by Phillip G. Goff, GGFA DNA Project Manager

DNA carries the history of our ancestors dating back hundreds of years for autosomal DNA and thousands of years for YDNA and mtDNA. Owners of such DNA samples, however, pass away typically in less than a hundred years’ time. More often than not, access to these samples is no longer available for upgrades.


The first commercially available YDNA tests were low resolutions and became available in 2000. Mitochondrial DNA (“mtDNA”) tests of low resolution were first sold in 1996. Autosomal DNA (“atDNA”) is the newest entrant, with launches between 2007 and 2016. As of 2021, there have been no significant improvements in the resolution of atDNA tests, but full genome testing will likely change that going forward.


Like today, genealogists in the early days of DNA testing focused on testing the earliest living generation, particularly for autosomal DNA. In the time since the first YDNA tests in 2000, a generation has been born and grown up. At the same time many of those earliest DNA test takers have passed away.


The precision in YDNA tests is dramatically higher in 2021 than in 2000. To illustrate, imagine in 2021 a friend suggests you try her favorite pizza parlor. The friend cannot remember the name of the restaurant but narrows the location to one city block. After logging a few hundred steps on your fitness watch, you will likely be eating pizza. In 2000, your friend might only know the pizza parlor is located in an area 20 blocks long and ten blocks wide. Lacking further information, you may happen across the restaurant in short order, or abandon the idea of searching. The 2021 pizza search is like the Big Y 700 YDNA test versus the 2000 YDNA12 test.


To future-proof your DNA sample for more advanced testing, please make a plan:

  • For all labs, consider sharing your login credentials with a trusted genealogist, such as a family member or friend.
  • For FTDNA, grant FTDNA GOFF*GOUGH*MCGOUGH Project Admins Advanced Access. This will provide Admins with wide latitude, including ordering upgraded D٭NA tests. To do so, click your name in the top right corner of your FTDNA home page > Account Settings.> Project Preferences and scroll to the GOFF*GOUGH*MCGOUGH Project and click the pencil to the right. At the bottom, select “Advanced” from the dropdown for any Project Admin for whom you would like to have this access. Please note that this access is available in your lifetime. For full disclosure, I am one of the three admins on this project.
  • For FTDNA, designate a beneficiary to take over your account at your death. To do so, click your name in the top right corner of your FTDNA home page > Account Settings > Account Information > Beneficiary Information. Then record the name, email and phone number for a trusted person who can gain access to your account in after your death.

Phillip Goff is the co-author, along with Roy L. Lockhart, of The Four Goff Brothers of Western Virginia. Since 2004, he has run the Goff/Gough Surname DNA Study, which today has about 400 participants.

One thought on “The Gift of DNA

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    Maureen White Pierce says:

    Great article Phil. I have double checked my FtDNA account and I am good.

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