Get Even More Visitors To Your Blog, Upgrade To A Business Listing >>

Getting more from Family Tree DNA Family Finder

I have seen lots of questions about how to get the most from Family Tree DNA's Family Finder test, so we will examine a little about how to use it. We will start by looking at the three major types of DNA tests, set up your FTDNA account for any type of test, and then see how these settings and other tools can maximize the benefits of the Family Finder matching system.

Different kinds of DNA tests

There are three major kinds of DNA tests commonly used for genealogy: Y-DNA, mitochondrial DNA, and autosomal DNA. Family Tree DNA offers all three types of tests.  

The Y-DNA test can only be done by males because only males have a Y chromosome. The Y chromosome is inherited from the man's father, and in many cultures the surname is also passed from father to son. So the Y-DNA test can be great for finding more about your surname line. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited from your maternal line (your mother's mother's mother . . .). Both men and women have their mother's mitochondrial DNA, but only women can pass it to their children. 

The inheritance of the Y chromosome is highlighted in blue; mitochondrial DNA is in red.

Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA are inherited intact from the parent with only occasional mutations. These tests can tell you about modern as well as ancient ancestry.

Autosomal DNA is different. You inherited autosomal DNA from both of your parents, so you have portions of the DNA of all of the people on the chart above, including all those ancestors whose names go into the white spaces. However, you are carrying less DNA of more distant ancestors (and maybe none at all) because of the way autosomal DNA is inherited.

What is Family Finder?

Family Finder is an autosomal DNA test that can be used to trace many of your ancestral lines. It is even more effective if you test multiple relatives. You inherit 50% of your DNA from each parent. Of course, this also means that 50% of the DNA of each parent is lost unless you can test the parent or test siblings. If you have siblings, they inherited 50% of their DNA from each of your parents, but not the same 50% unless they are identical twins. 

Here is an example of what could have been inherited by four siblings. This shows a tiny portion of the DNA of a father, mother, and what was passed down to each of their four children.

Parents and four children

This illustrates why it is so important to test as many siblings, cousins, and other relatives as you can. Each person inherited portions of your ancestors' DNA that you did not. If you test not only yourself but also your relatives, you will be able to find more about your ancestors.

Once you've ordered your Family Finder test from Family Tree DNA, let's see how to get the best results. Start by adding information in the account settings.

Account settings

As stated above, Family Tree DNA offers more than just the Family Finder test. Family Tree DNA will store your DNA so that you can later order additional tests such as Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA. If you correct the Family Tree DNA account settings, you can get the most out of any of your tests. 

First, log into (or -- they both work) with your kit number and password. Next, click on your name in the upper-right of the screen to bring up the drop-down menu.

Whether you click My Profile, Privacy Settings, or Account Settings, you will see the following tabs. You will want to click on each one of them.

On the Contact Information tab, make sure that your email address is correct so that people on your list of matches can contact you. Make sure that your mailing address is current in case Family Tree DNA needs to send you another kit [a few of my relatives are now on their second DNA sample because I have run so many tests in the past].

On the Account Settings tab there is a section called My Story. Here is where you can post links to your online family trees and any other information you think is important. You may want to add a profile photo because people are more likely to contact someone with a photo.

On the Genealogy tab you will want to pay special attention to all three links: the Family Tree, Earliest Known Ancestors, and the Surnames link.

On the Family Tree link, change the default settings, and at least set Deceased People Born 100+ Years Ago to "Public."

In the Earliest Known Ancestors there is a section for Direct Paternal and Direct Maternal. These are for Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). In the Direct Paternal section, enter the name of your most distant known ancestor on your father's side (your father's father's father's father . . .). This is the name that will appear on all Y-DNA projects. Enter a name, date, and place.  Here's an example: "James Thompson, b. 1750 Maryland."  In the Direct Maternal you enter your mother's mother's mother . . .). This name will appear on all mitochondrial DNA projects.

The Surnames section is for autosomal DNA (the Family Finder test). Here you will add and edit surname information that allows you to make better matches. After you add your family tree, spend some time in this section!

Next, click the Beneficiary Information, and enter the contact information for someone who can take over your account when, at some time in the future, you are no longer able to do it. Remember, you are setting up for the long term!

