Both my wife and I have completed DNA tests in an effort to better understand our heritage as well as potential health risks. Nowadays, more and more people are turning to DNA testing to learn about their family history as well as feel more connected. Like us, they are often motivated to learn about ancestors because of a lack of documentation and information on our broader family tree.
Currently, there are five primary companies that offer genealogical DNA testing. They are 23andMe, AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA, and the Genographic Project.
With all these choices, it can be hard to know which service is right for you. In this article, I’ll briefly compare the top two industry leaders head-to-head, 23andMe and AncestryDNA, and help you decide which one is best for you. I’ll also share some tips on how to complete the DNA testing process with kids, as I just completed the process with our son Dylan.
First of all, AncestryDNA and 23andMe are the world’s most popular DNA tests. Combined, the companies have tested the DNA of more than 15 million people, according to the International Society of Genetic Geneology.
They also both cost $129 CAD (See AncestryDNA and 23andMe), unless you elect for 23andMe’s $249 CAD Ancestry + Health service to get extra info on potential health risks and genetic traits in addition to ancestry. Because they are both competing for market share, each company frequently offers great deals and coupons, so my first suggestion is to search the Internet for terms “coupon” or “discount” in relation to these two services. For instance, this past December, 23andMe had a 30% off deal, which brought $249 CAD price down to a more reasonable $199 CAD, and the $129 CAD package down to $99.
Besides comparable pricing, there are a few key differences, so we’ll take each company and break it down into pros/cons as well as provide a quick summary.
AncestryDNA is by far the most popular of the two top competitors, perhaps because of their aggressive marketing campaign. Founded in 2012, it has grown into a massive database of 10,000,000 potential DNA matches which makes it incredibly useful for simple genealogical research.
- Database of over 10 million sets of DNA results for comparison
- A very strong genealogical community resulting in a higher DNA match response rate
- Can connect with matches through anonymous email and message boards
- Can link your DNA results to your online family tree, and the best family tree tools in the business
- Stores your results indefinitely
- Fine-grained ethnicity coverage (499 ethnic regions vs 23andMe’s 171)
- Is very affordable at $129 CAD per test and frequently offers coupons and discounts
- No health screening, however, if you want genetic health reports, then you’ll have to download your raw data and upload it into a third-party DNA analysis tool or service (Like the following sites: Promethease, GEDmatch, Oymygenes, and Genetic Genie. Note: Some are free, others charge a fee)
- Only tests your autosomal DNA. So no paternal or maternal lineage tracing. Autosomal tests are the most common DNA tests. Autosomal DNA tests only reveal family relations up to seven generations—or 210 years—with up to 95 percent accuracy.
- Members can opt out of sharing their DNA results so it may be harder to find and contact matches
- Requires an ongoing cost of a subscription to the site to use their online family tree functionality
- Does not allow raw data uploads from other sites
- No chromosome browser to confirm results
AncestryDNA uses a relatively affordable standardized DNA test geared specifically at people who want to explore simple information related to their Genealogy, Family History Research, and finding DNA Matches. It’s not meant to provide you with much more than that. If your goal is to find possible relatives and connect with them, then AncestryDNA is your best choice.
First of all, the results from 23andMe (Founded in 2007) are more varied and informative than AncestryDNA. AncestryDNA just provides an ethnic breakdown of your DNA through an interactive map, while 23andMe does this and much more. Visualizations from 23andMe are also far more interesting. While AncestryDNA just provides you with a map, 23andMe goes above and beyond with unique offerings like Your Ancestry Timeline and Your Chromosome Painting. While Ancestry DNA offers a standard autosomal DNA test, 23andMe bundles autosomal, broad YDNA, broad mtDNA and Health reports into one test. In short, you get a lot more with 23andMe, but you pay a bit more in price for that privilege.
- Only site to offer health and wellness reports
- Offers 3 types of testing via autosomal, broad YDNA, and broad mtDNA tests, which includes Ethnicity, Neanderthal ancestry, Paternal, and Maternal genealogical reports as opposed to AncestryDNA’s sole ethnicity report
- Has the 2nd largest DNA database after AncestryDNA, with more than 5 million results
- Family tree doesn’t cost anything extra (so no subscriptions)
- Includes a chromosome browser for comparing results (This way you can compare DNA associated with DNA Relatives)
- Slightly more expensive DNA tests are better overall value because of the additional types of tests and reports
- You can see you’re ancestors’ migration patterns and even how many Neanderthal variants you carry in your DNA
- Easy-to-read reports
- Limited genealogical community compared to other sites
- Limited ability to contact matches
- Does not allow upload of raw data from other sites
- Health and wellness test are not part of the basic test, it costs a bit extra
23andMe’s database of 5 million users is substantial and its tools are extensive. Although more expensive it provides a lot more detail about your DNA than just your ethnicity. It’s also far more educational than AncestryDNA, offering you a detailed genetic health screening in addition to matching you with DNA relatives. If you’re looking for something slightly beyond just a simple genealogical search for relatives, then 23andMe is a better value.
This past Christmas I purchased a DNA kit for my son Dylan because 23andMe had a 30% discount on the Ancestry + Health test. I thought it would be a great way to introduce him to the wonderful world of showing where his family came from as well as give us some information on his health.
The kit comes in a small box, with a very simple 6-step set of instructions on how to collect saliva and mail it back to their location.
Initially, getting Dylan to understand how to produce enough saliva to fill the specimen collector proved difficult. Spitting is not the same as generating saliva, so he was trying to blow bubbles and spit them into the tube (With hilarious results). After a while, I hit on the right method though. Simply asking him to bite down on his tongue for 1-2 minutes resulted in a better flow of saliva, and he quickly filled the tube to the correct amount.
Once we finished with the task of collecting the sample, we then had to contend with the ambiguous instructions regarding registering an account for Dylan. It turns out that 23andMe does allow minors to register, but if they are under 13, then they have to be registered under the parent (or guardians) account. I wish they could have explained that clearly, because the option to register a new account doesn’t include any information about this.
In fact, it took the better part of half an hour, searching through their help pages to find out that you can’t register a minor directly. Perhaps they will improve this process in the future, so parents have an easier and less frustrating time trying to enter a birthdate that the system won’t accept and doesn’t give you a reason for not accepting it.
Once registered, we were able to quickly enter his profile information, complete a few surveys and sent off his sample. Results typically take 2-4 weeks, and there’s a very handy tool on their website which shows where you are in the process, so you can quickly get an update anytime you like.
Personally, I can’t wait to show Dylan some of the reports, especially in how it relates to where both my wife and I come from. I’m sure it will spark a good discussion in our house about how we are connected in so many ways to the world around us, especially at this time when race and ethnicity are hot topics often covered by the media. In fact, I hope that in the future everyone gets a chance to complete a DNA test because the results challenge us to have a broader discussion about ethnicity and how we are all very much related to each other.
Like many important purchases, choosing a DNA test depends on your priorities. If you’re looking for simple genealogical information and want to find relatives, then AncestryDNA is the way to go, just by virtue of having a database that’s twice as large as 23andMe. However, if you want more than that, including detailed health reports and more extensive DNA testing then 23andMe is recommended!
For more information click on the following URL’s or search online for coupons/discounts:
Interested in other websites that can import your raw DNA profile file? Click on the following links: