2015: Most bang for the DNA buck

Making the most of your 2015 DNA testing dollars

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

That was followed up in 2013 with an update after prices tumbled for autosomal DNA tests,2 and in 2014 with an update after technological changes at 23andMe blew some of the recommendations out of the water.3


And — with price changes, feature changes, the advent of international sales, and changes in the way data may be treated at some companies — it’s time now for another update.4

We’re talking here 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.5 That’s in contrast to YDNA testing, which only men can do and which looks at the direct paternal line,6 or mitochondrial DNA testing, which looks at the direct maternal line.7 If you’re interested if YDNA or mtDNA testing, Family Tree DNA is the only game in town.

There are three major autosomal DNA tests you can take for genetic genealogy — from Family Tree DNA, from 23andMe, from Ancestry DNA — and even a fourth test from National Geographic called Geno 2.0 with a 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 2014): 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 2015): If you really want to know about the medical secrets hidden in your DNA, and you live in Canada or the United Kingdom, you can now test with 23andMe.8 In the international market, the company is free of the constraints it’s been under since late 2013 in the United States.9 Here in the U.S., the dust-up with 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 halt10 and consumers here have to use a third party utility to get health-related reports. So if this is what you want, and you live in Canada or the United Kingdom, test with 23andMe. (Note that international pricing is higher than U.S. pricing!) If you’re in the U.S., 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 2015): If your primary interest is in the numbers — what percentage European or African you are, all three major consumer testing companies are providing updated reports, with varying degrees of success. 23andMe is generally regarded as doing the best job in estimating relatively recent origins (where your family lived 500-1,000 years ago),11 but remember that — no matter who you test with — the numbers are really good only at the continental level (European versus African, for example). At the country level (Irish versus German, for example), they’re just a guess.12 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, maybe someday the information we all get about deep ancestry will be better as a result. It’s not cheap — $199 for the test, occasionally less if you catch a sale — 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 for 2015): 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 (updated for 2015): The only company right now that links DNA results to your family tree and compares it to others’ family trees is AncestryDNA. Tests for new accounts created after October 2014 must include a subscription, costing $49 a year, to get access to matches’ family trees and the shaky-leaf hints when you have both a DNA match and a tree match, and — if you are a subscriber and have a public tree — it will try to group you and others who are also subscribers with public trees into what are called DNA Circles based on what it thinks are the likely common ancestors.13 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 no real analytical tools at AncestryDNA to compare DNA when there is no tree match — and no plans to add any. Note that 23andMe has just partnered up with MyHeritage,14 which does have a strong family tree system, but just how it’s going to work is anybody’s guess.

If you don’t want your data sold to Big Pharma (new for 2015): Many genealogists — because of our general interest in research — are perfectly happy to have their DNA data used for health- and medical-related research. But it’s important to know just who might be getting the data in order to do the research. It isn’t, say, the National Institutes of Health, with the benefits and findings from the research universally shared with all Americans. It’s the pharmaceutical industry, which will patent its findings and charge what the market will bear for any treatments or drugs that result. There’s nothing legally wrong with this — but it makes some of us uncomfortable. So understand what you’re agreeing to if you test. The terms of use at 23andMe allow it to sell the data of anyone who has consented to participate in research15 and, in fact, it has just entered into two agreements with major pharmaceutical companies to do just that.16 And it can share your data combined with that of all other 23andMe users even if you didn’t consent to research. Those who agree to participate in AncestryDNA’s research project agree to allow their genealogical, genetic, and health information to be used and shared with third-party researchers17 — which can include private companies like the pharmaceutical industry. Both companies will require additional specific consent to share your personal identifying information (name, address and the like). If you don’t want your data used this way, you should only test with Family Tree DNA. Its terms of use (from parent company Gene by Gene) provide that you will be individually asked for consent if it ever wants to share your genetic data with anyone.18

If you want to fish in all the ponds for the lowest price (updated for 2015): 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 in the U.S. — maybe a little less if you catch a sale. (Remember: since late 2013, we haven’t been able to use 23andMe tests for this first step because its V4 testing chip isn’t compatible with the Family Tree DNA system.) Updated note: Remember that to see full matching data and the family trees of your matches, kits activated under accounts created after October 2014 have a $49 annual subscription fee. You don’t need to pay that to test and get your raw data, but do need to pay it to see everything AncestryDNA has to offer.

Step 2. The minute you get your results from AncestryDNA, transfer your raw data to Family Tree DNA. When I say “transfer,” that doesn’t end your matches at AncestryDNA, it just gets you into the Family Tree DNA system with all of its benefits. You can do this for free but remember that “no free lunch” bit: the information you get with a free transfer is very limited. So you have two ways to unlock the really useful data: get four other people to transfer in their data or just pony up $39 and unlock the information right away.

Step 3. When you can afford it, test with 23andMe for another $99 (U.S. pricing), occasionally a little less on sale.

That puts you into all three pools for a total (assuming you have to pay full freight for everything) of $237 — 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 31 Jan 2015).
  2. Ibid., “Update: More bang for DNA test bucks,” posted 28 July 2013.
  3. Ibid., “2014: Most bang for DNA bucks,” posted 6 April 2014.
  4. Actually, yesterday was the right time for the update, but that plan went off the rails with a combination of an obligation to teach a law school seminar, a computer glitch, a desperate need for a nap, and some minor football game…
  5. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Autosomal DNA testing,” National Genealogical Society Magazine, October-December 2011, 38-43.
  6. ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Y chromosome DNA test,” rev. 12 Jan 2015.
  7. ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Mitochondrial DNA,” rev. 4 Sep 2014).
  8. For Canada, see 23andMeMedia, “23andMe Announces New Service for Canada,” 23andMe Press Releases (http://mediacenter.23andme.com/press-releases/ : accessed 1 Feb 2014). For the UK, see ibid., “23andMe Brings CE Marked Personal Genome Service® to the UK,” 2 Dec 2014.
  9. See Caroline Humer and Christina Farr, “After Canada, UK, 23andMe wants DNA test growth abroad,” Reuters, posted 15 Jan 2015 (http://www.reuters.com/ : accessed 1 Feb 2015).
  10. See Judy G. Russell, “23andMe suspends health tests,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 6 Dec 2013 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 31 Jan 2015).
  11. ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Autosomal DNA testing comparison chart,” rev. 30 Jan 2015).
  12. See Judy G. Russell, “Admixture: not soup yet,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 18 May 2014 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 31 Jan 2015).
  13. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Changes at AncestryDNA,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 20 Nov 2014 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 31 Jan 2015).
  14. 23andMeMedia, “23andMe and MyHeritage Announce Strategic Collaboration and Product Integration,” 20 Oct 2014, 23andMe Press Releases (http://mediacenter.23andme.com/press-releases/ : accessed 1 Feb 2015).
  15. 23andMe, Full Privacy Statement, updated 13 Nov 2014 (https://www.23andme.com/about/privacy/#Full : accessed 31 Jan 2015).
  16. See 23andMeMedia, “23andMe Announces Collaboration with Pfizer Inc. to Conduct Genetic Research Through 23andMe’s Research Platform,” 12 Jan 2015, and “23andMe and Genentech to Analyze Genomic Data for Parkinson’s Disease,” 6 Jan 2015, 23andMe Press Releases (http://mediacenter.23andme.com/press-releases/ : accessed 1 Feb 2015).
  17. AncestryDNA, AncestryDNA Informed Consent, undated (http://dna.ancestry.com/legal/consentAgreement : accessed 31 Jan 2015).
  18. Family Tree DNA, “Privacy Document – Gene by Gene, Ltd.,” Legal Issues – Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, undated (https://www.familytreedna.com/privacy-policy.aspx : accessed 31 Jan 2015).
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343 Responses to 2015: Most bang for the DNA buck

  1. Thanks for another excellent blog post.

    It is my understanding that the 23andMe health reports are also available in the Republic of Ireland despite the fact that the 23andMe press release only announced the launch in the UK. The shipping page on the 23andMe.co.uk website clearly states that kits can be sent to Ireland though the prices are only given in sterling with no Euro equivalent:


  2. Joe Lowry says:

    Thanks for the great summary, Judy! I’m currently on the path you propose to test in all three ponds. I first tested with Ancestry and the results of my transfer to FTDNA just finished yesterday.

    I think it’s important for readers to know that the transfer process to FTDNA can take a week or more (depending on the company’s workload) from Ancestry from while FTDNA makes all matches available, provides the MyOrigins report, and the chromosome comparison tool. I saw limited data after just a day, paid the $39 fee and then had to wait nearly a week to see the rest. I didn’t find that part of the process clear. When the process says ‘Unlock’ added features, I expected something more immediate.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      You are absolutely right about the timelines, Joe. FTDNA is getting a lot of business with these transfers, and they do take time.

  3. Great evaluation Judy. I have the old one and just linked the New one to the Beginner’s Guide.
    Thanks as always for excellent resources.

  4. Thanks for the round up. As an international customer based in Ireland, I’d like to remind those hoping to make connections with European cousins that FTDNA is the go to testing company for most of us internationals. Even though 23 and Me and now Ancestry are shipping to Ireland and the UK, FTDNA is by far the best price option.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Get some of my Irish cousins to test, will ya??? (If I had any idea who they were…)

        • Angelia says:

          Yeah my mother and I are going to do the testing this year and I can’t wait to see our findings. I am a redhead with green eyes, but also native American decent. ..I love to narrow down dna ansectory. ..

      • Craig Smith says:

        I’ll second that – I need lots of 3rd and 4th cousins in Ireland to test so I can find out who you are and who my ancestors were!

        • Mandy Kent says:

          I’ll third that. I have some reasonably close DNA matches that have to be on the Irish (Kent, Gough/Goff, Keating) side. Some will correspond but with one beautiful exception, we’ve been unable to make the trees connect so far. Others do not respond. Obviously can’t make ‘em so have to hope that one day while I’m still here to work with them, they find the time. Meanwhile there’s hope via those still left in Ireland!

  5. Stan Baker says:

    Not only do I get great info from the Legal Genealogist, but would like to suggest that some might want to look at the comments section after a particular blog tweaks your interest, like the comments from Lori, Joe and Debbie. Every little tidbit helps.

  6. Jane Mackesy says:

    So, if I have a 23 and Me report I can’t transfer that data, right? I’d have to do the AncestryDNA? Just clarifying.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      If you tested with 23andMe after the switchover to the V4 chip (so after about November 2013), then you can not transfer your data to Family Tree DNA; the V4 chip data isn’t consistent with the FTDNA data system. If you tested before then, on the V3 chip, you can.

  7. Jaime A. says:

    There are also free websites like gedmatch.com where you can upload your raw data and compare to all kits. I found a distant cousin this way and have another closer match I’ve been trying to identify.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Yes, you can — but only a tiny fraction of people who’ve tested have uploaded to GEDMatch so relying on it alone means walking away from a lot of potential matches.

