Best DNA Test? AncestryDNA VS 23andme Review 148

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, and raw DNA. The AncestryDNA test is actually cheaper via Amazon Prime, because you get free shipping. 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 about 3%.

23andme: $99 plus shipping (for me that came to $108): Ethnic mix profile, maternal/paternal line origin (paternal for males only, requires Y chromosome), 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 December, 2016 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, via Amazon Prime 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.



23andme DNA test


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.” To change your setting, by the way, you simple scroll to the bottom of your results and click “change confidence level.” 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.

Now over at 23andme you get a few more genetic heritage profiles that AncestryDNA does not offer. Mostly nifty cool stuff to know.

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 halogroup is from a Y chromosome, so to get this info my father or brother would have to test.

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:

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 and FTDNA for more genealogical matches. FTDNA also has an ethnicity report, though it lacks detail.
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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148 thoughts on “Best DNA Test? AncestryDNA VS 23andme Review

  • Bethany

    Im interested in getting info on my genetic background and also some insight on health risks, however not necessarily wanting to connect to “family”. My mother was adopted and my biological father is not in the picture, so im flying blind.Which test would you recommend?

    • unwirklich admin

      Ancestry doesn’t come with any health information, but you can run your raw results from there at Promethease for $5. I would actually recommend doing so with either test, as it offers more detail and results than the 23andme heath report (which costs an extra $99 on top of the basic $99 testing fee). That said, 23andme also offers more heritage info was far as your genetics (not your genealogy, family lines, etc.) So if you’re just looking for where your genes came from regionally, I’d go 23andme basic $99 test+Promethease.

  • Terry Casscles

    Thank you for the great comparison article. My mom has wanted to do this since her mother was a foster child and she has no history before that. It seems I’ll have to check with her about completing this since she has a twin brother and it may give her more information to help her find out a little something about her heritage.

  • Maria A.

    Thank you for posting this! I did a Google search on compare 23 and me with ancestrydna and your post came up. I was looking for exactly this type of analysis, especially “The Final Call” recommendation. I will follow your links to order so you get credit from the banner ad! Happy hunting! 🙂

  • Mandy Howey

    My 32 year old son was adopted from So. Korea. I’d like to give him some idea of his genetic background. Would I be better off with 23andme in this kind of situation?

  • Luckey

    Thank you for writing this comprehensive article. I have several questions that you, hopefully, can answer.

    1. I am African American, so you know how my ancestors arrived in the US. I have very little knowledge of them. The farthest I can go back is my maternal and paternal grandparents. We were always told by my mother that we are a mix of African, Indian, and Irish. So, I would like to know if any other African Americans have contacted you and how helpful was this testing for them?

    2. I am married. Should I use my maiden name?

    3. My father and one brother are both dead. The next closest male relative is my son. Will his DNA be helpful?

    • unwirklich admin

      I have spoken with one person who has a similar background to yours that tested, but she didn’t go into detail about her results. I do know it gives regions of Africa to some degree, but if you’re looking for actual names of your ancestors, you’ll have to find DNA relatives and hope that they know more about their line than you do. In that case having your parents (if possible) test would help you narrow down what matches are paternal and maternal. An aunt of uncle could also help there to some degree if you don’t have a parent to test, just slightly less so because you would share less DNA.

      You can test under which ever name you want, but your maiden would certainly be useful for others seeking matches to figure out how you fit into their tree.

      Finally, no, having your son test wouldn’t really tell you anything extra as far as your line. He would have a portion of your DNA, but his Y chromosome would be inherited from his father.

  • Michael

    This was great article! I have been interested in both of these companies for a while and this comparison was very helpful. I’m just gonna do both!

  • Mary Beth

    This comparison is very helpful. Has anyone tested with AncestryDNA twice or with 23andme twice and compared the results? That would provide some interesting scientific data.

    • unwirklich admin

      I don’t know anyone who has no. That would be an interesting quality control check though, albeit an expensive one. I can say it’s accurate enough that when I’ve had known family members test, the system immediately found them and tagged them with the proper relation.

  • Kelli

    I’ve been interested in both options for a while. My problem is that I was informed about 4 years ago that my paternal grandfather arbitrarily changed his last name. He took on the last name of a family he was close to and abandoned “Johnson”. My 70-something aunt randomly told me this and there is no record. Johnson is such a common name that it’s not helpful in distinguishing potential relatives and if my last name is “false” then searching that way won’t yield any biological family members. In short, it’s complicated…and my dad died a year ago so I can’t even get his DNA. Only my aunt and I are left of my paternal family. I wish I had gotten interested in my history much sooner! 23andme seems like my best option.

    • unwirklich admin

      If your looking to build your tree, I actually recommend ancestry. Primarily because when you have a match, it’s a lot easier to compare where you may be related. Most people who are trying to solve a mystery like yours end up on both sites honestly though, as well as GEDcom and anywhere else they can find DNA matches.

  • Mana Capo

    Why when it comes to DNA test and you have some degree of native American, they circle the whole American continent as if it were a single genetic compound, when in reality there is a big genetic difference lets say between an Aztec than a Maya (nose, face, body etc) or an Apache from an Inca or Skimo and a Comanche, when in Europe (a smaller territory than the Americas) there is a big difference lets say between an Iberian than from an Italian and a Greek, which are very close from each other.

    • unwirklich admin

      That is a very good point. I do wish that they would break the Native American percentage into tribes, I don’t know why they don’t. Insufficient comparison samples maybe?

    • Iyanna McNeely

      Was this for both ancestry and 23 and me? I did and this happened to me but I was curious to know specifics which is why I was considering doing 23 and me.

      • unwirklich admin

        Both sites do this, I only have 1% Native American, but both of my results just circled the entire continent. You would have to use your personal DNA matches to find the particular tribe you related to (if even possible.)

  • Lisa Connell

    What a great article! I am going to purchase one of these for my family members for Christmas. Looks like I’ll have to include my brother, as well! I found this to be extremely informative and even though I’m not sure which one I’ll use yet, I know so much more about each brand, that I know I’ll eventually make the right choice, thanks to you!!

  • MaryAnn

    This is very comprehensive information! I loved reading it! Thank you so much for sharing. I am interested in all of the information, but would like to get in touch with relatives that I may not know, since I do not have any children. Though I have many friends, I would really like to find some “relatives” that might want to meet.

  • R. E. McDaniels

    Thanks for your work on this report. My spoken family history includes a strong Native American connection through my Grandmother. I have her name but have been unable to find anything more about her. I think Ancestry would be the best choice. Do you agree or have another suggestion?