Last, click Privacy and Sharing. Change almost all of the default privacy settings.  For example, change "Who can view my DNA results in group projects?" to "Anyone." Otherwise if you join a project nobody will be able to see your results. Our results are only useful when we compare them to others.

The essential family tree

It is critical for autosomal DNA (FTDNA's Family Finder test) to add a family tree to your account because you will be trying to find matches on all of your ancestral lines. 

Family Trees are very important for Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA, too. For example, below is a portion of the Thompson surname project at Family Tree DNA. Notice that on the DNA Results page of Y-DNA surname projects all you can see is the name of the most distant known ancestor. It appears in the Paternal Ancestor Name column. The name that appears is the information that each man entered into the Earliest Known Ancestors setting above. You can see the ancestor's name, but you can't see how each man is related to his ancestor.

However, you can see family trees for all of your matches if they have added one to their account. In your Family Tree DNA account go to myFTDNA>Y-DNA>Matches to see your list of Y-DNA matches.

Here is a list of Y-DNA matches:

Notice that many of these people have a blue icon under their name that looks like this:

This means that these people have added a family tree. If you click that icon you can see their tree. 

Family trees are absolutely essential to DNA testing, so you will want to create one immediately and keep it updated as you make new discoveries. A Family Tree is vital to the Family Finder test.

Building your family tree

Log into your Family Tree DNA account. On the left side of your screen click on myFTDNA, then Family Tree.

You will be taken to this screen where you can build your online family tree:

Start with yourself and then add your parents, grandparents, etc. Add as much birth and death information as you can. You can also add descendants of all of your ancestors--the more, the better! You will be using this tree for all of your DNA tests including Family Finder, Y-DNA, and mitochondrial DNA.

Adding each ancestor one-by-one is fine if this is your first tree, but what if you already have a family tree? You certainly don't want to start over from scratch!

If you have a family tree in a genealogical software program or in an online database, in most cases you can export your tree and upload it to other software programs or websites. You will be using something called a GEDCOM file which stands for GEnealogical Data COMmunications.

Exporting a tree from

Since a large number of people have family trees at, I will show you how export your Ancestry family tree and load it to Family Tree DNA.

Log into your account. Click on the Trees tab, then select the tree you want to export. For example, you named one of your trees "DNA tree," and that is the one you want to add to your Family Tree DNA account.

Next, click on the name of your tree, then click Tree Settings in the drop-down menu.

Once you are on the Tree Settings page look at the right side of the screen, and scroll down until you see the "Manage your tree" section. Click Export Tree.

This will start the process of downloading a GEDCOM file for you.

Once the processing has finished you will see this ink:

Click Download Your GEDCOM File. This file will be downloaded to your default download folder (usually the "Downloads" folder on your computer). The file name will be the name of your tree followed by .ged.

Uploading your GEDCOM to Family Tree DNA

Now, again, log into your Family Tree DNA account. On the left side of your screen click on myFTDNA, then Family Tree. 

On the next screen click Upload GEDCOM.

Select the file you downloaded.  Yours was called "DNA Tree.ged"

Your family tree will then be loaded into your Family Tree DNA account. 

If you're concerned about people seeing all of the living family members in your tree, review your account settings (see above) and next to "Living people" click "Private"

Examining your matches

Now that everything is set up correctly, we will see why this is so important. Let's view the Family Finder matches.

You will see a list of people. Under each person's name (here the person's name is B.B.) you will see at least three symbols:

Click the envelope symbol to send an email to this person. Add notes by clicking the pencil and paper symbol.  The family tree symbol looks like this:

The tree symbol will be blue if the person has added a family tree. It will be gray if the person did not add a family tree.

This person has no family tree, and he did not enter a list of surnames in his account settings:

This person does not have a family tree in his account, but he did enter a list of surnames:

The surnames on the right are the ones that he entered in his Account Settings (see above).

This person has a family tree and has a list of surnames:

Improving your match list 

If you have entered a family tree and added a list of surnames (click Account Settings, then the Genealogy tab, then the Surnames tab) your match list will change. Notice in the match below that some of the surnames are in bold type.  These are the surnames that match the ones in your surname list.

