Project Groupings and How to Get the Most Out of Projects at Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA is the only DNA testing company that offers and supports projects – a structure that allows participants to join groups of common interest with the goal of providing information about their ancestors. Family Tree DNA provides a project structure and even a special administrator support group and hotline at Family Tree DNA to assist project administrators with the over 8000 projects that exist today.

Projects do more than just help the members – they have the potential to help others who descend from these same lines. Not to mention that they are a wonderful recuiting tool.

You can see what projects might be available for a surname of interest at this link by typing the surname or topic (like Indian) into the “Search your Surname” box:

For the past several years, World Families Network has hosted some Family Tree DNA projects utilizing a different format, as well as orphan projects, meaning those with no administrator.

With the recent World Families Network announcement that they are retiring as of May 23th and will no longer be hosting projects, several people have been inspired to adopt orphan projects, literally preserving what exists at World Families Network already in place for that project. That’s great news, but what’s next and how does a project administrator manage a project?

Or maybe you’re on the other side of the fence and you’d like to understand why projects are grouped so differently and how to use, or group, them effectively.

This article is written for surname project administrators, but is a learning tool for anyone interested in surnames. Isn’t that all genealogists?

Projects Are Your Surname Billboard

Project pages are your project’s front door, the marketing department, and a great way to put your best foot forward to recruit new members.

I’ve provided some resources for administrators at the end of this article, but before you start the nitty-gritty of how to group project members, I’d like to provide a few thoughts, observations and recommendations for grouping specific types of projects.

No need to roll through the same mud puddles I’ve already stomped in just to discover that they’re cold, wet and dirty.

Project Types

I administer or co-administer a number of projects at Family Tree DNA, such as:

  • Regional projects, such as the Cumberland Gap Y and mitochondrial DNA
  • Family or special interest projects, such as the American Indian project and the Acadian AmerIndian Ancestry project.
  • Haplogroup projects
  • Surname projects
  • Autosomal projects

How projects are grouped varies by the type of project, combined with the project’s specific goal. Not every project falls neatly into one of these categories, but most do.

Let’s take a look at the differences.

Regional Projects

Regional projects often reflect an interest in a particular region of the world. This includes projects based on geographic regions, like the Cumberland Gap projects, or sometimes countries like the French Heritage Project.

Regional projects sometimes show both Y and mitochondrial DNA results, although this is sometimes problematic. Unless the administrator checks to be sure both the Y and mitochondrial lineages belong in that specific project for every member who joins, the member’s results will be shown in both categories if they have taken both tests. For example, a man’s direct paternal line might be from the Cumberland Gap region, but his mother, or mitochondrial line might be from Italy. Clearly both lines don’t belong in this project.

The administrator can individually disable one display or the other (Y or mt) for each project participant – but that requires that the participant communicate with the administrator and frankly, it’s a huge pain. Been there, tried that, didn’t work.

For that very reason, several years ago, I split the Cumberland Gap project into two projects, one being for Y DNA results and one for mitochondrial results. That way, I can simply disable the entire mitochondrial page display for the Cumberland Gap Y DNA project, and disable the Y page display for the Cumberland Gap Mitochondrial DNA project. No need to do something with each person who joins. The member joins the appropriate project for their heritage – Y or mitochondrial DNA, or maybe both.

Deciding how to group a regional project can be challenging. The French Heritage project groups their Y DNA members and mitochondrial by surname and ancestor.

Please click to expand any image.

In this case, the administrator of the French Heritage project has chosen NOT to include the surname column, but instead created a subgroup banner with the surname included – so the surname column was not necessary unless a member is ungrouped.

The Cumberland Gap literally at the intersection of Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, was a waystation on the westward migration and the projects were originally intended to help reassemble families whose ancestors migrated through the mountain ranges to new frontiers. Some stayed and settled, but many left behind a family member of two and then moved on. Truthfully, I’m not sure that this project hasn’t outlived its original purpose with the advances in DNA testing since it was established about 15 years ago.

