23andMe vs Ancestry DNA - What You Need to Know
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23andMe vs Ancestry DNA

Which DNA Test is Best and How to Choose

Sneak peak: 23andMe vs Ancestry DNA

Here’s a quick comparison of how the two companies stack up. As you can see, they both have their strong points.

Best for... (our verdict)

Genealogy
Family History Research
DNA Matches

Health Screening
Basic YDNA & mtDNA

Where to buy

Ethnicity Estimates

Yes (150 regions)

Yes (31 regions)

Tests Offered

Autosomal (ethnicity)

- Bundled autosomal, broad YDNA, broad mtDNA. 

- Health

Family Matching

Yes

Yes but very limited

Health Screening

No

Yes - if you purchase health upgrade

Price

More people are turning to genealogical DNA testing every day and for good reason - it appeals to anyone who wants to know more about their family history. With all these choices, it can be hard to know which company is right for you. In this article, we’ll compare two industry leaders head-to-head, 23andMe and AncestryDNA, to help you decide which one is best for you.

Ancestry DNA

Pros

Cons

  • Database of over six million sets of DNA results for comparison
  • Very strong genealogical community
  • Can connect with matches through anonymous email and message boards
  • Can link your DNA results to your online family tree
  • Stores your results indefinitely
  • No longer offers separate mtDNA or Y-DNA tests
  • Members can opt out of sharing their DNA results, so it may be harder to find and contact matches
  • Requires an ongoing subscription to the site to use their online family tree functionality
  • Does not allow raw data uploads from other sites

23andMe

Pros

Cons

  • Only site to offer health and wellness reports
  • Has a large database of more than one million results
  • Includes a chromosome browser for comparing results
  • Very limited genealogical community compared to other sites
  • Limited ability to contact matches
    Does not allow upload of raw data from other sites
  • Health and wellness test is not part of the basic fee, it costs extra

Now let’s take an in-depth look at each of those features, so you know exactly what we’re talking about, and can pick the best company for your needs (you can also check out our complete guide to DNA testing here).

Ethnicity Estimates

The main result you’ll receive from both AncestryDNA and 23andMe is an ethnicity estimate.

This is a breakdown of what regions of the world your ancestors came from based on how your DNA compares to millions of other samples.

Each company breaks the world down into regions based on the DNA patterns that have historically been found there.

For example, the DNA typically found in Ireland is different from that found in Scandinavia or the Middle East.

By seeing how closely your DNA matches specific genetic markers from these areas, the companies can give you a guess as to how much of your DNA comes from each region.

At the moment, AncestryDNA breaks the world down into 150 regions, while 23andMe uses 31 regions.

That means that your results from 23andMe might help you narrow down your search a little bit more, but not much.

It is important to keep in mind that these are only estimates.

They are based on the most up to date research and algorithms, but every day researchers are learning more.

As more people get tested, the tests improve in accuracy.

Several years ago, for example, AncestryDNA’s test tended to overestimate a person’s Scandinavian heritage, a problem that they have since fixed.

AncestryDNA has a much larger database of results from other people who have been tested, which means their results might be a little more accurate, but probably not enough to make a difference.

Ethnicity Estimates Winner: It’s a tie

Tests Offered

AncestryDNA only has one test available, which tests autosomal DNA.

This is the DNA passed down to you by all of your ancestors. It gets mixed together with each generation, so it can’t tell you much about your family further back than about six to eight generations.

However, since that’s the period that many genealogists are most interested in, that may be all you need for now.

23andMe offers a test bundle that not only includes autosomal DNA, but mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y-chromosome DNA (YDNA) as well.

YDNA and mtDNA let you trace a single family line very far back into the past.

For YDNA, this is your direct paternal line; for mtDNA, it’s your direct maternal line.

By testing your mtDNA and YDNA, 23andMe can give you information about your haplogroups.

A haplogroup is essentially all the descendants of a particular person.

For YDNA, since only males have a Y-chromosome, the haplogroup includes all of the direct male descendants.

For mtDNA, which is passed on to both males and females, it includes all of the descendants.

Your haplogroups can help you trace your family’s locations and migration routes far back into the past.

Unfortunately, the bundled test offered by 23andMe uses only very basic mtDNA and YDNA testing.

It will give you basic information, but there are better choices if that is your goal.

