What's hidden in your chromosomes?

DNA & Genealogy

Which DNA testing company should I use?

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 accurate for very close relatives and recent generations, although it can also be effective making more distant connections.  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:

All are based in the US, and offer DNA test kits by mail and results online.

  • MyHeritage DNA is now offering DNA testing with ethnicity estimates and a matching database, but it will be some time before their database is large enough to be as effective as the big three listed above.  If you have already tested at any of the above companies, you can currently upload your raw data file for free matching.
  • Living DNA's test provides breakdowns into 80 regions including 21 British regions, and will be soon be adding people matching to its product.

 

Unknown Parentage

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.

 

Research Goals

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 more than 3 million people.  The AncestryDNA test was only available in the US until 2015, launching 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 their descendants in your list of DNA matches.  The number of matches from Australia, New Zealand, UK and Ireland is slowly increasing.  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 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.

Ideally, it is best to be in both of the above databases, as they contain many different participants.

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.  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.  If you have already tested with AncestryDNA and you 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).

FTDNA's tree system encourages linking DNA tests of known or confirmed relatives to your tree, which generates matches in the 'Paternal', 'Maternal' and 'Both' tabs on the Family Finder match results page.  23andMe no longer includes a family tree.  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.  Many 23andMe customers purchased kits for the health reports, so are less interested in corresponding re family connections.  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.  23andMe is often considered to have the best ethnicity estimates, and best tools for examining ethnicity results, but it can depend on the population group of interest.  23andMe transitioned their US customers to a new user interface over the last couple of years (called the 'New 23andMe' or the 'New Experience'), but international customers, including those in Australia and New Zealand, are still on the old user interface ('Old Experience').

Regardless of which testing company you select, once you get your results you can upload your raw autosomal DNA data file to a free site called Gedmatch, where you can compare your DNA to testers from other companies who have also uploaded to Gedmatch.

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 (Family Finder)
    Y-DNA tests:  Y37 US$169 ;   Y67 US$268;   Y111 US$359; 
    mtDNA tests: HVR1 & HVR2 US$79;  mt Full Sequence US$199.
  • Shipping:  US$12.95 to Australia (approx A$17); A$2.95 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.
  • 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).
  • Privacy:  Family Tree DNA's Privacy Policy & Terms of Service.
  • FTDNA Quick Reference

 

 

23andMe

  • 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:  No.
  • 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:  US$149 in Australia & NZ;  US$99 in USA;  £149 in 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.
  • Privacy:  23andMe may use your raw data (non-identifiable) for medical & pharmaceutical research purposes.  See their Terms of Service, Privacy Policy, and optional Research Consent information.
  • 23andMe Quick Reference

 

23 Pairs of Chromosomes. One Unique You. Get your DNA story at 23andMe.com.

 

AncestryDNA

  • 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 is included, but you can post kits back separately if needed; $8.50 for a 500g satchel).  If the voucher box is active/visible in the checkout, use code FREESHIPDNA to reduce the shipping by $9.95.
  • 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

 

AncestryDNA kit 

 

Autosomal DNA Test Price Comparison

Prices as at 17 February 2017.
Google Exchange Rates used for currency conversions.

Australia & New Zealand

  Kit Price Shipping Total  AUD  NZD    Shipping
FTDNA US$ 79 US$ 12.95  US$ 91.95  120  128   Return postage A$2.95
AncestryDNA A$149 A$ 29.99 A$ 178.99  179  191   Return postage included
23andMe US$ 149 US$ 74.95 US$ 223.95  292  311   Return postage included

 

United Kingdom & Ireland

  Kit Price Shipping Total GBP   Shipping
FTDNA US$ 79 US$ 12.95 US$ 91.95 74   Return postage extra
AncestryDNA £ 79 £ 20 £ 99 99   Return postage included
23andMe
£ 149 included £ 149 149   Return postage included

 

United States of America

  Kit Price Shipping Total
USD   Shipping
FTDNA US$ 79 US$ 12.95 US$ 91.95 92   Return postage included
AncestryDNA US$ 99 US$ 9.95 US$ 108.95 109   Return postage included
23andMe *
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

 

Canada

  Kit Price Shipping Total
CAD Shipping
FTDNA US$ 79 US$ 12.95 US$ 91.95 120 Return postage extra
AncestryDNA C$ 149 C$ 19.95 C$ 168.95 169 Return postage included
23andMe
C$ 249 C$ 19.95 C$ 268.95 269 Return postage included

 

Europe

  Kit Price Shipping Total
EUR Shipping
FTDNA US$ 79 US$ 12.95 US$ 91.95 86 Return postage extra
23andMe
€ 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.

 

Autosomal Transfer

Family Tree DNA's Autosomal Transfer Program accepts transfers inwards 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 from your testing company and uploading it to FTDNA.  You can transfer to FTDNA's Family Finder for free and see all your matches and access the Matrix tool.  For US$19 you can choose to unlock the full features of Family Finder - including the chromosome browser, your myOrigins ethnicity estimate and your ancientOrigins.

FTDNA's Autosomal Transfer Program accepts raw DNA data files from AncestryDNA, 23andMe (from Nov 2010), and will soon be accepting transfers from MyHeritage and the Genographic Project.

