2014: Most bang for DNA bucks

Making the most of your 2014 DNA testing dollars

(NOTE: There’s an update for 2015 here!)

In 2012, The Legal Genealogist led off a Sunday DNA blog by asking “how do you get the most bang for the DNA buck?”1

And then followed that up last year with an update after prices tumbled for autosomal DNA tests.2


And it’s time now for another update. Because the technological changes particularly at 23andMe mean the old recommendations don’t work any more.

We’re talking here principally about autosomal DNA tests. (Autosomal DNA testing, remember, is the kind of test that works across genders to locate relatives — cousins — from all parts of your family tree.3 That’s in contrast to YDNA testing, which only men can do and which looks at the direct paternal line,4 or mitochondrial DNA testing, which looks at the direct maternal line.5)

There are four possible autosomal DNA tests you can take — from Family Tree DNA, from 23andMe, from Ancestry DNA and even from National Geographic in its Geno 2.0 test with its scientific (rather than genealogical) emphasis.

All of which I have taken. Admittedly, I’m a DNA junkie. I’ve never met a DNA test I wouldn’t take. 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.

But since nobody is handing out DNA kits for free, the question remains… how do you get the most bang for the DNA buck? And the answer depends in part on what it is you want to find out through your DNA testing.

Every one of the genetic genealogy companies has its pros and its cons. A comparison chart explaining what features the companies do and don’t have is available in the Wiki for the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG). Prepared by Tim Janzen, a medical doctor with a deep understanding of autosomal DNA testing, the Autosomal DNA testing comparison chart provides a good overview.

Here’s my own take.

If you can only afford to test with one company (no change from 2013): 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. Contacting matches is easy and the amount of information provided about matches is the best in the business.

If your primary interest is in medical information (updated for 2014): If you really want to know about the medical secrets hidden in your DNA, you have to go to a third party utility right now. The dust-up between 23andMe and the federal Food and Drug Administration over the representations 23andMe was making about what autosomal results meant for health issues has brought those reports to a halt.6 So if this is what you want, your best bet is to test with any company you prefer for genealogy, and then run your raw data though a reporting system like Promethease.

If your primary interest is in the admixture data (updated for 2014): If your primary interest is in the numbers — what percentage European or African you are, the two most updated reports are the Ancestry Composition report from 23andMe and the Ethnicity Estimate from Ancestry DNA. Family Tree DNA is still lagging behind on this but is in the process of updating its admixture analyses. But remember that the numbers are really just a guess. If you want to help everybody understand admixtures better for the future, and you can afford it, consider testing with National Geographic’s Geno 2.0. That’s where the real scientific work is being done and, if enough people test, the information we all get about deep ancestry should vastly improve. It’s not cheap — $199 for the test — and there’s not much useful genealogical information, so this is a commitment to science for tomorrow, not a test to do for genealogy today.

If the person you want to test is very old or very young (no change from 2013): Most of the time, how you test doesn’t matter. But if the person you want to test is older or younger, you may need to avoid a test that requires saliva, such as the tests from AncestryDNA and 23andMe. Older people sometimes can’t produce enough saliva to test and it’s impossible to tell a baby how to produce the kind of saliva needed. Family Tree DNA uses swabs rubbed on the inside of the cheek and that avoids this problem.

If you want to link your DNA results to your family tree (no change from 2013): The only company right now that links DNA results to your family tree and compares it to others’ family trees is AncestryDNA. When the tree information is right, it’s a wonderfully useful tool. It’s considerably less so when — as is common — the tree information is wrong, or your match doesn’t have a tree at Ancestry, or your match’s tree is private. There are as yet no tools at AncestryDNA to compare DNA when there is no tree match.

If you want to fish in all the ponds for the lowest price (updated for 2014): Of course, the best way to get all the matches you can possibly get it to test with all three major companies. These days, testing with all three is less expensive than it used to be to test with just one. But you can save yourself a little bit of money and get your results into all three databases this way:

Step 1. Test with AncestryDNA first. It’ll cost you $99. (The big change for 2014 is that you can no longer use 23andMe for this first step because its raw data today using its new V4 testing chip isn’t compatible with the Family Tree DNA system.)

Step 2. The minute you get your results from the first test, transfer your raw data to Family Tree DNA for $69. When I say “transfer,” that doesn’t end your matches at the other company, it just gets you into the Family Tree DNA system with all of its benefits.

Step 3. When you can afford it, test with 23andMe for another $99.

That puts you into all three pools for a total of $267 — less than what you used to pay for one such test in the past.


  1. Judy G. Russell, “More bang for DNA test bucks,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 6 May 2012 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 27 July 2013).
  2. Judy G. Russell, “Update: More bang for DNA test bucks,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 28 July 2013 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 5 Apr 2014).
  3. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Autosomal DNA testing,” National Genealogical Society Magazine, October-December 2011, 38-43.
  4. ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Y chromosome DNA test,” rev. 5 Mar 2014.
  5. ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Mitochondrial DNA,” rev. 29 Oct 2013.
  6. See Judy G. Russell, “23andMe suspends health tests,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 6 Dec 2013 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 5 Apr 2014).
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305 Responses to 2014: Most bang for DNA bucks

  1. Ruth Rawls says:

    Thank you for this! I always have a “take-away” from your posts!

  2. Theresa King Ager says:

    Don’t forget to recommend Gedmatch.com. This free service (donations encouraged, but not required) allows you to match with people from all of the companies that have also uploaded to Gedmatch. This way you can compare info when you can only afford 1 $99 test.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I’m a big fan of GedMatch and have written about it in the past — but remember that you can only compare to the results of others who’ve chosen to upload their results and that’s only a small fraction of the people who’ve tested with the other companies.

  3. Shirley Ann Rankin says:

    Hi Judy,
    I’ll be putting together a DNA testing display for our Genealogical Society at the end of this month. I would like to use this post as part of the display, if that’s possible.

  4. Dave N says:

    “If your primary interest is in medical information”… Then you should test with 23andMe, and THEN use the raw resulting data with Promethease… 23andMe provides results for medically-significant markers that are omitted by the other companies. It does enter a less clear area, BUT inclusion of more markers that have medical implications should be a priority “if your primary interest is in medical information”…

    • Mary E Hall says:

      Good point. I believe FT DNA specifically tries NOT to obtain health rich SNPs and AncestryDNA, perhaps inadvertently, does pick some up.

      23andMe still targets and tests health rich SNPs even if they don’t provide health reports on them, at the moment.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Good point that the other companies make a deliberate effort not to capture medical information.

    • YW says:

      Is this true ANYMORE? They’ve taken out many things with version 4!

      • Judy G. Russell says:

        Yes. If anything the focus is even more tightly on the medically interesting markers, and less on anything else. 23andMe has announced that it will begin trying to develop pharmaceuticals based on its genetic research.

  5. Lisa Lisson says:

    Judy, thank you for outlining this so thoroughly. I am on my way to becoming a “DNA junkie”, too and the cost has deterred me at times.

  6. Lynne Klemens says:

    I recently attended the Ancestry Day conference in Philadelphia sponsored by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. A representative from Ancestry.com there told me that I could plug my raw results from my son’s FTDNA YDNA test into Ancestry.com’s DNA test system for free. I’m considering this since my son had no matches for his Eastern European DNA with Family Tree DNA. Could this be correct? Free?
    Lynne Klemens

    • Mary E Hall says:

      Yes, that’s true. You have to manually provide them but anyone can enter ONE set of yDNA STR values into Ancestry’s database. I think you have to have an Ancestry.com subscription, so it’s not entirely “free”.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Yes, you can manually enter the markers from his YDNA test into the Ancestry pages. The database there isn’t all that big, but it’s worth taking advantage of.

  7. Linda Bridger says:

    I had a DNA test done on my husband for genealogy purposes. It really only traces the mothers side. I found it extremely vague. It showed he is of European decent which we probably all are.
    I did not get any information that was of any help from having the test done. Save your money.
    I had it done through Ancestry which I have been a member for 15 years and believe it is a wonderful site and very helpful but DNA only tells you about what percent of European and Scandinavian decent you are. Not a whole lot of help.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      DNA tests are only as good as the work you put into comparing your results with those of others against a solid paper trail, Linda. By themselves, they’re not going to tell you an awful lot.

      • Laura Davenport says:

        It sounds to me like Linda may have done only the mtDNA test, not the autosomal if it tests only for the maternal line. I think it’s really important that people read before they test, I still see people with the idea that the only testing of use in genealogy is yDNA which certainly has an important place still, but autosomal is the broadest and most versatile.

        • Judy G. Russell says:

          Ancestry isn’t doing mtDNA tests any more (both mtDNA and YDNA on the website as shown consistently as “out of stock”) so, if this test was recent, it was autosomal.

          • Laura Davenport says:

            Yes, I know mt/y aren’t available through Ancestry anymore. But it does sound as if she either had the mt done in the past or does not understand her DNA results at all if it’s autosomal. This is entirely possible as I know or have encountered many who cannot understand how DNA can be done on either sex because “everybody knows DNA can only be used for genealogy if it is done on a male”. Direct quote.

  8. Debi Austen says:

    I hate to sound stupid but I have a question – if I’ve received my results from ancestry.com, do I initiate sending the raw data to FTDNA through ancestry or Family Tree? What I really want to know is who do I pay? :-)

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Not stupid at all! The payment is to FTDNA to make available all of its analysis for your data. At AncestryDNA, all you do is download the raw data. When you upload it to FTDNA, that’s when the payment takes place. There are directions for downloading the AncestryDNA raw data at Ancestry itself (http://dna.ancestry.com/atFAQ#raw-3) or, for example, in Roberta Estes’ DNAeXplained blog (here).

  9. jeannie says:

    Thx, you answered all my questions; it’s as if you were reading my mind. I just completed the Ancestry.com test and will surely download the raw data and send it along to Family Tree DNA. I too want to do them all but will go for the first 3 and then see if l can afford the National Geo one. Thanks for the info!

  10. Michael says:

    “DNA tests are only as good as the work you put into comparing your results with those of others against a solid paper trail.” Indeed, and since Ancestry.com is the only site where you can find those solid paper trails, I still don’t understand why it’s not your first choice for a “if you only test once”. The existence of poorly sourced trees and the absence of better tools doesn’t outweigh the importance of linking to paper trails in my mind. But perhaps I’m overgeneralizing from my vastly superior results at Ancestry compared to the other two sites. I’m pretty sure we’ll agree to disagree but I did want to put the counter-argument out there. Love this blog!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      It’s not my first choice because I can’t verify the match, Michael. Yes, the match and I are cousins. In what line? On which side? I have no data to look at other than generally undocumented trees that are often filled with errors. That’s why I can’t make it my first choice “if you only test once.”

      • Michael says:

        Judy, for endogamous populations like mine, I don’t see any way to verify a match on Family Tree DNA (or 23andMe, or GEDMatch) with just tools but no family trees. 23andMe tries and fails pretty spectacularly, so it’s not just me. Maybe the choice for only test once is different in those situations.

        • Judy G. Russell says:

          Michael, the reality is that neither DNA nor the paper trail alone is the way to go: it’s always always always the two together.

