Friday, February 19, 2016

Twelve is for Tentative

What is it with people who tentatively stick their toe in the pool, rather than jumping in and getting it all over with in one splash? When it comes to fishing in the Y-DNA gene pool, I think I've found the ones who can't seem to get past the toe-dipping stage: the ones who purchase the 12 marker Y-DNA test.

Admittedly, there is that slight matter of cost. I don't even remember what the price was, back when I had my husband and my brother tested. I'm sure it's more expensive now to do much more than that entry-level step. Taking a look at the main supplier of Y-DNA tests now, the Family Tree DNA company, I couldn't even find the current asking price for the 12 marker test.

They have to be selling it, though. Just yesterday I got yet another email announcement, breathlessly reporting that my husband had one more match on his Y-DNA results. Somebody has to be buying this stuff.

I'm glad FTDNA is currently steering customers clear of this entry level test. When I checked their website for current pricing, I noticed the first test in the Y-DNA product line was for the 37 marker test, along with this comment,
More markers mean more confidence. Our Y-DNA tests check for specific markers on the Y chromosome. 37 markers is a good place to start and can confirm close relationships.

Of course, their sales pitch is to "increase confidence" with even more markers tested, which translates into a cost above the $169 current asking price for the 37 marker test.

So how are people still buying the 12 marker test? In my book, it's virtually useless as a match. Admittedly, if you are a male descendent of the Smith line, and all the men who match you at the 12 level also boast Smith as a surname, well, that's reassuring. As far as things go in the Stevens camp, though, my husband currently has 1,375 matches at the 12 marker level, of whom only two share the same surname. The possibility that the closer of the two matches—an exact match—shares a common ancestor with my husband approaches we approach a family tree reaching back twenty four generations.

Granted, the 12 marker test has its place. Just last night, I was talking with a genealogist who was working on a case, muddling through paternity issues. Sure enough, one of the two men tested—at that measly 12 level—had a full house of matches sporting the same surname, while the other one with the questionable link to the same father, came up empty-handed. I suppose 12 can tell you that. If you're lucky. And apparently, the men in my life aren't that kind of lucky.

Ruling out wasn't the mode I had in mind when I started this genetic genealogy experiment. I wanted to know who we were related to. And to do that, you simply have to stand up and decide to jump in—feet first, wholeheartedly. Who knows whether any of those 1,375 matches on my husband's 12 marker list would turn out to be solid matches, if they hadn't been so tentative and had made a bigger splash with their testing strategy. Somehow, that tentative gesture with the mere 12 markers barely gets the door open—and yet concurrently opens the floodgates to get us inundated with essentially useless information.

If Family Tree DNA is really committed to upping their game to set 37 markers as their entry level for Y-DNA testing, they certainly have my enthusiastic support.

Above: "Still Life With Robin's Nest," 1863 oil on canvas by American artist, Fidelia Bridges; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain. 


  1. Interesting. I am just beginning in the whole DNA world. Your post is helpful. Thank you.

    1. And it is, indeed, a world, as you put it. So much to learn. And the science and the testing are still evolving.

  2. I wonder how many markers it takes to actually "prove" a relationship? And how many there are altogether - DNA consists of thousands (if not millions) of bits of info - of which we share a goodly portion with many non-human animals.

    I want to see if I'm related to Koko the Gorilla!


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