Testing Strategy – Should I Test at Ancestry and Transfer to Family Tree DNA?

As most people know by now, Ancestry doesn’t accept DNA file transfers from other vendors, so many people recommend testing first at Ancestry and then transferring to Family Tree DNA.

Actually, that’s not always the best choice.

  • There is nothing inherently WRONG with that strategy, but it may not be right for you either. Transferring to Family Tree DNA from Ancestry certainly won’t hurt anything, but a transfer will only provide 20-25% of your matches if you tested at Ancestry after May of 2016 because the DNA chips used for processing are different at the two vendors.
  • If you tested at Ancestry before May of 2016, the Ancestry kit and the Family Tree DNA kits are identical, so transferring will give you the same matches at Family Tree DNA as if you had tested there. You are on the Ancestry V1 kit, so just transfer.  There is no need for a V1 kit to retest at Family Tree DNA. The transfer itself is free, as are your matches, but to unlock all features and tools costs $19. A bargain.
  • If you tested at Ancestry after May of 2016, you tested on the V2 kit. Ancestry changed the markers tested and now the Ancestry kit is only partially compatible with Family Tree DNA. As an Ancestry V2 transfer kit, you will only receive about 20-25% of the matches you would receive if you tested at Family Tree DNA.  The matches you receive will be your closest matches, but is that enough?

For some people, especially adoptees, your closest matches may be all that you are interested in.  If so, you’re golden with any Ancestry transfer.

For genealogists, you’re missing 75-80% of your matches, and your brick-wall breaker may well be in that group. Not good at all!

Let’s look at my kits for example.  I have tested directly at Family Tree DNA, and I have also transferred an Ancestry V2 kit to Family Tree DNA.

As you can see, my Family Finder kit received 3115 matches.  My Ancestry V2 transfer kit only received 26.65% of those matches.

Plus, if you attach the DNA of known family members to your tree, Family Tree DNA provides phased matching, which tells you which side of your tree a match connects to.  In the example above, that means that I know immediately which side 1236 of my matches connect to.  That’s a whopping 40% and that’s before I even look at their trees or common surnames! This is an incredible tool.

People who recommend that you test at Ancestry, today, and transfer to Family Tree DNA may not understand the unintended consequences, or they may be people who work primarily with adoptees. They may also not understand the value of phased matches for genealogists.

For people who tested at Ancestry after May of 2016, my recommendation is to take the Family Finder test directly at Family Tree DNA as well as test at Ancestry separately.

If you tested at MyHeritage, that test is fully compatible at Family Tree DNA as well, so do transfer, no retest needed!

To Order or Transfer

To order your Family Finder test, click here and then on the Family Finder test, shown below.

To transfer to Family Tree DNA for free from any company, click here and then in the upper left hand corner of the screen, click Autosomal Transfer, last option under the dropdown under the blue DNA Tests to get started.

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45 thoughts on “Testing Strategy – Should I Test at Ancestry and Transfer to Family Tree DNA?

  1. For people who tested with Ancestry before May 2016, is there any point in retesting there to pick up matches with people who tested there after that date or will those people match close enough for non-adoptees?

    • I did retest, and Ancestry says there is no need. I do have some differences, but most those differences are not in close matches. At Ancestry, I focus on the tree leaf matches which means we match DNA and have a common tree ancestor as well. You can view the articles I wrote about the V2 version by entering V2 into the blog search box.

  2. I have been amazed that my two third cousins (my mom and her 3rd cousin) who share 38 cMs on the X and 38 cMs on three autosomal segments at GEDmatch do not match at FTDNA. One of them transferred from Ancestry (F2) to FTDNA and the other from 23&Me (V3) to FTDNA. During the Thanksgiving sale, I got them both FTDNA tests. Looking forward to seeing the results.

  3. I attempted to take the family finder test after doing an AncestryDNA autosomal transfer in June 2017. Family Tree DNA did not allow me to do this. Have others had this experience?

    • You can ask them to delete the Ancestry kit and order a Family Finder test. Not the preferred situation, but you could also just simply order a new kit for the Family Finder test.

    • I did that some time after I transferred my V1 based Ancestry kit. It required two accounts, a new one for the FTDNA kit and I don’t mind as I used my married name for one and my maiden name for the other. In my personal info I explained that I was also at FTDNA with the other kit so people didn’t get confused.

