Autosomal DNA 2015 – Which Test is the Best?

Update: This now obsolete article compared the autosomal tests from Family Tree DNA, Ancestry and 23andMe.  23andMe, as of year end (2015), is in the midst of rewriting their platform, which obsoletes some of the tools they offered previously.   As soon as the 23andMe transition to their new platform is complete, I’ll be writing an updated version of this article for 2016.  Until then, suffice it to say I am recommending Family Tree DNA and Ancestry, in that order.  You can read more about the 23andMe changes here.

Original article:

One of the questions most often asked today is which autosomal DNA test, or testing company, is the best, meaning Ancestry, 23andMe or Family Tree DNA.

The answer is often that it varies depending on your goals, individual priorities and budget.  As with all things, circumstances with the vendors change over time.  They offer new products, change features and overall, sometimes their actions and choices make them more or less valuable and attractive to the consumer.

This article reflects my opinions about what is good, and bad, at each vendor, today, in February 2015, and what they do best and worst.  I am reviewing them in alphabetical order.

23andMe

Best Feature

  • Ability to download matching information about who your matches match that you match as well, along with common matching DNA segments, allowing direct triangulation.

23andme best feature

In the example above, you can select the profile of any person you match and match  against the profile of anyone else you match, showing you the common DNA segments of all parties.

Good Features

  • Chromosome Browser
  • Ethnicity feature tends to report minority Native and African when other companies sometimes fail to do so.
  • Ethnicity painted on chromosome segments.
  • Matching names provided in order of frequency found – of course this assumes that the matches have entered a list of family surnames, which isn’t often the case.
  • Y and mitochondrial DNA haplogroup estimate provided.

Not So Good

  • Trees – were horrible before. 23andMe has recently partnered with MyHeritage which will require a subscription if your tree is larger than 250 individuals. The jury is still out on this but the initial release has been rocky and appears untested.
  • Most of their customers are not genealogists and are not interested or know little about their genealogy. Fortunately, serious genealogists often test with multiple companies so you’re likely to catch them at either Family Tree DNA or at Ancestry.
  • Very low match response rate to inquiries.  Positive response is required to see matching DNA segments.
  • Must communicate through internal message system.
  • Unfriendly website – difficult to find information.
  • Big Pharm alliances, contracts and medical patents – and your DNA is included one way or another, individually or aggregated, depending on the level of your authorization.
  • Corporate focus is on medical and not genealogical.
  • Customer support is poor, slow and often never replies.
  • Limit of roughly 1000 matches, at which point your matches begin to be trimmed. You can retain more if you have established communications with people. I have over 1200 matches today, but I don’t know how many I have lost. This can make your effective matching threshold much higher than their published number by virtue of the fact that your smallest matches are forever being trimmed after you reach the 1000 match threshold.
  • Spit kit versus swab kit.
  • Cannot adjust matching threshold.
  • V4 chip precludes data transfer to Family Tree DNA
  • Test not available worldwide, meaning data base is not worldwide.  Also not available in NY or MD.

Worst Feature

  • Horribly cumbersome and confusing multiple introductory and authorization/acceptance hurdles cause many people to not contact, communicate with and authorize sharing with most of their matches. I wrote about this here.

 

Ancestry.com

Best Feature

  • The shakey leaf hints that show you who, of your DNA matches, also share a common ancestor in your pedigree chart. This drastically reduces the amount of initial footwork you need to do.

shakey leaf

Good Features

  • The size of their data base increases likelihood of matching.
  • DNA Circles provides additional evidence of ancestral connection.
  • They are a genealogy, not a medically focused company.
  • Provides list and links to matching surnames on matches trees, even when no common ancestor is identified.
  • Clean, easy to use interface, although major changes have been announced and I have no idea whether that will be a positive or negative

