Y DNA Match Changes at Family Tree DNA Affect Genetic Distance

Recently, group administrators received information that Y matching has changed at Family Tree DNA.


This is a welcome update.

The new changes reflect less restrictive matching algorithms, reflecting knowledge gained about how mutations on the Y chromosome occur.

These new matching algorithms also affect the calculation of genetic distance. I wrote about genetic distance here, and this new information supplements the original article.

All changes result in less restrictive matching. Therefore, if you notice any changes at all, you should have additional Y DNA matches, not fewer, whether as a result of your own marker values of those of someone you now match, but didn’t before.

Normal Matching

Normally, if person 1 has a value of 12 and person 2 has a value of 14, on any marker, the genetic distance is counted as 2, the difference between the two values.


The new changes vary from the normal matching, depending on the marker and the values.

Null Value Markers

When a marker has a null value, meaning a value of 0, that marker will be counted as one difference when compared to other markers with numeric values.


The new genetic distance calculation of 1, when one individual has a marker value of zero, has been implemented to reflect that the mutation resulting in the deletion of one individual’s DNA at that location likely happened in one step, not in several.

Null values are most often seen on marker 425, but can appear elsewhere as well. All null marker values are treated in this same manner.

Dual Value Markers

Most markers with hyphenated values are being treated less restrictively. Family Tree DNA has provided the list of markers affected by this change, below.


Matching now looks at the total difference of the two values combined, not the difference at each hyphenated value individually. In other words, the order of the values no longer matters.


There are two changes in the above calculation when any two values are the same.

  • Change 1 – The common values cancel each other, regardless of where they appear in the marker.
  • Change 2 – The genetic distance is now 1 if there is a difference in the remaining markers, instead of the previous 3, in this example. In other words, the value of 1 reflects that there is a genetic distance and does not assume that the mutation occurred in 3 discrete steps.

However, in the instance where any two values are NOT the same, a different matching routine is involved.


In this case, the genetic distance is 2 because there are no common values to cancel and the mutations are much more likely to have occurred discretely.

Marker 464

Marker 464 typically has 4 values, 464a, 464b, 464c and 464d. However, this marker can be found with from one to several additional values, such as 464e, 464f, etc.


In the event where the common marker values are the same, above, the fact that one person has additional markers, regardless of how many, is counted as one difference, because the mutation that created these additional markers likely happened at one time.


In the event where the common marker values are not the same, as shown above, common values are cancelled, with the nonmatching values being counted as one genetic step, the same as in the dual value marker example above.  In this case, one genetic step is assigned for the 4 extra markers, and one additional step for the difference between markers 464b and 464c, for a total genetic distance of 2.

Thanks to Family Tree DNA for providing this additional information.

Nine Autosomal Tools at Family Tree DNA

The introduction of the Phased Family Finder Matches has added a new way to view autosomal DNA results at Family Tree DNA and a powerful new tool to the genealogists toolbox.

The Phased Family Finder Matches are the 9th tool provided for autosomal test results by Family Tree DNA. Did you know where were 9?

Each of the different methodologies provides us with information in a unique way to assist in our relentless search for cousins, ancestors and our quests to break down brick walls.

That’s the good news.

The not-so-good news is that sometimes options are confusing, so I’d like to review each tool for viewing autosomal match information, including:

  • When to use each tool
  • How to use each tool
  • What the results mean to you
  • The unique benefits of each tool
  • The cautions and things you need to know about each tool including what they are not

The tools are:

  1. Regular Matching
  2. ICW (In Common With)
  3. Not ICW (Not In Common With)
  4. The Matrix
  5. Chromosome Browser
  6. Phased Family Matching
  7. Combined Advanced Matching
  8. MyOrigins Matching
  9. Spreadsheet Matching

You Have Options

Family Tree DNA provides their clients with options, for which I am eternally grateful. I don’t want any company deciding for me which matches are and are not important based on population phasing (as opposed to parental phasing), and then removing matches they feel are unimportant. For people who are not fully endogamous, but have endogamous lines, matches to those lines, which are valid matches, tend to get stripped away when a company employs population based phasing – and once those matches are gone, there is no recovery unless your match happens to transfer their results to either Family Tree DNA or GedMatch.

The great news is that the latest new option, Phased Family Matching, is focused on making easy visual comparisons of high quality parental matches which is especially useful for those who don’t want to dig deeply.

There are good options for everyone at all ranges of expertise, from beginners to those who like to work with spreadsheets and extract every teensy bit of information.

So let’s take a look at all of your matching options at Family Tree DNA. If you’re not taking advantage of all of them, you’re missing out. Each option is unique and offers something the other options don’t offer.

In case you’re curious, I’ll be bouncing back and forth between my kit, my mother’s kit and another family member’s kit because, based on their matches utilizing the various tools, different kits illustrate different points better.

Also, please note that you can click on any image to see a larger version.

Selecting Options

FF9 options

Your selection options for Family Finder are available on both your Dashboard page under the Family Finder heading, right in the middle of the page, and the dropdown myFTDNA menu, on the upper left, also under Family Finder.

Ok, let’s get started. 

#1 – Regular Matching

By regular matching, I’m referring to the matches you see when you click on the “Matches” tab on your main screen under Family Finder or in the dropdown box.

FF9 regular matching

Everyone uses this tool, but not everyone knows about the finer points of various options provided.

There’s a lot of information here folks. Are you systematically using this information to its full advantage?

Your matches are displayed in the highest match first order. All of the information we utilize regularly (or should) is present, including:

  • Relationship Range
  • Match Date
  • Shared CentiMorgans
  • Longest (shared) Block
  • X-Match
  • Known Relationship
  • Ancestral Surnames (double click to see entire list)
  • Notes
  • E-mail envelope icon
  • Family Tree
  • Parental “side” icon

The Expansion “+” at the right side of each match, shown below, shows us:

  • Tests Taken
  • mtDNA haplogroup
  • Y haplogroup

Clicking on your match’s profile (their picture) provides additional information, if they have provided that information:

  • Most distant maternal ancestor
  • Most distant paternal ancestor
  • Additional information in the “about me” field, sometimes including a website link

On the match page, you can search for matches either by their full name, first name, last name or click on the “Advanced Search” to search for ancestral surname. These search boxes can be found at the top right.