  4. Thanks for this important clarification, Roberta! I have a follow-up question regarding 23andMe v. Ancestry transfers to FTDNA: My father tested on 23andMe’s v.4 chip and I transferred his results to FTDNA. He has only 43 matches there . . . He is about to be tested at Ancestry (v.2). Would there be any point in transferring those results to FTDNA? I already have my mother’s Ancestry v.1 data at FTDNA for phasing. Just wondering if the additional $19 would likely yield more paternal matches, given that (I think) the set of SNPs Ancestry tests are more useful in genealogy than those tested by 23andMe, which focus more on health risks.

    Thanks for any light you can shed on this choice — all DNA kits are of course on Gedmatch, and I will likely assign my father’s 23 kit “research” status there in favor of his Ancestry kit for cousin matching purposes.

  5. Thank you for this valuable post but I have two questions: when you say only close matches will be available with the atDNA transfer to FF, how are you defining “close”? Second question is regarding my favourite FTDNA tool, the sorting of relatives to maternal or paternal . I was of the understanding that if someone paid the $19 fee to FTDNA after transferring, they would receive all the tools, including this feature. Is this not correct? Checked the FTDNA website and not clear but I tell people they will get all the features for $19 and hope that I have not been leading them down the proverbial garden path. Thanks

    • Family Tree DNA does not define what is “close.” You get whatever matches you get. They include all that you receive. Think of it as getting roughly your top 20 or 25%. I have 2nd and 3rd cousins, some 4th, no distant. The more distant, the more people in that category are missing. Some are missing in all but the closest categories because the segments that we match on (at FTDNA) weren’t tested at Ancestry.

  6. Hi Roberta. What is interesting is the little chart and the comparison numbers are the same as when one turns off the “speculative matches” on a FTDNA FF kit. M E Ray

  7. Without “speculative matches” on FTDNA ,I have 842 matches. When I add the speculative matches from Account settings I have 3,044. I was just commenting that the ratio was abt the same. M E Ray

  8. Hello Roberta;
    Great article. Question: do Ethnicity estimates change in Ancestry from v1 to v2 kits?

    Also, I tested on v1, and my mum tested on v2, and I transferred both to FTDNA. Should I retest my mum on FTDNA to better mirror the SNPs on my own kit for better ethnicity comparisons and to pick up more of her matches, in particular those really useful phased matches?


    • Yes retest your Mom at FTDNA. The Ancestry ethnicity has changed a couple times now. There was a slight difference at the time, but a change since. It wasn’t terribly significant.

  9. I tested my aunt around that time(sometime between may and July) on Ancestry. Is there any way for me to determine if her test was a V1 or a V2? Thanks.

  10. I tested on Ancestry V1 and Mom tested on V2. I am tempted to retest at Ancestry on V2 just because Mom’s gets so much more results at Promethease and better SNP data for traits. e.g I can see all 3 SNPs associated with the MC1R red hair gene, but my data only has 1 of the SNP’s

  11. I sent in my dna sample to my heritage, I am happy to know it is compatable with family tree dna! My result are expected around Dec 25, 2017. Janis (Roelofson) Williams Mesa AZ USA

  12. Roberta, there is a little difference between the results of my Ancestry V1 transfer and FTDNA’s own kit. I have 30 more matches (at last count) with my transfer over FTDNA’s own test and each kit has some unique matches. It was worth testing to see how they stacked up.

    My siblings and father have 73-75% of the number of matches I do at Ancestry because of the V2 chip they were tested with. At FTDNA, Dad tested, no transfer, and he is besting my numbers of matches nicely, as he should being closer to the ancestor and the families were larger in generations before he was born. My siblings have 23% of the matches I do with their V2 Ancestry transfer. That is unacceptable to me.

      • That was 30 more with her v1 transfer (and unique matches with that transfer as well as the direct test), but 77% less matches with her siblings’ v2 transfers. So in actuality it’s consistent with what Roberta said.

      • I just wanted to mention that my V1 AncestryDNA transfer and the FTDNA test results are not exactly alike but very close. It’s interesting to compare them to check out the matches one kit has that the other doesn’t.

        Both my tests have unique matches; not a lot but there are some. And yes, I have more matches with the Ancestry V1 transfer than testing at FTDNA. I just checked again earlier this afternoon and there are now 32 more matches with the AncestryDNA transfer. That’s not major, nor is the number of unique matches, but it’s not exactly the same result either.

        I noticed the differences when I put both freshly downloaded lists of matches together in one spreadsheet and sorted by admin. That’s when I found the unique matches. I also found they usually share the same cM for the same match, but there are exceptions to that too. Close enough though.

        • The OmniExpress chip did allow for every vendor to add a few custom SNPs. I wonder if that is what you are seeing, or areas where there were read errors in one chip or the other.

