What is the Best DNA Test for Ancestry?

There is no shortage of consumer DNA testing companies out there and they all offer a wide array of services. You can learn about your genetic predisposition for illnesses, your likely allergies, who your parents are if there is any doubt, and of course you can learn a lot about your Ancestry in general.

In this post we will look specifically at the ancestry aspect of consumer testing although we will look a little more in depth into the offerings some of the companies also have in their menu. Hopefully we will be able to steer you toward the right consumer DNA testing company for your genealogy research needs.

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The History of DNA Consumer Testing

In 1869 a Swiss researcher by the name of Friedrich Miescher was the first to identify the existence of DNA. It was a purely accidental discovery but it would be over 100 years before our understanding of this vital molecule of existence really started to take off.

The 1980s started a DNA revolution in terms of understanding and reading DNA and by 2000 the first consumer testing was available. It was FamilyTreeDNA that produced the first tests to be sent to customers offering a 12 Y-chromosome STR marker test. All of those early tests were handled by Arizona Research Labs at the University of Arizona.

This started a rush by other companies to start their own testing and find new ways to innovate the market. In 2009 23andMe released their online DNA testing with health reports taking the competition up a notch.

In 2015 the DNA market was valued at an impressive $70 million and in 2017 estimates suggested by 2022 the industry could be worth $340 million. Estimates were way off because in 2019 the market value for genetic DNA testing grew to $12.6 billion.

How Do Companies Test Our DNA for Ancestry Purposes?

Generally speaking most DNA companies offer what is known as an autosomal DNA test. This is the DNA found within the 23 base pair chromosomes that make us who we are. The Autosomal DNA if found in 22 of these base pairs while the 23rd set contains our sex chromosomes, either XY for males or XX for females.

Autosomal DNA is what we inherit equally from both of our parents which is what makes it so beneficial as an overall indicator of our ancestry. Unlike the sex chromosomes which have unique inheritance patterns you will receive autosomal DNA from both of your parents so therefore from both sides of your family tree.

When it comes to testing the company will send you a kit to perform at home and then mail to their testing labs. The DNA sample is extracted using each company's own techniques and then tested to get a picture of how our specific DNA is made up.

What the scientists are looking for is certain areas of our DNA that are identical to that which has been found in other individuals who have taken the tests with the company. When we share large amounts of DNA with others the companies then assess that we likely have a common ancestor. The higher the shared DNA the more recent that shared ancestor will be found in our tree.

The testing company also uses their own interpretations of DNA from regions around the globe to estimate where our ancestors may have come from. They look for segments of our DNA that match ones commonly found within certain global populations.

In my own DNA I have a large amount of Welsh DNA that I inherited from my father whose own father was born in Wales. His mother was also at least half Welsh. The company I tested with was able to determine I had a sizeable amount of DNA that indicated my lineage from Wales.

Which Is the Cheapest Testing Company?

In the table below you will see a list of the general DNA test pricing for the main ancestry DNA testing sites as of July 2022. Included in the table are all of the offerings for each company although we will mainly focus on the basic autosomal tests for this post.

Company Available Tests and Costs
AncestryDNA Basic Autosomal DNA test $99 + shipping
MyHeritage Basic Autosomal DNA test $89 + shipping
LivingDNA Basic Autosomal DNA Test $99 + shippingWellbeing Kit for Health $129 + shippingWellbeing and Ancestry $149 + shipping
23andMe Ancestry and Traits test $99 + shippingHealth and Ancestry $199 + shippingHealth & Ancestry $228 + shippingW 1 year membership
FamilyTreeDNA Ancestry test $79 +shippingAncestry and Health $119 + shippingmtDNA (maternal) test $159 + shippingY-37 (paternal) test $119 + shippingY-111 (paternal) test $249 + shippingBig Y-700 (paternal) test $449 + shipping

You will note that generally a basic autosomal DNA test costs between $79 - $99 not including the cost of shipping. The lowest in price at present is the grandfather of them all FamilyTreeDNA who are able to offer their test at $79.

With their long pedigree in the industry FamilyTreeDNA actually started out by testing Y-Chromosome DNA (Y-DNA) later adding in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) so as to offer gender specific testing. With a thriving business in the Y-DNA and mtDNA they only added autosomal DNA testing fairly recently.

This recent addition means that although they can offer the tests for slightly cheaper than their competitors based on an already thriving testing business. Although cheaper it does not mean that their testing is better in other aspects.

Which DNA Company Is the Most Accurate?