FF9 advanced search

The Advanced Search feature, underneath the search boxes at right, also provides you with the option of combining search criteria, by opening two drop down boxes at the top left of the screen.

FF9 search combo

Let’s say I want to see all of my matches on the X chromosome. I make that selection and the only people displayed as matches are those whom I match on the X chromosome.

You can see that in this case, there are 280 matches. If I have any Phased Family Matches, then you will see how many X matches I have on those tabs too.

The first selection box works in combination with the second selection box.

FF9 search combo 2

Now, let’s say I want to sort in Longest Block Order. That section sorts and displays the people who match me on the X chromosome in Longest Block Order.

FF9 longest block


  • Take the Family Finder test or transfer your results from either 23andMe (V3 only) or Ancestry (V1 only, currently.)
  • Match must be over the matching threshold of 9cM if shared cM are less than 20, or, the longest block must be at least 7.69 cM if the total shared cM is 20 or greater.

Power Features

  • The ability to customize your view by combining search, match and sort criteria.


  • It’s easy to forget that you’re ONLY working with X matches, for example, once you sort, and not all of your matches. Note the Reset Filter button above your matches which clears all of the sort and search criteria. Always reset, just to be on the safe side, before you initiate another sort.

FF9 reset filter

  • Please note that the search boxes and logic are in the process of being redesigned, per a conversation Michael Davila, Director of Product Development, on 7-20-2016. Currently, if you search for the name “Donald,” for example, and then do an “in common with” match to someone on the Donald match list, you’ll only see those individuals who are in common with “Donald,” meaning anyone without “Donald” as one of their names won’t show as a match. The logic will be revised shortly so that you will see everyone “in common with,” not just “Donald.” Just be aware of this today and don’t do an ICW with someone you’ve searched for in the search box until this is revised.

#2 – In Common With (ICW)

You can select anyone from your match list to see who you match in common with them.

This is an important feature because it gives me a very good clue as to who else may match me on that same genealogical line.

For example, cousin Donald is related on the paternal line. I can select Donald by clicking the box to the left of his profile which highlights his row in yellow. I can then select what I want to do with Don’s match.


You will see that Don is selected in the match selection box on the lower left, and the options for what I can do with Don are above the matches. Those options are:

  • Chromosome Browser
  • In Common With
  • Not in Common With

Let’s select “In Common With.”

Now, the matches displayed will ONLY be those that I match in common with Don, meaning that Donald and I both match these people.

FF9 ICW matches

As you can see, I’m displaying my matches in common with Don in longest block order. You can click on any of the header columns to display in reverse order.

There are a total of 82 matches in common with Don and of those, 50 are paternally assigned. We’ll talk about how parental “side” assignments happen in a minute.


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Power Features

  • Can see at a glance which matches warrant further inspection and may (or may not) be from a common genealogical line.


  • An ICW match does NOT mean that the matching individual IS from the same common line – only genealogical research can provide that information.
  • An ICW matches does NOT mean that these three people, you, your match and someone who matches both of you is triangulated – meaning matching on the same segment. Only individual matching with each other provides that information.
  • It’s easy to forget that you’re not working with your entire match list, but a subset. You can see that Donald’s name appears in the box at the upper left, along with the function you performed (ICW) and the display order if you’ve selected any options from the second box.

# 3 – Not In Common With

Now, let’s say I want to see all of my X matches that are not in common with my mother, who is in the data base, which of course suggests that they are either on my father’s side or identical by chance. My father is not in the data base, and given that he died in 1963, there is no chance of testing him.

Keep in mind though that because X matches aren’t displayed unless you have another qualifying autosomal segment, that they are more likely to be valid matches than if they were displayed without another matching segment that qualifies as a match.

For those who don’t know, X matches have a unique inheritance pattern which can yield great clues as to which side of your tree (if you’re a male), and which ancestors on various sides of your tree X matches MUST come from (males and females both.) I wrote about this here, along with some tools to help you work with X matches.

To utilize the “Not In Common With” feature, I would select my mother and then select the “Not In Common With” option, above the matches.


I would then sort the results to see the X matches by clicking on the top of the column for X-Match – or by any other column that I wanted to see.


I have one very interesting not in common with match – and that’s with a Miller male that I would have assumed, based on the surname, was a match from my mother’s side. He’s obviously not, at least based on that X match. No assuming allowed!


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Power Features

  • Can see at a glance which matches warrant further inspection and may be from a common genealogical line – or are NOT in common with a particular person.


  • Be sure to understand that “not in common with” means that you, the person you match and the list of people shown as a result of the “Not ICW” do not all match each other.  You DO match the person on your match list, but the list of “not in common with” matches are the people who DON’T match both of you.  Not in common with is the opposite of “in common with” where your match list does match you and the person you’re matching in common with.
  • The X and other chromosome matches may be inherited from different ancestors. Every matching segment needs to be analyzed separately.

#4 – The Matrix

Let’s say that I have a list of matches, perhaps a list of individuals that I found doing an ICW with my cousin, and I wonder if these people match each other. I can utilize the Matrix grid to see.

Going back to the ICW list with cousin Donald, let’s see if some of those people match each other on the Matrix.

Let’s pick 5 people.

I’m selecting Cheryl, Rex, Charles, Doug and Harold.

Margaret Lentz chart

I’m making these particular selections because I know that all of these people, except Harold, are related to my mother, Barbara, shown on the bottom row of the chart above.  This chart, borrowed from another article (William is not in this comparison), shows how Cheryl, Rex, Charles and Barbara who have all DNA tested are related to each other.  Some are related through the Miller line, some through the dual Lentz/Miller line, and some just from the Lentz line.  Doug is related through the Miller line only, and at least 4 generations upstream. Doug may also be related through multiple lines, but is not descended from the Lentz line.

The people I’ve selected for the matrix are not all related to each other, and they don’t all share one common ancestral line.

Harold is a wild card – I have no idea how he is related or who he is related to, so let’s see what we can determine.

FF9 Matrix choices

As you make selections on the Matrix page, up to 10 selections are added to the grid.

FF9 Matrix grid

You can see that Charles matches Cheryl and Harold.

