Big Changes for Big Y Test at Family Tree DNA

Today, I received a notification from Family Tree DNA (for group administrators) about some significant and very welcome changes to the Big Y test results.

The Big Y test, launched in November 2013, is a test for men who have already taken the regular Y DNA 37, 67 or 111 marker tests and want to refine their haplogroup further, or contribute to the building of the Y haplotree, or both. The Big Y test scans the entire Y chromosome for mutations, known as SNPs, which finds mutations on the Y chromosome that define branches of the paternal line of humanity. Some of these SNPs are already known, but some may be new, scientific discoveries found in your own DNA.

There’s lots to learn from Big Y testing, especially in conjunction with other testers through matching and haplogroup projects. The Big Y test has been responsible for taking the Y tree from hundreds of branches to tens of thousands that each tell a story of a branch or twig of mankind. That branch just happens to be yours and the people you match on that branch share a similar history.

In order to discern as much as possible, I have tested at least one man in each of my family lines for the Big Y. In the Estes line, I used the Big Y to shed light on a long-standing family story that probably isn’t true. The Big Y from my Lentz line produced very surprising results, matching an ancient burial along the Volga River from the Yamnaya culture. You can read more about that here. This just goes to show that you don’t know what you don’t know until you test.

The Big Y test, a deep dive into your haplogroup history, combined with the STR 37, 67 or 111 STR marker tests provide you with the most information you can obtain from Y DNA. The STR panels are focused on mutations that happen more frequently, so are relevant to genealogy in the past 500-800 years while the SNPs that define haplogroup branches happen less frequently, are viewed as “once in the lifetime of mankind” types of events, and speak to our older history, typically before the advent of surnames. Having just said that, I’ll also add that newer SNPs are being found that have occurred in a genealogical time frame and that do sometimes differentiate different lines of a family.

If you have taken a Y DNA 37, 67 or 111 marker test, you can upgrade to the Big Y by clicking on the blue upgrade link on your home page in the Y DNA section or in the upper right hand corner.

Big Y testers must first have tested to at least the 37 marker level, so the Big Y cannot be ordered without first ordering (or upgrading to) at least the 37 marker test.

The Announcement

Here’s what Family Tree DNA has to say about the new release:

Dear Group Administrators,

We’re releasing a big update to Big Y on October 10th and want to give you a first look before the release goes live.

Once the release is live, we will be recalculating Big Y matches. We anticipate this to take approximately 5-7 days. During this time, you will see a “Results Pending” page when you click on the Big Y section. You will be notified by email once your results are processed and ready.

Once the transition is complete, we will update you as to when BAM files will be available.

What’s New?

Here’s the breakdown of what we added and how it all works

Human Genome 38

We’ve updated from hg19 to hg38. This is a more accurate representation of the human genome and is the most recent version referenced by the human genome community.

Some of the advantages of hg38 are:

  • Better mapping of NGS data to the proper location
  • Consideration of alternative haplotypes across the genome

For more information about human genome builds, click here.

Terminal SNP Guide

We’ve added a terminal SNP Guide that allows you to view and filter the branches closest to the tester’s terminal branch on the haplotree.

BIG Y Browser

We’re giving you the ability to view your SNP data from Big Y. This will allow you to personally assess all SNP call positions that are being evaluated for matching purposes. This data will be continuously updated.



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

47 thoughts on “Big Changes for Big Y Test at Family Tree DNA

  1. Roberta is it fairly new that they require at least y37 before upgrading to Big Y? Because less than a year ago I had someone order a y12 just so that they could then upgrade to Big Y.

    • You can only do that with special permission through a project. The 12 and 25 marker tests are no longer publicly available, only by special request. The 37 marker test is only slightly more than the 12.

      • Oh ok. Well I know that we didn’t order it through a project, but I guess that’s a more recent change. We did end up upgrading him to Y111 anyways because I do agree that it is almost pointless to only order 12 or 25 so I think that’s a change for the better for FTDNA doing that.