Not So Good

  • Some people have private trees which means they can see your match information, including a common ancestor if there is one, but you cannot see theirs.
  • Ancestry ethnicity sometimes finds minority amounts of admixture, but can also be significantly incorrect on majority ancestry, so it’s difficult to have confidence in the consistency of results.
  • Subscription required (starting at $49) to see matches/circle members which may not be fully understood before testing by consumers. In my case, I have a full subscription, so it’s a moot point, but that is not the case with everyone and it can be an unwelcome surprise.
  • Ancestry’s consent allows them to sell anonymized results to buyers, including Big Pharm, should they choose to do so. As of October 2014 when I visited Ancestry as part of DNA Day, they stated that they had not sold any DNA data at that time.
  • Communication is only through internal message system.
  • Spit kit versus swab kit.
  • Customer service is often uneducated about genetic genealogy in general, although they are responsive.
  • Combination of matching and Circles leads people to believe that these are confirmed genetic matches to that particular line, even though Ancestry states otherwise, if one reads the text.
  • DNA is an auxiliary tool and not a primary or priority corporate focus.
  • Corporate history shows lack of commitment to DNA and to clients who tested – meaning their on-again-off-again DNA history the destruction of the Y and mtDNA data bases in October 2013.
  • Academic phasing may have trimmed real matches.
  • Test not available worldwide, meaning data base is not worldwide, although Ancestry has just announced availability in the UK and Ireland.
  • Y and mitochondrial DNA ignored.

Worst Feature

  • No chromosome browser or equivalent type of tool or tools. I can’t state this strongly enough and it is a HUGE negative and requires that you transfer your results to either Family Tree DNA or to Gedmatch where you do have tools.

 

Family Tree DNA

Best Feature

  • Full service genetic genealogy company – focused on genetic genealogy.

ftdna best feature

Good Features

  • Accepts transfers from Ancestry and V3 chip from 23andMe
  • Partnership with National Geographic for research.
  • Chromosome browser which includes in-common-with feature, search by surname and search by ancestral name.
  • Matching Matrix individually and within projects for administrators.
  • Projects and the ability within projects with advanced matching to see everyone you match autosomally within that project.
  • Match names and e-mails provided – not forced to utilize an internal messaging system.
  • Consent signed when ordering test is all that is needed for full matching and all features.
  • Does common surname matching with all matches – bolding the results.
  • Matching attempts to take highly endogamous populations into consideration.
  • Includes access to other genetic genealogy tools like various levels of Y and mtDNA tests.
  • Data base includes results for all tests, in one place, and resulting matches show Y and mtDNA haplogroups if that test has also been taken.
  • Searches can include multiple types of test results, like everyone who matches both the mtDNA and the Family Finder test.
  • Archives DNA for 25 years, allowing upgrades to be done on order without re-swabbing if DNA is adequate and viable.
  • Testing performed in in-house lab.
  • Project administrator liaison provided.
  • Educational webinars for general genetic genealogy education and new product/feature releases. Archived webinars available on demand.
  • Project administrator conference annually for the past decade.
  • New features regularly released.
  • Swab kit versus spit kit.
  • Responsive to customer and project administrator needs and requests.
  • Their customers more likely to be serious genealogists versus someone who tested initially for medical information (at 23andMe before December 2013) or impulse buyers.
  • They do not sell and do not request consent to sell your personal or aggregated data to outside buyers. If your DNA data is ever requested for an academic research project, you will be individually contacted for consent.
  • No subscription that increases actual cost of utilizing the test results.
  • Available worldwide (unless illegal in the location, like France.)

Not So Good

  • Cannot see if your matches also match each other on a specific segments, so cannot directly triangulate.
  • Cannot adjust matching threshold for initial match, but can after initial match.
  • Ethnicity often does not pick up small amounts of minority admixture found by other vendors and at Gedmatch.

Worst Feature

  • Trees are difficult to use.

Recommendations

1. In light of the above, my recommendation for autosomal DNA testing for genealogy if you can take only one test, order the Family Finder test with Family Tree DNA. They are unquestionably committed to genetic genealogy, have the most comprehensive set of tools, including a chromosome browser and other matching tools, and are overall the best company. The Family Finder test costs $99, unless you purchase when it’s on sale or have a coupon. (Current coupon code for $15 off is 15for15.)

2. If you can test with two companies, test with Family Tree DNA and Ancestry.com. You can do this by testing with Ancestry.com and transferring your results to Family Tree DNA,  This approach costs about $187 total: to test at Ancestry ($99), for the first year basic subscription at Ancestry to see all your matching results ($49) if you aren’t already a subscriber, then to transfer the results to Family Tree DNA (free) and unlock the results ($39) unless you find 4 more people to transfer and then the unlock is free.  Note that you will still need to swab to obtain the genealogy benefits of Y and mtDNA testing if you choose to take those tests in addition – and I hope you will because those are very valuable genealogy tools too and not available at the other vendors.

