AncestryDNA and 23andme are arguably the most popular autosomal DNA testing companies around, but which is the best DNA test for genealogy? Is one test better than the other for finding family or exploring your heritage? One, in fact, is. AncestryDNA offers a far superior product if your goal is to build a family tree, trace or discover familial lines, or find new family members. The aim of this page is to not only offer an in-depth AncestryDNA review but likewise explore the area where Ancestry DNA’s test really shines—genealogy.
We also have a full comparison review of 23andme vs AncestryDNA and an in-depth 23andme review.
What Makes AncestryDNA the Best DNA Test for Genealogy?
AncestryDNA tree building and research service:
One major difference between 23andme and AncestryDNA as far as genealogical research use, is that AncestryDNA eliminates the need to create a tree off-site, find records at various sources, and then compile everything and compare it to your DNA matches. You can build a tree entirely free on the AncestryDNA site, though to utilize research options you’ll need a paid subscription. Thankfully, with the purchase of an AncestryDNA test, there is often a subscription discount. For instance, when I bought my test it was 50% off, and I bought another for one of my kids, I was offered a 3-month subscription for $1. Some test options also include a subscription. AncestryDNA test and subscription costs and levels as of 2023 are as follows:
AncestryDNA test cost:
DNA test kit only: $84+ shipping from Ancestry.com with this 15% off referral link or $99 with Prime shipping from Amazon
DNA test kit with Traits add-on: $199 from Ancestry.com (shipping applies – includes 3-month international subscription) or $119 with Prime shipping from Amazon
You can add the Traits add-on to your test results for an additional $20 after the purchase of the DNA kit only if you don’t want the 3-month subscription (equating to $104 + shipping after the 15% referral link discount). I’ll go over just what Traits are in a moment.
Ancestry subscription costs:
US subscription: Allows search of US databases only: $24.99 monthly or $119 for 6 months (single payment)
International subscription: Allows search of worldwide databases: $39.99 monthly or $169 for 6 months (single payment)
All Access: Adds Fold3 military record and Newspaper.com archive access to the international subscription: $59.99 monthly or $259 for 6 months (single payment)
You can use this referral link to get 30% off any Ancestry.com subscription.
Your subscription allows you to:
-Search, view, and save files from a large database of records including birth, death, marriage, immigration, census, newspapers, and more.
-View “hints” that automatically suggest records and other member trees based on data entered.
-View connections you share with your DNA test matches.
Ease of connecting the DNA dots:
The primary reason AncestryDNA boosts the best DNA test for genealogy, researching your family history, and family finding, though, is not its subscription-based research tools, it’s the ease of tracking down match connections. While at 23andme you would need to contact each match to find out if they even have a family tree, AncestryDNA streamlines this process by allowing you to sort matches with trees and even see where your tree (assuming you have one) overlaps with that match’s tree. You simply click the tree icon, and the connection pops up.
Once you click into a match you can then view that match’s tree (if public), shared surnames and tree members, shared matches, and regions where shared tree members originated. Each of these options is useful in its own way.
For example, shared matches are an easy way to determine which side of your family a match is on if you already have confirmed relatives in your matches where the relation is known, like an aunt or uncle. Or, with the map and locations tab, say you have a name for an ancestor but don’t know where the ancestor was from. Your region map can help narrow down where to focus your source search for possible matches to that ancestor.
In 2022, AncestryDNA took this aspect of their testing results a step further, sorting your matches into maternal and paternal match groups automatically.
You can edit your parent settings if the system sorts your maternal or paternal matches on the wrong side. However, I was disappointed it didn’t automatically use my father’s test results to confirm my matches were sorted properly.
Automatically generated genealogical goodies:
Your DNA story:
This is the page that gives you your ethnicity report. While your ethnicity estimate itself will likely do little to help you if your aim is to learn more about your family history, it is something many people look forward to when waiting on their DNA test results. You’ll be given an ethnicity estimate based on the genetic data in your DNA sample. If you click any ethnicity, it will show you a percentage match for the sample pool of that region, as well as locations included in that region.