      • Just as a clarification, the join page of ANY project has the ability to order a y12 kit. FTDNA setup a special “Project Pending” years ago to enable access to project discounts (and the y12 test it ends up). See Biggest difference with the(se) method is you can only order a single y12 kit at a time. Some of us used to order multiple (bulk) y12 kits before going on genealogy trips. That you can only do by calling in now.

    • Elaine, I would venture to say that you would be incorrect to assume that the new Big Y will be equivalent to an analysis from yfull or FGC. With yfull at least, with their analysis you get a bunch more str markers (upwards of 400 or 500) called from your BAM file.

    • Your matches at 12, 25 and 37 should still be working fine. No one has lost any matches and won’t on the STR tests. It sounds like you need to call support if you can’t see matches.

    • Judi, I believe you are experiencing a common problem that many of us have. And that is simply that sometimes you have to keep pressing the RUN REPORT button numerous times to eventually get it to populate your list of matches. You have to ignore it when it says you haven’t upgraded.

      • Yeah, I’ve had to push the Run Report button as many as 10-12 times before it actually updates to my results.

  2. So, is hg38 a new test, or a new way of analyzing the data? If it’s a new test, what are the implications for those of us who have already done the hg19 Big-Y? Will all this new info be “implied” from our hg19 data?

    • It’s a new way to analyze the originally tested data. You don’t need to retest. New version align the DNA differently, so they are simply moving to the new “view.”

  3. A close male relative has taken to the Y67 test and there are only 2 Y12 matches. Neither responds to communications. I assume the Big Y would offer no more results. My questions: why should i spend the money? and what would i find out? I assume contracting with you would yield some information. If you could elaborate about that information that might be helpful. Further, this test only documents the male SURNAME LINE, nothing else. So really it is limited, correct me if i am wrong. thank you

    • Yes, the patrilineal line. The SNP tests give deeper matches that often represent connections further back in time. So you, you probably would get more matches, but they would probably reflect more distant connections. I explain your results, so if you don’t have matches, you won’t get more by purchasing a Personalized DNA Report or otherwise contracting with me.

      Each person has to decide how much they want to know about each line. For me, I want to know everything possible about where my ancestors came from, and not just since the advent of surnames. It’s a personal choice.

      • Yes, I understand, no more “close” matches,

        but more information about my deep paternal history?

        And this comes from the mutations?

        And of course, like more people (taking any dna test) the information adds to the database.

        • Yes, and that deeper history also shows you which haplogroup projects to join. The administrators of the projects are some of the most knowledgeable people you’ll find about each of those haplogroups and branches.

  4. Thank you, Roberta. I’ve a hunch it will be an improvement, so I’m eager to use the new display options. I find that it improves the experience, too, to be part of a surname project and a haplogroup project and to upload all results (STR panel and Big Y SNPs) to Yfull (vanishingly small charge for the Yfull membership). Thanks again for the update.

  5. Am I right with my understanding that the upgrade cost to Big Y is $575? (I am in Australia.) Given that a new sample may not be necessary, why is it so expensive?

    • I paid this last October 2016 from Australia and then sent the BAM results to Yfull for $45 and have not regretted any of my decisions as I have found out far much more than the previous 3 years under Ftdna 67 marker test

      kind regards

    • I have done two Big Y’s and have paid a lower price each time, the best deal yet on a special this past August. FTDNA runs “specials’ on a regular basis. I am planning on waiting for “Black Friday” weekend here in the US (the day after our Thanksgiving in November) to see what their prices are. The price this past August was 395.00 USD, which, while still dear, is a lot less that the 575.00. For some reason it wasn’t well publicized, but I think Roberta mentioned something about it. I know that she mentions sales in her posts here on the this blog.

  6. I administrator 2, 37 YDNA tests, father and so , should I upgrade the father rather than the son? Trying to get the most bang for the bucks.

