "Project Pending"


Between 2007 and 2010, Family Tree DNA forged several new partnerships that allowed them to access additional international markets. Note that kits ordered from the partners are more expensive than kits ordered direct from FTDNA. These companies have the advantage of being able to offer customer service in the local language, or specialist research expertise.

National Geographic's Genographic Project

When the National Geographic Society launched the Genographic Project in 2005, they selected Family Tree DNA as the testing company for all public participation.

Family Tree DNA staff were instrumental in developing the Geno 2.0 product for the second phase of the Genographic Project.[11] Geno 2.0 samples for both public and scientific study are run at the Genomics Research Center in Houston, Texas, that is operated by Family Tree DNA's parent company, Gene by Gene, Ltd.

Genographic Project customers can transfer their results to the FTDNA database and benefit from the many surname, geographical and haplogroup projects.

Note that as of November 2016 Genographic tests for US customers are being processed by Helix while the international kits continue to be processed by Family Tree DNA. As the Helix test is a lower resolution test these results cannot be transferred to the FTDNA database.[12][13]

The first of Family Tree DNA's new partnerships was with the Germany based iGENEA company. It was formed alongside the closing of DNA-Fingerprint and Thomas Krahn's helping open the Genomic Research Center in Houston.[14] Their website is available in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.[14]

African DNA
In late 2007, Henry Louis Gates, PhD created African DNA in partnership with Family Tree DNA to help promote genetic testing for personal ancestry among African Americans.[15]

DNA Ancestry & Family Origin
DNA Ancestry & Family Origin DNA Ancestry is a genetic genealogy testing partnership between Family Tree DNA and Eastern Biotech & Life Sciences. Their website is available in both English and Arabic.[16]

A dynamic partnership with myHeritage was launched in November 2008. myHeritage is a genealogical and family social networking website that produces online and PC based genealogy software.[17]

DNA Worldwide is Family Tree DNA's UK partner.

FTDNA conference

FTDNA host a genetic genealogy conference each year for their project administrators.


FTDNA in the news

External links

See also


  1. Bradford, Nicole.Riding the 'genetic revolution. Houston Business Journal, 24 February 2008.
  2. Dardashti, Schelly Talalay. When oral history meets genetics. The Jerusalem Post. 30 March 2008. "Greenspan, born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, has been interested in genealogy from a very young age; he drew his first family tree at age 11."
  3. Skorecki, Karl; Selig, Sara;Blazer, Shraga; Bradman, Robert; Bradman, Neil; Waburton, PJ; Ismajlowicz, Monica; Hammer, Michael F. Y chromosomes of Jewish priests. Nature, 1 January 1997; 385 (6611): 32.
  4. National Genealogical Society Quarterly. US National Genealogical Society. 2005; 93 (1–4), p248. "Businessman Bennett Greenspan hoped that the approach used in the Jefferson and Cohen research would help family historians. After reaching a brick wall on his mother's surname, Nitz, he discovered an Argentine researching the same surname. Greenspan enlisted the help of a male Nitz cousin. A scientist involved in the original Cohen investigation tested the Argentine's and Greenspan's cousin's Y chromosomes. Their haplotypes matched perfectly."
  5. Gibbens, Pam. Talk of the Town – At Familytree DNA, it's all Relative Greater Houston Weekly/Houston Chronicle, April 2006.
  6. Belli, Anne. Moneymakers: Bennett Greenspan. Houston Chronicle, 18 January 2005. "Years of researching his family tree through records and documents revealed roots in Argentina, but he ran out of leads looking for his maternal great-grandfather. After hearing about new genetic testing at the University of Arizona, he persuaded a scientist there to test DNA samples from a known cousin in California and a suspected distant cousin in Buenos Aires. It was a match. But the real find was the idea for Family Tree DNA, which the former film salesman launched in early 2000 to provide the same kind of service for others searching for their ancestors."
  7. Family Tree DNA Website, Press Release February 11, 2009
  8. It’s beginning to look a lot like… DNA holiday sale time!, The Legal Genealogist,
  9. Family Tree DNA's End of Summer Y-DNA Sale, Your Genetic Genealogist,
  10. News from Family Tree DNA: "Big Y" Sequencing, Conference and Holiday Sale, Your Genetic Genealogist,
  11. Elhaik, E; Greenspan, E; Staats, S; Krahn, T; Tyler-Smith, C; Xue, Y; Tofanelli, S; Francalacci, P et al The GenoChip: a new tool for genetic anthropology. Genome Biology and Evolution 2013; 5 (5): 1021–1031.
  12. Kennett D. Exome testing combined with a Geno 2.0 Next Generation test from Helix. Cruwys News, 23 November 2016.
  13. Genographic Project .FAQ: Participation, Testing, and Results. Where are the DNA samples processed?.
  14. 14.0 14.1 "Family Tree DNA takes root in Europe". Houston Business Journal (Houston, TX: American City Business Journals). 
  15. "Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. joins forces with Family Tree DNA to launch". Retrieved 23 June 2007. 
  16. "DNA Ancestry Website, Homepage". Retrieved 23 June 2013. 
  17. "myHeritage Website, Blogs & Press Releases - November 2008". 

GNU head This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Family Tree DNA".