Family Tree DNA
|Industry||Genealogical DNA testing|
|Founder||Bennett Greenspan, Max Blankfeld, and Jim Warren|
|Products||atDNA testing, mtDNA Tests, Y-DNA testing|
|Owners||Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld|
FamilyTreeDNA is a division of Gene by Gene, a commercial genetic testing company based in Houston, Texas. FamilyTreeDNA offers analysis of autosomal DNA, Y-DNA, and mitochondrial DNA to individuals for genealogical purpose. With a database of more than two million records, it is the most popular company worldwide for Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA, and the fourth most popular for autosomal DNA. In Europe, it is the most common also for autosomal DNA.
Concept and founding (2000–2002)
FamilyTreeDNA was founded based on an idea conceived by Bennett Greenspan, a lifelong entrepreneur and genealogy enthusiast. In 1999, Greenspan had entered semi-retirement and was working on his family history. He began work on his mother's Nitz lineage. When faced with a roadblock in his work, he remembered two cases of genetics being used to prove ancestry that had recently been covered by the media. These were a study by University of Arizona researchers showing that many Cohen men from both Ashkenazic and Sephardic groups share the same Y-chromosome and a study that showed that male descendants of a paternal uncle of US President Thomas Jefferson (who presumably shared his Y-chromosome) and male-line descendants of his freed slave Sally Hemings shared the same Y-chromosome and a recent common ancestry.
Greenspan had both Nitz cousins in California and had discovered someone in Argentina with the same ancestral surname and the same ancestral location in Eastern Europe. Wishing to use the same method of DNA comparison for his own genealogy, he contacted Dr. Michael Hammer at the University of Arizona. Greenspan discovered that academic labs did not offer testing directly to the public and that in general direct to consumer testing for genealogy was not commercially available either. Their conversation inspired him to start a company dedicated to using genetics to solve genealogy problems.
It was early 2000 when Greenspan with his business partners Max Blankfeld and Jim Warren officially launched FamilyTreeDNA. Initially, the Arizona Research Labs at the University of Arizona performed all testing for FamilyTreeDNA. FamilyTreeDNA includes among its scientific staff, Dr. Michael Hammer (PhD), one of a team of scientists that first published on the Cohen Modal Haplotype in 1997 in the journal Nature.
FamilyTreeDNA began with a proof in concept group of twenty-four that returned results in January. They began by offering 12 Y-chromosome STR marker tests much like those used in many scientific publications of the time in March 2000. FamilyTreeDNA became widely known for its Y-chromosome STR testing for the Cohen Modal Haplotype.
Soon, they were offering not only DNA tests but an interface by which dedicated genealogists could run surname research studies. The first person to create such a project through the FamilyTreeDNA site was Doug Mumma, hence it was called the Mumma project.
Early testing (2000–2006)
FamilyTreeDNA's initial Y-chromosome tests were described as 11 marker tests. They eventually began to call this a 12 STR marker test as one of the STRS (DYS385) almost always had two copies. This they billed as a method to affirm or disprove a genealogical connection on the direct paternal line.
In the early days, they did not confirm haplogroups for either mtDNA or Y-DNA.
Opening of the Genomics Research Center
In 2006, FamilyTreeDNA bought out the assets of DNA-Fingerprint, which was a German paternity testing company that offered à la carte testing to the genetic genealogy testing community. With this buyout, Thomas and Astrid Krahn, who had owned DNA-Fingerprint, moved to Houston, Texas, and helped open the Genomics Research Center.
The Genomics Research Center initially did testing for many of the same products that had been sold by DNA-Fingerprint. They began to offer individual and panels of Y-chromosome SNP tests using Sanger testing methods. They also offered the mtDNA full genome test and upgrades to it using the Sanger testing method.
Soon came the launch of the Walk Through the Y (WTY) test. The WTY test offered the most adventurous of citizen scientists the chance to seek the discovery of new Y-chromosome SNPs.
Meanwhile, most testing continued to be done at the University of Arizona lab. The demand for additional test types led Greenspan and Blankfeld to move all testing to their own testing lab in Houston, Texas under the Genealogy by Genetics, Ltd. parent company.
Between 2007 and 2010, FamilyTreeDNA forged several new partnerships that allowed them to access additional international markets.
The first of FamilyTreeDNA's new partnerships was with the Switzerland-based iGENEA company. It was formed alongside the closing of DNA-Fingerprint and Thomas Krahn's helping open the Genomic Research Center in Houston. Their website is available in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.
DNA Ancestry & Family Origin
DNA Ancestry & Family Origin DNA Ancestry & Family Origin is a genetic genealogy testing partnership between FamilyTreeDNA and Eastern Biotech & Life Sciences. Their website is available in both English and Arabic.