  8. Lia says:

    Thanks for this great post! I’m new into the DNA world and I have two questions.
    I got Geno 2.0 last December and I’m still waiting for the results. A couple days ago I saw on the Family Tree DNA that I can transfer my Geno 2.0 results to them. I’m a little confused about what it would be transferred if the tests are distinct?
    Another question is about the Ancestry account. My account is from Jan 2014 but I never paid any subscription and only had the free guest account. Would I still be eligible for the access to the matches family trees or I would have to pay the annual subscription for that?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      If you transfer in your Geno 2.0 results, you basically only get your mtDNA information (and YDNA if male). They can’t show you matches because the data isn’t comparable one-to-one. See the explanation here. For AncestryDNA, we are being told that accounts opened before October 2014 will be grandfathered and will continue to get matching tree access. How long that will continue is anyone’s guess.

      • Lia says:

        Thanks a lot, Judy! I will definitely transfer my Geno 2.0 to Family Tree DNA since it’s free. In my case (female) I will get my mtDNA which is great.
        I will be getting Ancestry in a couple of months but I will check with them about my subscription at the time just to make sure. Thanks!

  9. Thanks for the overview, I’m sure I will be pointing many people to this post. One remark about people who want to test for health purposes: I think it’s still best to use 23andMe for two reasons:
    1. 23andME tests the locations where health information can be found while FamilyTreeDNA stays away from that (not sure about Ancestry). I uploaded both my 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA raw data to Promethease and the report was more informative for the 23andMe raw data. For example, the status of the APO-ε4 allele (which increases risk of Alzheimer’s) is included in the report based on the 23andMe data but not in the report based on the FamilyTreeDNA data.
    2. 23andMe might get FDA approval in the future and you may get access to your health reports then.

  10. If you are into MtDNA and Y-DNA, you will want to pair it with autosomal. Otherwise you have no idea if these perfect MtDNA matches are from genealogical time or perhapd 3-400 years ago.

    So you want to be able to do the advanced match on FTDNA, for which a Family Finder is rather useful.

  11. Sue Mullane says:

    Tested with Family Tree and Ancestry. Many of the folks who used Family Tree are also on Ancestry so that helps when looking at trees. Just got through sending off sample to 23 and Me. I am now tested on all three and even had the mtDNA test done on Family Tree. No big breakthroughs on my brick walls but I keep hoping!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      It may be time to add in some targeted testing, Sue: find someone you think could/should be a cousin and add a test for him or her to test your theory!

  12. Nick W says:

    Thanks to your wealth of DNA knowledge and after your visit to Minnesota speaking at the Fall workshop for the State Genealogical Society,I jumped into the DNA pool! My Great-Grandma was a pathological liar… And it seems from my results I may not be who I thought I was?! I tested my elderly Grandmother and her test is currently in the lab. Her results should help confirm my suspicions, and after 20 years of researching, I can begin researching a family I didn’t know I was related to! Thanks again for sharing all your knowledge with us!

  13. Rachel R. says:

    If your primary reason for testing is health data, Ancestry seems NOT to be the best option. As best I can tell, its testing is less broad than other testing services, so there’s less to run through Prometheus.

    For instance, I know when I ran my Ancestry data through the (just-for-fun) eye color predictor at GEDmatch, it told me it was missing relevant SNP’s and recommended 23andMe data instead.

  14. Denise says:

    Thanks for a very comprehensive explanation of the DNA testing “muck”. I am just now beginning to research this area and have not as yet tested. Mike Lacopo’s journey to find his mother’s biological father has given me new respect for the process. Working now to determine which test to go with. Also, love your blog! Thanks for all you contribute to the genealogy and legal community.

  15. Sue Griffith says:

    Your blog posting came a day after mine, Cost Effective Autosomal DNA Options for UK Residents, where I showed some schematics for the costs for the various options, including the same Steps 1, 2, and 3 you have shown in yours (we agree!). With AncestryDNA now being available in the UK, the blog posting is primarily for those living there. Although I live in the US, all my identified ancestors were British, so I wanted to show schematics with the various options and prices (which are different in the UK across the “Big 3″) to help all my Ancestry cousins and hopefully encourage them to be tested. But I also repeated the schematics with the US prices too. I really enjoy reading your blog, Judy – thanks for the great postings.

  16. Jill Vicory says:

    Thanks so much for this comprehensive overview. I tested with ancestryDNA about a year ago and after some encouragement from a cousin match there I submitted my data to FTDNA and GEDMatch. As a result I have connected with another cousin on a line from which I had very little info. My newly found cousin and I look forward to hearing you speak at FGS and Rootstech next week in Salt Lake!

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  18. Concetta says:

    Great timing, Judy, as always! I recently purchased an FTDNA Y37 kit for my Dad to take, so he’s going to do that for me. Question for you though is – I already had the FTDNA Family Finder test done. Would you recommend further testing for me? I was sent an offer to do FTDNA’s mtplus for $59 and was strongly thinking about it. But I couldn’t really find anywhere what the extra testing would get me over the Family Finder.

    Thanks, and keep up the great work! I love your blog!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Concetta, the best use of the mtDNA test is to test a theory about your mother’s mother’s mother’s line. Say, just as an example, that your great great grandfather was married twice, and you’re not sure if your great grandmother was the daughter of wife #1 or wife #2. Testing your mtDNA and the mtDNA of a known female-line descendant of one of those two women would nail it down for you. Unless you have that kind of an issue, however, it’s not essential and won’t add much to the mix, since mtDNA is so very slow changing and so your matches could be quite easily thousands of years in the past.

      • Concetta says:

        That’s exactly what I needed, Judy! A quick case scenario. Mum’s maternal line goes back to England to the 1500s, so I don’t think I need to worry about it then. Thank you!

        I’ll spend my money instead on ponying up for Y37s to get Mum’s brothers tested and my husband and father tested as well.

    • Jim Lynch says:

      In my experience, the closer you are to the basic 12 markers the more false “matches” you will be given. The fact is that 12 markers ONLY provides the most basic data to scientists as to tracking the “path out of Africa” those hundreds of thousands of years ago to the various other parts of the earth.

      Use of surnames only started about two hundred years ago, so if you are going to rely on DNA then get your Dad to the maximum of 111 markers as quickly as possible – FTDNA offers upgrade discounts twice a year, and they keep your original sample so upgrading will only require another sample when they run out of the one they have.

      When you get your markers back, find as many databases as possible and add them so that your research can be matched with as many others as possible, otherwise you will just be wasting your time (and money). Good luck!!

      • Judy G. Russell says:

        Jim, her question is about testing herself, not her father. She’s already had him YDNA tested, and 37 markers is a good place to start for that.

      • L. Spike Speaker says:

        I’m curious as to your comment about “surnames only started about two hundred years ago” I have traced my ancestors back to the late 1500′s and the surnames are consistent. Some minor spelling variations accepted.
        Thats almost 500 years so why do you say 200?
        Thanks, Spike

  19. Marci Bowman says:

    Thanks for another great article. My only disagreement is recommending paying for the truly sub-standard Ancestry test. The lack of any chromosome matching tools should be a deal breaker. Since I have no way to verify that ANY DNA cousin match in Ancestry is relevant to my matching any other “cousin” without 3rd party sites, and the Circles have proven to be inaccurate and questionable at best, and too many faulty trees render the Shaky Leaves very doubtful, I can not recommend Ancestry DNA. Buying a test with so little actual value only encourages Ancestry to keep selling smoke and mirrors. I have been told that very close matches – 2-3 cousins – are accurate and useful but I have none of those. Unless I am able to talk possible cousin matches into uploading to GedMatch, I have nothing of value.

    I transferred my data to FTDNA (great company) and GedMatch (genetic genealogy heros) and only use Ancestry to view trees of those who have also transferred their data.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I’m sorry you’ve gotten so little out of your AncestryDNA results. For me, they’ve turned up at least two key cousins I’d have never discovered any other way. Whatever its shortcomings — and they are many — the depth of Ancestry’s database makes it still worth doing.

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  21. Ginger Smith says:

    Thanks for another excellent post Judy. I was not aware of the $49 subscription fee Ancestry was now charging. I just ordered a kit for someone with a free account and wondered why he could not see anything. I have to admit I’ve had much more success building and matching trees than I have with comparing chromosome data so Ancestry has been working out well for me. I guess it just depends on what you have the time, energy and skill to do. It’s nice to have so many options though!

  22. Lisa M says:


    Thank you for the advise. I just ordered my 1st kit for my dad!

  23. Kim says:

    23and me has sales?! Ive never seen one.

  24. De Anna Winterrose says:

    In step 2 above it says, “Transfer your raw data to Family Tree DNA” but I can’t figure out how to do that after visiting the Family Tree DNA site and looking around. Do you have a link to get me to the right place?

  25. Tanua Riley says:

    I am wanting to find out where my family is from, what my bloodlines are and percentage.

    How is it possible to find out your DNA from an ancestors so many years ago if DNA testing wasnt used back then.

    Also in order to find cousins and whatnot would they have had to been tested also. Don’t mean to sound dumb, but maybe I did read the right articles.

    What is the best test for me to take. I am a female.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Please read today’s blog post. You’re trying to get information that really can’t be obtained when you want to know about these percentages. They’re a guess at best. For genealogy, the tests are great: you and your cousins — including cousins you may not know about — all share some DNA you inherited from your common ancestors. By identifying those cousins you can share data and move your research forward. As a female your only options see autosomal (to find cousins) and the less-immediately-useful mtDNA test to get your direct maternal line.

  26. Matthew Davies says:

    I see there are several levels of DNA testing available at higher and higher prices. Do they do more testing for the higher prices or do they just tell you more of what they already know?

    • Matthew Davies says:

      Hello, anyone home?

      • Judy G. Russell says:

        Reading up on the tests and how they work would help here. Only certain locations in the DNA are reviewed depending on the level of testing you choose (and pay for).

        • Matthew Davies says:

          Thank you for your response. Take the weekend off and put your feet up.

          • Crystal Wilgus says:

            Thank you for perhaps the most informative article I’ve read yet on how to navigate the DNA and genealogy resources without being overwhelmed with data or breaking the bank. I’m inclined to follow your 3 step process of accessing all three major databases, but first I have to ask you if that process would best suit my particular needs. I’m less interested in connecting with cousins (I have a huge family on both sides, and so many known cousins already), than I am with knowing about medical propensities, haplogroups and the ethnic ancestry, both matrilineal and patrilineal. I’m a female and my question is; do I need to have one of my brothers tested via Y-DNA to derive a patrilineal haplogroup and ethnic ancestry?

          • Judy G. Russell says:

            You can get everything except the patrilineal haplogroup by testing yourself with 23andMe. It’s more expensive than any of the other tests, but will give you your medical propensities (to the extent allowed by the FDA), your general ethnicity (but keep in mind that it’s really only good at the continental level — Europe vs. Asian vs. Africa — and not at the regional or country level) and your maternal haplogroup. The only way to get the paternal haplogroup is to test a male such as your brother.