FamilyTreeDNA, for example, has mtDNA and YDNA tests that are much more thorough and therefore will provide you with more accurate and more useful results.

But they will cost you more, too.

23andMe also gives you the option of including a health screening with your genealogical testing. See the Health Screening section below for more details.

Tests Offered Winner: 23andMe

Family/Cousin Matching

Probably the single biggest benefit of having genealogical DNA testing done is to connect with your living relatives.

Chances are you know your aunts, uncles, and first cousins, but a lot of us have never met our second cousins and may have no clue how many third or fourth cousins we have out there or who they are.

Getting a DNA test done can tell you exactly that.

Both 23andMe and AncestryDNA provide you with ways to connect with your cousins and other living relatives.

Naturally, they can only connect you to other people who have been tested, so you won’t find all of them, but you’ve got an excellent chance to find a bunch.

For both 23andMe and AncestryDNA, letting relatives find and connect with you is optional.

You have to agree to share your results before anyone can find you, or before you can find anyone else.

This may sound a bit scary, but keep in mind two things.

First, these companies aren’t going to give your info out to everyone, only to people who are a close genetic match.

Second, the only information you’re actually sharing is your contact information, specifically your email address.

Other folks don’t see anything but how to contact you, and how you are related.

While both companies offer this service, AncestryDNA is much better when it comes to connecting with family members.

Ancestry.com is all about genealogy, and the people who use it want to know more about their relatives and ancestors.

Anyone who gets tested through AncestryDNA is likely to want to share their results and will welcome hearing from you.

On the other hand, many of the people who get tested through 23andMe are doing it because of the medical screening more so than the genealogical aspects.

That means they are much less likely to be interested in sharing their info or even replying to messages.

AncestryDNA has tested a lot more people so far, too, about 5 million compared to about 2 million through 23andMe.

Naturally, the more people who have been tested, the more likely you are to find a match.

That means you can expect to find more relatives through AncestryDNA than through 23andMe.

23andMe may also limit the maximum number of results you can get, while AncestryDNA doesn’t have any limits.

Ancestry.com also lets you connect your DNA to your online family tree, and helps you search possible matches from millions of other family trees.

23andMe doesn’t have online family trees, which can make it tougher to work out exactly how you might be related to your genetic matches.

Family/Cousin Matching Winner: AncestryDNA

Raw Data Download

The results you see on the 23andMe and AncestryDNA websites are summaries of your test and how your results compare to other people.

Most of the time that means you aren’t looking at the actual results.

That’s actually a good thing, because your full results, or raw data, is a table that contains over 700,000 pieces of information.

Even though your raw data isn’t likely to make any sense to you at all, both companies give you the option of downloading it.

Why?

Because then you can upload it to other sites if you want.

As we mentioned above, if you test through 23andMe, your options for connecting your results to genealogical research may be limited.

But downloading the raw data from your DNA test can help you get around that.

You can then take that raw data to another website that offers the genealogy tools that 23andMe doesn’t.

FamilyTreeDNA, for example, lets you upload your raw DNA data from other sites.

That means you can use all of the incredible tools that FamilyTreeDNA offers, in addition to your results and tools from 23andMe or AncestryDNA.

Another useful site is GEDmatch, which has powerful tools to link your DNA results to your family tree.

The site works with family trees exported from every major genealogy software on the market today.

AncestryDNA also lets you download your raw data for use on other sites, but it also can build your family tree and search millions of records online through the Ancestry.com website instead of using another site.

It’s important to note that only your autosomal DNA raw data can be transferred to other sites.

The YDNA and mtDNA results from 23andMe can’t be transferred, since other sites either don’t use them or test them differently.

Raw Data Download Winner: It’s a tie

Health Screening

23andMe has one unique feature that no other genealogical DNA testing company offers.

It gives you the option of getting a health screening done based on your DNA. The health screening costs more, but it could be worth it.

When you get a health screening done through 23andMe, you will receive a set of four reports: carrier status reports, trait reports, wellness reports, and genetic health risk reports.

Keep in mind that your genes influence your health, but in most cases, they don’t guarantee it.

You can use the 23andMe health screening as a starting point to find out more about your health risks, but you should never rely on them for health advice or guidance.

Always be sure to consult a qualified healthcare provider before making any health-related decisions.

Carrier Status Reports

Every person carries two types of genes, dominant and recessive.

Our dominant genes are more obvious because they are the ones that affect our appearance and health.