As you click the timeline bar at the bottom, the map will change showing you the migrations of your family line through time (requires a tree) while likewise circling the regions your DNA results showed. The pinpoints that display either numbers or a pink or blue profile are ancestors in your tree. You can click each to see details or in the case of numbers, to zoom in to see all tree members in that area. Again, I wouldn’t say that this feature really aids in research much, but it is neat and provides a quick way to compare your genetic ethnicity to your genealogical origins.
In this section, your tree is compared to those of your matches to create “circles” of people who share an ancestor. The name of that ancestor is the name of the circle. For example, if the circle is called “John Smith,” you had a DNA match with all of these members and all of these members have “John Smith” with the appropriate birth and death data in their tree. This is a convenient way to have numerous sources with a confirmed DNA match to compare notes so to speak on certain parts of your tree.
New Ancestor Discoveries:
Basically, this is DNA circles for potential ancestors not already in your tree. Say that many members in your “John Smith” circle have listed John’s parents, but you don’t have those parents in your tree. This section shows you the details of those high-probability tree members. If you click one of these results, you’ll be shown the circle that prompted this match and how many matches had the suggestion in their tree.
Breaking away from the genealogical side of AncestryDNA insights, in 2022, AncestryDNA launched a new optional test add-on option called Traits, which offers reports on 35+ traits that are influenced by your genes. These traits vary from physical aspects, like hair and eye color, to health-related topics, like endurance fitness and lactose intolerance. I’ll note that they are not as focused on health risks and medical data as the 23andme health reports are and really seem more like a just-for-fun add-on.
The information found in them, plus a lot more than 23andme even, can also be found by running your raw DNA from your AncestryDNA test (which is free with your test result, of course) through Promethease. Here’s a complete list of Traits offered as of Jan 2023:
- Endurance Fitness
- Heart Rate Recovery
- Muscle Fatigue
- VO2 Max
- Sprinter Gene
- Vitamin B12
- Omega 3
- Vitamin C, D, & E
- Birth Weight
- Cleft Chin
- Finger Length
- Earlobe Type
- Earwax Type
- Eye Color
- Hair Color
- Hair Type
- Hair Strand Thickness
- Iris Patterns
- Male Hair Loss
- Skin Pigmentation
- Wisdom Teeth
- Alcohol Flush
- Asparagus Metabolite Detection
- Bitter Sensitivity
- Caffeine Consumption
- Cilantro Aversion
- Lactose Intolerance
- Sun Sneezing
- Savory (Umami) Sensitivity
- Sweet Sen sitivity
Ancestry DNA database size:
The final AncestryDNA section is your matches for the database. Next to the ease of connecting tree members to matches, this is the second biggest reason AncestryDNA is better for genealogy than 23andme, database size. As of 2022, AncestryDNA boasts more than double the database size that 23andme has (10 million vs 22 million). If you’re trying to use DNA to find family or trace your family tree using DNA matches and can only afford one test, the bigger the database size the better.
Having a look at the match screen, you can see at the top there are several options to sort your matches.
-Hints will show you members that you share a common tree member with.
-New will show you new DNA matches.
-Starred will show you members that you mark with a star to quickly find later.
-If a parent comes up in your matches you’ll see “father” or “mother,” this allows you to sort matches from your maternal or paternal line.
-Regions gives you the option to select a migration region from your timeline, and see matches that share that region.
You can also filter by relationship closeness (for example, a sibling would appear higher than a cousin) or date of match (to see matches since your last visit for instance).
While 23andme may offer more nifty genetic tidbits discoverable through your spit to amuse you, it offers very few of the above family-finding tools. That’s why if you’re looking for the best DNA test for genealogy, I’d recommend starting at AncestryDNA even if you intend to skip the subscription and opt for a free account to build your tree. You can always test at 23andme if you hit a wall and need more matches or are just interested in said genetic niftiness. You can also upload your raw DNA to GEDcom, a mostly user-submitted DNA match database as well as FamilytreeDNA. FamilyTreeDNA will allow you to upload your results and see limited matches, but there is a fee to see more. GEDcom is free. You can’t, by the way, upload your raw DNA to 23andme, you would need to retest to see your matches there.
If you have any questions or see something I missed in this AncestryDNA review, feel free to drop me a comment.