3. In my opinion, 23andMe has become a distant third in DNA testing due to their floundering and lack of commitment in the genealogy market-space, their prohibitively difficult introduction system that requires individual approvals for communicating and then for sharing of DNA (meaning matching) for each person you match, their recent alliance with Big Pharm, and their continuing lack of responsiveness to requests for genealogy enhancements. Lastly, you can no longer transfer your results from 23andMe to Family Tree DNA because 23andMe moved to the v4 chip (in December of 2013) which reduced the number of SNPs tested from about 900,000 to about 600,000, making the results incompatible with Family Tree DNA. However, just because they are third doesn’t mean you shouldn’t test there if you are really serious and want to fish in all of the ponds. It’s just the third choice if you can’t test at all three.

Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist just wrote an article, 2015, Most bang for the DNA buck, which I suggest you read as well.  She makes some very good points, although our approach is a bit different.  But then again, I’d expect that.  I’ve spent my life doing “analytical” types of things and she has spent her life doing “lawyery” types of things, and there is nothing better than two perspectives to draw from.

The Future

It will be interesting to see what the landscape looks like a year, 2 and 5 years from now.  I think the X-prize (pardon the pun) will go to the company or companies that provide comprehensive tools and make genetic genealogy as easy and productive as possible – for both the beginner and the advanced user.  No small feat – that’s for sure!

87 thoughts on “Autosomal DNA 2015 – Which Test is the Best?

  1. Another issue with Ancestry.com is that confirmed sources are often based only on Ancestry.com records from trees and are not official document sources, only information as supplied by the customer, these should really be marked unconfirmed sources, they are really annoying and can be totally false and therefore misleading.

  2. Roberta, I continue to get consistently better response rates from 23andMe than from FTDNA. Most who have tested at FTDNA have no understanding either of how to use the system, making the lack of the Family Inheritance Tool there a real disadvantage. I have well over 2100 matches now at 23andme and continue to get 4-12 new matches with each new batch upgrade, far more than at FTDNA still to this day. And the FIA tool at 23andMe makes it the most user friendly for genetic genealogy by far.

  3. Roberta, Does FTDNA accept transfer of new tests done on ancestry. I know that they cannot accept 23andme tests completed after the switch from v3 to v4. So I was wondering if there were any similar issues with the transfer of ancestry DNA test results. Deb

  4. Regarding Ancestry.com aka AncestryDna:

    And, my experience has been that their computer software will not flag a shared ancestor, unless my match and I have spelled our ancestor’s names EXACTLY the same way. So some people are missing a shared ancestor unless they look through the tree. So if you have a highest probability match without a shaky leaf, be sure to look through that tree.

  5. Enjoyed the information on the different DNA testing companies. Would like to see something similar on the genealogical companies: Ancestry, Geni, MyHeritage, WikiTree, etc. I belong to several of them and am constantly being notified of matches. Are there any relationships between the various companies. I feel like sometimes I am duplicating my efforts. Is there anyway to share the info and, if so, what is it?

      • James Thomas Cannon, don’t forget FamilySearch.com’s Family Tree. It has agreements most of the popular sites (Ancestry.com, MyHeritage-Geni, FindMyPast.com) with links to other popular sites such as Findagrave.com. Membership will always be free. Search tools are great and improving daily.

  6. Nice article Roberta. I’ve really got no dog in this fight since I’ve tested at all of them and I am affiliated with none. As you write, each has it’s own strength and weaknesses. I will say that I find ftDNA’s toolset very cumbersome to work with and I much prefer the tools at 23andme. Of course, free GEDmatch is the winner from the toolset standpoint but you have to test at one of these companies first before you can transfer there, and it’s often down for maintenance or their servers are at capacity.

    For me, ancestral breakdown is better at 23andme and the ability to see a chromosomal painting like 23andme gives you is sorely lacking at ftDNA. This is coming from someone who is primarily European with small Ashkenazi and sub-Saharan parts and someone who has tested ancestors with NA. I want to know where those segments are located so I can triangulate with matches.

    23andme giving the Y and mitochondrial haplogroup estimates is also a big deal to me. I think it should be in the Best rather than the Good category. I’m not sure why ftDNA does not offer this. I think they have their business strategy wrong here. I understand the estimates are not perfect and not the same as the full more expensive testing but they can be extremely helpful when you’re getting started and may lead to extended/expensive testing once the novice becomes more sophisticated. Novices just want to know their haplogroup and aren’t looking to create big time projects that the more extensive testing is used for. Basic haplogroup info is also great to use as a ‘screening’ test, even for the sophisticated. Getting it at no extra cost as one does at 23andme is a big plus.

