Monday, November 11, 2013

FTDNA Conference: Part 1


I’m going to report on a few of the highlights of Family Tree DNA’s 9th International Conference on Genetic Genealogy which I attended in Houston this past weekend.  In this post I will discuss a completely new Big Y test and FTDNA’s holiday sale. Other highlights will have to wait for another day.

The big Y test has been a long time in the making. Back in June I had asked FTDNA’s CEO Bennett Greenspan if he had any advice for anyone thinking about ordering an “Early Bird Special of $1,250.00 USD” from FullGenomes new complete Y-chromosome test that was then just beginning to accept orders at $1250 a pop. Bennett responded in part that I could not blog about it but it might be wise to wait until he made a new product announcement in the near future that might be more cost effective. Saturday he made that announcement.


You may not notice in the fine print of the picture that this new test is discounted 25% from now until the end of November. The test is definitely not for everybody. Even at the discounted price it still costs $495. You can subtract another $10 off the price if you upload a GEDCOM file to your FTDNA page and copy the code you receive into your order page. 


Like any genealogy test you should only take this test with malice of forethought. ONLY ONE or at most two men who are closely related should take this test on behalf of other family members. You should consider pooling your money and sponsoring one person to take the test.


The new test is called the Big Y. Orders are now being accepted from existing customers only. You must be logged on to your FTDNA account to see the information about the test. For those of you that are somewhat familiar with Y-DNA testing, the values you are used to seeing on the 12, 25, 37, 67 & 111 marker tests are for short tandem repeats (STRs). Some of these values change every several generations so they are good for genealogists because they generally separate relatives from those with whom you are not closely related.


The new test is targeted to identify single nucleoid polymorphisms (SNPs). Our entire human instruction manual is written in our cells using a 4 letter alphabet which is reported to us at any given location as A, G, C or T. In the double helix of DNA mutations cause an A & G or a C & T to trade places. SNP mutations are generally a permanent change. 

The history of our ancestors' journey from the dawn of time is recorded in our cells. It gives us another tool that MAY help us demolish genealogical brick walls that have stymied our research. At least for now we are not using this tool to match will others. That may come later. Rather we are trying to refine the path from our ancient clans down into genealogical time--since most of us have had surnames). In this quest some of us will be successful and some of us will not. 

In my own case I can thoroughly document my 6th great-grandfather Philip Dowell who died in 1733. Enough of his current descendants have tested that we know what his exact 111 Y-chromosome markers were. But this still has not given us any real clues about where he and his ancestors were before he showed up as an established tobacco planter in Southern Maryland in the 1690s. His haplotype, as far as we have been able to break it down is very common in the British Isle--and to a lesser extent in other parts of Western Europe. I am hoping that this Big Y test will help refine this much further. I don't realistically expect that it will narrow down his origins to something as specific as one of today's zip codes. However, any clues would be appreciated after looking for his origins for almost half a century.

I'm also having the DNA of my father-in-law tested. His great-grandfather came from somewhere in Ireland to Chicago in the 1850s. He died in 1864 at the young age of 34 when his son was only 4. What few traces he may have left were largely destroyed in the 1871 Chicago Fire. To date he also has no close DNA matches that would help us pin down where in that island we should be looking for his point of departure.

This Big Y test may not be for you. However, if it is something that might help your research, it would be beneficial to act BEFORE THE END OF NOVEMBER. Of course if you are not yet an FTDNA customer you are not eligible to for the introductory price. However, FTDNA is offering a wide array of other tests at sale prices that will be available until the end of December. If you are trying to think of a present for a friend or family member who has everything, consider these possibilities: an initial test, an upgrade of an existing test, and two different tests in combination. 

If you are not sure where to begin testing or what a particular test might tell you, feel free to email me: InfoDoc [at] DDowell [dot] com or post a question in the comment box below. 

In my next post I will describe one of the interesting scientific questions that was raised at the conference.

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