You can see that Rex matches Charles and Cheryl and Harold.

You can see that Doug matches only Cheryl, but this isn’t surprising as the common line between Doug and the known cousins is at least 4 generations further back in time on the Miller line.

The known relationship are:

  • Don and Cheryl are siblings, descended from the Lentz/Miller.
  • Rex is a known cousin on the Miller/Lentz line
  • Charles is a known cousin on the Lentz line only
  • Doug is a known cousin on the Miller line only

Let me tell you what these matches indicate to me.

Given that Harold matches Rex and Charles and Cheryl, IF and that’s a very big IF, he descends from the same lines, then he would be related to both sides of this family, meaning both the Miller and Lentz lines.

  • He could be a downstream cousin after the Lentz and Miller lines married, meaning a descendant of Margaret Lentz and John David Miller, or other Miller/Lentz couples
  • He could be independently related to both lines upstream. They did intermarry.
  • He could be related to Charles or Rex through an entirely separate line that has nothing to do with Lentz or Miller.

So I have no exact answer, but this does tell me where to look. Maybe I could find additional known Lentz or Miller line descendants to add to the Matrix which would provide additional information.


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Power Features

  • Can see at a glance which matches match each other as well.


  • Matrix matches do NOT mean that these individuals match on the same segments, it just means they do match on some segment. A matrix match is not triangulation.
  • Matrix matches can easily be from different lines to different ancestors. For example, Harold could match each one of three individuals that he matches on different ancestral lines that have nothing to do with their common Lentz or Miller line.

#5 – Chromosome Browser

I want to know if the 5 individuals that I selected to compare in the Matrix match me on any of the same segments.

I’m going back to my ICW list with cousin Donald.

I’ve selected my 5 individuals by clicking the box to the left of their profiles, and I’m going to select the chromosome browser.

FF9 chromosome browser choices

The chromosome browser shows you where these individuals match you.

Overlapping segments mean the people who overlap all match you on that segment, but overlapping segments do NOT mean they also match each other on these same segments.

Translated, this means they could be matching you on different sides of your family or are identical by chance. Remember, you have two sides to your chromosome, a Mom’s side and a Dad’s side, which are intermingled, and some people will match you by chance. You can read more about this here.

The chromosome browser shows you THAT they match you – it doesn’t tell you HOW they match you or if they match each other.

FF9 chromosome browser view2

The default view shows matches of 5cM or greater. You can select different thresholds at the top of the comparison list.

You’ll notice that all 5 of these people match me, but that only two of them match me on overlapping segments, on chromosome 3. Among those 5 people, only those who match me on the same segments have the opportunity to triangulate.

This gives you the opportunity to ask those two individuals if they also match each other on this same chromosome. In this case, I have access to both of those kits, and I can tell you that they do match each other on those segments, so they do triangulate mathematically. Since I know the common ancestor between myself, Cheryl and Rex, I can assign this segment to John David Miller and Margaret Lentz. That, of course, is the goal of autosomal matching – to identify the common ancestor of the individuals who match.

You also have the option to download the results of this chromosome browser match into a spreadsheet. That’s the left-most download option at the top of the chromosomes. We’ll talk about how to utilize spreadsheets last.

The middle option, “view in a table” shows you these results, one pair of individuals at a time, in a table.

This is me compared to Rex. You will have a separate table for each one of the individuals as compared to you. You switch between them at the bottom right.

FF9 chromosome browser table2

The last download option at the furthest right is for your entire list of matches and where they match you on your chromosomes.


  • None

Power Features

  • Can visually see where individuals and multiple people match you on your chromosomes, and where they overlap which suggests they may triangulate.


  • When two people match you on the same chromosome segment, this does not mean that they also match each other on that segment. Matching on overlapping segments is not triangulation, although it’s the first step to triangulation.
  • For triangulation, you will need to contact your matches to determine if they also match each other on the same segment where they both match you. You may also be able to deduce some family matching based on other known individuals from the same line that you also match on that same segment, if your match matches them on that segment too.
  • The chromosome browser is limited to 5 people at a time, compared to you. By utilizing spreadsheet matching, you can see all of your matches on a particular segment, together.

#6 – Phased Family Matching

Phased Family Matching is the newest tool introduced by Family Tree DNA. I wrote about it here. The icons assigned to matches make it easy to see at a glance which side of your family, maternal or paternal, or both, a match derives from.

ff9 parental iconPhased Family Matching allows you to link the DNA results of qualified relatives to your tree and by doing so, Family Tree DNA assigns matches to maternal or paternal buckets, or sometimes, both, as shown in the icon above.

This phased matching utilizes both parental phasing in addition to a slightly higher threshold to assure that the matches they assign to parental sides can be done so with confidence. In order to be assigned a maternal or paternal icon, your match must match you and your qualifying relative at 9cM or greater on at least one of the same segments over the matching threshold. This is different than an ICW match, which only tells you that you do match, not how you match or that it’s on the same segment.

Qualifying relatives, at this time, are parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and first cousins. Additional relatives are planned in the near future.

Icons are ONLY placed based on phased match results that meet the criteria.

These icons are important because they indicate which side of your family a match is from with a great deal of precision and confidence – beyond that of regular matching.

This is best illustrated by an example.

Phased FF2

In this example, this individual has their father and mother both in the system. You can see that their father’s side is assigned a blue icon and their mother’s side is assigned a pink (red) icon. This means they match this person on only one side of their family.  A purple icon with both a male and female image means that this person is related to you on both sides of your family.  Full siblings, when both parents are in the system to phase against, would receive both icons.

This sibling is showing as matching them on both sides of their family, because both parents are available for phasing.

If only one parent was available, the father, for example, then the sibling would only shows the paternal icon. The maternal icon is NOT added by inference. In Phased Family Matching, nothing is added by inference – only by exact allele by allele matching on the same segment – which is the definition of parentally phased matching.

These icons are ONLY added as a result of a high quality phased matches at or above the phased match threshold of 9cM.

You can read more about the Family Matching System in the Family Tree DNA Learning Center, here.