 

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 population samples, different regional clusters, different time periods (anywhere from 200 to 2000 years ago), and different algorithms.  They are all updating and evolving their products, reference databases and clusters over time, so any results you get now may be 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 also 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 have British ancestry, you may be very interested in the new Living DNA test that provides regional breakdowns into 80 worldwide regions including 21 British regions (Living DNA does not yet have a matching database for connecting with cousins who share the same DNA as you, but they are planning on adding one very soon).
  • If your ancestry is mostly US-based or you are looking for US family, then AncestryDNA would be ideal due to large number of US testers in their database.
  • If your Ancestry family tree is your primary genealogy tool and your main focus, consider testing 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 still 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, so a separate sample is needed.
  • 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 participate in 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 and 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 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, so do not leave it until it's too late to get that precious sample to FTDNA for those additional important 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 AncestryDNA and/or Family Finder, 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 available testing companies - for interest, experience and exposure to all databases.  In summing up, FTDNA is most affordable and has great tools, projects and offers additional test types; AncestryDNA's huge database and clever tree matching features are best exploited by having a subscription and a public tree; 23andMe is primarily health-focused with less genealogical interest and responsiveness, and has a fast but expensive courier service.

I will update this page whenever the testing companies make changes to their products.

 

Further Information

 

 

 

Overall Rating (4)

4.5 out of 5 stars
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  • Thank you Scott. You are right, but unfortunately here in Aust/NZ, as you are probably aware, we can't get the health reports from 23andMe - they are only available in the US, UK, Ireland & Canada. Many genealogists have commented that uploading their autosomal DNA raw data files to Promethease.com is giving them more detailed health information than the New 23andMe reports. There are some more health-related DNA testing companies emerging now too, including Livewell, GenetiConcept, Genes for Good, and WeGene (China). The DNA data files from these can now also be uploaded to Gedmatch, so health-focused testers can do more analysis and find genealogical matches as well. :)

  • Graeme

    Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    Thanks for this article, I was a little confused with which service was best to use, and this has really helped.

    I have some suspicion that I have some Aboriginal Australian on my mother's side, but when I've asked any of the services if their test would show that, they've all said that it won't be that specific, it would only show up as "Oceania" or "South Pacific". I'd be interested to know if there is a test available that will show Australian Aboriginal background, but in the meantime I'm happy to go for the Family Finder I think, just to get an idea of where I'm from!

  • Hi Graeme, you are right that the testing companies don't specifically show Aboriginality just yet, but it may show as South East Asian, Oceanic or Melanesian, depending on which company you test at. The companies may refine or add more population groups in the future if they develop reference populations for such (you won't need to upgrade, your results will just be updated). In the meantime, you may match relatives with Aboriginal ancestry, which could help you with your research. If the suspected Aboriginality is on your mother's direct maternal line (ie. her mother's mother's mother's mother, etc), then a mitochondrial DNA test could reflect that (you inherit mtDNA from your mother). There is also an Aboriginal Tribes Australia DNA Project at FTDNA (for mtDNA or Y-DNA) that could be of interest to you. Cheers, Louise

  • CK

    I am a little suspect that you are funded by Ancestry

  • I wish! Unfortunately for me I am not funded or assisted by any of the testing companies. I have not received any free test kits for review either. I have paid for all my own tests, and all my information and observations above are from my own extensive experience using the products and helping hundreds of others use them as well (volunteer coach, presenter, support group leader, online groups' administrator, family history society volunteer, people searcher, and genetic genealogy pro bono services). This post aims to help beginners choose the most appropriate test for them, alerting them to the pros, cons, and costs of each. Hopefully it also helps beginners avoid wasting money on the many expensive ‘non-genealogy’ DNA tests advertised elsewhere that many get tricked into purchasing and end up very disappointed. The more people that test, the more matches everyone else gets. I update this page often, as the products and their features are evolving very rapidly. Perhaps you should try FTDNA's Family Finder test - you can't go wrong with that.

  • haylie

    Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    Thank you so much that was the most amazing review. I have NEVER EVER commented on any website but I had to thank you I research and look at reviews for everything and this was so well put, easier to understand and answered questions I didn't even think to ask.

  • Thank you Haylie, I hope it has convinced you to test your DNA and if so, I hope you get some interesting and exciting results. :)

  • John Mc

    Thank you Louise,
    Sorry to ask personal advice on my test...on my Dads Maternal (mother, mothers, mothers, Mother) I suspect to find a Aboriginal woman....My Dad is deceased, so I was going to ask his Brother or Sister to do the Test. Which one do I ask ?; Brother or sister for accuracy or do I just do it myself ?....& do I need a specific test for that line ? & is it part of a standard ancestry test ?

  • Hi John,
    To learn about your father's mother's direct maternal line (using mitochondrial DNA), you could test either of his siblings, as all children inherit mtDNA from their mothers, so your Dad's brother and sister's mtDNA should be the same as his. Your mtDNA is from your own mother, so not the right line. You don't have to do the mtDNA test, but if there was an Aboriginal woman on that line, it may show up as mtDNA haplogroup 'M'. You could start with an autosomal DNA test (eg. AncestryDNA or Family Finder), as that will match you with cousins (who have also tested) from all your ancestral lines, going back about 5 or 6 generations. So you may find some maternal line cousins that share DNA with you. You could do the autosomal DNA test on either or both of your father's siblings, or on yourself (for all your lines). Your father's siblings are one generation closer to their mother than you are, so should get some stronger matches to that maternal line. Read about the different test types and how they apply to your ancestry. Good luck! :)

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