When I decided to look into DNA testing, I found several services that were under $100, but two in particular, AncestryDNA and 23andme, seemed to be the most popular. I already had a tree at Ancestry, which made their service attractive, but I had heard 23andme provides more information than the AncestryDNA test. Eventually I ended up testing with both, primarily because I couldn’t find any information on which was the best DNA test. Now having tried AncestryDNA and 23andme’s test, I thought it might be helpful to share an in-depth AncestryDNA vs 23andme review and comparison. Note that both companies make updates to better their service fairly often, and I do my best to keep this page updated as both 23andme and AncestryDNA also give users who have previously tested those updates. The most recent update to this page was in April of 2018.
First, the basics, AncestryDNA vs 23andme testing cost and offerings:
AncestryDNA: $99: Ethnic mix profile, DNA matches, DNA circles, genetic communities (new 2017) and raw DNA.
The AncestryDNA test is actually cheaper via Amazon Prime, because you get free shipping, but if you order direct from AncestryDNA you can get 10% off with this referral link. With both options it’s worth checking out Ebates. They are a cash-back shopping site that pays quarterly via PayPal. AncestryDNA is usually at around 7.5% cash back, and Amazon is about 3%.
23andme: $99: Ethnic mix profile, ancestry timeline (new 2017), maternal/paternal line origin (paternal for males only, requires Y chromosome, updated 2017), Neanderthal percentage, top surnames, DNA matches, and raw DNA.
Note: 23andme offers two service levels, if you wish to include medical risk profiles, the test cost increases to $199. Recently 23andme also became available on Amazon Prime for $99 with free shipping or $199 with free shipping. I have also published an in-depth comparison of the two testing options here.
So, price wise, AncestryDNA vs 23andme are the same.
Now, in-depth AncestryDNA vs 23andme: What the heck are all those DNA services you get and how do they compare to one another?
Ethnic Mix profile: Both AncestryDNA and 23andme offer this. Basically, your genes are compared to samples from specific populations of people, and then you are given a percentage for each. In April 2018, 23andme added 150 new counties to their profiles, as well as more precise country-based estimates. The 23andme report for comparison to AncestryDNA below is updated to this newer version. In order to be fair, I also updated my AncestryDNA results. They are the same statistically, though a redesign had occurred since this review was originally written, reports are a bit more interactive and “pretty” than before.
As you can see, in ways they were the same. Both profiles found a very small percentage of West African (Mali) and Native American, with the vast majority being European. AncestryDNA claimed a large percentage was “Europe West” and “Great Britain” while 23andme seemed to favored “British and Irish” and “French/German,” but also found a bit of “Scandinavian” and “Ashkenazi Jewish. ” France and Germany happen to be in western Europe so really my reports were pretty close.
Since the update, 23andme’s report is far more detailed, for instance, while AncestryDNA had a similar percentage of British/Irish for me, 23andme shows that DNA most likely originating in the UK, rather than Ireland. Note that I did include the entire report including regions I have no DNA in so that you could see all the categories. This report is sort of a compressed Frankenstein made in paint from screen shots to reduce white space and attempt to fit it better on this page (sorry mobile users), your result will be more in a scroll-able page format. This image (and all those on this page actually) can be clicked to visit a full size attachment page if you have trouble with the small print.
The dots represent the percentage match you have for people who originate from that particular country. While 23andme’s list is far larger, AncestryDNA has actually been doing this for years to some degree. If you click each category in your report, a bar will show up (as seen below) that gives a range. This is your percentage match with people from that region. For comparison, in the UK, 23andme had me at 5 circles (it does not specify what each circle represents percentage wise) and AncestryDNA said 6 to 61 percent.
The interactive portion of AnctestryDNA’s site update did also enhance it’s family tree research ability. You can pick a time frame (bar at bottom of picture) and you’ll be shown more detail, including actual people in your tree (if you have one). This feature would be less neat without a tree, and while you can build one for free if you have your own information, searching and viewing sources on Ancestry does require a subscription. You are offered 50% off of that subscription with test purchase.
In reality, from what is known of my family lines I have a great deal of Norwegian, French, British, and Scottish, so both AncestryDNA and 23andme’s reports seem plausible. This brings me to an important point.