  • You must have tested (or transferred a kit) for a qualifying relative. At this time qualifying relatives parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and first cousins.
  • You must have uploaded a GEDCOM file or created a tree.
  • You must link the DNA of qualifying kits to that person your tree. I provided instructions for how to do this in this article.
  • You must match at the normal matching threshold to be on the match list, AND then match at or above the Phased Family Match threshold in the way described to be assigned an icon.
  • You must match on at least one full segment at or above 9cM.

Power Features

  • Can visually see which side of your family an individual is related to. You can be confident this match is by descent because they are phased to your parent or qualifying family member.


  • If someone does not have an icon assigned, it does NOT mean they are not related on that particular side of the family. It only means that the match is not strong enough to generate an icon.
  • If someone DOES match on a particular side of the family, you will still need to do additional matching and genealogy work to determine which ancestor they descend from.
  • If someone is assigned to one side of your family, it does NOT preclude the possibility that they have a smaller or weaker match to your other side of the family.
  • If you upload a new Gedcom file after linking DNA to people in your tree, you will overwrite your DNA links and will have to relink individuals.
  • Having an icon assigned indicates mathematical triangulation for the person who tested, their parents or close relative against whom they were phased and their match with the icon.  However, technically, it’s not triangulation in cases where very close relatives are involved.  For example, parents, aunts, uncles and siblings are too closely related to be considered the third leg of the triangulation stool.  First cousins, however, in my opinion, could be considered the third leg of the three needed for triangulation.  Of course when triangulation is involved, more than three is always better – the more the merrier and the more certain you can be that you have identified the correct ancestor, ancestral couple, or ancestral line to assign that particular triangulated segment to.

# 7 – Combined Advanced Matching

One of the comparison tools often missed by people is Combined Advanced Matching.

Combined matching is available through the “Tools and Apps” button, then select “Advanced Matching.”

Advanced Matching allows you to select various options in combination with each other.

For example, one of my favorites is to compare people within a project.

You can do this a number of ways.

In the case of my mother, I’ll select everyone she matches on the Family Finder test in the Miller-Brethren project. This is a very focused project with the goal of sorting the Miller families who were of the Brethren faith.

FF9 combined matching

You can see that she has several matches in that project.

You can select a variety of combinations, including any level of Y or mtDNA testing, Family Finder, X matching, projects and “last name begins with.”

One of the ways I utilize this feature often is within a surname project, for males in particular, I select one Y level of matching at a time, combined with Family Finder, “show only people I match on all tests” and then the project name. This is a quick way to determine whether someone matches someone on Family Finder that is also in a particular surname project. And when your surname is Smith, this tool is extremely valuable. This provides a least a hint as to the possible distance to a common ancestor between individuals.

Another favorite way to utilize this feature is for non-surname projects like the American Indian project. This is perfect for people who are hunting for others with Native roots that they match – and you can see their Y and mtDNA haplogroups as a bonus!


  • Must have joined the particular project if you want to use the project match feature within that project.

Power Features

  • The ability to combine matching criteria across products.
  • The ability to match within projects.
  • The ability to specify partial surnames.


  • If you match someone on both Family Finder and either Y or mtDNA haplogroups, this does NOT mean that your common Family Finder ancestor is on that haplogroup line. It might be a good place to begin looking. Check to see if you match on the Y or mtDNA products as well.
  • All matches have their haplogroup displayed, not just IF you also match that haplogroup, unless you’ve specified the Y or mtDNA options and then you would only see the people you match which would be in the same major haplogroup, although not always the same subgroup because not everyone tests at the same level.
  • Not all surname project administrators allow people who do not carry that surname in the present generation to join their projects.

# 8 – MyOrigins Matching

One tool missed by many is the MyOrigins matching by ethnicity. For many, especially if you have all European, for example, this tool isn’t terribly useful, but if you are of mixed heritage, this tool can be a wonderful source of information.

Your matches (who have authorized this type of matching) will be displayed, showing only if they match you on your major world categories.  Only your matching categories will show.  For example, if my match, Frances, also has African heritage and I do not, I won’t see Frances’s African percentage and vice versa.

FF9 myOrigins

In this example, the person who tested falls into the major categories of European and Middle Eastern. Their matches who fall into either of these same categories will be displayed in the Shared Origins box. You may not be terribly excited about this – unless you are mixed African, Asian, European and Native American – and you have “lost ancestors” you can’t find. In that case, you may be very excited to contact other matches with the same ethnic heritage.

When you first open your myOrigins page, you will be greeted with a choice to opt in (by clicking) or to opt out (by doing nothing) of allowing your ethnic matches to view the same ethnic groups you carry. Your matches will not be able to see your ethnic groups that they don’t have in common with you.

FF9 myorigins opt in

You can also access those options to view or change by clicking on Account Settings, Privacy and Sharing, and then you can view or change your selection under “My DNA Results.”

FF9 myorigins security


  • Must authorize Shared Origins matching.

Power Features

  • The ability to discern who among your matches shares a particular ethnicity, and to what degree.


  • Just because you share a particular ethnicity does NOT mean you match on the shared ethnic line. Your common ancestor with that person may be on an entirely unrelated line.

# 9 – Spreadsheet Matching

Family Tree DNA offers you the ability to download your entire list of matches, including the specific segments where your matches match you, to a spreadsheet.

This is the granddaddy of the tools and it’s a tool used by all serious genetic genealogists. It’s requires the most investment from you both in terms of understanding and work, but it also yields the most information.

The power of spreadsheet comparisons isn’t in the 5 people I pushed through to the chromosome browser, in and of themselves, but in the power of looking at the locations where all of your matches match you and known relatives on particular segments.

Utilizing the chromosome browser, we saw that chromosome 3 had an overlap match between Rex (green) and Cheryl (blue) as compared to my mother (background chromosome.)

FF9 chr 3

We see that same overlap between Cheryl and Rex when we download the match spreadsheet for those 5 people.

However, when we download all of my mother’s matches, we have a much more powerful view of that segment, below. The 2 segments we saw overlapping on the chromosome browser are shown in green. All of these people colored pink match my mother on some part of the 37cM segment she shares with Rex.

FF9 spreadsheet match

This small part of my master spreadsheet combines my own results, rows in white, with those of my mother, rows in pink.

In this case, I only match one of these individuals that mother also matches on the same segment – Rex. That’s fine. It just means that I didn’t receive the rest of that DNA from mother – meaning the portions of the segments that match Sam, Cheryl, Don, Christina and Sharon.

