DNA testing comparisons

At the moment the three best places to test autosomal DNA are 23andmeAncestry.com, and Family Tree DNA (alphabetical order). If you can afford it, do them all. If you got your Ancestry DNA results before June 2016, you can take your results and upload them to Family Tree DNA at a slightly discounted price. Whichever one you use, upload the results to GEDmatch.com in order to compare to people who have tested elsewhere and get some different and perhaps better ancestry composition results. There is also a new site to upload your results to called DNA.land (see my blog post about that site) and MyHeritage.com is also taking DNA uploads and now is doing DNA testing (to be reviewed soon).

I created a comparison table of the things I consider important for my recent DNA Basics talk. You can download it here Download and see the slide at http://slides.com/kittycooper/dna-basics#/27

The ISOGG wiki has an excellent article about DNA testing here:

Unless you want to join a specific surname project or have mainly non-USA ancestors, I recommend that you test at Ancestry.com – which is best for the non-serious genetic genealogist because of its tree matching. If your ancestors are recently non-American, then use 23andme which has the largest non-USA database. I found most of my Norwegian cousins there. Use Family Tree DNA for older family members both to save their physical DNA and also since the cheek swab is easiest for them. Additionally perhaps get your Y STRs tested at Family Tree DNA if you are male and interested in your paternal line. Whichever testing company you choose, you can then upload your raw data to GEDmatch.comDNA.land, and MyHeritage.com to find matches from other testing services who have also uploaded to those sites.

Here are the details about each company in alphabetical order.


  • Twice the price of the others (currently $199) but only $99 if you skip the health part.
  • Best ancestry composition of the three.
  • Gives you health related information about your genes.
  • Has easy to use tools for looking at the data but it is a bit clunky now during their transition to a new site
  • Many of the people who have tested there are not interested in genealogy and will not respond to queries and invites, n.b. you cannot look at where you overlap people you are not sharing with unless you and they have selected “open sharing”
  • Tests SNPs on the Y chromosome which gives you your haplogroup (you also get your mtDNA haplogroup)
  • Has the second largest database and the most international customers (lots of Norwegians, very few Germans).


  • Connects you to those shaky leaves and thus often does the work of searching your cousin’s tree for you (see http://blog.kittycooper.com/2014/08/in-defense-of-ancestry-coms-dna-offering/ for an example)
  • Best for those with colonial ancestry
  • The largest database and getting larger every day because of all the folks with family trees there.
  • You cannot do chromosome comparisons with other testers there so you have to load your data to GEDmatch or DNA.land for that.
  • No tools for looking at the raw data
  • Wonderful automated tree matching for your DNA matches.

Sample of ancestryDNA’s tree matching

Family Tree DNA

  • Can compare yourself to anyone you match, so better for adoptees than 23andme.
  • Easy to look at matches but tools not as good as 23andme (cannot compare your matches to each other)
  • Has many surname and geographic projects: NorwayScandinavia YGermany mtDNA
  • Connects to the world family tree at GENI.com (see my post on DNA at GENI)
  • If you buy your test through a project you may get a discount.
  • Has the smallest database of autosomally tested people but presumably they are all interested in genealogy
  • Has many Ashkenazi testers.
  • Commits to storing your DNA for at least 25 years; thus additional tests can be run on it.
  • Uses a cheek swab to collect the DNA, rather than spit, which the other two use, so better for old folk.
  • Can test STRs on the Y chromosome which are more useful for recent genealogy, for surname research (father’s father’s father’s etc line), but this is a separate test from the family finder test.
  • For deeper ancestry, more detailed mtDNA testing is available here (again a separate test) which is the mother’s mother’s mother’s etc line
  • Best price, currently $79

If what you want to know is your deeper ethnic roots consider the nat GEO genome 2.0 project

If you want detailed health results and can afford it, try GENOS at $399 which claims to sequence your entire exome, thus 50 times more SNPs than the genealogy focused companies listed above. My results are just in and a blog post will come out about it soon!

An even more detailed discussion of where to test is in Kelly Wheaton’s Beginner’s Guide lesson 2 at https://sites.google.com/site/wheatonsurname/beginners-guide-to-genetic-genealogy/lesson-two-which-dna-test

Disclaimer: I am an affiliate with all three of the main companies so if you click one of my links and buy a kit, then I get a little something.


3 thoughts on “DNA testing comparisons

  1. These days if you test at 23andme you can then upload those autosomal test results to family tree DNA inexpensively as they use the same chip

  2. NB: Of course since 23andMe changed their chip at the end of 2013 you can no longer upload new test results from 23andMe to FTDNA… Although FTDNA expressed interest in reinstating the transferability, it seems unlikely that it will work out.

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