The Cumberland Gap Mitochondrial project results are “ungrouped,” because based on how Family Tree DNA groups Mitochondrial results, similar results and haplogroups appear together – so mitochondrial projects are in essence self-grouping in most instances.

For mitochondrial DNA, the current surname is largely irrelevant because women’s surnames tend to change with every generation, unlike patrilineal surnames which are relevant to Y DNA results.

The administrators also maintain a separate Yahoo group to exchange genealogical, regional and cultural information.

If you are administering a Y haplogroup only project, disable the mitochondrial page display, and vice versa.

World Families Network didn’t host regional, special interest or haplogroup projects, so these projects aren’t as likely to be orphaned as surname projects.

Special Interest Projects

Special interest projects are focused specifically on one type or group of people. Grouping varies widely depending on the project type. I co-administer both the American Indian project and the Acadian Amerindian Ancestry projects, and they are grouped differently.

The American Indian project is grouped according to haplogroup, since specific haplogroups are known to be Native; subsets of C and Q for Y DNA and subsets of A, B, C, D, X and possibly M for mitochondrial DNA.

Note that we show the surname and the “Paternal Ancestor Name” columns, both, because the surname and the paternal ancestor’s name may not be the same for a variety of reasons.

The Acadian AmerIndian Ancestry project includes both Y and mitochondrial DNA of our Acadian ancestors. Acadians were a mixture of French, a few English soldiers, and Mi’kmaq Indians. The Acadian AmerIndian Y DNA project is grouped both by haplogroup and by surname.

Some surnames, such as Doucet, have both a Native lineage (C-P39) and a European lineage (R-M269), so their separate lineages are shown grouped with their respective haplogroups.

If members were grouped primarily by surname, then both lineages would have been shown adjacent to each other under the Doucet surname.

There is no one right way to group projects.

In this project, as well as others, I sometimes wish we had implemented the “apply to join” methodology, because I suspect that some people (in the ungrouped section) have joined in error.

Some ungrouped people have joined because their lineage is Acadian, but not their direct Y or mitochondrial lines.

The administrators chose to embrace the open join policy, even though it’s more difficult and time-consuming to administer, because we want to be inclusive and help everyone with either Acadian or AmerIndian ancestors from France, Eastern Canada and the Acadian diaspora regions connect with their ancestors. Acadians were admixed in Canada for 150 years, then dispersed to the winds in 1755 when they were forcibly evicted from Nova Scotia, so we find their roughly 2 million descendants in many parts of the world today.

Haplogroup Projects

By comparison, haplogroup projects are easier to group, because their focus is clear. Haplogroup projects, be they Y or mitochondrial are focused on that haplogroup and it’s sub-haplogroups.

The Haplogroup C-P39 project is a relatively small Native American project, so it’s grouped by surname and matching group within that haplogroup.

Another popular way to group larger haplogroup projects is by haplogroup subgroups for both Y and mitochondrial DNA. The popular R-L21 and Subclades project where my Estes men are members, but I don’t administer, is grouped in this manner.

One of the great features of all projects at Family Tree DNA is mapping. Based on how the administrator subdivides the project, if they enable project mapping (please do), you can select groups to display to view subgroup clusters.

I just love this feature. You know there’s a story behind this grouping that is relevant to the men who carry this haplogroup.

The A2 mtDNA Haplogroup project is grouped by subgroup. Some administrators go further and group by specific mutations within subgroup as well, hoping they will someday form a new subclade.

Maps provide so much information. In this case, the map of the A2 group, with no A2+ (downstream) subgroups shows a dispersal throughout the Americas, plus one person in Denmark.

Wait, what?

Denmark?

Of course, Denmark immediately raises a plethora of questions including whether the Denmark person has taken the full sequence test or has perhaps misidentified their ancestor’s original location.