Ethnicity estimates from DNA testing like this are genetic heritage, not genealogical. You could think of your genes like one big historical bag of traits including genes from all of your ancestors. The actual genes that make you up are just a random roll of the dice from those genes. So while the last 3 generations of your line may be, say, straight from Norway, your genes could represent family from thousands of years ago. That being said, then why did AncestryDNA and 23andme get different results? It’s all in how they are weighing their sample sources. Personally, I felt both profiles useful, particularly combined. Europe is such a jumble of genes it’s hard to say what came from what population, that’s where “broadly” European comes into play. To me this says my genes are heavily European, likely northwestern—Scotland, Norway, Britain, and France—my actual known heritage— included.
AncestryDNA and 23andme do differ in that at 23andme if you have a parent test, they will update your genetic report by incorporating your parents results. You can read more on this process here. After this review was written my mother tested at 23andme, and my percentages did change (I have a comparison of those two reports down below under, “23andme vs AncestryDNA accuracy”). You are also given a side-by-side look at your composition next to your parent.
Early in 2017, 23andme also upped their game a bit, adding in a new ancestry timeline to ancestry composition results. This is a timeline guessing at the time frame that certain genes entered your ancestry. You can hover over each bar to get more detailed information, such as which ancestor the genes may have come from (ex/ great grandparent).
Possibly in reaction to 23andme, AncestryDNA also revealed a new feature in 2017 called genetic communities. By comparing your DNA to your matches and their family origin locations a map is built guessing at areas your family may have actually lived. You can see some screenshots of my results below. You get a short history of the region (not pictured), the probability of this match being accurate for you, matches that were used to determine the region, and common surnames in the region. This same info is used in the interactive map I shared above.
Overall, in regards to ethnicity reports alone when comparing AncestryDNA vs 23andme, I’d say AncestryDNA wins for tracking genealogical heritage, and 23andme wins on the genetic end.
Over at 23andme you get a few more genetic heritage profiles that AncestryDNA does not offer as well.
I’m not a scientist, so I’ll just use their description of this service,
“…haplogroups are families of mitochondrial DNA types that all trace back to a single mutation at a specific place and time. By looking at the geographic distribution of mtDNA types, we learn how our ancient female ancestors migrated throughout the world.” My results (to give you a sample)
As a female, I only got my maternal line. The paternal haplogroup is from a Y chromosome, so to get this info my father or brother would have to test. To clarify here as there have been numerous comments now asking about this, 23andme and ancestryDNA are both autosomal DNA tests. This means that no matter your gender, you will get results from both your maternal and paternal lines in regards to ancestry. My note here about a brother or father testing was ONLY for the haplogroup information given at 23andme shown above.
NEW August 2017: 23andme expanded their haplogroup information to include a much better explanation of what haplogroups are as well as the ability to trace your line back throughout time. You get a brief look at where and when each mutation in the group occurred, how common your group is, and famous relatives that also shared your haplogroup (I got Marie Antoinette!).
Neanderthal percentage: This is what it sounds, a percentage of your DNA that is inherited from Neanderthal genetics as well as traits likely to result of the variants you have in particular. For instance, I have a variant more likely to result in straight hair (though my hair is not straight). I do question the accuracy here. I tested with AncestryDNA first, and curious about this part I ran my DNA though a calculator designed by an expert in Neanderthal DNA at Standford (you can do it too here, it’s free) It counts known Neanderthal alleles and lists them. I had 16, the average is 5-6. My husband also tested at 23andme. According to them, he is more Neanderthal than I am, but according to the Interpretome calculator it’s significantly the other way around (he had 11). (pics below) I suppose what this will confirm is that you have some at all (most people do.)
Top surnames: This is found on your DNA relatives tab, it combs through your DNA matches and compiles a count of surnames associated with those matches. My matches, for example, told me I had 44 matches with the surname “Smith” and 33 with “Johnson.” This is a fast way to identify likely family lines.
DNA matches: Back to a service both tests offer. Both show you DNA matches and estimate closeness. Here were my match stats when I first tested:
AncestryDNA: 2 second cousins, 2 third cousins, 93 fourth cousins, 5,003 distant cousins!
