Choosing Your Next Test / General Fund


1. General

2. ySTR upgrades

3. ySNP tests, single and Pack

4. Geno2 tests

5. NGS tests, incl. BigY

6. Autosomal tests, incl. Family Finder

7. Mitochondrial tests

8. Other DNA tests

9. General Fund

This section identifies the various DNA test that can be taken after the initial ySTR test and offers recommendations on their suitability, depending on the individual tester's circumstances. Which test, if any, is most appropriate depends on:

  • the results of your first test: how many "matches" you have, which branch you are in, and which tests other members of the branch have taken etc.;

  • your personal interests, both in your own ancestry and in supporting our Study; and

  • your budget!

1. General comments on further testing

  • Once a member has taken his initial ySTR test and digested the results many are tempted to take further tests. There is now a large number of tests to choose from, and much money can be wasted by choosing inappropriate tests, money that could often be spent better in the interests of the individual and/or of the Study. As the optimal choice of a further test, if any, depends on individual circumstances (i.e. financial considerations, areas of interest, and the context of the initial/earlier test other genetic and genealogical evidence) I strongly recommend individuals seek my advice before ordering any further test. Obviously I cannot advise on how much you may wish to spend, or indeed on what your own interests and goals should be, but I can explain why many tests may be inappropriate to your personal circumstances, and which further test would best help you and/or our Study.

  • The saliva samples sent to FTDNA by a member for his initial STR test are kept for 20 years, and may be used for further tests. How much saliva is used for each test depends on a number of factors, including the quality of the saliva, the sophistication of each test the sample is used for, and whether a particular test had to be re-run for some reason. It is thus not possible to predict how many tests the initial samples can be used for. If FTDNA need more saliva they will contact you direct, and the only cost involved is the postage to cover your returning a fresh sample. Otherwise there is no postal charge for further FTDNA tests.

  • To order a further test from FTDNA go to your personal webpage/account and click on "ADD ONS & UPGRADES" and select the test you want (see below). Confusingly Family Finder tests, Individual SNP tests and SNP Pack tests are now under "ADD ONS", while 37 marker tests (if applicable), 67 marker tests (now cancelled!) and 111 marker tests are under "UPGRADES".

  • Results of FTDNA's tests normally take 4-6 weeks from the time of ordering/receipt of sample, but occasionally 3 weeks and sometimes 8 weeks or more if a test has to be re-run for some reason or there a back-log has built up for some reason.

  • The funding of tests may be facilitated by the ‘Clan Irwin Surname DNA Study General Fund’ - see below.

  • In the past FTDNA have offered short-duration Summer and Christmas sales of various products, which obviously offer better value-for-money, though their scope is limited and their dates unpredictable.

2. ySTR upgrades

FTDNA offer the following STR upgrades:

  • 12 to 37 markers at $ 79

  • 25 to 37 markers at $ 49

  • 37 to 111 markers at $139

  • 67 to 111 markers at $ 89

Despite indications to the contrary FTDNA no longer offer upgrades to 25 or 67 markers, nor do they offer single STR marker tests. However YSeq, another reputable testing company, still offer single marker STR tests, e.g. DYS617 for $9.95 plus shipping fee, but of course they need their own saliva sample.

For testers who do not have 37 markers I recommend upgrading to 37 markers.

For testers who have 37 markers I have only rarely recommended upgrades to 67 or 111 markers, because I do not regard them as value for money until our Study shows they can be of more use. This is particularly true when no other member of your branch or sub-group has yet tested for the upgrade being contemplated. My lack of enthusiasm for upgrading to 111 markers is for two reasons: (1), because for testers whose 37 STR tests results show them to be Border Irwins then the L555 Pack test or the BigY700 test offer much better value for money, and (2) if a tester has no "Matches" at 37 markers it is unlikely (though not impossible) that any Matches will be found at 111 markers.

That said:

  • for those who have already upgraded to 67 or 111 markers, this is not money wasted, for one day the value of these tests will probably become more apparent;

  • for those who have taken a BigY test, YFull do include a 111 marker analysis, though neither FTDNA nor myself consider this reliable; and

  • for those Border Irwins who have taken a BigY500 or L555 SNP Pack test, and particularly those who have a "?" or "*" result, they may wish to consider upgrading to BigY700 to help our understanding of the L555 haplotree. For those interested please consult the Study Administrator.

  • for those who are not Border Irwins then an upgrade to 111 markers can only have "value" if another member of their branch has already tested to 67 or 111 markers.

