I am interested in having my DNA taken, but don't know which one to take? (Ancestry, family search, 23 & me)

+4 votes
WikiTree profile: Anonymous Lathrop
in WikiTree Help by Anonymous Lathrop G2G2 (2.5k points)

8 Answers

+4 votes
Best answer
If you have american ancestry that goes all the way to the Colonial era in America (USA) then you should probably use Ancestry and/or 23 and me.

If your ancestry goes back to England and Europe (or elsewhere) then your better choice would be to use either My Heritage or Family tree DNA. Their databases may be smaller but they are much more wide spread internationally than the other two.

I personally did my test with FT DNA but all my family members have done theirs with My Heritage. Since we are not Americans, we really needed the international connections and matches!!  And they are very good too!!

I have actually been able to find my mothers biological family thanks to My Heritage!! My mother was adopted out as a baby.
by Robynne Lozier G2G6 Pilot (980k points)
selected by Dorothy Barry

I'm not sure that testing directly with MyHeritage or FTDNA is necessarily the most cost-efficient way to do it. Both of those sites accept uploads from other testing sites (or at least they used to, it may have changed), whereas testing sites like AncestryDNA and 23andMe do not accept uploads from other sites. The way I did it was to test with AncestryDNA and then upload that test to FTDNA, MyHeritage and GEDMatch. Uploading to all the other sites was free, although I don't get access to all of the tools, so for the cost of one test I get matches from four different sites. I also tested with 23andMe to get more coverage and did a Y-DNA test with FTDNA.

I think the number of matches from the different sites may also not just depend on where your ancestors are from. My ancestors are from England, Italy and Ireland, but I have still found a lot more matches on AncestryDNA than on any of the other sites. Of the matches I have managed to identify with a paper trail, 55 are on AncestryDNA, 2 are on both MyHeritage and FTDNA, 1 is just on MyHeritage, 0 are just on FTDNA, 2 are on 23andMe and 3 are on GEDMatch (all of which are also included on at least one of the other sites already mentioned).

The matches I have identified from AncestryDNA are mostly in England, Australia and New Zealand and are related to common ancestors from England and Ireland, so you don't necessarily need American ancestry for that site to work well. I have not yet identified any Italian connections from any of the sites, so from my personal experience I couldn't recommend one site over any of the others for people with ancestors from Italy.

+2 votes
While I don't have a direct answer, I've heard good things about 23&Me. I've been leaning on going that way myself.
by Michael Smith G2G6 Pilot (113k points)
+2 votes
I would say Ancestry, because:  1. They have the biggest user base for finding matches; and 2. You can upload Ancestry DNA to some other sites including GEDmatch, but Ancestry doesn't accept uploads.

I tested with 23&Me.  I know some people like their website but I do not.  Along with finding it hard to navigate, I am disappointed by the number of matches they provide.
by Anonymous Kelts G2G6 Pilot (512k points)
I have done both and found the about the same number of matches on each. I like that Ancestry tries to show which ancestor you might share (based on the trees of others who have tested) with your matches.

In both cases I have not made any contact with cousins I did not already know. But I think that is a function of the individuals who test not being willing to share (keeping their privacy settings private).
Kristina, that is amazing.  I have over 57,000 matches on Ancestry, and 1,206 on 23&Me.

I have met a great many new cousins through DNA.  

Ancestry also now provides ThruLines that some people like.
+4 votes

Let me first point out that there are two other "major" testing companies you haven't mentioned: MyHeritage and Living DNA.

There are plenty of people who reflexively say "Ancestry DNA." But that's not right -- the best company will depend on your own goals and resources. 

If you can answer some of these questions, it will be easier to help you choose:

* do you want a sample stored for possible testing years into the future? (say the person being tested is elderly and might not be around to do additional samples if desired -- this happened for one of my close family members and I am so happy I have a stored sample)

* do you want the largest possible pool of matches?  

* Where in the world do you expect most of the matches you are most interested live?

* do you want a company that provides the tools necessary to identify your most distant cousins (i.e., deepest in your tree)?  Keep in mind that even with these tools, this takes a lot of learning and work?

* do you want to trace deeply your paternal line (i.e. dad's dad's dad's dad's ....) or maternal line (i.e., mom's mom's mom's, ...), more deeply than a standard DNA test will allow?

