Ancestry is perhaps the best-known genealogy site on the web. The company is well-established, well-respected, and has a huge online community.
With AncestryDNA (see latest price), you can also connect your DNA results with millions of others, link them directly to your online family tree, and then dig into nearly 20 billion online records to continue your search.
Ancestry has by far the largest customer database which is perfect for those doing family history research because it will match you with living relatives. Whether you’re looking for ethnicity estimates or to connect with distant family, AncestryDNA is a fantastic choice.
How does AncestryDNA stack up to the competition?
There are many choices for getting DNA testing done, so it’s important to know the pros and cons of each company before choosing one.
The biggest advantage of testing through AncestryDNA is that you can connect your DNA results to all of the other services that Ancestry offers.
This includes online family trees, billions of genealogical records, and millions of other users.
Ancestry vs. FamilyTreeDNA
More people have been tested through AncestryDNA than any other company, including FamilyTreeDNA, which means they have a larger database of potential matches.
That means you have a better chance of finding living relatives and fellow researchers based on your results.
Both companies offer tons of genealogical records and strong online communities.
However, Ancestry only offers autosomal DNA testing, while FamilyTreeDNA offers all three tests. See our full review of Family Tree DNA.
Ancestry vs. MyHeritage DNA
Both sites have great online communities and lots of records to search. Both companies also only offer autosomal DNA tests, so there’s no advantage either way there.
MyHeritage DNA breaks the world down into more regions, which might help you narrow down your searches a bit more.
However, Ancestry has a much larger database of test results, meaning you have a better chance of finding matches.
Ancestry vs. 23andMe
The main advantage of 23andMe is that it is the only genealogical DNA testing service that offers a health screening based on your DNA.
Unlike AncestryDNA, 23andMe also bundles all three types of DNA tests for a single price.
However, it does not do much with those extra tests, so the results you get won’t be much more than what you get from Ancestry.
The biggest difference is support after the test. Ancestry has a huge online community and billions of searchable records, while 23andMe has neither, making it harder to apply their results to your research.
About your DNA
DNA is found in every living cell in your body, and when it comes to genealogical DNA testing, three different types of DNA can be tested:
- Autosomal DNA, which you get a little piece of from every single one of your ancestors, both male and female
- mtDNA, which you get directly from your mother, and she from her mother, and so on back through history in a direct maternal line
- YDNA, which only males have, and which a man gets directly from his father, and he from his father, and so on back through the direct paternal line
Autosomal DNA testing is by far the most popular type of test, and the only type currently offered by AncestryDNA.
If you want to take advantage of the other tests, you will need to have them done through another company (see our DNA testing kit reviews).
However, autosomal DNA tends to be the most useful for genealogy, so if you go with AncestryDNA, you won’t be missing out on a lot.
Autosomal DNA is mixed together in each generation, with a child getting half of his or her autosomal DNA from one parent and half from the other.
That means with each generation you go back, the portion of your DNA from a particular ancestor drops by about half.
So about 1/4 of your autosomal DNA comes from each of your grandparents, about 1/8 from each of your great-grandparents, and so on.
By the time that figure drops to 1/32 or 1/64, it becomes tough to accurately connect people, so autosomal DNA is only useful for five generations or so (sometimes as many as ten, but usually less).
Still, that means it can help you find a number of living relatives, up to third, fourth, or even sometimes fifth cousins.
Taking the test
Getting your DNA tested through AncestryDNA is very simple and straightforward.
First, order your kit online. You will also need to set up a basic (free) Ancestry account if you don’t already have one so that you can receive your results.
When you receive the kit, it will contain a saliva collection tube and a set of simple instructions for how to fill the tube, package it, and return it with the prepaid postage.
You also need to activate the kit online in order to connect the unique serial number of your kit with your Ancestry account.
That way the testing lab never knows anything about you, not even your name. All they get is an anonymous ID number.
To make sure your test is accurate, you should not eat, drink, smoke, brush your teeth, or chew gum for at least 30 minutes before you take the test.
After you’ve filled the specimen tube, pack it up according to the directions and mail it back. Your kit will include a prepaid mailing label to ship the kit to the lab for testing.
When and how do I get my results?
It takes about six to eight weeks after you send the kit to the lab in order for your results to come back.
AncestryDNA will send you an email as soon as they are ready.
To access your results, you need to log in to the Ancestry website.
Naturally, that means that you must have a valid email address to get the notification and some way to access the website to get your results.
But chances are if you’re reading this, you already have both 🙂
So, what does the test actually tell me?
When you have AncestryDNA test your DNA, they examine it at more than 700,000 locations to look for specific markers.
Because people living in the same area over many generations interbreed with one another, they tend to share the same markers.
That means your specific set of markers is an excellent clue as to where your ancestors lived.
AncestryDNA breaks the world down into 500+ regions and ethnicities.
Your results will include a chart showing what percent of your DNA is associated with each of those regions.
That can make for a good starting point in narrowing down where to start your research.
It may also turn up unexpected results. If you always thought your ancestors were from England, but a large percentage of your DNA comes from Eastern Europe, you might need to doublecheck your research.
AncestryDNA includes an ethnicity map feature as well that shows you where each set of ancestors likely lived. It is color coded to match your ethnicity results, and is interactive so you can zoom in and find additional details.