  27. Patricia says:

    This leaves me really confused. I want to start my dna testing. Ancestry is cheapest at $99.00, while others include two tests at over $200.00. What is the best company to test with the most info. Being female I need my maternal line, also. Thank you for any help.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      There is no one single test that will give you everything you might want about your DNA. This post just deals with the one type of test, the autosomal DNA test, the one you use to find cousins who match you that you can share research with and with luck extend your knowledge of your family tree. To get in-depth information about your maternal line as well, you’d also have to do the mitochondrial DNA test and only Family Tree DNA does that one. If all you want is your maternal haplogroup (the general location on the human family tree where your maternal line came from), you can get that by doing the autosomal test at 23andMe.

  28. Yoda says:

    Great Article! I kind of had a question thought. For the admixture data, do you know any test that would be the most accurate for my American origins. Where I can test for my genealogy in the US? I wanted to know how much native american, European and African percentage I am.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      At that broad continental level, any of the companies is okay, and 23andMe is generally regarded as best right now. But remember, you’re not going to get tribe or any deeper breakdown with any degree of reliability, just the broad brush stuff is reliable.

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  30. Stephen says:

    I wanted to point out that you can actually do the “If you want to fish in all the ponds” step 2 for only $34 with this coupon code: FTDNA5. It is good for $5 off your Family Tree DNA order. It just worked for me.

  31. Diane says:

    Thank you Judy for all this amazing information. I just wanted to clarify something. If I, being a female, do the DNA testing, I won’t get the full picture from my paternal side, is the correct? Should I encourage my brother to do the testing as well? We,unfortunately, do not have any living older generations still alive to test.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Yes, you’re right: to get the most possible information, you would want to have your brother take a YDNA test (only available at Family Tree DNA) in addition to the autosomal tests you and he can both take.

  32. John Beardsley says:

    Judy, would love to hear any opinion you might have about the ‘Genes For Good’ study. Looks as though they are offering free autosomal tests for participants who agree to take some surveys and agree to allow the study to use your DNA data.


  33. Sharon Moore says:

    Hi Judy, my husband and I are talking about doing the autosomal test at ancestry.com. (He has already done the Y-DNA test.) I am confused though about the subscription thing. We each have a tree on Ancestry but only one account. Do we each need a subscription to Ancestry.com to make this work? Thanks for all the time you put into answering all these questions!

  34. liz says:

    Hi,I’m really curious what option is best for now.I’ve got a black hole in the 1800s of my family tree. I really want to do my own DNA but would it be best to do my grandmother first? I wasn’t sure if her info would get me closer to what I’m looking for And then do mine later on.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Yes, for autosomal DNA (the kind that helps us find cousins), you’re much better off getting the oldest available generation to test.

  35. Marla E. Mansfield says:


    My daughter was adopted from China. Although it is very unlikely that her Chinese birth family will have had DNA testing, she may have siblings who have been adopted. These siblings may very well be doing what we are now doing. What is the best way to find: a) children of her mother; b) children of her father; and c) cousins.
    Thank you.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      For (b) and (c), her only chance is autosomal DNA testing (Family Finder from Family Tree DNA and the tests from AncestryDNA and 23andMe are all autosomal tests). As a female, she doesn’t have any of her father’s YDNA so she can only hope to match people who share the autosomal DNA inherited from her father. For her mother’s line, autosomal testing will work for finding siblings and cousins (assuming, of course, that any of them eventually test). There is one additional test, mitochondrial DNA (or mtDNA), that will give her some additional information about her deep maternal ancestry but won’t be very useful for genealogy until she has a theory to test (e.g., is this person also descended from that particular woman). So I’d go with autosomal and wait on mtDNA.

      • Marla E. Mansfield says:

        Thanks. She wants the testing as a present for her 21st birthday.

      • Cindy says:

        Thanks for the Q&A on this.

        I’m adopted. And would really like to get some info on any medical / health issues i should watch for. The ansestory stuff is also interesting and it would be great if that ever led to any finds, but i’m most interested in the health info. I’m in the US.

        Just ordered a test from Ansestory.com. Ill probably also order from 23andme since Ill have to wait awhile anyway for the kit and the results…

        Any other advice for us adoptees?


        • Judy G. Russell says:

          An adoptee needs to fish in all the ponds: you’re fishing for relatives, using your DNA as bait, and you can’t afford to leave a big fish sitting in a pond where you don’t have a chance to catch! So you need to test with every company. That means starting with Ancestry, then when you get those results transferring the raw data to Family Tree DNA (another $39) and then when you can afford it testing with 23andMe (the price there has just skyrocketed to $199). You should also upload your data to GedMatch.com, a free site, and hook up with the folks at DNAAdoption.com.

          • Tisha says:

            She said she was most interested in medical stuff and not finding her family. Your article states which service to use if you are most interested in medical AND are in Canada or the UK. What if you are most interested in medical and are in the US? What is the best option then?

          • Judy G. Russell says:

            There is a third party service called Promethease that provides the most health-related data to anyone, in the US or not. It carries a small fee ($5) and does not permanently store your data so the privacy risks are limited. You can read about it here.

  36. Tim Nixon says:

    I have found in my family line back to my 6th Great grandfather Charles Nickson 1763 – 1835 was Illegitimate. His Mother was Ruth Nickson, I do not have much information on her yet, however His father was Charles Porter 1729 – 1788. I discovered this information in Porters will. What would be the best test to prove this? Y DNA? Thanks for your help Tim Nixon

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      YDNA for sure. A direct male line descendant of the Porters versus a direct male in your line.

  37. Janet A. says:

    Hi, Judy, my question is similar to Marla’s in that it has to do with possibly being adopted (a late discovery adoptee), and trying to figure out who my mother is. I plan to take the Family Finder and the mtDNA, mainly because I do have a theory to test: who my mother is. I’m assuming the test results do not provide names of people, so how exactly will it tell me this information? If you have written about this in a previous blog post, you can just provide the link in your answer to save time retyping. Thanks. :-)

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      You WILL get the names and contact information for matches at Family Tree DNA, will be able to view public trees and contact matches through an internal mail system at AncestryDNA, and will be able to contact matches thru an internal system at 23andMe. Then you work with those matches to identify your common ancestors to lead you to your biological family.

  38. Rosalie boyce says:

    Would love to have my DNa dog test done

    • Lorelei says:

      Yes! If you do a google search for “dog dna test” you will find some companies that do this. We’ve had several of our dogs tested. There are some canine DNA lines that haven’t been identified, so for some dogs the test comes back as just a big mess of question marks, but one of our rescue-dog’s results came back with every line identified (almost all American Eskimo Dog, with one Cocker Spaniel ancestor and one Japanese Spitz ancestor).

  39. Bob says:

    I want to know if I have any Native American (Mexican/Central American(Aztec,Maya,Chichimeca,Zapotec,etc)) geneology in my blood. Which test is the best choice for that?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Generally speaking, the test considered most reliable right now for Native American ancestry is the test at 23andMe. That being said, none of these ethnicity tests is particularly good other than at a continental level.

      • Bob says:

        And by continental level you mean they can only say you are from the American continent, but probably can’t correctly specify from which region?

  40. Maria Harral (Мария Александровна Келасьева) says:

    I asked for the DNA ethinicy test for my 21st B-Day and so will it also help find people I could be related too, even though I was born in Kazakhstan and adopted so I want to find my biological parents or other family.

  41. Dena says:

    I disagree with the suggestion to use any company if your focus is medical. It is the understanding of those of us looking for medical information that 23andme’s raw data is better. Because they customized their chip to focus on SNPs known to affect health issues. Familytreedna strips out some SNPs from the raw download (the rumor is they specifically strip out the medical SNPs to avoid clashing with the FDA).
    According to SNPedia (the source of the information reported in promethease):
    23andme’s raw data “covers 24,750 of the 73,305 snps in SNPedia”
    familytreedna’s raw data “covers 12,732 of the snps in SNPedia.”
    They don’t give the specific number from ancestry’s raw data. But another blogger reported Promethease counted 10,498 genotypes in her raw ancestry data.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      23andMe does include more medical-related SNPs. But you can get much of the same information testing with any company, and for genealogical purposes it’s the last choice.

  42. Sarah says:


    This is a great article thank you. I wanted to know which site you recommended for someone who was adopted internationally. I have no records and doubt any will exist ie. a family tree on a site. I am interested in my ethnicity breakdown and anything I find out. Suggestions?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      It depends somewhat on where the person was adopted from, but in general the ethnicity data appears to be best at 23andMe.

      • Sarah says:

        Thank you Judy. I was adopted from Honduras. I think I have more European in me than indigenous, it would be interesting to know. I doubt I have any family in these databases, but I am curious.

        • Judy G. Russell says:

          Although none of the tests is particularly accurate for ethnicity estimates, 23andMe is likely the best of the three in terms of accuracy, and AncestryDNA gets the nod for the size of the database. If you can swing it, I’d test with both of those (then for another $39 transfer the AncestryDNA raw data to Family Tree DNA, and you’ve done the hat trick!).

  43. M says:

    Hi…I recently got a DNA test from Ancestry and it was disturbing…
    My Mother is half Native American and it did not show up on the test…
    How accurate is AncestryDNA test…?
    Which company should I test with to get a more accurate results?

    Thank you kindly…

  44. Matthew says:

    This is a wonderful article and resource. Thank you. Are there certain tests for Jewish ancestry that are better than others? Or is starting with Family Tree DNA the best bet?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Family Tree DNA was begun by Jewish genealogists interested in their own heritage so it’s still a good choice. But do keep in mind that the endogamy of the Jewish population (intramarriage, or marriages among cousins, due both to a cultural predilection and to legal restrictions throughout history) makes using DNA much harder than it is for populations where there isn’t endogamy.

  45. Tim says:

    I paid for a DNA test through Ancestry by DNA. I noticed that this company is not part of your review. Did I just waste my money?
    Thank you, Tim

  46. Lea says:

    Which test would be best to find out ethnic and medical info on my mother’s side? She was adopted and has no information about her biological parents.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      For an adoptee, you want to test as far and wide as possible. Get your mother tested at all three companies as soon as you can.

  47. Ashley Thomas says:

    My wife and I are interested in having our DNA tested. Am I correct in believing that if I have my son do the DNA test, this will cover both my side and my wife’s side of the family? Or is it better for my wife and I to each do a test?

    Thank you.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Not exactly. Your son has his mother’s mitochondrial DNA and your YDNA so there’s no need to test him AND either of you for those particular types of DNA. But when it comes to autosomal DNA (the cousin-finding stuff), testing an older generation is always better: grandparents, then parents, then a child in that order.

  48. Tamara Peck says:

    So glad I found this article. Very helpful.
    Am trying to trace roots of my polynesian heritage. Father’s is Native Hawaiian, while mother’s is Tahitian. What dna testings would you recommend and would your recommended 3 databases still hold true.
    Thank you.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      None of the tests can accurately distinguish at the subregional level that you’re talking about. These ethnicity estimates are excellent when distinguishing between European and African and Asian; they’re awful when it comes to distinguishing between two flavors of European or two flavors of Asian. For cousin-finding — the only valid reason for autosomal DNA testing, the recommendation is the same: AncestryDNA, transfer to FTDNA, 23andM3 last.

