Note: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
You’ve come to the right place.
AncestryDNA and Family Finder by FTDNA are the two most popular genealogical testing services for people researching their family history.
Unlike 23andMe, which offers both health and genealogical analysis, AncestryDNA and FTDNA focus solely on ancestry DNA testing.
In this in-depth comparison, I’ll compare AncestryDNA vs. Family Tree DNA on the following features and capabilities:
This comparison should take you about 5-8 minutes to read.
So let’s dive in!
(Note: Read our matchup of the top 3 DNA tests to see how these two tests compare with 23andMe.)
Now let’s look at how AncestryDNA and FTDNA compare on specific features starting with how each breaks down your ethnicity results.
The ethnicity breakdown is one of the most important parts of your DNA genealogical test result. It tells you what your long-term ethnic/racial origins are.
In other words, ethnicity reporting tells you and your family,
Where do we come from?
The precision of an ethnicity report is measured in terms of how many different regions of the world and cultural tribes, or haplogroups, are reported. Some tests results might tell you that you have Southern European origins, while another is more precise and gives you a split between native Greek and Italian.
The second gives you a clearer picture of your ancestry.
AncestryDNA’s ethnicity reporting covers almost all the continents in the world from Africa to Asia. They cover highly specific ethnicities such as Africa South eastern Bantu, Africa South-Central Hunter-Gatherers, Northeastern Chihuahua & Far West Texas, Native American and many others.
For example, here is an ethnicity breakdown of someone with strong European origins. You can see how it’s broken down into specific ethnicities.
Here’s a map showing how AncestryDNA breaks down the general West African ethnicity into six different populations, thus providing people with West African origins a more granular ethnicity estimate.
In total, AncestryDNA covers more than 350 regions from around the world.
FTDNA provides a more generalized ethnic breakdown as you can see in the sample report below.
FTDNA covers fewer regions than AncestryDNA and may provide a less close-up ethnicity breakdown. But they are increasing their coverage with time and, as some customers have noted, they cover some far-flung regions that AncestryDNA misses.
If you want a highly detailed ethnicity report with a finer breakdown of your ancestry makeup, AncestryDNA is the best choice.
There are three general types of genealogical DNA tests. The most common one is the autosomal DNA test which looks at the non-gender specific chromosomes. It tells you about your ancestry without specifying whether it’s from your mother’s or father’s line.
The mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) looks at your maternal line while the Y-DNA test looks at your paternal line.
AncestryDNA only offers the autosomal test. So you cannot use it to track down your ancestors from a specific parent.
FTDNA on the other hand offer all three types of tests. In fact, it’s the only well-known genealogical testing service that offers comprehensive paternal and maternal lineage tracing. 23andMe has Y-DNA and mtDNA testing, but it’s not as in-depth as that of FTDNA.
If you want to go beyond your general ancestry and trace your family history down your mother’s or father’s lineage, then FTDNA is your best choice.
When you decide to get a genealogical DNA test, you probably have one of two goals.
You either want to discover your family history including where your ancestors lived, how they migrated and your ethnicity breakdown; or, you want to find new relatives. Or maybe you want to achieve both.
Most genealogical DNA testing services do a good job of telling you about your ancestral / tribal background.
But when it comes to finding and connecting with relatives, things get more challenging.
Both AncestryDNA and FTDNA are actually great at helping you connect with new family members.
But there are a few differences in how you go about it with each of them.
The chances of finding relatives depend a lot on the size of a service’s database. The more people have been tested, the higher your chances of matching with someone. In this case, AncestryDNA has an advantage.
They currently have the largest database of over 7 million people. When your results are ready, you can go to your secure account and view possible matches.
The matches are automatically arranged to start with the closest ones. You can also sort them by date. A filter function allows you to select only those matches with a shared ancestor, those you haven’t viewed yet, those you’ve favorited and those you share with your mother or father (one of them must have taken the test).
Click on ‘Review Match’ to see an overview of a specific match.
Depending on their privacy settings, you’ll see their real name or username, ethnicity breakdown (or part of it) and predicted relationship.
You can also contact your matches through an internal messaging system to find out more about your shared ancestry. The response rate is better compared to other services like 23andMe.
You can also see what other matches you share with a specific match. This is helpful when you are trying to pin down which side of the family a match comes from (remember that AncestryDNA doesn’t have paternal/maternal tracing).
Shared matches are limited to relatives up to the 4th cousin level.