Recessive genes are genes that are not active in you, but which can be passed down to your children.

The health screening checks for conditions such as Sickle Cell Anemia, Cystic Fibrosis, Muscular Dystrophy, and about 40 other genetic diseases and disorders.

Traits Reports

Our DNA directly affects not only our health but our appearance. You may already have a good idea what your traits are, but there could be a few surprises.

Cheek dimples, freckles, hair curliness, male pattern baldness, and eye color are all controlled by our DNA, along with many other traits.

The Trait Reports from 23andMe can help you predict your future appearance and that of your children.

Wellness Reports

Wellness is a general measure of how you compare to other people in several areas of health, such as how deeply or well you are likely to sleep, if you are lactose intolerant, if you tend to run a little lighter or heavier than average, and so on.

It’s important not to focus too much on the wellness reports, though.

Other factors, including stress, exercise, and diet, are going to have a greater impact on your overall health than these parts of your DNA.

Health Risk Reports

Based on certain hereditary traits, you may be more prone to some disorders and diseases than most people.

Your health risk report could tell you if you are more likely to develop Parkinson’s Disease, age-related eyesight issues, late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, or other diseases.

Early detection goes a long way towards preventing and treating all of these, so your health risk reports can tell you what to look for.

Your reports can be a good resource to start a discussion with your physician.

Health Screening Winner: 23andMe

Price

Picking a winner on price is tough because it all comes down to which features are most important to you.

23andMe’s basic test is more expensive but includes mtDNA and YDNA. There’s also an extra fee if you want the health screening.

AncestryDNA offers a less expensive autosomal DNA test but does not have options for mtDNA, YDNA, or health screenings.

To get the most out of AncestryDNA, such as to connect your results to a family tree, you also have to maintain a paid subscription to Ancestry.com.

With 23andMe, you only pay for the test. There’s no subscription required. However, your genealogy options are limited unless you transfer your raw data to another website, which could require a subscription.

Both sites frequently offer sales or discounts, so be sure to visit them both to find the latest prices.

Price Winner: It depends

Our Final Verdict

Both 23andMe and AncestryDNA can be incredibly useful in expanding your family history research.

Both have solid reputations and are backed by solid science. And both are just as good when it comes to ethnicity estimates and the ability to download your raw test results.

If you want to find your broad YDNA and mtDNA haplogroups, or if a genetic health screening is important to you, 23andMe is the clear winner.

AncestryDNA doesn’t offer either of these services. If you want to find more detailed YDNA and mtDNA haplogroups, then FamilyTreeDNA is your choice.

But if your main goal is genealogy, and you want to connect with cousins and other relatives, or to link your DNA results to your family tree, AncestryDNA has a much larger database and more tools to help you out.

Decide on your main goal, what you really want to get out of DNA testing, and that will tell you which company is best for you.

Mark Orwig
 

My name is Mark Orwig and I am obsessed with keeping my mind busy, keeping active, and staying healthy.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 52 comments
Nancy - November 24, 2017

Thank-you for the comprehensive review/comparison of the 3 DNA testing sites. It was written clearly and concisely which assisted in making my choice on which one was pertinent to my demand.

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Lorese Walton - November 26, 2017

You could do a couple of random DNA searches on a monthly basis, or you could search for people by request. Just make sure you know the people searches aren’t to cause harm to any one.

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Jeannette Wynne - November 28, 2017

Thank you for this informative article. It answered a lot of questions I had.

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Kathryn Lindquist - December 12, 2017

Thank you, Mark! I appreciate your clear, concise, and information packed summary!

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Malo - December 24, 2017

Hi Mark – great distillations.
If one already has Ancestry.com with one person’s DNA by ancestry.com, can you think of how to input any mDNA or yDNA data from twenty-three/me’s DNA analysis?

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Gayle A - December 27, 2017

Great article – lots of concise information for making your decision. It definitely helped in making my decision! Thank you, Mark

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Barbara Barr - December 28, 2017

Thanks Mark! I have a question for you. My mother was adopted. I am now 66 years old. How can I find more specific information about her family tree when she didn’t know either of her parents?

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    Mark Orwig - January 2, 2018

    I would take an mtDNA test at FTDNA to hopefully identify the surname of your biological grandmother. I’d also take an autosomal test at ancestry. Does your mother have any living biological brothers?