  49. Bibi Barzallo says:

    Question: are any of these tests & sites really helpful for those of us from Latin America? Specifically Ecuador and Colombia?

    I feel like all the geneology sites & tests are aimed at the white european cultures.

    How good are they for the rest of us???

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I feel like a broken record, but let me say it again: for the continent-level distinctions (European versus Asian versus African), all of these tests are excellent. For the regional and subregional (say, English versus German or Ecuadorian versus Colombian), none of these tests can accurately detect the differences (assuming there even are genetic differences that ever can be detected). Genealogical DNA testing is of minimal use in determining that level of ethnicity. These tests are mostly valuable to locate cousins and others with whom to work collaboratively on your research. To that end, the tests work best where the pool of people who have tested are likely to be drawn from your region, and the first adopters have been North Americans. The British Isles, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are coming along but not as many people have tested from there yet. And the rest of the world is still in its genealogical infancy.

  50. Mary Howard says:

    Thank you for all your information on this topic. What test(s) would you recommend for two women with different (deceased) mothers wanting to find out if they have the same deceased biological father?

    We appreciate your help. This blog is fascinating.

    • 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.

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  52. Rebecca says:

    Does anyone know of a DNA test where you learn similar results but the company does not retain the data afterward? As someone who just wants a genetic breakdown by country/area and doesn’t care about ongoing connections might want, for example? Thanks!

  53. Heather Temple says:

    What about the surname projects and genealogy work being done at World Families website. Just curious of your take on that. They’re very expensive. I’ve been trying to talk my brother into testing with them as I felt I’d get better results. But now reading your blog and checking out autosomal maybe I could just do it myself (being female).
    Thanks! Very informative. Glad I found your blog.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Apples and oranges, Heather. The tests for YDNA and mtDNA produce very different information, some valuable and some irreplaceable, when directed at specific theories that autosomal can’t do. You might want to read the post The value of the tests.

  54. steven paroczay says:

    which DNA testing company is the best to determine jewish heritage

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Family Tree DNA was started by an Ashkenazi researcher who wanted to use DNA to to help answer his own research questions, so that’s always a good choice. 23andMe also has a large number of persons who have tested who are Jewish.

  55. irene says:

    my boy friend and I are looking into getting dna testing and i really not sure which is the best place to get it.

  56. Gerard Gibson says:

    Great information presented which really helps DNA newcomers like me. Until now I’ve always thought doing AncestryDNA was the way to go. I’d like your advice on something if I may. My Great Grandmother on my fathers side seems to have been a “woman of the night” so to speak and no one seems to know who my grandfathers father is. It’s a huge brick wall that normal Ancestry.com searches have been unable to break past. Do you think that yDNA testing would be the best option for helping identify my fathers fathers father? All we have is stories and I’d like to put some facts in play. Thanks again for your wonderful information above.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      YDNA testing certainly has the potential to help: it could be that your father’s (or your) YDNA matches a number of people who have already tested who all share a common surname. That gives you a clue that’s priceless. No guarantees, of course, but…

  57. Tahnru says:

    I’ve tried to find my father every couple years for the last 30 years, with very little information, and have come up empty handed. I am not sure which dna test i should be taking. It looks like Ancestry.com?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      In any case of unknown parentage, testing with every company (AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA and 23andMe) and uploading to all available public databases (such as GedMatch) is essential. You’re fishing for relatives, using your DNA as bait, and you need to fish in all the available ponds.

  58. Laurie says:

    what is the new discount code for family treedna

  59. Scott says:

    I am trying to determine whether or not I have Native American ancestry on my mom’s side, so would the mtDNA test be the best for that?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Only if you believe your Native ancestry is in a direct unbroken female line from a female who was Native American. The mtDNA test only discloses information about your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother (etc.) in a direct line. If there’s a single male in that line (other than you), mtDNA won’t help.

  60. Helen says:

    I would like to keep my tree private on Ancestry. Therefore, it doesn’t make any sense for me to transfer my Family Tree DNA to them. Is that correct?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      You can’t transfer from Family Tree DNA, only to Family Tree DNA. So the issue really is whether you test with AncestryDNA at all. It’s up to you whether you do that, but you’re walking away from a pool of more than 1 million potential cousins if you do.

  61. Dave says:

    What is the best method to test for half or whole siblings?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      The easiest is to test both with 23andMe, which readily displays areas of fully- or half-identical matching. If the two people have only half-identical regions (they share DNA but only on one side of each chromosome pair) and no fully-identifcal regions (areas where both inherited the same DNA from both parents on both sides of a chromosome pair), they’re half siblings.

      • David says:

        Thank you.
        Are the results given by the lab after a comparison of the 2? Or is each test done individually and can be done at different times?

        • Judy G. Russell says:

          Each is done individually. Keep in mind that I don’t recommend 23andMe as a first choice for general genealogy — its database is deep and its tools are good, but many people test there for health and have no interest in family history. But if sibling testing is the aim, it’s the best choice to start with.

          • David says:

            Thank you so much for the information.
            I guess I’m just a little unclear on who interprets the results, but it appears that the results can be compared easily by the siblings involved.

          • Judy G. Russell says:

            Yes, there are many different ways that the results are presented for you to review. The tools available at 23andMe include lists of people who share DNA with you (match list), the ability to see where overall in your DNA the shared segments are (chromosome browser) and then 23andMe alone gives you a second view that shows you whether the matching segments are in one of the two chromosomes you have in each pair (in which case you and the other person would share one parent and you’d be a half-sibling to the other person) or whether at least some of the matching segments are on BOTH sides of the chromosome pairs (in which case you and the other person would have two parents in common and be full siblings).

  62. David says:

    Now I got it.
    Thank you. :)

  63. Carter says:

    I know a lot about our family, being very mixed between the African, Scotch, Irish, Magasin and native american uncles, aunts and cousins. I noticed the company African Ancestries is not included above in your written material. Is there a problem with their format or analysis that precludes their use as above? When is best to use more than one system to get the best results or would the effort just be more confusing?


    • Judy G. Russell says:

      African Ancestry does only YDNA and mtDNA testing, and no autosomal DNA testing. You may get to drill down a little better to African ancestors in the direct lines (your father’s father’s father etc. if you’re male or your mother’s mother’s mother etc. for both men and women), but you get no information about any other part of your ancestry — and that leaves out a LOT of people who contributed to who you are genetically. Once you get those results from African Ancestry, they can’t be used for US-based genealogical purposes: you can’t join a surname project, for example. So overall they’re not as useful for genealogy as testing with the major genetic genealogy companies.

  64. Scott says:

    Thank you for this very informative article. Do any of the testing companies do specific country tracing better than others? For example, I am looking to determine if I have Chinese roots on my mother side (her mother) (I’m have always been told that I was half Korean but recently came across some information that may run counter to that story). Thanks for the help!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      The general thinking right now is that 23andMe may have the best overall ethnicity estimations — but nobody does it all that well. It’s easy to distinguish European from African from Asian, but not nearly as easy below that, so don’t bank on DNA testing at anything less than the continental level.

  65. Cristina says:

    Hi, Judy.

    Your blog post has been most helpful. I have read the entire post as well as all of the comments listed. My question is, for a first time tester (and someone very new to the genealogy scene) I was thinking of going with FTDNA because of the privacy policies you mentioned. However, after looking into pricing and benefits, would it be better to test with National Geographic’s Geno 2.0 and transfer the data to FTDNA since they include mtDNA in their test?

    Here’s the cost breakdown:
    FTDNA – $99 autosomal test only, $69 mtDNA plus, $199 mtDNA full sequence
    Geno 2.0 – $199 autosomal & mtDNA

    I found this information through both companies’ websites as well as this wiki http://www.isogg.org/wiki/Autosomal_DNA_testing_comparison_chart

    Any insight you have is much appreciated.

    Thank you, in advance. :)

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      It really depends on what you want ultimately. If you’re ever going to want the full data on your mtDNA, including the ability to compare your mtDNA to others or join mtDNA projects, you’re going to end up doing that FMS test anyway. So you’d end up paying more for the same information going with the Geno 2.0 project first. All you’re going to get from Geno 2.0 is your haplogroup data, not the full mtDNA sequence needed for genealogical purposes.

      If you’re really interested in the science, though, the Geno 2.0 project really is for science geeks and you may want to do it anyway.

      • Cristina says:

        Thank you so much for your prompt reply, Judy. :) I am a science geek who wants to trace my ancestry…and I guess that’s where I’m torn. Lol. I will stick with your advice and go with the FTDNA test. Thank you again!

  66. Anton Bruchhauser says:

    Hi Judy, I met you at the German Genealogical Group meeting earlier in the month and wanted to thank you again for a great presentation. I have a question about the Terms and Conditions on the Ancestry DNA test. They recently offered a sale to me for $70 each plus shipping so I ordered five kits. I see that the research project is optional but notice in the Terms and Conditions (which are not) that there is legalese regarding Ancestry’s right to transfer all of the information you have entered to third parties, etc…, as well as other language that seemed somewhat questionable. Interestingly enough, they didn’t require you to accept these before you order the tests, only after when you register the kits. In layman’s terms, what exactly would I be agreeing to by accepting those terms and conditions?

  67. tina says:

    You say Ancestry DNA requires a $49 a year membership, yet I can’t find anything on the site, as far as a subscription/membership goes, for $49 a year. It’s either monthly or 6 month rates, and nothing that inexpensive.
    Is this something different than the standard membership to access general family information?

  68. Yvonne Derr says:

    Great artical just when I needed it. I do have one question. I have a subscription to Ancestry, so will I have to pay another fee to see all of my results.

  69. HelenB says:

    This is a great post, thank you. I want to buy a DNA testing kit for my husband as a gift. He currently uses Ancestry for his family tree and I’d describe him as an enthusiastic investigator but not obsessed! I am erring towards AncestryDNA as he uses the system already, any advice on whether Y or mtDNA from FT-DNA would be a better gift?
    Perhaps based on the quality of the results??

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I suggest that you give him the AncestryDNA test — because it’s inexpensive and the results are very easy to understand. If he catches on fire with genealogy and DNA, you can then transfer his results to Family Tree DNA and add the YDNA testing there.

  70. Dianna Sommers says:

    You are very patient and generous with your knowledge, Judy! My mother is 100% Finnish while my father is white Anglo-Saxon protestant. His side is predominately from England, Wales and possibly Germany. Unlike my father and my siblings, I look Irish. Considering the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant mixture my father has, would DNA testing give me an idea where my ancestors are from or are these regions so closely related that the testing would be meaningless? Which company would you recommend, if any, to determine my ethnicity? Thank you!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I don’t recommend testing for ethnicity at all. The simple fact is that ethnicity estimates are excellent at the continental level: European versus African versus Asian. They’re way less than good at the country or regional level. Read this post for why — and make sure to click through and read Dr. Joe Pickrell’s post as well.

