January 30, 2016
Ancestry DNA is the clear industry leader in the consumer DNA testing market. With more than 1.4 million people in the database, 23andme and Family Tree DNA just don't compare. I have tested at all three and I am able to confirm relationships with more people at Ancestry DNA than either of the other services.
Ancestry DNA is an autosomal DNA test and will provide an ethnicity breakdown, as well as relative matches to anyone in the database whom shares DNA with you. ALL of your family lines will be represented. Gender is of no relevance. An individual receives approximately 50% of their DNA from each parent; 25% from each grandparent; and so on and so forth. The further you move away from an ancestor, the lesser their genetic contribution to you. Autosomal DNA will provide matches reliably up to 5 generations. However, it is not necessarily unusual to have 6th, 7th and 8th cousin matches too, especially for those who are from endogamous populations. Autosomal DNA testing is, by far, the most popular test offering today.
A lot of reviews have complaints about the ethnicity breakdowns. It's an evolving science. The different companies use different algorithms and have different reference populations. While 23andme is considered the industry leader in this regard (and I totally agree with this assessment), Ancestry DNA is a very close second, while Family Tree DNA is a distant third. Having said that, don't take the ethnicity component too seriously. They are pretty accurate at the continental level but this aspect of the tests should be viewed, overall, as estimates.
The real value is in one's relative matches. These are the connections that will enable you to expand your genealogy. Or, connect you to your birth parents. Or, help you confirm that great-grandma immigrated from County Cork. Or, lead you to that lost branch of the family that was separated because Aunt Martha didn't show up at Cousin Mary's baby shower in 1974. Or, perhaps the break was due to the ravages of war or even slavery.
A few tips to get the most out of Ancestry DNA and your overall experience:
Do NOT forget to activate your kit before mailing! The code is on the tube and the pamphlet insert.
Purchase when it's on sale for $79 or less. If you do so through Amazon, there is no charge for shipping and it is expedited for Prime members. If you buy through Ancestry's site, try the code FREESHIPDNA.
If your parents are available and willing to test, test them BOTH! Even testing one parent will enable you to sort your maternal from paternal matches. If your parents aren't available, ask their siblings, aunts/uncles, test your grandparents. Testing multiple relatives goes a long way in isolating family lines. Also, always test the oldest generation first. Not only do you not want to miss out on the opportunity, but they are generationally closer to your ancestors and will have matches that you do not have.
Ask your siblings to test too. Even full siblings will have different matches beyond 2nd cousin. You will likely even see differences in their ethnicity breakdown.
Once results become available, transfer the raw data to Family Tree DNA for just $39. This will add you to their database for less than the $99 price tag and your results are available in days vs weeks.
Upload your raw data to GEDMATCH for FREE. Why? Unfortunately, Ancestry DNA does not provide a chromosome browser, which is a very important tool in genetic genealogy. Also, you will generate matches from 23andme and FTDNA, whom also uploaded.
Download the Jeff Snavely Chrome Extension. Your results will be far more manageable, especially if you are handling multiple tests. It takes seconds to download but the initial scan can take hours. Be patient. You won't regret it.
Don't overlook New Ancestor Discoveries (these are potential ancestors that aren't in your tree but Ancestry suggests them based on your DNA matches).
Ancestry hasn't yielded on the chromosome browser, but they did unveil the "Shared Matches" feature and now provide us with the amount of DNA shared (centimorgans). Don't overlook these tools to help you figure out your connection to your matches.
Build a public tree. This way you can benefit from DNA Circles and increase the likelihood of making valuable connections. Genealogy is about an exchange of information.
If the tester has difficulty spitting, have the person bite/chew on the inside of their cheeks gently. Then, place a bit of sugar on the tip of the tongue and/or offer a cut lemon to smell.
If you're an adoptee, or you're searching for a close relative and need help with how to get there using DNA, check out DNA Detectives on Facebook. It's a wonderfully supportive group with lots of knowledgable people and plenty of reunions to buoy your spirits and encourage you.
For more education on DNA testing and/or genetic genealogy, check out the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) on Facebook.
Those with colonial US roots tend to fare the best when it comes to matches, but the recent expansion of sales into the UK, Ireland and Canada have been a welcome addition to the database!
If you are interested in medical results like the ones 23andme formerly offered (the FDA offering is paired down considerably and not worth the $199 price tag), take your raw data and upload to Promethease for $5.
Ancestry DNA results can be accessed without a subscription. However, to maximize the experience, I recommend one. The Insight subscription is $49 for 6 months. You must call and request it since it isn't offered online.
Ancestry DNA's average turnaround time has been 2 weeks for more than a year. It has slowed down a bit in the last couple of weeks due to holiday sales but many people received results even on Christmas Day.
DNA testing for genealogical purposes is an incredible tool and the perfect compliment to traditional genealogy. I am so grateful to live in a day and age where this technology is available to us. Ancestry DNA has enabled me to make some incredible connections, that would not have been made possible otherwise. It is also wonderful to receive validation of years of research because the bottom line is DNA doesn't lie (but families sometimes do)!
The photos attached show ethnicity breakdowns for three different people that tested at my request. The first two collages show an individual's breakdown across The Big Three DNA testing companies from Left to Right: 23andme, Ancestry DNA and Family Tree DNA. I like the side-by-side for comparison's sake. As you can see, the differences between the three are negligible. The last test shows just Family Tree DNA, since unlike the first two people, this person tested at one company only.
I hope this helps you with your decision! Good luck and have fun with this!
Oh, I forgot one thing - there is NO DNA company that can tell you what Native American tribe you descend from. There is no such things as a Cherokee database. It's just a bogus claim designed to part you from your cash. Don't fall for it!