What DNA Test Should I Take? Part 2: Overview of Companies for Both Genetic DNA Testing and Analyzation of Results.
If you are ready to get genetic DNA tested, there is one important question you will need to answer:
What DNA company do I use to get tested?
DNA testing is an exciting journey! It’s a journey of discovery—of who you are and where your ancestors came from. It’s a discovery of new cousins and even new friends.
A number of companies exist that offer DNA testing for genetics, and even for your health, but the four main players in the game are:
AncestryDNA (NOT Ancestry by DNA)
Family Tree DNA (FTDNA)
National Geographic Geno 2.0 Next Generation
There is not a single test or company that will provide you with everything you want to know. Each offers different tests and each has its own algorithms for the evaluation of matches and calculation of relationships.
As for what company to use—well, DNA testing isn’t cheap but let me suggest this. If at all possible, test with as many companies as you can. Especially if you are an adoptee looking for bio family. Each company has a different pool of test takers, so the more companies you test with the more potential relatives there are to discover and meet.
After testing and receiving results, download your raw data (instructions are provided) and then upload the file(s) to GEDMatch.com, DNAGedcom, and DNA.Land. Results from various DNA testing companies can be uploaded to these crowdsourcing sites, even further increasing your chances of making connections. As well, they provide powerful tools for evaluating results. One note: as of this month, GEDMatch has discontinued accepting uploads from FTDNA but, hopefully, this issue will resolve soon.
The results received from DNA testing will be provided online: you will send back your test kit and some time later receive your report(s) through a password-protected account.
So what company should you test with? The right response stems from the questions you are trying to answer, or what your goals are. Are you attempting to determine whether or not you have Native American ancestry? Are you tracking a certain surname through your family’s history? Simply curious as to your ethnic breakdown? Figure out your goals and work from there.
Following is a brief overview of the primary testing companies, as well as several third-party sites that you can use to analyze your results and find additional matches.
Part III of this series will provide recommendations based on possible goals.
Note that listed test costs are non-sale prices; discounts may be found at various times of the year.
$99 + shipping (U.S.) – subscription necessary to access certain features. Monthly membership: $19.99/mo after 14-day free trial (hint- much can be done in 14 days!).
Saliva sample (spit test)
Overview: AncestryDNA offers only the autosomal test, which tests for relatives along any branch of your family tree; both males and females can take this test. In about six weeks, you will receive back an ancestral Ethnicity Estimate providing a breakdown of your admixture in percentages. Ethnicity breakdowns aren’t an exact science for any of the testing companies though the information is considered fairly accurate at the continental level. You will also receive a database of persons you match at some level. These are your genetic cousins– some possibly very close, some quite distant. You will not be assigned a haplogroup (an ancestral clan of people who all originated from the same locale).
Strengths: Ancestry offers one of the largest autosomal DNA databases in the world—a strong advantage for finding cousins. Their ethnicity estimates are considered reasonably detailed and accurate. AncestryDNA provides strong estimations of ethnicity for those with European heritage but they are thought to be weaker for minority populations.
When reaching out to cousins, you will find a good level of responsiveness and lots of online family trees to review and compare with yours. Overall, lots of strengths for the newbie here– including links of your DNA results to your family tree, shaky leaf hints when you have a DNA match and a tree match both, and even DNA circles for those who are subscribers and have a public tree. DNA circles group you and others with the same common ancestor.
Weaknesses: Tools are not provided to analyze your test results, something quite irritating to users—especially the lack of a chromosome browser (though most test-takers aren’t aware of how to utilize one). Instead, AncestryDNA gives “hints.” Be aware: online trees from fellow researchers may be full of inaccurate information; don’t assume they are correct! Also, many cousin matches have either non-existent or private trees that you will not be able to access (unless you get permission). Uploading of raw data from competitive companies isn’t allowed. To communicate with matches, you must use their internal messaging system.
Family Tree DNA
Family Finder Autosomal Test: $99 + shipping (U.S.). Autosomal transfers from AncestryDNA or 23andMe: Free but $39 to access your matches (after the first top 20).
Males only: Y-DNA Tests: Range from $169 – $359
Males and Females: mtDNA HVR1 + HVR2 Test: $69; mtFullSequence: $199
Cheek swab kit (easier for some customers)
Overview: Family Tree DNA offers three testing products: an autosomal test called Family Finder; Y-DNA testing (ranging from 37 – 111 markers tested, as well as the “Big Y” test); and mtDNA testing (offering a choice of a limited hypervariable region test or a full sequence test of the entire mitochondrial DNA chromosome).
Strengths: If you are wanting to trace your direct paternal line, FTDNA is the leader in Y-DNA testing and offers a wide array of surname projects. Employees are knowledgeable about genetics and response time is excellent for questions. Free autosomal transfers are allowed from either AncestryDNA or 23andMe, which helps find additional matches from their databases. I personally appreciate that this company actually provides names and email addresses of your matches (versus requiring you to use an internal messaging system). They offer excellent free webinars. A big plus: FTDNA provides matching segment information, a chromosome browser, and other powerful tools to assist in comparing segments of DNA. If you want to push your research beyond just a list of cousin matches, this ability to see and evaluate the shared DNA segments is vital.
Weaknesses: Just recently, GEDMatch announced that they are no longer accepting uploads from FTDNA. Hopefully, this “discussion” between the two companies won’t last long!