On the first two rows, I did receive part of that DNA from mother, 7.64 of the 37cMs that Rex matches to Mom at a threshold of 5cM.

We know that Cheryl, Don and Rex all share a common ancestor on mother’s father’s side three generations removed – meaning John David Miller and Margaret Lentz. By looking at Cheryl, Don and Rex’s matches as well, I know that several of her matches do triangulate with Cheryl, Don and/or Rex.

What I didn’t know was how Christina fit into the picture. She is a new match. Before the new Phased Family Matching, I would have had to go into each account, those of Rex, Cheryl and Don, all of which I manage, to be sure that Christina matched all of them individually in addition to Mom’s kit.

I don’t have to do that now, because I can utilize the phased Family Matching instead. The addition of the Family Matching tool has taken this from three additional steps, assuming I have access to all kits, which most people don’t, to one quick definitive step.

Cheryl and Don are both mother’s first cousins, so matches can be phased against them. I have linked both of them to mother’s kit so she how has several individuals who are phased to Don and Cheryl which generate paternal icons since Don and Cheryl are related to mother on her father’s side.

Now, instead of looking at all of the accounts individually, my first step is to see if Christina has a paternal icon, which, in this case, means she phased against either Don and/or Cheryl since those are the only two people linked to mother who qualify for phasing, today.

FF9 parental phased match

Look, Christina does have a paternal icon, so I can add “Dad” into the side column for Christine in the spreadsheet for mother’s matches AND I know Christina triangulates to Mom and either Cheryl or Don, which ever cousin she phased against.

FF9 Christina chr 3

I can see which cousin she phased against by looking at the chromosome browser and comparing mother against Cheryl, Don and Christina.  As it turns out, Christina, in green, above, phased against both Cheryl and Don whose results are in orange and blue.

It’s a great day in the neighborhood to be able to use these tools together.


  • Must download matches spreadsheet through the chromosome browser, adding new matches to your spreadsheet as they occur.
  • Must have a familiarity with Excel or another spreadsheet.
  • Must learn about matching, match groups and triangulation.

Power Features

  • The ability to control the threshold you wish to work with. For matches over the match threshold, Family Tree DNA provides all segment matches to 1cM with a total of 500 SNPs.
  • The ability to see trends and groups together.
  • The ability to view kits from all of your matches for more powerful matching.
  • The ability to combine your results with those of a parent (or sibling if parents not available) to see joint matching where it occurs.


  • There is a comparatively steep learning curve if you’re not familiar with using spreadsheets, but it’s well worth the effort if you are serious about proving ancestors through triangulation.


I’m extremely grateful for the full complement of tools available at Family Tree DNA.

They provide a range of solutions for users at all levels – people who just want to view their ethnicity or to utilize matches at the vendor site as well as those who want tools like a chromosome browser, projects, ICW, not ICW, the Matrix, ethnicity matching, combined advanced matching and chromosome browser downloads for those of us who want actual irrefutable proof.  No one has to use the more advanced tools, but they are there for those of us who want to utilize them.

I’m sorry, I’m not from Missouri, but I still want to see it for myself. I don’t want any vendor taking the “trust me” approach or doing me any favors by stripping out my data. I’m glad that Family Tree DNA gives us multiple options and doesn’t make one size fit all by using a large hammer and chisel.

The easier, more flexible and informative Family Tree DNA makes the tools, the easier it will be to convince people to test or download their data from other vendors. The more testers, the better our opportunity to find those elusive matches and through them, ancestors.

The Concepts Series

I’ve been writing a “Concepts” series of articles. Recent articles have been about how to utilize and work with autosomal matches on a spreadsheet.

You might want to read these Concepts articles if you’re serious about working with autosomal DNA.

Concepts – How Your Autosomal DNA Identifies Your Ancestors

Concepts – Identical by…Descent, State, Population and Chance

Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs and Pickin’ Crab

Concepts – Parental Phasing

Concepts – Downloading Autosomal Data from Family Tree DNA

Concepts – Managing Autosomal DNA Matches – Step 1 – Assigning Parental Sides

Please join me shortly for the next Concepts article – Step 2 – Who’s Related to Whom?

In the meantime:

  • Make full use of the autosomal tools available at Family Tree DNA.
  • Test additional relatives meaning parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, half-siblings, siblings, any cousin you can identify and talk into testing.
  • Take test kits to family reunions and holiday gatherings. No, I’m not kidding.
  • Don’t forget Y or mtDNA which can provide valuable tools to identify which line you might have in common, or to quickly eliminate some lines that you don’t have in common. Some cousins will carry valuable Y or mtDNA of your direct ancestral lines – and that DNA is full of valuable and unique information as well.
  • Link the DNA kits of those individuals you know to their place in your tree.
  • Transfer family kits from other vendors.

The more relatives you can identify and link in the system, the better your chances for meaningful matches, confirming ancestral relations, and solving puzzles.

Have fun!!!

Family Tree DNA Partners with Geni.com

geni logo  family tree dna logo

I received the following press release earlier today from Family Tree DNA.

Family Tree DNA is pleased to announce a partnership with Geni, a division of MyHeritage and home of the collaborative World Family Tree. This optional new feature offers seamless integration of both platforms, greatly enhancing the accuracy of Geni’s World Family Tree and providing new insights for millions of users interested in discovering more about their family histories.

Family Tree DNA has the world’s most comprehensive DNA testing and databases. Along with the company’s advanced suite of DNA tests, the new integration with Geni provides users of both platforms the ability to help confirm genetic relationships and discover previously unknown relatives. The integration of data is authenticated and secure, allowing simple transfer of DNA results from Family Tree DNA to Geni, should users opt to do so.

This added cross-functional feature is available to users who have tested their DNA with Family Tree DNA and have a profile with Geni, but can also be utilized by anyone who registers with both platforms. To that end, the optional and error-free integration of DNA conveniently validates connections and relationships within one’s family tree. Marker data of Y-DNA and mtDNA tests is transferred—there is no manual entry of DNA information, thereby preventing human error.