Whether or not a person has added a family tree to his/her account, the highlighted surname list makes it far easier to find a common ancestor--you can focus on the surnames that you have in common.

But it gets much better. You can also see on your list of matches whether the person is related to you on your mother's or father's side of the family. 

Linking people to your family tree

If you are interested in a particular ancestral line, you can search your matches by surname to see if any of them has that name in their surname list. Let's say that you have the surname Wingert in your family tree. You can search for the surname Wingert.

This person did a great job. She added a family tree and list of surnames to her account. Family Finder found Wingert in her list, and it is highlighted in blue.

Click the Family Tree symbol to view her tree. You can see the ancestors in two different ways: Family View and Pedigree View. This tree is shown in Pedigree View:

If your common ancestors are Sebastian and Barbara Wingert, you will want to link this person to your family tree because Family Finder does something amazing. Once someone is linked to your family tree, Family Finder will determine how the person is related to you and will go through all of your matches looking for matching DNA segments. When it finds matching segments, Family Finder will indicate on your match list whether each person is related on your maternal or paternal side. It's pretty great.

Here is one way to link. On your list of matches, click the add symbol to add this woman to your family tree. 

Start with the common ancestor, then add the descendants in your match's family tree. Click the name of the common ancestor, then select Add Relationship.

You will be adding a son.

Enter the information, and click Save.

You can add just your match's direct line.

When you get to the name of the person on the match list, type the name as it appears on the list. Family Finder will bring up possible matches. Click "Link." 

This in how a linked person will appear in your tree.

When you've tested several relatives and linked them to your tree, you will see something like this:

In the image above we see a father, mother, and four daughters. The father has either not taken a DNA test, or he has not yet been linked to the tree. The mother has taken the Family Finder test and a mitochondrial DNA test. The daughters have all taken the Family Finder.

Here's the best part. Once you have entered your surnames and linked people to your tree, your list of matches will look like this:

The column "Relationship Range" contains the estimated relationship based on how much DNA you share. The column "Linked Relationship" contains your actual relationship based on where you linked that person in your family tree. 

The red symbol with a woman indicates that this person is related to you on your mother's side of the family.  

A blue symbol tells you that the person is related on your father's side.

Purple indicates that the person is related to you on both sides of the family. In the match list above those are all close relatives, but the same symbols appear throughout the list of matches.

By linking other relatives, Family Finder has determined that the first two people below are related to you on your mother's side of the family and the second two are related on your father's side.

All of the above people are estimated to be 2nd to 4th cousin. You can tell which people you have linked to your tree because you will see the actual linked relationship next to the list of surnames. The second and third people on the list have been linked to your tree. The second person is your 2nd cousin, once removed.

The last three people on the list all have family trees and lists of surnames. But what about K C? How can you determine how she is related?

You can contact her by email, but she is much more likely to respond if you give more information. You can see who appears on both your match list and K C's match list to see if you can find any common surnames. Click the box next to K C.

Now, go to the top of the page and click "In Common With."

You will get a list of people who appear on both your match list and K C's match list:

In the above list, Family Finder has determined that the first three people are related to you on your mother's side of the family because they share a matching DNA segment with you and someone else that you have linked to your tree.  This is good, because K C is also related on the maternal side. But the important part is the surnames. If we look at the three people who have surname lists, the surnames that they share with you are in bold type. All of them share the surname Carter.

If you send an email to K C, you want to make it easier on her so that she is more likely to respond. So instead of sending K C an email that says "Can you tell me how we are related?" you can now say something like, "It appears that you may be related to my Carter line. Do you have any Carters in your family?"

You can do much more

There is so much more to the Family Finder test, and we will explore more in future posts. We haven't even looked at the chromosome browser yet! But if you changed your account settings, added a family tree, and added a list of surnames, you're well on your way!

Standard Disclosure
This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of articles in compliance with FTC Guidelines. I evaluate products of DNA testing companies and show how to use them. This article is about Family Tree DNA. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through the link on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. Thank you for clicking the link!

This post first appeared on The Ultimate Family Historians, please read the originial post: here

Share the post

Getting more from Family Tree DNA Family Finder


Subscribe to The Ultimate Family Historians

Get updates delivered right to your inbox!

Thank you for your subscription