          • Roberta, I’m sure errors are possible with DNA testing but I’m happy with the results being as close as they are. I didn’t really expect them to be this close.

      • It’s probably because Ancestry v1 had about 10,000 SNPs which were not in common with FTDNA, but they may have been in common with 23&Me or MyHeritage. So your matches would be transfers from one of those companies. Know what I mean?

  13. Interesting article. I wonder since the transfer is only giving you about the closest 25%; how many pages of results do you have to go before you see the first difference in your example? My guess 830 matches divided by say 20? per page, equals about 41 pages??? IMO Most people are not going that 40 pages into their DNA on FTDNA.

    • Not everyone has that many matches. My family has three tests at FTDNA. We’re also on GEDmatch.

      I have 165 matches on FTDNA and 3,248 matches >= 7cM at GEDmatch (26,271 total).

      My husband has 2,765 matches on FTDNA and 19,683 >= 7cM at GEDmatch (70,101 total).

      My MIL has 2,165 matches on FTDNA and 12,498 matches >= 7cM at GEDmatch (54,316 total).

      If I had transferred to FTDNA, I would have likely had no matches at all. According to information provided at wikitree, most of the people sharing surnames with my family have tested with 23&Me. I know that doesn’t mean there aren’t others who aren’t being reported, but I feel that’s what GEDmatch is for.

      What’s unfortunate is that the latest versions of Ancestry and 23&Me are barely compatible with FTDNA anymore, and slightly less compatible with each other, due to the different chips being used.

      But my husband and I just took Living DNA tests and we’ll be uploading those to Genesis as soon as they’re completed. They are more compatible with 23&Me than any other test out there currently.

      I just can’t accept the Ancestry terms and conditions, so we will never test with them. Maybe one day another company will impress me enough and match Ancestry SNPs enough to bridge the gap, but in the meantime it will just have to mean less matches for us.

  14. What a great article, thanks, Roberta! I was a second tier Beta Tester at Ancestry, but I did my first testing with FTDNA – only at FTDNA, I did mtDNA only, as that was all that was available back at that time. Over the years since, l can report that most of my matches from the beginning autosomal on Ancestry were eventually removed as ‘not real matches’, even the ones I could confirm from joint family trees. When I transferred my kit to FTDNA, my matches were more ‘spot on’. Now that FTDNA has tools, I’ve been even happier. I eded up with much less in matches at Ancestry and later, was told my matches were not as close as they previously determined. I was not disappointed as it was a work in progress overall with Ancestry. At least we have had the option to share with Ancestry to FTDNA. Also was able to share it at MyHeritage, without retesting. If i decide to try 23andMe, I will have to do a new sample. That might be interesting. None the less, the accuracy of the matches is more important to me than how many I have. run my Raw Dara through Promethease twice now, once, early in the beginning, and last month, since their updates. I have a Mac – and it seems more difficult this time around in ‘searching’ info, but if I do 23andMe, I wonder how different that would be. Maybe is a good excuse to try it. Thanks for your topics, we all fine tune and learn more!

  15. I know all of my grandparents’ siblings, parents’ siblings, first and second cousins. What I’m after are 3rd and 4th cousins to help me trace my family further back. So losing distant relatives would hurt me.

    I’m glad I tested directly with FTDNA as they have more of the international crowd and mine is a family of immigrants through several generations and on all branches. I am from Venezuela and most of my extended family is still there, but I do have a half brother in Italy and I hope he will test someday (but he’s probably trying to avoid being found, so maybe not).

  16. Roberta, everything you write makes perfect sens. But I’d like to add that not only genealogists, but also adoptees understand the value of phased matches, or at least, should. I am both a genealogist and an adoptee. As of now, through genetic testing and family tree comparison i have been able to indentify not only my own father, but also the fathers of four of my six maternal brothers (the seven of us have seven different fathers!) And phased matching at FTDNA helps immensely, in two ways. Firstly, we known our maternal family tree very well as i have researched it very thoroughly in the last nineteen years. Thus we have about 40 percent of our matches marked with a ”Maternal” icon, meaning that we can theoreticaly rule those matches out when looking for potential paternal matches. Secondly, once a paternal 3rd Cousin or closer DNA match has been established and added to the tree, there will appear a number of ”Paternally” assigned matches, which makes the search much easier. Those paternal matches who have trees are the best, for i can then insert those trees into a common ”Paternal DNA Matches Tree”. Where those trees eventually connect, those are the Common Paternal Ancestors. So, adoptees also can draw great benefit from FTDNA’s fantastic phased matches feature.

