Which Genealogy DNA Test is the Best? A Detailed Comparison Guide to Help You Decide
Ready to take an ancestry DNA test to better understand your family’s past, but aren’t sure which one to choose? You’re not alone. Several excellent DNA tests for genealogy purposes are now available for a reasonable cost, but picking the right one for you can be very confusing.
What are the differences between each DNA test and testing company? Which one will tell me where my family comes from? How accurate are the results? How can I use the information to grow my family tree? Are there privacy concerns I need to be aware of? How about additional costs? Which DNA test is best?
In the following guide we have done our best to help you answer these questions and make a decision for yourself as to which test is right for you. We have also made some quick recommendations below.
Our Quick Recommendation for the Best DNA Test
Please note that some of the links in this article are affiliate links. That means that if you decide to click on one of these links and buy a test Family History Daily may receive a small amount of revenue. This revenue helps us support the running of this site but it does not influence the information we have shared. Our goal, first and foremost, is to provide you with accurate information that will help you in your research.
These companies are currently offering tests for $89 and $79 respectively (rather than $99) and have no known privacy concerns (this is not true with some other tests). Family Tree DNA (the longest running testing company) offers a well-established database of “cousins” and advanced tools for exploring your results. MyHeritage (the new kid on the block) offers the ability to sync your results with your family tree research in a very unique way. Both are a good choice, but since every person’s needs are unique we suggest you read the full guide before deciding.
A Guide to Finding the Right Genealogy DNA Test for You
We have included both a quick comparison chart that looks at each DNA test side by side, and a detailed breakdown of each section. We’ve included Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage DNA, AncestryDNA and 23andMe in our comparison because these four companies are the main providers of genetic genealogy tests in the current market.
We have zeroed in on autosomal tests only. These tests are used to give you the ancestry percentages and cousin matching most people are seeking. If you are interested in YDNA (paternal line only, for men) or mtDNA (maternal line only) you can find these tests at Family Tree DNA.
We hope that this guide helps you begin (or continue) the exciting journey into genetic genealogy research.
DNA Testing Comparison Chart
This side-by-side comparison chart provides a quick overview of the features of the most popular DNA tests for genealogy purposes. Data in this chart is current as of Jan 20th 2017. For greater detail on each comparison feature please read the explanations below.
Details for the DNA Comparison Chart
How much does each DNA test cost?
Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) is currently priced at $89, MyHeritage DNA has had their price set at $79 since they launched their test in November 2016 but their site shows the regular price is $99. We are unsure when this may go up. AncestryDNA’s cost is $99 and 23andMe who, in the past, charged $199 for genealogy and health information, now offers a genealogy only test for $99.
Prices are for US customers and do not include shipping charges, subscription fees for record research, or additional add-ons that may be available. Most providers also offer their services outside the USA, but prices vary.
DNA Sample Collection Type
Each testing provider uses one of two methods to take your DNA sample and neither require blood. Family Tree DNA and MyHeritage DNA both use a cheek swab method where the users gently scrapes the inside of their cheek. The swab is then placed in a vile and sealed. AncestryDNA and 23andMe use a saliva sample. Some people may have a hard time producing a saliva sample so this should be taken into consideration when deciding on which test to choose.
Processing Chip Used
All four of these companies use the Illumina OmniExpress chip, however 23andMe uses a specially modified version. This may be confusing, leading some to believe that all tests are created equal. This is not the case. The chip used to process DNA samples is only one part of the process. Each company develops their own analysis of the results, references different population samples and provides different reports. In addition, each one of these DNA test providers offers different tools for you to analyze the data you receive.
Admixture (Ancestry Makeup)
Admixture percentages are one of the biggest reasons people choose to have their DNA tested. This report attempts to accurately match your DNA with population samples from around the world to tell you where your ancestors came from. Each of these companies has strengths and weaknesses when it comes to this calculation, and in the reports it provides to users.
Unfortunately, the results from these reports are still far from being highly accurate or refined and results need to placed within the context of solid genealogical research, and further reading, comparisons and analysis, to be properly understood.
None of these tests will be able to perfectly pinpoint what country or countries your ancestors came from – but all will provide fairly accurate regions to explore. And while each test will tell you, for instance, if you have recent Native American ancestry, none can tell you what tribe or band those ancestors came from.
Finding small percentages of unexpected ethnicities may prove to be inaccurate upon further examination, and NOT finding traces of a certain group, such as Native American, may not necessarily prove that you do not have ancestors from that region or group. You can read more about that as it pertains to Native American research here. You can apply this statement to any ethnicity or region you might expect or hope to find in your results.
