Best DNA Test 2017: AncestryDNA VS 23andme Review 255


When I decided to look into DNA testing, I wasn’t really looking for relatives exactly. I am quite interested in my heritage though, and I had exhausted other avenues for finding out more about my family line. Surprisingly, the cost of genealogical DNA testing has gone down significantly. I found several services that were under $200, but ended up being torn between AncestryDNA (as I already had a tree there) and 23andme. 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 both I thought it might be helpful to share an in-depth comparison of the two services.

First, the basics, what does AncestryDNA or 23andme DNA testing cost and what do you get with each?

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 plus shipping (for me that came to $108): 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. This page was updated in 2017 to reflect the new 23andme site and options. I have also published an in-depth comparison of the two testing options here.

So, price wise, AncestryDNA and 23andme cost the same.

Now, 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. Below are my personal results for both.

AncestryDNA

AncestryDNA

23andme DNA test

23andme

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 “Western European” and “Great Britain” while 23andme seemed to favor “Broadly Northern European” and “British and Irish.” Though you can also view five different calculation options at 23andme varying from 90 percent “conservative” to 50 percent speculative—each “guessing” to different degrees. The more conservative of course will have the most “broadly” percentages. The image is from the default setting “50% speculative.”  In reality, from what is known of my family lines I have a great deal of Norwegian, French, British, and Scottish, so both profiles 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 in cases 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 my percentages did change. 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).

ancestry timeline 23andme

Possibly in reaction to 23andme, AncestryDNA revealed another feature this March called genetic communities. It’s a very nice addition to their already superior family tree research tools. By comparing your DNA to your matches and their family origin locations a map is built guessing at areas your family actually may have 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.

ancestry DNA genetic communities ancestry dna gentic communities review

Over at 23andme you get a few more genetic heritage profiles that AncestryDNA does not offer as well.

Maternal/Paternal line:

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)

23andme maternal line

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.)

23andme interpretome

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:

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. The real difference is in ease of genealogical use though. Why I’d recommend Ancestry 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:

ancestryDNA matches
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 ancestries tree builder even, which side note, with purchase of AncestryDNA you get 50% off family tree builder services. 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. Sample of 23andme match screen (updated since original stats were taken):

23andme DNA test match screen

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. If you’re interested in weight loss and exercise, Athletigen is fun too.

Additionally, raw dna can be loaded to GEDmatch.com and FTDNA for more genealogical matches. FTDNA also has an ethnicity report, though it lacks detail.
FTDNA
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, my processing wait time on both tests was about the same ~1 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.

 


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255 thoughts on “Best DNA Test 2017: AncestryDNA VS 23andme Review

  • Sandra Kelly

    This is really clear and helpful information. I had the same dilemma about which service to use. I also wound up doing both. They were close enough in results that I had confidence in the conclusions. They weren’t surprising, except that I had less Eastern European than I expected, based on my grandparents homeland. My niece was gobsmacked by her results. She had a large percentage Italian and had no idea she had any!

    Thank you for writing this! I plan to send it to my siblings so they believe me when I tell them their results will be different than mine. I liked your “bag of traits” analogy. I have tried to explain by asking them to think of a bag filled with different colored marbles. You reach in and grab a handful and it will not be the same handful as your siblings might get.

    • Life with Gremlins admin

      That’s another good way to look at it, genetics can be confusing for some because they assume it’s just as easy as saying my parents were this so I’m 50% this and 50% that, and that’s just not how it works. I’m glad you found this helpful. 🙂

  • Nicole

    Do both tests offer the raw data download? My mother does not know her paternal side, or any information about them. Which test would you recommend to give the most information?

    • Life with Gremlins admin

      Yes, both offer raw DNA download. If she is trying to track down the actual names of her family members and build her paternal tree, I’d go AncestryDNA to start, test at 23andme if she gets stuck. AncestryDNA is a lot easier to do research on actual family lines.

  • Charlotte Patterson

    Thank you so much! I had been contemplating asking for this for Christmas, but didn’t know which to get–Ancestry or 23 & Me. When you say genetic heritage on 23 & Me, what exactly do you mean? Genetic like asthma, lactose problems, etc.? I figure I’m mainly British and some Irish because of my surnames–Housley, Gandy, Wilson, Spencer, Upchurch, Hicks, Fortson, Parker, Courtney, Beech, Stanford, Robertson, Maughan, I would like to see if I was right, and exactly how it falls. I have all of my lines back to 1800, and in AL and MS some as early as 1820. They seem to have migrated from the Carolina’s. So which would YOU think would be most helpful to me?

    • Life with Gremlins admin

      By genetic heritage I mean where your actual genes came from. Genetic heritage can often differ from genealogical (where your actual ancestors were from). This is because, first, your ancestors may not have been of the heritage of the place they lived (ex/English man living in Scotland), but more importantly, you may have genes from ancestors very far back in your line. Genetics aren’t like mixing potions where you add 100% Irish and 100% English and end up with a 50/50..you could get little bits from your great, great, great grandmother perhaps.

