Researching your family tree is exhaustive. However, unless you can claim direct lineage to the aristocracy, you’re probably going to run into trouble around the 16th century. One way around this is becoming increasingly popular: DNA testing.
Put simply, it gives you a better idea of where your family line originated. DNA testing can also give you answers to questions you haven’t even asked yet.
If you’re looking for a DNA testing service to trace your ethnic origin, you’ve probably considered 23andMe and AncestryDNA. But which service is right for you?
Why Use 23andMe or AncestryDNA?
You want to know more about your heritage. Perhaps you’ve been looking into researching your family tree, or you simply want to know where a family trait originated.
Either way, a DNA testing service can help and 23andMe and AncestryDNA are the market-leading options.
The procedure is remarkably simple. You choose a service (hopefully based on the results of our comparison below) and pay for the testing pack. This is shipped out to you; all you need to do is sign the relevant documents and provide a sample.
DNA is sent to the testing service in a test tube. Your DNA is present in your saliva, so all you need to do is spit into the tube, place it in the envelope, and post it!
When the test is complete, you’ll be informed by mail, around two months later. 23andMe and AncestryDNA both compare results with a pool of existing DNA samples, enabling you to establish your ancestry.
For example, many white North Americans are likely to have Northern Europe as the bulk of their DNA. However, small portions of north African or Middle Eastern DNA may also be present. This represents thousands of years of human exploration and diaspora across the globe.
While standard family tree research typically only stretches back 500 years (records permitting), DNA testing can potentially take you back to the beginning.
How Many Tests Do 23andMe and AncestryDNA Offer?
Each of the services we’re looking at offer different DNA testing.
AncestryDNA will provide autosomal testing, specifically looking at the DNA sample’s ethnicity.
23andMe, meanwhile, will test your DNA for autosomal, broad Y-DNA (paternal DNA), and broad mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA from the mother). There is also an optional upgrade to health testing (see below).
Winner: 23andMe offers a greater range of DNA testing, although the results may not be what genealogy researchers are looking for.
23andMe vs. AncestryDNA: How Much Do They Cost?
Having your DNA sample tested isn’t cheap. But which of the two services we’re looking at offers the best value?
Well, what you get from your chosen DNA service it depends on what you’re hoping to find out. Fortunately, standard DNA testing from both 23andMe and AncestryDNA is just $99 per person.
However, as noted earlier, 23andMe also offers an optional Health + Ancestry testing service for $199.
Winner: It’s clearly a draw for basic ethnicity DNA tests.
23andMe vs. AncestryDNA: Which Is Most Accurate?
If you’re paying for DNA testing, you want it to be accurate. So, which of these two DNA testing services is going to help you uncover your hidden ethnic background?
AncestryDNA claims to be more comprehensive, using autosomal DNA testing that covers maternal and paternal branches. It also references the entire genome, rather than single tests, is gender neutral, and can fill in recent holes in your family tree. AncestryDNA also has a more diverse database.
23andMe, meanwhile, can monitor common US and Canadian migrant populations, as well as some Asian and Oceanic branches. It is less adept at African and Slavic testing. The Y-DNA and mtDNA testing has a wider focus than autosomal tests, giving you a picture of your ancestors 10,000-50,000 years ago.
23andMe vs. AncestryDNA: Security and Privacy
It’s vital that your chosen DNA testing service treats the results of your data with respect and privacy. We don’t want to live in a world where someone’s DNA is causing them to pay higher insurance premiums, or allowing hackers to blackmail them.
So, will AncestryDNA and 23andMe look after your DNA and personal data?
AncestryDNA provides a detailed privacy statement noting that it “use[s] industry standard security practices to store your DNA sample, your DNA test results, and other personal data.” Additionally, AncestryDNA “do not share with third parties your name or other common identifying information linked to your genetic data, except as legally required or with your explicit consent.”
However, your data will remain available to Ancestry to use for other purposes, including expanding its pool of DNA.
To this end, 23andMe provides a detailed five-step explanation of key ways it ensures your privacy. This covers giving you control over your data, explaining how data is stored, its policy on third party data, security measures in place to protect your data, and how the use of your data in research is purely voluntary.
Winner: 23andMe has a far more detailed policy than AncestryDNA, offering wider controls over your DNA data.
However, the future of commercial DNA testing may result in data being made more widely available. As such, it is worth keeping an eye on the service you use in order to opt-out of any future sharing of your DNA. For more on this, see our feature on the safety of online DNA testing services .
Family Matching With 23andMe and AncestryDNA
One of the benefits of commercial DNA testing is that not only do you find information about your heritage, you can find people who share it with you.
Both 23andMe and AncestryDNA offer a family matching service. This essentially matches your sample up with other customers with close matches, thereby highlighting potentially unknown relatives.
The results of this may be surprising, or it might unearth some long-forgotten family skeletons, so tread carefully! As noted, both sites offer family matching, although AncestryDNA does a far better job than 23andMe’s limited service.
Which DNA Testing Service Is Best?
We’ve seen how both services offer affordable, feature-packed DNA testing, although 23andMe can upgrade you to medical testing too. Meanwhile, a larger pool of samples means that AncestryDNA is more likely to deliver accurate results.
23andMe has superior privacy standards and controls in place, however. But in the end, there is little to choose between the two services.
Overall, we think that if you’re certain of your recent heritage, and you’re based in North America, 23andMe is more likely to deliver good results. Of course, you can also pay extra for some all-important health screening, too. For everyone else in the world, wherever your heritage may hail from, choose AncestryDNA.
Need more help tracing your family tree? Use these genealogy websites to trace your ancestors .