  71. Mary says:

    my question is i have no idea who my parents were yes i have my birth certificate but that’s it I have no idea what my lineage is, I just submitted my DNA to ancestory should I submit it elsewhere? I want to know where I come from and what my ethnicity is, how do I find out? how do I get information on where my parents came from when they are dead? can they get it from my DNA? i know they can my mother’s but what about my father’s? any help would be appreciated. Thanks

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  73. Betsy says:

    Hi, Judy:

    Here’s my personal experience and conclusions with both FTDNA and Ancestry’s DNA tests.

    FTDNA: I had my husband do an FTDNA test to weed out which of 5 major families he belonged to so I wouldn’t keep going down the wrong rabbit hole. As I expected, by having compared which first names got passed down in the family, he’s closely related to the New England family – but, unfortunately, no exact match (which could be a gene mutation.) At least I know where I should look for a paper trail for his oldest known male ancestor. On FTDNA, I can verify the specific gene matches or non-matches.

    ANCESTRY: We know my Dad was adopted but don’t know his original family surname. My brother did an Ancestry autosomal test. It connected us to paper-trail cousins — but not to biological cousins in my Dad’s family. On the connections Ancestry did make, I could have looked those common ancestors up by limiting my search to public trees only. For beginner genealogists, the autosomal might be a big help. For me, it was useless. Plus, on Ancestry, I don’t know how they use the DNA test to make connections. I can’t verify and validate the source or method. This also makes me uneasy.

    Learning how to research on Ancestry, FamilySearch, FindMyPast, etc. as well as Googling is key to building a Tree. However, the exact DNA gene matches confirms the paper trail.

    I do have to say in my husband’s surname project on FTDNA, because of the exact gene match, there are a handful of men that do NOT have the same last name as my husband. Although, interestingly, those families lived in close proximity to my husband’s family. Hmmm….

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Any time you have an Ancestry match and really need to do deeper analysis, try to get the match to upload on GedMatch. It’s free, and it offers a LOT more tools.

      • Betsy says:

        Thanks, Judy. I had never heard of GedMatch until I read your post. FTDNA will automatically load values into ySearch.org where other people can also share & compare their gene values from other DNA tests. It also offers gene-to-gene genetic distance information as does FTDNA. Ancestry offers relationship distance, but since it is not comparing actual genes, it is using Tree-to-Tree comparisons. Which makes me wonder, why they need a DNA test in the first place? Online Ancestry trees already will tell you how someone is related to you, i.e., 15th cousin once removed.

        I LOVE Ancestry.com!!! I just wish they hadn’t gotten in to the DNA business. It confuses new genealogists.

        • Judy G. Russell says:

          It’s hard to dislike the depth of the data pool Ancestry is building, but having better tools — and more understanding users — sure would help.

  74. Raymond Langley says:

    Would like to know what is the best DNA test to discover if you have Native American blood. I have reason to believe that my wife and I both have Native American ancestors but do nt have a straight maternal or paternal line.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      An autosomal DNA test such as Family Finder from Family Tree DNA or AncestryDNA might be able to detect NA ancestry if it’s recent enough (last 5-7 generations). Earlier than that, it’s a crap shoot.

  75. Sharon says:

    This is a great article. To get a full picture, would I need to submit my saliva/swab and my brother as well?
    So buying two kits?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      You will always get better results from testing more people, and the oldest members of your family by generation. Your parents would be better than you and your brother, for example. But if you’re the oldest surviving generation, then to get a complete picture, you want test both you and your brother for autosomal DNA, you for mtDNA and him for YDNA. That covers it all.

  76. Jean Garrett says:

    23andme is now $199 plus shipping. FDA released them to give health info again as of last few weeks. My personal opinion was that after ceo of 23andme made announcement on Good Morning America with price of $99 the other two companies who charged more complained or FDA thought they couldn’t do for $99, anyway FDA approved for them to do health again but the price is higher.
    Can download data to gedmatch.com no matter which testing company and it will breakdown admixture (heritage) even further. Example: Familytree and 23andme didn’t give me my Native American and family stories says my 6th grandfather’s mother was 1/2 Cherokee. gedmatch gave me breakdown where I have a small amt of Cherokee on 9 chromosomes, my first cousin has on 8 and my daughter has on 6 chromosomes.
    I found more useful matches in 23andme than I did in familytree where I tested autosomal and mtdna. Since uploaded to gedmatch have more matches where we were able to find our shared grandparent somewhat easily.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Just a word of caution: DNA can establish traces of Native American. It cannot say what tribe. Your DNA results may suggest Native ancestry but do not prove it was Cherokee.

  77. karen says:

    Hi, I read everything, the article and comments. I must be daft, but am looking for a unique gift for my father, 95. If he needs or wants something, he just gets it himself, although he doesn’t usually need or want anything! What test should I start with? Currently we do not do genealogy, but have considered getting a membership in Ancestry. He would find it interesting to know ethnicity. Would it be best to start with the Ancestry test in case we decided to start exploring our family tree? Also, my mother had Alzheimer’s. She is deceased. Can we tell anything about that from any of the tests if we, her children, were to do a test as well? Thank you.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I think it would be a lovely gift for your father! And yes I would still start with AncestryDNA because it’s easiest of all the tests to understand as a beginner. As far as Alzheimer’s is concerned, there are a number of genetic markers that appear to be associated with the disease. At one time, 23andMe reported on at least one of these but it does not appear that that’s going to be included in the new much more expensive test there. I’d hold off on that one to talk to your doctor.

  78. Arthur says:

    Now that 23andme has been cleared to sell in the USA again, would you recommend it as a first choice or do the changes only relate to the health aspects, and not relevant to genealogy?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I’m holding off on changing my recommendations until we can actually see the new version of reports from 23andMe and get a better feel for how the genealogical aspects will work. Figure right around the beginning of January — so a 2016 set of recommends. For now, I would not change my views at all.

  79. Robin says:

    I’ve had a double cord-blood stem cell transplant. Is there any point in me testing, will my DNA lead back to my real ancestors, or my donor’s ancestors?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      The chances are pretty good that the results would show both your and your donor’s ancestors. It’s fairly likely that the sample would fail testing because it would appear to be contaminated.

  80. Susan Gosselin says:

    Thank you so much for this. I am an adoptee with close to zero information on my family tree. I would like to locate any and all relatives, particularly half or whole siblings, as well as my birth father. I am trying to figure out the most economical way to do this.i see your advice for getting on all three databases. So, I would get testing through Family Tree DNA first, then upload my results to the others? On their websites I am not seeing how to do this. I’m a little confused. Could you walk me through this?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Where you would start would be at AncestryDNA. Once you have the results from them, you upload them to Family Tree DNA. And then add 23andMe only when you can afford it.

  81. Juan says:

    I have an 87 year old dad that I would like to have DNA testing on. He is elderly and with slight dementia. He really does not know his family history as far as where they come from. The purpose is to find out where he defends from primary with relative matches as a secondary need. Any suggestions appreciated.


    • Judy G. Russell says:

      The problem with testing for where he comes from is that the testing is really only good at the continental level: Europe versus Africa versus Asia. Once you get to a regional or country level, it’s proving to be very tricky to tell, say, French from German or Italian. So understand that the admixture data (ancestral origins) is dicey at best. That being said, I’d still do what I recommend here: if he is capable of spitting into a tube, test with AncestryDNA to start and then transfer the results to Family Tree DNA after they come in. If he can’t produce enough spit or he has dry mouth, you’d probably need to test with Family Tree DNA instead, because it does the swab test (just rubbing the inside of the mouth) instead.

  82. Kim says:

    23andMe kits now sell for $199, not $99 anymore. : (

  83. Larry says:

    Hi, I am new at the whole DNA thing and at this point am really just interested to know my family origins. Mainly I’ve been told that I’m Italian and Irish, but am thinking that I really have Turkish ancestry (as the Turks invaded Italy). My question is that it appears that testing only provides four major groupings, and will not really define what country’s I am from. Is this true? Is there an article somewhere that can help? And can you recommend a specific testing method?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      There is no DNA test that can guarantee that it can discern ancestral origins below the continental level. Europe versus Africa versus Asia, sure. Turkish versus Greek? Maybe not. You can try it, if you’d like, and get some general information, but this ethnicity stuff is (a) an estimate, (b) only an estimate and (c) very much a work in process.

  84. James Hawk says:

    I have found that I am a decedent of the great John Locke. Can you suggest the best test that could prove this? As you could imagine this would be life changing info. Thank you.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Unless you are a direct male-line descendant (unlikely given your last name), this is probably too far back for DNA to be useful. Autosomal DNA (inherited from each parent) recombines randomly in every generation, and for someone who was born as John Locke was in 1632 (and at, say, 25 years per generation), you’d likely be as many as 10-14 generations removed — and that’s really pushing the envelope for getting a match.

  85. amanda d. says:

    I would first like to thank you for providing a nice article.
    I think I know what way I will proceed but would like to ask how you would think is best.
    First and foremost my interests are my ancestors and lineage. Finding out unknown ethnic lines would just be interesting / intriguing. I am from a family of 4 sisters. My mother has only a brother. My father has a brother and a sister. Both of my parents, parents are gone. My mother has no older close maternal family left, but has a paternal aunt and uncle alive. My father also has no maternal family left but has a paternal uncle alive.
    My question is in what order would you test who and with what products? My fathers paternal side is well documented but his maternal side 2 generations up are unclear. My mothers maternal side is a work in progress but moving and her paternal side ends with her great grand parents immigration from Italy.
    How would you begin to enter the world of dna to best benefit my research?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      For your mother’s mother’s side, test her brother for autosomal (will return both her mother’s and father’s relatives) and mitochondrial DNA (just your mother’s mother’s mother’s etc. line). Also get his YDNA tested for your mother’s father’s side.

      For a deeper look at your mother’s father’s side, test her aunt and uncle for autosomal DNA.

      For your father’s side, test both his brother and sister for autosomal, the brother for YDNA, either of them for mitochondrial.

      In terms of priority, always always always test the oldest relatives by generation first, before you lose them and their DNA forever.

  86. Claudia says:

    I am first generation Italian/Austrian living in the US. All my extended family that I know of live in Europe except my mom. My goal is finding more relatives (and I’m also curious about whether I have Jewish ancestors), but it sounds like these services are mostly used in the US and therefore I probably wouldn’t have a lot of luck getting connected to my European distant cousins with one of these tests. (I was thinking of doing AncestryDNA and then transferring it to FTDNA). Am I understanding this correctly?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      As of today, most users have been American — and, of course, the descendants of any one of your ancestral generations could have included one with wanderlust. But all three major DNA testing companies also now do sell kits in at least parts of Europe, so even if you don’t get much today, you may get lucky in the future, and you may very well be able to confirm Jewish ancestry (at least Ashkenazi).

  87. Heather says:

    So the holidays are here! AncestryDNA & Family Tree DNA are each at $89, Genographic Project is at $159 (with a free transfer to Family Tree DNA) and 23&Me is up to $199. Thanks so much for your awesome info… I now know more about the differences in each company and why the price variance.

