23andMe vs Ancestry DNA: What is the Difference?
If you looking to perform DNA tests as a way to gain information about your ancestry, you've probably heard of 23andMe and Ancestry DNA. In this article, we'll compare 23andMe vs Ancestry DNA to help you understand the comparisons, differences, and results.
In the world of DNA, there are undeniably two front runners when it comes to genealogy websites, Ancestry and 23andMe. These two sites stand out amongst the rest for many reasons but how do they stack up against each other?
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If you are looking to further your family history research with the addition of a DNA test, then allow us to help you make an informed decision. We will briefly break down for you the pluses and minuses of both sites so as to help you pick the right test for your needs.
Side by Side Comparison
- A huge member base, including the largest genetic matching database of any home testing kit with 15 million people
- A strong genealogical community, including the ability to connect with matches through a messaging system
- A family tree building tool that can be linked to DNA results, with a vast collection of legitimate resources that can be utilized by subscribers
- No mtDNA or Y-DNA tests are available from the company, so motherline and fatherline ancestry can't be traced with these kits
- Ancestry won't accept raw data sourced from other sites -- in order to process your DNA, you'll need to test with one of their kits
Where to Buy: Ancestry
Number of Ethnicity Regions: Over 1,000
Types of Testing Available:
- AncestryDNA - Autosomal DNA testing
- AncestryHealth - Autosomal DNA and wellness testing
Family Matching: Yes, with a database of over 15 million users
Health Screening: Yes -- it's a recent addition, and previous test-takers can upgrade without needing to purchase a new test
Price: See latest price
- Offers maternal and paternal haplogroup reports as part of their basic autosomal test bundle
- One of the first DNA testing companies to offer health and wellness insights as an option
- Option to view highly detailed chromosomal breakdown of ethnicity results
- The service doesn't offer a family tree creation tool, so those looking to create a tree will need to use an off-site resource
- The company has had issues with meeting FDA guidelines in the past; however, there are no incidents in recent history
Where to Buy: 23andMe.com, but the test can also be purchased at major retailers like Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and Walmart, among others.
Number of Ethnicity
Regions: Over 1,500
Types of Testing Available:
- Ancestry + Traits - Autosomal DNA testing, maternal and paternal haplogroup information, insight into traits
- Health + Ancestry - Autosomal DNA testing, maternal and paternal haplogroup information, insight into health and wellness
- VIP Health + Ancestry - Autosomal DNA testing, maternal and paternal haplogroup information, insight into traits and health/wellness, priority lab processing and customer support, one-on-one results walkthrough
Family Matching: Yes, with a database of over 10 million users
Health Screening: Yes
Price: See latest price
Comparing Ethnicity Estimates
The big selling point of both sites is their ethnicity estimate. It’s what draws us in and is generally the easiest thing for us to understand about the product. It is essentially an ancestry composition report that gives us a view of who we are.
This is the biggest driver of financial growth in the DNA testing market and is something both Ancestry and 23andMe have very much gotten right.
It should be noted that as stated these tests are just an estimate of your potential global origins but both sites seem to be equal when it comes to accuracy. They also do well at creating an engaging visual representation of your results.
Here is how the two sites display your results.
If you were to test with both sites you would likely find that the percentages would differ slightly but that for the most part they would reveal the same regions in their findings. The reason for differences in the percentages come from the different areas that each site tests and the variations in their databases.
AncestryDNA and 23andMe differ because of their reference populations and the algorithms they use to test your samples. The process requires that they test your genetic profile against millions of others around the globe.
During this process, the algorithms try to find genetic markers in your DNA that match strongly to specific regions of the world. If, for example, markers in your DNA match closely to those found commonly in Italy then depending on the strength of that match they will uncover Italian as part of your ethnicity estimate.
As of March 2022 AncestryDNA claims to have more than 1500 global regions listed with their tests. This is in comparison to 23andMe which claim to have over 2000 global regions covered. In this respect, 23andMe seems to have the advantage in their global region database.
Which DNA Can Be Tested For?
An important thing to consider when choosing the right test for you is what exactly it is that each company tests for. Our DNA is very complex and by testing certain elements of it we can get different results.
There are three different potential DNA testing types available so it is probably wise that we discuss what they are and the merits of each. Certain aspects of our genealogical research can benefit from specific types of testing so it is important to know if the test will be valuable to your circumstances.
Autosomal DNA Testing
This is the most common variety of testing for DNA as it is a broader test covering your autosomal chromosomes which is the biggest portion of your DNA. It is the non-sex specific DNA in our cells which means it has broader scope for genealogy purposes.
Unlike other tests, it can give you information regarding your family on both your maternal and paternal sides. This means anyone can take this test and receive potentially helpful results. It is best used for confirming close family matches and ethnicity estimates.