    In my opinion, 23andme’s toolset, chromosomal painting and Y/mt-haplogroup estimates are real differentiators from ftDNA, enough to give the nod to 23andme to those who are first time testers. GEDmatch is the real equalizer in my opinion, as I think most really serious genealogy buffs will transfer there and to me it almost seems a business threat to ftDNA (ftDNA should seriously consider hiring those guys full time!) I hope the GEDmatch folks can come up with a way to monetize what they are doing so it doesn’t completely disappear. I donate and I encourage others who use their site frequently to do so as well.

    I really appreciate you putting this out there, because it’s a very common question. Just wanted to add a different perspective to a thorough and thoughtful piece of writing.

    Thanks for all you do!

  7. I was interested in seeing that you said that Family Tree’s DNA’s worst feature was that their family tree was hard to read. I thought I was the only one with problems in following their family trees maybe caused by my many years of association with Ancestry.com. However, I will say they are much easier to follow after the changes made in presenting the trees in the last few months.

  8. I’ve done testing with FtDNA and 23&Me, and I really like both for different reasons (they also have their issues too). Correct me if I’m wrong, but 23&Me provides ethnicity percentages that are far more recent (ethnicity defined in the last 500 years), where FtDNA’s Family Finder (MyOrigin) is farther in time, perhaps up to the last 10,000 years or so?

    If true, then we might be left to use different testing facilities to get snapshots in time. I suppose the winner will be the one stop shop and get everything you need.

    Two recent Not So Good Features I experienced with each facility:

    FtDNA after ordering Family Finder in November never posted my results. After several weeks of trying to get a status, they informed me that they misplaced my sample. They found it and started the testing.

    23&Me says I have East Asian in me. Not sure how that happened given that I am mostly European? I wish there was more explanation.

    • I am also mostly European and mostly British/Irish. But I also have significant traces of Southern Asian (probably Indian or Burmese) and equatorial African (including Bantu, but also a suggestion of San or Pygmy) in my DNA profile.
      Due to the far flung British Empire and a history of soldiery in my family this is easily understood; and, I suspect, relatively common in British subjects.
      As both my soldier grandfathers married women whose Irish or Boer families had lived in India and Africa respectively for generations, this is easy to explain (and IMHO very cool).
      All best

    • I just received my results from 23&Me and am overall pleased. I’m of mostly British Irish and Southeast and East Asian ethnicity. I’ve downloaded results to GEDmatch and I’m still learning to analyze the results. At this time I’m mostly interested in percentage breakdown as it relates to region. For example how much Filipino versus Chinese, British versus Irish? Hence, I agree with you that I wish there was a better/detailed explanation.

  9. Thanks for another great article.

    After comparing Ancestry’s guesses with actual data from FTDNA and GedMatch, I’d have to rate them a distant third. I feel like their matching system is like their search feature – maybe some value if you can sift through all the shit on the wall. Or maybe not.

    Coupled with the fact that there is no way to actually use their data for breaking down brick walls unless you are willing to go with maybes and guesses, I can’t recommend their test to anyone. I see adoptees getting one “match” and thinking they have found a parent they likely have not and it breaks my heart. Since you can’t triangulate anything, you have no idea if the 6 matches to a common ancestor are coincidence or actually triangulate on the same chromosome. So where is the value?

    The Circles and Shaky Leaves are worth a few laughs but are of no value when determining actual verified ancestors. Too many trees are just wrong, and when I compared the Circle data to real data on FTDNA, Ancestry was just wrong again. They claim a DNA cousin and I share two common ancestors, but we share one 20+ cM string triangulated to one ancestor and everything else is under 2 cMs.

    A person can use happy fairy tales at Ancestry or actual data from FTDNA, 23andMe and (love those guys) GedMatch. Easy call in my book.

  10. At this time I much prefer 23andMe. I have always received prompt replies to enquiries
    from 23andMe. I cannot say the same for FTDNA. In fact, I cannot seem to get a reply
    at all from FTDNA as a new customer.

  11. Another good article and thank you for the hint on Family Inheritance Advance, never tried it. I use 23 and Me, FTDNA, and of course GEDmatch and Genomemate. None of this would be possible had I not read your blog. And re-read.

  12. Interesting that FTDNA is now partnering with MyHeritage for family trees. I wonder if you can use your tree at both FTDNA and 23andMe.

