AncestryDNA or 23andMe? A Beginner’s Guide to Choosing the Best DNA Testing Kit
The main difference between 23andme and AncestryDNA is that 23andMe offers health testing, and basic Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroup reporting. By contrast, AncestryDNA is much more focused on DNA testing for genealogical purposes.
Both companies offer ethnicity results and cousin matching, but AncestryDNA has a much larger customer database which is a gold-mine for genealogy.
Last Update: August 2019
|Best for… (our verdict)|
|Genealogy, family history research, DNA matches||Health screening, basic y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroup|
|See latest price
|See latest price
|Ethnicity Estimates and Regions|
|Yes (500+ regions)||Yes (1,000+ regions)|
|Autosomal (ethnicity)||Bundled autosomal, broad YDNA/mtDNA haplogroup, health|
|Family Matching and Database Size|
|Yes (15 million)||Yes (1 million)|
|Where to buy|
|Click here||Click here|
See our video below which walks you through both services.
For those who are new to DNA testing and genealogy, we have provided a simple and thorough comparison of 23andMe vs Ancestry based on the six most important factors to consider before choosing a DNA kit.
Whether you are looking for basic ethnicity estimates, searching for living relatives or interested in genetic health screenings, we help you sort through the noise and find the DNA kit that’s best for you.
“All I want is an ethnicity estimate.”
The ethnicity estimate, also known as an ancestry composition report, is the product most associated with genetic testing and the number one driver of growth in the DNA testing market.
AncestryDNA and 23andMe, the two leading genetic testing services, are highly competitive in this area.
Both companies offer accurate estimates, and both can provide you with a fascinating visual and numerical overview of your ancestry.
Here’s a quick look at what Ancestry’s ethnicity reporting looks like:
Here’s a quick look at what 23andMe’s ethnicity reporting looks like:
The difference between AncestryDNA and 23andMe in terms of ethnicity testing is simply their reference populations, and their algorithms for comparing your DNA to those reference populations.
To generate an ethnicity estimate, each company compares your genetic profile to DNA samples from around the world, identifying similarities between your genes and the genetic markers found in specific regions.
If your DNA compares favorably with the genetics of people native to Western Europe, a portion of your ancestry is likely European.
Keep in mind that having more regions is not necessarily better. More regions usually means that larger regions were broken up into smaller chunks. And the more precise a region, the greater the chance of inaccurate results.
One question that comes up a lot with ethnicity estimates is when two siblings get different results. This is not uncommon. I have a separate article that talks about why this happens.
Types of Tests
“What kinds of tests do they offer and why does it matter?”
Before comparing the number and efficacy of the tests offered by AncestryDNA and 23andme, there are some technical terms we need to learn:
There are three types of DNA tests for genealogy: autosomal, YDNA, and mtDNA.
Without getting into much detail here, here are some very broad explanations of these three distinct tests.
Autosomal DNA Test
Autosomal DNA is the test that every company offers – it’s your basic ancestry test (see my guide to DNA test kits).
It looks at all of your DNA on every ancestral line of your family tree and estimates your ethnicity based on your ancestors from the past few hundred years.
Anyone can take this test. It is best used for ethnicity estimates and family/cousin matching.
YDNA tests look only at the Y chromosome and a single, paternal line in your family tree (ie your father’s father’s father…).
NOT your mother’s father’s father or your father’s mother’s father…
These tests are meant for uncovering your ancient roots, but only on a single branch of your tree.
These reports can go back many thousands of years and are reported to you as a ‘haplogroup’. See my article on how to find your haplogroups.
YDNA tests are also great for showing if two people with the same surname are actually related. This of course also pertains to paternity testing.
Women, unfortunately, cannot take this test since they do not have a Y chromosome.
But hat doesn’t mean they can’t test their paternal ancestral lines.
They simply need to ask a male descendant on that same line to take the test for them (ie their father, paternal grandfather, brother, male cousin of their direct paternal line, etc.)
Ancestry does not offer YDNA testing.
23andMe does offer YDNA as part of their standard test, however they do not show YDNA matches nor is the test as extensive and therefore not very useful for genealogical purposes.
If YDNA testing is what you’re after for genealogical purposes, you’ll want to test with FamilyTreeDNA.
Just as YDNA looks at your direct paternal line, your mitochondrial (mtDNA) looks at your direct maternal line.
Both males and females can take mtDNA tests since mothers pass this type of DNA to all of their children – not just females.
In terms of genealogy, mtDNA tests are neat, but not nearly as useful as autosomal or YDNA tests.
Ancestry does not offer mtDNA testing.
23andMe includes mtDNA testing with their standard test, however the test is not as extensive as a dedicated mtDNA test.
If you’re looking a dedicated mtDNA test, again FamilyTreeDNA is your best bet.
Bottom Line: Types of Tests
Because 23andMe offers all three tests in one, technically we have to label them the winner in this category.
Just remember that their YDNA and mtDNA testing is not particularly useful for genealogy as it does not offer matching. If this type of testing is what you’re after, consider FamilyTreeDNA instead.
“I want to connect with distant relatives. Should I choose AncestryDNA or 23andMe?”
When it comes to connecting with both close and distant relatives, AncestryDNA is the clear choice. Here’s why:
AncestryDNA has the largest genetic database in the world, with samples from over 7 million users.
Compared to 23andMe, which has only 2 million genetic samples, AncestryDNA’s giant user base significantly increases the likelihood of connecting with contemporary relatives.
When you log-in to your account, you’ll see a list of genetic matches – users that match with your genetic profile.
Here’s what your Ancestry match list will look like (names and photos blurred for privacy):
And here is what your 23andMe match list will look like (names and photos blurred for privacy):
While you can’t be guaranteed to find every distant relative, if someone who shares your DNA has been sampled by AncestryDNA, you’ll have the option to connect with them, as well as the option to stay anonymous.
