The “Levels” of Y-DNA Testing

When people express an interest in joining this project, I usually recommend they buy a 67-marker STR test. After making their initial purchase, some people are then dismayed to find recommendations for further (more expensive) testing, such as the Big Y. The purpose of this post is to lay out the different levels of Y-DNA testing, the prices, and the reasoning behind my recommendations. Any listed prices are in US dollars. Please note that we may have access to coupon codes for further discounts on FTDNA tests.

STRs vs. SNPs: STRs and SNPs are two types of Y-markers that can be used to determine the relatedness of testers. STRs are cheaper to test, but less precise. SNPs are more definitive, but also more expensive. Our project uses both to figure out how branches of McFaddens are related.

STR Testing

STR results are given as a set of numbers. These numbers can go up or down as they are passed down from father to son. Analyzing which numbers men have in common can allow us to determine whether a relation exists and roughly estimate how long ago the common ancestor lived. We try to use STR results to make educated guesses about which SNPs men are positive for.

The most basic Y-DNA tests are 12- and 25-marker STR tests. These tests are no longer advertised by FTDNA because their value is extremely limited. Two people can be perfect 25/25 matches with each other and not be related within thousands of years. Hereditary surnames only came into existence within the past 1000 years, which makes 12- and 25-marker tests almost useless in terms of this project. People who have done these tests are more than welcome to join the project, however their results will not be included in any project research or analysis.

A 37-marker STR test is the minimum level of testing that can potentially be of use to the project. Sometimes it will be and sometimes it won’t be. Our largest cluster of McFaddens at the moment (R-M269 Group 4) has a very distinctive DNA signature that can usually be picked up with a 37-marker test, but this group accounts for less than a third of the project. Other groups like R-M269 Group 1 are not as distinctive and a 37-marker test is insufficient to conclusively demonstrate a relation. I include 37-marker tests in our research and analysis, but I encourage people to upgrade to 67 markers if possible. Cost of a Y37 test at FTDNA: $149 (on sale for $139 until the end of the year)

My standard recommendation for new testers is a 67-marker STR test. This level should be sufficient to determine whether a tester belongs to any of our established groups. It is also appropriate for anyone interested in the more recent history of their line (i.e. breaking down genealogical “brick walls”). I’ve chosen this as my go-to recommendation because I think it’s the best compromise of results vs. cost for people who aren’t ready to spend upwards of $500 on DNA testing. Cost of a Y67 test at FTDNA: $248 (on sale for $229)

It can be beneficial to the project for someone to take a 111-marker STR test, but the potential benefits are limited when compared to SNP testing. It is for that reason that even though it would be great for everyone to buy this test, I encourage people willing to spend the money to test 67 STR markers and put the rest of their cash towards SNP testing. Cost of a Y111 test at FTDNA: $339 (on sale for $319)

SNP Testing

SNPs are markers that can be unique to one man and his direct male descendants. Analyzing which markers men are positive for allows us to place them into a type of family tree and roughly estimate how long ago common ancestors lived.

It’s possible to test one SNP at a time, but this is the least efficient method of testing and should generally be avoided. The only case where it might be appropriate is if someone wants to confirm that they are in the same subclade as a close STR match. Cost of an individual SNP test at FTDNA: $39. Cost of an individual SNP test at YSEQ: $17.50.

SNP Packs are panels of up to 150 SNPs that allow a tester to significantly narrow down their confirmed haplogroup. Packs only test for known SNPs, which means they can only place someone into an already established subclade. They might have value in cases where nobody in a particular group has done advanced SNP testing. Cost of an SNP pack at FTDNA or YSEQ: $80-$150.

The Big Y is an advanced SNP test that examines thousands of known markers and also looks for SNP results that are unique to the tester. This is invaluable in helping the project sort out the various McFadden branches. I have previously given an overview of the Big Y here: The Big Y: What is it and why is it important? Cost of the Big Y at FTDNA: $575 (on sale for $525). Only people who have purchased an STR test are eligible to purchase the Big Y.

The most advanced Y-DNA test currently available is the Y Elite 2.1 from Full Genomes. It is also the most expensive, which is why I have hesitated to suggest that people purchase it. Ultimately we would need multiple Y Elite testers in order for it be more beneficial than the Big Y and it has been difficult enough just to find people to find people willing to buy a Y67! But if you wish to assist the project by buying a test and money is no object, the Y Elite is unquestionably the best you can do. Cost of the Y Elite 2.1 at Full Genomes: $795


– As always, please contact me with any questions. (
– We would rather have 10 people buy a 37-marker test than one person buy the Y Elite, so please don’t feel overwhelmed or unwanted if you’re only comfortable purchasing a lower-level test. We do want you! A Y37 test can be useful! The more people that test at any level, the better off this project will be.
– We have a small amount of cash available in our General Fund that we may be willing to put towards the purchase of someone’s Big Y test.
– To donate to our General Fund, click here:

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