23andMe vs AncestryDNA
Which DNA Test is Best and How to Choose
Sneak peak: 23andMe vs AncestryDNA
Here’s a quick comparison of how the two companies stack up. As you can see, they both have their strong points. (Updated January 2019)
Best for... (our verdict)
Where to buy
Yes (150 regions)
Yes (31 regions)
- Bundled autosomal, broad YDNA, broad mtDNA.
Yes but very limited
Yes - if you purchase health upgrade
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.
AncestryDNA is by far the most popular of the 23andMe competitors. It has a massive database of potential DNA matches which makes it incredibly useful for genealogical research.
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).
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 Ancestry 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, and the more specific you go, the lower the statistical confidence becomes.
So more regions isn't always better.
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
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 farther 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
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 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 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.
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 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
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.
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 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
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.
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.