Even large percentages can be hopelessly misplaced (too much Scandinavian anyone?) so remember to combine your results with your research for the best results. Paired with your own solid paper trail, genetic information can be a huge help in growing, proving (or sometimes even disproving) parts of your tree. But it must be used wisely.
Still, it is fun see a visual and numerical representation of where your ancestors came from (generally speaking) and, although there are those who swear by one company or the other, all of these testing companies do a fairly decent job of giving you a report you can enjoy and use in your research. FTNDA recently updated to the much anticipated MyOrigins 2.0 and MyHeritage DNA just updated to their improved 42 population Ethnicity Estimate and offers a nicely detailed report.
You can also upload your DNA to MyHeritage for free to get this report and matches if you have tested elsewhere. FTDNA offers a similar option to upload for free to get DNA matches, but unlocking MyOrigins will cost you $19. Ancestry and 23andMe offer no upload option.
Of course, downloading your raw data and uploading it to GEDmatch for further analysis is highly recommended if you want to make sense of what you are seeing and get a much more detailed (and hopefully accurate) picture of your genetic past. We explain this below.
If you would like more help understanding ancestral reports you might consider taking our online course, which will walk you through all of the steps you need to take a DNA test for genealogy and analyze and understand your results.
Each one of these testing companies will provide you with a list of those people you are related to in their database, and we often refer to this as cousin matching. The database size, criteria for matching, responsiveness of matches and tools you need to make sense of these matches all vary greatly.
FTDNA has the most advanced tools for easily analyzing cousin matches as of now, although it is possible that MyHeritage DNA may catch up. They seem very eager to please customers at this point. FTDNA does fall short when it comes to the ability to sync with developed family trees however. This is certainly not intentional on their part, they have developed some great tools for this purpose, but FTDNA (unlike Ancestry and MyHeritage) does not provide record searches or an online family tree program for the purpose of genealogical research. For this reason they are inherently limited in this regard.
MyHeritage and Ancestry both provide ways to explore your DNA matches as they relate to your family tree, which is a lot of fun and can help you connect with family members and discover shared ancestors more quickly. See a further explanation below.
Size and Quality of the Database for Matching Relatives
AncestryDNA has the largest database to compare your results to when making matches, with 23andMe coming in second and FTDNA in third. MyHeritage DNA is so new that we do not want to even guess at numbers since they are likely to grow very fast – but, for now, their database is small in comparison.
Generally speaking, those people who have tested with FTDNA, AncestryDNA or MyHeritage DNA have done so for genealogical purposes (even if it is only curiosity about their family’s past) so the response rate from contacted matches is fairly decent. Oftentimes matches are open to being contacted by relations and are eager to compare trees. This is, of course, not always the case, but we have found it to be true for the most part.
23andMe is a bit different in that many people have tested with their company for the health results and are not necessarily interested in genealogy or matching with relatives, even if they opted into this feature. That doesn’t mean you won’t get a good response when reaching out, but it may be less common than with the other testing companies. Recently 23andMe has been placing more focus on genealogical testing, however, so this is may be shifting.
Data from all four testing companies can be uploaded to GEDmatch for additional comparisons.
Family Tree Integration and Additional Costs
FTDNA has, by far, the most advanced tools built in for easily analyzing cousin matches and it does have a family tree feature that has been recently improved, but most people have not taken advantage of this feature and the family trees found on FTDNA are, when present, generally underdeveloped. However, because FTDNA also provides a host of advanced featured that can provide invaluable data to dedicated researchers their cousin matching system still stands apart from the crowd, drawing in those who are interested in more deeply analyzing their results.
Both MyHeritage DNA and AncestryDNA have countless pedigrees built into their system already and your DNA results can help you make connections with these trees – but the tools required to make this happen may cost you and the results are not to be taken at face value.
Ancestry offers cousin matches for free as part of your DNA purchase but charges an additional monthly fee for access to its trees and some additional features. They recently added Genetic Communities and have numerous other features to help you connect via your tree to genetic matches. This makes research very easy for those who are already using Ancestry and are holding a paid subscription.
MyHeritage shows cousin matches as part of your DNA purchase for free and has some really wonderful tools to connect your research to your DNA matches. Using smart matching features to see how your tree is connected to others, and adding records you discover this way, may cost an additional monthly fee however. Still, MyHeritage is generally less expensive than Ancestry. You can also try their record collections for free here.