One thing your AncestryDNA test won’t tell you is anything about genetic health markers. The only company that currently offers a DNA health screening is 23andMe.
Finding your relatives
One of the biggest advantages of autosomal DNA testing is that it can help you connect with living relatives, including many you never knew existed.
Many of us have no clue who our third and fourth cousins are, yet they are closely related enough that they may be researching the same family lines as you. And DNA testing can help you find them.
AncestryDNA has tested more than 15 million people so far. That’s a huge batch of potential relatives.
The only drawback is that you have to opt in so that others can see your results. So even if your relatives have been tested, you won’t find them unless they allow people to find them.
That means that you really should share your results so your relatives can find you, too.
When you do find a match, you can connect with them by email and start collaborating right away.
If you’re adopted and looking for your birth family, DNA testing is the perfect way to find them and get connected.
You can also link your DNA results directly to your Ancestry family tree.
How accurate are the test results?
Genealogical DNA testing hasn’t been around that long, but it has already come a long way.
Millions of tests have been collected and compared with traditionally researched family trees. With every passing day, the results become more accurate.
They are already good enough that AncestryDNA will break down your ethnicity to intervals of just 0.1%.
Just keep in mind that genetics aren’t going to tell you everything. In the past two centuries, people have been moving around more and faster than at any time in history.
So even if you have a good read on where your ancestors originated, that doesn’t mean that they didn’t move two or three times in just one generation.
Will the test say if I’m Native American?
AncestryDNA testing can tell you with high confidence if some of your ancestors lived in North or South America. They may even be able to narrow it down to a fairly specific region.
But there is no way that they can tell you what specific tribe your ancestors may have belonged to.
And you can’t use the test to prove Native American descent. You still need written documentation or other proof for that.
See our guide to Native American ancestry.
Are you a neanderthal?
Of course not, but there’s a good chance you’re related to one!
There is plenty of evidence that Neanderthals and humans interbred around 40,000 years ago.
So you may well have some small chunks of Neanderthal DNA in you.
AncestryDNA’s test however will not tell you how much you may have since autosomal tests only go back roughly 4-5 generations.
Should I test my family, too?
Unless you have an identical twin, then you don’t share the exact same DNA with anyone else on the planet.
Your brothers and sisters will have DNA that is close to yours, since you have the same parents, but not exactly the same.
That means that if you can get your family members to take the test too, you might be able to dig up even more living relatives, ones who match your siblings more than they match you.
You can also get your children tested. DNA testing can be done at any age. The only potential issue with testing babies is getting them to spit (or drool) into the collection tube enough to fill it.
What about my privacy?
AncestryDNA is dedicated to making sure your privacy is protected. Your personal information is never going to be shared with any other company.
Even the testing lab never sees any of your information. The only thing they have for you an anonymous ID number.
It is entirely your decision whether you ever share your results with anyone or not.
Even if you do share your results, the only people who will see them are living relatives, folks whose DNA is a close match to yours.
And those are exactly the people you do want to find.
As far as AncestryDNA is concerned, your results are entirely your own. You can download your raw results, have them deleted from Ancestry’s system, or even have them destroy your original saliva sample.
Can I take my results to other websites?
Yes, as long as those sites let you upload raw DNA data.
You can download your raw data from AncestryDNA at any time after your results come back.
That means you can take the test once and then get the benefit of several sites, which is always a good idea.
Note that at the moment Ancestry does not allow upload of raw data from other companies, so you can take your results somewhere else, but you can’t bring results from somewhere else to Ancestry.
How much does all this cost?
The list price for AncestryDNA’s autosomal DNA test is $99. That includes the cost of the kit and the processing at the lab.
Occasionally Ancestry will have a sale on their DNA kits, so be sure to check the website for the latest pricing.
There is an additional shipping fee of around $10, which covers the cost of mailing the kit to you and the pre-paid mailing label to send it to the lab for testing.
In some cases they may have to charge tax as well, but there’s no way to check if that applies to you until you’ve started your order (but before you actually pay anything).
At this point, AncestryDNA kits can only be ordered by people in the United Stated, United Kingdom, and Ireland.
Once the test has been done, there are no other fees to complete the testing and view results.
However, to link your results to your family tree or take advantage of other research features of the Ancestry website, you need to maintain a paid Ancestry subscription. Click here to see the latest pricing.
Gift kits and discounts
The more of your family that gets tested, the more distant relatives you’ll find.
So why not give some testing kits as gifts for Christmas, birthdays, or next Tuesday?
AncestryDNA even gives a discount for ordering more than one kit at a time.
There’s no expiration date on the kits either, so you can hold onto them for a couple months if you need to.
You don’t have to have DNA testing done in order to research your family tree, but without it, you’re missing out on a powerful tool.
And when you consider just how cheap the tests have become, there’s very little reason not to expand your ancestral search with a DNA test.
And with AncestryDNA, you aren’t just getting a basic ethnicity estimate.
You’re getting the chance to connect your DNA to your family tree, to contact family members across the country and around the globe, and the chance to dig through billions of online records to flesh out your research.
For more information or to buy a test kit, visit AncestryDNA here.
Questions? Feel free to post in the comments below.