What Project do I Join?

You wouldn’t believe how often I receive this question.  It seems evident to those of us who work with this information, but it’s obviously not to others.  So this blog is for those who ask, and also for project administrators who want to make sure their projects are useful and friendly and reaching the people they want to reach.

This is referring to the projects at Family Tree DNA.  Ancestry also has surname projects, but they tend to be more like study groups because you don’t have to DNA test to join them.

At Family Tree DNA, there are three kinds of projects; surname projects, haplogroup projects and geographic projects.  Let’s look at all 3.

Surname Projects

Most males will want to join a surname project.  Since the Y chromosome follows the surname, unless we’re looking at cases of adoption (documented or otherwise), you’ll want to join the surname project most similar to your surname.

To find the surname project best suited for you, simply go to Family Tree DNA and enter your surname into the surname search box.

Project administrators – be sure that all variants of the surname are listed in your project profile.

Ladies, surname projects are much less useful to you directly, since surnames changed with every generation.  In my own personal case, I “keep” people who have tested for particular surnames in that project, but that’s so I can find them easily.  For example, I have two women who tested to prove who their ancestor was, that she was the wife of one William Crumley, and so they are in the Crumley project.  However, that is as much for my convenience as anything.  There are 5 surnames between their generation and the Crumley connection, so any of those surnames would be as appropriate as any other.  Generally, women should focus more on the other project types.  Some Y-DNA project administrators don’t accept mitochondrial results into the project.

Be sure to look through the mtDNA Lineage projects on the project search page.  They are similar to surname projects for males.  Don’t know how to find the lineage projects, keep reading to discover how to find different kinds of projects.

Haplogroup Projects

I encourage everyone to join appropriate haplogroup projects.  There may be more than one for you.

Often there is a primary haplogroup project, for example, haplogroup H, then subprojects.  You can find these projects by going to the Projects tab at the top of your personal page and click on the “join” option.

You will see the following selections.

If you’re looking for mitochondrial haplogroup H, scroll down to the mitochondrial haplogroup section and click on H.  You will then see the following options.

In this case, I would suggest joining both the haplogroup H main project and the subproject appropriate for you. If you are haplogroup H1, then join that project as well.  So in this case, you would join two haplogroup projects.

What is the benefit of joining a haplogroup project?

First, you can help science along its way.  This is one way you can be a citizen scientist, contributing to the greater good.  Haplogroup projects group people so we can discover new haplogroup subgroups and learn about migration patterns, which brings me to the second reason, which isn’t so altruistic.

You can learn about where your ancestors lived and settled before the advent of surnames.  Do you want to know where they lived 1000, 2000 or 5000 years ago?  Well, by looking at the haplogroup maps, you can see where they and their descendants settled.

Many haplogroup administrators group participants within the haplogroup project by either haplogroup subgroups, common mutation patters (which lead to new haplogroup subgroups) or other criteria.  Here’s an example of a subgroup from the haplogroup H1 project.  If you don’t know where your ancestors were from in Europe, wouldn’t a map like this showing where others with similar DNA patterns lived be useful?

If you’re not sure about which projects apply to you then click on the project link and read what the administrator has to say about the project.  Still not sure?  Most of the time the administrator’s name and e-mail is shown.

Project administrators, be sure that your project description in the project profile and on your project public website background page is current and useful.  If you’re receiving the same question over and over, put the answer where people can see it.  Be sure your name and e-mail are listed so that people can contact you with questions.  Please, enable mapping.  It’s free and it a wonderful resource for your participants.  If any of these things are causing you problems, the helpdesk at Family Tree DNA is a god-send for project administrators and you can reach them at helpdesk@ftdna.com.

Geographic Projects

Named “geographic projects”, these really fall into the “all other” category, meaning those that aren’t surname projects and aren’t haplogroup projects.

I think these are the most interesting and most fun.  They group people by specific interests.  Sometimes that means geography, like the Cumberland Gap Project, sometimes ethnicity, like the Native American projects, and sometimes something else that someone wants to study.  They are also the most difficult to name appropriately so that people can find them, especially if they don’t know to look for them.

There are two ways to find these kinds of projects.  Go to the project tab on your personal page and click on join.

You will then see a listing of projects, a search box, and the index to projects.

Many people think that the projects shown are recommendations by Family Tree DNA and they join all of the projects.  This is NOT what this is.  This is a list of projects where the administrator has entered your surname, the one on your account, as a surname of interest to that project.  To see why, click on the project links. These projects may or may not be appropriate for your situation.

However, there may be other projects that are of interest to you.  You can begin by putting key words into the search box.  For example, putting the word “Indian” in the search box returned the following list of projects.

There are several projects shown, but I happen to know there are several more that aren’t.  Let’s say you’re interested in the Shawnee.  Try that word in the search box.  Still didn’t find anything, then resort to browsing?

Look through the various Y-line, mtdna and dual (Y+mtDNA) projects to see what is listed.  You may be surprised at what you find that is interesting to you.  While looking for your Shawnee, you may also discover the Cumberland Gap project, the North Carolina Native project and others that might be relevant.  So take some time and look at what is available to you.

