What Types of DNA Projects are Worth Joining?

When I first got my DNA tested for ancestry purposes It was exciting and interesting but quickly you realize the limitations of what you can find out on the site you test with. This soon led me to wonder what else I can use these results for.

Having tested with AncestryDNA I was able to download my raw DNA data which allows me to upload it in other places. This opens up the possibility of becoming involved in DNA projects. But in which types of projects should I get involved?

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In this post we will learn about the main types of DNA and projects, what we can learn and how we can best benefit from them.

What Do DNA Projects Do?

The vast majority of DNA projects seek volunteers to add their DNA results with the aim of furthering the understanding of how we are related. Some may focus on locations while others are connected to family names or simply unique DNA.

Locational DNA Projects

A locational DNA project generally aims to gather DNA samples from individuals with a known heritage to a specific area. There are numerous projects out there seeking individuals who may have ancestors who came from or lived in a region.

An example of one such project is the Cumberland Gap project which has both a Y-DNA (paternal) and mtDNA (maternal) DNA project in operation. They are specifically seeking individuals whose ancestors may have passed through the Cumberland Gap region of Virginia and Kentucky.

Haplogroup Projects

Haplogroups are our deep ancestry often dating back tens of thousands of years. Males have both a mitochondrial and a Y-DNA haplogroups while females only have a mitochondrial haplogroup.

These haplogroup projects are not location specific but they can trace your paternal or maternal lines through thousands of years. It traces the mutations of our mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA back to when they may have originated and approximately how old that mutation is.

Surname Projects

Genetically and socially speaking surname projects are essentially the same as Y-DNA projects. This is because Y-DNA, like a surname, is passed down paternal lines. So a male likely shares the same surname and Y-DNA as his 8x great grandfather.

These surname projects are just as they sound, they focus on specific surnames. Such projects have been around since before the discovery of DNA but most of them have moved with the times and now include the use of Y-DNA as part of the research.

These projects can help confirm that you have a deep connection to a particular family name through direct male ancestors. It can prove a break in that familial line as well.

It is in fact not uncommon for those joining such a project to discover that at some point someone other than the expected male ancestor who bore the surname is actually their biological ancestor. This can be upsetting for those who are expecting a link to a famous person who bore that surname.

The record on paper is not always 100% accurate as although you can be relatively sure who someone’s mother is (she gave birth to them after all) you can’t always assume who someone’s father was.

Autosomal Projects

These are a newer addition to the DNA projects which mainly focus on helping people connect with distant cousins. Using your autosomal DNA they often hope to build cohesive genetic groups and further the understanding of the genetics of the population.

This type of project would be an interesting way to find distant cousins who may help you breakthrough family tree brick walls. All too often the clue we need is out there in the family records of 5th or 6th cousins who we don’t even know.

All it would take is a small amount of shared DNA to help us connect with that cousin and possibly find out about your shared ancestors.

Where to Find DNA Projects

There are a whole host of DNA projects out there but one of the best resources to find one is FamiltTreeDNA. A little research also goes a long way so check out the internet to see if you can find the right type of project for you.


If you are sitting on your raw DNA results itching to find something new to do with them, consider joining a DNA project. I know some people will be reluctant because of concerns regarding DNA security and that is perfectly fine.

Those who are less concerned about such things can certainly find out some interesting information by joining a DNA project. Whichever type of DNA you have tested, they may be the perfect project for you. In fact you can even find projects connected to your surname as well.

Sometimes you have to make your DNA work for you and you might be happy with the results. You might find a long lost relative or discover a long forgotten family secret.

Neil Edwards

Neil Edwards

Genealogist and family-tree research specialist

Neil was born in Shropshire, England surrounded by centuries of living history. His interest in the past has been a lifelong passion leading to undergraduate degrees in both Economic History & Geography and History & Politics.

This interest in history quickly translated to family history when he moved to the U.S. in 2010. It was here that he began working on his own family tree as well as that of his American wife. That research allowed him to gain a wealth of experience working with both U.S. and European genealogical documents and studying their best uses in researching family history.

Following 9 years of honing his genealogical research skills, Neil was proud to have earned a certificate in Genealogical Research from Boston University in late 2019. Neil also took part in the research process for a Duke University study into the families of 19th Century UK Members of Parliament.

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