Should you choose to share the results of your genetic test with the AncestryDNA community, the personal information you provide – basic contact information – will be shared only with those users who are found to be a genetic match.
Both AncestryDNA and 23andMe respect their users’ privacy. Relatives can find and connect with you only with your express permission.
While 23andMe has a respectable database size, it’s not particularly useful for genealogy.
Because the company’s users value health over genealogy, it is less common (compared to Ancestry) that you will find other people willing to share their genetic information or reach out to potential relatives.
Bottom line: Family Matches
The advantages of AncestryDNA are intimately related to the interests of its customer base. Consumers interested in family and genealogical history tend to choose AncestryDNA, while consumers concerned with health screenings and risk reports tend to choose 23andMe.
Raw DNA Data Transfers
“I want it all! Who’s best for raw data?”
23andMe and AncestryDNA both offer the savvy, adventurous user the option to download their full DNA results, tables of up to 700,000 genetic data points.
This means that, whichever service you choose, you’ll have the ability to access and keep the unabridged, raw data of your DNA test.
AncestryDNA’s autosomal test and 23andMe’s autosomal bundle test are available for download and are fully transferable to other testing services like FamilyTreeDNA and MyHeritage.
Why transfer your data? Two reasons really.
The first is that other companies will interpret and calculate your raw DNA differently – so you may get different (but similar) ethnicity results.
The second (and more important) reason is to connect with your matches who tested with other companies and are therefore in different databases.
Everyone should take advantage of raw data transfers, but especially those who test with 23andMe.
You can take advantage of their superior health-related test; and later, if you are curious about your genetic matches, you can transfer the data from your autosomal bundle to a service like FamilyTreeDNA or MyHeritage, two of the only genetic testing companies that allows users to upload data.
Note that while Ancestry allows the download of your raw data, they do not currently allow uploads from other testing companies.
Bottom line: Raw DNA Data Transfers
Both companies allow you to download, but not upload your raw DNA from other companies.
The download feature is especially useful for users of 23andMe, as the ability to upload your data to other websites can make up for 23andMe’s under-developed family history tools.
“A good DNA test should warn me about potential health problems. Should I choose AncestryDNA or 23andMe for health screenings?”
If you are interested in using genomic testing to improve and monitor your health and wellness, 23andMe is far and away the best company out there.
In fact, 23andMe is the only genetic testing company that gives you the ability to view DNA-based health screenings.
Four different health reports are available through 23andMe:
- Carrier Status Report
- Trait Report
- Wellness Report
- Health Risk Report
Each report has its unique applications, and each is useful in its own way.
Your Carrier Status Report is an analysis of your X-linked recessive genes. Recessive genes do not relate to your personal health, but they can reveal genetic mutations that you carry, and that may have consequences for your children or grandchildren.
Your Carrier Status Report screens for over 40 genetic disorders, including Cystic Fibrosis, Muscular Dystrophy, and blood disorders, like Sickle Cell Anemia.
Remember, 23andMe screenings should not be conflated with the kind of advice you receive from a medical professional, as genetic health screening technology is still in its infancy.
While your Carrier Status Report contains information that may affect your children, your Health Risk Report contains information that affects you.
By examining your autosomal dominant genes, 23andMe has developed a method of early detection of hereditary disorders and diseases you have inherited a susceptibility to.
In April 2017, the FDA approved 23andMe as a regulated genetic testing service for ten disorders, including to late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Celiac disease.
Knowing the results of your health Risk Report can be a great way to explore options with primary care physician.
Your Trait Report and Wellness Report are two more services unique to 23andMe.
In your Trait Report, you will find detailed information on you and your children’s physical characteristics.
Based on this report, you may be able to predict your children’s appearance – whether your children will have dimples, freckles, straight hair or curly hair.
If you are interested in a generalized health profile, the Wellness Report provides insights on sleep quality, approximations of your BMI (Body Mass Index), and whether you are lactose intolerant or prefer salty foods to sweet foods.
Just like your Carrier Statues Report, your Wellness Report is not the last word on whether you will sleep well or maintain a healthy weight.
But, if you find that you have a predilection for weight gain, the results of your Wellness Report may be the motivation you need to get out, exercise, and eat better.
Bottom line: Health Testing
23andMe is the best and only choice for quality health screenings.
Understand that these tests should not be considered a medical diagnosis and that you should consult a medical professional with any and all questions about your results.
Costs and What’s Included
“What do I get for my money?”
AncestryDNA offers a testing kit, ethnicity estimate, and cousin matching for one low price.
Additional tools and features such as global records and family trees require a monthly subscription.
With 23andMe, you have two options: an ethnicity estimate without a health report, and an ethnicity estimate with a health report.
Users that choose the first option will have to pay an additional fee to upgrade to health reports should they chose to do so in the future, making the final cost slightly higher.
Bottom line: Cost and What’s Included
Both Ancestry and 23andMe have very affordable pricing considering the value you’re getting.
Comparing the price of these two companies is very much an apples and oranges situation since they are very different tests.
Every comparison between AncestryDNA and 23andMe suffers from the same logical infirmity. How do you compare two products that are so alike, yet so completely different?
For most consumers, their choice will depend on which service they looked into genetic testing for in the first place.
For genetic testing to unite with distant relatives, break down brick walls and extend a family tree, they would go to AncestryDNA for its fantastic community of like-minded researchers and its massive database of others who have also tested.
If they started their journey into genetic testing out of health concerns, they would inevitably choose 23andMe.
Both companies are great at what they do. Once you figure out your goal for DNA testing, the choice is quite clear.
Questions? Feel free to ask in the comment below.