A Review of Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder – Part I

Since late 2007, several “direct-to-consumer” or “DTC” genetic testing products have entered the marketplace, many of which offered some degree of autosomal ancestry analysis (including 23andMe, deCODEme, and Pathway Genomics, among others).

In early 2010, genetic ancestry testing company Family Tree DNA announced that it would begin offering a new genetic genealogy product (see “Announcing Family Finder – An Autosomal Test From Family Tree DNA”).  The new product, called “Family Finder,” is one of only a very few autosomal genetic genealogy tests available to consumers.

The Family Finder test uses an Affymetrix microarray chip that includes over 500,000 pairs of locations called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in your autosomal DNA.  Once the SNPs are analyzed, FTDNA detects linked blocks of DNA that indicate a common ancestor.  The number and size of these linked blocks is used to determine how recently or closely two people are related.  From the Family Finder FAQ page:

“The Family Finder test works by comparing your autosomal DNA to that of other people in our database who have taken the test. Your relationship with a match is calculated based on sharing linked segments of DNA. Although any two people from the same population may have some of their DNA in common, as a matching segment of DNA becomes longer and you share more segments, it becomes more likely that the sharing is due to a recent common ancestor than a chance match.”

Thus, the results of the Family Finder test are used to find stretches of DNA shared by two individuals, to identify your “genetic cousins” (as compared with “genealogical cousins,” who you may or may not share DNA with).

The Family Finder landing page is packed with information, including videos and information about the potential uses of the product:

“We place you in control. When you take the Family Finder test, your results are compared against our Family Finder database. Your list of matches is designed to be quickly sorted to allow you to focus on your near or distant cousins. Because email addresses are provided for easy communication with your near or distant cousins you will be able to share research easily. We notify you by email when you have new matches. Your raw data file is freely available for download.”

Frequently Asked Questions Page

The Family Finder FAQ page is especially well-developed for such an early stage product.  There are currently over 75 FAQs including a wide range of questions and answers, including the following:

Question: What is the probability that my relative and I share enough DNA to be detected by Family Finder?

Answer: If you are related within five generations (3rd or more recent cousins) then Family Finder is almost sure to detect your relationship. Testing will also detect many 4th and 5th cousins and a small percentage of more distant cousins.  Chances of finding a match if the relationship is:

Relationship Match Probability
2nd cousins or closer > 99%
3rd cousin > 90%
4th cousin > 50%
5th cousin > 10%
6th cousin and more distant remote (typically less than a few percent)

Connecting with Cousins:

Unlike 23andMe’s Relative Finder, where communicating with genetic relatives in their database can be challenging (although 23andMe is launching improvements to the system that will make identifying and communicating with relatives easier), this product is intended for and marketed to genealogists.   The results are provided using the following format (picture courtesy of the ISOGG wiki Family Finder page, image has been altered for privacy reasons):

The results provide information about the identified genetic cousin, including the suggested relationship, the predicted relationship range, the shared cM (centimorgans), the longest block of shared DNA, and the ancestral surnames that the user has provided in their profile (if any).  Also provided is a link to the user’s email address to facilitate communication.

As a result, there are several privacy issues involved in the Family Finder test that test-takers should be aware of.  It is important to recognize that your name and the email address you sign up with will be made available to your genetic relatives.  For most genealogists this is a welcome development, but it is worth highlighting.  Additionally, if you share closely-matching DNA with an individual, that individual will see your name in their results and can share that information with other people.  Although ethically all test-takers should always keep these privacy issues in mind, there is nothing to prevent them from sharing the information.  Please be informed before you order this test.

Chromosome Browser:

Family Finder also provides a Chromosome Browser which test-takers can use to explore and compare the blocks of DNA that they share with genetic cousins.  Users can compare the blocks of up to 3 people, and can filter blocks from 10+ cM, 5+ cM, 3+ cM, down to 1+ cM.  Users can also view the comparison information in a table and download it to an Excel file.

Download of Results

Like 23andMe, Family Tree DNA offers customers the ability to download the results of the SNP test.  The autosomal results and X-chromosome results are offered in separate zipped files.

My Results:

I currently have 33 genetic relatives in the Family Finder database with the following break-down:

  • Only one person with a suggested relationship (my closest relative in the database), suggested at the 4th cousin stage, with a range of 3rd to 5th cousin;
  • Eight cousins at the 4th cousin to distant cousin stage; and
  • 24 cousins at the 5th cousin to distant cousin stage.

