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Making the most of your DNA testing dollars

Here it is, DNA Sunday again at The Legal Genealogist. And the big news in genetic genealogy this week is the launch of autosomal DNA testing by That brings to three the number of major players in the DNA testing world that offer this sort of test: Family Tree DNA and 23andMe are the others.

There’s a lot that isn’t known yet about the Ancestry testing. For more information on the test generally, both Blaine Bettinger of The Genetic Genealogist (see here and here) and CeCe Moore of Your Genetic Genealogist (see here, here and here) have written about it.

It’s only being offered at the moment to subscribers — even subscribers have to sign up and wait in line to be offered the test — and all we know about pricing is the introductory price of $99 for the test. (Update: It’s now $129 for Ancestry subscribers; prices vary for non-subscribers. See AncestryDNA now open to all, posted 4 Nov 2012.)

Now I’m a total DNA junkie. I’ve never met a DNA test I wouldn’t take. So, yeah, my name is on the list, waiting to get my chance at the Ancestry test to go along with the tests I’ve already taken at Family Tree DNA and 23andMe. There are real advantages to testing as widely as possible: you’re looking to find people who match you, and the key person who can help you break down your brick wall may have only tested with one company.

The issue here is one of cost. Nobody is giving away DNA tests. So… how do you get the most bang for the DNA buck?

I’ve said it before: if you’re serious about using DNA as a tool in your genealogy toolkit and you can only afford to test with one company, then the company to test with is Family Tree DNA. It has more to offer the genealogist than anybody else in terms of the number of serious genealogists who use it and the features and ease of use it offers.

But that leaves you out in the cold for matches at 23andMe and Ancestry. So what do you do? Walk away from those potential matches?

Nope. Here’s what I would do:

Step 1. If you’re an subscriber, get in on the $99 introductory offer. You can bet your bottom dollar it won’t ever get any cheaper. That gets you a shot at all your future matches with folks who test with Ancestry.

Step 2. Test with 23andMe using the monthly or prepaid subscription plan, then convert the subscription plan to lifetime at the end of the year. The thing I like least about 23andMe is its goofy pricing and the changes in its pricing. (I paid much more for 23andMe testing because I tested when it was changing its prices and it didn’t offer those of us who’d tested at the high end a refund.)

Right now, a 23andMe test costs $99, but you have to buy at least a one year subscription to what it calls its Personal Genome Service. That costs $9 a month, or $207 for the first year including the test, or you can buy a lifetime subscription for $399. But at the end of the first one-year subscription, you can convert your subscription into a lifetime subscription for $99, for a total of $306 for 23andMe. (Update: 23andMe has converted to a new flat one-time $99 price as of mid-December 2012. See December DNA doings, posted 16 Dec 2012.)

Step 3. The minute you get your 23andMe results, transfer them to Family Tree DNA for $89. When I say “transfer,” that doesn’t end your 23andMe matches, it just gets you into the Family Tree DNA system with all of its benefits.

What that gives you is all your matches with all three companies for just under $500. (Update: Under $300 now.) Not cheap, for sure, but the best bang for your DNA buck on the market right now.

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