          • Laura Davenport says:

            True, but as a person who has had a long career in the field of genetics and a long, but shorter career in the field of genealogy, I did the Ancestry test knowing it’s shortcomings (which I hope are on the mend)just because my trees are hosted at Ancestry.
            I did not test to blindly root out every possible living relative, but with certain goals aimed at solving specific problems in my own family tree. For me, this worked really well and was certainly worth the $99 even if that had been all I’d ever done. I did go on to upload to GedMatch although not so far to FTDNA.I come from a mixture of highly endogamous populations so seeing at the segment level the endogamy I can see in my genealogy was interesting, but really not critical to solving the mysteries I did the test for in the first place.
            The level of technical expertise of the tester is also important. The current Ancestry reports are on the “quick and dirty” side but not everyone is wired to ever understand segment comparisons, triangulations, chromosome browsers, the IBS/IBD distinction and on and on. Ancestry is playing to their audience. They may be underestimating many of them, but if people cannot understand what a very simple single “match” is at Ancestry they are overwhelmed and discouraged with detailed results. And, I’ve seen people overwhelmed and discouraged with their Ancestry results, not a clue as to what to do with them and completely missing the point that “you have two trees” and random DNA matches won’t build you a genealogical tree. These people fare poorly at places like FTDNA and GedMatch and often do not understand that some learning base is really a necessity at these places and even at Ancestry.
            If somebody says to me “I just can’t handle the numbers” or “what am I supposed to do with this list of people I’ve never heard of” and they are referring to their Ancestry match list I’m not going to suggest they test at all three companies or upload to FTDNA or GedMatch.

  11. Conrad Scott says:

    Thank You for the very interesting and informative web site. I was adopted in the 1950s. I know absolutely nothing about my birth parents. My wife has traced her genealogy through both parents to the first settlers of New Mexico. My teenage daughter and her first cousin both did DNA Tribes. They didn’t have many similar matches, although interestingly enough there was a hot spot on the map where my wife grew up in Southern Colorado/N New Mexico. My daughter wants me to take a test to figure out my ethnicity. I would like your recommendation for the most accurate test to determine this. I have no interest in actually finding long lost relatives, so the actual finding ancestors part doesn’t very much. Thanks

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Conrad, the problem is that the ethnicity tests are simply not good enough now (and may never be good enough) to tell you very much about your ethnicity beyond the continental level (Europe versus Africa versus Asia, etc.). Please see the post Admixture: not soup yet (posted 18 May 2014).

  12. Conrad Scott says:

    Thank You!

  13. Mike Cha says:

    The AncestryDNA $79 sale (well really $89 with shipping) led me here to figure out if it’s worthwhile to take my first DNA test. Thank you for this great info. My question is this, is there any benefit to getting the test for my immediate siblings? I’m male and I have both male & female siblings. How about my children (boys only)? Thanks.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      The AncestryDNA test is an autosomal DNA test. That means you and your siblings — male or female — are all equally good candidates. You and your siblings will each inherit 50% of your autosomal DNA from each of your parents — but it won’t be exactly the same 50%. So you will have matches to cousins who don’t match your siblings and they will have matches to cousins who don’t match you. For that reason, I recommend testing everyone you can afford to test. As for your sons, they will have matches to their mother’s side, which of course you will not have.

  14. Barbara says:

    hello, what an awesome and informative bl
    blog! My question is ive been suggested to apply for native American scholarships for grad school, but i have to have proof of the blood line. which test or website will have the best accuracy? also both of my parents are deseased,would their dna have helped my findings? ?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      You’d have to check with the scholarship service and see (a) if it accepts DNA evidence (most do not, they require tribal recognition) and (b) if so, what company’s results it accepts. And remember that the ethnicity aspects of autosomal testing are the weakest of all and may not show what you hope even if you actually do have Native American ancestry.

    • Commonsense says:

      Please don’t do an Elizabeth Warren. There’s plenty of fullblood Native Americans who need those scholarships, and it’s disgraceful for “really white” thinbloods to take them all.

      If you really want to prove ancestry, find your birth certificates back to someone on the Dawes rolls. But don’t take the scholarship from some poor person on a reservation. They need it.

      • c says:

        Sorry, but you don’t even know the life or background of this person. How can you immediately write them off as someone unworthy of a scholarship, or wealthy enough to not need one? If they can prove sufficient Native American ancestry at the level required, then who can say applying for a scholarship is not right? That makes them Native American!
        Some people assume that 1) people who look European are “all white,” therefore dismissing any other heritage that their family possesses. Also, this is done to people whom people think “look” black; even if their background includes other heritage; people dismiss it based on appearances. This is wrong because individuals walking the planet today are ONLY alive due to the breeding of their ancestry, whatever mix they are. People should be able to recognize their varied backgrounds and feel validated in knowing where they came from. 2) most people who appear to be “white” are wealthy enough to not require scholarships, which is NOT the case.
        I could make several guesses as to the background of the previous poster: possibly a person who does not believe they have mixed heritage, or who is not mixed enough themselves to understand or even consider the perspective of a person of mixed heritage. If you are many things, you can still claim all of them Because they ARE ALL you.

        • Lyd says:

          This person does need to be an enrolled Tribal member to receive Native American scholarships. Each Tribe decides their own requirements for membership, some go by a certain blood quantum,others by whether you are a descendent of a person on the original membership rolls.

          • Montani says:

            My Cherokee grandfather’s whole family was turned down for federal Cherokee claims because their entire tribe hid out from the Trail Of Tears march in Ashe County, NC. They are on no rolls. They later went to Wyoming County, WV. None were “enrolled” but all were Cherokees.

  15. JK says:

    I use dna to find possible male relatives some 14 generations ago. I have used 12 marker Ychrome test…. updated to 25 test and then 36. I can not see any benefit for more detailed testing since I am looking at possible connections back to the 1500s. I am basically trying to find where my ancestors came from in England and am hoping to find a relative back before my ancestor came over in 1600s. Is my logic correct. I do not see any benefit of the auto… whatever testing. Any real benefit to this later testing if you are not african american… ie likely slave ancestry.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      YDNA — the father to son to son form — doesn’t change much from generation to generation, so you might certainly get lucky and find someone who matches you who still lives in England or who descends from a well-documented English line. There’s no need to expand beyond 37 markers just yet. There are MANY reasons to do autosomal testing that have nothing to do with slave ancestry. Most of us have brick walls or challenges within four or five generations that can be overcome with the help of cousins identified through autosomal testing.

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  17. Gary says:

    I just got my DNA from ancestryDNA. You mentioned that once I received it I could transfer it to Family tree DNA for $69.00. How is this done?

  18. Mariella says:

    Wow, what a helpful post! I have a question that I hope you can help me with:

    I’m trying to learn more about my paternal grandmother. Rumor has it she was one-quarter Cherokee, from her mother. I am planning on doing a DNA test, for what it’s worth, but I was wondering if it would make sense to have my aunt (my great-grandmother’s direct female descendent) do a DNA test as well. She’s elderly, and I’m visiting her next week, so it’s the perfect opportunity to have her tested if that would be helpful. So my question is a) would it matter, and b) what test would be most helpful for that?

    Thank you so much for being such an invaluable resource!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Absolutely yes get the oldest living generation tested for autosomal DNA *and* get the direct female line descendant tested for mitochondrial DNA as well. The mtDNA has to be done through Family Tree DNA, so you might as well do autosomal testing there too, but I’d also do autosomal through 23andMe in this case since they have — at the moment at least — the best admixture analysis (trying to figure out where our ancestors came from in addition to who we match as cousins).

  19. Mariella says:

    Thank you so much for your speedy response! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you taking the time to respond to all these questions (especially mine!). :-)

  20. Roo says:

    Is it better to join Ancestry.com first and build my family tree from what I know or should I do the DNA testing first? Then compare/input data?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      There’s no “better” here — do ‘em both! You can build your tree out while waiting for the results to come in.

  21. Janet says:

    Thank you so much for this information – it is very helpful for a beginner such as myself. I do need to ask for an opinion, however. I have run into walls while researching my father’s family and my grandfather’s family on my mother’s side. Since I am a member of Ancestry, I would like to do the DNA test myself & then upload to Family Tree, as recommended. However, I also was thinking about having my oldest brother’s son (all of my brothers are deceased) and the son of my mother’s brother tested to see what could be gleaned. If it makes sense to do this, would it be better to go through Ancestry and then upload to Family Tree or simply do the yDNA test through Family Tree? Thank you.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      You’re always better off testing your family’s autosomal DNA as widely as possible, Janet, so if you can afford it, then yes test everyone at AncestryDNA, then transfer their raw data to Family Tree DNA (you would then have all three of you in both autosomal databases) and then test the two men at Family Tree DNA for their YDNA.

      • Janet says:

        Thank you so very much! I do appreciate it. I apologize for the double posting. When I checked for a response yesterday, it appeared that my question had not posted. When I re-posted, the original appeared so I do apologize for that.

  22. Mike Harland says:

    When it comes to ancestry composition if my wife and I each got tested could we assume that our daughters would be 1/2 of each of us?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Each of your daughters inherited 50% of her genes from you and 50% from your wife — but they could each have gotten a very different mix from each of you. Your genes were randomly jumbled and your wife’s were randomly jumbled with each child. So Daughter 1 might have gotten 25% (half of your half) from your father and 25% from your mother, while Daughter 2 might have gotten 40% from your father and 10% from your mother. So that could really throw the ancestry composition (ethnicity estimates) off between the two of them. That’s why I keep saying to forget the percentages. Do DNA testing to find cousins and break down brick walls, NOT to find out what percentage your ancestry composition is — because it really can’t tell you what the percentages are.

  23. Gary Snyder says:

    I would like to know which DNA test would be best to find any information about my male doners identity. And thank you for being so informative with your responses.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      For any male wanting to know about an unknown male parent, both a YDNA and an autosomal DNA test is the way to go. YDNA can only be tested through Family Tree DNA; autosomal DNA testing is done through 23andMe, Family Tree DNA and AncestryDNA and you should test with all companies to get the greatest number of matches.

      • Gary Snyder says:

        I am the only person to test. So it appears that the YDNA is my first best place to look. Thank you!

        • Judy G. Russell says:

          You’re the only person you know of. But if a cousin or nephew or brother or sister of the donor has done autosomal testing, that may show up in the database. That’s why autosomal testing should also be done. The YDNA is just your father’s father’s father’s line; autosomal is also your father’s mother’s father’s mother’s line. Lots more potential overall.

  24. Paul Gargis says:

    I recently learned that I was adopted from the hosp at the time of birth and now am attempting to verify who my Father is, I have found my Mother even though she has been gone for 64 years, I have tested at 23andme and at Family tree dna, my bio neices and nephews have tested as well, we are absolutley certain on my Mother, but not on my Father, I do not line up with my bio-brothers son at all, however I do have more in common with my sisters son, actually more than my my sisters daughter and my brothers daughter, is there a place that could check all of the results for us, do not think that we really understand the results at all, for instance the haplogroup numbers are totally different on FTDNA and 23and Me, if we can not interpert those numbers, what do we do now?

  25. Andreas G says:

    Geno 2.0 is currently selling at discounted price of $159 “for a limited time”

  26. Dywane Rucker says:

    I am trying to assist my wife and find out more about her ethnicity. She never met her dad. All her life she thought he was from Jordan but now learned he may have been from Egypt. She is just trying to find out more of her ethnicity from her dad’s side. This site has been very helpful, but I want to know what test should we use to get as much information about her ethnicity on her dad’s side. Is there one test that is more specific than another.
    Thanks for any assistance you can have.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      There is no test that is going to be able to distinguish for certain at the level you’re looking for, I’m afraid. The best available test for ethnicity estimates is probably still 23andMe, but please understand they are just estimates, and nothing more. Repeat: just estimates and nothing more.

  27. Paul Labadie says:

    Thanks for the great Information. I want to do the AncestryNDA test, strictly for enthicity purposes. Do I HAVE TO sign up for a subscription to Ancestry.com to do the AncestryDNA test? What about 23andMe? And can I print out results on my printer? THANKS!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      No, you don’t need a subscription to see your ethnicity results. But remember that those are merely estimates and can be — to put it mildly — dead darned wrong. 23andMe does not have a subscription cost, nor does Family Tree DNA. I’ve never tried to print my results from AncestryDNA but any screen capture program should work.

      • Samuel F says:

        Does Ancestry still provide a pdf file of your DNA results, as they did when I took a Y-DNA c.2007? If so, you can save and print out your results on your own computer to your heart’s content.

  28. J.H. says:

    I am trying to decide which test to take; I can only afford one. I realize that you have probably answered this 50 times already, but here is my question: I am female. My mother is adopted (has never tried to locate biological family). My father is 100% Swedish (as far as we know). I am interested in finding out my ethnic origins, primarily. My mother looks like she could have come from anywhere between Sweden and Italy, and many points east of there. Which test would you recommend?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      The problem with your question is that there isn’t any test that can give you a reliable, take-it-to-the-bank answer to the question of your ethnic origins on anything less than a continental level. DNA ethnicity estimates are really good at distinguishing between European and African, or between African and Asian. They are — to put it mildly — less than reliable at distinguishing between, say, Swedish and German, or German and French. Because these ethnicity tests are based on comparing the DNA of living people to the DNA of other living people, there’s a huge room for error, and it isn’t particularly likely that it’s ever going to get a whole lot better. That being said, if you’re willing to accept that what you’re getting isn’t gospel truth but is just some possible hints, the best available ethnicity estimates today are probably at 23andMe. By the same token, you can test with any company, take the raw data and run it through the multiple ethnicity calculators at Gedmatch and do your own basic analysis. In other words, choose your company for what you hope to learn from the genealogy, not from the ethnicity estimates.

  29. Jonis Blauch says:

    My daughters and I found your article very interesting and were wanting to proceed with your 1,2,3 steps. The trouble we are finding is that we are in Australia and AncestryDNA does not offer testing outside of the US at this time. Is there an alternative you could recommend to us?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Those in countries where AncestryDNA isn’t yet available have two options: (1) get someone in the US to use their address as the test kit address (I’m not recommending this, just saying it can be done…); or (2) test with Family Tree DNA for now and wait for AncestryDNA to get around to more international testing down the road.

  30. Lisa says:

    I appreciate this information as I am now interested in having the genetic testing done. I didn’t see this answered but may have missed it so, my apologies if so.
    I want to find out if our family has the MTHFR gene. I know that only raw data is being given out now from 23 and me with their problems. So does Ancestry give the raw data? Do they all? Then you need a Dr. to read it?

    I appreciate any info as this is all new to me.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      All of the testing companies allow you to download raw data. You would have to check with each company to determine whether the raw data it collects includes this particular gene.

    • T. Bird says:

      I got this info from Ancestry and my sisters did form 23AndMe. We all put our raw data through Promethease for $5 charge – it reads raw data for any health risks/statistics associated with your particular genetic makeup. It is a bit hard to interpret. I also had a blood test ordered by my doctor and paid for by insurance, so I have one version of the mutation and my doctor prescribed Deplin. My insurance pays for it. Interestingly, my daughter was not tested but she also takes the medicine as the doctor said he doesn’t need to test to try Deplin and if it helps (with depression and also to make antidepression meds work better), then there is no need to order the blood test. FYI, I did not get a maternal haplogroup or %Neanderthal from Ancestry’s autosomal testing, but my sisters did with 23&Me for the same cost. On the other hand, I am not sure if they can upload their raw data to Family Tree DNA like I can with Ancestry’s raw data. These are all things to consider. I hope this is helpful. You could always check with the companies to make sure, but I just wanted to let you know what my family found out through DNA testing about this mutation.

  31. Nick says:

    Hello . I learned a lot from reading questions and answers. My question is in two parts. How is Jewish and Native American heritage ascertained ? From reading one post. If DNA ethnicity estimates are good at distinguishing people from whole continents. Not so much from country to country ? Are Jewish and Native American heritage just a guess ?

    And for the record. I just made the leap and ordered 23 and me . And may order other kits from other companies later on. I am Hispanic. And very confident in some Native American heritage. But have a gut feeling of Jewish heritage. Thank you for you time

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Nick, all of these percentages are derived by comparing your DNA to the DNA of what is called a reference population (or, actually, a set of reference populations) — other people alive today who have been identified by the testing companies as representative of a particular region or ethnicity. So we have three issues in reliability: (1) how much DNA did you individually inherit from ancestors who may have been Native American or Ashkenazi Jewish or African? (2) how big is the reference population for that specific ethnicity? and (3) how accurate is the conclusion that the people in that reference population accurately reflect that region or ethnicity? Because we’re comparing living people to living people, it’s always something of a guess, and if you NA or Jewish ancestry is more than just a few generations back it may not be detectible anyway.

  32. Blair K says:

    Very helpful article! NIck’s question above brings up one important strength of 23andMe, with respect to ethnic origins. Their autosomal test includes an optional feature, where people can (anonymously) identify the “country of origin” (or Ashkenazi Jewish heritage) of all 4 grandparents. Cousin matches between two people of mixed origins don’t reveal much, of course, But having a number of matches to people who all report four grandparents from the same background can be important clues to ethnicity. I tested my mother, of full Slovenian ancestry but always had a vague “feeling” about Jewish heritage, and 23andMe confirms this, on the strength of the number of full Ashkenazi heritage matches she has in their database. Note that these are matches to single individuals, as opposed to comparing to the norms for a reference population, which aren’t too reliable. Thanks again for this informative article, which makes me realize I should transfer some of the results I have for my mother (23andMe) and myself (FTDNA.)

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      The ancestral background information can certainly provide hints. It’s when people try to use the ethnicity estimates as gospel that we run into trouble!

  33. T. Bird says:

    Hello and thanks for this – exactly what I was looking for! I’d like to share something by way of an update, especially for those cost conscious. Ancestry DNA ran a special for $79 at the end of the year (2014) and I have a feeling they will do that periodically and good chance at minimum in Dec for holiday/seasonal promotion. And also right now (Jan 2015) Family Tree DNA has lower price for transfer – it is $39

  34. Doug says:

    I tested a few years ago at 23andme (i.e. before v3). I was amazed to receive the result that my dna shows as 25% Ashkenazi. But my wife has done extensive genealogy on my family, and it is clear that this result is from my paternal side alone, making my paternal grandfather 100% Ashkenazi. The geneaology breaks down tho, as we cannot trace my grandfather’s origins, and the loss of 1890 census is a major barrier. Meanwhile on FTDNA I see there is a project for a Jewish group that includes my (probably made up) surname.

    So hoping to find a cousin with genealogical knowledge. Here is my question: I can’t upload my 23andme results because they are not v3. We have family trees on Ancestry, but my paternal side goes nowhere. Should I retest using the Ancestry autosomal and then do the transfer to FTDNA? Thanks!

  35. Andrea E. says:

    My husband does not know who his father is. We now have a son and we are interested in finding out his ancestry from that side of the family. Would the Y chromosome test be our best bet to find out information about possible matches and ethnic descent?. Does anyone have any recommendations? I am very new to this, I am starting to build a family tree and all this is so interesting.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Because the absent parent is the father, it makes sense for your husband to do both the YDNA test (to help identify his direct paternal line) and one or more of the autosomal tests. The YDNA test must be done with Family Tree DNA and you can add on Family Finder, or do an autosomal test at AncestryDNA and then transfer the results to Family Tree DNA to get the benefit of both databases.

  36. Linda Williamson says:

    I am thrilled to have stumbled onto your blog. Thank you so much for doing this! I am also something of a DNA genealogy junkie, having done some testing of both of my parents and myself on all 3 sites. My question is this: my father has dementia and is no longer able to give saliva samples. I did test him via 23andMe a couple of years ago successfully, as they had an alternative way to collect saliva that used a little sponge, and he was more easily able to participate then, too. I was also also was able to get a sample for y-dna testing at ftdna, since they use cheek swabs. But there is still a huge brick wall at dad’s paternal grandfather, and I would like to get access to Ancestry’s database of potential matches. (My mom has well over 200 “4th cousin or closer” matches on Ancestry.) Is there any way to upload data from the other two sites to Ancestry? Or an alternative way to collect saliva for an Ancestry test?
    Thank you again for doing this work!

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  38. Derrick says:

    Thanks, this information is very useful. The problem I’m having is trying to find someone who will test with me as far as taking the Y-DNA test. I don’t know most of my family…long story. I’m researching my parental line but I was told if you take the Y-DNA test along, the results has no true meaning if taking along. I’ve taken other DNA test but I haven’t had any luck. So now I’m wanting to take the Y-DNA test. What should I do? Please help!!!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Doing some basic reading about DNA, what it shows and how it works would help. You don’t necessarily need to test with someone else; you will be matched against everyone else who has tested with that testing company. So if you’re a Smith male, your YDNA might show which other Smith males you match (assuming others have tested) and point you in the right direction. There are surname projects and geographic region projects you can join after you get your YDNA tested as well. So if you want to take the YDNA test, do so. You don’t have to have someone else in your family test at the same time.

  39. More Confused says:

    I am a novice and have never submitted a DNA test before. I read your recommendations above and all replying post. The more I read online the more I get confused. Professionally I have designed computers all my life but I am still confused and can’t decide which test my wife and I should take for our purposes. Judy obviously you know your stuff and I value your opinion. I have three relationships in my genealogy trees that I want to prove by DNA. The lines from point A to B jumps back and forth between Paternal and Maternal. To what website can I give my three relationships examples and the person tell me which test I should take? There is a real possibility here that I am so ignorant of DNA that this question will confirm that fact.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      There are only three possible DNA tests for genetic genealogy: (1) the YDNA test which only works to test the direct paternal line of males (YDNA is handed down from father to son to son); (2) the mitochondrial (mtDNA) test which only works to test a direct maternal line (everyone has mtDNA but only daughters can pass it on, so this looks only at your mother’s mother’s mother’s line); and (3) autosomal DNA, which everyone has and which is inherited from both parents in a random mix. Since your relationship questions don’t go in a direct male line or a direct female line, your only choice is autosomal — and that works realistically only back to about 200-300 years before the generation tested. Because of the random mixing, not getting a match doesn’t prove you and a suspected cousin aren’t related; it can only prove the two of you didn’t inherit enough DNA in common to be called a match. When you do match, it’s part of the proof you’d rely on to prove your relationship — but it has to be used in combination with paper trail evidence to help prove how you’re related. Long story short, you’re looking at 23andMe (only one test and it’s only autosomal, though it will give you an estimate as to your YDNA and mtDNA haplogroups); AncestryDNA (only one test and it’s only autosomal); or the Family Finder test from Family Tree DNA (autosomal, and can be combined with YDNA or mtDNA or both if you want).

  40. More Confused says:

    Thanks. Your prompt response is appreciated. I guess I have just got to pick something and get started. I can decide where to go next once I get in.

    Great site and I will be back

  41. Carolyn says:

    Judy, I have read through all of the questions and answers and have gathered the following information. My husband wants to look into his ethnic background. So are you saying that it is best to go through 23andme and do a YDNA. He is trying to find out, from looking at family pictures, if there are any Roman ancestry in his family.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      23andMe for the admixture percentages, yes, and YDNA through Family Tree DNA for the most detail on his direct paternal lineage. (But remember that I regard almost all of the admixture stuff as bordering on fiction, so this really isn’t a reason to do DNA testing in my view. I would never discourage anyone from doing the testing — it benefits us all — but I hate when people are disappointed.)

  42. Brenda says:

    Why is it that Ancestry DNA testing can be uploaded to Family Tree DNA but not way other way around? I’ve been a member of Ancestry for many years and see no reason why that sharing can’t go both ways. For those who don’t know Family Tree DNA is having a $59 special right now. Seems to me those of us paying for Ancestry should be offered a matching deal.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      It’s a matter of the way the systems do, or don’t, work, Brenda. FTDNA is set up to incorporate the raw data from AncestryDNA and the V3 chip from 23andMe (pre-Nov 2013 tests). AncestryDNA isn’t set up to do that.

