Big Y vs. Other NGS Tests

  Liberally adapted from post by Mike Walsh to ISOGG 10/5/2016 under the thread: What happened to Big Y?
  The good ideas are his; the bad ones and mistakes are not.

Some have questioned recommendations for testing Family Tree DNA Big Y vs. tests offered by other vendors such as Full Genomes Corp's Elite. Some experts hold that other tests are technically superior to Big Y in covering more ySNPs and ySTRs. They are, in some respects, right but in other respects may have missed the point.

To explain the reasoning for testing approaches for the general audience of genetic genealogists, we should consider that these are specialized DNA tests, in contrast to DNA tests included in a genetic genealogy offering. These tests are expensive and on the cutting edge of DNA testing.

FTDNA includes in its test prices the costs of ongoing customer support: 24x7 project management system, public and private project displays, administrator support, database integration and management, privacy policy management, etc. It  does not charge annual subscription fees. There is no free lunch so these are part of the offering of what you get from FTDNA when you order DNA tests from them.

Big Y Advantages

Here are some advantages for Big Y. The combination of these advantages provides what’s really important. Of these, the importance of #6 (data management) may be the most underestimated. I will explain later.

  1. Big Y provides the largest matching database for Y genetic genealogy. .
  2. Lowest absolute entry price (attracting the most genetic genealogy testers).  
  3. Faster test processing time
  4. Convenience because of multiple test types (Big Y, STR panels, SNP Packs, mtDNA, Family Finder, etc.) available based on DNA samples that are safely stored.  
  5. Durable project management platform for sharing and categorizing information  
  6. Integrated and backward-compatible data management, the foundation of a large matching database.  
  7. Early feeder of your SNPs into a broader set of offerings.  
  8. Excellent track record and prospects as a proven on-going, self-funding concern.
This does NOT mean you should buy tests only from FTDNA. Some testing with specialist vendors is often advisable. As you do your testing you want to make sure you end up getting everything registered in the FTDNA database and projects systems.  Many people do both FGC Elite and Big Y, because they want the advantages of both.

Intended Audience

This recommendation is for the general genetic genealogy audience. Most genetic genealogists, who pay for their own tests, are primarily interested in their own ancestry and only secondarily in scientific advancement. For them, understanding their own ancestry is the main objective.

The advantages of Big Y for the genetic genealogist do not apply to genetic scientists, including many "citizen scientists". Big Y -- though it's resulted in many discoveries -- is not designed or intended for pure scientific research. People who are scientists and true researchers are not who we are talking to. (They wouldn't listen to amateurs anyway.) We often add the clause "for genetic genealogy" to clarify this limitation.


Other Vendors' Advantages

Fairness requires acknowledging possible advantages of other providers than FTDNA.

If you are a scientist, academic or other true researcher/do-it-yourselfer there are very good reasons to use specialized tests. A good case example is a situation researching a royal pedigree (an  honest pedigree) going back for centuries.Those researchers have specific goals, must have all of the data possible and money is not the object. It's NOT a hobby for these situations.

  1. Smaller size: Less bureaucratic rigidity can make other, smaller companies nimbler and quicker to take advantages of technological advances.
  2. Less history: Any enterprise's choices are constrained by its previous choices. FTDNA, having committed to earlier approaches, is sometimes slower to invest in the latest technology.
  3. Specific examples: