23andMe to FTDNA? YES!

Rather switch than fight? 23andMe transfers to FTDNA – yes!

In genetic genealogy circles, when the subject of autosomal DNA testing comes up — the kind that works across genders and doesn’t have to be a son of a son of a son or a daughter of a daughter of a daughter — there are often fights er, spirited discussions over which testing lab to use. Some folks are strong advocates of Family Tree DNA (FTDNA); others are equally committed to 23andMe.

Sure, you can test with both — I have, mostly for … what’s the technical phrase… “shits and giggles” — but that’s expensive. Most folks started out with one company or the other and just stuck with it. Then they found that, if they tested with FTDNA and wanted to see if they matched 23andMe users, or if they tested with 23andMe and wanted to see if they matched FTDNA users, they had to use third party tools. There are good ones — Gedmatch is probably the best — but lots of folks really want their data in one place.

23andMe to FTDNA - yes!

So do the FTDNA cousins duke it out with 23andMe cousins? Nope. You don’t have to fight, you can switch1 — and if you act by 10 February 2012 you get a great deal.

FTDNA has just opened up its system so 23andMe folks can upload their results for a reasonable cost to FTDNA where a wide variety of tools and features are available specifically for genealogists that just don’t exist or don’t work as well on 23andMe. And folks, when I say “switch” here, it’s just a figure of speech, okay? You don’t lose your results at 23andMe — you gain results at FTDNA.

Now let me make one thing perfectly clear.2 There’s nothing whatsoever wrong with testing at 23andMe. The testing protocol is excellent, and if you’re interested in health issues, it’s pretty much the only game in town. But that’s the point, really: the essential difference between 23andMe and FTDNA is that many many people who test with 23andMe do so for the health-related testing, not for genealogy, while everybody who tests with FTDNA is doing it for genealogy. The core philosophy of health testing is confidentiality. The core philosophy of genealogy is sharing. They don’t play together nicely.

If you’re a 23andMe cousin, and you’re thinking about adding your results to the FTDNA database, let me give you some reasons why my vote is YES:

1. Maybe you’ll match me, and I can use all the help I can get on some brick wall lines. (If you can document Cottrells from Madison County KY around 1820 in your family tree, I’ll pick up the tab on getting your 23andMe data into FTDNA. Seriously. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

2. Contacting matches is far far easier on FTDNA. On 23andMe, you have to use its internal proprietary system to contact folks you match and you can only contact five matches a day; on FTDNA you’ll get the email addresses for your matches and can contact them directly whenever you choose. That’s because the default, again, on 23andMe is confidentiality whereas the vast majority of FTDNA customers sign a “you betcha! let my matches contact me!” form when they send in their test kits.

3. Responsiveness of matches is better on FTDNA. Because 23andMe customers often test for health, many of them don’t ever respond to a contact request (my closest 23andMe match has never responded to my contact requests at all); some flat-out refuse contact (and say so, as one of my close matches did… anonymously, of course, since that’s how 23andMe is set up).

4. Data analysis tools are far superior on FTDNA. On 23andMe, you can’t ever see where you match people unless they actually respond to one of your five-per-day contact requests. On FTDNA, you can see the data and use tools like the chromosome browser with all of your matches, even if they never answer your emails. On 23andMe, the tools are pretty basic; you can see where exactly — on what chromosome — you match an individual, but getting more out of the results is hard and has to be done one at a time. On FTDNA, you can compare five matches at a time; you can sort your matches by how close the predicted relationship is, or on common surnames (if surnames have been listed by your matches); you can designate known relatives and then compare matches with them to see if you have matches in common or you can set the filters to show only people you don’t have in common; you can add notes to each of your matches for your use later; you may find GEDCOMs already online for easy comparison (my GEDCOM’s there — come ON, Cottrell cousins! I need you!).

Now it’s true that there are features on 23andMe that FTDNA doesn’t have. You can’t use FTDNA to see whether you and a match share the gene for, say, how well you taste bitter flavors the way you can on 23andMe. I’m not entirely sure how I would ever use that information, except perhaps as the weirdest conversation starter with a super-DNA-geek. But hey… whatever floats your boat. For me, the choice is clear: FTDNA works for me.

The price to get your 23andMe data over to FTDNA varies based on exactly what test you got at 23andMe and what you want from FTDNA. The best deal is only good through 10 February, an introductory price of $50, and that’s if you tested on the V3 platform (starting late 2010 or early 2011). I’d tell you how to find out which platform your test was on, but for the life of me I can’t find that information. Which, by the way, is another reason I like FTDNA. I can find answers there, and if I can’t find ’em, an email gets a quick response.