Some people don’t understand that the matrilineal line is your direct mother’s mother’s mother’s line on up until you run out of direct line mothers. They hear or understand maternal instead and select their most distant MATERNAL ancestor which may be anyone from their mother’s side of the tree – and someone entirely different than their direct line MATRILINEAL ancestor.

Surname Projects

Surname projects play a different role than the projects mentioned above. Specifically, surname projects not only attract males with that surname who are candidates to test, they also attract anyone who has that surname in their genealogy who is looking to see if someone from their line has tested – because they can’t.

All of us have a lot more surnames that aren’t our direct paternal surname, which only males can test via Y DNA.

In the graphic above, the surname lineage is blue, the mitochondrial is red, and the colorless boxes represent all of our other lines.

Therefore, most people are looking at a surname project to find lineages they can’t directly test for. Surname projects need to make it easy to find and locate lineages based on ancestors and location.

I don’t know how many surname projects exist, as opposed to other project types, but I’d say surname projects outnumber the other types of projects significantly – meaning there is a huge potential to find your surnames and ancestors in those projects.

I love surname projects, because even if you are a female or a male that doesn’t carry that surname today, you can still benefit from the tests of people with that surname.

In the Estes project, which was formed for Y DNA, we also welcome autosomal joiners as long as they have Estes lineage someplace in their tree.

In the project, I group Estes men by lineage from the immigrant Estes ancestor.

In order to do this, I utilized the descendants of Abraham Estes to recreate his haplotype, and I compare everyone to those values, which represent the values that Abraham himself carried.

The good news is that by looking at the matches of each person in the project, you know who does and does not match each other. Family Tree DNA tells you that. They do the hard lifting and you arrange the furniture.

I didn’t know quite what to do with people whose genealogy and surname go back to Abraham Estes, or one of his cousins who all descend from the Deal, England line – but their Y DNA unquestionably doesn’t.

I created a “New Estes Line – Genetically Speaking” category. We can’t say that these people “aren’t Estes” because their mother may have been an Estes and gave her male child her surname, just not her Y DNA (which she doesn’t have,) of course. That was contributed by the father. So the surname is Estes, but the Y DNA doesn’t match any of the Estes descendants of the Deal line. However, these people may match Estes descendants autosomally.

There is also an “Estes Ungrouped” group, because even though their Y DNA is clearly Estes, I can’t connect these men back to a specific line yet either through paper or DNA.

Assigning a member to the “Estes Ungrouped” group is different than leaving them in the default “ungrouped” catchall group provided by Family Tree DNA which is located at the bottom of the page. The default ungrouped group is where everyone lives until the administrator assigns them to a group.

Autosomal Joiners

There’s been recent discussion about why administrators would want to allow people to join Y DNA surname projects who’ve tested autosomally and descend from the surname line, but aren’t males who carry the surname.

I am very much IN FAVOR of allowing autosomal joiners. Some other administrators, not so much. Someone recently said that they don’t understand why anyone who is not a male with the same surname as the project would want to join – what benefit there could possibly be. As a female Estes, I can explain exactly why, in one simple graphic. OK, 3 graphics.

On your personal account myFTDNA tab, there’s an Advanced Setting under “Tools and Apps.” Click there.

Then select the Family Finder test, then “yes” to “Show only people I match in all selected tests,” then select the project. The project selected (Estes in this example) must be one you have joined – that’s why it’s important to allow people from that lineage that don’t carry the Y chromosome to join.

Want to guess how many people I match, meaning Estes males AND all other Estes descendants who have joined the project? Click on the orange “Run Report” to see.

The answer is 23 people, although I’ve truncated the graphic. Some are cousins that I tested, but a dozen aren’t AND there are a few that I’ve never heard of before. Hello cousins! Does anyone have the family Bible or know where it is???

Clearly, I could match some of these people through other lines, BUT, now I know where to start looking. Using the advanced tools like Paternal Phasing (bucketing), the In Common With (ICW) tool and the Matrix, available to everyone, will quickly tell me how I match these people. You can read about how to utilize these tools here.