  43. Catalina says:

    Hi, I am wanting to buy a test for my dad for the purpose of finding out more about his father. Long story short, he doesn’t know anything about who his father is and would like to know more. We have no name or surname, so we are hoping to get the most comprehensive information about his ethnicity from a DNA test. Does he specifically need a Y-DNA test? Also, my dad is from Mexico, his mother is Mexican and we assume his father is/was Mexican but we aren’t sure. I don’t know if I misunderstood the information on the various websites, but I don’t see any that specifically show Mexican decent, I just see that they show North American as a whole, not specifically Mexican or Latin, so will our information likely not show specifically what we are looking for (assuming my paternal grandfather is in fact Mexican) What test or company would you recommend for this type of situation? I have looked at 23andME, Ancestry.com, National Geographic and Family Tree and just feel overwhelmed with trying to make the right decision. I appreciate your help. Thanks so much. I hope we can shed some light for my dad–it really hurts him to not know anything about who he is.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Catalina, none of the tests — repeat, none of the tests — are going to give you very specific ethnicity information about your father’s immediate ancestors that you can really rely on and take to the bank. I wish it were otherwise, but this is not the strong point of genetic genealogy DNA testing. Even the very best of the admixture analyses looks at what it expects the ancestry to have been 500-1000 years ago or longer. That being said, the best admixture analysis available is the one from 23andMe and it does break down below the continental level, but will not give you a country (like Mexico). Again, it may not be entirely accurate, but it’s the best available. In your shoes I certainly would do a YDNA test of at least 37 markers (available only through Family Tree DNA) and then join him to all the YDNA projects he fits into — that may help you identify a paternal line with more specificity.

  44. Catalina says:

    Sorry, one more question that I left off….What do the different markers on Family Tree DNA y-DNA test mean? Does the highest number measure different areas of the world? If so, how do we know which areas?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      The numbers don’t specifically measure parts of the world (though they will help you determine a broad migration path for your paternal line back into ancient history). What they do is look at specific areas of the YDNA for repeated segments called Short Tandem Repeats — and count them up in those areas. The counts are then compared to those of other men who’ve tested to see how much they are alike (or different). The more alike they are, the more closely related they are to others who have tested.

  45. Kathy says:

    I have had my MTDNA and my brother’s MTDNA done through Family Tree DNA. Is there any advantage to having my daughter do the autosomnal testing and can it be used to match to the Y and MT DNA tests successfully? Is there an advantage to doing the autosomnal DNA at either Ancestry or 23AndMe?


    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Autosomal DNA is a horse of a different color from YDNA and mtDNA so, no, it won’t match up to those other tests at all. A person will have autosomal matches who don’t match for YDNA or mtDNA — and vice versa. Your mtDNA looked at a specific type of DNA you inherited solely from your mother (and your brother and your daughter share it) so it tells you about your mother’s mother’s mother’s line. Your brother’s YDNA test looked at the type of DNA he inherited solely from your father, so it tells you about your father’s father’s father’s line. Autosomal looks at a type of DNA a person inherits from both parents, jumbled up in each generation. What you inherited from your mother is a random mix of what she got from her parents; what you inherited from your father is a random mix of what he got from his parents. Because it’s a random mix, the mix you got is different from the mix your brother got. And because this mixing (called recombination) happens in every generation, you’re better off testing you and your daughter’s father than you are testing your daughter: you’ll get more matches to farther back generations. There are pluses and minuses to testing with any company, but to get the most matches (the most cousins to work with), I still recommend (see here) testing with AncestryDNA first to get the benefit of its database size, then transferring the raw data to Family Tree DNA, then if/when you can afford it testing with 23andMe.

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  47. Stacie says:

    Thank you for your article! I think I ‘get it’ now, but want to make sure:

    If I want to break through my father’s paternal brick wall, my best bet is to have my father and brother’s take yDNA tests and hope that others in that line have done so as well? Then for his mother’s line I need to ask my aunts to take the mtDNA test for her maternal line? And then for my grandmother’s paternal line, find direct males to take the yDNA test?

    I did the ‘mish-mash’ test a few years ago with no significant results [but thanks to your explanation, I now know why!]. Would the ‘mish-mash’ test bring more results if I had more family members take that test [knowing that we all have different combinations of the family dna]?

    Just want to make sure I have it right :) I’m glad the testing costs are coming down.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Close, Stacie. You only need to test your father or your brother for YDNA. Since your brother inherited all of his YDNA from your father, only one of them needs to test. And everyone has mtDNA, so your father does too, and since everyone inherits their mtDNA from their mothers, your father is carrying the same mtDNA as his mother, his maternal aunts, etc. So you can have just your father tested, and you will get everything you can get about your father’s father’s father’s direct paternal line (YDNA) and your father’s mother’s mother’s mother’s direct female line (mtDNA). Then yes, to get the info for your grandmother’s paternal line, any direct male descendant of her father (or grandfather) will do for YDNA.

      • Victor says:

        Hi Judy,

        I am in the same boat as Stacie. For me, there is no record of my father’s grandfather. No paperwork. No name. He may have been from a small village in northwest Spain. So I was thinking of having my Dad who is 85 years old take a YDNA. And while I am at it, have him take an mtDNA. Note: I am not really interesting in Ethnic Percentages, but rather family matches.

        I have a few questions:

        1. Should I also have him take the Autosomal? If he takes it, would it be more accurate to find paternal “cousins” than if I took it?

        2. FTDNA now has a 37 marker, 67 marker, and 111 marker test. What you you suggest? As technology advances, are more marker better for possible “future” matches?

        3. On my father’s maternal side I have been able to trace ancestors back to the 1800′s to a small town in northwest Spain. I have birth certificates. My concern is these DNA tests won’t be fruitful in finding matches because the ancestors are from Spain as opposed to the USA or Great Britain. Your opinion?

        Thank you for time.

        • Judy G. Russell says:

          Victor, there’s no downside to having him do the autosomal test as well, and a very real chance that he may match a cousin who might be able to help fill in the gaps in his family history. (In fact, I’d recommend the autosomal test before the mtDNA test since mtDNA is so stable his matches could be well beyond the range of genealogical time: a match could show a common ancestor thousands of years ago.) While you’re right that there are fewer Spaniards testing than Americans, both MyHeritage and findmypast have partnered with Family Tree DNA to offer DNA tests and there’s a chance that more and more Europeans and others from around the world will test in the future. So it’s less likely that it’ll work in your father’s case than if he had, say, colonial American ancestry — but still some chance is better than none. As far as how many markers, more is always better. If you can afford 111, do 111.

      • Allie Thompson says:

        I thought I was finally “getting it” – until this reply. I am the oldest of four, one male. I’ve asksd my brother if he would test for all three, and have my sisters and myself test for the two, thinking that we’d get more info. NOW I’m wondering if i’d do as well having my brother test for the Y and I test for the rest. If you’ve already covered this and I just didn’t understand, I’m sorry.

        Thank you.

        • Judy G. Russell says:

          Allie, only your brother can test for the YDNA (only males have it). So you have that straight. As for the autosomal test (the cousin-finder, the one we’re usually talking about and that this post focuses on), the rule is: test everyone you can afford to test. Because this type of DNA changes every single time a person is formed (the mix of DNA from each parent gets jumbled up every single time), you can have brothers and sisters who have DNA that’s different enough that some of your DNA-cousin-matches will match one and not another. That’s explained here: Sibling rivalry.

  48. Lost says:

    Does anyone know anything about dna spectrum? They offer different levels of kits. Thank you in advance for any information

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Although I know people who have ordered from them, I don’t know anyone who has received results from them. That may tell you something.

      • Lost says:

        I am a women that has never met my father. My mother does not know his ethnic background, is there a test I could take that would help me find out what I am?

  49. Kyancole says:

    Hello Judy,

    Let me first start by saying “Thank you,” for all of the useful information that you’ve provided. I have a question that’s a little unique. I am an African American physician, who unfortunately has no clue where my African roots originate from. Rumor in my family has it that my blood also contains Irish, French, and Cherokee ancestry… The Irish and French is said to have come from the history of slavery. Unfortunately, my family tree is quite bare due to our small family size and 3 of 4 grandparents having dementia, hence their inability to “pass down” any further knowledge of our family. I am currently on a trip to Uganda and I am really wanting to know more details about my African Ancestry. This is fueled by the fact that I’m “told” which part of Africa I look like I come from on a daily basis by the locals, who are trying to spark friendly conversation. My understanding (from reading various descriptions from the websites of the above mentioned popular testing sites) is that not many of these websites will tell me what country/countries in Africa my ancestry originated from. The last thing I want to do is to pay $$$ only to receive an analysis which will tell me that I have roots in “Africa” of “Northern Africa,” ect. After all, I am reminded of that everyday when I look in the mirror and I don’t need to pay anybody to tell me that. Lol.

    I want to know not only the composition of my admixture, but also identify which country (and even tribe) my African roots are from. I have come across 2 African American focused ancestry services, which seem to have the highest potential to provide me this information: AfricanAncestry.com and AfricanDna.com. I am also interested in the my23andMe information for future medical implications. Based on your knowledge of my desires, which steps would you recommend I take and with which companies? I plan to test myself, my father, and my maternal gfather; as I’m hoping that this will provide me with the most information possible, given the small amount of family members that I currently have living. Thank you again for providing this valuable service, I hope to hear from soon.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I wish there was a test good enough to give you what you want, but please read today’s blog. The testing is excellent at the continental level and for dome populations (even in Africa) where populations have not mingled. But it doesn’t do better than that.

  50. Sunset says:

    I took the test from DNA Consultants. It’s pretty informative. It gives you your top 20 European matches, and your top 50 World matches. You also get a map with your strong, weak, and non matches.They also give you a paragraph of your analysis and breaks down your ethnicity/race. You can also purchase add on and see if you are melungeon, have rare genes & etc.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I am more than just a little skeptical of anyone who claims that a single marker can prove beyond doubt any particular ethnicity. I can NOT recommend this company at all.

  51. Matthew Davies says:

    I haven’t tested yet. Is there anything on the horizon I should look out for like a new testing method or startup company? Do any current testers offer a future proof test where they reapply your DNA info to future analysis methods?


    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I don’t see anything hugely different on the immediate horizon and all companies try to reevaluate results when new analytical tools are available. More important is whether the company you choose banks unused DNA for future testing if more new tests come along.

  52. Dubh says:

    I was curious to know if your recommendation for which test to do in which order is still valid almosta year later? Was looking to hit all the ponds for as much info as I can get for a decent enough price.

  53. Patricia says:

    I was considering Family Tree DNA, to start, even though a bit more expensive. Thoughts?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Family Tree DNA is an excellent company, and where I do most of my testing. And it isn’t any more expensive than AncestryDNA or 23andMe if you are comparing test to test (AncestryDNA’s autosomal test is $99, 23andMe charges $99 and Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder test is $99). But remember that you want as many matches as you can get, so testing with AncestryDNA first ($99) and then transferring your data to Family Tree DNA for its Family Finder database ($39 or free if you get four others to transfer theirs) will put you into BOTH databases for only a little more than testing with one. Then you can get your mtDNA tested at Family Tree DNA (the only company that does that testing for genealogy) down the road.

  54. Patricia says:

    Ok…So I don’t need to have the mt full sequence test, offered by Family Tree DNA, at this time?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Not to start with, no. While mtDNA is wonderful for some research questions (distinguishing whether you descend from wife #1 or wife #2 for example) it’s so stable that most of your matches may be well back before genealogical time frames and so it’s not as immediately useful for genealogy as autosomal testing is.

  55. Patricia says:

    You have clarified for me! Thank you for your help, Judy! I’m anxious to start!

