Frequently Asked Questions

What is Y-DNA?

Y-DNA is what we call the sex chromosome “Y” that is passed from a father to his sons only, women do not receive a Y chromosome. Testing the Y chromosome allows for investigation into a male's paternal family line and can help identify surname lines, living relatives whose Y chromosome is similar to yours, and ancient migration routes your paternal ancestors may have taken.  Although only males can take a y-DNA test, women who wish to trace their "Ralston" lineage can ask a male "Ralston" relative, (father, brother, uncle, cousin, etc.) to take a test for them. (See "Can I Manage Someone Else’s Account?" below.)

How does Y-DNA differ from Autosomal DNA?

An autosome refers to the remaining 22 numbered chromosomes that a person inherits from each of their parents.  With each generation back, the amount of DNA you inherit from an ancestor is reduced.  So the amount of DNA you share with a first cousin is much greater than is shared with a fourth or fifth cousin.  After several generations the amount of DNA passed down becomes negligible.  Autosomal testing is called Family Finder on  It is also available on and is the only DNA testing done by

I have already tested autosomal DNA, why do I need to test Y-DNA?

If you have already tested autosomal at AncestryDNA, Family Finder at FTDNA; MyHeritage, or 23andMe this is very useful for certain situations.  However, autosomal testing has its limitations.  As discussed above, autosomal DNA is inherited from both parents. If you look back at your 5x great-grandparents, all your autosomal DNA is made up of contributions of those 128 different individuals.  And the amount you inherit from each ancestor is less and less with each generation further back, to the point of being negligible and of no benefit in determining relationships.  Additionally, the amounts of autosomal DNA passed down are random, so you may not share any DNA with a fourth cousin, but possibly share DNA with an eighth cousin.  The graph below represents the DNA you inherit from your ancestors.  Autosomal DNA is represented by the gold color.   Since the y-DNA, shown in blue, is not split with each generation, it can aid in determining relationships many generations back.

Can DNA tests I have done with other companies be transferred to FTDNA?

Autosomal DNA and Y-DNA can be transferred to FTDNA. They will take autosomal DNA raw data results from AncestryDNA and the V3 results from 23andme. They accept Y-DNA transfers primarily from AncestryDNA. (Ancestry stopped  Y-DNA and mtDNA testing in 2014.)

Instructions for autosomal transfers may be found here at FTDNA.

Additional information about y-DNA transfers may be found here at FTDNA.

What is a Haplogroup?

Every male individual who takes one of the Y-DNA tests will also receive their Y-DNA haplogroup. When humans left Africa tens of thousands of years ago, they departed in small groups that migrated into different parts of the world. Over many generations, each group developed distinct mutations allowing for identification of one from the other. These groups of mutations are called haplogroups, and they can tell which migratory routes our paternal ancestors traveled.

What does Clade and Subclade mean?

Clade comes from the Greek word Klados, meaning branch. A Clade on the Y chromosome tree is also called a Haplogroup.  Subclade describes a sub-clade being downstream (occurring later in time). A Clade includes all the descendants of a single MRCA (most recent common ancestor).

What does SNP stand for?

Single nucleotide polymorphisms, frequently called SNPs (pronounced “snips”), are the most common type of genetic variations. Each SNP is a mutation or new branch on the tree. The number of SNPs on which people match within a database can be used to tell how closely related they are.

What is a Marker or STR?

A marker is what is tested in the basic Y-DNA tests. These markers are also referred to as STRs (Short Tandem Repeats) which are a series of repeating nucleotides (A, T, G, C). For example: GACTACTACTACTGG - the STR consists of the three repeated CTA segments. Y-DNA tests look for matching markers or “STRs” between two men, if they match, which would indicate a genetic relationship.

What is Genetic Distance?

Genetic distance is the term used to describe the number of differences or mutations between two sets of Y-DNA STRs test results. A genetic distance of zero means that there are no differences in the two results and there is an exact match.  FTDNA generally uses genetic distance to project a range of generations back to a common ancestor.  It is important to realize that this is only a projection, and may be wrong.  So don't get too hung up on genetic distance.

There are many factors that can influence the number of mutations or mismatches between two matches.  Many STRs mutate faster than others.  (Fast mutating STRs are shown in a shade of red on the results chart.)  Additionally, some family lines may mutate faster than others, so that, for two people who descended from the same common ancestor, one might have had no mutations and the other several mutations, though they are the same number of generations down.  And if both lines had above average mutations, they could look to be more distantly related than they really are.  Likewise, if the mutation rate of two lines happened to be very low, two matches might appear to be much closer related than they actually are.

Another factor that is very hard to determine, if at all, is "back mutations".  This is the case where there was a mutation in someone's ancestry, then later another mutation on the same STR that reverted to the original value.  So what is in reality two mutations would look like none.