Geni and its team of curators have merged publicly available Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA data into the World Family Tree, making it the most DNA-rich collaborative family tree to date. Access to all DNA features on Geni is free and user privacy is strictly maintained. No DNA raw data or marker information is displayed, and additional settings allow users to control all aspects of the way their DNA information is handled.

Users interested in DNA testing—or those who prefer more comprehensive tests— can purchase DNA tests on Geni’s DNA Testing page powered by Family Tree DNA. For users with DNA results from previous testing, Family Tree DNA’s one-click process makes it fast and easy to transfer DNA results into their Geni profile. With the integration of both platforms, Geni’s World Family Tree enables users to establish and visualize a more precise family tree along with new connections and DNA matches.

“This partnership and integration greatly increases the value of DNA for genealogy,” said Family Tree DNA founder and CEO, Bennett Greenspan. “It’s great to work with Geni and its parent company MyHeritage. DNA and family trees complement each other and come together perfectly on the World Family Tree.”

Mike Stangel, General Manager of Geni, said: “Adding DNA to the World Family Tree increases its accuracy and strengthens its position as the de facto resource that shows how everyone is related to everyone else. We are very happy to take our partnership with Family Tree DNA to the next level.”

Information on linking Geni accounts to Family Tree DNA and uploading DNA results to Geni is available here: http://www.geni.com/dna-tests/faq.

Taking a look at the Geni FAQ page, we find the following information:

What are the new DNA Integration features (released July 2016)?

We’re excited to announce that you can now import your DNA test results from Family Tree DNA to Geni, as well as upload your raw autosomal data for further processing. Geni will use your Y-DNA, Mitochondrial DNA and Autosomal DNA test results to confirm existing relationships in your family tree as well as discover new relatives. Specifically, Geni will:

  • Propagate Y-DNA results along the paternal lines to infer which other relatives should have matching DNA. If matching DNA is found, the line between the test-takers can be considered confirmed.
  • Propagate Mitochondrial DNA results along the maternal lines to infer which other relatives should have matching DNA. If matching DNA is found, the line between the test-takers can be considered confirmed.
  • Use Autosomal DNA matching to confirm close relationships
  • Guide you on what DNA tests to take to confirm relationships in your family tree
  • Show DNA conflicts that indicate where the tree may have mistakes, and provide guidance on other living people who can be tested to resolve the conflict
  • List other Geni users whose DNA matches your own, which enables you to compare trees to determine how you are related
  • Organize profiles into haplogroup projects

These features sound wonderful, especially relative to finding candidates for Y and mtDNA testing, but there is one piece of missing information in the FAQ.

Does Geni Sell Our DNA?

While Geni states that they don’t display your DNA results, only “matches and haplogroups,” and that your DNA information is private and secure, what they don’t say is if they will be selling or sharing your autosomal DNA results to third parties.

For additional questions, you’re directed from their FAQ page to their help page, but to submit a request form from the help page, one must login to Geni. Geni might want to rethink this policy, especially relative to DNA.  Furthermore, the link at the bottom of the DNA Tests page does the same thing.

Geni DNA tests

You can’t examine the fine print if you can’t find the fine print.

I do have a Geni account, so I signed on to view the DNA Terms of Service.

Here’s a quote from part of the Terms of Service document.

By submitting DNA Results to the Website, you grant Geni a royalty-free, world-wide license to use your DNA Results, and any DNA Results you submit for any person from whom you obtained legal authorization as described in this Agreement, and to use, host, sublicense and distribute the resulting analysis to the extent and in the form or context we deem appropriate on or through any media or medium and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed or discovered. You hereby release the Company from any and all claims, liens, demands, actions or suits in connection with the DNA Results, including, without limitation, errors, omissions, claims for defamation, invasion of privacy, right of publicity, emotional distress or economic loss. This Agreement continues even if you stop using the Website or DNA Services.

And this:

By transferring any DNA Results to the Website, you hereby grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to Geni the right to receive, use, modify, publicly display, reproduce, distribute, and create derivative works of such DNA Results solely on and through the DNA Services for commercial and non-commercial purposes and the Company’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the DNA Services (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.

I was concerned about the above verbiage, but then, by clicking on the Privacy Policy link on the DNA Terms of Use page, we find the following:

Geni privacy policy

This very specifically says they will NOT share our DNA without informed consent and not without an opt-in.  Let’s see what opt-in means at Geni.


For me, the answer to whether I will participate, or not, is in large part based on whether or not my DNA will be sold or “shared” with third parties without my specific permission.  I have several Y and mtDNA lines that I need to find test candidates for, or even better yet, would like to know if that line has already tested.  This feature isn’t offered by any other vendor today, and might be very, very beneficial if enough people participate! So, much like Pavlov’s dogs, I’m salivating.

It appears, based on Geni’s Privacy Policy, that Geni will not share our information with third parties if we don’t specifically authorize that sharing when we upload our results.  That’s good news and exactly what I wanted to hear.  But what does that really mean?

Other vendors depend on less than straightforward authorizations and click-throughs that say you’ve read and understand a policy and in that document are buried statements that your anonymized DNA will be shared and there is nothing you can do about it.

The Geni blog provides a lot more information about how the new interface will work, including an interesting projects feature.

Furthermore, based on this screen shot from their blog, it appears that indeed, their research opt-in truly is an opt-in and unless you do opt-in, you’re opted out.

Geni opt in

As far as I’m concerned, this is exactly how opting in should work.  Hurray for Geni!!!

At this point, I don’t see any reason to NOT participate – and the lure of finding individuals that have already Y and mtDNA tested on a specific line is very exciting.

I hear it now, brick walls are gonna fall!!!

Family Tree DNA Father’s Day Sale

2016 Father's Day Sale

We knew it was coming, and it’s here. I just received this announcement from Family Tree DNA.

The Father’s Day Sale is Upon Us!

Beginning at midnight tonight (Wednesday, 6-15, Houston, TX, USA time) and running until 11:59 pm (CST) on Monday, June 20th, our Father’s Day Sale will be in effect, bringing discounts on upgrade pricing as promised, as well as some select testing bundles! Invoiced orders during the sale will also receive the sale pricing as long as the balance is paid by the end of the sale period.

2016 FD Sale prices

Upgrades to existing kits are available at the following sale prices, in green, including mitochondrial DNA:

2016 FD upgrades

Click here to order beginning on Thursday, very first thing in the morning, right after midnight, at 12:01!!!

