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DNA & Genealogy

What does a FTDNA test kit look like & how do I use it?

Have you ordered your first DNA test kit and are wondering what it will look like and how you will use it? Or are you considering doing a DNA test to help with your family research and want to learn more before you order - what's in the kit and how you physically take the test?


No blood required!

You will be very pleased to learn that modern DNA test kits for genealogical use are very small, fast and easy to use.  Undertaking the test requires no needles, no blood, no spitting, no loss of major body parts... nothing invasive at all, just two gentle scrapes of your cheek cells.

For a step-by-step demonstration of how to order online, see How to order a Family Tree DNA test.


You have mail

A few weeks after ordering from Family Tree DNA online, your kit will arrive in the mail. 

In my experience, kits take 2 to 4 weeks to arrive at Australian addresses, and about 10 days to get to UK addresses. 

You will be surprised at how small the white plastic envelope is, and that it contains everything you need...


Family Tree DNA white plastic envelope


Family Tree DNA test kit


Contents of DNA test kit

Your white plastic outer envelope will contain:

  • A small return-addressed, padded yellow envelope
  • A welcome letter
  • An instruction sheet
  • A green authorisation form
  • A plastic snaplock bag containing 2 vials and 2 cotton-toothed swabs

All items to be returned will be clearly marked with your surname and kit number.

DNA kit contents


Family Tree DNA Instruction SheetThe included instruction sheet provides simple steps to follow to complete the test.

[Click the image to the right to view the instruction sheet.]


Completing the test

  • Check that the surname and kit number printed on the vials, plastic bag and green authorisation form match the kit number allocated to you in your welcome email.
  • If you are testing more than one person at the same time - especially if you share the same surname and your kits arrived in one shared envelope - please double-check your kit numbers (in your order confirmation email), and ensure that you get the right samples into the right vials and into the right plastic bags.
  • Wait for at least one hour after eating, drinking, smoking or chewing gum before you scrape your cheeks.
  • If the tester wears dentures with adhesive, clean the adhesive out of the mouth thoroughly, preferably the night before, then swab for the DNA in the morning before re-inserting the dentures (the dentures themselves are okay, but chemicals in the glue can interfere with laboratory processing).
  • Place your unopened scrapers and vials on a clean level surface.  Ensure pets are out of the way, and that nothing will knock the vials over or accidentally contaminate the swabs once opened.


Scraper swabs and vials


  • Remove one scraper from the package by peeling back the paper corner on the handle/plunger end, and hold it by the shaft in the centre.  Be careful not to touch the swab end, and don't accidentally press the plunger and disengage the swab too early.
  • Scrape the cotton-toothed swab end firmly inside one cheek for 60 seconds.  Do not scrape your tongue or teeth, just one cheek.  A good scrape will get lots of DNA.

 A cotton-toothed swab

  • You can hold the swab inside your mouth against your cheek while you use both hands to open the vial (just don't chew it, bite it or suck the DNA out of it!).  Lipstick wearers should try not to get lipstick on the cotton swab.
  • NB: If you receive snap-off swabs, follow FTDNA's instructions for using snap-off swabs.
  • Once the vial is open, hold it firmly with one hand, take the swab with the other hand, and place the swab end gently into the vial.
  • Press the plunger end of the swab shaft, and the cotton swab should eject into the vial, allowing the handle to come away and leave the swab in the antibacterial solution in the vial.
  • Replace the lid on the vial and twist tightly to secure, and put the vial into the plastic kit bag.
  • Repeat the same procedure with the second swab and vial, using the OTHER cheek.
  • Put both vials into the plastic bag and seal the snaplock on the top of the bag.


Complete the Release Form

Green authorisation form 

  • Complete the green release form to authorise Family Tree DNA to share your name and email address with your genetic matches.  If you don't sign this form, you will not find any matches, nor will they find you, as your information will not be able to be shared.  Note that your name and email address is only made available to genetic matches, not to everyone else in the database.  If you do forget to return this form, don't panic, as you will be given the option to sign it digitally online before your results are released.
  • At the bottom of the green form, fill in the country of origin of your earliest-known paternal and maternal ancestors.  Your direct paternal ancestor is your father's father's father's father, etc, as far back as you are aware, and your direct maternal ancestor is your mother's mother's mother's mother, etc, as far back as you are aware.  Leave it blank if you don't know or if you're not sure.


Pack and post your kit

  • Place the plastic bag of vials and the folded green form together into the yellow padded envelope that is pre-addressed to FTDNA, and ensure it is sealed properly.  Don't add anything else to the envelope, as it may increase the thickness and weight.

Return-addressed envelope to FTDNA 

  • Take your envelope to a post office, as you may need to fill out a customs form/sticker to put on it.  As per the description on the envelope you received from FTDNA, simply describe the contents as 'Genealogy kit'.
  • From Australia, it can be posted back to the USA as a letter for A$2.95.  You can either put stamps on it, or pay at the counter and they'll stick a receipt on it.  It should weigh around 42 grams, which is less than the 50 gram limit for a letter.
  • [Tip:  Don't tell the post office assistants that it contains DNA or saliva, in case they mistakenly think it is a hazardous material and don't want to accept it.  It is not really 'DNA' until it has been processed in the lab; and with all the licking and sticking that goes on in a post office, their counters and equipment may have collected more cells than are inside the envelope].


Wait patiently...

  • Family Tree DNA will email you when they receive and check-in your kit, which from Australia is usually about 3-4 weeks after you post it.
  • Now it is simply a matter of waiting patiently until you receive an email to say that your results have been released and that you have matches!  It is usually about 4-6 weeks after they receive the kit back (for Family Finder tests), but may be longer for Y-DNA and mtDNA tests, or when FTDNA is very busy after a sale.  See FTDNA: After I return the kit, how long will the results take?
  • Log into your myFTDNA account and check your order status at any time.  Your sample will usually be batched to go to the lab within a week after they receive it.  Once that happens, you will see a batch number and the expected number of weeks until the results are due.


While you are awaiting your results, sign in to your myFTDNA account (kit number and password details are in your order confirmation email), setup your profile, add a photo, manually start entering your family tree (or upload a Gedcom file), and enter details of your most distant ancestors and your ancestral surnames.




Using DNA for Genealogy - Australia & NZ Facebook Group



23 Pairs of Chromosomes. 1 Incredible You. Get your DNA story at 23andMe.com.


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