DNA: Tests and Recommendations

Updated as of January 16, 2018.

There are 5 DNA testing services commonly recommended for DNA for genealogy and adoption.  These tests are different from tests for paternity or crime solving.  They use saliva collected in a tube or on a swab.  No blood or hair samples.

These recommendations are made by Judith Culver based on research and experience.  You are invited to consult on your specific situation before ordering a test. Just leave a comment.

Ancestry.com:  They do only autosomal testing which can be used to identify matching persons and common ancestors for the last 5-6 generations.  This is most strongly recommended as a first test for genealogists.  At this writing they have tested over 7 million people. Regular price is $99 plus shipping and taxes.  Try FREESHIPDNA for a code.

FamilytreeDNA.com: They do autosomal, Y, and mitochondrial testing.  The autosomal test called Family Finder is recommended for the older people in your family.  It uses a swab which is easier for the very young and the very old.  The sample will be saved for a minimum of 25 years for future testing.  Latest estimate is that they have tested one million people.  You cannot run a Y or mitochondrial test on a transferred kit.  In general this service is for people more interested in technical tools.  Has more international samples.  Regular Family Finder (autosomal test) price is $89 plus shipping and taxes. Accepts Ancestry and 23andme raw DNA and shows your matches free. Additional tools available for one-time price of $19. 

23andme.com: Not recommended by me except for people who have already tested at the other sites and are searching for matches in all the pools, such as adoptees.  A 23andme change in late 2017 is the switch to a state-or-the-art testing chip called Illumina.  This is 23andme’s version 5.  It is not compatible with any of the sites that we normally transfer raw DNA to.  As of this writing it is not accepted anywhere.   Many people that test here are more interested in health results and not as likely to respond to genealogy inquiries.  Recent estimate is two million tested.  23andme Ancestry only test is $99.  Health plus ancestry is $199.

MyHeritage.com:  Just started autosomal testing in 2016.  Fewer tests so far but based in Israel with more international reach.  They will accept your Ancestry, 23andme, and FTDNA results for comparison to their test results free for now.  Typical price $99, lowest $59.

LivingDNA.com:  Started autosomal testing in 2017.  Niche for now is in ethnicity results down to the regional level in the British Isles and quickly expanding throughout the world.  Accepts free transfer from other testing services and plans to provide relative matching in Summer 2018.  No ethnicity reporting for transferred kits.  Typical price is $199.

Most economical approach:
1.       Test at Ancestry.
2.       Free transfer of raw DNA to Family Tree DNA.  Pay $19 for FTDNA tools.
3.       Free transfer to MyHeritage, Living DNA, GedMatch, and other third-party sites.

For detailed information about the tests testing companies, keep reading:

Which DNA test should I take?  Consider why you want to be tested.

10. There are 4 basic types of DNA tests for genealogy.  All the tests use saliva collection using swab or tube.  None use blood or hair.  These tests are not used for paternity testing or criminal testing.  All comments in this paper are for genealogical purposes.
11.  Ethnicity Estimates:  All autosomal tests provide a broad estimate of “ethnicity” (also called admixture) but companies use different algorithms and population groups and people report that they vary widely.  A lot of research is going into improving ethnicity estimates.  There is a lot of controversy about these estimates.  Judy Russell (blogging as the Legal Genealogist) published an article on April 16, 2017 called “Still Not Soup” in which she posted seven of her own results from seven different companies to make the point how widely different they were.  Her opinion is the science is not there yet.  See that article here:  http://www.legalgenealogist.com/2017/04/16/still-not-soup/
12. Unexpected Results:  Be ready and willing to accept the results even if they are unexpected.  Don’t get tested if you cannot accept this. This is especially if you are testing someone else.  You might find relatives of another race or “misattributed or unexpected parentage”. 
13. Non-paternal event (NPE). Many still call it an NPE but it also includes any case of unexpected parentage, including unknown parentage, adoption, sperm donor, informal adoptions, switched at birth and “son takes stepfather’s name”.
14.  Autosomal (atDNA) tests test chromosomes 1-23, include DNA from your ancestors back 5-6 generations and sometimes more (called genealogical timeframe), and are for both genders.  Includes the X chromosome results.  Provided by Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, 23andme and Living DNA.
15.  Y-DNA tests are for males only and give results only for your genetic male line.  The Y chromosome passes unchanged from father to son except for mutations.  Matches far back in time.  Only provided by Family Tree DNA.
16.  X-chromosome is not a separate test.  X-chr results are part of the autosomal test.  The results are not reported on Ancestry but you can see your X-chr results on FamilyTreeDNA, 23andme and GedMatch.  Matches may be far back in time.  Women pass an X-chr to their male and female children.  Men pass an X-chr to their female children.  Blaine Bettinger has X-Chr Inheritance charts for men and women.
17.  Mitochondrial (mtDNA) tests are for both genders and give results only for your mother’s female line.  Matches can be far back in time.  Women pass it to their male and female children.  Men do not pass this on to their children.  Mitochondria is a DNA molecule outside the nucleus; it is not the same as the X chromosome (chromosome 23).   Some experts have the opinion that mtDNA is seldom useful for genealogy.  Only provided by Family Tree DNA.
18.  There are charges associated with DNA tests, starting with the cost of the test plus shipping. 
19.  See Resources page for links to test comparison charts.

Which DNA testing company?