* are you concerned about these companies' sharing your data, usually for "scientific research"?  I haven't read all of their ToS's, but if this is a big concern then you probably should read one before testing

* are you concerned about the new use of these matching services to identify perpetrators of heinous crimes?  Detectives are now uploading crime scene DNA to these companies to look at matches and try to identify perpetrators.  Some of these companies have moved towards allowing this, and others make it very hard for police to use in this way.
* how much are you willing to invest in testing? Are you willing to upgrade or do new tests on an ongoing basis, or to pay some money every year to access all of the features of the company where you tested? Or do you plan to do one basic test and be done with it and you want to keep that cost minimal?

* do you want the option for health information?

* do you want decent ethnicity matching? which ethnicities do you expect? (Do you have a particular interest in the British Isles?)

There are probably other considerations, but these are a good start.

A final point -- the health information and ethnicity information is just for "entertainment" value. Except in rare cases, it doesn't provide direct help for family tree research. The health information should not be used by itself for medical diagnoses.

by Barry Smith G2G6 Pilot (230k points)
edited by Barry Smith
Barry, apparently I was writing my response during the time you posted yours.  I hadn't seen it when I posted mine above.  You make some good points, but why do you mention health and ethnicity information at the outset, then say at the end they are just for entertainment?

P.S.  There is some additional discussion of risks of DNA testing at https://www.wikitree.com/g2g/881949/have-taken-both-ancestry-dna-living-tests-have-idea-what-ged
Because some people want that entertainment. But I am reordering my list based on your suggestion.
Wow! That is a lot of information to think about. I think my family tree is about 99% accurate and pretty much know that I am part English, Dutch, Norwegian and would love to see the  percentages of each group. But, I wonder if the testing could go back further, especially my English and Norwegian side, say 500-1000 years?
How large is your tree? If it is complete back to say 4-g-grandparents, then your tree will tell you more accurately and more precisely what your ethnic background is than any DNA ethnicity estimate. Well, sort of. You have 64 great grandparents, and each contributed equally to your ethnic background, but not equally to your DNA. The randomness in the creation of DNA for offspring means that some of these ancestors gave you more than others. You can see this in your DNA matches after you test, and I find that interesting. But some will find that subtle and arcane and trivial. If that doesn’t interest you, then I wouldn’t count on getting anything worthwhile out of the ethnicity estimates.

As for going back 500+ years — DNA can only do that on paternal-only or maternal-only lines, which excludes most of your tree, initially. With a lot of work, you can find cousins whose paternal or maternal lines intersect your ancestors and so open up more lines yourself. Each of those lines costs probably $100 US and up to test even at a baseline. So it can add up.

But if you’re interested, those are Y-DNA and mtDNA tests. They are good for telling you where your ancestors lived and migrated 1000 or a few thousand years ago. But to confirm part of your tree by matching others with these tests, you have to be really lucky to confirm someone 500 years ago. It most likely won’t happen. FTDNA is the only major company that offers these specialized tests, but there are smaller players on the scene. If you don’t care about matching, but only with where your ancestors were, you can use one of those other companies.
The last Y-DNA test I paid for was about $180.  FTDNA is having a sale this month but it's still $129 and that's before shipping and tax.

Although your tree should tell you your ethnicity, your DNA test might show you that part of your tree is wrong.  One risk of taking a test is possibly learning that your parents aren't your biological parents.  

I've always thought that when people want to know their ethnicity, what they really want to know is their "cultural ethnicity"--if you had one German grandparent and three English grandparents, you would probably think of yourself as 25% German.  Your DNA test wouldn't necessarily say that.  I just now looked at Ancestry, where I and two full siblings have tested.  Ancestry says my ethnicity is 39% England, Wales, and Northwestern Europe and 37% Ireland and Scotland (and three other regions).  My sister is 61% England, Wales etc. and 31% Ireland and Scotland.
+2 votes
I have to add that another plus for FamilyTreeDNA is that they test for autosomal (Family Finder), mtDNA (mitochrondrial) and Y-DNA. They have neat tools such as the Chromosome Browser where comparisons can be done with matches on FTDNA. The raw DNA can be uploaded to GedMatch to compare with testers from the other websites.