    Reply
Deborah A Harris - December 28, 2017

Can you take your raw data from 23andme and use it on ancestry?

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    Mark Orwig - January 2, 2018

    No Ancestry does not allow upload of raw dna right now.

    Reply
richard - January 1, 2018

Nice clear informative writing. Congratulations, its not easy.

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Dotti Herdman - January 1, 2018

Thanks,Mark, your info was succinct and even-handed and answered many of my questions.

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Jessica - January 4, 2018

Hi Mark, thank you for all of this information! My father was adopted so finding out what his background & health screening is very important to me. My mother-in-law has been doing ancestry.com for ages & I have a very detailed report of ancestors going back 8 generations (biological on my Mom’s side as well as my Dad’s adopted families side) that she has compiled over the years. I am inclined to go with 23andMe. Do you agree given my needs? I’m actually tempted to do both – but…

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Mrobles - January 4, 2018

Thanks for the info! Very helpful

One question, if I already tested with Ancestry, would I gain anything extra by testing with 23andme as well? I’m only interested in ethnicity estimates, not family trees or health screenings.

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    Mark Orwig - January 12, 2018

    Yes every company uses different reference populations for their ethnicity estimates.

    Reply
      Ami - January 31, 2018

      If every company uses different reference populations for their ethnicity estimates how do I know which company has the correct estimate? Or which company is more correct?

      Reply
        Mark Orwig - February 9, 2018

        You don’t. That’s why there really isn’t a ‘best’ dna test. Different companies will be more accurate than others in different regions. Overall though I’ve found FTDNA to be the most accurate. But all 5 listed in this guide a very accurate.

        Reply
Bonnie Salerno - January 6, 2018

Hi Mark, read your piece above and thank you.
We don’t do much online and just really wanted to know
what nationality we were. I think just Ancestry.com would
do right?
If you can answer that would be great. Thank you.

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Ed britt - January 7, 2018

Mark,

My daughter and I are just trying to understand where we come from. I believe it it is Scottish and English, and she thinks there my be Native American on her Moms side.
Which one would provide the best results?

Thanks in advance,

Ed

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    Mark Orwig - January 12, 2018

    FTDNA. Your daughter may also want to do an mtDNA test for the native american heritage.

    Reply
Stephen Flowers - January 12, 2018

Mark, Has 23 & me changed it’s methods in the last year or so? I was at a workshop in2016 and thought they said that used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and searched only(?) your maternal lineage. Did I misunderstand them or have they changed to autosomal DNA testing on their basic test?

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    Mark Orwig - January 24, 2018

    They bundle all 3 types of tests in one. But the ydna and mtdna results are much more broad than if you test them specifically with someone like FTDNA.

    Reply
Michael J - January 13, 2018

Thanks very much for this clear and useful comparison, which has let me determine which is the best choice for me.

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Jo Ann Cooper - January 14, 2018

Which program is best if you’re adopted. I don’t know any history.

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    Mark Orwig - January 17, 2018

    Depends. Are you looking to find your biological relatives or just want to know your ethnicity?

    Reply
Jim T - January 15, 2018

Adopted. Health questions at physicals, applications, etc. are unknown. Blindsided by diabetes, hearing loss, arthritis, and a few others. Glad to have this technology. Bought both. 23andMe for planning out my health and preventing what comes next. AncestryDNA, as I have no clue where I came from. Adoption records still sealed.

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Richard - January 16, 2018

Very thorough and helpful report. You completely answered my questions about which to choose. Thank you for the detail.

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Brenda - January 27, 2018

Thanks for this. Two questions:
1) If you know a bit about your ancestry,, wouldn’t 23 and me be the better choice. Also I’m from the UK and so following my tree back is much easier than for Americans. My grandfather, a scholar who traced us back to the 9 th century.
2) How accurate are the health prognoses? Does 23 and me have statistics to show this accuracy?

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    Mark Orwig - February 9, 2018

    Hi Brenda. It really depends on what you’re trying to achieve with the test.

    Reply
JP - January 29, 2018

I’m adopted and interested in possibly finding relatives. I have first and last names of my biological parents…. no much else. Which one is best? Thank you.

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Ami - January 31, 2018

Hi and thank you for the comparisons. Which company tells me exactly which country my family is from? For example, I don’t want to simply see “east Asia” I would wanna see “Korea, Japan, etc”. I already bought and sent in my sample to 23 & Me and am currently waiting for my results but now I worry I may have chosen the wrong company.

