Family Tree DNA was gracious enough to establish projects for genealogists – in fact – that’s one of the first things they did. However, when they established projects, some 14 or 15 years ago, the first projects that existed were Y DNA projects. The Y DNA, of course, is passed from father to son, along with the surname, so the projects were called “surname projects.”
Women, of course, are genealogically jinxed because their surnames have historically changed in every generation, with marriage, and sometimes multiple times, with multiple marriages – so which surname project would they join? The answer is, it varies, and more often than not, the answer is none. They roam around like homeless nomads. Mitochondrial DNA tools and data bases lag far behind those of Y or autosomal DNA.
There are four types of projects at Family Tree DNA.
- Surname projects
- Haplogroup projects
- Geographic projects
- Mitochondrial DNA lineage projects
Mitochondrial DNA lineage projects have never really caught on, probably because there is no good way to find them, but the other three types of projects are very common and widely used.
In upcoming articles, we’re going to look at each type of project, what it provides, to whom, and any special challenges it might have.
However, there is one universal challenge with projects and that’s how to find and handle autosomal matches. Autosomal testing didn’t exist when projects were first defined, and now we don’t quite know how to handle autosomal testing and people who descend from specific lines but not through the Y chromosome. In other words, my paternal grandmother was a Bolton, but it’s not my surname – should I and could I join the Bolton project? In the past, assuredly, the answer would have been “no,” because the Bolton project is a Y DNA project – but is the answer still no? That depends on the project and the administrators, and we’ll discuss these types of issues in the upcoming Surname Projects article.
However, regardless of the type of project, there is one question that gets asked a lot, and the answer is always the same.
Can I compare my autosomal DNA to other project members?
And the answer is…..drum roll please….yes. However, not in the way you might expect.
All projects and types of projects, and all tests, except Big Y, SNP and factoids are included in the advanced matching features available on every participants home page at Family Tree DNA. This means that you can see who you match, within each project you have joined, on each kind of and combination of kinds of tests.
Sign on to your personal page, and under “My DNA,” under either Y DNA, mtDNA or Family Finder, you have an “Advanced Matching” option.
Selecting the Advanced Matching Option will show the following options.
Selecting Family Finder and then the project where you’d like to see who you match, in this case, “Speaks,” and then clicking on “Run Report” gives you the following.
Within the project, you can see who you match, if they have had their Y or mtDNA tested, and if so, the haplogroup, and their estimated relationship range (to you) utilizing Family Finder.
Now, let me tell you what this DOESN’T mean.
It doesn’t automatically mean that you match these people on this same family line.
I want to say that again, and louder, because this is one of the most common erroneous assumptions I see.
And it does not, DOES NOT, mean that if you are both members of a geographic project, like the American Indian project, for example, that you are American Indian because you match someone in the American Indian project. You might match them on a completely different non-Indian line.
It also DOES NOT mean that these people who match you, match each other. You can determine that, but you’ll need to utilize the matrix tool to see who matches whom. In fact, in the example above, Stacy and Lola-Margaret do not match each other.
You simply cannot assume. You know what assume does….
No jumping to conclusions either, no matter how excited you are or how promising a match within that project looks to be. Conclusion jumping works functionally the same as assume.
If this seems a bit confusing to you, let me explain.
Autosomal DNA tests test and include your DNA that you received from all of your ancestral lines. It reaches back in time reliably 5 or 6 generations, and often further, in terms of matching to your genetic cousins.
At 5 generations, you have 32 separate ancestral lines, and at 6 generations, you have 64 different ancestral lines.
Y surname projects typically focus on one line, the blue Estes line above. Mitochondrial DNA is the same, focusing on the red circle matrilineal line above But your autosomal DNA match within the Estes project could reflect an Estes line match, or any of your 31 genealogical other lines at 5 generations. People who join projects typically do so because of their relationship with one particular line, like the Estes line – but autosomal has the capability to and does reach across all lines – so just because you match someone in the same DNA project does not mean that’s where your genetic match comes from. Of course, it’s a wonderful hint, especially if you’re an Estes and it’s the Estes project, and a great place to start looking – but it’s NOT a given. And of course, in haplogroup and geographic projects, the connection is even less apparent. The Y DNA and mtDNA haplogroup fields are also another great hint and can quickly eliminate, or suggest, those possible lines.
Are you curious to see who you match in different projects? Take a look. You never know what kind of surprise might be waiting.