Once you've decided to test your DNA as a part of your family history research, and which person to test and which test type, the next consideration is which DNA testing company to use.
This guide applies specifically to autosomal DNA tests with matching databases, and is from the perspective of testers living in Australia & New Zealand, although much of it is general to all testers.
As a brief reminder, anyone can do an autosomal DNA test, and it can match you with relatives on all ancestral lines. It is most effective within the last 5 or 6 generations, and is most accurate for very close relatives. Autosomal DNA tests also include admixture/ethnicity estimates.
The 3 big DNA testing companies
There are three major direct-to-consumer DNA testing companies for genealogical people-matching purposes:
- Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) - www.familytreedna.com
- 23andMe - www.23andMe.com
- AncestryDNA - dna.ancestry.com.au
All are based in the US, and all offer DNA test kits by mail and results online.
If you are adopted, donor-conceived, a foundling, a war baby, of unknown parentage for any other reason, or the cost is not a consideration, then it is recommended that you test with all three companies to maximise your exposure and connections to biological relatives in all the international databases.
When selecting a testing company, consider your research goals, proposed test types, who you want to match with and which database they might be more likely to be in.
AncestryDNA has the largest database with over 2 million people - mostly US testers, as its test was only available in the US until 2015. AncestryDNA launched in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Canada during 2015, and in more countries during 2016. Many branches of UK & Irish families emigrated to the US, so you will likely find many of them in your list of DNA matches. AncestryDNA is an autosomal DNA test only, and requires a subscription to access the most useful matching features.
Family Tree DNA is very popular in Australia, New Zealand, UK, Ireland and internationally. It has been available outside the US for five years longer than AncestryDNA has, it is more affordable, does not require a subscription, sells a range of test types, and hosts thousands of DNA projects. Family Tree DNA also offers Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests as well as their autosomal DNA test (called Family Finder), provides tools for analysis, and displays names and email addresses for direct contact with your genetic matches.
FTDNA has large databases of Y-DNA testers (eg. direct paternal lineage/surname projects) and mtDNA testers (direct maternal lineage), whereas AncestryDNA and 23andMe do not offer Y-DNA or mtDNA testing. If you transfer your AncestryDNA raw data into Family Finder for autosomal matching (up to May 2016), you would need to provide a DNA sample to FTDNA if you want to upgrade to Y-DNA and/or mtDNA.
AncestryDNA's best asset is their huge collection of member trees that can be linked to DNA accounts, so if you are already an Ancestry subscriber and maintain a public Ancestry tree or are intending to start one soon, testing with AncestryDNA is a great choice. If you have already tested with AncestryDNA and received your results before the end of May 2016, you can transfer your raw data file to Family Tree DNA's Family Finder for US$39 (see Autosomal Transfers below).
AncestryDNA attempts to match family trees for the user, providing a range of connection 'hints' based on similarities in the trees of your DNA matches. FTDNA's tree system encourages linking DNA tests of known relatives to your tree, which generates matches in the 'Paternal', 'Maternal' and 'Both' tabs on the Family Finder match results page. 23andMe links to MyHeritage family trees (requires a subscription for trees larger than 250 people). FTDNA and 23andMe provide tools for users to analyse their matches in detail and to confirm relationships, but AncestryDNA does not.
23andMe still sells their kits to Australia from the US, even though they have previously expressed interest in selling DNA kits directly in Australia in the future. 23andMe launched in the UK and Canada in late 2014. 23andMe now offers an ancestry-only product in the US for US$99 (no health reports), but the price is still much higher for international purchasers. Australian & New Zealand buyers do not receive any health information, and the international shipping is very expensive.
The genetic genealogy industry is moving at a very fast pace, so I update this page often.
Genealogy DNA testing companies
...and their main features.
Family Tree DNA
- Website: FamilyTreeDNA.com
- History: Since 2000; the first genealogy DNA testing company for consumers.
- Database: International.
- Family Tree: Yes, one myFamilyTree per tester's account; Upload a Gedcom or build/edit your tree manually; Link your known or confirmed DNA-tested relatives to your trees; Trees can be Private or Public; Global public search (box at top left of FTDNA web pages).
- Test types: Autosomal DNA (Family Finder), Y-DNA (37, 67, 111) and mitochondrial DNA (mtPlus, FMS), plus more specialty tests (eg. SNPs, Big Y).
- Ethnic makeup: Yes, included in Family Finder (myOrigins).
- Price: Autosomal: US$79 Sale US$59 (Family Finder) Bundle deals also available
Y-DNA tests: Y37 US$169 Sale US$139; Y67 US$268 Sale US$229; Y111 US$359 Sale US$319;
mtDNA tests: HVR1 & HVR2 US$79; mt Full Sequence US$199 Sale US$179.
- Shipping: US$12.95 to Australia (approx A$17); A$2.75 to post back to US. Postage takes approximately 2-3 weeks in each direction.
