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, 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 former child migrant, 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 - now with over 2 million testers. AncestryDNA launched in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Canada during 2015 - but was only available in the US prior to then. AncestryDNA's database contains a large proportion of US testers, but is now accumulating more non-US participants. Many branches of UK & Irish families immigrated to the US, and 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 features.
Family Tree DNA has been very popular with Australians and New Zealanders for many years due to accessibility, affordability, the range of test types, and access to DNA projects. Family Tree DNA has an international database, offers Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA testing as well as autosomal DNA testing (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. surname projects) and mtDNA testers (direct maternal lineage), whereas AncestryDNA and 23andMe do not offer Y-DNA or mtDNA testing. If you want to test your Y-DNA or mtDNA, then you can only do it at Family Tree DNA. You can transfer your AncestryDNA raw data into Family Finder for autosomal matching, but you would need to provide a new DNA sample if you want to upgrade to Y-DNA &/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, consider testing with AncestryDNA and then transfer your raw data file to FTDNA (see Autosomal Transfers below).
AncestryDNA cleverly attempts to do the hard work of tree-matching for the user, providing a range of connection 'hints' based on similarities in the trees of your DNA matches. 23andMe and FTDNA have less sophisticated family trees, but provide tools for users to analyse their matches in detail and to confirm relationships, which AncestryDNA does not.
FTDNA's Family Finder allows you to connect your tested or confirmed relatives to your tree, to separate matches shared with the closest relatives into Paternal, Maternal or Both.
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. They have recently increased their prices quite significantly, and their product has become much more focused on health reporting and less on genealogy. Australian & New Zealand buyers do not receive any health information, and the international shipping is expensive.
If you want your DNA to be in more than one database, a recommended path for testing is to start with AncestryDNA and then transfer your raw data file to Family Tree DNA's Family Finder for a reduced cost than purchasing both tests separately (see Autosomal Transfers below).
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 from an Australian & NZ perspective:
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 edit your tree manually; 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$99; Y-DNA tests: Y37 US$169; Y67 US$268; Y111 US$359;
mtDNA tests: HVR1 & HVR2 US$69; Full Sequence US$199.
- Shipping: US$12.95 to Australia (approx AU$17); AU$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, National Geographic).
- Specials: Yes, several times per year.
- Tools: Yes, Chromosome Browser, Matrix, In-Common-With; Name & Ancestral Surname/Location searches.
- 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 8900 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$199 in the US; £125 in the UK; 20% discount on additional kits in the same order to the same address.
- Shipping: US$74.95 to Australia (approx AU$100); via courier; sample delivered & collected or may need to be returned to a DHL depot (depending on your local DHL 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 reports.
- Specials: No sales; 20% off additional kits purchased in one order to same address.
- Tools: Yes, a chromosome browser, but only useable for those 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, 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).
- 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 results 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; users must invite matches to share trees or correspond using 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 and DNA Circles. The cheapest Ancestry AU subscription is $179.99 per year or $21.99 per month. 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 Guest 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 an additional Editor of their DNA account, so you can access their results and add notes.
- 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 Kit Prices
Click images to enlarge or to copy links.
Kit prices for Australian & New Zealand residents:
Kit prices for UK residents:
Discounts: 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 (US$39 or free with 4 referrals). Note that you are not removing or deleting anything from your existing testing company, simply downloading a copy of your raw 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 (no contact details visible), and then pay to unlock all your matches if you like what you see. Until unlocked, your matches will not see you in their account.
If you are planning to test with more than one company, a more economical way to get your DNA into two out of the three international databases is to test with AncestryDNA first, and then transfer your AncestryDNA raw data to FTDNA (for US$39 or free with 4 referrals). Keep an eye out for sales that might make this option more attractive, especially if you plan to test more family members in the future.
23andMe raw data can only be transferred into FTDNA if the kit was purchased before Oct/Nov 2013 (V3 chip). All 23andMe kits sold since then use the V4 chip which tests fewer markers and is not compatible with FTDNA.
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 product. Note that you may get different results from each company, as they use different reference populations, different time periods (anywhere from approx. 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 numerous Admixture tools, and compare your data with ancient DNA sample kits. For more information, refer to ISOGG's Admixture Analyses.
- If your ancestry is mostly US-based or you are looking for US family, then AncestryDNA or 23andMe might be your first choices due to their large US autosomal databases.
- If your Ancestry family tree is your primary genealogy tool and your main focus, test with AncestryDNA first to exploit their tree matching features, then transfer your raw data to FTDNA to get more Australian & NZ matches, to add on other test types, and to join projects. Remember that you really need a subscription and a public tree to get the most out of AncestryDNA.
- 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 interesting 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 8900 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; WW1 Missing-in-Action DNA Legacy Project; Romany Gypsy DNA Project; and many more.
- If pricing is your main concern, the most affordable product for Australians & New Zealanders is still FTDNA. Don't feel as though you must test at all 3 companies just because others say you should, especially if you are not adopted or of unknown parentage. AncestryDNA is more expensive, requires an ongoing subscription to be really useful, provides no tools to confirm your matches, so it is not a necessary test unless you are already a subscriber and maintain an active and public tree. Thousands of AncestryDNA testers are transferring into FTDNA (once they become aware of the option), so you will get the benefit of those matches too. If you do want to test at AncestryDNA, take advantage of a sale and then later transfer a copy of your raw data to FTDNA in order to access projects, use analysis tools, and match with more Australian & NZ cousins.
- 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 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 (23andMe used to provide an Assisted Collection Kit, but no longer offers this option).
- In relation to testing very elderly or infirm relatives, if you test them at AncestryDNA and then transfer their autosomal raw data to FTDNA, 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 is with AncestryDNA who does not test mtDNA and Y-DNA (only FTDNA does those tests), so do not leave it until it's too late to get that priceless 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 in Australia or New Zealand and 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, purchase yourself a Family Finder kit from FTDNA, read more blogs and beginners' links, consider joining the Using DNA for Genealogy - Australia & NZ Facebook Group 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. In summing up, FTDNA has held a major advantage with price, accessiblity and features over the years, which has proved very attractive to Australian & New Zealand genealogists. 23andMe has a large health-focused database with less genealogical interest, and a super-fast but expensive courier service. AncestryDNA is very attractive to Ancestry subscribers and Ancestry tree users for their tree integration and leafy hints, although external tools are required to perform more detailed analysis and confirm matches.
As any of the three companies make changes to their offerings, I will update this page accordingly.
- 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