  56. Kimberly Jones says:

    I’m in the same boat as some of you above. My paternal grandfather never knew his father. So I now know where I’m at on that. My question is this. To do your DNA test from my mothers side of the family can it be done from me or would I need to have my mother or one of my uncles to do it?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      To test strictly the maternal line (your mother’s mother’s mother’s line), you can test your own mitochondrial DNA; you and your mother will have identical (or nearly identical) results. But to add autosomal to the mix, you’re much better off testing an older generation, and testing your uncle will mean you could do his Y (your mother’s father’s line), his mtDNA (your and his mother’s mother’s mother’s line) and his autosomal.

  57. Lizetth Moffett says:

    What program if one at all could one use to find their biological father when there is no information about the missing person except the state they once resided in?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      If you’re trying to find him by way of DNA, you want to test with every possible company. If you really mean a missing person (i.e., you know his identity and last known location and merely want to locate him), working with a forensic genealogist who researches living people for heir searches and the like is your best bet.

      • Lizetth Moffett says:

        Thank you Judy for your response.
        The only known factor is the city/state.
        What companies would you suggest.
        If you would, Feel free to email me, maybe I can better explain the scenario.

  58. Lost says:

    I am a woman with no male relatives on my fathers side. My mother does not know who he is or his ethnic background. Is there a test that could tell me what ethicity I am?
    Thank you so much for your time Judy. You are a wealth of info

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      There’s no one perfect test for this. Your best bet is to test as widely as possible to try to (a) get as much data on ethnicity as you can and (b) potentially link to cousins on your father’s side. For pure ethnicity, understanding that it’s only really good at the continental level, 23andMe is probably the best right now. For cousin-finding, start at AncestryDNA, then transfer your results to FamilyTreeDNA and then test with 23andMe when finances allow.

  59. Thomas says:

    Regarding the Promethease analysis, you don’t mention the raw BAM file for FTDNA Big Y test, which I recently completed.
    As it is more exhaustive than the normal FTDNA tests, would this raw data file be able to provide the same details as a 23&me test?
    Thanks so much for your advice!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Reading through the info on the Promethease site, it doesn’t seem like the BAM file can be read just yet. But you can certainly try it — it’s a small fee to give it a whirl — or email the info (at) snpedia.com address to ask.

  60. Thomas says:

    Just a followup, I emailed them and after a couple of email exchanges, (it seemed they were not familiar with the Big Y) and learned they do NOT support BAM format at this time. However, I discovered Promethease DOES support the file type (VCF)which I subsequently looked for and found is also available for download from FTDNA on the Big Y results page.
    Thanks for your suggestions!

  61. Thomas says:

    Bummer, just in case someone else wants to submit a Big Y VCF file, sad to report “File format not recognized” appears after I upload the VCF to Promethease. I wasn’t aware there was more than one type of VCF file format.

  62. Melissa says:

    Have you used genetic testing by Counsyl? I was referred there by calling a medical genetic laboratory to see if they did any testing for the general public. I’ve heard nothing but good things about it, so many tests for around the same price as one of these public tests. The only problem is you have to have your medical practitioner order it for you. Insurance contributes.


    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Nope, that’s not one that I’ve dealt with, Melissa. I’m testing mostly for ancestry, not health, so this isn’t one that’s come onto my radar screen.

  63. Nancy Case Wolff says:

    Hi, I had my dad’s DNA tested 3 years ago at FTDNA. Now I find out that, with the nifty DNA tools ancestry has, I can’t transfer his results from FTDNA to ancestry. He has tested for both YDNA and FF. He only had one match on his YDNA, and about 300 on FF, but I don’t know the confidence level. Where would you recommend I go next? Should I test on ancestry or test my dad on ancestry? Should I have my DNA cousin (the daughter of the man who matched my dad) test, or should I just wait and hope to get more matches or better tools on FTDNA? Thanks, Nancy Case Wolff

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      The tools available to you on FTDNA are vastly superior in most respects to the tools available on AncestryDNA, so you didn’t lose a thing by testing at FTDNA. (You should know that it’s the only game in town today for YDNA — Ancestry dumped its YDNA tests.) When you say you don’t know the confidence level, it’s just that FTDNA doesn’t give you overall labels like “high” or “good”: what you have instead is the exact data you need to determine how good the match is. You have the amount of DNA in common and the length of the longest shared segment — information you can’t get at AncestryDNA at all. You can compare your results to the results of a match and see exactly where, on what chromosome and what segment you match. I’d personally much rather know I have 200cM in common with someone else and where that common DNA is than to have a company tell me the match was “good” without telling me what “good” means!

      That being said, you do get benefit from testing everywhere, and what you can get by adding a test at AncestryDNA is the depth of its database (number of potential matches) and the automatic tree matching (good as long as the tree data is good; when it’s not, it can be misleading). So yes absolutely test at AncestryDNA, and since it’s only an autosomal test getting your Dad to test is the way to go.

      • Nancy Case Wolff says:

        Thank you so much for your advice. Now that I know where to turn, I can have my dad tested at AncestryDNA. Nancy

  64. Lost says:

    Has anyone used http://www.dnaspectrum.com/? Any info on them?

  65. Rome says:


    I am very intrigued about my ancestry and read through all blog entries. Thanks so much for all of your hard work.

    I identify as an African-American male but have no idea where in Africa my ancestors may have come from. I have been to the continent of Africa many times but am often saddened when African ask me why I say I’m African American if I cant tell them where my family is from in Africa (I try and tell them about the hard realities of slavery but only get looked at with more confusion).

    I have started a non-profit where a partner and I will be taking about 15 Black males to Ghana. One of the purposes of our trip is to focus on cultural identity. The men we are working with all identify as Black or African American but that’s it. Therefore, any little information would make them excited. Our goal is not necessarily to give them the complete picture of who they are but we would like to give them a start as they search more for themselves. However, we don’t want to waste our money either.

    Therefore, it would be great to do a test for the men that would at least let them know where in Africa their roots are mostly traced. For example, are most of their ancestors from East Africa, West Africa…

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      There are certainly tests that can suggest where in Africa your roots may be found… but even the very best of tests must be taken with a grain of salt.

  66. Rhonda says:

    Wow this is all so confusing… I guess basically what I’m wanting to know is as a female what information can I find out about my paternal ancestors by testing whom?Thank you for your time and help.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Your most direct route to information about paternal ancestors is to test a male member of the family: a brother, uncle, cousin in the direct male line. That would be a YDNA test, and the only company doing those tests is Family Tree DNA. To get general information that may lead you to cousins you’re not currently aware of, you personally can do autosomal testing. That will give you information about both maternal and paternal relatives.

  67. Darryl says:

    Hi, I am in the process of trying to prove a genetic relation between 2 men who share a great great grandfather. Who has the best test to find out if these 2 men are blood related through this GG Grandfather? This is to close an estate through probate in tennessee. Thanks!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      You’re not providing enough information. Are both of these men in a direct male line of descent, or does the line of descent vary between males and females? If the former, then a YDNA test from Family Tree DNA is your best bet. If the latter, then an autosomal test is the way to go. In either case, however, DNA alone can not prove the two are related through this GG grandfather. It can only prove they are related — not by itself how they are related. For that you have to do the paper trail research.

  68. caro says:

    Hi Judy,
    Wow, what a service you provide! I sincerely appreciate your patience in translating for those of us who are just embarking on this and are a bit out of our depth. I have understood that testing the whole family is a great idea, and that admixture and ethnicity are to be taken with a grain, or a wheelbarrowful, of salt. My real interest in taking the tests would be to discern any kind of insight into migration patterns, (probably too much to ask) or for hints pointing to Anywhere We Passed Through. My question for you, because I haven’t really absorbed yet how any of this works, is am I essentially asking about ethnicity, which you have already discussed at length, or is location another conversation?
    I have been leaning towards 23&me as a point of departure, but do you think there’s another test that would be more appropriate, given what I’m looking for?
    Thanks again for sharing your experience and your time.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      No, location isn’t a separate item — can’t be, really, since there’s no “this longitude and latitude” gene, darn it! So ethnicity estimates are the best you can hope for and, right now, 23andMe is the best of this still-flawed group.

  69. Sharon says:

    My dad always told me that he had Indian in him. My mother always told me she had German in her. Both of my parents are deceased. I have one living brother. So, my question is which DNA test should I buy to determine how much Indian and German I have in me? Thanks!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      There isn’t such a test. Not that can give you that kind of specificity with any degree of precision. Please read Admixture: not soup yet and Making the best of what’s not so good. Of the available tests today, the one generally regarded as the best for ethnicity estimates is the 23andM3e test and that is still only really good at the continental level, not at the German-versus-French-versus-English level.

  70. Colin says:

    Ninety nine dollars to expand your family tree is very inexpensive no matter who you use. You’re growing another branch for others to view. It’s not always what it is doing for you but what you may be doing for others. Those that might be searching for you or someone close to you. In the end we’re all related somehow. Spend the ninety nine dollars or whatever and make it a friendlier world. In the end you might make some stranger happy or maybe even yourself.

  71. Joyce D says:

    Hello Judy,
    I stumbled upon your blog and am glad I did! For years I have been thinking about getting a DNA test done. My brother did one through National Geographic’ Genographic project, which said that we have the same genetic markers as Genghis Khan. I’m certain that is from my grandfather’s Japanese lineage. We know absolutely nothing about this part of our family, and very little about any others. We have been grasping at straws and hitting walls at every turn. I am also quite interested in my daughter’s paternal history. Her father last saw his father when he was a toddler, so no information is available there either. I’m interested in Ancestry and ethnicity. I don’t have a lot of financial resources, so I can only test either myself or my daughter. I’m leaning more to having her tested. Which resources would you recommend? This is a lot to take in. Any suggestions you have would be appreciated.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      The problem here is one that comes up time and time again: there really isn’t any test that can do more than give you generalities on ethnic origins. These tests are excellent at the continental level (European versus African versus Asian) and just about useless below that (they really can’t reliably distinguish French from German from Swiss, for example). If money is tight, I wouldn’t do DNA testing just for these ethnicity estimates; it’s a waste of money. I’d test you or your daughter only if I had a genealogical question I specifically wanted to answer — a theory I wanted to test.

  72. Lost says:

    is it true that if you use 23&me that they own your dna and info to sell? A friend told me that there is an article they read that said if you use that service they own your dna and can sell it. Do all the services do the same?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      It’s not exactly that they own your DNA and can sell it; what they do is aggregate your data with that of others and use it for research (or allow partners to do so) which may have commercial applications. And no, just as one example, Family Tree DNA doesn’t do that unless you specifically agree to allow it.

  73. Dominque says:

    So if you take Ancestry test and transfer it to family tree finder do they give new genealogy percentages?

  74. Jennifer K. says:

    Thanks for the article, Judy. What is your opinion of cousin DNA testing?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I’m in favor of using every tool at our disposal and cousin testing (autosomal DNA testing) is a huge tool properly used.

  75. Pingback: Personal Checklist | Copper Leaf Genealogy

  76. shae says:

    Hello im a female looking to find my birth father with only a name so what would be the best dna company to start with that would give me a better lead im ready to start my journey

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Since you are female, looking to identify a male, your only chance is an autosomal DNA test. And to be sure you locate all possible matches, you want to test as widely as possible. I continue to recommend starting with AncestryDNA because of the sheer number of people who’ve tested there, then downloading your raw data and uploading it to Family Tree DNA, then finally testing with 23andMe in that order. You will also want to use the free third-party sites such as GedMatch.

  77. Elyse says:

    Hi Judy,
    I am trying to figure out DNA. I understand that I inherit 50% of my mother’s DNA, and 50% of my father’s. I am very confused about how the DNA “splits” up. My dad is half Polish, so I assumed that I was 25% Polish. I understand inheriting different dominant and recessive traits, but I don’t understand ethnicity. I also did Ancestry DNA, and the results really confused me. It told me I had 7% trace regions of Greek/Italian, but I don’t have any Greek/Italian names on paper. I know it is an estimate, but it didn’t match with the documents I had a whole lot. It gave me a range of 0-<1 of Native American, which doesn't make sense. I am mainly European, but my mom and I have A LOT of Native American traits, even medical issues common in Native Americans. Sorry for all the questions! I'm still kinda new to all this stuff, and considering I haven't taken biology yet (I'm a freshman).