  7. Hi Roberta, I have no uprade link button on my Y DNA site. What does this mean? I previously have gone all the way up to 111. John Szaton 

    Sent via the Samsung Galaxy S® 6, an AT&T 4G LTE smartphone

    • On your main page at Family Tree DNA, you should have two upgrade buttons. One in the Y section and one in the upper right hand corner of the page. Both are blue. It’s only on you main page that you see right after you sign in.

  8. Does chemo change dna? The person in question had cancer and was undergoing chemo at the time the dna swab was done. Unfortunately, he has since passed away. If I may, I’d like to ask you a question not on a public forum.

    • No, it does not. It sometimes reduces the white cells which reduces the chance that the test will be successful. But if the test is successful, it does not change the outcome.

    • I’m not sure about chemo, but cancer almost always involves malignant mutations to cell DNA. However, these changes would only be in the cancerous cells. I suppose in a saliva test or oral cancer it’s not impossible that a sample could pick up some cancerous cells, but so long as the sample consisted of mostly healthy cells I don’t expect it would make any difference to results. Consider that samples always contain a mixture of bacterial and other DNA contamination. As long as the donor’s human cells predominate and can be amplified the results should come out okay.

      Incidentally, some cutting-edge cancer treatment research involves hyper-individualized sequencing of cancerous mutations and targets gene therapy. This may be the future of medicine but for now it’s highly experimental.

  9. I got notice of the new results on one of my BigY’s yesterday. Logged in and was perusing today. Biggest change I noticed immediately was the match list went from 200+ to 1. They were now only showing matches of the one other in my terminal/leaf Haplogroup. (But maybe only the other kit near me that had been processed yet?) Most frustrating though, the new BigY result disappeared and the kit now shows the same as all the other non-updated kits. All results removed and a notice that updated results will be available by early November. Frustrating.

      • Roberta, I took the Big Y early last year and tried to encourage some of my Y67 matches who share my surname (Gray) to do the same. No one was interested. Two of them are GD 1 to my older paternal cousin who also took the Y67 (he is my grandfather’s brother’s son…so is a generation older than me). I was encouraged by my I-M223 Group Administrator that since none were willing to test Big Y that I could set up a “custom panel of selected SNPs” with YSEQ to see if any of my Gray matches tested positive/derived for my Terminal SNP. The two mentioned above did! The next step was for me to have them test for my Novel SNPs (I have 11/ eleven). Although two of those SNPs are still being processed, the two distant cousins I never knew before the Y67 match results tested positive/derived for 7 of 9 Novel SNPs processed as of today. The lab notified me this means we three Grays share a common male ancestor “within 6 – 8 generations.” Needless to say, I was thrilled because we’ve long suspected my 4th great grandfather was the brother of their 4th great grandfather (both born in the 1750’s). That would be 6 generations back in time. Since Y DNA is patrilineal, wouldn’t our 4th gg grandfather’s have had the same father (making him our common ancestor)??? If so, this would be the very first time in 20 years of research that we have other supporting “evidence” to support our long-held theory. In your professional opinion, do you agree their testing positive/derived for my Terminal SNP and testing positive for what may be 9 of 11 of my Novel SNPs indicate that my 5th gg grandfather is the same man as their 5th gg grandfather? I would be so grateful for your thoughts. Austin Gray

        • Y DNA can’t be quite that specific and not with this limited amount of information, although there may be other information that is suggestive of a close connection. Sorry – I know that’s not what you wanted to hear. If you can add other information, like proximity and Family Finder matching results, it would be additional pieces of supporting information. If you would like a closer analysis including rare marker values and statistical frequency, you are welcome to purchase a Quick Consult.

  10. Hello,

    Thank you for your interesting analysis. I was wondering why FTDNA Origins map is not very inaccurate since the April change over. The new maps does not breakdown the European ancestry. It seems to totally ignore any Scandinavian. I have three kits I monitor. One is from 2007 and had the old map which I found very accurate. I have been doing that line of genealogy for 40 years and have a good paper trail. Once that map changed in April it is now not just inaccurate because of omissions but it does not even come close to the paper trail. I get the intermixing over the generations in Europe, but that happened all around the world over time. We purchase two more kits and only have the after April map which is not only inaccurate because of omissions but in one case just wrong. Would it be possible for FTDNA to give us access to both the new and the old test as well as an explanation of the difference between the two? It’s hard to explain to my mom her visited her relatives in both Norway and Denmark why no Scandinavia comes up on her map. I look forward to hearing your advise.