  13. AncestryDNA

    “Good Features…DNA Circles provides additional evidence of ancestral connection.”

    …evidence that is generally unverifiable, weak, sometimes erroneous…confusing, misleading.

  14. Roberta,
    You mentioned that the best feature of 23andMe is the “ability to download matching information about who your matches match that you match as well, along with common matching DNA segments, allowing direct triangulation.” Where on the 23andMe website do you go to download whom your matches match that you match as well?

    Thanks for another very interesting and helpful article!

    • That’s Family Inheritance Advances that I showed in the example. You can put anyone’s name in either column from your match list (if they have authorized matching) and see that person on the left compared to 5 people on the right.

      • Roberta,
        Thanks a lot for the response. I use 23andMe’s “Family Inheritance: Advanced” tool frequently, as I find it very helpful, say, in comparing the genome of a person who has just accepted a sharing invitation with the others who have previously accepted invitations. Because it is very difficult to get people to respond to sharing invitations so that the “Family Inheritance: Advanced” tool can be used on their genomes, I do not find the tool very helpful specifically for triangulation. (It is somewhat of a chicken and egg situation. Among other things, triangulation is helpful in determining people to invite to share.) Instead I call upon DNAGedcom to compile the genome information in my 23andMe matches so that I can triangulate. (As an aside, to my surprise I do not find FTDNA users much more responsive to requests than those on 23andMe.)

  15. Great article as usual. And I love the comments. These are two things that make following your blog essential for the serious genetic genealogist. You mentioned that at 12andme “Customer support is poor, slow and often never replies.” I would suggest that anyone who tried to contact FTDNA.com during the Christmas holidays had the same experience.

  16. Great information. FTDNA is last on my list. For whatever reason, my relatives have not tested or transferred their data there. I have the same 23 matches I started with and only one has responded to my message. At Ancestry I’ve got about 600 matches, but most of those are private/no tree/tree with 1-3 people so no good to me and the private tree folks don’t respond. 23andme is winning hands down and I wish I’d tested with them first. My kit was completed a few weeks ago and I’ve got 700+ matches and they are responding to my requests to share. Not everyone, but enough to keep me busy.

  17. As far as ethnicity 23andme’s Ancestry Composition is the best. AncestryDNA comes in 2nd place. FamilyTreeDNA myOrigins is way behind those other two especially when it comes to Native American ancestry being under estimated. This is based on the results of over 50 kits at 23andme and over 150 FTDNA kits. myOrigins has too much of the Native American ancestry as Northeast Asian which causes people to be misled. This can be seen by comparing the Clovis Anzick results in myOrigins http://www.fi.id.au/2014/11/clovis-anzick-ethnic-makeup-in-ftdna.html and using the Gedmatch Admixture calculators on kit F999919. The Gedmatch calculators are normally closer to 23andme and AncestryDNA results. This isn’t about a minute amount of Native American. I’m talking about Native American ancestry from 10% up to 95%.

  18. I have to say I agree with Armando, above, on which autosomal test is the most accurate and the poor results on FTDNA’s MyOrigins. That being said, I’m a fan of FTDNA because of their long-time commitment to the genetic genealogy community, including all the volunteer project administrators that are trying to unravel the Y-DNA phylogeny. That Ancestry.com is now part of a multi-national company that owns Hugo Boos as well, and 23andMe’s focus is how to profitably use our samples for medical research, leaves a bad taste. Nevertheless, I’ve tested with all three to find as many matches as possible, which is my focus at this point. As for communicating with matches, I’ve had more poor responses from those who’ve tested at 23andMe and a greater response rate from Ancestry.com, probably because members there are more likely to have family trees, even when they’re private. Some of my best responses have actually been from people with private trees. Thanks for another superb article, Roberta.

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  20. Very interested to read about FTDNA: ” Ethnicity often does not pick up small amounts of minority admixture found by other vendors and at Gedmatch”. I assume you are describing the MyOrigins percentatges of FTDNA? If so do you feel 23andme’s origins percentages are superior when in the rage of 3 to.1 percent?

    • It was for me in Native American and it has been my experience that they pick up small amounts, in the range you mentioned, when other tests fail to find the results and they are indicated in the pedigree chart.