      That being said you mention tracing family lines, which is genealogical. If you’re looking to continue that process, I’d recommend ancestryDNA simply because it’s much easier to use your matches to find family and expand your research using your matches research. That can be done at 23andme too, but it requires much more footwork (you have to contact each match and ask if they have a tree, then find where you relate in that tree.) Hope that helps.

    • Life with Gremlins admin

      If the twin tested as well, they’d come up as a match and you could see a mirror twin (well, or at the least identical) in the percentage match DNA wise, but no, it won’t pop up telling you you’re a mirror twin. It would show as a sibling as far as I know.

  • Angela

    Do you know if these tests recognize Mexican heritage? Half my family is Mexican but I haven’t seen anyone get results saying anything about that region. They seem mostly European/African results. Thanks!

  • Rali Perez

    23andme was unable to obtain results from my sample due to very low concentration on DNA in my saliva. I tried twice. Do you know if AncestryDNA uses the same testing process?

    • Life with Gremlins admin

      As far as I know, yes, the method is very much the same. Both use a nearly identical spit vial and saliva-based DNA testing. Unfortunately, I also don’t know of any blood-based testing that isn’t just for paternity use. I do know both companies will refund a failed test, so you could go ahead and try it, but realistically it may just be holding your money up for several weeks.

  • Miked

    I completed both tests, Ancestry DNA first followed a month or two later with 23 and Me. Both Ancestry and 23 and Me identified new (to me) first and second cousins and enabled me to identify the birth parents of my father, who was adopted in 1916. However the newly identified first cousins and second cousin were switched with the first cousins and second cousins in Ancestry reported as 2nd cousins and the Ancestry second cousin reported as first cousin in 23 and Me. Is there an explanation for this difference?

    • unwirklich admin

      The tests are guessing at relation based on shared genetic percentage. They differ because the two services have different “guess” algorithms. Thus far in my experience they aren’t always right either. For instance, I recently had a great uncle show as a cousin. The only types of matches that are likely 100%, no doubt, are parents and children, because that’s always 50/50 shared.

  • Damian

    Do AncestryDNA and 23andme give you the same type of DNA results in terms of ability to import it into or use it on other sites? I can’t tell whether they give you “raw” DNA you can use anywhere or whether it is specially formatted for those services and only usable on certain services that are configured to work with DNA from them.

    • unwirklich admin

      The data formats for the 2 do differ, but as those two are the most popular sites, I’ve yet to find anywhere that doesn’t take both data formats. If you do, there are also conversion programs online to change from one to the other.

      Here’s an example for ancestrydna to 23andme conversion.

  • Daniel A Polaski

    I am adopted. I was told by my adoptive parents that I was primarily Irish. I know the name I was given at birth. I want to know if there is truly as much Irish blood in me, as two of my children have completely embraced that heritage, and I am interested in medical history (for my children’s sake). I’d also like to know if there are any “relatives” out there. I’m 66yo. Which service would you subscribe? Thanks

    • unwirklich admin

      If you’re actually trying to discover your family tree and find who your blood family is, I’d go ancestry if you can only do one test. You’d get matches with either test, it’s just easier at ancestry to trace connections and put a tree together. If your focus is more on your genetic build up and what region that likely came from, I’d do 23andme, and go get a health report from promethease (you can do that with ancestryDNA’s test too.) 23andme offers a bit more in-depth on the genetic makeup side.

      You can also get the health reports from them directly of course, but it costs more (promethease is $5). Promethease is a bit more complicated to read. You get a giant report with thousands of hits, where as with the 23andme health reports you get less, but they are easier to sort through.

  • Cary

    I did the 23 and me and sounds similar to your experience. I Ancestry gave me Scottish heritage, and 23 and me gave me Irish and Britain about 68%. So who do I believe ? Do I sell my Kilt now? Last name is STARKE . I like having about 12% Viking in me though. And the Health part shows no variants of Parkinsons or Alhezheimers .

    • unwirklich admin

      Scottland, Ireland, and Britain are super close together and intermarried a lot, as did the vikings actually, a lot of trading, pillaging, and settling between those cultures. I wouldn’t sell your kilt, no. lol I’d just count it as proof you’re a northern European mutt

  • Star Padilla

    My goal is to build our family tree and obtain health information. Members of our family have attempted to create a family tree but have never gotten anywhere.

    From what I understood Ancestry.com was great for the above goal but while it’s only $99 you would have to but into their monthly service subscription to get the full benefit of seeking the connections etc. Is that correct?

    Pardon my ignorance, I suppose I’m not fully understanding the difference between ‘genealogy’ and genetic heritage to make my decision.

    Thank you in advance for your insight!

    • unwirklich admin

      Yes, the $99 fee gets your test result and matches, but to use their tree builder tools, such as record search and match hints, you have to subscribe to their service. You get 50% off that service when you buy a test, and the cost there depends on which service level you use. They have different prices for in the US or worldwide. If you’ve never subscribed before, there’s usually some sort of free trial going too, often 30-days.