3. ySNP tests

As an intial test I still recommend the 37 marker STR test, as this is usually sufficient to identify which branch a tester is descended from and for FTDNA to give a "predicted haplogroup" (see below). Higher resolution ySTR tests are still popular with some, but ySNP Pack tests (see below and Supplementary Paper 5), have the following advantages over STR tests:

  • they do not suffer from convergence, caused by back mutations and parallel mutations of marker counts, which downgrade the reliability of all STR data;

  • the test results are binary (i.e. yes/no, or +/-), as opposed to probablistic;

  • the mutations of SNP data are much more stable than those of STR data, further improving reliability, not least for "finding cousins";

  • all SNPs fit on the haplotree of mankind, effectively a "top-down" genetic family tree.

FTDNA no longer offer their old "Deep Clade" or "Walk the Y" SNP tests, but do offer two other types of SNP test:

3.1 Single SNP tests at $ 39 each. These are useful to confirm a particular predicted SNP, but become expensive if used for "fishing" for a downstream SNP. To order a single SNP test from FTDNA go to your personal FTDNA page > Upgrade > Advanced Tests Buy now" and then click "SNP tests", then after "Marker" enter the name of the SNP required, and then "Find". Incidentally YSeq, another company, offer single SNP tests for $17.50, plus shipping, but of course they need a new saliva sample.

3.2 SNP Pack tests at typically $119. For list of SNP Pack tests currently available from FTDNA, go to your personal FTDNA page > YDNA "Upgrade" > "Advanced Tests" "Buy now" and then click "SNP Panel tests" and "Find", leaving the box between blank. To see the SNPs included in a particular SNP Pack test click on the test name.

The list of SNP Pack tests includes two levels of SNP pack test, "Upstream" and "Downstream":

  • Upstream pack tests: these tests, some named "backbone" or "top-layer" tests, can be chosen on the basis of FTDNA's "Predicted haplogroup" for each testee . Upstream pack tests relevant to testers who are not members of the Borders branch include haplogroup I1: Pack test M253; haplogroup I2: Pack test M223; haplogroup J1: Pack test M267; haplogroup J2: Pack test M67; haplogroup R1a: Pack test "backbone"; and haplogroup R1b: Pack tests M343/269.

  • Downstream pack tests can be chosen when mid-level SNPs have been identified, typically by an upstream SNP test, or after the relevant project administrator has advised which downstream test would be relevant to the particular circumstances of each individual; for example within R1b there are downstream tests for the sub-clades DF21, L513, L555, M222, U106 and U152.

For a second opinion on SNP Pack Tests see

3.2.1 The L555 Pack test This test was designed specifically for our Study, on the basis of our first 12 L555 BigY test results. It was introduced in April 2016, and tests 86 SNPs (all of which are "brothers" or "sons" of L555), which works out at just $1.40 per SNP tested.

For most testers who are members of the Borders branch and who feel they cannot justify the cost of ordering a BigY700 test I recommend the new L555 Pack test. This will determine from which branch of the L555 haplotree they are descended, and be a much better guide than the old subgroupings as an indicator of which other Border Irwin testers they are likely to be closely related to. However there are several exceptions to this recommendation:

  • those who have already taken, or are contemplating a BigY test (you will learn nothing new - see Supplementary Paper 5);

  • those who have already taken a single SNP test that has determined their SNPs downstream of L555 (e.g. a single BY3666 SNP test);

  • those who are closely related to a tester who has already taken a BigY or L555 Pack test;

  • those who do have a 24 generation TiP Score of less than 80%;

  • those who are not already categorized as members of the Border Irwin branch.

NB Those who have taken the single L555 SNP test are now recommended to take the L555 Pack test.

To order a Pack Test go to your personal FTDNA account page >"Add Ons & Upgrades" , and then scroll down and under "Y-SNP Test" and scroll down to "Y-DNA SNP Packs", click "EXPLORE" and then "FIND" the "R1b-L555 SNP Pack" (or other SNP Pack test as required), click "Add" and then "Order Now". As I am confident members of all members of Borders group with a TiP of over 80% are L555+, these individuals can ignore FTDNA's "health" warning that reads: “Kit ….. does not meet the prerequisites for …… SNP Pack. The sample provided may not test positive for any of the SNPs in this panel. If it does not test positive, you will not be able to receive a refund. Do you still want to purchase this product?” This warning is a clumsy deterrent to stop BigY testees from taking an unnecessary test, or from taking inappropriate Pack test. But if in doubt I am happy to advise. Please note:

  • Be careful not to order the single L555 SNP test by mistake instead of the L555 SNP Pack test!