      • Sorry, i dont follow. You last wrote that they (FTDNA MyOrigins )pick up small amounts when other tests at FTDNA dont. That’s not what you wrote in your review. Your initial review said small amounts missed in MyOrigins – but found for example a 23andme origins.
        In other words go with 23andme or another vendor tor that type of analysis.
        .

    • Do you mean .3 and .1 or 3% and .1? Autosomally, without any documented evidence of a particular ancestry, Scott at 23andMe has mentioned 1% though small is a solid reliable amount and 2% and above is quite accurate.
      People locking onto .1 .3 or .5 or percentages under 1% as having solid Sub-Saharan African or Native American need to be careful because this actually falls in the statistical noise range. I find it very hard to believe % under 1% are signs of real autosomal segments inherited from such ancestors. Maybe people that can document this but I find this troubling to claim such ancestry by taking a DNA test and testing .1 and say, “Ah ha, proof I have Native or African ancestry.”

  21. I should be clearer. One person at 23andme showed .2% SubSaharan in all but Conservative where it was 0; transferred to Familyfinder/MyOrigins and showed 0% African. A member of his larger extended family shows 0% at 23andme, although he initially showed 1. or .2 % He did not transfer.

    Another person did not test at 23andme but showed a full 3% SubSaharan in MYOrigins. A member of his extendedr family shows 0% at 23andme.

    All are from supposed white colonial southern America and are of hap group E1a1. None have records of country of origin, although expected to be European. So can even 23andme be relied on?

    Of particular concern is the very poor rating in this area by ISOGG at http://www.isogg.org/wiki/Autosomal_DNA_testing_comparison_chart

    • It was on one of the 23andMe blogs. While awhile. He was responding to a poster that African Americans should not trust 1.5 Native American because it was a false %. Scott responded to that comment.

  22. Thank you for all your very thorough reviews.

    New to all this. I have been trying daily to get my 23andMe data set up on GEDmatch for over a week now. Sadly, the GEDMatch site has been giving me this message, every time:

    {{

    Due to an intermittant [sic] problem at our hosting company, confirmation codes and other automatic emails are not being sent. We are working with the hosting company to fix the situation and apologize to all who have tried so hard to register or get a new password.

    }}

    • It’s well worth keep trying (sic).
      Remember (in the original spirit of the WWW) GEDMatch, a free site run by volunteers, probably has the best and the most AtDNA comparison tools and the largest user base.
      With only voluntary subscription it’s hardly surprising the popular GEDMatch site gets overwhelmed from time to time.

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  24. I’ve tested at all the sites and had the best responses at 23andMe as well as been able (finally) to be able to actually verify actual relations- even what look to be extremely distant relatives thanks to triangulation. Invites are responded to at a higher rate for me at least. FtDNA I’ve had a really low success rate in responses and unverified relations (along with low match rates). Ancestry is difficult without a chromosome browser or any other tools, though I do have a very large amount of matches there and a few ‘paper’ matches. It did properly match me with a cousin, aunt, daughter and grandfather as well as 2nd cousins.
    My husband is African American and FtDNA is horrible for that. On Ancestry he is matching with other African Americans (closer relations) but it’s hard to verify from where due to lack of tools and the difficulty of creating a paper tree. FtDNA — all caucasion matches (likely distant) with low cM and no verification/response and impossible to verify on paper. Ancestry did give him a good ethnicity breakdown while FtDNA was awful. Daughter (mixed race) was the same in that regard.
    I would place the order as 23&Me, then Ancestry (ADD A CHROMOSOME BROWSER ALREADY) then FtDNA, obviously GEDMATCH is awesome but folks don’t know how to use it and I can’t get a 70 year old to download their raw data and upload it there so I don’t really count it in this. It’s a wonderful tool but only useful for those that are in the system.
    Really 23&Me is the best one out there right now- even if people aren’t testing for genealogy per say, it’s easy to get them interested once you establish contact.

    • I knew that there was NO WAY I was the only one getting the best response and success from using 23andMe. I am lucky to get a half dozen a year from my FTDNA, which has had my test the longest, but get a dozen or more a WEEK at 23andME. Maybe Keytothepast and I just have better rapport skills? Are you in the medical field by chance? 😉 Thx for validating me!

  25. Do you have an opinion on national geographic’s new DNA test?

    Also, my brother thinks the ancestry.com DNA test is hokey and not reliable. Are you fairly confident with the reliability of ancestry’s DNA results?