I am communicating with my matches in order to identify a shared ancestor in our respective trees.   In the one instance where we’ve identified shared ancestry, we share relatives in a minimum of twelve different lines (via the early colonial era).  I’ve also matched several relatives from an isolated geographic region where I have confirmed recent ancestors, although we have not yet identified a common ancestor.

Future Developments

Ancestral Percentages

At the current time, the Family Finder test results do not include information about possible ethnicity or biogeographical ancestry.  However, it appears that Family Tree DNA plans to offer this type of information in the future.  See, for example, “Relative Finder vs. Family Finder” at The Melungeon Historical Society blog.  There Roberta Estes writes the following:

“Family Tree DNA does not initially offer the percentages of ethnicity, but that will be added shortly. The 23andMe ethnicity percentages (European, African and Asian) are very, very conservative and I believe so conservative as to be significantly incorrect. Suffice it to say that I have been involved with the new ethnicity percentage information and presentation at Family Tree DNA, and it will blow the socks off of anything out there today.”

23andMe Results at FTDNA

What if you’ve already tested at 23andMe?  Once again, Roberta Estes writes the following (which includes information I’ve seen at several other places):

Family Tree DNA will (shortly) facilitate an upload of 23andMe raw data for a $40 and they will then compare the 180,000 (280,000 by inference) common locations between their data base participants and your 23andMe data. If you later decide to take the Family Finder FtDNA test, they will credit your $40 to that test. Only the people who ordered the full health traits and ancestry version of the 23andMe product can gain access to their raw data at 23andme. Everyone who participated in the beta can download their raw data.”

Experiences and More Information:

Family Finder Links:


I first had part of my genome sequenced over 7 years ago via an AncestryByDNA test.  Since then I’ve had mtDNA sequencing, Y-DNA sequencing, SNP scans, and a number of other tests performed.  Accordingly, I consider myself to be an early explorer in the field of DTC genetic testing.  I enjoy learning about my genetic ancestry, about genetic cousins, and about my own genome.  Many of the other early adopters of the Family Finder test are also pioneers.  I would recommend this test to anyone who is interested in their genetic ancestry, or anyone that is interested in learning more about their own genetic heritage.

One of the best things about the Family Finder test is that it gives the user information and then allows them to use that information as they so choose.  Although the test does reveal your name and email address to genetic relatives, it is up to you whether you reply to requests or explore those relationships.  Family Finder is yet another tool that allows personal genome explorers to learn about themselves.

Have you used FTDNA’s Family Finder test?  I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments section.

More Soon…

Stay tuned, in the next week or so I’ll be posting more of my review of Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder, including some advanced tools for Family Finder and/or 23andMe users .


I received my Family Finder test without charge from Family Tree DNA for purposes of this review.  Regardless, I have attempted to review this product as honestly and as objectively as possible in order to provide valuable information about Family Finder to my readers.  I am also a consultant for Pathway Genomics.


6 Responses

  1. ellen 51 29 July 2010 / 1:24 pm

    I have had the full test done at 23and me and am interested in both my health results as well as genealogy. As a member of the DAR I have most of my family charted until very far back. I will probably get the $40 share data at family Finder when that becomes available. Will you tweet this when it does? I follow you now.
    I can think of a few reasons people never got back to you from the 23andme database. I have over 300 matches and I can hardly keep up with just the small handful of people I have contacted. ( I always get back to the few who have contacted me). I am busy with work and to write these people and compare family names is torture in 23adn me. But I did contact the closest relative, a possible 3rd cousin from Ireland. I have many known relatives from there. We think we found a common name ( he is a genetics prof at Trinity by the way!) but still are looking to verify. He has the most info and we can’t figure this out. Others are so distant I fear we never will discover our connection. But whenever I have a few minutes time I try to reach out to my relatives. Still the thought of even more connections when I try Family finder is worrisome. How will I have time to connect with all these people?
    I have a BS in biology and yet I find the 23adn me site hard to figure out. Are the cousins on my mother’s or father’s side? That would help me to narrow down names to send to people. But their help leaves much to be desired. Maybe, as you say, Family Finder is better. We shall see.
    I enjoy your posts!

  2. Phil Cushman 12 May 2011 / 4:23 pm

    My big question about this that I cannot find an answer to is what happens if none of my ancestors have had this testing done and there is no DNA from them to compare to mine. I have one brick wall in my family tree and I have a hunch that none of the people I want to connect to have been tested.

  3. Huigh 1 September 2011 / 11:43 am

    People who find a genetic link with someone with whom they cannot find a genealogical connection would be well advised to keep in mind the fact that 10% of the population is not the child of the father they believe is theirs. A global family tree based on genetic links would be widely divergent from one based solely on genealogical sources.

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