23andMe no longer offers any sort of tree service. They have worked with MyHeritage in the past to provide this service but that relationship is no longer active.
Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage DNA and AncestryDNA all allow uploads of GEDCOMs, and for MyHeritage and Ancestry these trees are the same as would be used for genealogical research. 23andMe does not offer a tree and, therefore, does not allow uploads of family tree data.
FTDNA is currently the only company to offer an advanced and full featured chromosome browser (the ability to analyze your results and compare matches by chromosome). 23andMe does offer a more limited version and MyHeritage DNA states that they will add one soon. Ancestry does not offer this service at all.
Allows Raw DNA Download
Yes, each company allows you to download your raw data to be used elsewhere.
Accepted by GEDmatch
GEDmatch is a service where anyone with raw DNA data can upload it, see a list of cousin matches and use a powerful selection of advanced tools to analyze their data. The service is free and powered by donations (extra tools are provided to those that donate). From parental phasing and triangulation, to a variety of admixture calculators and a robust database of people from all testing companies, GEDmatch is the best place to go to explore your genetic data in detail. The system accepts raw data from any one of the main testing companies and has a proven track record of properly managing user information.
Only 23andMe provides health insights when testing, and only if you choose their Health + Ancestry Service for $199. Data from all four companies is compatible with Promethease, however, and the cost is $5. See their site for more information.
Known Privacy Concerns
FTDNA has no additional costs associated with testing, although they do offer a variety of additional tests that you may want to explore.
23anMe also has no additional costs, unless you decide to upgrade to add health results.
Both AncestryDNA and MyHeritage DNA either require additional memberships to take full advantage of some features (like tree matching) as discussed above. Neither require these ongoing subscriptions, but you may feel compelled to use these tools.
Also note that testing with any of these companies may cause a bad case of GGTA (genetic genealogy testing addiction) which may occur once you get your results back and realize that testing your entire family would be both fun and a great addition to your research. GGTA can get very expensive.
Additional Tests Available
FTDNA offers YDNA and mtDNA tests and 23andMe offers a health report. Neither MyHeritage DNA or AncestryDNA offers additional tests at this time.
Average Time to Get Your DNA Test Results
Every company on this list promises test results in 6-8 weeks after they receive a sample, except for MyHeritage DNA which claims 3-4 weeks. This can vary however and is influenced by demand and other factors. It is generally a good rule of thumb to anticipate that it will take 2-3 months for results once you order a test. This accounts for the time it takes for you (or your recipient) to receive the test, provide a sample, mail it back and for processing of your results.
So which DNA test for ancestry research should I choose?
The truth is that any one of these companies will do a good job of providing you with results you can use to understand more about your family’s past. It is up to you to weigh the pros and cons and decide which test fits your needs. Let’s review briefly.
Family Tree DNA has the longest track record of responsible user management, a well-developed database of (mostly) enthusiastic matches and the most powerful in-house tools for serious research. However, family tree integration is weak and their database is not as large as some of the others.
AncestryDNA is appealing to many because the results can be matched (to some degree) with many well-established family trees, but major privacy concerns (about how your data is used and sold) have been present in the past. For many, this is a deal breaker. They also offer the fewest advanced tools for analyzing data, although their database is very large.
23andMe has also been the target of concerns over how they handle user data. Their tools are more advanced than what AncestryDNA offers, and the International Society of Genetic Genealogists claims that they have the most accurate admixture results – but many in their database are health testers and may not be receptive to matching for genealogy purposes. They also offer no family tree integration at all.
MyHeritage DNA is the new kid on the block and, while their database is still growing, it is comprised of people who have tested from all of the other three testing companies (this is thanks to their free DNA upload offer). In addition to this, they have shown a clear commitment to concerns and requests by their users by promising to provide advanced tools in the future and by creating an open and optional consent policy for use of DNA data. They also offer the ability to tie in with a large database of family trees and records. We think this test has a lot of promise if they continue to respond in this positive way to users.
In the end, you must decide what test is best for you. Ask around, read posts online and explore the features and privacy policies of each company in detail. Whichever route you choose, it’s bound to be an exciting journey!
Our online genealogy course offers an entire section on using DNA for genealogy research. The lessons take you step by step through testing, understanding your results and using the advanced tools you need to really understand them. Find it here.
You might also like to take a moment to read some of the excellent blogs and resources linked below for more help on your genetic genealogy journey. The information they provide is invaluable and fascinating.
- The Genetic Genealogist
- The Legal Genealogist
- The International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG)