How to Join a DNA Project

Family Tree DNA provides three types of projects for people to join. Projects are free to join and are run by volunteer project administrators, people who have a specific interest in the topic at hand and are generally quite glad to be of assistance.  Projects are great ways to find people you match and others interested in a common topic.

There are three kinds of DNA projects:

  • Surname projects – like Estes
  • Haplogroup Projects – like R1b, M269 or J1c2f, for both Y and mitochondrial DNA haplogroups and subgroups
  • Geographic projects – really anything else that isn’t a surname or a haplogroup, like Cumberland Gap or Cherokee or Scottish DNA

You can join unlimited multiple projects, but you want to make sure projects you join are relevant to your genealogy, your research and/or your haplogroup.

I covered haplogroup projects in depth here and surname projects in depth here, but today, I just want to do a simple “how to” instruction on how to find and join any project of your choosing.

Joining projects is easy.

First, of course, you must have tested at or transferred your results to Family Tree DNA and you must have taken the type of test relevant to the project at hand.

For example, if you have taken the Family Finder Autosomal test and not taken any other tests, you can’t join a Y DNA project because you have not tested your Y chromosome. Ladies, sorry, you can’t join Y DNA projects either because you don’t have a Y chromosome.

If you haven’t yet tested, then you can join a project and get a discount on your test at the same time. If you already have results at Family Tree DNA, skip to the next section, “Joining Up.”

Discounts When Ordering Through Projects

You can order tests through projects at a discount if you’ve never tested before. To do that, just click on this link, then type your surname of interest into the search field by the green text box.

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Hint – if you’re an adoptee, just type adoptee and you’ll see the adoptee project. If you type a surname, you’ll see surname related projects.

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Click on the project you’re interested in joining to see discounted project based pricing, example shown below.

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Not sure what to order? You can read about the different kinds of DNA testing and how they apply to various ancestors on your tree in this “basic” DNA article.

Joining Up

If you’re already a customer at Family Tree DNA, it’s easy to join projects. First, sign on to your account.

Join 1

You’ll see your home page that looks something like this at the top.

In the upper left hand tool bar you’ll see the projects tab, with 3 drop down selections, shown below.

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“Learn About Projects” is basic information which you should, of course, read.

The “Manage My Projects” selection shows you which projects you are a member of and provides you with a convenient click list to visit any of your projects.

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But before you can manage projects, you have to join some first.

Click on “Join Projects.”

The first thing you will see is a list, based on your surname, of projects where the administrators have entered your surname as a surname of interest to their projects. This may or may not be useful to you.  If your surname is the surname of your spouse – not useful at all.  In my case, however, Estes is my maiden name so these projects might be useful to me.

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Let’s take a quick look.

  • The Cumberland Gap mtDNA project isn’t relevant, because my Estes line is my paternal line and my mitochondrial DNA is my matrilineal line – so no cigar on this one.
  • The Cumberland Gap Y DNA project isn’t relevant for me, because I’m a female and don’t have a Y chromosome, although my family is from the Cumberland Gap area. Hmmm…I need to find a related Estes male to test so he can join that project.
  • The Estes surname project. I have it on good authority that I can join this project whether or not I’m related via the Y, mitochondrial or autosomal connection. Hint – I founded this project and yes, we welcome anyone who is Estes descended.
  • Estis Jewish Ukraine – Nope doesn’t pertain to me and neither do the surnames Jester or Maestas, although clearly Estes could be derivative spellings of those surnames.
  • The I-L161 project is a Y DNA haplogroup project, so I’m not sure why a surname would be listed here, but this does not apply to me as I have no Y chromosome.
  • The administrators of the North Carolina Early project have obviously found the Estes surname in early records, but my line came through Virginia and Tennessee, so this doesn’t pertain to me either.

So, I can join one of these projects. Please, please take the time to read the project descriptions to see if the projects listed are a good fit for your family and for the stated project goals.

Some people think that this list is Family Tree DNA recommending certain projects, or suggesting that they join these projects. It isn’t.  The only way these projects appear is for the administrator to list your surname as one that their project is interested in – and it’s likely not universal meaning not relevant to everyone who carries the surname.  For example, Early North Carolina is confined to a specific geography and timeframe.

Obviously, there are probably other projects of interest that can’t be sensed by your surname.

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At the bottom of the project list, there is a search field, followed by a list of projects that are divided into types.

First, type into the search box the surname (or word) you are trying to find. Let’s use Ferverda for example.

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Yes, there is one project with 3 members for Ferverda. You can click on the project name to see additional information.  In fact, please do read the entire project description, because that’s the only way you’ll know if you qualify to join and the project is a good fit.  For example, what is the word Ferverda, or worse yet, Ireland?  Is it a surname or a place?  If it’s the place, can you join only if you are proven to descend from Ireland or can you join if might have Irish heritage?  Mitochondrial or Y DNA, or both?  What about autosomal DNA?  Read the project description to find out.