For more info on FTDNA pricing for 23andMe folks, head over to FTDNA and read all about this at the page for Frequently Asked Questions about 3rd Party Transfers: Family Finder Results. To order, go to FTDNA, scroll down to the Third Party, and choose Transfer Relative Finder (Introductory).

Unless you’re descended from the 1820s Madison County KY Cottrells, in which case I really am serious. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. I’ll foot the bill for this and buy you dinner if we match.


  1. It occurs to me that youngsters who’ve never seen television ads for cigarettes — and maybe never even heard of Tareytons — may have no clue where the phrase “I’d rather fight than switch” entered common speech, but, as usual, I digress…
  2. I’ll bet a lot of those same youngsters don’t know this was a Richard Nixon catchphrase either. See Conrad Black, A Life in Full: Richard M. Nixon (New York : PublicAffairs, 2007), 27. Are we feeling old today, or what?
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16 Responses to 23andMe to FTDNA? YES!

  1. John Boggess says:

    I took advantage of the $50 transfer offer. After my DNA upload I learned that I was tested on the V2 panel, but FTDNA then offered a $180 coupon to be applied to new Family Finder testing. This is a net $130 discount off their normal $289 price — almost half off.

  2. Celia Lewis says:

    Judy, your quotes are priceless, and yes, I knew exactly where they came from!! (even a Canuck knows!). Hope you find a taker for your Cottrells in KY. Sadly, not me – my ancestors never got that far south.

  3. I started later in the game and tested with 23andme. I am wondering if you know of any way for me to give them my raw data and not have to pay a huge amount of money? I also paid to test to the DNA ancestry project and rather than pay to have them do further backbone tests, etc. do you know if I cann have them use my raw data from 23 and me? This is great work beyond what paper can do, but way too expensive to pay everyone to retest (and how reliable is that)?


    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Emily, you can certainly do two things right away with your 23andMe data. One is to transfer your results from 23andMe to Family Tree DNA for a one-time fee of $89 as of today (when I say “transfer” you’re not losing data or matches from 23andMe; you’re downloading a copy of your raw data from 23andMe and uploading it at Family Tree DNA). That will get you all the benefits of both systems. The other is to upload your data to the free third-party utility site Gedmatch.com where some folks who’ve tested with Family Tree have their data so you can at least get some additional matches.

      I don’t know if you consider $89 to be a huge amount of money, but in my book getting the benefit of both of these testing companies is worth that much and more.

  4. Julie Gallivan says:

    I did 23andme, but was thinking about doing the $89 transfer to FTDNA. Do you know if they reanalyze your DNA for ethnicity? I saw that they offer more information for different Jewish heritage and would like to have them look at my DNA for my ethnicity. I have Familial Mediterranean Fever and no one in our family had ever been aware of our Middle Eastern/Mediterranean/Jewish roots before 23andme.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      As I understand it, they do a complete analysis of your results, but I’d check with them just to be 100% sure that the information they receive from 23andMe is enough and from the right areas of the autosomal DNA to provide the information you want. Good luck to you!

  5. Brian Lacey says:

    I’d like to know if Julie Gallivan ever found if they do re-analyze for ethnicity. That was a question I had, please let us know.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      FTDNA does its own ethnicity analysis — but it is in the process of being reconsidered for a future overhaul.

      • Brian Lacey says:

        Forgive me I’m slow lol. So you’re saying if I tested with 23andme then sent my data to FTDNA they (FTDNA) would give me their version of my ethnic breakdown as well?

        • Judy G. Russell says:

          Yes, FTDNA would give you its analysis in what’s called the Population Finder. Just be aware that the Population Finder analysis is now very old science, and will be updated (and your results will be updated then too).

  6. John Carter says:

    Interesting article – I have been trying to upload my 23andme data to FTDNA but get a data store failure. I have an EMAIL of to FTDNA to see if they can help. I can’t seem to find any info on the current 23andme platform (I got in one week under the 2013 Nov 22 FDA deadline)- so I got health results. I have also found that using the 23andme site – my closet matches do not respond to any request. I like the various project groups on the the FTDNA site (surname, viking..etc)

  7. Calvin Davenport says:

    If your test results are on the new V4 platform at 23andMe aren’t compatible with FTDNA yet. is there any reason at all of downloading the results to FTDNA? And how can we determine if our results are on the new platform?

    Should we try to download to Ancestry,com for greater analysis?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      No, if your 23andMe results are on the V4 platform, you should not download them and transfer them to FTDNA. Instead, go ahead and do the whole Family Finder test with FTDNA and get into that database that way. AncestryDNA doesn’t accept anyone else’s results, so what this means is you need to test with the other companies, not try to transfer your results. These days, fortunately, it’s only a little more expensive to do the test with Family Tree DNA ($99) than to transfer the raw data ($69).

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