Is the Family Tree DNA 12 Marker Test Worthwhile?

There has been quite a bit of discussion about the 12 marker test at Family Tree DNA.  Some people would like to see this discontinued, mostly administrators who would very much like people to test at higher marker levels out the door.  However, sometimes that just doesn’t happen, and the 12 marker test is still quite valuable for a number of reasons:

  • Removes cost as a constraint to DNA testing at $39
  • Allows relatives to pay for tests – I’ve purchased 4 in the past couple of weeks
  • Can often exclude some family lines (no more barking up the wrong tree) – but may need more testing if common haplogroup like R1b1a2 to determine exact family line
  • Provides tester with haplogroup which can be very enlightening (European, African, Asian or Native American)
  • Provides tester with matches
  • DNA is stored for 25 years, so tests can be performed at a later date
  • Let’s people stick their toe in the pool for $39 – they can upgrade later

The question was then asked whether the $39 12 marker test at Family Tree DNA really saves money by ordering the 12 marker test and upgrading later to a higher marker count.  The hardest part of answering this question was finding someone in my projects who had only tested to 12 markers so I could look at the upgrade pricing.

The answer is yes.  Here’s the breakdown.

Upgrade cost from 12 markers to other levels:

12 to 25 – $49

12 to 37 – $99

12 to 67 – $189

111 markers was not listed as an upgrade from 12 markers, so I did not use the 111 marker tests in this comparison.

Total with $39 plus Upgrade, above:

25 markers – $88

37 markers – $138

67 markers – $228

Ordering Higher Marker Level Within Project (no $39 entry level test – just order the higher marker level out the gate):

12 – $39 (same price)

25 – $124 ($36 savings to upgrade separately)

37 – $149 ($11 savings to upgrade separately)

67 – $238 ($10 savings to upgrade separately)

Ordering Higher Marker Level Outside of Project (no $39 entry level test, order higher marker level out the gate):

12 – $39 (same price)

25 – not offered outside of projects

37 – $169 ($31 savings to upgrade separately)

67 – $268 ($1 savings to upgrade separately)

So your best value would be to purchase the $39 kit and upgrade to higher marker levels separately.

23 thoughts on “Is the Family Tree DNA 12 Marker Test Worthwhile?

  1. … and I just bought the 37 marker test! Thanks for doing the math for us. I think I’ll buy some relatives the 12 marker test as gifts.

  2. Another reason you could use these kits is to store some of your male family member’s DNA. Since FamilyTreeDNA stores the DNA for 25 years or so, that will make their DNA available for future tests you may want to do with that firm, perhaps even after those relatives themselves have passed away. $39 for a DNA deposit is not a bad deal!

      • You have to be careful with upgrades for other people. The company points out that you must get written permission and that not doing so is unethical.

        (It seems to me that this is true for using the $39 sample for an autosomal or MtDNA analysis. Upgrading from Y-12 to Y-67 without express permission doesn’t sound unethical to me. But what do I know.)

        • Indeed, you do need to get permission for the upgrades. I certainly wasn’t implying that anything be done without the permission of the owner. But if they swabbed, they could give you permission for the upgrade at the same time. Also, everyone can assign a beneficiary on their personal page so it will be clear who can do things with the DNA when they are gone. I have signed documents from some of my cousins here as well.

  3. I ordered 37 markers for my father-in-law to see how much mutations between them. Nice-to-see curiosity, also to help others to understand that every mutation happens between a father and a son.

    Now the first panel results, 12 markers are ready: one step difference. I find this interesting and I’m looking forward to further panels. And I’ll upgrade to 111, it’s a window to the past and might increase understanding, mine and hopefully also others’.

  4. I started with the first Genographic Project back in 2006, with its 12 marker test handled by FTDNA, and still have the certificate and welcome letter. That was it; I was hooked! Since then I have upgraded first to 25, then 37, mtDNA, Family Finder, 23andMe, Geno2, pushing friends into testing, all the while reading as much as I could about genetic testing and genetic anthropology. I consider this now sort of a hobby and I’m sure once the entire genome test hits $1,000 I’ll be there too. It’s exciting to be a part of this science, even as a consumer of testing products, knowing that in a small way we are each contributing to the greater understanding of ourselves and where we come from. And knowing through autosomal testing that we come from different ethnicities enables us to appreciate the inner diversity.

  5. Thank you Roberta! I have been advising people to do it this way as well, but now I have all the comparisons to use as a resource in the future.

    Thank you!

    Judy (Judy Scanlon)

  6. My very small DNA surname project has only 6 people but there are already different haplogroups. I have tried for years to convince more Males to test but it seems the price was too high. With the new low price for 12 markers I have at last convinced 5 more to test and although I would love to have the higher markers, with 12 I can at least sort them into one of the three haplogroups….if I don’t get a new one.

    I love your blog

  7. For those who have tested with Family Tree, how often have you received match updates since your initial results were posted?

        • The good news is that their software only matches you with others who test L21a at the full sequence level, or people who you match exactly at the HVR1 or HVR2 levels. The bad news is that there won’t be many. If you’re concerned, call customer support and ask them to check and make sure everything is alright. You can do a sanity check by checking the haplogroup project to see if new entries are found there.

  8. I expected to have at least a few new matches in four months. Thought there could be some unidentified technical issue with the match application.
    Thanks for your response Roberta.

  9. I was tested at the 12 marker level and I didn’t recieve a single hit. It’s been well over a year with nothing. Is that uncommon? If 12 markers is the broadest test I would think that I’d get at least one hit at that level.

    • Many people have no hits at 12 markers. I’m not sure how you mean the word, “broadest.” There is only one difference allowed at 12 markers, and then only if you’re in a common project. Otherwise, you have to be an exact match. At higher marker level, more mutations are allowed to be considered a match. Some people pick up matches at higher levels. Some don’t. If not, it means you have very rare DNA.

      • I guess my understanding was that at 12 markers you are using the largest net possible. The more markers you test the narrower the results and the closer the matches are to you from a genealogical perspective. Is that not correct?

        • Yes. You can also use the 12 marker test to get a yes/no about whether you’re connected to a particular line. But now, the price of the 37 has dropped to the point that it’s really the best introductory value.

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