Project administrators have an even more powerful matrix tool at their disposal.

This is exactly why I’ve elected to welcome autosomal testers into my Y DNA surname projects. The power of DNA is not just in a single set of results, but in collaboration and combined tools.

Autosomal Projects

Autosomal projects, typically referred to as “private family projects” do exist, but you can’t see them when you search by surname because they don’t show up in searches, according to the Family Tree DNA policy.

I hope this policy changes in the near future, allowing the option of searching for autosomal-only projects. Admittedly, autosomal projects are challenging without any results to “show” in a display.

Therefore, in an autosomal project today, in order to group people, you must allow either the Y or mtDNA to “show” because members can’t be grouped otherwise, and even then, they must be grouped on two independent pages – Y and mitochondrial.

The current project structure does not support creating an autosomal group, perhaps by ancestor, and allowing project members’ ancestor from the Estes line to show, for example, given that it’s not the direct Y or mitochondrial DNA line.

For that reason, autosomal projects are private, but I would like for the administrator to be able to select public or private for autosomal projects and to have a separate autosomal tab in the administrator’s toolbox where all members can be grouped according to autosomal lines, independent of and in addition to Y or mitochondrial DNA if relevant.

This would also allow the creation of “ancestor projects,” meaning everyone descended from Robert Eastye (that becomes Eastes and Estes) born 1555 in Deal or Ringwould, Kent, England. Thinking ahead, we could then proceed to recreate his autosomal DNA from project members, just like we recreated Abraham Estes’s Y STR haplotype.

Here’s an example of how autosomal results could be grouped, without showing any additional results information, in projects. I’ll be submitting this as a request to Family Tree DNA!

This autosomal grouping challenge is present as well for Y DNA surname projects that allow autosomal joiners.

Some Grouping Don’ts, With a Dash of Humor

One of the things I do roughly yearly is to peruse the public projects to see if any of my ancestral lines are represented or their haplogroup has been expanded. I recently finished this activity once again, so, here are a few of the frustrations I encountered that are entirely avoidable.

  • Please Don’t Make Projects Private

There is nothing more discouraging than seeing this:

Projects are a wonderful way to recruit new members and if the project is private, you’ve disabled your best recruiting tool.

I’m not feeling warm and fuzzy about this project, and that’s no joke. The first thing this project administrator did was to hang a big “Go Away” sign out for me to see. Ok, I’m going! No need to ask twice!

Individuals select for their results to “show” or “not show” publicly in projects. You don’t have to do this for them. Really.

So please, be inclusive and roll out the red carpet!

  • Please Don’t Group Surname Projects by Haplogroup Only

Please don’t group surname projects by haplogroup, at least not if you have any other choice. Let’s call this the last choice or desperation grouping methodology.

Remember, the most common reason people are looking at the project is to be able to find their ancestors, or ancestral group, which may be predicated on location. No one, but no one, already knows the surname haplogroup or they wouldn’t be searching for their ancestors in this way.

Family Tree DNA automatically groups by marker/color within subgroup, but if you’re trying to see if your ancestor or line is represented in a project, it’s almost impossible to find using the “group by haplogroup” methodology – especially with small subgroups. Y haplogroups can vary in their naming, depending on how deeply people have tested. For example, haplogroup R has thousands of branches. Some administrators group at the highest haplogroup level, and some group by the smallest branch level, which separate groups of men in the same family line – because not everyone has tested to the same level.

Of course, if you really don’t know how these men connect, or don’t have any idea about who descends from which ancestor, haplogrouping at the base haplogroup level (like R or J) may be the best you can do. Family Tree DNA will attempt to automatically group within your haplogroup subgroups.

If this is the case, you might want to attempt to recruit a genealogist with some specialty in this surname as a co-administrator. Hey, maybe someone from within that surname project!

  • Please Don’t Group by Number of Markers Tested

OMG, please no. Just no.