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Eric M - February 1, 2018

Mark,

Very good report, I wish I had seen this before I took the 23 and me test. I am trying to find more information on my ethnic heritage and origins. The result from the test generated by timeline has a 60 year gap (1810 to 1870). Are there any recommended test to enhance and “find” that gap? Or can you recommend any additional test take? On my mother side according to oral histories, denoted a stronger native american heritage…

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    Mark Orwig - February 9, 2018

    Hi Eric. Sorry I’m not sure what you mean? I wouldn’t really go by that timeline.

    Reply
Jim luckett - February 1, 2018

Thanks for doing this. Your info on Ancestry membership seemed likely to give the wrong impression. I have an Ancestry membership and I don’t always pay. When I have time for genealogical research I pay my $20 for that month and when I don’t have time, I suspend my paid membership, sometimes for a year at a time. When I am not paying, I still have full access to my DNA results and my family tree, and anything I have saved to it. All I lose during a month when I am not paying is access to their research tools. I only need those tools to add to the information in the family tree. I don’t lose any info just because I am not paying, so I don’t need to maintain my paid membership. Good job otherwise!

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    Mark Orwig - February 9, 2018

    Thanks Jim. But you also lose hints on your family tree as well has the ability to compare your tree to a DNA match to find the common ancestor, correct?

    Reply
MERCEDES - February 1, 2018

Which one would you suggest I go forward with? I am searching for my biological father, I only know his full name, date of birth, and birth place. Would either of these help me find any relatives from my father’s side too?

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    Mark Orwig - February 9, 2018

    I would use Ancestry for that as their database of matches is much larger.

    Reply
Beth L Parentice - February 2, 2018

Thank you Mark. I greatly appreciate the thorough research you have done and the easy to read assessment of each product. You have helped me immensely in making an informed decision.

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Saoirse - February 2, 2018

Hi Mark,

I’ve already done an AncestryDNA test and have my results, I was hoping to do a 23andme test just to back these up and see which ethnic groups my parents come from individually…do you think this is worthwhile? I’d love to find out traits also but I really don’t want to know anything about being predisposed to any diseases etc. (I’d think about it way too much and freak myself out).

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    Mark Orwig - February 9, 2018

    If you don’t want to know then don’t test with 23andMe. You can test with other companies though like FamilyTreeDNA.

    Reply
Debby - February 3, 2018

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. I recently sent in a kit to Ancestry as it was a gift. My brother had done the same 2 years ago. 3 out 4 of our grandparents actually came here from England so we were pretty sure of our results. My brothers showed 48% Great Britain and a collection of other Western European influences. Mine however came up 30% Norweigian, 17% Ireland and 9% Great Britain. What a shocker. I have a twin sister. Here is the corker. Supposedly we are identical. However, we do not look alike and we understand that 20% of identical twins do not look alike. She is sending in a kit to Ancestry so cross your fingers!

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Jack M - February 8, 2018

Thank you for the great comparisons. I’m trying to figure which one to try and I’m leaning toward the 23 and me for the health reason. I noticed on the sneak peak comparison at the top of the page, 23 and me vs. Ancestry , it shows Ancestry ethnicity estimates were 150 regions while 23 and Me listed 31. But, during the comparison later in the article it states Ancestry DNA with 26 regions and 23 and Me with 31 regions. I’m curious which is the accurate number. I thought Ancestry had more regions.
Thank you for your great comparison.

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    Mark Orwig - February 9, 2018

    Hey Jack. That’s my error. Ancestry recently updated the number of regions to 150 and looks like I didn’t update every mention of that. Thanks for the catch.

    Reply
Marcia Bryan - February 9, 2018

My brother just sent off his sample for Ancestry DNA. How much difference would you expect for me if I sent a sample? I was thinking of using 23andMe for comparison. I was going to wait to hear his results.

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    Mark Orwig - February 9, 2018

    Hi Marica. The results will be similar but not the same. All depends on how you and your brother inherited your DNA from your parents.

    Reply
Kim smith - February 9, 2018

Im still unsure which test to take. I just want to know details of what region of theworld we come from & follow that lineage back to specific people if possible. I actually do know my 1st thru 4th cousins on my dads side, but not very many of my mother’s side, which is where the red hair & freckles come from.. Which test would you recommend? Thank you in advance.

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