The results you can receive from autosomal testing can help you find relatives as close as long lost parents, siblings or as distant as 10th cousins. It supplies the type of information that is interpreted correctly in combination with discoveries that can make big breakthroughs in your research.
The YDNA test is a gender line-specific test that only traces your lineage through paternal ancestors. This is because biological males are born with both an X and a Y chromosome. Biological females have two X chromosomes so they neither inherit nor pass on a Y chromosome.
This is a test that is not generally used to determine recent ancestors but instead is used to track your more ancient male lines. Passed from father to son with almost unaltered DNA, the YDNA can trace back centuries.
When we take a YDNA test we are placed in specific haplogroups which help determine connections to common male ancestors. Through many generations, some mutation of the DNA occurs so sub-haplogroups are formed but largely we can still prove ancient connections.
Specific haplogroups can lead back to certain regions of the world.
Haplogroups are often associated with certain surnames and they can be used to confirm or debunk the relationship between two individuals who bear the same surname.
This is a completely gender-specific test as women would receive no results from such a test. They could still get results, however, by having a brother, a brother’s male children, a father or any paternal uncles test.
This DNA test is the exact opposite of YDNA in that it traces your maternal line DNA. As both males and females receive mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from their mother they can both take this type of test.
It is a test that can trace back through your maternal line, mother to child, so it may have some limited use in researching back over the centuries. Its effectiveness is lessened somewhat by poor representation of females historically in records and surname changes through marriage.
Who Tests More of Your DNA?
AncestryDNA only tests your autosomal DNA, which is the bulk of your chromosomes. This is opposed to 23andMe which also test your autosomal DNA but additionally do test YDNA and mtDNA.
It should be noted that 23andME does not post the results of the YDNA and mtDNA tests but they are factored into their estimates. If you are seeking to get specific results from either YDNA or mtDNA you may have to choose a different company that specializes in those types of tests.
In this aspect, 23andMe edges out AncestryDNA based on additional DNA type testing.
Transferable DNA Data
What some people may not realize is that there are several websites out there where you can upload your raw DNA data to get some interesting information. GEdmatch, for example, has an interesting database of tools against which you can test your DNA.
There are even some paysites that will allow you to upload raw DNA for free so you can look for matches in their databases. This means that access to that data is important.
Thankfully, AncestryDNA and 23andMe both allow you to download your raw DNA data for you to use as you so wish. They do not, however, accept the uploading of existing raw data to their sites.
It would be a poor business model for them to let you use the results from another company to upload onto their site. This does mean that if you wanted to make use of both sites’ databases you would have to buy a test from both. So in this respect, all things are equal between the two sites.
In 2019 in the hopes of competing with 23andMe in the realm of DNA health tests, AncestryDNA tried to launch their own version. They hoped to be able to use our genes to predict potential health problems.
But in the winter of 2020 AncestryDNA decided they wanted to maintain the focus on the genealogical aspect of their DNA tests so they discontinued AncestryHealth. This of course means that 23andMe who still maintains their DNA Health testing win in this regard.
One of the big draws of having your DNA tested for ancestry purposes is the chance of discovering long lost relatives of distant cousins from around the globe. After the ethnicity estimate, it is likely the most important aspect of testing.
The question then is who performs best in this family matching aspect of the DNA tests? Well really as things stand there is no contest because AncestryDNA as of March 2022 had tested 15 million+ individuals to 23andMe’s 10 million+.
Why are the numbers of tests so important? Well, quite simply put, the more people who test, the greater your chance of finding matches. Ancestry’s database is just simply larger at present than that of 23&Me.
The two companies are seeing similar rates of growth in their numbers, though, so it might not take much for 23andMe to start closing the gap.
But beyond the number of users, how do the two compare in their family match layout?
Ancestry’s family match lists feature a number of complex tools that work great for comparing relationships. You can color code matches to show their connection to particular lines and you can also input the correct relationship if you know it.
The relationship estimates are as accurate as you can be given the nature of DNA and recombination. As you move further away into more distant cousins the accuracy decreases and will often require confirmation with research and cooperation with your DNA matches.
The 23andme family match page is a little less inspiring but does feature some tools to allow you to organize your matches.
AncestryDNA focuses on its genealogy-based services and this shows with a more eye-catching and user-friendly family match layout. With the focus split between both health and genealogy services, 23andMe does not focus as in-depth on the family match aspect. This then means that AncestryDNA wins in this regard.
Cost and Value for Money
As of March 2022 both AncestryDNA and 23andMe were charging $99 for the basic ethnicity estimate test. Those looking to add the health DNA report as well with 23andMe would be charged $199 for the combined ethnicity and health tests.
