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You’ve come to the right place.
23AndMe and AncestryDNA sell the two most popular ancestry DNA test kits in the US, right now.
In this in-depth comparison, I compare 23andMe’s ancetry-only test and AncestryDNA’s test on the following features essential to any family genealogist:
This comparison will take about 5-8 minutes to finish.
So let’s dive in!
(Note: To see how these 2 tests compare against FamilyTreeDNA, see my three-way DNA Test comparison.)
Let’s dive deeper and look at how 23AndMe and AncestryDNA compare on the most important features, one at a time.
Since the successful completion of the human genome project, affordable consumer DNA testing has really taken off and thanks to these two companies.
They have made lab DNA tests cheaper, easier to access, and more informative to the everyday person without a degree in genetics.
Ancestry.com has been in the ancestry business for much longer – since 1935. But they launched their DNA service in 2012.
23andMe launched in 2006 and started offering personal DNA testing services the next year.
For a good idea of how far DNA testing has come, consider that the 23andMe kit cost $399 when it was first offered. It costs just $99 today.
23andMe is best known for its genetic health testing services. But lately, they’ve been enhancing their ancestry testing service with the addition of new and more diverse populations.
AncestryDNA, being part of Ancestry.com, naturally focuses on ancestry. But they have recently started offering a traits report.
Let’s dive deeper and look at how 23AndMe vs. AncestryDNA compare on the most important features, one at a time.
The size of a DNA company’s database is tied directly to how comprehensive and in-depth their DNA reports are.
As you’ll see in the next section, AncestryDNA with their much larger database can tell you more about your ethnicity and ancestry than 23andMe.
A larger database also means you are likely to find more family matches simply because there is a bigger pool of people to match your DNA to.
You’ll get more matches if you test with Ancestry.com compared to 23andMe, but 23andMe have really closed the gap with more than 10 million DNA test results now online.
But there is something else that’s even more important than database size. That’s database diversity.
Both companies do really well in this area, too. Both compare your DNA to more than 1,000 regions from all over the world. No other DNA testing company comes close.
The advantage of having this many regions is that you get finer grained ancestry and ethnicity data.
Instead of just knowing that you have West African heritage, the admixture report specifies the country you most likely descend from – Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, and so on.
The report will even identify which enslaved group you came from.
Comparing 23andMe vs. Ancestry DNA, 23andMe has historically had a less diverse database.
Over half of the DNA test results in 23andMe’s database are of European descent.
This can be a problem for people with roots in Africa, Asia, and other regions. You may not get the same in-depth information that you will get from an AncestryDNA report.
23andMe has been making many improvements to increase the size and diversity of its database.
Earlier this year they announced they had 1,000 total regions – a dramatic improvement from their previous 31.
They’ve also been undertaking initiatives to fill the missing gaps, especially for people with routes in Africa and Asia.
This includes collaborating with researchers from various underrepresented countries and offering free kits to US citizens with grandparents in one of those countries.
A few years ago, 23andMe seemed all focused on their health testing services. But they are paying more attention to the ancestry part. Expect a lot of improvements soon.
Don’t worry if you’ve already taken a test with 23andMe. You won’t miss out on any of these developments.
As the company adds new populations and uncovers new information, your report will be updated automatically. So keep checking it for any updates.
To do that, they rely on proprietary databases of DNA collected from their customers all over the world.
The size of their database is important: the larger, deeper and more diverse the database, the more detailed your ethnic report can be.
When it comes to fine-grained ethnicity reporting, there is no clear winner any more – AncestryDNA and 23andMe both now report ethnicity across 1,000 regions.
One other AncestryDNA feature we love is the Timeline.
It’s a story of your ancestors, where they originated from, and how they migrated through the years.
It won’t tell you about your specific ancestors but rather the populations they belonged to.
This is especially helpful for people of African ancestry. The slavery period creates a huge gap that most DNA testing services don’t fill.
AncestryDNA will explain how your ancestors were taken to the US and how they assimilated across different states over time.
Whether you have Spanish, Italian, or Cuban ancestry, you’ll get an in-depth migration story that tells you more about your past.
23andMe also has a Timeline feature, but theirs is different.
Instead of migration stories for your ancestral populations, they show you when different ancestries first came into your family line.
