Michael Cooley's Genetic Genealogy Blog GEN • GEN
27 May 2018

Allow FTDNA Admins to Help You

A new European Union regulation dictates the management of data privacy. Family Tree DNA (FTDNA.com), based in Houston, and other companies have made a number of changes to assure themselves they're within the bounds of European law. This is one of the reasons Terry Barton decided to retire and close WorldFamilies.net, which had hosted hundreds of surname DNA projects originating from FTDNA Y-STR results. I'm one of any number of admins who rushed in to adopt otherwise abandoned surname projects.

I don't know the details of the new EU regulation — the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — but I'm coming to an understanding about how it affects FTDNA project members and the work their admins do. I'll first start with a definition of sorts.

The primary interest of any surname DNA project is the Y chromosome (Y-DNA), which passes from father to son. By social convention, the surname is usually inherited the same way. In other words, by following your Y-DNA you're following your surname's history, generation by generation. For some of us, the original surname was quite different than the current one. My Cooley Y-DNA, for example, matches perfectly to those who descend from John Cooley (c1738-1811) of Stokes County, North Carolina. Because of the unique inheritance pattern, we now know that these Cooleys (Group CF01) and the descendants of William Whitfield, 1751-1838 (Group 01 Whitfields), are exact matches to one another and undoubtedly shared a near forebear of one or the other surnames. We also know they're closely matched to the descendants of John Hackett (1746-1808) of Derbyshire. Furthermore, the DNA differences suggest that the Cooley/Hackett/Whitfield Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA) lived about 900 years ago. In fact, I believe there exists some small chance we might one identify that individual simply because a Cochran clan having a historically recorded lineage (hopefully accurate) has many of the same markers. In other words, the Y-DNA (and only the Y-DNA) has provided us with this tree:



This is powerful and useful stuff.

Although members that match one another can view one another's identities and email addresses, the general public cannot see that information. That hasn't and will not change. However, project members have always had the opportunity to make their Y-STR results and Earliest Known Ancestors (EKAs) public. Doing so is largely a form of outreach to those who can further aid in the research. Its presence advertises to interested parties the fact that their paternal ancestor's Y-DNA is known and that there are cousins and informed individuals listed in the database. I view this as being none other than a win-win situation and would recommend that all members allow their Y-DNA results to be viewed by the public. To view and change this status, log into your account:


 • Manage Personal Information (orange link on the left panel)
 • Privacy & Sharing
 • Group Project Profile. Set to "Public."

The move from WorldFamilies to FTDNA did not alter those settings. But the move did reset all admins' access to their members' accounts, including the ability to see matches and other data.

Allow the Admin to Help

As the WorldFamilies projects were adopted by new admins over the last couple of weeks, FTDNA reset admin access for the accounts to "Group Project Access," which translates to no access by the admins. Other than to allow the viewing and subgrouping of the Y-STR results for these newly adopted projects, none of us have access to the member's info — no matches, no Big Y results, no testing history (which allows us to make informed suggestions about future tests), nor access to the members' family trees. This makes it virtually impossible to draw significant conclusions about a member's results and nearly eviscerates many of advantages in joining a project in the first place, namely to gain the expert advise of the admins.

To change your settings, log into your account:


 • Manage Personal Information
 • Project Preferences
 • Edit. Set to "Grant Limited Access."

Unless you select "Grant Full Access," which I would generally not recommend, this will not provide admins with edit privileges of any kind.1

The third setting I highly suggest all FTDNA look at is the Earliest Known Ancestor (EKA) setting, which is no longer editable by the admin. Having that person's name included on the results page will help all researchers — genetic genealogy enthusiasts and otherwise. To add that information, log into your account:


 • Manage Personal Information
 • Genealogy
 • Earliest Known Ancestors

Although I consider myself a serious and decicated project administrator, I'm unable to go through all test results and provide reports to every member of each project for which I'm responsible. Frankly, I've adopted some projects that are of limited interest to me only to organize and maintain them in coherent form. For those, such as Bishop, a needful member must gain some initiative and ask for feedback.

But I sometimes "get a wild hair..." and will often become intently interested in a group under my administration. I will closely investigate it to see how I might be able to suggest a move forward. Except in certain details, that ability is largely unchanged for those projects I've long managed. But as it now stands, I'm unable to exercise that initiative for the groups I've recently adopted due to the WorldFamilies closure, including the Whitfield and Hackett groups.

I enjoy helping people with their genealogy through genetics. Although I know next to nothing about Whitfield or Hackett genealogy, I'm more than happy to review anyone's results and suggest what tests may be of use. I also welcome feedback on the origins of any subgroup within a project. But understand that these recent changes have restricted the help I can provide, and that has been reduced to nearly zero for the newly adopted groups. Making the changes I suggest here will make this a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

One's genetic makeup is, of course, a personal matter. But the Y-DNA markers tested for are not a product of natural selection. They're passed down virtually whole hog from one generation to the next. For all practical purposes my Y-DNA looks like that of my Cooley sixth cousins, even with a separation of a few hundred years. As far as I'm concerned, my Y says nothing more about my personal life than does my surname. I see it merely as a clan marker. The Y does makes me male, but not much else that's of any real interest to most of us.2

One more point — and one that represents my personal opinion and certainly not that of all DNA project admins: Clearly, the level of commitment and interest varies from one adminstrator to the next. Some begin a project then soon abandon it, possibly because they're uncertain as to what to do with it. Others — I'm sorry to say (but I'm wholly convinced of the notion) — try to corner the market, so to speak, on the surname and close their projects to ouside scrutiny and interest, thereby providing themselves with exclusive control and access. (I'm a huge fan of public education, dissimination of facts and information, and the free utilization of open source material.) Nevertheless, all adminstrators of FTDNA's projects are volunteers. We're not employees. We're not paid. Many of us have contributed hundreds, perhaps even thousands of hours for no reason other than the joy of it. We enjoy helping. We enjoy sharing our knowlegde and often consider ourselves pioneers in a new and exciting frontier. We're also enthusiastic and passionate genealogists. And we're committed to protect your personal identity from the public. And I'd finally suggest that a huge amount of FTDNA's success is due to the energy of its project admins.

Creating the ability for citizens to adopt a project was a brilliant marketing move on FTDNA's part and I wholly appreciate and thank them for allowing me the opportunity to explore this marvelous hobby to the extent I possess abilities to do so. But the continuance of this successful tool for the genealogy community requires the members' continued help and support.

As always, I'm happy to answer any and all questions. Click on the contact link below.

1 If you prefer, you can "Grant Full Access" and I will go in to your account, make the changes, then reset it to "Grant Limited Access," which is where it should be. Just be sure you let me know that you've done that.

2 The National Center for Biotechnology Information says, "Despite its profound effects on sexual differentiation, the brain effects mediated by the Y chromosome have not attracted the same amount of interest as those mediated by its larger and cognition-gene rich counterpart, the X; this may be because of the former's small size and low gene content. In humans the X chromosome is ~155Mb in size and houses ~1500 genes, whereas the Y chromosome is just ~60Mb in size and houses ~350 genes, many of which are pseudogenes. Alternatively, it may be because, unlike the X chromosome, it is not subject to the intrinsically interesting epigenetic process of silencing, or because its repetitive structure means that it is not readily amenable to genetic and genomic studies."