Consider how you want to use your DNA results. How many in your family will want to test. And, do you need to do it in stages. With FTDNA you can do one particular test and go back later and add another as they keep the samples as long as they are viable.
by Virginia Fields G2G6 Pilot (835k points)
Yes, but each is a separate test (even if you use the same sample, you pay for another test).  I know many people who've done autosomal tests at Ancestry and Y-DNA tests with FTDNA.  (I also know people who've tested with several companies to get more coverage, and I tested with 23&Me even though I'd already done an Ancestry test just to see how I matched one person who was on 23&Me.)
Family Tree DNA has the following advantages:  (1) They do not sell  your results.  (2) You do not have to pay an annual membership fee in order to use their best tools (like Ancestry).  (3) Communication with your matches is direct.  (4) They accept DNA results from other sites (unlike Ancestry).  (5) Their web site is much more user friendly that 23 and Me.  (6) They offer both Y and mtDNA tests which the other sites do not.  (7) They have never decided to stop doing certain tests with no notice and destroyed the DNA their customers paid for (as Ancestry did).  (8) They are not over-run with fake family trees that are linked to one's DNA (like Ancestry).
This may sound like I'm defending Ancestry, and honestly, they annoy me nearly every day.  Most recently, they made such drastic changes to their DNA pages that I'm not back to navigating them with ease.  Also, now all my matches are on one long list and scrolling to the bottom takes forever.  

But what I started out to say is that yes, Ancestry costs money but the reason I pay it is for access to their records archives and search capabilities, not just my DNA results.  And I think many people on WikiTree might agree that although Ancestry has lots of wrong trees, it's still a resource worth sorting through to find information not available elsewhere.

One last thing about FTDNA vs. Ancestry:  On Ancestry, I manage a dozen or so DNA kits and they are all accessible from the same page.  FTDNA requires me to have a different account and password for each test and that's inconvenient.  And FTDNA requires you to register the test when you pay for it, so if you buy one and then the person doesn't take it, it's hard to just use it for someone else as I've done with Ancestry tests a few times.
Wow Sarah, thank you for the info. Not much help to me but my mother wants to do her DNA at 81. I will now point her in the right direction for what she is looking for. I dropped my Ancestry account last year because of their fees and have never looked back. So happy I did this. I did two tests. Ancestry and MyHeritage. The only frustrating part is when folks don't respond to my inquires.
+2 votes
Ancestry has the largest database, but no chromosome browser and scads of inaccurate trees.  23andMe has pathetic, awkward-to-use tools, but does have a chromosome browser (which is pathetic and awkward to use).  Family Tree DNA has a large database because you can take a test from somewhere else and add it to their database.  I have tested at Ancestry, 23andMe, and Family Tree DNA (for mitochondrial DNA).  I hate them all.  If I could afford it, I'd probably also test at Living DNA because they're supposed to offer focused UK results, and I have a lot of UK ancestry.  Anyway, wait for a sale and test at Ancestry.  Upload your results to GEDMatch.  Be prepared to be confused.
by J. Crook G2G6 Pilot (206k points)
edited by J. Crook
+1 vote

I did 23andMe and it has served me well the past 5 years.  I then uploaded the data from 23andMe to FamilyTreeDNA autosomal transfer (https://www.familytreedna.com/autosomal-transfer) and to GEDmatch.com and to Geni.com and MyHeritage.com all for free.  If you are doing Y-DNA, I recommend using FamilyTreeDNA. 

by Jamie Johnson G2G3 (3.5k points)
+2 votes

I guess it's a good thing there are so many companies who do DNA testing.  As Barry said  the best company will depend on your own goals and resources

I manage kits for 12 family members.  Since I paid for all the kits myself price was one major consideration.  I found that FTDNA had the best prices and most frequent sales. I was also able to take advantage of bundle sales to get both autosomal and either YDNA or Mt DNA together at a better price. 

Half of my family members were in the 85-99 age range, so storage of the samples was also important to me for upgrading. The other thing that nobody has mentioned yet is the difference in the collection of samples.  FTDNA uses a cheek swab while Ancestry and 23 and Me use saliva. Elderly people sometimes have a problem producing enough saliva to fill the container.

FTDNA requires me to have a different account and password for each test and that's inconvenient.  And FTDNA requires you to register the test when you pay for it, so if you buy one and then the person doesn't take it, it's hard to just use it for someone else as I've done with Ancestry tests a few times.

While FTDNA does require a different account name for each individual test, I use the same email and password for all kits. While it's true they aren't all on the same page, once the information has been saved all I have to do is click on the line for Kit number and pick one from the list. When done, I sign out of that one and select a different kit to work on.

As to purchasing kits by name, I have changed several kits I purchased from male to female and given them to a different person. A simple email or a call to FTDNA did the trick. That reminds me, I have been pleased with the wonderful customer service I've received from FTDNA.(unlike what I get from Ancestry most of the time).

I did upload all the Family Finder kits to Gedmatch and to My Heritage.  I find that I get the most responses for matches from Gedmatch.

by Karen Raichle G2G6 Mach 7 (77.3k points)

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