    • “Those paternal matches who have trees are the best, for i can then insert those trees into a common ”Paternal DNA Matches Tree”. Where those trees eventually connect, those are the Common Paternal Ancestors”

      Albertus, Can you explain a bit more about how you do this. It sounds useful even for non-adoptees. Say I have two 2nd-4th paternal cousin matches that have trees but their trees do not share any names with my tree. Can I an how do I create a “Paternal DNA Matches Tree”?

      • June, i created my own and my brothers’ ”Paternal DNA Matches Tree” at Ancestry.com. In the case of my own Paternal Tree, i used my own name as the head person. Then one by one i added the trees of my paternal DNA matches. At Ancestry i had to do that by added the name of my match in capital letters as my father, or mother (depending upon the gender of the Match), then i disconnected the Match as father (or mother). The Match remains, but has no longer any relationship to me. That is the only way i know to add a new Tree within the Tree. Then i proceed to add to the DNA Match his parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, as many ancestors and siblings of ancestors as his tree contains. I try to bring each branch of his tree back a generation or more, beyond what he already knows, adding more ancestors to it. The point is to go back far enough in order to find the Most Recent Common Ancestor of this DNA Match and any other DNA Matches (and eventually myself) whose trees i shall add later. I repeat the whole process which each Matche’s Tree. When i do find the same Ancestor in two different trees, i add in the ”Suffix” field two stars separated by a space. * * That means that two Trees share this Ancestor. Then i add one star * to the suffix field of the name of each child of the starred ancestral couple who is in line of descent leading back to to my DNA Matches or to myself. That way i can follow the trail backwards and forwards. Since i have an Ancestry subscription, that makes it easier to find sources on each person in the Trees, and to add more generations of Ancestors, either by finding their names in the source records, or by finding them in other AncestrY Trees (indicated under ”Hints”). Eventually the Paternal DNA Matches Tree will have many Trees, some of which you will be able to connect to one another and to your own Family Tree. It sounds complicated, but once you start doing it, it becomes clear, I swear! Good luck!

  17. Roberta, I recently contacted FTDNA about this issue. I transferred from 23andme to FTDNA in Jan 1018, initially about a thousand matches, 1800 or so currently. It’s been tough going to identify how I am related to my matches. Joined and tested at Ancestry recently, Eureka, so productive to identify many lines, thousands of matches close and distant. Just got my brother’s kit sent in, was going to transfer his ancestry data over. I think we’ll pay for a FF test and compare his matches with mine. Looking at your hard data re transfers versus ftdna testing, I wonder at the following reply.

    Hello Ralna,
    Thank you for contacting FamilyTreeDNA. You will obtain almost identical results and matches regardless of whether you transfer a kit from another provider into our system, or take one of our Family Finder tests. There may be some subtle differences between the two, but generally speaking they will be quite similar. If you have the option to test with us or transfer data, we almost always recommend testing with us in-house simply because we operate our own lab and use all of our own in-house autosomal SNPs.

    If I can provide any further assistance please let me know.

    Best Regards,

    David T
    Information Specialist

    Ralna Cunningham – Oct 31 2019, 11:08 AM
    Request Form:
    I recently read on a blog (Roberta Estes, DNAexplained) that there is only about a 20% overlap between the Ancestry and your inhouse Family Finder test, due to the use of different chips. Since i was planning to ask some family members to transfer their Ancestry data over to save money, now I am not sure that is the best idea. Can you confirm if your inhouse testing will provide different/more matches in general than a data transfer will?

    I must confess, I have had a pretty difficult/unproductive time of it having transferred my 23andMe data over trying to figure out common ancestors from my matches here. I’m trying to get family into some surname and regional projects but also confirm some older lines.

    • That’s true now that they have implemented imputation. You need to contact them to delete your original kit and reupload. If you paid to unlock, I believe they will honor that on the reuploaded kit.

      • My full sibling’s matches just appeared and they total over 6000 using Family Finder, including quite a lot of front page closer ones I didn’t get on my own list. My list of matches is 1713 which came from 23andMe transfer. Wow, wish FTDNA would disclose that, I call BS on the company’s reply. Half the battle is finding someone with a tree or list of ancestors, so the more the better. I’m getting the real Family Finder. Thanks for writing about this issue.

  18. Hi Roberta, I’m wondering if at this time it’s a good idea to retest @ FTDNA vs. transferring Ancestry.com raw data? For advanced genealogy researchers. FYI, my 2nd cousin was Janet Lewis Crain, I found her 13yrs. ago through DNA testing and we became good friends. She often spoke so highly of you, I’m very thankful for your knowledge and posts!

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