  78. Lori D says:

    Hello. I am searching for information about my great grandfather’s parents. His obituary states his parents names as John V. and Annabelle Smith. I can find no evidence of these people. My great grandfather lived with his grandparents with the last name Smith. I can find no census record (but there are 2 missing) that show that the Smiths have a son named John. However, their daughter Mary is listed in one census as Annie B. I have theorized that Annie B Smith may be his mother and that the V for John V might not be a middle initial but instead a last initial like Valentine or VanMeter. What testing would make the most since to break this brick wall? I am thinking I should have my dad take the test since there are Valentines in my mother’s family tree. Is there a test to determine with certainty if the mother or father was a Smith? I do have an ancestry family tree already.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      You’re not indicating clearly what your line is, but this appears to go back and forth from male to female. If so, your only chance is to do autosomal testing. You can’t do YDNA testing unless you have an unbroken male line.

  79. Doug says:

    Hello Judy,

    I am new to geneology and DNA. I apologize for being redundant but I’m having a difficult time understanding the X, Y, DNA variations, V1, etc, and which company does what. Also, as someone previously posted, I too am on a budget.

    I am trying to find out if I have any trace of Native American blood. My father, now deceased, had always told me that my great-great-(great?) grandmother was Creek. I’m not seeking one specific tribe or wanting to use the information to become a member of the Creek Nation, I would just like to confirm if I do or do not have Native American heritage. I’ve searched the U.S. census and found her when she was a young woman. Beyond that she disappears. On the census she was listed as white but I’ve read that back in those days it wasn’t uncommon for a Native American to be listed as white.

    Though there are no tests that can determine a specific country of origin, I would at least like to discover what continent(s) my ancestors came from. Is this the ethnicity that you write about in your Admixture?

    If possible, I would like to search my mother and father’s line.

    My questions…

    Is there one all inclusive DNA test, at one lab, that could provide information on my three comments?

    I realize U.S. labs are no longer allowed to give medical history but I see other posts referring to a lab in England that does. Is this true?

    Thank you very much for your time and your web site.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      The ethnicity estimate is the aspect that reports on continental (and smaller breakdowns) origin, yes, but there is no one test that can get you everything you might want. The test from 23andMe is generally regarded as the best for Native American ancestry. Beyond that, you will need to do more testing with more companies and use more third party tools (meaning doing a lot more reading and studying!!) to get the answers you’re looking for.

  80. Kristi says:

    Hello and wow! There is so much to learn about all of this. I have a question, I know who my mother is, but I do not know who my bio-dad is. I am an only child. If I wanted to find out more about who my bio-dad is and/or siblings I may have, which test would you recommend I take?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      As a female looking for information about a male, your only option is the autosomal test and if you have no information about your father then testing with all of the major companies (to benefit from the most matches) is the way to go.

    • Walker Hall says:

      Yes, autosomal. Following the advice of this article, you’d be well served to start by taking advantage of the current 4-day Ancestry DNA sale for $20 off each. You might consider getting one for yourself as well; then you can know that any of the cousins that YOU match but your mom doesn’t, would have to be from your dad’s side.

      • Walker Hall says:

        What I meant to say is — obviously, you want a test for yourself, but you might also want to test your mom, then compare your results to weed out your matches that come from your mom’s side. :)

  81. Walker Hall says:

    Yes, autosomal. Following the advice of this article, you’d be well served to start by taking advantage of the current 4-day Ancestry DNA sale for $20 off each. You might consider getting one for yourself as well; then you can know that any of the cousins that YOU match but your mom doesn’t, would have to be from your dad’s side.

  82. Marty K says:

    I am particularly interested in my mother’s DNA ancestry. Her parents escaped from a very small town in Northern Ukraine, near the Polish Border. This is the area that the Genghis Khan Mongols / Tatars ravaged. Pictures indicate the Asian facial structure. Is 23 and Me the best company to use to determine if the Mongol / Tatar DNA is in my family ?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Yes, 23andMe is probably the best as of right now for these sorts of analyses. Keep in mind that any of these tests is subject to substantial error when it comes to ethnicity percentages. These are called estimates for a reason, and it’s entirely possible that every bit of what we think we know now about ethnicity estimates will prove to be wrong.

      • Walker Hall says:

        That would be fine with me, because it would presumably mean they had made great strides towards figuring it out if were to happen! :)

  83. Nic says:

    Hi Judy. This is my first time to your site, so much information to take in, but wonderful. I know I should read more and then ask questions, but a $79 dna kit offer from Ancestry.com is going to expire at the end of the day, so I’m taking a chance here. I have been trying to trace our family geneaology at a very amateur level. I don’t have the funds to subscribe to Ancestry, but use their free weekends and the free services at Familysearch.org. I, like many people who watch the PBS Roots and Who Do You Think You Are programs, get excited at the thought of taking a DNA test. If one is done, I’d like my dad to take it, as he is getting on a bit in age and we would like to have that information from him. We classify ourselves as Mexican-American with roots in Mexico to at least the mid 1700′s. I haven’t been able to go further than that at this point because of a lack of records to follow that I have access to. I know of at least one documented Anglo great-great grandmother, and assume that European ancestry is strong in the family judging by my blond, blue-eyed brothers. Since I don’t have a subscription at Ancestry, would taking their dna test be worth it? I now understand that each person tested and the results can be subjective as it applies only to them, but would it give us an idea of our roots in Europe, such as how much Spanish, Italian, English/Irish, etc.? Sorry for the long post and thank you for any help and advice!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Without a subscription, there is not a lot of benefit to testing with AncestryDNA, no. You’d be better off testing with one of the other companies that provides total access to matches and more for one flat fee.

      • Nic says:

        Ok, great to know. We will look into the other companies. If time and money allows, we may do the Ancestry test at some point in order to have it for future membership. Thank you so much for the quick reply!

  84. Dave says:

    I am mainly African American with some white ancestory in me as my grandfather was interracial from Bermuda. But I am interested in knowing how much Native American I might have in me. Which Testing company is the best? Thanks

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      For Native American, right now, 23andMe probably has the best reference population samples. For African American, it’s more likely to be AncestryDNA with the best reference populations. Again, however, I caution everyone that when it gets below the continental level (European versus African versus Asian), none of these tests offers any guarantees.

  85. anthony says:

    I too have tested with all the companies.

    I agree that it is very easy to contact your matches on Family Tree DNA. One thing to consider is that they often do not respond to messages and sharing requests. To be fair, that is true for all of the companies.

    I am frustrated that Ancestry DNA currently lacks the required tools to analyze your matches. (Although they have recently made some bizarre and inadequate attempts to compensate for that) At least on Ancestry DNA, it’s much more likely your match will have a public tree available to view. So even without a response from your match, you may still be able to glean a few important clues from their tree.

    In my experience, very few of the matches on Family Tree DNA have a tree available on that site. If they fail to respond (which many do), the tools won’t be able to help you with analysis and you are often left in the dark. I’ve personally had a lot more luck identifying cousins with Ancestry DNA even without the tools.

    The other thing to consider is the number of people in the database. The last I checked Ancestry DNA had over 5 times as many people as Family Tree DNA.

    So if you can only afford one test, you might seriously consider Ancestry DNA. Maybe you’ll find yourself in a position to swing the less expensive raw transfer to Family Tree DNA in the future.

    I have to believe that sooner or later, Ancestry DNA will give us the tools we’ve been demanding. If they ever do, the contest will be over, Ancestry DNA wins, and you will wish your one test was on Ancestry.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I would agree that you want to be tested with Ancestry — and everywhere else too, if you can.

  86. Robert Wayne says:

    My wife and I are going to take a DNA test(s), paid for by our daughter. We are not sure which test to take but we want to take one (or however many it takes) to get the most benefit from. My wife is adopted and does not know or have any contact with any of her birth family. Which test(s) do you recommend we take? Thank you. I do have a paid subscription and trees on Ancestry.com.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      To get the maximum benefit for the entire family, here’s how I would suggest you proceed: (1) test both of you for autosomal DNA at AncestryDNA; (2) when those results come in, take the raw data and upload to Family Tree DNA then if you can afford it add YDNA for you and mtDNA for your wife (for you as well, if you wish and can afford, but it’s more important for your wife the adoptee); and then (3) do the 23andMe test last. And be prepared to do a LOT of research to understand the results well enough to make them really useful.

  87. Ramses Pena says:

    So if I just want to find out whether I’m European and something else, I should use AncestryDNA?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      At that continental level (European versus African versus Asian), any of the tests (AncestryDNA, 23andMe or Family Finder from Family Tree DNA) will give you an accurate read. If you want to know English versus German versus Italian, then you might want to read Admixture: not soup yet.

  88. Merideth says:

    I’m looking into paying for testing for my parents. My understanding of your recommendation for testing order in the most cost-effective manner is this:
    AncestryDNA autosomal testing for each of my parents
    Transfer/import AncestryDNA data to FamilyTree DNA
    YDNA for my father and mtDNA for both parents via FamilyTree DNA
    23andMe testing for both parents

    My father-in-law has completed autosomal, YDNA and mtDNA testing, as well as the NG Geno testing (he’s a DNA junkie as well). We’re working on convincing my mother-in-law to do autosomal and mtDNA testing. Is there an advantage to also testing my husband and/or myself right now? Obviously, the more data available the better, but is there a specific reason for us to test now versus later?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Nope, no reason at all. Your husband’s YDNA should be the same as your father-in-law’s, barring any mutations (which can happen between any generation). His mtDNA should be the same as his mother’s. And he can only inherit his autosomal DNA from both parents. So testing them gets you everything you can get (except some interesting quirks) from testing him. The same goes for you and your parents: your father alone will have YDNA, your and your mother’s mtDNA should be the same, and your autosomal DNA will simply be a mix of that of both of your parents. Testing the older generation on both sides, in this case, gets you as much as you can get from testing yourselves, and more.

  89. Christopher Whitmey says:

    Found your site this morning when Googling “dna family history review”. Thank you for such a clear and informative site. Helped me decide where to spend my £s!

  90. Scarlett Larkin says:

    I a interested in finding information on my father’s side of the family. Since I am female I understand it would be best to have my brother tested so the breakdown will show the father’s side and the mother’s side. If this is correct what would be the best vendor to use?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      The only company currently offering YDNA tests (the one only your brother can do) is Family Tree DNA. Then he and you can both do autosomal testing.

  91. Cat says:

    What a wonderful blog, thanks so much for your hard work!

    My sister, Jane, and I would like to confirm whether we share the same father. Both would-be fathers have passed on but we do have a brother. The only sibling whose father is in question is my sister, Jane.

    She has already tested at 23andMe. Would we be able to determine if we share the same father if I were to be tested?

    Thanks again~!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      If you both share the same mother and are trying to see if you are half-siblings or full siblings, then, yes, you testing with 23andMe is the fastest way to find out. That’s because 23andMe displays both the kinds of segments any relative is likely to share (half-identical regions or HIRs) and fully identical regions, where two people have both inherited from both parents. If you and your sister have ONLY areas that are half-identical, you are half-siblings. If there are areas that are fully identical, then you are full siblings. You will see this in the area called Family Traits under the Family & Friends menu, using Genome View. But make sure you have sharing turned on in both accounts!

  92. Trina says:

    Hi. I probably can only afford to test once, IF and when I can even afford to test at all (unless anyone knows of any sites that test for significantly less than $99??), I do not know my ancestry on my mother’s side AT ALL as she was adopted and in our state adoption records are sealed. They’re going to legalize opening them in a year or two, but we’re pretty sure it was an illegal adoption and we’re not going to find anything. I know my father was from Puerto Rico, but I don’t know what percentage of European/African/Indian is in there. I am not in touch with my father’s side of the family and I’ve never even met most of them and wouldn’t know how to find them to even start asking questions.

