Family Finder:   What is it?

Several project participants have recently inquired about FTDNA's "Family Finder" test.

I'm not surprised that there's been difficulty understanding the FAQ info on FTDNA. It's really "dense."  My favorite, techno-geek-speak was when I got to this one:

"FAQ#61: Does the Family Finder test involve the use of the turboencabulator?

"At this time, Family Tree DNA is not utilizing the turboencabulator. However, ...If you have ideas about how the turboencabulator might be incorporated into DNA Genealogy please contact our new technologies specialist."

Google "turboencabulator" and you'll see that FTDNA has a sense of humor! A "turboencabulator" is pretty much the same thing as a flux capacitor. :)


What is it?

FTNDA's Family Finder uses the sequences of many markers on the human genome -- not just the YDNA or mtDNA.  In fact, the markers are chosen because, unlike YDNA (which is inherited only from fathers) or mtDNA (which is inherited only from mothers), the markers used in Family Finder are inherited from both parents, in a sort of genetic lottery.  The DNA of a child will be some mixture of both parents' DNA (averaging 50% each, but not strictly in that proportion, especially when looking a any specific marker).   You might have gotten the first portion of a marker's sequence from your father;  and the remaining portion from your mother -- and not split 50:50.   Your parents, in turn, had sequences for that marker that were mixtures from each of their parents.

So, Family Finder allows one to see ancestral relationships between tested individuals that are not just paternal (like YDNA) or maternal (like mtDNA), but transcend those extremes.   That's all well and good, but the resolution of interpretation falls apart (generally) beyond about 5 generations.  That's because your DNA reflects some mixture of your 2 parents;  but represents contributions from 4 grandparents;  8 greatgrandparents, 16 greatgreatgrandparents, and 32 greatgreatgreatgrandparents.   You share, on average, 50% of your DNA with your sibling, but only about 0.2% with your 4th cousin.   That's just not enough shared sequence to resolve relationships that distant.

What's it good for?

Thus, Family Finder is useful only for establishing relationships in the most recent 4 or 5 generations (counting your generation as "1").    Most of us know quite well our most recent 4 or 5 generations.  Our dead-ends are usually much further back, where Family Finder is not likely to be useful.  We have, however, seen one good use for it:  helping to establish paternity in the instance of a UPE (unknown paternity event).  For example, suppose Joe Bumblestxx finds that his YDNA doesn't match any of the rest of the Bumblestxx, but is fairly closely matched to men with Pinklesmmm surname.  Joe's lineage probably experienced a UPE (perhaps from an undocumented adoption of a Pinklesmmm boy into a Bumblestxx family or an extramarital relationship of a Bumblestxx wife with a Pinklesmmm male in some past generation).  Using Family Finder, Joe is able to determine that he's the 2nd-cousin of Sam Pinklesmmm, which provides Joe with a valuable clue as to where, in his lineage, the UPE probably occurred.  Joe can examine Sam's paper-trail and US census records and perhaps solve his mystery.  Again, I have to emphasize that this would only work if the relationship occurred in the most recent 4 or 5 generations.

How do I interpret the "origins" results (i.e., "Population Finder")?

When looking at the Poplulation Finder results, keep in mind that these are genetic origins (reflecting only the past 1000 - 2000 years or so), and may or may not reflect modern-day countries. The few of our project participants who have been tested were all identified with "Orcadian origins" as one of the only identifiable portions of their Western European ancestry.  Orcadian refers to the Orkney Islands, off the north coast of Scotland.  This doesn't preclude Norman French origins.  Keep in mind that, at present, the Population Finder algorithm is limited by the data from available scientific studies.  As more studies are published, expect to find more distinguishable subpopulation categories. 

Orcadians were prominent traders/mariners, and (though I don't know this for fact), it would not surprise me if most of Norman French were of Orcadian origin (genetically). The term, "Norman" comes from "Norse men" -- the area was conquered and settled by Vikings. I'm betting that Scandinavia abounds with people of Orcadian, genetic origins.

Partly what you're seeing are current limitations of the scientific database.  To establish their databases, genetic genealogists like to sample modern populations from fairly insular regions, wherever possible -- i.e., places people migrated from, not to over the past couple of thousand years.   The present-day populations of such regions tend to be what genetic genealogists refer to as "relic populations." That way geneticists can label them a "type," unpolluted by interbreeding with other peoples. That's why you find Orcadian and Finnish and Basque among the choices. These were not populations that experienced a lot of immigration to their regions over the past 1,000 to 2,000 years. When geneticists deal with peoples in places overrun with other populations, they might still be able to deduce native genetics by subtracting out the contributions from others, but it's a less-certain proposition.  As more scientfic studies are published, expect to find more subpopulations definable (e.g., Irish, English, German -- as distinct from Orcadian).  But for now, "Orcadian" stands in for "Northwestern Europe" -- Britain, Scandinavia, Northern France, etc.

These are the only identifiable "European" designations FTDNA currently uses:


Northeast European
Southeast European
Southern European
Western European
     Orcadian (Orkney Islands)

Most of the subgroupings are literally islands (Orcadian, Sardinian) or ends of of the earth (Finnish, Spanish, Russian, Italian) or culturally insular (Basque, Tuscan, Romanian). You won't find places that were over-run with migrations from multiple directions, which would complicate the identification of a specific genetic "type."  So, "Orcadian" is likely to show up heavily in Scotland, England, Ireland, Scandinavia, N. France, Germany, and other places, unless or until more scientific studies become available to allow resolution of those subpopulations.

Bottom line: I think Orcadian origin is completely compatible with Northern France.   I do believe Gossetts are of Norman ancestry;  just not from Jean of Jersey.

And some Middle Eastern connection is common in European ancestry, too, due to trade, conquest, migration, enslavement. In fact, it's especially high along the Mediterranean parts of Europe.

Here are the deep origins of the few participants thus-far tested (Note:  Names have not been used, as I don't have permission to use them -- and they're not relevant):

Subject  1:
Europe (Western European) [French, Orcadian] 89%
Middle East [Palestinian, Iranian, Jewish, Adygei, Bedouin South, Druze] 11%

Subject 2:
Europe (Western European) [Orcadian] 95%
Middle East (North African) [Mozabite] 5%

Subject 3:
Europe (Western European) [French, Orcadian, Spanish] 92%
Europe [Tuscan, Basque, Finnish, Russian, Sardinian] 8%

Subject 4:

Europe (Western European)[Orcadian] 92%

Middle East [Palestinian, Bedouin, Bedouin South, Druze, Jewish] 8%

Subject 5:

Europe (Western European)[Orcadian] 100%

So, you see, "Orcadian" is a catch-all for northern, western Europe.

Hope this helps.

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