Which DNA test is best?

Many of us hear from our parents and grandparents we’re maybe part German or 1/8 Native American with a little Irish or North African, but how can we be sure? Now you can, and it costs under $100! With the recent dramatic price decreases of autosomal DNA testing, these can be a fantastic out-of-the box gift idea for friends and loved ones (AWESOME baby shower gift, am I right?) With several major tests on the market which autosomal DNA test should you choose? Luckily, there isn’t a wrong answer, and all three tests provide a great and informative service and the same overall info- your likely genetic ancestry and connections with genetic relatives who have tested within approximately 5 generations. That said, if there is a specific reason that you or the recipient is looking to test, certain tests can be more suited to different goals. Here is a summary of each company as well as some pros and cons to each which might help you make your decision.

Please keep in mind this is solely based on my own experiences having had all three tests done, as well as utilizing the data through a few 3rd party sites.

23andMe
$99 (Saliva tube)
This company, backed by Google and founded in part by Anne Wojcicki (wife of Google Founder), has had a lot of marketing and visibility. Their radio and internet ads have brought a lot of attention to autosomal testing, as well being one of the first to aggressively drop prices making the tests more widely accessible. They also provided health data up until the FDA banned these reports in November of 2013 (although a 3rd party site will give the same info for $5)

Pros: Slick, user friendly interface. Interesting information such as percentage of Neandrethal DNA and DNA Haplogroup (not particularly useful, but it is considered a separate test through FamilyTreeDNA at an additional cost). Their ancestral breakdown is good and provides further information on the data you find. They also do health related surveys to try to progress genetic research for different ailments. While the health data through 23andMe is not currently available, they are working with the FDA to try and reach a solution to make the information available in the future.

Cons: If you are hoping to make connections with genetic relatives, 23andMe may not be your best choice. Users have to opt-in to the results, and will by default appear anonymously. You have to send a request to connect, and the response rate isn’t great. It seems like a lot of people purchase the tests for the ancestral information, then may not ever check the messages or connection requests. Also, this test is incompatible with data transfer to FamilyTreeDNA (more on this shortly). Matching is disclosed in arbitrary percentages rather than showing the actual amount of shared DNA. Internal messaging system is a bit slow and buggy. Also, although many people see this as medically beneficial to society as a whole, some users may take issue with the fact that 23andMe anonymously shares DNA data to pharmaceutical companies researching genetic medical issues.

FamilyTreeDNA
$99 (Cheek Swab)
Founded with genealogy in mind, this offers not only autosomal DNA testing, but also a bevvy of other more specific and thorough tests such as mtDNA, paternal Y-DNA testing, etc. They boast that they have the largest ancestry database with over 700,000 records, although not all of hose are autosomal.

Pros: Easy to use interface, and full access to information from matches such as name (although some people utilized aliases, it’s less common) and actual email address rather than relying on an internal messaging system. Full disclosure as to how much DNA you share with matches, and some really great comparison tools such as a visual chromosome browser and an easy ability to sort by common matches with anyone on your list. This company is also the only to allow you to import your data from another service (AncestryDNA specifically, as 23andMe’s new test as of 2014 is no longer compatible for import). This is a great way to get in two databases for a much lower cost, as a data transfer is only $39.

Cons: Their MyOrigins ancestral information seems slightly less robust and specific, although the results were largely consistent between competing tests.

AncestryDNA
$99 (Saliva tube)
Born through Ancestry.com, the world’s largest for-profit genealogy company. They have the largest database of records that can tie into the DNA testing experience, making it a great choice for genealogy and family history enthusiasts. You do not need a membership to Ancestry.com to do the test, however it is beneficial if you or your gift recipient plans to do any deeper family history research.

Pros: The ability to connect your DNA data to family trees makes for an interesting geneaological experience. The test can help confirm accuracy of your research and connect you with family members you probably didn’t know. Their ancestral data is good provides some interesting feedback. Having a membership to Ancestry, while not required, definitely gives an advantage when researching and growing your family trees. They have one of the best and easiest to use family tree creation interfaces, and the tree files can be saved in GEDCOM format and exported and used elsewhere if needed.

Cons: Many users use their ancestry username for contact info, and you rely on their internal messaging system for contact which can be unreliable at times. They do not provide the amount of DNA you actually match with a connection- just a very conservative range such as “3rd-5th cousin” or “4th to distant cousin” for example. They also give no comparison tools or chromosome browsers. You’ll have to contact matches and convince them to upload at GEDMatch for those types of tools, which people don’t always respond to or see the value.

In summary

Here is what I suggest for getting the most bang for your buck- sign up for ebates which offers a $10 rebate on the Ancestry test. Purchase the Ancestry test, and be sure to use the Ancestry Coupon Code FREESHIPDNA for free shipping. Once this test has been taken and you get your results, transfer your raw data from Ancestry to FamilyTreeDNA and use the coupon “FTDNA5” for $5 off. This method will take your total cost from about $218 down to $123 for two tests. It’s almost like buying one and getting the second for $14 :) While there aren’t often any discounts for one single 23andMe kits, you get 20% each additional kit when more than one are purchased together.

Ebates Coupons and Cash Back
IMPORTANT NOTE FOR ADOPTEES!

If you or your gift recipient is adopted and trying to seek family members or parents, it is ESSENTIAL that they test at all three companies, and upload their data at the 3rd party site GEDMatch. Matches only come from the sites that they’ve tested (23andMe matches will not appear on your AncestryDNA list, etc). Having your data in all three databases is extremely important for those seeking unknown relatives.

Click here for more information on 3rd party sites and interesting things you can do once you get your data! (coming soon)

  • israelp

    Biggest “con” for ancestry is that there is no chromosome browser.

    • MTHmolly

      Ahh! Excellent point. Adding this now! Thanks for all the guidance :) You’ve taught me lots!