In November 2008, a dynamic partnership with MyHeritage was launched, allowing users to incorporate DNA testing and advanced family tree technologies into their family history research. MyHeritage is a website offering online, mobile and software platforms for discovering, preserving and sharing family history worldwide.
DNA testing products
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Autosomal DNA testing
In May 2010, FamilyTreeDNA launched an autosomal microarray chip based DNA test. They called the new product Family Finder. The initial product used an Affymetrix microarray chip, but FamilyTreeDNA changed to the Illumina OmniExpress chip and retested all customers who had results from the Affymetrix chip for forward compatibility.
Family Finder allows customers to match relatives as distant as about fifth cousins. Family Finder also includes a component called myOrigins. The results of this test provide percentages of a DNA associated with general regions or specific ethnic groups (e.g. Western Europe, Asia, Jewish, Native American, etc.). Notably, unlike other testing companies, they chose to strip out markers for mendelian medical issues, mtDNA results, and Y-DNA SNP results.
Y DNA testing
The company markets a range of Y-DNA tests. The Y-chromosome is inherited from father to son, so testers can discover relatives with the same patrilineage. In many cultures these relatives will often share the same surname, since surnames are also inherited father to son. These tests cover 37-111 STR markers depending on the test, and vary in price according to the number of markers covered. Once an individual has tested at least 12 STR markers, he may take the "Big Y" test. Big Y tests approximately 20,000 SNPs.
FamilyTreeDNA staff were instrumental in developing the Geno 2.0 Next Generation product for the second phase of the Genographic Project. Geno 2.0 samples for both public and scientific study were run at the Genomics Research Center in Houston, Texas (operated by FamilyTreeDNA's parent company, Gene by Gene, Ltd.) until 2016, when Geno 2.0 began utilizing Helix for DNA sequencing.
Gene by Gene
In September 2012, Greenspan and Blankfeld restructured FamilyTreeDNA's parent company, Genealogy by Genetics, Ltd. This included their renaming Genealogy by Genetics, Ltd. as Gene by Gene, Ltd. After restructuring, the business comprises four divisions one of these being FamilyTreeDNA for genealogical DNA tests. It is Gene by Gene, Ltd. that now operates the Genomics Research Center (GRC) lab in Houston, Texas.
Data policy and usage by law enforcement
In December 2018, FamilyTreeDNA changed its terms of service to allow law enforcement to use their service to identify suspects of "a violent crime" (defined as child abduction, sexual assault or homicide) or identify the remains of victims. The company confirmed it was working with the FBI on at least a handful of cases. As of March 2019, the company instituted a policy allowing its customers to opt out of law enforcement access to their genetic data. All customers were automatically opted in to such exposure except those living in the European Union who were opted out by default. Law enforcement officers will be required to go through a more rigorous process in order to access the database, while customers who opt out of allowing the FBI to access their data will still be able to search for possible relatives as before. “Users now have the ability to opt out of matching with DNA relatives whose accounts are flagged as being created to identify the remains of a deceased individual or a perpetrator of homicide or sexual assault, also referred to as Law Enforcement Matching (LEM),” the company wrote in an email to customers. In May 2019 FamilyTreeDNA prevented access to its Y-DNA database ysearch.org and its mtDNA data base mitosearch making it more difficult for law enforcement agencies to identify crime suspects. In August 2019, FamilyTreeDNA reported that about 50 law enforcement agencies had submitted DNA samples for matching and that almost 150 cases had been submitted. By spring 2020, only around 3% of about 2 million users have opted out.
List of arrest or identifications made with FamilyTreeDna
- In January 2019, California police arrested Kevin Konther for the brutal rape of a nine-year-old girl in Lake Forest 1995 and a 31-year-old woman at Mission Vejo, California in 1998 and said they had used FamilyTreeDNA services and genetic genealogy techniques to help identify him. Konther has an identical twin brother, and the DNA profile had initially implicated both men, but further detective investigation led authorities to release the brother and focus on Konther as their main suspect. He was also accused of Molesting a 12-year-old girl between January 2002 and December 2003.
- In February 2019, FamilyTreeDNA helped police with the arrest of James Neal for the July 6, 1973 abduction and murder by strangulation of 11-year-old schoolgirl Linda O'Keefe in Newport Beach, California as well as multiple sexual assaults against other children. He pleaded not guilty and faced a maximum sentence of 82 years to life in state prison if convicted.
- In February 2019, Jerry Westrom was arrested as the suspect behind the 1993 murder of Jeanne Ann Childs in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Police had used genealogy and Family Tree DNA data to lead them to Westrom. In an interview after his arrest, Westrom denied being in the apartment. He said he did not know the victim, and said he did not have sex with any women in Minneapolis in 1993. When confronted with the DNA evidence, he told investigators he had no idea why his DNA would be present at that scene.
