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Administrators' Guide

When I (Ralph Taylor) assumed the job of project administrator, no one told me what I was in for. The only guidance on how to do it were mainly proscriptions; certain actions were forbidden. My learning process for what to do and how to do it was, essentially, a long series of mistakes.

Hopefully, this guide will help you avoid repeating my mistakes. We will focus more on administration than science; while the science in this rapidly-evolving field  is bound to change, a good administration process will provide a sound foundation for your project.

For a more complete management outline, see this page.

Mission, Goals and Objectives

As intent precedes and determines action so do mission, goals and objectives form what the project will accomplish. These relate to what the project hopes to achieve. Write and publish them to help you, co-admins and participants maintain focus.

Mission Statement

A brief (It must be brief.) statement of the project's reason for existing. It should be general, but give the reader a sense of purpose. If conceived properly, the mission need not change through the life of the project.

Mission Example

To study DNA associated with the Taylor surname for determining the name's origins and assisting project participants in their family histories. 


What does the project generally hope to achieve in the long term? The goals may be more specific than the mission they flow from.

Sample Goals


Objectives translate goals into short-term, tangible, measurable and achievable results. The act of setting objectives forces one to think about and plan for what, who, how, where and when.

Sample Objectives
Note on Objectives: Stating them doesn't necessarily get them attained. I suggest an action plan, with detailed steps, timeframes and accountability. Example.

Definitions, Standards, Policies, and Procedures

These are important, but often overlooked, topics. It is helpful to have these things written down (for your memory) and published (for communication to participants and co-admins).


Some terms you'll use do not have official or commonly-agreed definitions and this is a frequent cause of miscommunication in genetic genealogy. Al & Bob use the same words but mean very different things; they're talking on different wave lengths.

You'll need to decide what they mean exactly within the context of your project and write the definitions to be consistent in usage.


A standard is a minimally-acceptable level of quality. You will need standards for


A policy is a standing decision for recurring situations. Having a written policy avoids re-inventing the wheel each time the situation occurs. Definitions and standards may also be thought of as policies.


A procedure is a statement of how to do something. Once the best way to accomplish work is found, it's helpful to write it down -- step by step -- so it can be communicated and repeated. (There may a process of experimentation to find the best method.)

Communicating and Motivating

As a leader, much of your time and effort will be spent in communication with others and motivating them toward specific actions. All of your communications should have two goals: understanding and acceptance.




A policy you need to decide early is who's eligible to join the project. It will flow from your mission and goals. The eligibility decision you make now will heavily influence the future of the project.

Ask yourself:

Matching & Grouping

Perhaps the most-debated topic in genetic genealogy. There is little agreement within the field as to what constitutes a match or a group (AKA, genetic family or cluster).

BTW, to FTDNA, a project is a "group". Within the project, administrators make "subgroups" and assign members to them.

Applicable Definitions

These are definitions we use in Taylor Family Genes. We can not communicate with members without them. For other definitions we use, see this page.

A similarity of DNA sufficient to predict a common ancestor within the genealogic time frame to a high degree of probability.
Group, AKA cluster or genetic family
A group of participants who match each other or at least one other group member.
Genealogical Significance
A measure of a match's genealogical meaning. For simplicity, we divide into three categories:

We've found that these definitions are understood and accepted by project members, a necessary requirement for communication. Despite having revised (upgraded) our matching & grouping standards and procedures, the definitions have not needed changing.

TFG Matching Criteria & Methods Over Time

You may find this history helpful. It describes a progression in understanding and sophistication.

Note: At no time in my tenure or my predecessor's has our project relied, even partially, on paper trails for matching. We have let the DNA speak for itself.
We are not able to independently verify member-submitted information and reviews of it raise suspicions as to credibility.
  1. We began as novices, with a standard of 90% probability within 28 generations and used a simple TMRCA calculator such as McDonald's. It was a marker-based system; how many markers were compared and how many agreed.
  2. Experimentation demonstrated that this could be simplified further with rules as to genetic distance for various comparison levels:
  3. The more we used FTDNA's TiP (Time Predictor) tool, the more we realized the flaw in both the above methods: Markers mutate at different frequencies and in different ways (stepwise vs. infinite alleles), so mutations are not equal as to genealogical significance. We shifted to a TiP-based system; it resulted in recognition of matches in a wider GD window and discovery of matches not revealed by a strict GD system.
  4. TiP, however, does not calculate out to 28 past generations, its maximum is 24. We mathematically analyzed the per-generation probability curves generated by TiP and found that 90% cumulative at 28 is equivalent to 80% cumulative at 24. Changing from 90%@28 to 80%@24 is, effectively, not a meaningful change.  
  5. More experience demonstrated that genetic distance was a time-saving tool for rough screening. A GD>8 @37 markers rarely yields a TiP score >=80% at 24 gen. This allows application of the management-by-exception principle; only a few members require a time-consuming thorough examination of potential matches.
  6. A refinement -- the "validity check" -- was introduced on seeing that some common haplotypes yielded STR matches across subclades (primarily subclades of R-M269). Despite similarity of STR values, the men could not share a direct paternal ancestor for thousands of years; their haplotypes had apparently mutated to converge toward a similar form. We now subject STR matches to the test of whether the subclades are consistent or inconsistent. Examples:

Notice that the match definition and genealogically-based standard have not changed, merely the methods for assessing whether they are met. There has, though, been an effect on the project's match rate; a greater proportion of members now meet the definition and standard.

Admin Tasks

A project administrator will find that all of these tasks must be done, either solely by the admin or with co-admins.

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