Review of Four Major Ancestry DNA Sites

lone tree / andsoirise.com
 

which ancestry dna kit should you buy?

Good question! Ancestry DNA kits are a booming business. Millions sold last year. I am going to review four major sites: 23andMe, AncestryDNA, MyHeritage DNA, and Family Tree DNA.

Do you prefer another ancestry DNA kit? Leave your own review of one you like best in the comments. Especially if you do not reside in the US. DNA sites I am reviewing are major ones in the USA.

important information before buying an ancestry DNA kit:

When you purchase and use a DNA kit, you may (should) notice a disclaimer given by the genetic site notifying or warning of possible difficulties with whatever information is found by your processed genetic material. Whether it be ancestry, relatives, health, etc. For good reason—many have found family skeletons, and surprises.

Not long ago, I read an article in a national newspaper about a woman finding through DNA kit results her father was not her biological father. Some find siblings. A few find their mother or father’s social parent was not their biological parent. Even donor conceived children are finding their origins for the first time. The list goes on of possibilities. It is important to be aware of this going in.

Also from experience when reviewing health reports on 23andMe, the website often gives information so you can make an informed decision of whether or not you should view the reports. 23andMe often gives information detailing genetic and lifestyle influences for diseases, what genetic variants mean, legalities, and even the possible need for a genetic counselor or other professional help.

 
If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.
— Pearl S. Buck

23andme:

Pros:

  • Health information. FDA approved genetic health information for United States kits. One of the first in the US to do this.

  • Shows relationships between members. Example, I am able to see how my cousin and grandmother are related, and how much of a DNA percentage they share.

  • Easy to use messaging platform. You click on the message icon with a member you wish to message, and up pops the message window. You are still on that member’s profile while messaging, so it is simple to compare information.

  • The ability to compare genetic material with relatives and view quite a bit: percentage of shared DNA, centimorgan (cM) details, chromosome lines, etc.

  • Larger database of samples, though not the largest as of early 2019.

  • Easy to understand genetic relationship predictor.

  • Easy to navigate website.

cons:

  • Not an ancestry database with tons of information or resources of your ancestors. If ancestry is a greater incentive for you purchasing a DNA kit, I recommend using AncestryDNA or MyHeritage DNA instead.

  • For some reason in the genetic relationship predictor, if I am related to someone through my father and mother, with a much higher percentage of DNA through my father, it will say related through my mother. Even if my mother is their fifth cousin compared to being a much closer relation with my father. And I have no way of correcting the maternal vs. paternal aspect, though they will let you correct/edit predicted relationship.

both pro & con:

  • 23andMe allows you to add a family tree, but they do not have their own family tree maker. You must share a public link with a supported family tree service.

  • They have an optional research area for you to answer survey questions. I personally have not done this, but my aunt enjoys answering questions every so often. With the information provided, you are part of genetic research.

ancestryDNA:

pros:

  • By far one of the better sites on the internet for researching ancestry. A very large database of records, certificates, yearbooks, etc., is available at your fingertips to tie in with your DNA and family tree. But it does cost to access database.

  • Larger (currently largest) database of samples.

  • Recently made their genetic relationship predictor easier to understand. Has been accurate for me thus far. Accurate differentiation between relative being maternal or paternal as well.

  • They give communities where you and other ancestry members are linked through shared ancestors. Communities are places like: Eastern North Carolina Settlers, New England Settlers, New Zealand British Settlers, etc. Each profile gives a bit of history into the community as well. It is accurate from what I know of my history.

  • A newly added profile feature lets other members see language(s) you/they speak, level of family history experience, and research interests. With the research interest component you are able to let other relatives know what surnames or family lineages you are interested in researching and knowing more about, and (if listed) you get to see what they are interested in as well.

  • Under AncestryDNA Matches, you have the option of grouping relatives into a custom group by adding a color to the group. Have found it to be an easy tool for remembering how I am related to certain cousins, especially more distant, as I group by common surname.

cons:

  • Messages can be a bit difficult if you have an ancestry DNA kit but no membership. You must go through the DNA Matches area to message. Otherwise you will be told you need to become a member.

  • No health information, though they do have a new traits feature for an additional $20, which tells you how your genes might have influenced traits like cleft chin, cilantro aversion, freckles, hair color, etc.

  • I like seeing a percentage of shared DNA. An example of a shared percentage would be 50% with my mother, and 26% with my aunt. Ancestry gives you DNA cM information across segments, but I still enjoy seeing a percentage. It makes comparisons a bit easier, especially if using numerous DNA services with different relatives on each site.