Unfortunately, that’s just about all you can do. Beyond that, you need an Ancestry.com subscription. This allows you to create a family tree, view your matches’ family trees (if they’ve set them to the public) and see where people in your tree and your matches’ family trees were born.
If you want to do some serious family research, AncestryDNA is a great place to start. But get ready to pay for an Ancestry.com subscription. The subscription doesn’t allow you to create and view family trees; it also provides access to millions of historical records and documents you can use to research your family history.
FTDNA also shows you your possible matches after your results are ready. Simply sign in to your secure account and go to the Family Finder matches page.
All your possible matches will be listed there, and you can even download the entire list as a CSV or Excel document.
Use the filtering tools to see specific matches. You can filter by relations (e.g., immediate relative, close relative or speculative relative), name (search a specific name) or ancestral surname (search a specific surname).
You can also sort your matches alphabetically, by match date and relationship range.
If you want to compare your matches with yourself or other matches, use the integrated chromosome browser. You can compare up to 5 matches at a time.
For more accurate family matching, use the Family Matching Tool. One or both of your parents need to have taken the test. You then need to add them manually to your family tree. You’ll then be able to see matches on your paternal or maternal side. This is a good alternative if you don’t want to take a mtDNA or Y-DNA test.
To see information on a specific match, click on their ‘Character Card.’ This pops up an overview of their information including name, picture (if there’s one), email address, match date and relationship range among other details.
The number of details you can see will depend on their privacy settings.
Unlike AncestryDNA, FTDNA has no internal messaging system. Instead, you are supposed to use the email in the character card or their profile to contact your matches.
The response rate will depend a lot on your ability to write well and be polite about what information you need. I’ve seen some people say they have a response rate of up to 75%.
FTDNA offers a comprehensive range of tools to help you find family matches without requiring you to pay extra.
However, if you don’t mind paying extra for an Ancestry.com subscription, then AncestryDNA is a great choice for anyone who wants to find relatives for building out their family tree – and wants more information than DNA to go on.
Unless you are a genealogist or want to extract genetic health information from your DNA test results, then the report you are given by AncestryDNA or FTDNA is enough. It tells you everything you need to know and helps you figure out your next steps in your search.
But this report is just a sliver of the entire cache of data that was gotten from your DNA. There is a lot of raw data that goes unused.
Both AncestryDNA and FTDNA allow you to download this data. You can then use it to do in-depth research or to share with your doctor. But most people take this data and plug it into third-party services to glean more ancestry information or find out if they are at risk of genetic diseases.
But remember that this data is not validated. Do not use it to make a major medical decision. It should be used for informational purposes only.
While you can download your raw data, most DNA testing services do not allow you to import data from other services. FTDNA is an exception.
You can transfer your data from 23andMe, AncestryDNA or MyHeritage. Because this data helps expand their database, they’ll find your new family matches for free in return. To unlock all features including the chromosome browser, you need to pay $19.
Both services take data privacy seriously and pledge to protect your personal and genetic information. They also give you various privacy controls tools.
With AncestryDNA, you can decide what information to show to your matches (e.g., username instead of real name). Since they use an internal messaging system, you don’t have to share your email.
Ancestry DNA also allows you to invite other people to view your information and you can set various levels of access.
FTDNA has a bit more flexibility regarding what you matches can see you. For instance, they can see your email, name (unless you turn off matching, which doesn’t make sense if you are looking for relatives), the tests you took and ancestors.
While this increases the chances of finding matches, it means you have to surrender more information.
AncestryDNA charges $99 for their testing service. Note that this does not include shipping costs for the kit and applicable taxes. It also doesn’t include Ancestry.com subscription costs. This doesn’t include the typical $20+ discount, either.
FTDNA offers 10 packages priced between $79 and $546. Their basic autosomal test (similar to AncestryDNA’s) costs $79. A full Y-DNA test costs $359 while a full mtDNA test costs $199.
You are mainly interested in building out your family tree, and DNA genealogy is just one of many tools you will use.
We also recommend AncestryDNA if:
– You want to find as many matches as possible and contact them.
– You want to find out your exact ethnicity makeup.
– You are serious about your family research and don’t mind paying extra to get the information you need.
You want the ability to trace your maternal or paternal lineage independently or need extra precision in your results.
We also recommend FTDNA if:
– You want to find family matches without paying extra.
– You are a serious DNA genealogist. FTDNA is the service genealogy professionals prefer.
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.