In order to fully enjoy the benefits of these tests, though, we need to understand that there are ongoing costs that come into play. A basic ancestry membership costs around $185 annually and is often required to use certain search functions.
Membership is not required with 23andMe although there are membership options available that give you access to some extra tools. Obviously, Ancestry has far more genealogy resources which warrant the cost of a membership.
When it comes down to the simple cost of the genealogy test both sites are equal. Factoring in the other services that these sites offer they become unique so these costs do not really factor. Additional services are based more on other ways you wish to use your DNA results.
Which Test Is Most User Friendly?
There really isn’t much to separate the two tests in terms of ease of use. Both tests arrive by mail and include a vial which you must fill with saliva. The packaging they arrive in can be resealed to contain your sample and mailed directly back.
How Long Do Results Take?
Contrary to what law enforcement TV shows may indicate, DNA testing is not a fast process. This is especially true in the world of genealogical DNA tests. When you factor in time to have a test sent to you, for you to take the test, send it back and have it processed in the lab it takes a long time.
AncestryDNA usually suggests the entire process takes 6-8 weeks after they receive your sample. This is a little longer than 23andMe’s claim of 3-4 weeks. This may largely be due to a higher volume of tests being received at AncestryDNA as their processes are likely similar.
It is true, however, that 23andMe focuses most of their income on their DNA testing so it is likely they are diligent to get tests processed expeditiously.
|Ideally used for Genealogy and locating extended family
|Available Regions for Ethnicity Estimates
|Just over 1500 regions covered
|Just over 2000 regions covered
|Types of Tests Offered
|Autosomal DNA test only, for the purposes of Genealogical research.
|Autosomal DNA, YDNA and mtDNA all tested for genealogical purposes. Additionally, a health based test is available.
|Cost of Tests
|Basic test $99 with regular seasonal sales available.
|Basic test $99, health included $199
Essentially speaking these two sites offer the same test but come with different bells and whistles. It is a difficult comparison to make but perhaps by laying out a few important points it may steer you in one direction or another.
The Best Test
In comparison both tests tend to produce relatively accurate results although if looked at side by side they would not match completely. This is through no particular fault of either but more the nature of their individual processes.
The fact that 23andMe tests autosomal, YDNA and mtDNA while AncestryDNA only tests autosomal does not necessarily make one better. If 23andMe could find a way to use these other DNAs as part of a tool they may actually surpass Ancestry.
However, 23andMe does not use the YDNA or mtDNA results to any great effect. Essentially then, in terms of the ethnicity results, these two are equal.
In this category 23andMe seems to have the edge running around 3-4 weeks in processing compared to Ancestry’s 6-8 weeks. If AncestryDNA were producing a markedly superior test result this might be something to overlook but clearly, 23andMe is quicker and just as accurate.
Well, there is no question to answer with regards to health reports as AncestryHealth was discontinued in 2020. This did, however, allow Ancestry to focus on their genealogy DNA tools.
Although 23andMe wins in this regard simply by maintaining both genealogy and health-based databases it may hurt them in other aspects.
Thanks to a much larger database of testers and site users in general AncestryDNA has unquestionably got the edge in this battle. There may be a certain amount of overlap with people taking both tests but the fact that more have tested with ancestry means there is a greater chance of finding family history.
Raw DNA Transfers
In terms of the use of your raw DNA both AncestryDNA and 23andMe stand equal on this point. You can’t upload raw data to either site but if you have tested with them you can download your raw data for use elsewhere.
Neither is particularly better in this regard as raw DNA data would be the same from either side because our DNA does not change.
According to March 2022 estimates from the individual sites 23andMe has over 2000 regions covered in their database. AncestryDNA claims to have just over 1500 regions covered which essentially means 23andMe wins this round.
With a great coverage of regions, this should lead to a more accurate ethnicity result.
It is difficult to call one site better than the other in terms of the DNA tests they offer. Aside from a potentially quicker result from 23andMe, the test results are largely equal. They cost around the same, the estimates are well within margins of error and they are user friendly.
The separation in quality comes in the tools available after the test has been taken and results have been received. It quickly starts to depend on what you want out of the test as to which is best for you.
AncestryDNA has a solid site that helps you get the best out of your DNA to research your family tree. There are more testers in their database and there is a greater array of tools to help you organize your matches.
The focus of 23andMe is more split; they also give you tools to organize your matches but have a smaller database. If you are interested in discovering your potential genetic propensity for diseases as well the 23andMe might be the best choice.
So, to conclude, if you are solely interested in your family history research AncestryDNA is probably best. If, however, you want some information about your risk for certain conditions perhaps 23andMe is the best option.
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"23andMe vs Ancestry DNA: What is the Difference?". NameCensus.com. Accessed on February 22, 2024. https://namecensus.com/blog/23andme-vs-ancestry-dna/.
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