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Once you’ve determined that this project is for you, click the orange join button to join. Don’t worry, you can unjoin easily if you make a mistake.  Some projects have a “request to join” feature to be sure the pairing is a good fit.

Can’t find your surname? Try an alternate spelling or scroll down and see if you can find a different kind of project that fits the bill.  (Hint – you can double click on this image to make it larger.)

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For example, let’s see what’s available under the letter B under Y-DNA Geographical projects:

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Hmm, I can’t join those because they are Y DNA projects, so lets look under mtDNA Haplogroup projects. I’m haplogroup J.

Look, here’s the perfect project for me!

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Now all I have to do is click on the project link and then on the orange Join button to become a member.

Privacy Settings and Sharing

You will want to be sure your privacy settings are set such that your results will show in the projects you choose to join. I wrote about that here with specific instructions, so be sure to check, especially if you tested in 2015 or later, because the default is set to not publicly sharing.  This means if you don’t change your settings, your results will not be visible on the public project page.  An example of my haplogroup J project results on the public project page is shown below.

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The great thing about projects is that they ultimately benefit everyone through sharing, but sharing is the key word.

For example, this map of where the J1c2f ancestors are found in Europe and Asia, generated within the haplogroup J project, would not be available if people didn’t:

  1. Join projects
  2. Share publicly
  3. Enter the location of their most distant ancestor for that line

Join 12These maps allow us to take a look at the migration and settlement story behind this haplogroup. There are there hints based cumulatively on where our most distant ancestors are found.  We’ll never unravel the ancestral story without these hints and these hints are the results of shared information.  So, please share.  You’ll benefit from others sharing and others will benefit from you sharing.  Sort of a scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours scenario.

Have fun and find some great projects to join. You never know where your DNA will take you or the discoveries you’ll make!  What is your DNA waiting to tell you?



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18 thoughts on “How to Join a DNA Project

  1. I have several Y-DNA projects and we allow anyone to join who has the surname in their pedigree and they have done the FTDNA Family Finder test.

  2. I run 4 y-dna projects, Moseley, McCreary, Fortune and Craft. :We welcome anyone who wants to join. Autosomal results are shown on their own webpage, but I am hoping one day soon we will be able to view them on the y-dna results page alongside the y-dna males who have also tested their autosomal dna. Our members consist not only of the y-dna and autosomal participants, but also contacts, many of whom have no y-dna candidate from their line, but do have detailed pedigrees. These folks often volunteer to help pay for a y-dna test if they see someone else in the project who they believe is from their branch of the family tree. We send out mass emails to everyone, contacts and test participants, whenever we have new results or a breakthrough to share.

  3. I took a look at my suggested projects after reading this. I was surprised that there are at least 5 or 6 now. Only one is the surname group. Three are Y-DNA groups, even though I have not taken a Y-DNA test. And with very specific subclades. I do see that quite a few of my matches have taken a Y-DNA test. That was the part that was confusing to me. If I match someone who has only taken the Y-DNA test, does this infer that this is my haplogroup as well? I am not sure I should see a Y-DNA match. I know they would be able to see me. By the way, all of the haplogroup matches are from the same region, the same region that Family Tree DNA’s ethnicity calculator predicts is part of my genetic composition. I would not attempt to join the projects unless I took a Y-DNA test.

    • The only reason the projects are listed is because the project admin added your surname to their projects’ list of surnames that the project is interested in. It doesn’t mean anything else at all. You would not want to join a Y project unless you took the Y test, unless it was a Y project that also welcomes autosomal testers.

  4. Thanks for posting this–many people should benefit from it.

    I administer two projects, one of which is a one-name-study sort of surname project, and one of which is a type you didn’t mention, the family project that is mainly for known family members but open to the public in the hopes of finding additional family.

    On the latter project, I have listed various ancestral surnames as well as surnames from some collateral lines. I invariably find that while the project almost never shows up in the results of actual relatives (meaning I have to send them a link so they can find it and join), the name Nelson apparently brings in random people with Nelson ancestors. (My great-grandfather was the son of Nels, but I also have cousins with Nelson as a Scandinavian-origin surname, so I’ve been reluctant to delete the name from the list.) There may be other surnames that pop up for unrelated people who don’t read the project description and don’t tell me why they think they belong. I’m tempted to delete such people but the project is not so large that they clutter it up THAT much.

    I would recommend people taking the time not just to look for the obvious, but to click on all the letters in Dual-Geographic as you never know what might be hiding there and prove to be pertinent. That’s how I discovered that my father’s relatives were eligible for Forest Finn (great-grandma was a Norwegian with Forest Finn ancestry) and Poland (two great-grandparents were Germans-from-Poland and the project is broadly geographic).