    Thanks

    • I haven’t seen an official release of their new test, so I don’t have an opinion yet. The answer to the reliability of Ancestry’s test depends on exactly what you mean. Are the matches matches? Yes. Are the Circles useful. Sometimes. Do I have any confidence in the new ancestor discoveries. None whatsoever. Do they have any useful tools like a chromosome browser. Nope – none. But I think the matches against the trees are useful and I do think those are accurate. That’s really the only aspect of it that I use.

  26. I am Australian with UK ancestry (England, Scotland and Ireland). I wonder whether your recommendations change for someone living outside USA? I have heard that FTDNA has the largest non-USA database.

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  29. Wow. That’s tons of work. Thank you for doing this!

    I helped me to get a better idea but I’m still at a loss as to which one or two tests might fit my goals best.

    I know I’m 100% German and todays Polish / Checkoslovakian back until 1780. So I don’t need to investigate in that timeframe. Though I would like to see 16th century and earlier since there are lose ends in today’s Italy for example which I might then link more confidently.

    I also have a one of a kind family name (nobody knows what it means) reaching back to at least 1780 and thus there are no matches in other peoples trees which could show anywhere.

    Still I want to find relatives which live today and have different family names. Maybe the uncle who went to America in 1866 changed his name and had lots of kids. Could one find them with a test, provided one of them coincidently did one too, even if I’m not in their tree and they have different family names?

    Long question short: Which tests will allow me to find concrete links to people who live today but have different family names and dont even know that our trees are linked?

    Thank you for all your work!!

  30. Hello, thanks for the article I am reading everything I can for help making this choice. I am only interested in ethnic dna results, specifically: we were always told that our heritage through a great grandparent was Irish, the rest was scottish and matrilineal line was Italian. Since I have discovered no Irish at all and all of my father’s side have since passed away. Is there one DNA that is clearly more consistent when it comes to breaking down Irish or English or Scottish, etc? I have been able to locate where the grandparents were married in UK but all census etc say born in UK and we can’t find anything passed that occurrence. Any suggestion would be welcome 🙂

    • I am just finishing an article about this. However, I’ll just flat out tell you – there are no tests today that are successful in differentiating between intercontinental results very well. Some maybe because of ancient migration – but you’d be better off doing Y and autosomal which does give you definitive answers on specific lines. You can do a DNA pedigree chart and that will give you a lot of specific info on as many lines as you can find to be represented. https://dna-explained.com/2012/08/22/the-dna-pedigree-chart-mining-for-ancestors/

      The article I’m writing will run this week.

  31. Pingback: Ethnicity Testing and Results | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  32. Thank you for this comparison of testing sources. Because I am paying for several distant kinsmen’s tests, I found it particularly valuable. Although I took a course in human genealogy as an undergraduate years ago,I’m having to go back to the start in reviewing what I learned and then learning how to use it as an amateur genealogist. Have you any any suggestions for introductory books that would help me? So glad I discovered your blog!

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  34. Lots of good information here. I just got my results back from 23 and Me but I am looking for the best place to transfer my Raw DNA for a health analysis. Can you make a recommendation??? Thank You—-Kathie Muth muths@windstream.net

  35. I have to agree with the majority of your posters here. For genealogy, 23andMe is the best with Ancestry next. I run a surname study and, except for yDNA STR testing, point our members to 23andMe. Let me explain my reasons.

    23andMe response rate for contact is a thing of the past. They now have more testers post medical reports than from before. And the response rate is pretty high. Higher than I get on Ancestry; albeit Ancestry testers tend to know more about their family history.

    23andMe was actually the first of the existing companies to offer the Autosomal test and forced everyone down to the $100 price that we now all enjoy. Yes, they are more focused on medical work and applaud their efforts there. But the bang for the buck far outweighs their focus.

    Trying to convince people to pull their data out from the testing company and into GEDMatch is a hard sell. To that end, 23andMe has the best analysis tools inside their site. The Chromosome painter, segment analysis, etc. And they provide you actual numbers in their analysis. AncestryDNA is totally lacking of any specifics. Worse yet, someone contacted me from AncestryDNA about a being a match, they transferred to GEDMatch, and we found no overlap (even using 500 SNPs/5cM min match criteria). So Ancestry’s match list appears flooded with noise. And without having numerical numbers, you have no clue how their list is ordered or what criteria are used to include people there.

