Last week, Ancestry.com announced the millionth customer in their autosomal data base. On January 18th, 23andMe did the same. I don’t have exact numbers from Family Tree DNA, but they can’t be terribly far behind. So, let’s look at the effectiveness of these matches at the roughly 1 million mark between the various vendors.
Black bold highlights the vendor’s positive aspects and red bold notes the drawbacks and places where each vendor could stand improvement. I’ve underlined the two red issues I feel are the most serious.
*1 – Both 23andMe and Ancestry provide communications with others whom you match through internal message systems. However, you have to request permission at 23andMe with anyone you match to communicate with them, and then additionally to share their DNA. The 23andMe the 1404 number is how many people I match and the 162 number is the number of people that have accepted communications from me. Not all of those 162 are sharing DNA.
*2 – At 23andMe, this would be the number of people sharing DNA results with me. Ancestry has no tools that allow comparison of DNA segments. At Family Tree DNA this would be all of my matches.
*3 – 23andMe cuts your matches off at 1000 unless you are communicating with your matches or you have an outstanding “introduction sent” request. Of the 1404 people I match, 138 are sharing genomes, 24 have accepted communications but have not shared genomes, and 12 have declined. The balance of my 1404 are either those to whom I’ve requested an introduction and they haven’t replied at all or some that I haven’t gotten around to inviting yet. Ironically, my last of 1404 matches (in percentage of shared DNA order) is my known cousin who would have been purged had we not been sharing genomes. You don’t have to send introductory invitations to those you match at either Family Tree DNA nor Ancestry and neither of those companies have an arbitrary cutoff, although Ancestry.com did a massive match purge when they implemented phasing.
*4 – At 23andMe, I can request to communicate with all 1404 people I match. Of those, 162 have agreed to communicate or share genomes. I can only communicate with those 162 people. That doesn’t compare very well to either 1040 nor 5481 – and it shows how much genealogical benefit I’ve derived from 23andMe as compared to both Ancestry and Family Tree DNA.
*5 – At Ancestry, a minimum level subscription is required at $49 per year to see matching trees. Not all participants have trees uploaded, and many trees aren’t public, so are not available for tree matching. Otherwise, all trees connected to DNA results are included in matching function.
*6 – At Family Tree DNA, testers are encouraged to upload GEDCOM files or create trees in their account, and matching surname hints are given, but no actual ancestor matching in trees is performed. Each participant must look at the tree of their matches, if provided.
*7 – 23andMe no longer hosts family trees on their site. They have entered into collaboration with subscription service, MyHeritage. Family Tree DNA is the only one of the vendors who hosts their own trees and does not require an additional subscription for that service, or for tree matching.
*8 – I have fewer matches at Family Tree DNA now than I did in November of 2014 when I had 1875 matches. I have submitted a query to Family Tree DNA and they assure me this match number is accurate.
The disparity between the 23andMe and Ancestry match numbers, since both vendors have 1 million autosomal results in their data bases, is suggestive of how many matches may have been pared from my match list at 23andMe.
The number of effective matches that can be usefully utilized, and how they can be utilized, are quite a bit different than the total number of matches implies without further analysis.
Both Family Tree DNA and Ancestry have unique strong points that make them stand out as vendors.
23andMe, since I can only work with or communicate with about 10% of my matches, is the least useful, for me, for genealogy. I found their health services, which 23andMe is no longer allowed to offer following a dust-up with the FDA, very beneficial.
The tree matches and DNA Circles at Ancestry are very useful, but the fact that Ancestry provides absolutely no tools such as a chromosome browser or the other comparison tools that both 23andMe and Family Tree DNA provide makes Ancestry’s tree matches terribly frustrating eye candy in the candy shop behind a hermetically sealed window we can’t get through. Tree matches and Circles are suggestive of an ancestral connection, but without comparison and triangulation tools, your match to an individual could be through a different, potentially unknown, line, and you have no tools at Ancestry to confirm or deny. People are left to assume that the tree matches and Circles are proof, and unfortunately, they do in droves.
Thankfully, Family Tree DNA accepts transfers from Ancestry, V3 chip transfers from 23andMe (not the V4 chip since Dec. 2013) and GedMatch accepts files from all 3 vendors. Those are the only avenues to actually compare the DNA of those who tested at Ancestry to triangulate and prove ancestral matches.
The great news in all of this is that more than 1 million people have tested, and probably more than two million in total – although there is clearly some overlap between vendors. With every person that tests and that we match in one place or another, it increases our odds as genealogists to confirm our genealogy or break through those pesky brick walls.
Footnote: The prices for the tests are the same, at $99, unless a sale is taking place at one of the vendors. Both 23andMe and Ancestry also sell the aggregated anonymized DNA data for other purposes. Both 23andMe and Ancestry will request that you sign (digitally authorize by clicking a box) an informed consent agreement for your non-anonymized (or less anonymized) data to be utilized or sold as well. Family Tree DNA is the only one of these three firms that does not sell your DNA data in any form.