Ancestry Autosomal Transfer Update

As you probably know Ancestry recently changed their file format for their autosomal raw data files, and the new format of these files is currently not compatible with our system. We are working to adjust to make our system compatible with these files as soon as possible. We have this placed at a high priority so that those Ancestry testers who have tested under their new chip may transfer to our database.

Please note that this issue only affects those who have recently tested with Ancestry – people who have tested with Ancestry prior to the recent change in their testing chip are still able to transfer.

If you tested at Ancestry prior to about the middle of May, 2016, you tested on their old V1 chip and you can transfer your Ancestry autosomal data file to Family Tree DNA for “free,” but pay $39 to unlock the file for matching. And $39 is a whole lot less than $99 to retest.  It’s a great value and Family Tree DNA has a chromosome browser and other tools for you to utilize.  If you’d like to see more about the features and tools available to Family Tree DNA customers as well as transfer kits, click here.

Click here to upload your Ancestry or 23andMe V3 results to Family Tree DNA.

Concepts – Downloading Autosomal Data from Family Tree DNA

In the new Concepts series titled Managing Autosomal DNA Matches, we’re going to be working with your DNA information from several sources. In order to create matching spreadsheets, you’ll need to download your autosomal information from Family Tree DNA.

Sign on to your account and click on “Matches” under the Family Finder section. You can reach this section by either clicking on the “myFTDNA” link in the upper left corner, or by clicking on the Matches option shown on your main page.

download 1

We’ll be downloading two files.

File 1 – Family Finder Matches

The first file is a list of your matches. That file download link is found at the bottom of your match page in the lower right hand corner.

download 2

Click on either orange button.

A file will download.  I create a file folder by date and save by download date.

On a Windows PC, you’ll be given the option of downloading and saving to the location of your choice.

download 7

The file contains a list of your matches along with other relevant information.

download 3

You can click on the graphic above to enlarge. Match information includes name, e-mail, match date, relationship range, suggested relationship, total shared cM, longest block, haplogroups and ancestral surnames.

File 2 – Chromosome Browser Results

The second file you’re going to download is your file that contains the matching segments with all of your matches.

To find this link, you’ll need to select someone, anyone, to compare in the chromosome browser.  We just need to get to that page, so who you select doesn’t matter.

This is my mother’s account, so I’m selecting me to compare.

On the dropdown box below the picture, select “compare in chromosome browser.”

download 4

Family Tree DNA will then add me to the list of people to compare.  You could select 4 more, but in this case, we simply want to get to the results page, so click on the big blue compare button.

download 5

Hint:  If you aren’t actually comparing people, you can take the shortcut to the Chromosome Browser by clicking the Chromosome Browser button beside the match button in the middle of your main page.

download 1

Regardless of which way you get to the top of the Chromosome Browser page, at the top of the chromosome browser page, you will see three options.

download 8

The first option, on the left will only download the matches currently showing in the chromosome browser.  In this case, it would be only for me and mother.

The second option shows the same data in a table.

You’re not interested in either of those two options. You want to click on the third option, on the far right, “Download All Matches to Excel,” which will produce a file with the following information for all of your matches.

download 6

This file shows you the matching information on each chromosome location for every one of your matches.  We’ll be using this information to group relevant matches in the next article.

When you’re ready to download the files from Family Tree DNA to your computer, do the download for all people involved on the same day, at the same time, so that their results will be in sync.

Preparing for the Managing Autosomal DNA Series

For the first part of the Managing Autosomal DNA Matches series, you’ll want to download your results and those of your parents or parent, as described above. If you don’t have living parents, you’ll want to download the files of your siblings.  If you have one or both parents, you don’t need the files of your siblings.

By the way, if you’re lucky enough to have grandparents who have tested, by all means, we need their file too.

This series also presumes at least a rudimentary working knowledge of Excel.  Specifically you’ll need to know how to sort correctly (meaning sort the entire spreadsheet, not just a specific column) and how to colorize cells.

You may want to refer to training videos for Excel including “Twenty with Tessa, Tips and Suggestions for Spreadsheets” which is focused on using spreadsheets with one name studies and genetic genealogy, but the principles are the same.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ll_cfhOZTl0&feature=youtu.be

I have not taken this class, but some have joined www.lynda.com and taken the basic Excel class which they found very useful.

Transferring Results from Ancestry and 23andMe

For the next step, you’ll need your results and those of both or either of your parents at Family Tree DNA.

If you have tested your parents or siblings at Ancestry (before the middle of May 2016) or at 23andMe on the v3 chip (before November 2013), you’ll want to transfer their files to Family Tree DNA, assuming they have not already tested at Family Tree DNA.

The transfer is free, but it costs $39 to unlock the file.  That’s a lot less than retesting.  It takes a few days to process, so do the transfer now so that you’ll have their results. To be clear, we need your results and those of either or both of your parents at Family Tree DNA for the first article.  If you have both parents, that’s the ideal situation.  If not, one parent will do.  If you have grandparents, by all means, we need them too.

Having said that, in future articles, we will also be working with other known relatives, such as uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.  If you have tested other known relatives elsewhere, now would be a good time to transfer their results as well, although we won’t utilize their information in the first article.

Family Finder Update Comparative Results

The new Family Finder update at Family Tree DNA is live this morning. I wrote about what to expect here and here.

Family Tree DNA’s dual matching algorithm leaves most of the current matches in place, with the newly added portion providing matches for people who didn’t match the old total threshold. The two matching thresholds currently in effect are:

  • 20cM total with a minimum longest single segment of 7.69cM
  • No total cM requirement but a minimum longest single segment of 9cM

There are lots of happy people reporting new matches on social media today!

You can check your new matches by signing on to your account and clicking on Match Date to sort by match date. A second click sorts in the opposite direction.

Ff match date

However, I noticed that not all of my new matches carry the match date of 5-23-2016, which is the latest match date.

Comparing Your Match Files

The best way to find all of your new matches is to download your matches list and compare to a previous match list. At the bottom of your match page, there is a link to download matches.

FF match download

I downloaded my match list on 5-23-2016 and again this morning, 5-26-2016, so that I could compare old and new.