    Is there any test at all, that will give me more than a vague idea of my mother’s ethnic origins and/or would help me get a clearer picture of my paternal ancestry? If so, what are these types of tests called, and which sites offer them?

    Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Any of the major companies’ autosomal tests (23andMe, AncestryDNA or Family Finder from Family Tree DNA) will give you decent information on ethnic origins on a continental level (Europe versus Africa versus Asia). None of them is particularly accurate on a lower level (say, England versus France). As long as you understand that limitation, any test will do, and in general 23andMe may be the best right now for these sorts of percentages.

  93. Andrew says:

    Hi Judy

    Thank you for all the information! Please excuse my lack of knowledge, I’m very new to the concept and I’m hoping you can shed some light on one or two questions. I am South African and my family on both sides have been living in SA for quite a few generations. We are from European decent though, and my biggest interest is to find out a bit more detail around which part of Europe we are from, to which extent, etc. I have no interest in finding a distant cousin or getting into contact with a match. Paper trial seems to be very difficult given that it is all SA based and the fact that my family have been in SA for at least 200/300 years. From what I gather from the comments above, none of the major companies will provide accurate information around the detail I am interested in?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      You’re absolutely right: NONE of the companies is in a position to give you accurate information at that level of detail. The science just isn’t there to accurately distinguish one population from another at less than the continental level when we’re talking about groups where there has been much migration and intermixing over the generations.

  94. Karen says:

    I want to find out what ethnicity I am. Knowing just Asian, African, etc is fine. I know they can not be too specific with the details. Which test is the best to find out the percentages for ethnicity? I don;t care about any of the other benefits at all. I just want to know what ethnicity I am. If I am part Asian or African American etc.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      At the continental level (Euopean versus African versus Asian), any of the companies can give you a decent report. So you can choose which one to test with based on what else you’d like to know.

  95. Shaye says:

    Hi, Thanks for your article and I hope you’re still answering questions. I have a problem that I think you may have answered, and I apologize, but I am autistic and things get a little weird when I am reading them online like this.

    A few years ago I had a DNA test done through 23 and Me. I thought I would get answers about my lineage like people get on those genealogy shows, like “Who Do You Think You Are?” and “Finding Your Roots.” I am looking for racial percentages. But you said to a previous poster, “The problem with your question is that there isn’t any test that can give you a reliable, take-it-to-the-bank answer to the question of your ethnic origins on anything less than a continental level.” Are these shows misleading people?

    Am I confused to think that there really is a way to find out where my mother’s people came from via my DNA? My maternal grandmother insisted she was half Crow (Indian), but through records on Ancestry.com, I am not finding any evidence to support it and the Crow Nation has never responded to my letter of inquiry. 23andMe did not give me any answers that I could understand and what they gave me I apparently misunderstood. When I try to ask them, when I eventually get an answer, it is not very helpful.

    I just want to find out who I am racially and where my people come from. Thanks.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      In general, people are being misled to some degree by the popular media when it comes to these ethnic percentages. They are excellent at telling the difference between European versus African versus Asian, and not so good at telling the difference below that continental level. To understand your own test results and what they mean for you and your family story, you might want to consider hiring an expert to analyze your results. There are several who do this sort of work.

  96. eleanor says:

    My parents were born in Jamaica with african caribbean,german and portaguese. Will this da test be able to tell what percentage of each?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Not exactly. It will absolutely be able to tell you the likely range you received at the continental level — European versus African versus Asian. Below that, when it gets to German versus Portuguese, for example, it’s not very accurate.

  97. Lucas says:

    A friend of mine has a young son and is uncertain which of two men is the father. It is not possible to get samples from either father, but one of the men has a grandfather of indian (Asian) descent (all his other relatives being of British/European descent) and the other man is of Irish descent (that is, no close indian relatives). Would any of these genetic tests on the boy, indicate which is the most likely father? I’m thinking, specifically, that if the indian/asian grandfather’s dna were detected, or was absent, that would be an indicator.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Yes, if the Asian ancestry is that recent, and there is no Asian ancestry in the other candidate father, a DNA test of the child would help identify the father.

  98. Anthony Jackson says:

    I am an african-american male interested in finding my likely african tribal roots. I worked as an immigrations officer and my african applicants would look at me and assure me that I have fulani roots. This peaked my curiosity to find out my likely tribal association. I am limited financially (budget of $99) so what would recommend as a sound approach for accomplishing my goal, in light of budget constraints.


    • Judy G. Russell says:

      There is no DNA test that can distinguish tribes with any degree of reliability. Ethnicity estimates from DNA testing are excellent at the continental level (European versus African versus Asian) but not at a regional, country or tribal level.

  99. Micah K says:

    My grandad is 86 years old and has been researching his family for decades. He has hit a road block for who his great grandfathers dad is. I want to do DNa testing for him as a gift to find out this missing link. I also would like to maybe help find other paternal linage past the road block. Which testing would be the best if I can only afford one choice?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      My recommendation hasn’t changed: test him at AncestryDNA first, then transfer the data to Family Tree DNA, then test at 23andMe when you can afford it.

  100. AJ says:

    I just have one basic question. If I can only afford to do one right now…which one is the best to go with? I want the most extensive info I can get from both my parents sides. Thank you!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      My recommendations have not changed from 2014 to 2015: test at AncestryDNA first, then transfer the data into Family Tree DNA, then test at 23andMe, in that order.

  101. Annie says:


    I was looking for recommendations for the best DNA ancestry test and found your very helpful advice. Forgive me if I ask the same question re: ethnicity; I’ve been building my family tree on Ancestry.com and, no surprise, on paper all my ancestors come from the same small area in the UK and even with the Unknown Father’s’ sprinkled liberally throughout, given the times and circumstances I’m pretty sure they were local chaps. So, would any test I used myself give any accurate indication if my father had ancestry other than European or would my brother be a better bet for testing with a YDNA test?


    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Any autosomal test (AncestryDNA, FTDNA or 23andMe) can generally detect ancestry at the continental level (European versus African versus Asian). It won’t be very good at pegging ancestral origins to a country level or even a regional level. So what test makes the most sense will depend very much on what it is you want to know.

  102. Christopher diaz says:

    Big argument amongst my siblings… The claim is that my father is strictly Italian and Spanish (Spain) descent, but documents I’ve uncovered show that his parents are from Mexico and Guatemala. His mother was born in Texas, with her parents from Mexico. His Father… Just the country Guatemale as place of origin on his WW2 enlistment card. My siblings don’t accept this as factual which is beyond me. Is there a test that strictly focuses on my father’s side, and his father’s side? Looking my grandfather up genealogically is a dead end… Nobody knows any relative before him. Sorry is this is an “asked and answered” question already… There are a lot of posts on this topic of yours!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Ethnicity information from a DNA test is not particularly accurate or reliable, so you may very well be wasting your money by doing a test trying to identify ethnicity. No test can tell whether someone’s Spanish ancestry is from Spain or from Spain via Mexico. You may be able to detect Native American ancestry, but that doesn’t disprove Spanish ancestry. Moreover, no ethnicity test can look only at your paternal ancestry unless your father is alive to test.

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  104. Larry L. Stout says:

    Two Stout men (Joseph and James) and families came separately to the same area in Jefferson County, Indiana in the early 1830s from the same area in Monmouth County, New Jersey. They both should be descended from Richard and Penelope Stout who separately came to New Jersey about 1640. We think they were brothers but can’t prove it as we are not sure of each of their parents and refuse to believe the numerous researchers who have “guessed” as who their parents were without proof. I am a 4th generation son of one (Joseph). I know a 4th generation son of the other (James) (he is now 97). Is there any tests out there that we each could take that would connect us to a common grandfather, hopefully the father of both Joseph and James?
    There is also another Stout male whose grandfather was the grandfather of one of these men (Joseph) and he married a granddaughter of the grandfather of the other man (James). Could he take a test to determine that both Joseph and James have the same father?
    Thanks for any help you can give me. I have been working on this for 37 years without any definite proof.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Larry, a YDNA test can definitely prove that you all descend from a common male ancestor — but DNA alone can’t tell you WHICH common male ancestor. DNA and paper trail research both have to work together to give you the ultimate answer. But YDNA testing (of you and your James-descendant would-be-cousin) absolutely can tell you whether Joseph and James were descended from a common male ancestor, and testing the two of you and any male Stout who you can prove descended from Richard and Penelope Stout can tie you to that specific Stout family.

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  106. Michael says:

    Awesome review! Thanks for doing the research for the rest of us. This is the most comprehensive overview I’ve seen on DNA testing online.

  107. Richard Carter says:

    Any updates as of July 2015 for the topic of ‘Best Bang for One’s DNA Dollar?

  108. Richard Carter says:

    What would be the ‘Best Bang’ for mitochondrial DNA testing and YDNA testing???

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      There’s only one choice: Family Tree DNA. Nobody else does this kind of testing for genealogy. For YDNA, realistically the minimum number of markers you should test is 37, and go for 67 or 111 if you can afford it. For mtDNA, you should really only test if you have a theory you want to research (because mtDNA changes so little your matches are likely to be way back in time, before records exist!), and if you do have a theory you want to test you’ll need to test the full mitochondrial sequence.

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  110. Jomama says:

    AncestryDNA is running a promotion for $79 until Aug. 17, 2015. Thanks for the guidance on how to fish in all the ponds!

  111. Mary Howard says:

    Thank you, Judy, for all your knowledge and information. Which test(s) would you recommend for two females trying to find out if they have the same father? He is deceased. Both have different (deceased) mothers.

    We appreciate all your good work.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Any autosomal test will show you if the women are half-siblings. So I’d start with both testing at AncestryDNA (to get the most cousin matches) and then transfer the data to Family Tree DNA and/or upload it to GedMatch to have the tools to do a complete analysis. Remember that half-siblings share about the same amount of DNA as aunt-and-niece or double-first-cousins, so being able to see the raw data is what really helps sort this out.

  112. Walter Sawyer says:

    Over a year ago I set in my DNA and have not gotten my results back, yet.
    I sent in two requests for the DNA, again have not receive any response.

    please response or give me my money back
    Walter Sawyer, 34953

  113. S Lawson says:

    I have probably wasted a bundle already on the wrong test kits from NatGeo (4 kits, ouch!) because the very limited info on their web site mislead me into believing that NG v2, when transferred to FT would be the same as FT tests. Now I learn one is SNP and the other is STR and they are incompatible.

    Above here you seem to imply that one can transfer DNA from 3rd party sites such as Ancestry.com to FT and get FT matches for only a small transfer fee. As I read the FT site, after transferring DNA data in, one must also pay $99 for FT’s Family Finder to get FT matches. Am I wrong?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      You are wrong. If you have already tested with AncestryDNA or with the older V3 chip at 23andMe (the newer V4 chip is not compatible), then the DNA transfer is all that’s needed to get the full benefit of the Family Finder system.

  114. Laurel says:

    I just discovered your blog and I don’t understand most of the technical stuff about dna, but I’ve been building my family tree for many years on ancestry.com. My husband and I did the Ancestry by DNA tests and were surprised that his came back 10% Subsaharan African, and the rest European. Mine was 8% East Asian, and 92% European. How reliable is this data? Thanks!

  115. tammi says:

    I am not convinced of my DNA results. It says i am 86% African, with such specificity as naming tribes and cultures within the continent of Africa. I have NEVER known any African heritage in my family, my grandfather and both great grandparents were Cherokee native american. In fact both Great gran’s looked almost white because of the trail of tears where many NA’s tried to pass for other cultures to survive Thankfully I have the pics to prove it!).
    My other challenge with the test I received is my dad is also NA coming from the Seminole tribe. In fact my GGG was a chief of the Seminole tribe and the NA results returned 0% according to ancestory DNA. There is NO way I can believe this!!!