  5. Pingback: Further Analysis of Native American Haplogroup C-P39 Planned | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

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  7. hI,

    I am female and my test was an Ancestry autosomal. My birth name is Salvador and we can only trace to my great great grandfather in Calcutta in 1834. My paternal grandparents were cousins born of twins in the Salvador line. There is Irish from my Cassidy grandmother back to the early 1600’s and more Irish and British in my grandparents’ females. My mothers maternal line is Cornish to the 1500’s and back – Searle, which is Norman and maybe Bennett – the Governor of Virginia in 1652. Her paternal line is Dau, German from Schwerin near the Baltic coast with some unknown Scandinavian back from before the 1600’s.
    When I plugged my kit in to you, it suggested a Cape Verde link. I can’t see my kit anywhere and there have been no surnames suggested. I joined the Portuguese group and can;t see my kit anywhere but a list of surnames with matches up to 72 (Silva – or Da Silva) amd reads like a list of the British East India Company Salvadors. Genes suggest a 10 – 12 % Indian heritage: that would seem to be consistent with 2-3 generations there. If we were of that line, there are about 5 possibilities in the mid to late 1700’s. Fact 1. Isaac Rodrigues Salvador went to India on Company business but set up a new family there with a Hindu lady. Fact 2. Joseph Salvador in London had a ‘natural son’ – Joseph Lewis Salvador De Moriencourt who joined the Royal Navy and floated around, including Calcutta. He died in Boulogne in 1854, apparently without heirs. Fact 3. Francis Salvador went to America 1773 and was scalped by Indians in 1776 when fighting the British. Rumour has it that he dallied with a Jewish girl of good family and that she may have gone to India. Equally, as a slave owner,he may have dallied there and people ‘tidied up’ after he was killed. That could explain a Cape Verde connection too, although I don’t think any African gene was mentioned. Fact 4. Joseph Salvador born London 1716 went to Charleston in 1784 and died there in 1786 – at 70. Who knows how virile he may have been. The natutral thing there would also be for the family to ‘tidy up’ when he died. And lastly Fact 5. Francis had a son he left in London who converted to Christianity and chamged his name to Lovell, becoming a Reverend. It is not out of the question for him to have been in India prior to settling down. A Jewish descendant of the family is currently in Virginia and we have been corresponding. Both of us believe that there are famiy resemblances from each other’s family photo’s.
    So you see I am stuck and wondering if there is any further info to be gained from my test with you. My Uncle is still alive, (just) and I am hoping to talk him into testing. If he doesn’t, won’t or becomes unavailable, there would only be my son or nephews (if I could track them down) and their tests would have other genetic material in them. To finish up, I have no idea what my haplogroup is or anything else of that nature. If, after reading this, you can be bothered with any assistance, I would be very grateful.

    Elaine Hooper (born Salvador)

    • I’m a bit confused by this because I don’t do DNA testing, so you can’t plug your test in to me, so to speak. Perhaps you meant to address this to the vendor who did your test?

  8. Roberta, I would love to see a post on how to administer an autosomal project. I think you’ve referred to this somewhat in other posts, but I can’t find it at the moment.

    My maiden name has a pretty good-sized YDNA project, which my dad and uncle both participated in. So far, they’ve been unable to locate a common ancestor for the group of Y matches.

    I have come up with a few matches via Family Finder who might lead me back a couple more generations. But I’d love to have more data. If I had any idea what I was doing, I’d volunteer to cover the autosomal part of the project for the family surname association. I’ve been working at mapping my chromosomes for the last year or so, but not sure how to get my head around a group of people who may or may not have matching DNA, whether there’s software to take some of the burden off, etc.Any ideas you could share would be great!

      • Great, thank you! They don’t list Family Finder projects per se, so I was thinking maybe they didn’t really have any info on it.

        • The problem is that there is nothing to “show” in a Family Finder only project. I encourage everyone descended from the surname to join the surname project. Unfortunately, there is just no good solution today. Men will show, so I put them in an “autosomal” group by family. Females will not show. It’s just the way it is unfortunately.

  9. 1) What do I need to do after I join a project? Do I need to send the administrator my raw data? Or do they admins have access to download it from FTDNA? Or does FTDNA automatically make your data available to a group when you click Join?

    2) if not sure if a group is relevant, should one join it to see if there are matches? For example I learned that some gggrandparents were in Monongahela WV—would joining Cumberland gap project be useful in my research?
    Thanks for your detailed articles.

    • Group administrators can view your results after you join a project, so you don’t need to send them anything. You can utilize Advanced Matching to see if you match anyone on the different kinds of DNA, as well as combinations, within specific projects. That’s a very useful tool.

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