It is an approximation, but it does provide some useful insights you can use to find out more about your ancestors.
Comparing Ancestry DNA test vs. 23andMe, the Ancestry test still provides more in-depth information about your ethnicity and ancestors – but 23andMe.com has significantly closed the gap.
If you want the most detailed ethnicity reporting possible, then AncestryDNA remains the better choice.
AncestryDNA’s results are based solely on autosomal DNA. Autosomal DNA looks at the 22 pairs of DNA that do not include the sex chromosomes.
The downside of relying solely on autosomal DNA is that you cannot trace your maternal or paternal ancestry individually. You can only look at general tribal history.
In contrast, 23andMe looks at three types of DNA: mitochondrial (mtDNA), Y-chromosome (Y-DNA) and autosomal (A-DNA).
Because of this, 23AndMe can report your family history along maternal and paternal lines separately.
With one exception: the disadvantage of paternal (Y-DNA) haplogroup testing is that it disadvantages women. Women don’t inherit the Y chromosome. Therefore a woman can only trace her father’s side on 23AndMe if she also tests the DNA of a known blood relative male in her immediate family, such as a brother or an uncle.
23AndMe also offers a unique Neanderthal test that tells you how much Neanderthal DNA is left over in your bloodline from tens of thousands of years ago. Of course, the size of your brow can tell you the same thing (just kidding!).
23AndMe reports your lineage beyond ethnic origins. Even though their paternal and maternal tracing is basic (compared with FTDNA), it’s better than the autosomal-only test used by Ancestry.com.
One of the reasons people get their DNA tested is to discover relatives they never knew they had.
There are many stories of cousins finding each other and people finding their birth parents using DNA tests.
Both of these services will help you find relatives.
You can contact them, too – although due to privacy policies, that is easier said than done.
After you take AncestryDNA’s test and get your results, you will be able to view your potential DNA matches online.
AncestryDNA maintains the largest DNA database for genetic ancestry research. The database includes 15 million records and is growing. So, you will also have the best chance to obtain a match, especially if you are an American (their database is heavily weighted to the US).
The privacy settings that your matches use will determine what information you can see about them. You also choose what information you wish to display to your matches.
Based upon their settings, you’ll either see their real name or AncestryDNA username. You’ll also be able to see their ethnicities if they have opted to display them.
If you both share a family tree on AncestryDNA, then you can see which relatives you share and their locations. Ancestry’s family tree feature is especially helpful if your goal is to research or verify your family tree.
Because there are so many family trees on the service that document maternal and paternal lineage, you can use AncestryDNA to trace your maternal and paternal lines using just autosomal DNA results. However, you need to be an Ancestry.com monthly subscriber to create, use and maintain family trees.
On AncestryDNA, you, unfortunately, cannot see your matches’ contact information. Instead, Ancestry.com provides an internal messaging system you can use to contact potential matches and invite them to join your family tree.
AncestryDNA is just one part of Ancestry.com’s many genealogical tools and services. Almost every Ancestry.com member is there to learn about their family history. Because of that, you’ll find that people there are generally more willing to reply to your messages and to share information with you than on other services.
As with AncestryDNA, you get immediate access to potential DNA matches as part of your 23andMe test result. How much information you will see about your matches will also depend on your matches’ privacy settings.
If the match opts out of sharing their info, you’ll only be able to see their haplogroups, their ancestor locations, and their surnames – as long as they have added this information to their profile.
Likewise, if you want matches to find you, then you’ll need to make sure your profile is filled-out and publicly visible.
If both you and your match have sharing turned on, then you’ll be able to compare more information including ancestry composition and how much DNA you share.
You can communicate with your potential matches in one of two ways: either send a request to them to share their information or send them a message through the internal messaging system.
Unlike AncestryDNA, 23andMe is more often used for DNA health screening. Many users are not looking to learn more about their family and are more hesitant about sharing sensitive medical information. The match response rate on 23andMe is quite a bit lower than AncestryDNA, as a result.
If your goal is to find possible relatives and connect with them, then AncestryDNA is your best choice.
23andMe and AncestryDNA both provide summaries of your test results in their reports.
But there is a whole lot of raw data extracted from your DNA that stands behind those beautiful graphs and charts.