  • The relatvie value of L555 Pack tests compared with BigY700 tests is decreasing as the latter become cheaper, and more and more lineages of the Borders branch are identified that are not includedin the L555 Pack test. There are no plans to re-design the L555 Pack test.

For more details see Supplementary Paper 5.

4. Geno2 tests

National Genographic's powerful Geno2 test will identify "known" SNPs, e.g. down to L555, and results can be transferred to FTDNA's database, but at $199.95. I do not recommend this test.

5. Next Generation Sequence ("NGS") tests (for more details see Supplementary Paper 5)

These powerful tests identify "new" SNPs but are very bulky (downloading about 10Gb data from a single test is a complex procedure) and expensive.

5.1 FTDNA's BigY-700 test is the most popular, and I reommend it for membersof our Borders Branch who can afford it. It now costs $449, but $339 if you already have tested to 37 markers, $279 if you have tested to 67 markers, and $239 if you have tested to 111 markers. Prices are lower during sales. To order go to your personal FTDNA account page < "Upgrade" < "Advanced Tests - Buy now", and then under "Test Type" select < BigY < Learn more < Order now.

FTDNA's resulting haplotree based on the SNPs discovered by the test is now good, but their Match, .csv and .vcf files are poor, and the BAM file, though excellent in quality, is difficult to process and analyse.

We have had some excellent BigY tests by members representing most of the L555 sons and so I now only recommend BigY tests for:

  • Border Irwins whose SNPs have been detected but not identified by L555 Pack tests (i.e. have a "?" or "*" on the L555 halpotree);

  • Border Irwins who are not yet p;acedon the Boder Irwin family genetic tree, i.e. are in section B(2) of our Main Results table

  • Irwins in other branches who match testers who have already taken a BigY test. For these I also recommend YFull's $49 Analysis package as I am unable to interpret these results.

5.2 FGC's Elite tests. These have a grearter coverage than BigY but are more expensive and for the present at least do not appear to add further insight to our Borders branch.

These NGS recommendations are liable to change in light of developments.

6. Autosomal tests

These tests, suitable for both males and females, can identify cousinship up to about 4th cousins, through both paternal and maternal ancestry - provided of course the cousin has also taken a similar test with the same testing company. But apart from identifying, on a probabilistic basis, the degree of cousinship, the test does not identify any of the intervening relatives.

FTDNA do their Family Finder autosomal test at $79. Results cannot be posted on-line for confidentiality reasons. I recommend Family Finder to those so interested if they live in USA; the coverage of this test outside USA is still poor and so unless two suspected cousins both test. For those who live outside USA the liklihoodof finding cousins is lower. To date about 20% of this Study's members have ordered this test. Members who take a Family Finder test should also join the Irvine Clan Autosomal Project - see This project is administered by Rev. Peter B Irvine.

23andMe do a similar test for $149 plus shipping; they have a larger database, but again mainly US focussed.

7. Mitochondrial ("mt") DNA tests

FTDNA offer this test for $79. It only relates to maternal ancestry – your mother’s mother’ mother's mother ..... To date less than 15% of the Study’s members have taken this test. The results of these tests are of no significance to other members of our Study. I do not recommend this test.

8. Other DNA tests

FTDNA and other companies offer other DNA tests but I do not recommend any of them.

9. General Fund

The ‘Clan Irwin Surname DNA Study General Fund’ has been established in conjunction with FTDNA to help facilitate a number of contingencies:

  • funding of initial STR tests of Irwins (or similar spelling) whose genealogies or place of residence (e.g. Ayrshire, Belfast, Eskdale, Netherlands or Germany) suggest their DNA is likely to be of particular interest to our Study, e.g. when these potential testers are unable or unwilling to fund all or part of their test themselves;

  • funding of upgrades of tests of existing testers who feel unable or unwilling to fund part or all of the test themselves;

  • to receive and hold donations for application to the above contingencies, either specifically or generally; several members of thsi Studyhave very kindly made donations which have helped considerably towards the achievement of our Study's Goals.

Many donations are made anonymously, and their application left to the discretion of the Study Administrator who is aware of potential tests which would advance the Goals of our Study. Donors may instead elect for their donation to be recorded in their name, or in memory of a family member. They may also state the purpose (within our Goals) for which they wish the donation to be used.

The Fund is held by FTDNA. Donations may be made by credit card, PayPal or cheque. To make a donation please contact the Study Administrator or see

All contributions will be acknowledged, and very much appreciated.