National Geographic Geno 2.0 Next Generation
$149.95—current sale price; normally $199.95. Standard shipping is currently free (U.S. only); it is usually not prepaid.
Cheek swab/scrape test
Overview: Participate in a worldwide project attempting to chart “a comprehensive map of the early stages of human history.” (Geno 2.0 website). A portion of proceeds funds cultural conservation efforts and revitalization activities for indigenous populations around the world. Women have their mtDNA tested and results provided; men get both Y-DNA and mtDNA results. Cousin matches and medical information are not included in results. You can either remain anonymous, using a unique Genographic Project Participant ID (GPID) number, or you can register for an account to add your results to the database. Results include three sections: hominin ancestry, deep ancestry, and regional ancestry.
Strengths: This test studies your deep ethnic heritage, so keep this in mind–it is not for the test-taker looking for cousins in a more recent genealogical timeframe.
Weaknesses: It is stated on their website, “The Genographic Project is not a genealogical study, and your DNA trail may not lead to your present-day location.” Results may take up to 10 weeks to process from the time they are received at the lab (though even their competitors can take eight weeks).
Autosomal test $199.00 plus $9.95 to cover shipping both directions.
Overview: Your autosomal test results include an Ancestry Composition map, predicted haplogroups for maternal and/or paternal lineage, a listing of cousin matches called DNA Relatives, and your Neanderthal DNA percentage. You will also receive over 60 personalized genetic reports and medical information highlighting Carrier Status reports, Wellness reports and Traits report. Various tools allow for DNA analyzation.
23andMe recently revamped their website (and doubled their price) to the dismay of genetic researchers. They seem to be more interested in providing health data than ancestry.
Strengths: Admixture reports from 23andMe are considered by many to be the most accurate, especially in estimating relatively recent origins and for reporting of minority Jewish, African American, and Native American ethnicities. They offer a chromosome browser that allows you to determine which DNA segments are linked to your different ancestries. 23andMe will predict your paternal or maternal haplogroup and provide the information. If you are interested in health reports, this is the company to test with.
Weaknesses: You will likely find it quite difficult to get your cousin matches to respond to sharing requests or to respond at all; as well, 23andMe has a difficult system of introductions that requires individuals to get approval before communicating and then again for sharing of DNA. Online trees are very weak and must now be built using the outside vendor, MyHeritage. Transfers of raw data are not allowed to Family Tree DNA. They require you to contact your matches through their internal messaging system. Many of their customers are not serious genealogists.
Other Companies for Reports and Analyzation of Data:
$5 (all major currencies and credit cards accepted). Much larger data files cost $10.
Most reports are generated in under 10 minutes.
Overview: Customers of gene-testing companies such as the ones discussed previously, as well as Complete Genomics and others, can pay $5 to upload autosomal raw data to this web-based site and receive a genetic health report dividing your genes into “Bad news” and “Good news.” After 24 hours Promethease deletes all information about your raw genome. You will also be emailed a copy and the report is available to download for 45 days from their server. So if you are ready to learn whether or not you have an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, type-2 diabetes or lactose intolerance (some of the many results provided), go for it. I did it and then chose not to read the results! I realized that I didn’t want to know. An intro video explaining the product, running the report and how to read a Promethease report is available on YouTube. Reports from users who actually read their results (unlike me) are very positive!
Free service (donations accepted)
Overview: GEDMatch is a free crowdsourcing site that finds shared ancestry between persons who have voluntarily uploaded raw autosomal DNA data from one of a number of genetic testing companies, such as AncestryDNA or 23andMe. Up until this week, it was possible to upload data from Family Tree DNA but GEDMatch is not currently accepting uploads from this company.
GEDMatch offers a range of analytical tools to evaluate data and help find others with shared ancestry. Available analysis tools include: ‘One-to-many’ matches, ‘Find people who match you on a specified segment’, ‘one-to-one matches.’ Information about selected matches can be seen in a chromosome browser. Also available are a genetic distance calculator, a relationship calculator, the ability to triangulate on match results to see how you and your match relate to others, a tool for checking to see if your parents are related to each other, and more.
Overview: DNAGedcom is a non-testing third-party website that allows you to upload results from 23andMe and FTDNA and find additional cousin matches. If you tested with Family Tree DNA, you can download your raw data direct from Family Tree DNA’s own server. Once uploaded and you have registered an account, you will be able to access scientific tools to compare your DNA results with matches.
Overview: A new, nonprofit startup trying to gather participants; they currently have approximately 15,000 (I have all of three matches on my account!). Uploading your data allows you to learn more about your genome “while enabling scientists to make new genetic discoveries for the benefit of humanity.” Genome data is accepted from Ancestry.com, Family Tree DNA, and 23andMe. They promise to not release any information without explicit permission. Once you are registered, you become part of a community affiliated with Columbia University and the New York Genome Center. As well, the relative finder provides a report of up to 50 nearest matches sorted by relatedness degree and total shared DNA segments as well as the lengths of segments.
So, friends, it’s time to get started on your journey! Get tested. Enjoy the discoveries. Just be open to the idea that the results may offer some surprises (mine did!).
I would LOVE to hear your stories, as well as your questions. Feel free to drop me a line or leave a comment. It’s always nice to know someone is reading my blog and learning from it!
Later this week I’ll post What DNA Test Should I Take? Part 3: Recommendations for Genetic DNA Testing Based on Specific Research Goals.