    My father and I (female) both want to get tested and I only want to spend about $200 or less for each of us. Mainly we want ancestry… but Dad’s a history nut so the Genographic project would probably intrigue him. I would think it’s cool to reach out and find cousins and such. We haven’t done any tests before and I’m new to the scene. Any advice or direction?

    I think I’m leaning towards Genographic Project with transfer to Family Tree DNA… but is there another way that sounds better to you?

    Thanks so much for all you do… I appreciate that you answer people. :)

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      You will get a lot of bang for the buck both in terms of ancestry and in terms of citizen science by testing your Dad with Geno 2.0 and then transferring the results to Family Tree DNA. (I’m doing that with one of my brothers right now.) But because you want the ancestry stuff, realistically you’re better off testing you both at AncestryDNA and then transferring over the Family Tree DNA from there. Geno 2.0 is wonderful but not really useful for ancestry until you transfer it to Family Tree DNA, and the testing pool (possible cousins to encounter) is so very deep at Ancestry. So… to start with … test both of you at AncestryDNA — or at least you at Ancestry and him at Geno 2.0, and then both transfer to Family Tree DNA.

  88. Karissa says:

    My father had his y-dna tested at 37 markers 8 years ago. We have his account with FTDNA. I am a female and tested my autosomal at Ancestry and then transferred to FTDNA. I have very few matches with my maiden name and that is the line I am most interested in. Since my father has passed, should I have my brother test and should it be autosomal or y-dna at a bigger maker level?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      First check with FTDNA and see if there is enough viable sample left for your father to do an autosomal test with his DNA. That’d be the best of all possible worlds. Testing your brother with more YDNA markers won’t get you more matches — getting autosomal tests will, but you’ll have to work to identify which come from your mom’s side and which from your dad’s side. Start by trying to get your father’s sample testing, and if that doesn’t work you can then test both you and your brother (you will have inherited different segments from your dad than the other did so it’s worth doing you both).

  89. Rachel says:

    Good morning! This is fascinating stuff, thanks for the info.
    I have 2 questions. First, I am interested in getting medical info in hopes that it will help me get to the bottom of a long family history of migraines. My 10 year old daughter gets them too, and my 6 year old son has something spectrum related that no one has quite figured out yet. I chose 23andme because of the advice on here that it’s better for medical info, and snagged a deal on 23andme for $149. But even with the discount, to test me and both the kids would be $450 which I can’t do. Would MY 23andme DNA info be enough to help them at all? I know 23andme is best for medical, but would some of the cheaper options be at all helpful for them for health purposes, or would it be a waste of money and I should start saving up for 2 more 23andme kits?

    Second question was about privacy. It’s a little concerning to me to see that 23andme and Ancestry can give away / sell my genetic and personal info. I know several people (who coincidentally have various government / military jobs) that won’t test or allow their children to be tested out of concern for the potential misuse – by government or other agencies -of this genetic info. For these, it sounds like, you would recommend Family Tree DNA. My question is, what do you recommend for the 3rd party sites you have to upload your data to? Promethease is the only one I know about, and their privacy policy states they won’t share info. Do you know, of whatever the other 3rd party sites are, which ones would protect and which ones would distribute/sell my kids’ genetic info?

    Thanks for your help and all this great info!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Because your children inherited only half of their DNA from you and half from their father, testing you and their father (to see what genes you have and could have passed down) might work. Testing them may be necessary if the father isn’t available or willing, or if the doctors need to see specifically what parts of your and their father’s DNA each child inherited. I caution you that this is very high level stuff when you’re looking at a specific characteristic like this and despite the lower cost of direct-to-consumer testing it very well may not be able to answer your questions. This kind of testing is not comprehensive, only looks at some parts of the genetic code and extrapolates from those parts. So you may be getting some good information for your genealogy, and none at all for the specific health characteristic you want. If you choose to go ahead and want to use a third party site, Promethease is the only one I know of that doesn’t retain the data. Doesn’t mean it’s the only one, it’s just the only one I can speak about.

  90. Louis A. Whitmer says:

    I have my traced my fathers side back to1650 and have traced my mothers side to 1750. What DNA test should I purchase or would this be just a waste of time and money?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      You need to start by asking yourself, what’s left that you’d like to know or that you’d like to have additional evidence of? When you know that, it’s a whole lot easier to advise as to tests.

  91. DKB says:

    Hi Judy – My husband is adopted and I want to give him a DNA test as an Xmas gift. While he is adopted we know his birth parents. Unfortunately they have both passed and I want him to have something in writing/graph with his percentages and anything else a base test would provide. When asked his origin he really has no idea. I’ve read your post and most of the comments and am still unsure which is the best one. Would you recommend a specific test? Also, some of them mention online results and I really want to steer clear of only online results. Thank you so much!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      All genetic genealogy testing companies post results on their own websites. The only people who can see all of the results are the person who tests and individuals he or she gives access to. Everyone who tests can see some limited information about others to whom they are genetic matches. So don’t be concerned about the idea of online results. You can print out or do a screen capture and print out anything that appears online. DO understand that these ethnicity percentages are not truly scientific as yet. They are excellent at the continental level (European versus Asian versus African), but far far less so at the regional or country level (Germany versus France versus Austria). If you still want to do this, I think the best test for those percentages right now is AncestryDNA. But please keep the very great limits of what this test can do and how inaccurate the results can be in mind if you only are testing for ethnicity estimates.

  92. Rohana says:

    Hi, I just purchased Ancestry DNA autocomal test for my 70th birthday this month. I received living kidney transplant from my son 3 yrs ago. Will this make my saliva test unusable? Will it produce results that include markers from my son’s paternal side? If so, I shall send test to him instead…appreciate your speedy reply! You have amazing fortitude and patience! Thanks for your help!!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      An organ transplant (as distinct from a bone marrow transplant) shouldn’t affect the validity of your test, and it isn’t likely that it will show any markers from your son’s paternal side. So go ahead and take that test — tell your son to buy his own, or get him one for Christmas!

      • Rohana says:

        Thank you! He shares my enthusiasm for truth and history and what science can reveal and achieve. We’re going to determine whether he wants to delve deeper, to continents, 1000s of yrs, etc. Based on what we find on my report.

        You’re terrific!!! So kind!

  93. Dorene says:

    23andMe is selling for $199.00 not $99

  94. Bruce says:

    Thanks for the great wealth of overview information. I am trying to determine what test is best as a gift for my in-laws. Their main interest is in learning if there is any Jewish ancestry in their lines. So, from what I see discussed I would think that Family Tree DNA is probably the best to get them started. Thinking that we could purchase them the Family Finder and they could add other tests later if they want.

    But I see notes from you that maybe the best starting place is AncestryDNA and then import that data to Family Tree. What do you think? I realize that this type of search for ethnicity is not very accurate.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      It’s very accurate, especially at Family Tree DNA, for identifying Jewish ancestry — this is a specialty area for FTDNA since it was started by Bennett Greenspan in part to answer questions about his own Jewish roots. So if the interest is really in Jewish roots, I’d go with Family Tree DNA from the outset.

  95. Sharon says:

    I just wanted to comment regarding ancestry. My tree was started long before the DNA tests. I was in contact with one of husbands distant cousins when I received a message from her (shortly after the test was taken). “Sharon. I knew I was related to Arnie, but guess what? We are related too!” Sooooo….maybe not a famous person, but an interesting find. It took three days of research and finding some paperwork, but my husband’s tree intersects with mine at our 3rd great grandparents. I think it’s hilarious that we are fourth cousins….its too late now anyway. So in summary; ancestry can find fourth cousins.

  96. Jennifer Weltz says:

    My primary reason for DNA testing is to confirm ancestry – I am adopted and have been told a few things about my ancestry that I want to confirm – I am also very interested in medical information – but that does not seem to be available in the US at this time – not sure if I want to find family members at this time thoug. I know 23andme is the way to go if medical info becomes possible , but Family Tree seems to offer best data. I did not read all the posts but was wondering if there was anyone out there who is also adopted who has done this.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Lots of people have DNA-tested because they were (or a parent or grandparent was) adopted. With unknown parentage cases, testing as broadly as possible is a good idea. The FDA does now allow 23andMe to provide limited medical data so if that’s a big issue that’s a good choice, and you can get additional medical data by running your raw data through the third party site Promethease.

  97. Shaba Bahati says:

    What’s the best DNA test would i use if I only wanted to find me mix an % I’m not looking for family members.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      As long as you understand that the test is only truly reliable at the continental level (European versus African versus Asian) and is nothing more that a very rough estimate at a regional or country level (German versus Italian or French), any autosomal test will do.

  98. Lauren Yarema says:

    Specifically need to know about my mother’s mysterious father. Lots of data on Mother’s mother, but would use more of that gladly if anything shows up. No males in family to test. Mom dead and an only child ( of her mother) there could have been half-siblings sired by her dad, or a previous full sibling that was given up for adoption. Is autosomal DNA the way to go? A mtDNA for mom’s side would cover only the females right? That might be useful later on as well, but right now the focus is my maternal grandfather. Ancestry then Family Search? Suggestions would be helpful.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Autosomal is the only way you CAN go, and yes: test with AncestryDNA to begin with and then transfer your results into Family Tree DNA as well.

  99. Joanne Kearney says:

    I just stumbled across this blog. I originally had my mother and father tested when the National Geographic Genome project started. So I did y for my father and the m test for my mother. I have wondered if there is any benefit for me doing an autosomal test. I have a pretty extensive family tree… my paternal line goes back to early 1600s and my maternal line back to late 1600s. So I am not sure that the autosomal test will tell me anything I don’t already know. I have used the y test to match with others with the same last name. This has helped to confirm my tree. My maternal dna is rare and I have only found 2 matches and have not yet found a maternal link.
    My impression is that the autosomal test is good if you are trying to determine if someone within a few generations is related or if you want to get an idea of your ethnic makeup…. is that true? Thanks JK

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      That’s true, yes, but don’t dismiss autosomal out of hand: you have a lot of second, third and fourth cousins out there that you may not know — and who may have some piece of your family puzzle you can’t get without them. It’s worth doing for that reason alone.

  100. PrettySmitty says:

    Hi. I’m curious if any one can shed some light as to the testing. I am new here and am thinking of purchasing the Family Finder test as I am most curious to learn my ethnicity. I have a twin brother but because we don’t know our father we don’t have much information or detail surrounding our heritage from our paternal side. My question is would the testing be best served if my twin brother completed the test since he carries our father’s Y chromosome or is this particular test designed to yield the same results regardless of if he or I take the test.

    Thanks so much!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      For Family Finder, it doesn’t matter which of you takes the test: it looks only at the autosomes, not at the Y chromosome. You each inherited 50% from your mother and 50% from your father. But since you are fraternal twins, you each inherited a different mix from your parents, so testing you both will produce somewhat different match lists.

  101. Mike says:

    I wonder if you would consider writing (or pointing me to) a post that goes over getting the most bang for the non-DNA buck. In other words, what sites have unique information that may be worth paying a subscription for. ancestry.com, archives.com, newspapers.com, fold3.com, mocavo.com etc. I can’t easily tell when the sites overlap or when they truly have something unique.

