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Let the transfers begin

It’s taken a very long time, but the floodgates are now open for transfers into the autosomal DNA database at Family Tree DNA.

And for those who have tested at other companies but want the benefits of having good analytical tools while being in as many databases as possible to find as many matches as possible, this is very very good news.

floodgatesHere’s the deal:

The big advantage to autosomal DNA testing is finding cousins or even closer relatives with whom to work to share information.1 But if you’ve tested with Company A and your closest cousins have tested with Company B or Company C, you could all miss each other — and miss out on the chance to work together.

Moreover, it’s important to have good tools to analyze the test results. Let’s say, for example, that my cousins and I have tested with AncestryDNA, and we match as second or third or fourth cousins there.

Our family tree data may seem to be pointing in a direction towards a match in this line or in that line, but because of the absence of analytical tools, what we can’t tell using the AncestryDNA site is… is that the right line?

The problem is that my cousins and I might have it all completely wrong. Their trees, or mine, might be in error. We’re cousins, yes, but it may be in — say — the Robertson line and not the Jones line. Or the Cottrell line, not the Pettypool line.

To have a chance to nail it down with any degree of confidence, we need to combine the paper trail research with the actual DNA data: what DNA exactly do we really share?

What we want is to be able to look under the hood at the raw data to see exactly how and where our DNA matches, not just how much DNA we might share.

That’s why having all of the data from all of your cousins far and near show up in one place that allows for this deeper analysis is a very good thing.

There is a third-party site that allows uploads and comparisons of the testing data from the various genetic genealogy testing companies called GedMatch — and it’s an option The Legal Genealogist recommends and encourages.2 But not everyone is willing to put their data onto the site because it doesn’t have as many privacy controls as the testing company sites have.

So how do you get all the data from all your family members in one place with good privacy controls without having to have them all test at one company? Or when that new cousin you’ve just met says his now-deceased mother whose DNA would be oh-so-helpful tested at a different company than the one you tested with?

That’s what the autosomal transfer system at Family Tree DNA is perfect for. This is a program that lets those who’ve tested at AncestryDNA or 23andMe upload their raw data into the Family Tree DNA database and get the benefits of being in that additional secure database either for free or, to get all of the tools, for a very reasonable $19 cost.

Simply by downloading your raw data from your original testing company — either AncestryDNA V1 or V2 tests or 23andMe V3 or V4 tests — and then uploading it to Family Tree DNA for free, you can get a list of your autosomal matches in the Family Tree DNA database and have access to the Family Finder – Matrix feature that allows you to select and compare the autosomal DNA relationship between up to ten of your matches at one time.

By ponying up the $19 transfer fee, you can unlock all the Family Finder tools: the Chromosome Browser; the paternal and maternal tree linking; and the ethnicity estimates, myOrigins and a more distant look-back called ancientOrigins.

The analytical tools at Family Tree DNA are excellent: there’s a chromosome browser that lets you look under the hood at the data of matches; you can contact matches directly by email without having to rely on proprietary contact systems; tree linking helps you divide matches into maternal and paternal sides.

And Family Tree DNA is the only company that also offers complete YDNA and mitochondrial (mtDNA) testing when and if you want to add those tools to your DNA testing toolbox.

If you already have a YDNA or mtDNA test at Family Tree DNA, then log in first to your kit. Logging in properly associates the raw data with your kit number and you won’t need two log-ins to access all your data. Then go to DNA Tests in the menu at the top, choose Autosomal Transfer and then follow the directions on the page. You can drag and drop your raw data file from the other company or browse to it on your computer.

If you don’t already have a test there, begin at the main page, drop down the DNA Tests menu, and choose Autosomal Transfer and, again, follow the directions.

Now… be aware that you won’t get as many matches in the Family Tree DNA database by transferring a test in as you would if you went ahead and paid the $79 fee (often $69 on sale) and tested there by submitting a test sample. The more distant, speculative matches — at the fifth cousin level and beyond and even some potential fourth cousins — can’t be reported reliably for many transferred kits because of differences in the computer chips used by the testing companies. (There is a $59 fee to add a sample to a transferred result.)

But if your cousins won’t do another test, or the person tested is no longer available for more testing, this transfer system is the perfect way to get the information into one place where you can make the most use of it. (Remember, of course, that you have to have consent, or to have gotten that consent in the past, to transfer data for anyone other than yourself!!)

There’s plenty of help available for transfers at the Autosomal Transfer page of the Family Tree DNA Learning Center. There are specific instructions, for example, on how to download the raw data from the other testing companies as well as how to upload it to Family Tree DNA.

Yes, the floodgates are now open.

So let the transfers begin!


  1. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Autosomal DNA testing,” National Genealogical Society Magazine, October-December 2011, 38-43.
  2. Judy G. Russell, “Gedmatch: a DNA geek’s dream site,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 12 Aug 2012 ( : accessed 18 Feb 2017).
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