    How do I challenge this and/or demand a retest????

    • tammi says:

      …Just to clarify my heritage of the Cherokee relation is from my moms side, whereas, the Seminole relation carries from my dad’s side.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      You really can’t say “I don’t like my results, retest me.” You can ask the testing company (assuming it’s a reputable company) to verify that your kit wasn’t accidentally mixed up with someone else’s. But there’s so much variation in the reference populations AND so great a chance that what people believe about their heritage isn’t what it really is that a retest simply because you don’t agree with the analysis is unlikely.

  116. juanita says:

    I have a question.my dad was adopted at very young age.he had since passed and im a adult now.i know my moms history but not my dads.what is the best test?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      As a female looking for information about your paternal ancestry, your only choice is an autosomal test. Follow the suggestions here for 2015 to do this. If you have a brother (or a brother’s son) who can test, then do YDNA testing as well.

  117. Pam says:

    My husbands Mother may have a different father than the rest of her siblings, which tests would help confirm this? We know her father the man that raised her is all German. Her siblings have since passed away. He did family finder and came out with very little German, which is on his dad’s side. Alot of English, Irish which shouldn’t be. Is there a test that would show his mom’s lineage?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      If you can identify cousins (your husband and his first cousins, his mother’s siblings’ children) and test enough of them with autosomal DNA testing (Family Finder from Family Tree DNA or the tests from AncestryDNA or 23andM3), it should show whether they are in fact first cousins or half-first cousins.

      • Pam says:

        Would the MtDna Plus show the orgins of my husbands mother’s father? Or does this test just show his mom’s mom information. If we know the Grandfather’s origins then we would know if he is indeed the grandfather. He would in fact be a 100% German. Or is the only way to test a first cousin? Trying to stay away from family gossip.

  118. Charles de Vries says:

    I was born and raised in Europe and know my father’s family tree back to the 17th century. Which test would you recommend to Europeans, with no ancestry in the US, to check the ethnic origins of my mother?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      There are not a lot of Europeans who have tested with any of the companies, so it’s a bit of a crap shoot no matter what. But realistically your best bet is probably 23andMe, which today has among the best ethnicity data available and probably has more European testers right now. If your mother is alive, test her. If not, then test one of her siblings — an aunt or an uncle if living. If none, then test yourself.

  119. Paul Hortobagyi says:

    I have searched several sites becaue as a gift for my brother’s 70th B-day I would like to buy a DNA kit for him. However, your site is (no offense PLEASE) Hamburger=$99.00 Hamburger bun=$69.00 Lettuce& Tomato $99.00. While I like everything that I read I think it is kind of a string along. Sorry!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      If your brother is not yet really into genealogy, then AncestryDNA is a good place to start — and stop. That’s one test, one price to begin with. You can worry about adding the lettuce and tomato later, if he wants it at all.

  120. Joanna says:

    I’ve been thinking I’d like my DNA tested and want as much information as possible. My father says we’re of Spanish decent and my mother says we have native Indian ancestors. I’d like to know what tribe if possible. What’s your recommendation?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      No DNA test is very good at getting to ancestral origins below the continental level: European versus Asian versus African. And even the very best can’t distinguish one Native American tribe from another. If you’re curious, and have some money to spend, the AncestryDNA test is on sale today for $69 (free shipping if you buy through Amazon) — but they can NOT tell you with any degree of certainty whether you’re Spanish versus French versus Italian and they can NOT tell what tribe.

  121. Sherry Lee Bean says:

    I’ve read from top to bottom, still confused.lol only child,75.Dad gone,use uncle or cousin for male.Anc.give me male N female his side. Mom side no men.Female cuz 80s fr.male.Get hers from AncTree ? Where do I Go for most info I can get accross the board. I really wanted to know ,Irish. Eng. French or N hinds mixture but doesn’t sound like that’s possible yet. Nat.Geo says over 750,000 markets but doesn’t seem that means much after all. Thank you so much for sharing so much knowledge. Sherry

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Those 750,000 markers are actually quite a lot. The problem is, the science hasn’t developed yet — and maybe never — to the point where we will be able to rely on those percentages. To get the most you can get now, yes, test the oldest member of your family — that cousin — and test yourself, both at AncestryDNA and then when you get the results there transfer the data to Family Tree DNA. That puts you in two big databases for a small additional cost. Then comes the fun part: being matched with cousins you didn’t know about and working collaboratively to find the paper trail!

  122. Louis Matthews says:

    Hi –

    I am thinking about getting a DNA test for my wife for Christmas. I was thinking about getting her the Family Finder + mtDNA test from FTDNA. Are both the Family Finder and mtDNA tests together useful? Or would it make more sense to just get one or the other? She is interested in finding information on her ancestral ethnicity.


    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Ancestral ethnicity estimates are truly accurate ONLY at the continental level — European versus Asian versus African. Once you get to the country level (England versus France versus Germany), “estimate” is the very best that can be said for them. So you and your wife really need to understand the limits of what DNA can show. As long as you understand that, then you will get more recent estimates (1000 years ago or so) from Family Finder and more ancient (back many millennia) from mtDNA. If you can afford to do both, do ‘em. If you need to choose, choose Family Finder.

  123. Richard says:

    Thank you for the BLOG I will leave it up to my wife to decide what would be best but what you have shared has been a plus… I thank you

  124. Chelley says:

    Like a number of people who’ve reached out to you, I would like to know if I have Native American ancestry and am 1/32. I’m female. My mother who is now deceased told us since we were kids that her mother’s father’s mother’s mother was 100% Sequatchie Indian (from the Saquatchie Valley in Tennessee). My Gram also told me the same. Is it going to be possible to tell from any DNA test available if this could be true? Would it be better if my brother did the test (and if so, which test)?

    I’d love to know more about how genetics work and how traits get handed down. My mom’s mom was blond and blue eyed despite supposedly having a GGM who was 100% Sequatchie and a GM who was half — making my GM 1/8. My mom’s 4 siblings were all blond and blue-eyed, but my mom was dark and teased about looking Indian (though she was proud of it an wrote her Masters Thesis on Navajo education). My dad was blond and blue-eyed and the four of us kids are a mixed litter! One blond blue-eyed, one auburn green eyed, one auburn brown (me), and one who could easily pass for Native American and has even been mistaken as Middle Eastern once. He’s very proud to have Native American features and studied the Lakota language (among a few others) and has taken his children to lots of places around the country to learn about Native American history and culture. He married a blond blue-eyed woman — but their four kids all came out brown-eyed and with a lot of my brother’s features. It’s my mom and one brother’s “Native American” features plus the stories from my Gram about her visiting her Gram’s for some kind of gathering with a bunch of aunts and great aunts all with long dark braids. My Gram was born in 1898 and so her recollections of that visit would be from about 1910 give or take. So her story of seeing all these women wearing long black braids is plausible for that era.

    I’d sure love to know if the stories are true of these roots.

    Thanks in advance for sharing insights!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      You’re talking about your 3rd great grandmother being 100% Native American, according to family stories, right? So your second great grandmother would have been 50% Native, your great grandfather would have been 25%, your grandmother 12.5%, your mother 6.25% and you and your siblings 3.125%. That’s a level that should be detectable by DNA testing, though random recombination comes into play. What that means is that autosomal DNA can only be used to help prove; it can’t be used that far back to disprove (because you might just not have inherited that DNA by pure random chance, not because your ancestor wasn’t Native). So it’s sure worth a try, and testing yourself and as many of your siblings as are willing to test could give you the evidence you want, yes.

  125. Laurie says:

    I am thinking about springing for the $149 that National Geographic is currently offering as their cost for DNA analysis as a gift for my brother; however, I don’t see as many references to NG in these discussions as to the other tests. Since I am willing to pay this price, am interested in contributing to the scientific knowledge that I imagine is expanding immensely through these various tests, and find genetic composition of greater interest than finding relatives – would NG in this case be the best choice?

    Thanks so much, Merry Holidays!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Laurie, that’s EXACTLY what the Geno 2.0 is good for! It’s almost pure citizen science here and a great thing to do (I’m testing myself and one of my brothers there). It really won’t help much for finding relatives on the NG site, but you will be able to transfer his autosomal data into the Family Tree DNA database — hopefully by the time you get his results — and that WILL be good for finding relatives! So it’s a win-win.

  126. Will. Harrison Jr. says:

    Hardly know where to start and still make it short. I’m really hoping I can get some solid advice and direction. I am 63yrs. old. My father’s Father was born in Austria near Vienna but was some sort of Russian with much very black hair and his wife was also from a nearby town in the same area yet was of (I’m told) of Bealo-Russian descent. They both came to the Unites States around the turn of the century as war refugees. The spelling of the last name is the problem and it was changed to Harrison (with a similar phonetic sound) when they arrived. My Mothers Mother was half Native North American and half probably Dutch. Which was which we don’t know. She was an abandoned baby adopted by Pa. Dutch. (as the story goes) She also was given an American/European last name. Her daughter, my mother, had a Father whose last name was Frantz.(Dutch?)With this apparent “bottleneck” of constructing a “tree” from both sets of Grandparents, and limited funds (both my wife and I are disabled with me in a wheelchair most of the time since 20006., I guess what I’m looking for is some way to put more pieces of the puzzle” together esp. in trying to validate, so to speak what is found from the DNA results with what little has been available in the family tree department. ??

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      There is no magic bullet that’s going to get you past the paper trail bottleneck using inexpensive tests only. Wish I could say otherwise, but the reality is that it takes time, patience, a lot of paper trail research and some DNA testing luck to break down walls like yours. You can certainly start by doing the AncestryDNA test and seeing if others match you as close enough cousins that you may be able to work with them collaboratively to build out your family tree. But again: no easy answers.

  127. TB says:

    Sorry if this question has been addressed previously; I reviewed most comments, and did not see an answer. Can you take all of these tests (like the author, I’m inclined to try all three) anonymously? I did notice ancestry.com mentions that privacy is protected via encryption, which doesn’t sound anonymous; just that they are giving assurances no one can access other member’s private data. I would like to take these tests but don’t want to register on a specific site to do so, or have to provide personal details. I understand they will take personal information during payment process, but would otherwise like to be anonymous.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      There’s no requirement that you provide personal data other than payment data on any of these sites, and many people do test using pseudonyms or initials or usernames, but their utility for genealogy is extremely limited if you don’t intend to share some data with your matches.

  128. Robert Ott says:

    I was not really interested in finding lost relatives when I took the test with Ancesrty. Being well versed in biology I made sure my sample was sufficiently filled with cheek cells. When the results came in I was very perplexed. Ancesrty’s ad shows a man changing his attire due to the specifics of his results. Specifics which were were a lot more specific than my results. Irish, English , Western European, Western Caucasian Asia, Scandinavian, and Finish. I called them about their misleading advertising. Told me they would look into it. Never contacted again. So is there any test out there that distinguish between Greek and Italian or French and German?


    Bob Ott

  129. Will. Harrison Jr. says:

    Do any of those you list provide info on any Jewish ancestry?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      They all will detect most Jewish ancestry. Perhaps the best for that is Family Tree DNA, a company that was started in part because its founders — themselves Ashkenazi Jews — wanted answers to some of their own family questions!

  130. Connie says:

    2016…still recommend the same? thank you.

  131. PHuff says:

    If I do the Ancestry DNA test looking for great, great grandparents, etc, if none of them are in the data base or there’s no one in my family tree who has done that, will I find out anything about my ancesters? I have a strong Cherokee connection on both sides and want to find out more. How do I go about that in the best way?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      You will get basic ethnicity estimates, which are very accurate at the continental level (European versus African versus Asian) and entertaining at a more localized level. You will not be able to determine what tribe if you do have Native American ancestry.

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