Hey look, I found the Shawnee project under PiquaShawnee in the P section of the Dual (Y+mtDNA) geographic projects.  I surely am glad I was browsing, because I would never have thought to look for that project name or to look under P!!

Project administrators, you want your project to be able to be found by those who need to find it.  If you have a Native American project, for example, you might add the names of tribes, the word “Indian” and the words “native” and “American” and “Native American” in the surname list on the project profile page.  Why?  Because those are things people might enter in that search box to find a relevant project.  In the above example, list the word “Shawnee” as well.

Once a project is named, the name can’t be changed, so think about how the project can most easily be found by a novice and name it appropriately.



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

23 thoughts on “What Project do I Join?

  1. Regarding the Search Your Last Name facility on the home page of Family Tree DNA, the first section of Surname Search Results has the heading “THE FOLLOWING NAMES MATCHED YOUR SEARCH REQUEST:”. There is nothing to explain why that count is there or what it represents. Does anyone know please?

    • Yes, that is how many people by that surname have tested at Family Tree DNA. Of course, they aren’t necessarily males, if you’re looking for surnames. They could be women.

      • Thanks Roberta. For the surname Rix the count is 23. Out of the total of 37, men and women, in my Rix project there are 20 kits that have the surname Rix. I have never been able to reconcile the two counts. Does that mean that there are three Rix that have tested with FTDNA that I am not aware of? If yes, I do not see any method of contacting those three. That is a frustrating situation.

        • Yes, there could 3 three Rix men out there, but it’s more likely that there are three females with the Rix surname that have tested and of course, would not be in your Y DNA project.

  2. Roberta

    From an Administrator who is anxious to learn – thank you very much.

    After a couple of years of working with the McKee Surname Project I have just started up a project for my mother’s surname, Hollabaugh. It is a perfect example of a surname which has many, many variants. We think that it and the many variants developed from the family of George Hollenbach who arrived in the PA area from Germany. Now we just have to wait and see where the testing data takes us.

    Do you have any suggestions of how we can work with any Hollabaugh Cousins that show up through the Family Finder tests? I suspect that I will find a few from my own FF matches but I expect that there will be others that I miss.

    How do we find them?

    Then once we do, how do we help them?

    Tom McKee

    • Hi Tom. Those are good questions. When we find someone with a FF match of our surname of interest, in your case, McKee, it would be a good idea to see if they know if their McKee line has been tested. If not, maybe they can find someone who will do the Yline test. Often people need help with the genelaogy and connecting the dots. But one of the best ways to see if the dots can even be connected is to see if the two family lines’ Yline DNA matches or not.

  3. Hello, This was very helpfull, but the science is still hard for many people to understand. After spending 2 months doing research on my genealogy, I did find why I have matches in so many countries. I had my dna tested to prove or disprove Native American dna. My aunt tested to check the mtdna on my grandmothers line. We still do not have a definitive answer to our quest. In my mtdna however, the paper trail says I have not only Native American but may also have some black dna. I am on fixed income but hope one day to test my mtdna. I can only hope I have a better understanding of the science. Thanks, Donald Humphreys

  4. Pingback: Where is my Haplogroup From? | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  5. Pingback: Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  6. Pingback: Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA | Native Heritage Project

  7. Pingback: Projects, Administrators and Expectations | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  8. Pingback: Family Tree DNA Research Center Facilitates Discovery of Ancient Root to Y Tree | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  9. Been looking though the project forums, My dad’s haplogroups have determined as Y-DNA E1b1a8a and mtDNA L2b3a according to the Geno 2.0 test. I’m getting the upgrade test Family Finder to get closer information. Should I wait for the upgrade with family finder and the tests offered by FTDNA before I join a specific group? I need to get myself tested as well through the $49.00 mtDNA special, but I”m trying to focus on just him. .

  10. Pingback: Haplogroup Comparisons Between Family Tree DNA and 23andMe | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  11. Pingback: DNAeXplain Archives – Introductory DNA | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  12. after reading pages of your info and still not sure what I should do, I would like to ask your guidance regarding my mother and her brother’s (only they are left) paternal line. (Mothers line well documented). Their earliest known paternal grandsire was a Reason Clendenning (b circa 1810). He resided in Jefferson County Ohio but do not know his origin or his father’s name. Here are the two lingering questions, that eat at us. How do we find where reason’s fathers came from or who they are and here is the big one how do we find (or isolate) either his wife’s or his mother’s or grandmothers Seneca ancestry. What tests could show us these different things. Are you able to advise? Who needs to test for what and can tests answe their questions.

        • You’re welcome. I found your question on a different thread. I’ve been functioning mostly from my phone with a back injury and the phone version doesn’t work quite the same as I’m used to, so sorry for the delay.

          • You know Roberta, i was eagerly awaiting your reply. I told my mom and uncle i had written you and explained to them the different tests.
            Right after I wrote them, I received your reply.
            For mothers day, i ordered the family finder and mtdna for my mother through family tree. I considereded all three of the top ones and decided to go through them. Though i do not have a gedcom tree, i am assuming i can create one at Family Tree once we receive the results. I yrued to look for the tree today to start working on it but could not find it on my mother’s new account

          • When you sign in to her account, right in the middle of her page near the top you should see an icon that says “my Family Tree.” Click on that and start the tree.

Leave a Reply