23andme: 10 2/3rd, 852 fourth, 62 distant
Results there will obviously vary, but I’d wager AncestryDNA has a larger pool of matches from those results. In 2018, I’d win that wager with AncestryDNA’s FAQ listing their database size as 10 million, and 23andme stating half that at 5 million. The real difference is in ease of genealogical use though. Why I’d say Ancestry is better if you’re looking to confirm or create your family tree is that they filter your matches by name matches in your tree. No effort. You click the leaf filter, click a match with a leaf, it shows common names in your trees so you can see just where you relate. Now the catch, some trees are private, and out of over 5,000 matches, I had 14 DNA/common tree member matches. These helped me tremendously, but it is disappointing the percentage was so small. Even without a common member, many matches’ trees were a click away to search for common surnames.
AncestryDNA match screen:
I did attempt to make a tree over at 23andme, but they outsource that to “myheritage tree” a family tree service that is in my opinion a bit clunky—and worse expensive—more so than ancestry’s tree builder even. I also could not and still do not see an easy way to compare matches to trees at myheritage, in fact, I don’t even see an indication of whether a match has a tree. To find out, you have to contact every single match to ask. Something I could see wasting a great deal of time. In my book this made AncestryDNA a clear winner as far as family tree research in an AncestryDNA vs 23andme comparison.
Sample of 23andme match screen (updated since original stats were taken):
Finally, raw DNA download. This is a just a copy of your raw DNA results, you can do some other cool things with this, such as the Neanderthal test I linked back there. My favorite though is Promethease. This report costs $5. What it does is cross checks your genes against studies done on individual genes. For example, it found I have a gene that makes me sneeze at sun light, and my husband had a gene that made cilantro taste like soap. It also reveals more serious info, like increased genetic risk for medical conditions. It is well worth the $5, and shows more than 23andme’s expensive health reports upgrade. If you’re interested in weight loss and exercise, Athletigen is fun too.
AncestryDNA vs 23andme: Accuracy:
Both companies are clear in their FAQ that ethnicity reports are estimates, accuracy then will obviously vary, because well, that’s the nature of an estimate.
On April 25, 2018 for the first time ever and for one day only (DNA day), 23andme allowed AncestryDNA customers to upload their raw DNA and receive a few free reports. One of which was the ancestry composition report. Being the clever girl I am, I quickly made a new account, uploaded my raw AncestryDNA data, and was able to direct compare 23andme’s results with their DNA data vs 23andme results using AncestryDNA data. The results were indeed not the same, however, it occurred to me that my mother testing may have changed my 23andme results from 23andme with AncestryDNA data, so I dug into my media archive here at Life with Gremlins and found my results from before my mother tested (that’s why they look different), and still, the results are different. I ended up with four different DNA ancestry composition results: 23and me after my mother tested, 23andme before my mother tested, 23andme using AncestryDNA data, and AncestryDNA itself.
What does this tell us? The differences in your test results from 23andme to AncestryDNA are not just in how they weigh their sample sources, but that the data pulled from your DNA at each service does actually differ as well. What was largely the same on all four was which regions DNA showed up in at all, the percentages varied, but the only regions that weren’t in all four reports were “Ashkenazi Jewish” (it was in 2/4), and “Broadly South Asian/Caucasus” (it was in 2/4 also). Both of these regions were less than 1 percent in those reports they showed in.
Accuracy wise then, it’s probably safe to conclude that these tests will tell you which regions your DNA came from, but the percentages of each may not be perfect. There have been a couple of media outlets that did tests on identical siblings (who should have had identical results) and their findings were similar, the regions matched up, the percentages did not.
The final call: AncestryDNA vs 23andme:
If you can only afford one test, I’d say it depends on your reason for wanting a DNA test. If it’s to find family or expand your family tree via genealogy, I’d vote AncestryDNA. If you want genetic heritage info, 23andme offers more.
Also note, as far as AncestryDNA vs 23andme processing time, both tests were about the same, roughly a month. However, wait times depend on how busy the labs are, so in times where test sales tend to be higher, such as after sales or around Christmas, wait times tend to be longer. To my understanding the month I saw was about standard, but some people see double that.