    Thanks Suz


  11. Roberta: thank you very much for your chronicles. Extremely relevant and critical. There is one point you did not mention concerning the new version of the Big-Y. It is the change in the matching criterion which account for the disappearance of the majorité of the prior matches we had in the first .
    A man is considered a match when he shows 40 or fewer differences in SNPs with you, and his haplogroup is downstream from your haplogroup or downstream from your four closest hierarchically parent haplogroups.

    Encore une fois merci pour votre superbe travail pour la communauté des GG/DNA et recevez mes salutations les plus cordiales.

    Jacques BEAUGRAND

    French Heritage DNA project

  12. I’m not that impressed with the new changes to the Big Y. I had 800+ matches in the old Big Y and now I’m down to 2 matches. The two matches that I have don’t know anything about their paternal origins. I discovered from the old matches that I was Irish, Scottish & Welsh. i didn’t know that before I took the Big Y. I don’t see how this test can help me now with only 2 matches that don’t know anything about their paternal origins. I would be somewhat livid to pay $400-$500 for Big Y and not have any matches. I’m sure that will happen to some people. The only good thing I can say about it that it looks more organized. Family Tree DNA should lower the cost of this test to compensate for these issues.

    • Family Tree DNA has been trying to obtain a happy medium. Many people were very unhappy because they had many matches that reaches thousands of years back into history, which their perceived as unuseful. They wanted FTDNA to pare that list down to those that are more useful, in particular to genealogy. That’s what FTDNA has tried to do. The conversion to hg38 is also a factor here, as it has introduced areas not previously included and that affects the routines that they have written. No company has ever done this before, so they are on the leading edge of this technology, both in terms of the genetics, the alignment, converting from one version to another AND refining the Big Y matching.

  13. Thank you, Roberta, for your reply regarding the conversion to hg38. I have read where others agree with you that this will effectively “pare that list (of old Big Y matches) down to those that are more useful, in particular to genealogy”. In the question I posted on November 10, I asked if some individual SNPs tests I had ordered from YSEQ would be useful in helping define a more recent time frame for a common ancestor whom I shared with the two Y67 matches with my same surname. Your answer then was “Y DNA can’t be quite that specific and not with this limited amount of information, although there may be other information that is suggestive of a close connection.” I’m posting again with the good news that, thanks to the results of those SNPs tests two of my STR matches have ordered the Big Y. After reading your “Big Changes for Big Y…” and other very helpful articles, we three distant cousins who never knew each other before learning we were Y67 matches are now even more excited that we will soon learn more about our specific “Gray sub-clade” downstream of I-M223>Z161>CTS1977>Y5282>BY13388. That will include a more accurate and more recent TMRCA estimate. Thank you again for your continuing contributions to our community!

  14. Well, I must say I kind of hate what they did with the “upgrade” from hg19 to hg38. I manage two kits on FTDNA: one for my husband and one for my brother. I used to be able to to see the results and matches for these kits. A few months ago they reprocessed the data for this so-called “upgrade”. Since then my brother’s data comes up as having no matches, at any level whatsoever. Not even at R-M269 (bs). And when I try to look at my husband’s matches, I get the dreaded spinning wheel for a time, followed by an error message (“Ajax error”). These errors have persisted for MONTHS now, long after they marked the kits’ upgrades as “complete”. FTDNA will not respond to my emails or phone messages. Other people have been having the same problems according to posts on project pages. They have also complained, to no avail.
    FTDNA is incompetent. THey should never have done this “upgrade” if they couldn’t finish it.
    They are also cowardly. Instead of hiding their heads in the sand they should come out, apologize, explain, and fix it.

Leave a Reply