20.  There are 3 major players for testing DNA for genealogical purposes using either saliva or cheek swab:  Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, and “23 and me”.  MyHeritage, and Living DNA are just starting and show promise.  DO NOT settle for any other companies, especially AncestrybyDNA.com.   Some prey on people who don’t know how to judge what they are getting.
21.  All recommended companies provide autosomal testing with:
a.      X-chromosome testing
b.      Ethnicity estimate
c.       List of matches and a way to contact them
22.  Ancestry.com
d.      autosomal testing including X but does not give you the X results
e.      largest number of people testing: 6 million
f.        Average responsiveness of matches and Average level of genealogical knowledge of matches: Medium
g.      best matches for African American and Colonial New England
h.      previously tested only in US; now in 56 countries
i.        provides a common ancestor hint if both you and your match have a tree that goes back to match ancestors 
j.        saliva which is spit into a tube
k.       around $100 plus shipping 
l.        Note:  You do not need an Ancestry subscription to test.  You can use a free, but limited, Registered Guest membership to build a tree.  The free memberships allow you to load a Gedcom file and have access to a limited number of free databases.  The resources you are blocked from without a membership will be frustrating.
23.  FamilyTreeDNA.com (FTDNA) provides autosomal (called Family Finder), Y-DNA, and mitochondrial.  Each test is priced separately and some have multiple levels.  Displays X matches.
a.      available world-wide and draws more foreign testers
b.       fewest number testing: 1 million
c.       Average responsiveness of matches and Average level of genealogical knowledge of matches: Medium to fairly high
d.       best matches for Jewish ancestry 
e.      has surname projects 
f.        autosomal test called Family Finder is $79 plus shipping; other tests, packages, and upgrades vary in price; you can purchase a lower level of Y test and upgrade later
g.      accepts raw results from other testing sites with all your matches and matrix tool at no charge; for full features $19
h.      saliva collected with a swab from the inside of the cheeks.
i.        saves the test sample for a minimum of 25 years
j.        you can use to original test sample for additional testing
24.  23andme.com
a.      23andme has a focus on health results and many test there just to get health information
b.      full health and ancestry product $199, “ancestry only” $99 plus shipping
c.       autosomal testing only, including X
d.      people tested: 2 million
e.      Average responsiveness of matches and Average level of genealogical knowledge of matches:  Fairly low
f.        best matches for Native American
g.      provides Haplogroups for male and female
h.      not as focused on genealogists as other companies; not recommended by serious genealogists. 
25.  MyHeritage.com
a.      Just started testing in 2016 resulting in fewer tests and shorter track record
b.      Autosomal testing only
c.       Based in Israel so expected to have more international matches eventually
d.      Accepts results from other companies free at the time of this writing.
26.   LivingDNA.com:  Recently started testing and is located in the UK.  Provides especially local ethnicity estimates for UK.  Planning to provide relative matching in Summer 2018,
27.   Recommendations:
a.      Autosomal is recommended to start with unless you have a special reason to test for Y or mitochondrial.
b.      Just getting started?  Ancestry has the largest number tested and provides the common ancestor hint by comparing trees.  This is a very nice feature and can possibly connect you with living relatives.  Technical people are critical of Ancestry’s lack of analysis tools but this can be solved by transferring raw data to FTDNA for $19 or GedMatch for free.
c.       Ethnic groups:  See areas for best matches above.
d.      Older people:  You may only have one chance to get their sample.  FTDNA uses a swab which is better for babies and frail elders.  FamilyTreeDNA promises to maintain samples a minimum of 25 years.  Other testing companies say “indefinitely” and we don’t know what that means.  This is helpful because the FTDNA sample can be used for future Y-DNA, mitochondrial and tests that haven’t even been invented yet.

e.      Adoptees:  If you have unknown parentage, get tested at as many services as you can afford.
f.        Bottom line:  Ancestry.com for people just getting started with DNA and FamilyTreeDNA for older relatives.
28.  Testing companies have terms and conditions.  Read them.  Remember there is no guarantee of privacy.
29.  There are sales around holidays.  Like Mother’s Day.
30.  Sources for recommendations are:
International Society of Genetic Genealogists ISOGG)http://isogg.org/wiki/Autosomal_DNA_testing_comparison_chart
Richard Hill who specializes in adoption:  http://www.dna-testing-adviser.com/Autosomal-DNA.html  It’s a little outdated but he makes the case for FamilyTreeDNA.
Roberta Estes blogging on DNA Explained blog here:  https://dna-explained.com/2017/04/24/which-dna-test-is-best/

Your results

31.  All three testing companies give you a list of matches.
32.  Ancestry gives common ancestor hints if one of the ancestors in your family tree at Ancestry is the same as an ancestor in your match’s family tree.  Just because your ancestor is in someone else’s tree it is not necessarily correct.  They also give Circles and Genetic Communities.
33.  All give Countries of inheritance, ethnicity estimate, or possible country your ancestors came from.  FTDNA and 23andme give you chromosome information called chromosome browser or chromosome mapping.  Ancestry does not have chromosome mapping, but you can transfer your Ancestry raw DNA to other sites to get chromosome analysis.
34.  All three companies allow you to transfer raw data to other sites.
35.  Third-party sites available for organizing and analyzing test results include GedMatch, Genome Mate, and DNAgedcom.
36.  No company can tell you who your ancestors are.  You have to figure that out.
37.  You can convert the cM value of your match to a probable relationship.  (Chart available at Genies’ meeting.)

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