Accuracy is a subjective term when it comes to DNA because AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, LivingDNA, 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA all likely perform accurate testing. They will all have very professional methods and use well trained experts to run their testing.

Their ability to test and read our DNA is likely very equal although any differences in accuracy will come with the interpretation of the results. If you have tested with multiple companies you will note definite differences in your ethnicity reports with each company.

This does not mean your DNA changed or that they have made a mistake in the test, it is more about what they are looking at and for. The different companies do not always look at the same markers in our DNA so there is often variation because of this. Also the base DNA samples each company works from are also different.

In the table below you will see how many different regions each of the main testing companies test our DNA against.

Company Ethnicity Regions
AncestryDNA 1500+ Regions
MyHeritage 2100+ Regions
LivingDNA 150 Regions
23andMe 2000+ Regions
FamilyTreeDNA 1500+ Regions

In terms of DNA regions tested MyHeritage comes out on top with 23andMe running a close second place. This means they claim to have been able to attribute specific DNA to a vast number of different geographical locations.

The question is do more regions really mean better accuracy in your ethnicity report? In my own testing I have results from both AncestryDNA and MyHeritage. I know I have a strong connection to Wales and grew up very close to the border of North Wales.

AncestryDNA reflects this by estimating me to be 45% Welsh which based on my family tree research seems very logical. MyHeritage however has me at 42% Irish/Scottish/Welsh. The Irish and Scottish also appear in my AncestryDNA test but as individual regions.

When I compare the results of my ethnicity estimates from both companies and my actual family tree, AncestryDNA seems to be more accurate. This is of course my specific experience and it may be different from other people's tests.

It is important to note that each company has its own databases and their own interpretations of which DNA may relate to which region. Also we must remember that these are just estimates and that we inherit our DNA in a very random way.

Additional Product Availability

Of the five main testing companies AncestryDNA and MyHeritage as of July 2022 only offer a basic autosomal DNA test. The other three companies LivingDNA, 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA all offer DNA health screening tests as well.

Those who also have an interest in the health aspects of DNA might then be interested in bundling their ancestry and health DNA tests with one of those other companies in order to save money. This would obviously be more beneficial than testing for ethnicity with one company and health with another.

FamilyTreeDNA by far has the broadest product available not only do they offer ethnicity testing, health screening but they also test gender specific DNA which has the potential of tracing very distant ancestral roots.

Those who have a deep interest in DNA with regards its ability to understand our roots might be most interested in FamilyTreeDNA. Their Y-DNA and mtDNA tests are not cheap but they may yield interesting results that an autosomal DNA test can not.

Which Company Has the Best DNA to Family Tree Connectivity?

In my opinion the answer to this question without a doubt is AncestryDNA. The ability to easily attach your results to your profile within your own tree can be very beneficial to your research. When you combine your DNA matches with your research and the trees of those you share DNA with you can often discover exactly how you are related to each other.

Tools such as SideView allow you to determine which ethnicity DNA you likely inherited from which parent. Additionally tools such as common ancestors and Thrulines can give you important clues as to who you are related to and sometimes might even solve a mystery or two.

Other companies also have their fair share of tools such as chromosome browsers and auto clustering tools to sort your DNA matches. These tools however can sometimes be a little advanced in terms of DNA understanding so might daunt those who do not understand the topic as well.

Conclusion

Each company has its own merits and really the one that is best for you is going to depend on your specific needs. If money is your chief concern then a basic autosomal test from FamilyTreeDNA will likely be the most inexpensive option.

If you have an interest in also learning about any possible health issues that your DNA might show then testing with LivingDNA, 23andMe or FamilyTreeDNA might be among your better choices. Don’t forget for those wanting to go further with their DNA testing FamilyTreeDNA also offers Y-DNA and mtDNA testing.

In terms of ethnicity estimate accuracy this is subjective but it is probably safe to say that one of the companies which has more regions tested might be the one that is worth your money. This kind of eliminates LivingDNA who at present only have a basic collection of regions.

When it comes to interfacing your results with your family tree AncestryDNA is currently the market leader. Its collection of tools can be very beneficial in determining relationships and potentially breaking through family tree brick walls.

It is likely best that you determine what you want most from your test and then choose the one that matches your personal goals. Also remember there is no rule that says you can’t test with more than one company. In fact doing so may allow you to find new and different DNA matches.

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  • "What is the Best DNA Test for Ancestry?". NameCensus.com. Accessed on August 10, 2022. https://namecensus.com/blog/what-is-the-best-dna-test-for-ancestry/.

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