This section explains how easy it is for you to get that data yourself, to learn more things.
OK, so first off, unless you are a genealogist you probably don’t want to “see” your raw DNA data. It’s filled with hundreds of thousands of data points that are impossible to interpret on your own.
But that doesn’t mean your raw DNA data is useless. Using a variety of third-party services and software (see a few recommendations here), you can glean a lot more information from your autosomal DNA.
Both 23andMe and AncestryDNA let you download your raw data and use it in any way you want.
Note that the raw data you download is not fully validated because these services do not validate data not used in their reports. You should only use it for informational, educational, and research purposes. Do not use it to make a medical decision.
If you learn something troubling about your genetic health, talk to a doctor or a licensed genetic counselor.
Note: Neither service allows you to upload raw DNA data from other services. FTDNA, however, does.
Only 23andMe offers genetic health screening and wellness reports that tell you:
If you buy AncestryDNA and want genetic health reports, then you’ll have to download your raw data and upload it into a third-party DNA analysis tool or service.
Update: AncestryDNA is now offering a genetic traits report.
In addition to the usual sections on your admixture and ancestry, AncestryDNA’s report now includes an analysis of your physical traits and how they are connected to your DNA.
There are currently 18 AncestryDNA traits including finger length, sensitivity to sweet tastes, hair color, freckles, and type of earwax.
23andMe also reports on several traits. I’m not sure whether this is AncestryDNA’s first step into health genetic testing, which is 23andMe’s turf.
The company actually ran a beta AncestryHealth service awhile back. It is now closed but for all, we know they might be preparing behind the scenes to launch a competing genetic health testing service.
It’ll be interesting to see if they can offer something better than 23andMe’s already impressive service.
But for now, 23andMe remains the clear leader in genetic health screening.
Both services are serious when it comes to your genetic privacy. You always have control over what to share and what to keep private.
AncestryDNA offers an especially convenient system where you can give others varying levels of control (viewer, collaborator, and manager) over your account.
23andMe goes to great lengths to protect your privacy. Your DNA information and personal details are stored separately. Your DNA data is identifiable only through a barcode. This ensures that even if someone got their hands on your data, they wouldn’t know it was yours.
Both services promise to ask for your consent before using your genetic data for any research purposes.
There is still a lot we don’t know about genetics.
So a lot of these DNA testing companies make efforts to contribute to genetic research either by finding research initiatives or using anonymized data to discover new things.
For example in 2013, 23andMe researchers discovered multiple genetic factors that lead to shortsightedness.
In 2018, 23andMe contributed data from 100,000 customers (with their consent) to be used in another groundbreaking study on the same subject.
Over the years, they have helped uncover the complex genetic involved in conditions like asthma, motion sickness, and Rosacea.
They currently have several other research initiatives both in-house and in collaboration with other organizations, Universities, and scientists.
Note: 23andMe will never use or share your DNA data for research without your consent. When you consent to its use, it is anonymized to ensure confidentiality.
Ancestry.com has also been involved in various research projects aimed at improving our understanding of genetics.
Currently, they are collaborating with Calico, a Google-backed aging research company, to discover the genetics behind aging.
As with 23andMe, AncestryDNA requires your consent to use your anonymize data for in-house and third-party research initiatives.
If you are keen about contributing to genetic research, either company is a solid choice and you can be sure that your data is safe.
Before discounts, 23andMe’s combined health and ancestry package sells for $199 while their ancestry-only package costs $99.
But discounts are frequently available for $20 to $40 off.
AncestryDNA costs $99 but is usually discounted by at least $20. This does not include subscription costs for Ancestry.com if you also want to build a family tree.
We also recommend 23AndMe if you want to trace your paternal and maternal lineage separately or you want to find out how much of a Neanderthal you are 😉
AncestryDNA’s larger DNA database, more communicative user base and family tree applications make this the better choice for genealogical research.
We also recommend AncestryDNA if:
I'm just another amateur genealogist investigating my American-Scots-Irish lineage. I built MyFamilyDNATest.com after buying all of the leading DNA tests to discover everything I could about my family history. Hopefully, this site will save you time and demystify the emerging science of DNA-based genealogy, for your family project.