- Michael A. Soares was arrested in February 2019 for the murder of John Fay, 66, a jogger, in Warwick, Rhode Island in 2013. Police had used Family Tree DNA to narrow down the suspect to Soares. Fay had been ambushed with a hammer.
- In April 2019, Law Enforcement working with Family Tree DNA Positively identified the remains of two young women found in oil fields in 1986 and 1991 in an area known as the "Texas Killing Fields" near League City, Texas. They were 30-year-old Audrey Lee Cook and 34-year-old mother of two Donna Prudhomme.
- In May 2019, Christopher VanBuskirk was arrested in Goodyear Arizona for the sexual assaults of six women at knife-point from 1995 to 2004 in San Diego and Riverside Counties, California. He had been identified with the help of the FBI Forensic Genetic Genealogy Team and Family Tree DNA. VanBuskirk originally pled not guilty to the crimes and faced 190 years to life in prison, however changed his plea to guilty in December 2019, and was sentenced on February 20, 2020, to 50 years to life in prison. Vanbskirk is currently incarcerated in the California Institution for Men and is currently eligible for parole in 05/2058.
- In August 2019, Ralph Bortree was arrested in Ohio for a July 31, 1993, rape and attempted murder of a 19-year-old woman. the DNA profile was also matched to a May 23, 1992 kidnapping and rape of another 19-year-old woman. Other evidence links him to two similar attacks on women on July 22, 1993 and May 24, 1995. Bortree cannot be charged with rape, kidnapping or attempted kidnapping due to the states 20 year statute of limitations for those crimes so the prosecution only charged him with one count of attempted murder however the defense has argued that the statue has expired for that offense as well, however the judge ruled against the motion and Bortree is still being charged with attempted murder.
- In September 2019, Donald Perea was posthumously identified as the 1981 rapist and murderer of 18-year old Jeannie Moore in Jefferson county Colorado. Perea was previously convicted of a different rape that also took place in 1981. He could not be arrested due to his death in 2012.
- In September 2019, Mark Douglas Burns was identified and arrested as a suspect in nine rapes that took place in Wyoming and Utah between 1991 and 2001. According to Barabara Rae-Venter the case took over a year and a half and was one of the most difficult ones to solve as Mark was adopted and the building where his records were located burned to the ground. Burns has pled not guilty.
- In February 2020, A man named Michael Green was arrested for the 1985 murder of 54-year old Jane Hylton, Green was initially not named since he was a juvenile at the time of the murder. A man named Ricky Davis was previously convicted of the murder and was sentenced to 16 years to life and served 14 years after he was exonerated when the new suspect was arrested. Davis is the first person in California, and the second in the country, to be exonerated after the use of genetic genealogy after, Christopher Tapp, a man in Idaho who was convicted in the 1996 rape and murder of Angie Dodge was exonerated in 2019 after spending 22 years in jail.
- In April 2020, James Raymond Taylor was identified as the Aug. 18, 1963 rapist and murderer of 16-year old Margaret "Peggy" Beck near Deckers, Colorado.
- In May 2020, Angelo Alleano Jr., a firefighter, was arrested for four burglaries and sexual assaults that occurred between 2001 and 2008 in Manchester and Vernon, Connecticut.
- Genetic genealogy
- Test types
- Test manufactures
- Genetic genealogy and anthro-genetics companies
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Greenspan, born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, has been interested in genealogy from a very young age; he drew his first family tree at age 11.
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A real estate developer and entrepreneur, Greenspan has been interested in genealogy since his preteen days.
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Businessman Bennett Greenspan hoped that the approach used in the Jefferson and Cohen research would help family historians. After reaching a brick wall on his mother's surname, Nitz, he discovered and Argentine researching the same surname. Greenspan enlisted the help of a male Nitz cousin. A scientist involved in the original Cohen investigation tested the Argentine's and Greenspan's cousin's Y chromosomes. Their haplotypes matched perfectly.Cite journal requires
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Years of researching his family tree through records and documents revealed roots in Argentina, but he ran out of leads looking for his maternal great-grandfather. After hearing about new genetic testing at the University of Arizona, he persuaded a scientist there to test DNA samples from a known cousin in California and a suspected distant cousin in Buenos Aires. It was a match. But the real find was the idea for Family Tree DNA, which the former film salesman launched in early 2000 to provide the same kind of service for others searching for their ancestors.
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DNA DTC is the Research Use Only (RUO) division serving both direct-to-consumer and institutional clients worldwide. Gene By Gene offers AABB certified relationship tests through its paternity testing division, DNA Findings. The privately held company is headquartered in Houston, which is also home to its state-of-the-art Genomics Research Center.
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