Grouping by number of markers tested makes it impossible to find line marker mutations that should be grouped together. For example, the men with a value of 13 at marker DYS439, above, should be displayed together because that is likely a line marker mutation – signifying descent from a specific descendant line of Charles Dodson in the red rows. However, since participant results are grouped by the number of markers tested, these men are displayed in different groups.

To figure out which ancestral line that value of 13 descends from, you need a subscription to the Physic Friends Network.

  • Please, PLEASE, Don’t Show Only Surnames and not “Paternal Ancestor Name”

How on earth would I ever know if my Luttrell or Littrell line is represented here. And why would an administrator choose to NOT INCLUDE the Paternal Ancestor Column?

This one makes me just want to pull my hair out. Yes, seriously! Going bald.

  • Please, Name the Line

Give the lineage a name or description, not just “Lineage 1.” It helps researchers determine if THAT John Jones is THEIR John Jones and it helps a lot to know who John Jones married, and when, if you know.

For example, for Lineage 1, put as much information as you can discover, or at least enough to unquestionably identify the line. For example, “John Doe born 1612 Sussex, England died 1683 Tukesbury, MA m Jane Smith.”

This helps identify specific lines. This is not Wheel of Fortune for ancestors. Don’t make me guess, because I may guess incorrectly – and there is no need for that when the information is (could be, might be, please let it be) readily available.

Another hint is to use color effectively. Perhaps lines that have different known progenitors but still match genetically having the same surname, meaning the earliest common ancestor has not yet been identified, could be the same color.

Think this through ahead of time and come up with a naming and color scheme that works well for your project circumstances and goals.

Sometimes after you’ve worked with a project for some time, you realize that perhaps things could be organized better. Been there, done that – no t-shirt. Just re-do it.

  • Or Worse Yet…

No surname AND no ancestor AND the lines aren’t named. Yes, really. This project might as well be called “why bother” or “shoot me now.”

You can’t even tell which surname this project might be, let alone identify an ancestral line.

You know that old saying about serving as a bad example? Well, this is it!

  • A Good Example

And because I don’t want to leave on a negative note – a really good example of a surname project.

You can tell that this administrator has spent a significant amount of time working on this project – and also encouraging members to enter their most distant ancestor information which is extremely useful.

Now this project looks inviting and welcoming. And no, in case you were wondering, I do not administer this project, but since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I’m going to review my own surname projects with this one in mind.

Great job Hill project administrator(s).

Resources

Maurice Gleeson has produced two wonderful YouTube videos about project administration and in particular, member grouping.

How to Group your Project Members using MPRs (by the way, an MPR is a “marker of potential relatedness,” according to Maurice.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9JcvbFcgUI

How Y-DNA can help your One Name Study

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOx971zy6LI&t=3s

In addition, Family Tree DNA just updated the Quick Start Guide for administrators which walks you through setting up a project. https://www.familytreedna.com/learn/project-administration/quick-start-guide/.

Now, enjoy Maurice’s videos and create the most friendly welcome mat possible.

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18 thoughts on “Project Groupings and How to Get the Most Out of Projects at Family Tree DNA

  1. I have a comment regarding the Hill project that is used as a good example. Remember that the audience is international and worldwide. In Group 08 there is an exact birth date 11/08/1579 showing. As a UK viewer I have no way of telling if that is meant to be 11th August 1579 or 8th November 1579. Please use an unambiguous date format such as 11 Aug 1579; or 11aug1579 which is both exact and more compact than the original. Also please spell out state names in full rather than use two character codes. Not everyone knows what those codes represent. And the country needs to be stated too. Not everyone lives in the USA. Thanks.Trevor Rix.

  2. Roberta, I love this. Thank you for the good job. I’ve got one administrator in particular that is so hard nosed, she won’t “hear of it!”….I’m an Ellis by line from my Dad. I have several relatives from this line on FTDNA. Just received a new Ellis cousin who shares the same 2nd gt grandfather, and she lives not far at all from me. Fortunately, I started researching in my youth with the Ellis line, so I’ve got it down pat. I’ve yearned to be able to present my mtdna and also my autosomal to an Ellis surname group. But old hard nose won’t “hear of it”. I sent her a link to your column. More administrators need to be inclusive.