- Sample: FTDNA's cheek swabs are easy to use for all ages
- Storage: Stores sample for 25 years; Existing samples used for test upgrades.
- Transfers: FTDNA's Autosomal Transfer Program of raw data from other companies (eg. 23andMe V3 only; AncestryDNA V1, up to May 2016; National Geographic).
- Specials: Yes, several times per year. Annual Holiday Sale Now On!
- Tools: Yes, Chromosome Browser, Matrix, In-Common-With; Name & Ancestral Surname/Location searches; Parental Phasing.
- Downloads: One-click download of matches to Excel or CSV format; Raw data downloadable for use with external tools, including GEDmatch.
- Match details: Testers' name, email address, date matched, haplogroups, tests undertaken (optional: ancestral surnames, family tree, most distant known ancestors).
- Autosomal SNPs tested: about 690,000
- Autosomal match thresholds: Minimum 7.69 cM & 500 SNPs for the largest segment; If the largest segment is less than 9 cM, a 20 cM total is required (including shorter segments) to be shown as a match.
- Health Reports: No, but you can upload your raw data to Promethease.com for $US5.
- Projects: Over 9000 FTDNA projects (surnames, geographical, haplogroup, dual geographical - see summary below).
- FTDNA Quick Reference
- Website: www.23andMe.com
- History: Since 2006; originally health reporting, expanded into genealogy. Limited health reporting for US, Canada & UK residents; No health reporting for Australia or New Zealand. Users must opt-in to genealogy matching.
- Database: International; mostly US to date, but will change over time.
- Family Tree: Yes, integrated with MyHeritage family trees; Requires a subscription once you exceed 250 people in your tree.
- Test types: Autosomal DNA (includes low level Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroup predictions - useful for ancient population migratory groups, but not relevant to genealogical timeframes or people-matching).
- Ethnic makeup: Yes, included.
- Price: Autosomal US$149 in Australia & NZ; US$99 in the US; £149 in the UK; C$249 in Canada, €169 in Europe.
- Shipping: US$74.95 to Australia (approx AU$100); via courier; sample delivered & collected (or may need to be returned to a courier depot, depending on local services); US$41 shipping for additional kits in the same order to the same address.
- Sample: Saliva sample - infants, the elderly or infirm may find it difficult to produce saliva (tips & tricks).
- Storage: Testers have the option of biobanking or discarding their sample (during kit activation, the storage option is 'from 1 to 10 years').
- Transfers: Does not accept transfers from other companies; Raw data from kits purchased prior to December 2013 (V3) can be transferred into FTDNA, but current kits (V4) are not compatible for transfer into FTDNA. If you are unsure of your chip version (eg. V3, V4), it is listed just after your kit number in GEDmatch One-to-many reports.
- Specials: No sales.
- Tools: Yes, a chromosome browser, but only usable on matches who have accepted your invitation to share genomes or those who have opted in to Open Sharing.
- Downloads: Raw data downloadable for use with external tools, including GEDmatch.
- Match details: Match name (if their profile is set to public); Many matches are anonymous so no details are visible, and some cannot be contacted; No email addresses - you must invite matches to share using 23andMe's messaging system; (Optional: ancestral surnames; family tree).
- Autosomal SNPs tested: 577,382
- Autosomal match thresholds: Minimum 7 cM & 700 SNPs for the largest segment; 5 cM & 700 SNPs for additional segments (and for people you are sharing with).
- Health Reports: Australia & New Zealand: No; US (US$199), Canada, UK & Ireland: Yes. You can upload your raw data to Promethease.com for US$5.
- 23andMe Quick Reference
- Website: dna.ancestry.com.au
- History: Since 2012 through Ancestry.com
- Database: Mostly US to-date, but is slowly gaining more international testers; huge number of member trees.
- Family Tree: Yes, you can link your DNA results (and those of your relatives) to your Ancestry Family Tree.
- Test types: Autosomal DNA only.
- Ethnic makeup: Yes, included.
- Price: Autosomal AU$149 plus shipping AU$29.99.
- Shipping: Shipping for Australia & New Zealand is AU$29.99 per kit (includes a return-paid satchel); $10 per kit for additional kits in the same order to the same address (only one return-paid satchel included, but you can post kits back separately if needed; $8.25 for a 500g satchel).
- Sample: Saliva sample - infants, the elderly or infirm may find it difficult to produce saliva.
- Storage: No storage options, although Terms & Conditions mention they keep your sample.
- Transfers: Does not accept transfers from other companies; You can transfer AncestryDNA V1 (up to May 2016) into FTDNA.
- Specials: Yes, occasionally. Look for banners on the Ancestry website.
- Tools: Shared Ancestor Hints (tree matching), DNA Circles, New Ancestor Discoveries. No analysis tools provided. The Ancestry trees of DNA matches are compared and suggestions are made based on similarities in trees, surnames and locations.