My old number of total matches is 1392, and my new is 1447, so my gain would be 55. However, that’s not the entire story.

I compared the two files, and I lost a total of 20 matches. Three of those were in the 4th to remote category and the rest were in the 5th to remote category.  These must have been casualties of the tweeking of the algorithm.

In reality, I didn’t gain 55, I gained 75 new matches.

That’s about a 5% increase in matches.

The technique I use to compare the files from the two days is to color code one and then combine them into one spreadsheet file. I sorted by full match name, and that made it easy to look for any two white rows or any two green rows, which indicate a loss or a gain.  People appearing in both files will show as a whole and green identical row one after the other forming a green, white, green, white pattern on the spreadsheet, so it’s easy to spot an aberration.

Green is the 5-26-2016 file, so two white rows together means that one of those two white rows from the 5-23-2016 file doesn’t have a corresponding green row, so it was lost in the update. You can see that happened with Jerry, colored red, in my spreadsheet below.

FF Update Label

Two green rows together means that one of those green rows didn’t have a 5-23-2016 white row, so it was a gain. You can see that with Helen, colored purple, above.  I colored by loss rows red in the Full Name column and my gain rows purple.

Then, I sorted the spreadsheet again by cell color in the Full Name column. All the red and all of the purple appear together, so it was easy to see gains and losses.

Ff sort

Of course, in my example, there is only one gain and one loss, but the concept still holds when there are more.

The one unusual aspect that I found is that the match dates for all of my new matches are not 5-23-2016. They are primarily 5-4-2016 with a few 5-23-2016 and one 5-21-2016.  It looks like this rematching process was completed in steps on three different dates.

This means that you can’t rely entirely on the match date on your match page at Family Tree DNA by looking for today’s date. Your best bet is to compare a current matches file with a previous matches file.  If you don’t have a previous matches file, it looks like anything in the month of May is likely a new match.

Evaluating Matches

When I evaluated my new matches, I was surprised to find that only 7 were the result of the new algorithm change. I’m not sure if the bottom two would have appeared before, as there were 20.xx cM and I’m not sure if the threshold was exactly 20.0 or 20.99.  In any case, they are new now, and the top 5 are definitely a result of the new algorithm.

FF new matches

The balance of my new matches seem to be a result of truly new matches that have recently tested (I received 74 last month alone) or a result of the algorithm tweeking, because they clearly qualified as matches previously, under the old algorithm.

These 67 matches longest block ranges from 7.70 to 12.04 and the total shared cMs range from 21 to 54.

Now, of course, it’s time to see who matches whom, who triangulates, who phases against my mother and which of these matches have trees sharing a common ancestor.

I have a lot of new cousins to meet and genealogy work to do, and I hope you do too.  Let me know how the Family Finder update affected you!

Family Finder Update Update

Family-Tree-DNA logo

Recently, I shared with you an announcement by Family Tree DNA about the expected update to their Family Finder autosomal DNA product.

Family Tree DNA sent an e-mail to their project administrators yesterday evening providing additional information about their update that will be following shortly.

Their verbiage follows, but this additional information removed some question about how matches will occur. Some people, me among them, were concerned that the new matching algorithm would remove all matches below 9cM.  This would happen if the new algorithm replaced the old one.  I’m very pleased to report that’s NOT the case.  This new algorithm has been implemented in addition to the old one that required 20cM and 7.69 cM or greater longest single segment.

If you don’t match utilizing the old algorithm, you get second chance now with the new one that has no total cM requirement and a minimum segment length of 9cM. If you match either way, that person will be on your match list.  Blaine Bettinger created a handy-dandy flow chart showing this process.

The good news is that the old threshold will preserve your old matches and the new threshold will allow new matches that do have a 9cM segment or longer but don’t happen to have 20cM total. I think this is win/win – and a very welcome change

Family Tree DNA has refined their matching algorithm somewhat, but the net effect of this should be that people will have more matches, but no new matches under 9cM and few losses, unless it’s from the algorithm tweaking.

As you look at your new matches, also keep in mind that some of your new matches may simply be because people tested and their results just happened to come back during this time – so if you do see a match under 9cM that’s new – this could be why. It may not be a result of the change, just a function of timing.

Those of you with Jewish heritage that were worried about being overwhelmed with matches, you can worry a little less. Family Tree DNA has maintained their proprietary routines that attempt to minimize the noise in Jewish matches.

Here’s the meat of what Family Tree DNA sent to the group administrators:

After months of research and testing, we’re implementing those changes as soon as the quality assurance process is complete, which should be within the next few days.

Until now the amount of shared DNA required for two people to show as a match was a minimum of 20 total centiMorgans of shared DNA with a minimum longest block of at least 7.69 cM for 99% of testers,  5.5 cM for the other one percent. With the adjustment, if two people share a segment of 9 cM or more, they will show as a match regardless of the number of total shared cM. However, if there’s not a block that’s 9 cM or greater, the minimum of 20 shared cM with a longest block of 7.69 cM applies.

We also slightly altered other proprietary portions of the matching algorithm that will, to a small degree, affect block sizes and total shared centiMorgans. These changes should have only marginal effects, if any, on relationships, generally in the distant to remote ranges.

There’s a separate proprietary formula that is also applied to those with Ashkenazi heritage, but you can, of course, expect to have more new matches than those not of Ashkenazi heritage.

The entire existing database has been rerun using the new matching criteria, and all new matches have been calculated with the new thresholds.

Please keep in mind this change will not affect close matches, only distant and speculative ones. Some matches will fall off, others will be added. Most people will likely have a net gain of matches.

Your myOrigins results may change slightly with the rerun, but we have not updated or changed myOrigins yet. We’ll let you know when that happens.

And that’s not the only good news we have!

Some of you may have dealt with mtDNA results that had some issues with genetic distance. The fix for the root cause of that problem was released awhile back, but we had to wait until all the hardware installations were complete and integrated before re-running those kits affected prior to that fix. We’re in the process of deploying that update now!

Over the next few days, those affected will likely see differences in genetic distance of some matches as the corrections are implemented. Those who have tested after the fix whose mutations were correct may see an increase in matches to existing testers. That’s to be expected.

Thank you for your patience through the process.