So if two people are matches, they share a common ancestor.  Good advice is to use genetic distance as only a general guide, and where possible, try to find that common ancestor from genealogy, and, if close enough, autosomal DNA.  Also, as more y-DNA matches show up, their information can also help.

What is "the genealogical timeframe"?

The genealogical timeframe is the period in which it is possible to find genealogical records relating to individual ancestors which allow the researcher to construct family trees.  (FTDNA usually considers this to be the most recent 15 generations.)

Which test should I buy?

If you are looking to begin Y-DNA testing, the Y-37 Marker test will allow you to become familiar with Y-DNA results. However, if you want to know more about your paternal line through matching, you will want to start with a Y-67 test. The Y-111 test will be of most benefit for those looking to confirm Y chromosome matching at the highest level between two living men. The difference between the Y-37, Y-67 and Y-111 tests is that more markers (STRs) are analyzed which allows for more refined results including matches. The Big Y-500 is for expert users, it will provide 100K SNPs and additional STRs, however these markers will not provide more refined matching.

UPDATE:  FTDNA no longer offers the Y-67 test.  The Y-111 test includes all the markers tested in the Y-37 and Y-67 tests.  The Y-111 results will also include matches at the Y-67 level to show matches to existing Y-67 tests. The 37 marker test remains the minimum viable test for tracing your lineage. But experience has shown that the 111 marker test provides more certainty and fewer false leads, and if budget is not a concern, then we would encourage that you start there.  Additionally, the Big Y-500 has been expanded, and is now the Big Y-700.

Please be aware that the company offers sale prices at various times during the year.

Can I Manage Someone Else’s Account?

Question: “A male Ralston relative, who has no interest in genealogy, has agreed to take a y-DNA test. Can I register and manage his account on”

Answer: When you order the test, the process will ask for the name of the tester. You can put your relative's name and register him under his own name, however he prefers it to be shown. You can also change the name later from within the account settings.

If you want the kit to be sent to your relative, put his address in the contact information. This, too, can be changed later in the account settings. If he will be visiting you, or lives near you, you can have it sent to your address. Make sure he completes the Release Form that comes with the kit, so FTDNA can show his matches.

While the DNA of the person who has submitted a sample (your relative) ultimately belongs to him, another person (you) can manage the kit. Typically, the person paying for the kit is allowed to access that kit, by agreement with the person who tests.

You should put your email address, if you will be managing the kit (keeping track of the matches, etc., if he is not interested). If your relative wants to manage his own kit, you can put his email address, but be aware that the kit number and password will be sent to whichever email address you enter.

Whoever gets the kit number and password should make sure they save them, in order to log in to the account. If you intend to manage the kit, you should make sure this is understood by your relative and is acceptable to him. In that case, make sure you put your email address, so you get the kit number and password via email. You can share this log in information with him.

If the kit is mailed to your relative, ask him to save the tracking number and send it to you, so you can keep track of the kit's progress after he has used the kit and mails it back to FTDNA.

Do I need to order a new kit for add-ons and upgrades?

If you have already purchased a DNA kit and submitted a sample, there is no need to order a new kit—FTDNA will use your existing DNA sample that is stored for any additional test(s) that you order. In the rare instance that there is no further DNA available for testing on your existing samples, FTDNA will send an additional collection kit, associated with your original kit, to you at no charge.

NOTE: If the person being tested is elderly or in poor health, you can ask FTDNA to include extra vials (by phone, once you have the kit number). Kits come with two vials, but if you ask for extra, usually they will send three vials. If you plan to do a lot of tests in the future, you could see if they would send four vials. It's good to have the extra vials ready so he can do all the swabbing in one or two sessions. Sometimes people don't want to (or can't) do it at a later time.

Why do I have Y-DNA matches with different surnames? 

This is a common question that is asked when people first get their Y-DNA results. And there are several explanations for it, such as surname changes, adoptions or other non-paternity events.  There are instances were children take their mother's surname.  It is also possible to have a common ancestor that lived before surnames were in use.  See this site for additional explanations.

What about mtDNA?

Mitochondria are in the cytoplasm of most human cells that serve as the body’s energy factories, and they have their own DNA called mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA.  Only mothers can pass mtDNA to her children.  So, like y-DNA, mtDNA is  relatively unchanged with each generation.  UPDATE:  New research shows that in rare cases some mtDNA is passed from fathers.  Article here.  However, the Genetic Genealogist asserts that this occurrence is extremely rare and will not affect genealogical research.

Because a mother passes mtDNA to both male and female children, both men and women can be tested.

mtDNA tests are used to trace your  direct maternal lines.  So it’ll go from your mother to your grandmother to your great-grandmother and so on.  The complicating part of studying mtDNA matches is that surnames change with each generation.

The Ralston Project welcomes anyone with Ralston heritage who has done mtDNA testing to join; however, our primary focus is y-DNA as this is most beneficial in tracing the Ralston lineage.