- Downloads: Raw data downloadable for use with external tools, GEDmatch, and transfer to FTDNA.
- Match details: Admin's username (no email address); total shared cMs and number of segments; communication via Ancestry's messaging system.
- Autosomal SNPs tested: 682,549
- Autosomal match thresholds: 5 cMs for the first segment.
- Health Reports: No, but you can upload your raw data to Promethease.com for US$5.
- Subscription: An Ancestry subscription is required to access some features. You can contact your matches and access your raw data without a subscription, but you'll need a subscription to view your matches' trees, to see shared surnames & birth locations, and to see Shared Ancestor Hints, DNA Circles and New Ancestor Discoveries (NADs). The cheapest Ancestry AU subscription is $179.99 per year or $21.99 per month. There is no reduced-price DNA Insights subscription for Australia. See more information on AncestryDNA with and without an Ancestry subscription. TIP: If you have a subscription and you buy kits for relatives, activate their kits in your own account, and give the tester access to their DNA & ethnicity results and also to your tree, so they won't need their own subscription to view your tree (they still won't see matches' trees unless they have their own subscription). If relatives activate their own kit, ask them to add you as a Guest or Editor of their DNA account, so you can access their results.
- Privacy: AncestryDNA's Terms & Conditions. Also read AncestryDNA's Consent Agreement in relation to optional participation in health & research projects. Review your options in regards to the Consent Agreement, and see AncestryDNA's FAQ.
- AncestryDNA Quick Reference
Autosomal DNA Test Price Comparison
Prices as at 14 November 2016.
Google Exchange Rates used for currency conversions.
Australia & New Zealand
|FTDNA||US$ 59||US$ 12.95||US$ 71.95||95||101||Return postage A$ 2.75|
|AncestryDNA||A$149||A$ 29.99||A$ 178.99||179||190||Return postage included|
|23andMe||US$ 149||US$ 74.95||US$ 223.95||297||316||Return postage included|
United Kingdom & Ireland
|FTDNA||US$ 59||US$ 12.95||US$ 71.95||57||Return postage extra|
|AncestryDNA||£ 79||£ 20||£ 99||99||Return postage included|
||£ 149||included||£ 149||149||Return postage included|
United States of America
|FTDNA||US$ 59||US$ 12.95||US$ 71.95||72|| Return postage included
|AncestryDNA||US$ 99||US$ 9.95||US$ 108.95||109||Return postage included|
||US$ 99||US$ 9.95||US$ 108.95||109||Return postage included|
|* Ancestry-only kit; 23andMe also sells a Health + Ancestry kit in the US for US$199.|
|FTDNA||US$ 59||US$ 12.95||US$ 71.95||98|| Return postage extra
|AncestryDNA||C$ 149||C$ 19.95||C$ 168.95||169||Return postage included|
||C$ 249||C$ 19.95||C$ 268.95||269||Return postage included|
|FTDNA||US$ 59||US$ 12.95||US$ 71.95||67|| Return postage extra
||€ 169||included||€ 169.00||169||Return postage included|
|AncestryDNA kit prices and shipping will vary by country.|
Before ordering, don't forget to check for current discount vouchers or sales.
Family Tree DNA's Autosomal Transfer Program accepts transfers of autosomal DNA raw data from other companies. Note that you are not removing or deleting anything from your existing testing company, simply downloading a copy of your raw DNA data file and uploading it to FTDNA. You can transfer to FTDNA's Family Finder for free and view limited information on your Top 20 matches without paying anything, and then pay the US$39 to unlock all your matches if you like what you see. Until unlocked, no match contact details are visible, and your matches will not see you in their account. There is also a referral program, whereby if you refer 4 other AncestryDNA testers to click on your URL to initiate their transfer, your results will be unlocked for free.
AncestryDNA raw data can only be transferred into FTDNA if the results were released before the end of May 2016 (V1 chip). 23andMe raw data can only be transferred into FTDNA if the kit was purchased before Oct/Nov 2013 (V3 chip). Kits after those dates changed format are not compatible with FTDNA, but FTDNA is working to re-instate their Autosomal Transfer Program soon.
If you previously had your DNA tested though the National Geographic Genographic Project, you can transfer your results into FTDNA for free. That will bring in your Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroup results, but you will need to re-test to get people matches and autosomal results. The new Geno 2.0 New Generation test (from Oct 2015) is a significant upgrade on the earlier Geno 1 & 2 tests, and testers can transfer their results to FTDNA for free. Testers will see the Y-DNA SNPs and haplogroup and the mtDNA haplogroup. Once transferred, results may be upgraded to include Family Finder for US$39.
So, which company do I choose?
Consider all the pros and cons above, and your goals, and see what is most important to you.
- If you are only interested in discovering your ethnic makeup but not your genealogy, all three companies include ethnic predictions in their autosomal products. Note that you may get different results from each company, as they use different reference populations, different time periods (anywhere from 200 to 2000 years ago), and different algorithms. They are all updating and evolving their products, groups and clusters over time, so any results you get now may be refined/updated later. Some testers prefer 23andMe for their more detailed predictions which are provide at 3 levels: standard, conservative and speculative. Regardless of which company you choose, you can upload your raw data to GEDmatch to experiment with their free Admixture tools, and compare your data with ancient DNA sample kits. For more information, refer to ISOGG's Admixture Analyses. If you are not interested in the matching database (connecting with cousins who share the same DNA as you) and you have British ancestry, you may be interested in the new Living DNA test that provides regional breakdowns into 80 regions including 21 British counties.
- If your ancestry is mostly US-based or you are looking for US family, then AncestryDNA might be your first choices due to large US participation.
- If your Ancestry family tree is your primary genealogy tool and your main focus, you may prefer to test with AncestryDNA to exploit their tree matching features. Note that you need a subscription and a public tree to get the most out of the AncestryDNA tree matching features (you can view match usernames and send them messages without a subscription).
- If you want to test yours or a relative's Y-DNA and mtDNA to a genealogically-relevant level, Family Tree DNA is the only company that sells those tests.
- If you test multiple types of DNA (eg. Family Finder, Y-DNA, mtDNA), they can be administered in one account at FTDNA, and the Advanced Matches tool can be used to look for matches across the different test types.
- If you want to join DNA projects at FTDNA, such as surnames, geographical or dual/multi projects, or start your own projects, you will need to either test with or transfer your autosomal DNA raw data into Family Tree DNA. There are over 9000 projects, including: Australian Citizens DNA Project; Australian Settlers DNA Project; Australian Convicts DNA Project; New Zealand DNA Project; Aboriginal Tribes Australia DNA Project; British Isles by County DNA Project; Ireland Y-DNA Project; Ireland mtDNA Project; Kilkenny Surnames DNA Project; Cork DNA Project; Fathers, Sons & Brothers Y-DNA Project; Mothers, Daughters & Sisters mtDNA Project; WW1 Missing-in-Action DNA Legacy Project; Romany Gypsy DNA Project; and many more.
- If pricing is your main concern, the most affordable product is FTDNA's Family Finder. AncestryDNA is more expensive, requires an ongoing subscription to be most useful for genealogy purposes. 23andMe is the most expensive - partially due to their expensive courier service, and its primary focus on health makes it the least popular for genealogy purposes.
- If you are intending to test an infant, an elderly relative, or someone in poor health, be aware that they may find it difficult to produce enough saliva for a sample (as required by 23andMe and AncestryDNA; 'dribble' is no good, it must be saliva). Medications can cause dryness of the mouth and make it very difficult for some people to produce saliva. FTDNA is the only company that uses a cotton-toothed swab to scrape cheek cells - easy sample collection for any age or circumstances.
- In relation to testing very elderly or infirm relatives, if you test them at AncestryDNA for autosomal matching, consider that you will still need a new sample from them if you later decide you want to upgrade and test their mtDNA and/or Y-DNA. Their original sample will be with AncestryDNA who do not test mtDNA or Y-DNA (only FTDNA does those tests), so do not leave it until it's too late to get that precious sample to FTDNA for those additional important tests. If you test with AncestryDNA, lookout for FTDNA's regular sales on Y-DNA and mtDNA tests.
- If you are just venturing into genetic genealogy for the first time and don't really know what to do or where to start, or you are simply curious about what your DNA might reveal, simply start with either Family Finder or AncestryDNA, read more blogs and beginners' links, consider joining the Using DNA for Genealogy - Australia & NZ &/or DNA for Genealogy - UK Facebook Groups to observe or ask questions, join some of the projects listed above, and gradually learn more about Y-DNA and mtDNA before considering adding those additional tests to your account further down the track.
Many keen genealogists test themselves at all three companies - for interest, experience and exposure to all three databases. In summing up, FTDNA is most affordable and has great tools, projects and offers additional test types; AncestryDNA's huge database and clever matching features are best exploited by having a subscription and a public tree; 23andMe is mainly health-focused with less genealogical interest and responsiveness, and has a fast but expensive courier service.
As any of the three companies make changes to their offerings, I will update this page accordingly.
- Books on Genetic Genealogy
- DNA Success Stories
- Autosomal 2015 - Which Test is the Best? - Roberta Estes (US)
- ISOGG Autosomal DNA testing company comparison chart
- Genealogy & ethnicity DNA testing - 3 legitimate companies - Roberta Estes
- ISOGG Shipping DNA kits
- ISOGG Choosing a DNA testing company
- ISOGG Before you buy
- ISOGG List of DNA testing companies