Thursday, 13 February 2020

FTDNA has the largest "local DNA database" in Northern Ireland

In this guest post from Martin McDowell of the North of Ireland Family History Society (NIFHS), he explains how FamilyTreeDNA has the largest "local DNA database" in the North of Ireland (compared to the other direct-to-consumer companies). This is of huge importance if you are researching your North of Ireland ancestry - in short, you must add your DNA to the FTDNA database and join the North of Ireland DNA Project ...
Maurice Gleeson
Feb 2020
Are you fishing in the right pool?

We all know how important finding a DNA match is. What we might not all know is that different companies have more market dominance in certain parts of the world and therefore might be more useful when pursuing matches in a particular locality.

No one can doubt Ancestry and 23andMe have sold the vast majority of autosomal tests to American and Canadian customers. It is my view that MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA are stronger than Ancestry in other parts of the world such as Australia and New Zealand.

The reason for this dates back a number of years before Ancestry, MyHeritage and Living DNA had entered the DNA market. 23andMe and Family Tree DNA were the only testing companies for people testing around the world and as Family Tree DNA was the cheaper option internationally it tended to get the bulk of the non-US business. Even when Ancestry started selling DNA tests in 2012 they didn’t sell outside of the United States and Canada until 2015.

People may not be aware that even in 2020 Ancestry only offer DNA tests for sale in 34 countries:

By contrast, Family Tree DNA will sell autosomal DNA tests to anyone in any country (except Sudan or Iran as noted on their website). So if you are looking for matches in another country you need to be aware that testing with Ancestry is not enough on its own and that you need to be in one of the other databases too – preferably as many as possible!

The NIFHS has a strong presence at all the
major genealogy events in the UK & Ireland
My work as a project administrator with Family Tree DNA has left me surprised on a number of occasions when someone from a country/ethnicity has tested that I do not expect to receive many matches for - and yet they do. South Africa and Jamaica are two countries that spring to mind. And having spoken to people in Norway and Sweden about their matches it is also clear that Family Tree DNA also have large numbers of testers in the Scandinavian countries. As do MyHeritage. And this is something that the genetic genealogist needs to be aware of when they test - if you are not fishing in the right pool then you won’t catch a fish!

Within Northern of Ireland I can confirm, without any fear of contradiction, that Family Tree DNA is the major testing company used by local people. This is partly because the North of Ireland Family History Society has promoted DNA testing for a number of years, during many of which Family Tree DNA was the only real option. The rest of Ireland is also well represented on Family Tree DNA where they are well known as the only sponsor of Genetic Genealogy Ireland and where they can be found taking a stand at many local genealogy events.

Recruitment to our DNA Project continues to grow at a very fast rate
The result of all these efforts is that the majority of people with a Northern Irish background get a higher number of matches on Family Tree DNA than other testers receive from countries that are not as well represented on the database. These regional differences are crucial to success and an important factor to bear in mind when you are looking for a match.

Another benefit of Family Tree DNA is that they also have some of the earliest autosomal DNA tests. As FTDNA started selling Y and MT tests before they introduced Family Finder in 2010, their DNA storage policy meant that even people who had died prior to the introduction of Family Finder in 2010 could still have an autosomal DNA test performed on their sample. And this is still providing benefit. One of my 4th cousins had a Y-DNA test done in 2009. Although he died in 2012, his family paid for an autosomal test in 2019 and I got a match with him shortly after.

With results for new Northern Irish testers coming through within the North of Ireland DNA Project almost every day, the database is now far more useful than in previous years. These tests are more beneficial as we have been running an education programme to encourage and support people to add family trees and to use the family matching tool. And the family matching tool is now much more useful than previously as you can link DNA matches to your tree (no matter what distance that relationship is) and the family matching will identify which of your other matches are maternal or paternal. It’s a feature I use daily with great success.

Many new testers within our project are receiving over 7,000 matches when their results arrive and at the same time a higher proportion of larger matches. This is a massive increase on the 2,000 we expected only a few years back. One of my testers in the north of the province commented to me recently that he felt that within our project we were already receiving better DNA matches on a routine basis than he had previously thought he would see in his lifetime. Long may it continue!

Martin McDowell
NIFHS, Feb 2020
The NIFHS runs regular courses in genetic genealogy


  1. I can’t see the North of Ireland project in the list of projects on the FTDNA website. Can you please direct me to the right place? Thank you in advance.


  2. My 88 year old mother's autosomal DNA is in FTDNA and she does share a good number of matches. However, many of those individuals are in a private group called "Donegal DNA". My requests to view their tree is unanswered. I was hoping that viewing their tree would help me break down a brick wall. Any suggestions?