  102. lisa says:

    Hi Judy,

    I just came across this blog, read your post and went to FTDNA to just check out the site (re: trx Ancestry stuff.) I see on the site that you can trx Nat Geo data, but not where you could trx FT data.

    Now mind you, I have not joined anything yet or done any of the tests. I just wasnted to be sure that suggestion was currently valid. :)

    Thanks, lisa

  103. Kerry says:

    I’ve never done testing before nor have I delved much into my family tree. I’m interested in my genealogy, but not more so than looking at what my DNA has to say from a health perspective. It sounds like Promethease is useful for all 3 of the considered companies, but I’m wondering if you can give me some sort of indication about how much I’d lose by going with Ancestry or Family Tree in terms of what information I’ll get from it.
    Are the Promethease reports fairly understandable from a layperson’s perspective?
    Is there an alternative to 23 and me mostly interested in health issues?
    Many thanks for such an informative article!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      The health reports from 23andMe today are far less than what you will get from Promethease so I no longer recommend 23andMe for those looking for health information. That being said, the raw data at 23andMe includes more markers that are relevant (or potentially relevant) for health analysis than the other companies. So you may still want to test with 23andMe and then run the raw data through Promethease. The reports are not the easiest to understand — it takes some work — but with some patience and research, they’re workable. As to both of these matters (using 23andMe data and reading the reports), see the discussion here.

  104. Connie Silva says:

    Happy New Year to all!

    I need some guidance since I am new to Genealogical studies. I have manually built my genealogical tree on Ancestry.com. I am down to the year 1752, the 8th generation on dad’s side, not quite there yet on mom’s side. I have as of yet, not received any viable matches. A few of these ancestors were located by my great-uncle, but he has since passed, so I am now attempting the research, and requesting birth & death certificates directly from Portugal. Not just is this expensive, but time consuming and confusing. The penmanship then was different from modern times, and the defective quality of the scanned documents leaves you guessing, making the research quite a challenge. Both sides of the family came from an area in Northeast Portugal that has been inhabited for thousands of years, so we wish to research well below the year 1016 AD, to Roman times and beyond; is this possible? I need a company that will have access to Portuguese genealogical records, and that can preform DNA and medical testing as well. If possible, which company would you suggest for the said services, strictly within Europe, but not in Ireland & the UK.

    Thank you for any guidance and assistance.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      There is absolutely no way — no way in the world — to do the kind of family tree building you’d like to do without validating and verifying every bit of information. You can’t take anyone else’s word for it (including your great-uncle’s word); you have to learn to read that handwriting, figure out those scanned documents, and understand the limits of what’s possible (you’re not getting back to Roman times, even if you’re descended from Julius Caesar). I would strongly suggest taking some time to read up on genealogical methodology and research techniques before you even think about hiring someone to research for you, because you’re at risk of believing people who will promise what they can’t possibly deliver.

  105. Ms Myriad says:

    My main problem with paying National Geographic, or giving them access to my genetic data, is that it is now owned by Rupert Murdock: one of the last humans on Terra I want to give money or information to.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I understand the concern, but can say that we’ve been told that the Genographic Project is separately directed under the non-profit part of National Geographic that is NOT part of the joint venture with Fox/Murdoch.

  106. Nathan Oliver says:

    Thank you so much for your article, and even more for continuing to answer questions! I’m glad to see that the string is still going strong after about a year. I have four somewhat related questions, some of which you’ve already touched on at least in part:

    1. Is there a qualitative difference between the three major companies? That is, do they all come up with the same raw data, or does one or another of them do more extensive testing? I have the impression from the above that 23&me tests more thoroughly for markers that can be useful for medical purposes, but are there any other differences?

    2. On a related note, if I test with AncestryDNA and then transfer that information to FTDNA, will the FTDNA results be just as good as if I had the testing done by FTDNA in the first place?

    3. How will the results differ if both a parent and their child do the test? Obviously if I have the test done I’ll get genetic information from both sides and if one of my parents tests then I’ll only see half of my genetic makeup. But does having my mother or father do the test give any more genealogical information for their respective sides of the family than if I test?

    4. Does FTDNA (or any other) update the results? Presumably, in 10 years there will be a much larger pool of information, and the genetic and geological history, medical information if applicable, and any other number of interesting applications I can’t think of at the moment will be far more informative. Of course the tests themselves will probably evolve so I would certainly have to pay again for the updated technology, but will my current results continue to be run against the whole information pool as it grows?



    • Judy G. Russell says:

      1. 23andMe includes more medical markers, AncestryDNA the second highest and FTDNA as few as possible. That’s the only documented qualitative difference and it’s unrelated to genealogy. 2. Yes, with the exception that you won’t have a banked sample for other tests such as YDNA or mtDNA that only FTDNA does. 3. Testing the oldest generation available is absolutely essential for autosomal testing. See Time to MRCA for the way the odds of getting a genealogical match change with every lost generation. 4. Yes, all the companies update.

      • Kerry says:

        Hi Judy,
        As Nathan and others have stated. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.
        To tag on to Nathan’s question 1, and really to clarify the question I had asked above, do you have any sense as to how many/what % more markers the 23andme V4 chip tests for than Ancestry? I’ve pretty much determined I’ll get myself and family tested on Ancestry, but not whether I’ll do so with 23andme, as well.

        • Judy G. Russell says:

          This is an apples-and-oranges type of question. All of the companies sample roughly the same number of locations in the genome. Some of them like 23andMe deliberately choose some of the locations for their potential medical significance; others like Family Tree DNA deliberately choose locations to exclude those of potential medical significance in favor of those of genealogical significance. The big difference in the sampling is how many markers are samples with medical data you might extract from it, not in how many markers, period. And to the extent that I have an answer, it’s in the posts I already referred you to.

  107. Tod says:

    My question: I did my DNA testing thru MyHeritage about a year ago. I’m looking to expand upon what I learned. Intuitively I’m thinking if I could test each of my parents I would gain more than if I were to test my sister. I can only afford to test one of them right now and I’m leaning towards my mother (female DNA rather than my male DNA.) I’ve also moved my family tree to Ancestry and would likely have the testing done thru them now.

    As a little background – on my father’s side I’m Italian and French and my DNA test showed a touch of the British Isles I would assume came from him. On my mother’s side I’m Finnish. I’ve been able to trace some ancestors on both sides of the family back into the 1700′s, into the 1600′s in the French side. Both sides of the family hold mysteries and have me stumped but my mother’s side is the one I’m most interested in digging into right now.

    Would it make any difference who was tested next? I’ve got the options of either parent or my sister.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      For an autosomal DNA test (the kind that AncestryDNA does) testing an older generation (your mother rather than your sister) is always better. Autosomal DNA is inherited in a random pattern from generation to generation, with a parent sharing 50% with a child but only 25% on average with a grandchild and only 12.5% on average with a great grandchild. So you’re losing data with every generation you don’t test. Test your mother first.

  108. Crystal says:

    Do you know how well the company ancestry@ancestrybydna.com is with results and accuracy??? My sister had a test done which was pretty on point with what we already knew. So I did one with ancestrybydna because I got a Groupon. My results was so off and I feel as though they sent me bogus results back that made no sense. Maybe they are less in investigating dna???

  109. Arman says:

    Hi Judy,

    Thank you so much for your article!
    My question: my roots are Indian and I heard that there is a DNA test that can determine to which hindu “gotra” you belong to (indian ancestral lineage). Do you know which company has this test?


    • Judy G. Russell says:

      It’s my understanding (and this is not something I’ve researched) that there is a YDNA project at Family Tree DNA that can help sort male testers into gotras.

  110. Cynthia Marlette says:

    You are so kind to answer so many useful questions about DNA testing.

    My paternal great great grandfather’s granddaughter is still living at 98 years old. She is my grandfather’s cousin. Would there be any information to be gained about my family history by having her DNA tested?

    Thank you for your information.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Absolutely yes! She is of a generation well before your own and will have more of the autosomal DNA of those particular shared ancestors than you or even your father might have. Having her tested could be very useful in identifying cousins on that particular line to work with.

  111. Terrie says:

    Is there a perfect fit for me? I’m less interested in connections to relatives than I am in finding out where I come from and what my medical info is. I’m in the US. Is the medical piece unavailable? 25% of me is also a giant question mark and I’d love to know what the heredity is (I’m female and it is on my Dad’s side)


    • Judy G. Russell says:

      As long as you understand that ethnicity estimates (those percentages of Irish or English) are only really good at the continental level (European versus Asian versus African) and really just guesses and not at all reliable at less than a continental level, any autosomal DNA test will do for the “where I come from” question. As for the medical part, you can take the raw data from any genealogy DNA testing company and for $5 run it through a third party program called Promethease. (See the post here.) It will take some work to understand the results, and you’ll get the most comprehensive results if you test with the most expensive testing company (23andMe, because it deliberately looks for health-related markers).

      • Greg says:

        My uncle is the only person still living on my mother side, my mother was only female, he is very ill. I thought ftdna would be the best test because of swabs, but which test do you recommend, should I do all three test?

        • Judy G. Russell says:

          FTDNA may be the easiest test because of the swab rather than the spit, and that is the only company that will give you his YDNA results, so definitely test his YDNA there (and you might as well have the autosomal Family Finder run there too). But if he can produce enough saliva for the spit test, having him tested at Ancestry DNA as well is a good idea. I can’t recommend 23andMe right now because it’s in a state of flux and too much isn’t known yet about how the results will work.

          • Greg says:

            what about the mtdna? Thought it might be a waste of money since my mother was the only female, but didnt know!

          • Judy G. Russell says:

            Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is passed down by mothers to all of their children. So your uncle has your maternal grandmother’s mtDNA, your mother had that same mtDNA, and your mother passed that same mtDNA to you. Any of you can test for mtDNA, again only at Family Tree DNA since that’s the only company that does that testing. Testing mtDNA is really useful only when you have a genealogical question it can solve (such as which of two wives was the parent). Otherwise you can wait on that and, again, you have the same mtDNA so can be tested later.

          • Greg says:

            ok thanks, one last question, should I do the y37? thank you for time!

          • Judy G. Russell says:

            Y37 on your uncle? Yes. Y37 on yourself? Depends on whether you want to know about your father’s side.

          • Greg says:

            yes, for my uncle for now, but I do what do these test on my father who is 77 also, he can do swabs or saliva!

          • Judy G. Russell says:

            Yes, you will want to test your father — both YDNA and autosomal. If you test his YDNA, you don’t need to test yours; you two should have essentially identical YDNA (the way you and your mother have essentially identical mtDNA).

          • Greg says:

            thanks again, huge help!

          • Greg says:

            I knew there would be one more question, they (ftdna) ask if there is a coupon, are there coupons you can get? thanks again!

          • Judy G. Russell says:

            Not that I’m aware of right now. Sales are periodic during the year.

          • Greg says:

            What is the difference or are they, of having these test done on my uncle or would you get same results with his son/daughter?