  • Costs to become a member to view documents, records, and member’s family trees. Yes, it will cost even if the tree you wish to view belongs to a DNA match, unless your DNA match links a public tree to their DNA profile. All of the other sites let you see another member’s tree(s) for free.

Both pro & con:

  • This will depend on your point of view, but ancestry’s DNA results work best if you have a family tree uploaded and an active membership, which costs. When everything is available, the interaction between DNA and your family tree information is superb. You have the ability to find common ancestors to other DNA members via their family tree and your family tree with relative ease.

  • They allow you to see when a member last signed on. You may not want another member knowing that information, but it can be useful if you sent a message to someone who does not respond. I have a family friend who contacted a close cousin last year. He never responded. I was able to show her he had not signed on for a couple years, which told me he was inactive on the site in general.

MyHeritage DNA:

pros:

  • Another good resource for a large database of records. According to their website search engine, they have 9,760,751,038 historical records. Some stuff is free to view. Most of the records require a paid subscription.

  • Recently received an email about the site adding health information. Won’t be able to personally review their health platform since I have not acquired that kit.

  • Thus far the kits have taken less time to process. This may change with the added health information. Not sure.

  • Chromosome browser is really neat since you are able to view up to seven DNA matches simultaneously. Gives a good indication of shared DNA data.

  • Has a well thought out Review DNA Match page with all kinds of information about you and your match at your fingertips.

  • Shows percentages and relationships between members.

  • If a member chooses, family trees are added to each member’s DNA Match profile for an easy to see tree. Often, a good family tree helps pinpoint the common ancestor quickly.

cons:

  • The ethnicity estimate was not on par with other results (23andMe and AncestryDNA). Case in point, according to MyHeritage, I have a quarter (24.7% to be exact) from South Europe (Iberia specifically). From research, I am uncertain as to how. 23andMe’s estimates were more accurate with 2.6% Southern European.

  • It does cost to become a member (monthly fee) to view many records.

Family Tree DNA:

pros:

  • Family Tree DNA is known for being a great resource if you are male. Why? Because they offer y-haplogroup (Y chromosome) information, which is something passed down solely from father to son for generations. Online, Family Tree DNA boasts being the world’s largest Y-DNA database. My brother ordered this kit, and we were able to see Y-DNA matches with men having the same surname but different spelling variations. I know of an adopted maternal cousin who used this site to find what his father’s possible surname may be. As with all things, there are flaws, but sometimes it is spot on.

  • Also has mtDNA testing, which helps members trace maternal line and origins.

  • Does have family trees linked by members, and a tree builder for you to use. The tree takes you to another page.

cons:

  • Pricing plans vary greatly depending on what is desired. The higher price for Y-DNA testing some would deem pretty costly ($649). But depending on your research interests, this may be the kit for you.

  • Smaller database of samples.

  • My Origins map gave a much higher percentage of Scandinavian—almost 8-10x what other sites gave in ancestry maps.

  • Not a fan of having to remember kit number to log in. Noticed you can now long in with GAP username, whatever that is.

Both pro & Con:

  • To me this site can be complex, though it does offer quite a bit if you do understand all of the site intricacies and DNA terminology/knowledge.

more questions:

so which test was my favorite?

If I had to choose, it would be a tie between 23andme and AncestryDNA. Both offer different focuses (health vs. ancestry). If I mostly desired Y chromosome information, hands down Family Tree DNA would be my pick. I decided to do the pros and cons of all four to give you, the reader, a better idea of what each test offers. That way you can hopefully decide, if interested, which one is best for you.

do tests give differing ancestry percentages?

From my experience, yes. Each testing service uses their own algorithm and different reference populations. But the better ones yield similar broad results.

is there a time when these kits go on sale?

Yes! Around holidays I have noticed many sites give discounts on their kits.

will these sites use my dna to solve crimes?

Good question. As of now, Family Tree DNA does allow law enforcement to identify suspects of a violent crime or identify the remains of victims using their database. FTDNA does have an opt out option, which I received an email about, but you have to manually choose that. Otherwise I believe members are automatically enrolled to opt in. 23andMe and Ancestry have publicly declared they will not work with law enforcement to solve crimes as they believe it violates privacy. Whether this is ironclad remains to be seen.

Honestly, when you use these services, you are doing so at your own risk. If you would like to post your own review/experience of these ancestry sites, or give more information, feel free to leave a comment.

*If you notice any information has changed, be aware of the date this was published. I am most certain all ancestry DNA sites will improve, and information will change.

**Was not paid or given anything free to post this review.

thumbnail photograph: 3rd place winner in GA national contest.