    Love ya…Brownie “Ellis” MacKie

    On Mon, May 21, 2018 at 2:17 PM, DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy wrote:

    > Roberta Estes posted: “Family Tree DNA is the only DNA testing company > that offers and supports projects – a structure that allows participants to > join groups of common interest with the goal of providing information about > their ancestors. Family Tree DNA provides a project str” >

    • Why not start your own a Ellis project? I’m new to FTDNA so I’m not sure what the unwritten rules are like – but the current administrator sounds difficult and controlling. Those are not great qualities to foster a positive research group!

  3. Hello

    I very much enjoy your blog and videos.

    A question.

    I am new to genealogy and have I purchased everything presently available for malese and have joined a number of the projects.

    I wasn’t sure whether to give the administrators the limited access or the full access. I certainly would like to help advance the research but wasn’t sure what the implications were of going the “ full access “ were.

    Am I tying their hands by allowing just the limited access? Is there any risk of allowing them to download the raw data?

    Any insights you might have would be appreciated.

    Thanks

    John

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  4. Roberta, I can’t express enough how much I appreciate your work! I’m traveling at the moment, in Australia, and can’t study this fully. But, reading this blog post I know you’ve put a lot of work into it and I wanted to say, thank you! I’ve tested my husband, father in law and my father’s YDNA and have not explored or truly understand how to make sense of the results yet. Just retired and will be diving in soon! Bless you! Debra Stiff Monsive

    >

  5. I’m curious about the format of the surname projects under the FTDNA umbrella. How is it in anyone’s interest not to show the patrilineal ancestor information on the STR charts? Is there some reason FTDNA allows this and other information to be omitted, so that nobody but the administrator knows what the charts mean? Has FTDNA ever said anything about this odd behavior? Projects that don’t provide enough information in the charts no longer exist for the benefit of the customers, they are apparently there only for the benefit of the administrators! Or, you can grovel for the administrator’s intercession, to reveal the secret information only he or she has access to. Not a friendly way to run a “project”, and I don’t understand why this is permitted for projects that are directly hosted by FTDNA.

  6. Thanks so much for this excellent overview of FTDNA project offerings. I totally am with you on enhancing the autosomal test options. I have a decided lack of males with the surname I am studying who are willing to do Y-DNA and rely on a few women with MtDNA results and of course autosomal, but as you point out, there is a need to have an offering to attract uploading of results.
    Great resource!

  7. for the autosomal groups you are in, what do they do with autosomal transfers, especially the more recent tested ones. do they encourage or ask for them to test at familytreedna. I am thinking because of the lack of more distant matches with a transfer for research purposes for the group testing instead of transfers would be better

  8. I see that the access after May 25th will change . I currently have everything to full , will that change to limited automatically or do I need to change it myself for all the kits I manage? You mentioned in the last blog about making the privacy settings public. The only place I found that can me made public is the tree. Is that what needs to change from matches only to PUBLIC?
    Roberta, you manage a gentleman in the Campbell project and Cumberland Gap project that is a match to my cousin’s. Do I contact you via your email address given or through the Cumberland Gap Yahoo site?
    Thank you.
    Donna

    • The changes are being rolled out a few at a time. I know there are currently some bugs too. Having said that, I don’t believe your selection will be changed automatically to anything. On the bottom of the same page that shows the tree selection is the project selection. Scroll down to the bottom. And yes, contact me via e-mail please regarding the match.

  9. Roberta,
    I manage an Autosomal Project for the descendants of a particular ancestor born in 1700 (Hugh Coffey). It’s not anonymous. All I had to do is list the surnames of his descendants in the Surnames box for the Project Profile in the FTDNA GAP Tool. It’s working out great and I’m having a great time sorting through the Coffey descendants to validate the entire line down.

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