    The biggest, major win for me is the testing breadth, which you missed. 23andMe is the only company to test all your DNA and provide ALL the results. SNP’s on all 46 chromosomes and Mitochondrial. So they provide the full Haplogroup report for both male and female lines; if that is of interest to you. Granted, their Haplogroup analysis is based on older information than currently reported by ISOGG, but until recently was newer than FTDNA. FTDNA is still 3 years old even now. And it is easy enough to grab your RAW data and compare to whatever version of the tree you wish too. The only way to get more yDNA SNP’s tested is NGG Gene 2.0 or BigY at FTDNA. In our experience, the yDNA SNP’s tested on 23andMe provide more than adequate coverage to support genealogical work (this test needed along with yDNA STR testing for surname studies).

    As mentioned, and covered in Tim Jansen’s ISOGG Autosomal DNA testing comparison chart (http://www.isogg.org/wiki/Autosomal_DNA_testing_comparison_chart). 23andMe has the best ethnicity estimates and specifics, by far. I am never surprised where I shouldn’t be by what is reported. And it is much more specific than Ancestry and FTDNA. It is really eye candy for most, but can assist when searching those farther back links to understand the source of your ancestors.

    23andMe includes the important X chromosome in testing and analysis. With FTDNA, you can only even see there is X chromosome data when you do a RAW data download. I have some matches on the X only. X testing and analysis offers very important clues. Bravo to GEDMatch for including and supporting this fully.

    I find GEDMatch flooded with FTDNA testers and reason they need to go outside FTDNA because they find no matches and support inside. The database of Autosomal testers is so small. Was so disappointed in the transfer of v3 23andme results to FTDNA. They dropped Mitochondrial and yDNA SNP and even X from the import. And because the SNP overlap is smaller, they only seemed to import the in-common SNP’s which makes matches less likely, from my experience.

    There is zero support, from all three companies, to support Autosomal family analysis. That is, a group like a surname group that is based around branches of a family. This is where the real benefit and concept of triangulation comes in. Some 3rd party tool support is starting to emerge but much more needs to be done. This, in my humble opinion, is by far the biggest contribution, growth area and future for Genetic Genealogy — fully incorporating and supporting Autosomal / X / Y and mtDNA in a full family branch analysis.

    I have no ax to grind. Simply try and support people in our Surname study and my personal family research. And I entered the game late (2009 for Genealogy; 2011 for Genetic Genealogy) and so missed the expensive, early history build up process. (As well as 23andMe’s early subscription model and such.) All I can go by is my experience of the last 4-6 years.

  36. I am trying to find who my maternal grandfather is, would you still suggest familytree dna? My mother is willing to take the test (s) required. What other steps would suggest. We are not sure my grandmother knows who her father is so there is not much help there.

  37. I am Jewish with very little information about where my family comes from and no authentic surname. I’d like to know more about where in the world my ancestors are from. I’m not looking for any additional relatives (I have plenty and I like them!) Both parents are alive and happy to be swabbed. What’s my best option?

    • I would swab both of them and test them at Family Tree DNA. Your father for the Y line at 67 markers and the Family Finder test. Your mother for the full mitochondrial DNA and the Family Finder test.

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  39. Pingback: Genealogy and Ethnicity DNA Testing – 3 Legitimate Companies | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  40. Hey, I know this long after the article was posted. I am adopted. Have no real interest in making a family tree. But would love to know more about my DNA (maybe including health risks). Would I be correct in assuming that 23 and me is my best option? Or would the family finder on FTDNA work better for me?

  41. I am not interested in locating relatives. I just want to know my complete genetic makeup. Where are my people from. What is the best test for that?

    • Hello—-What I’d like to know is this—I did my raw DNA thru Ancestry when 23 and Me was not able to do the health assessment. Can I now send my raw DNA to 23 and Me and get the separate health assessment???

      • No. 23andMe requires that you test there. But you can upload you Ancestry file to Promethease which gives you a whole lot more than 23andMe.

  42. i am totally asian, i don’t look like any other races. are those tests useful for me? i don’t want to get a test that tells me that i am asian, which would be a total waste of the money.

    thanks.

    • If you don’t think you’re anything other than Asian, then don’t buy the test. Those tests are estimates based on reference models. You don’t know what you don’t know and if there is any possibility of admixture, then the test might be useful.

  43. I want to find out about my family generation. I will like know are any of us are bi-racial, i know we have a lot of cousins. My great uncle had over 27 kids and ee don’t know have of them. I think it would be very beneficial for me and my family. I need to know which test can take us all the way back.

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