          • Judy G. Russell says:

            Greg, you really need to do some reading on this topic rather than just asking questions here. As much as I try to be responsive, it’s impossible to take the time to do one-on-one counselling. Bottom line: for YDNA or mtDNA it generally does not matter if you test a parent or a child because those types of DNA change very little from generation to generation. For autosomal, you always want the oldest living generation because of recombination.

          • Greg says:

            sorry, thank you for time

  112. Melissa says:

    Hi, Judy,
    Thank you for all your wonderful information, it’s so helpful. Can you please comment on where 23andMe stands today in regard to US FDA regulations on health issue information? I noticed that they do offer some health information, and that their price is $199, not $99 as quoted in your article. Are they now able to offer the same information to the US consumer as the Canadian, hence the increase in price?

  113. Amanda says:

    Does Geno 2.0 have a transfer program? As in maybe use Ancestry and transfer to FamilyTree and then Geno 2.0 (since you can transfer from Geno to FT)?

  114. Renee says:

    What are your thoughts on DNAancestryproject.com? They seem to have what I am looking for, which is learning about the origin and migration of my ancestors. They offer many different types of test. As a woman, which one is right for me?

    Thanks for the help!

  115. Robert Varney says:

    Judy or anyone qualified to answer:
    My paternal line ends with a brick wall in Bedford County, VA in 1804 with the death of the oldest “known” relative of my father. Many with my surname seem to be located in the Northeast in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, etc., while all of my current day relatives are primarily located in West Virginia and Kentucky. I intend to go with the three plans considered “most bang for your buck”, however should I temper my expectations of finding the link that brings down the wall? I do realize that results may vary based on the number of any given family that have participated in the DNA collection process. Just curious as to how often those pesky brick walls come down with this type of research. Any input will be greatly appreciated.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Have you done YDNA testing? That may be a better way of proceeding to try to tie the surname from the northeast together with your line.

  116. Gabrielle says:

    Ok, I am a female trying to find info on my father’s family because he was adopted. I’ve not seen him since I was under 2 years old. I also have a son I could test if that could help. I’d prefer to at least be able to get the health info, then my secondary desire is to see who I may be related to.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Your son cannot have any DNA from your father that you do not have, so testing yourself (your autosomal DNA) is the only way to identify your father’s family.

  117. Faye says:

    When I went to 23&me, it was quoted at 199, NOT 99. Might wanna update this.

  118. Sally says:

    All three companies seem to be helpful for people looking to find cousins or family connections ! I’m interested in just my own dna make-up .Do any of these companies provide that service ?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      They all do, provided that you clearly understand that the test results are only truly accurate at the continental level (Europe versus Africa versus Asia). DNA does not accurately distinguish between, say, German and French.

      • Sally says:

        Well then I really don’t understand the value in having dna done in my case. I already know I’m 1/4th French 1/4 Polish 1/4th English and the last 4th is Irish. I was thinking dna could fine tune maybe the French part my grandmother born in France to an unknown father well Thank you for saving me some money .

  119. Eileen Cox says:

    Need updated info. for “most bang for your bucks” on which DNA testing to do first, etc.;I am trying to apply to the DAR through my gggg-grandfather (I am female); & am needing to prove “family connection between my ggg-grandfather and my gggg-grandfather. What type of DNA testing should be done? myself? my 85-year old mother? my uncle (mother’s brother)? y-, m-, auto-? which brand/company of DNA testing?

  120. Marquita Davis says:

    What I would like to know is are there any companies, or genealogists that give you a written copy of your genealogical history and or other information related to it. As we watch the programs on TV such as Finding your roots, Who do you think you are?, people think they are going to get the books they see on those programs. Is that just made for TV or can you actually pay for that type of service?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      There are many professional genealogists who will undertake these kinds of projects — but the depth of research is not going to come cheap!! You can find genealogists with credentials from the Board for Certification of Genealogists on the BCG website at bcgcertification.org and many professionals belong to the Association of Professional Genealogists (apgen.org). Always ask for references!!

  121. Diana C. says:

    Thank you for the wonderful information.

    Here’s my dilemma. There is a rumor that I’m not my father’s daughter. Both of my parents are deceased and my two sisters don’t believe the rumors. I would like to get some sort of semblance of an answer. I’m trying to figure out which test to do (on myself) and which relative to ask to also get tested (and which test).

    My father had two half brothers (both deceased), a half sister (who has dementia) and a full brother (also deceased). They all have male and female children (my cousins). I have two sisters and two half brothers (different mother).

    Thanks in advance for anyone who can provide help.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Testing yourself and the sisters who are believe themselves to be your full-blood sisters using an autosomal test (Family Finder from Family Tree DNA, for example, or AncestryDNA’s test) will show whether you are in fact full sisters or half sisters.

      • Diana C. says:

        Thank you so much! Now, if I can only convince my sister to test.

      • Diana C. says:

        If I can’t convince one of my sisters, would it be a moot point to have my half-brother (possible same father, but different mother) tested?

        If it would be a good idea, which test should he take?

        Again, thanks for any help!

        • Judy G. Russell says:

          Yes, and autosomal again (it’s the only test you CAN take as a female for this purpose). If you share a father, you will show as half-siblings, and if you don’t share a father you will show as essentially unrelated, and either way that will definitively establish who your father was (or at least if no sharing who he was not).

  122. Elizabeth Bradley says:

    I am an adoptee searching for birth family. I have my dna on Ancestry, with 400+ hits. However, the closest matches seem to think I have some agenda and are being squirreley. These family matches are from 2 huge families (average size 8-14 children). Is there another site or type of test you would recommend I should try? Or where would I find dna genealogists for hire? I’m not use a regular genealogists would be able to help much do you?

  123. bob says:

    Im considering taking a test for the admixture data, would you say both 23andme and NatGeo are the same when it comes to that?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Not at the moment. For admixture only I’d go with National Geographic’s Geno 2.0 NG right now, since 23andMe is too squirrelly at the moment.

  124. Kathy says:

    I have been researching my Irish Roots for 25 years and so ethnicity is NOT the issue. I have always thought that Henry Connors, who came to America with my grandfather Daniel, was my biological Great Grandfather. Henry may, in fact, have taken on the role of “father” for Daniel when his own father died. It seems Irish families did this a lot and there was really nothing particularly formal or legal about it. It’s just the way is was back in the 1880′s. I know I have a relative in Wales who’s GG Grandfather was the same Henry Connors in question. What are the odds that she and I can take a DNA test and I can prove or disprove that Henry was also my relative? She and I communicate quite a bit through email. Would any DNA Test we jointly take be too “watered” down to either prove or disprove whether Henry was in fact my “real” Great Grandfather? She would have his genetic code and I would assume that mine would either match or not and therefore I would have my answer. Which test would give me the best chance of determining this one thing?

    Thank you in advance for your time.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      If your theory is correct, then you and this relative should be second cousins once removed, yes? Your grandparent and her great grandparent would be siblings; your parent and her grandparent would be first cousins; you and her parent would be second cousins; and you and she would be second cousins once removed? If so, your chances are very good that you have inherited enough common autosomal DNA for it to show in a DNA test. Since you’re both female, trying to prove descent from a common male ancestor, the autosomal test is the only one you can take.

  125. Kathy says:

    I believe your breakdown of our relationship is spot on and I am glad to hear that maybe I have a fairly good chance at finding out what I am searching for. Having said that, I do believe that even if I found out that Henry is NOT my biological grandfather, I will pursue relatives in Ireland as I feel a much stronger connection to my Irish roots. Even if Henry is not in my direct bloodline, there is something to be said about an man who would raise another man’s child.
    What test do you think is best….23 and me?

    Again, thank you so much for your insight and time.

  126. kate says:

    Hi, Thank you for this great post. I have sent to a bunch of friends and family members. I bought my test from ancestrydna according to this post.

    Now I’m trying to “Step 2. The minute you get your results from AncestryDNA, transfer your raw data to Family Tree DNA. When I say “transfer,” that doesn’t end your matches at AncestryDNA, it just gets you into the Family Tree DNA system with all of its benefits. You can do this for free but remember that “no free lunch” bit: the information you get with a free transfer is very limited. So you have two ways to unlock the really useful data: get four other people to transfer in their data or just pony up $39 and unlock the information right away.”

    The problem I am having is that there isn’t a $39 product at familytreedna that I can see, so I’m at a loss as to what I’m to be buying in order to transfer my data in. Could you please explain or update or somehow point me in the right direction? Thanks for your wonderful website and insight! Appreciate it loads.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Look for the link to Autosomal Transfer. It will let you upload for free, and give you some very basic info free, but to unlock all the results you need to pay (or get four others to transfer their results).

  127. Tom says:

    I am just getting involved in DNA research. recently I took the Ancestrydna test, and transferred the data to Familytree DNA and Gedmatch. I have also just provided, two days ago, samples to Familytreedna for the transfer Y-DNA33 and Y-DNA25 tests. I have not yet had a chance to poke around in what I can find out now, other than the basic heritage and some cursory potential matches. I have not developed sufficient understanding as yet to ask many questions, however, my question right now is this -
    I have one maternal uncle and two maternal aunts still living. What would be the value of at least getting my uncle to provide a sample for the AncestryDNA test and transferring it to FamilytreeDNA as well? Or, is there a better recommended path from here to get the most information possible?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      A lot depends on what you’re trying to find out. If you’re interested in finding new cousins to share genealogical research with, then you’d be better off testing all of your aunts and uncles still living that you can afford to test (and yes, test first with AncestryDNA and then transfer to FTDNA). Reason: not all siblings match all cousins, so you catch more cousins by fishing with more DNA as bait. If you just want to find out about your mother’s father’s side, then testing your uncle only for YDNA at FamilyTreeDNA is a good choice.

  128. Amelia says:

    My “identical” twin sister had a DNA test done (March/April, 2013) , along with my parents, with Ancestry. She wants me to have a test done, but I’m wondering if I should go with Ancestry or another company. Any thoughts on how you’d approach this? We’re looking for accuracy. We look identical, but it have not had test confirming the fact. Our major goal is to determine if the results are accurate and the company isn’t utilizing the information she provided. We’d appreciate your thoughts.


    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Testing with Ancestry is fine, but be aware that you’d need to look beyond what Ancestry reports to see the detail. Downloading your raw data and both of you uploading to Gedmatch for detailed comparisons would be best.

  129. Russ Sanders says:

    Hi Judy,
    I’m sure you answered this but I got lost as this is all new to me.
    I want to find more specifically where I’m from so I think I’m going with AncestryDNA and transfer to Family Tree DNA. My question is….
    I only have my mother and sister left. So once I pay AncestryDNA for autosomal testing for $89 then transfer to Family Tree DNA for $39, will I still need to pay the $199 at Family Tree DNA for the mtDNA?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Yes, if you decide to do the mtDNA test. It’s an entirely different type of DNA testing, and will require a new sample. But mtDNA testing should really only be done if you have a specific genealogical question that you think mtDNA can help solve. That’s because it’s such a stable type of DNA that your matches may well be so far back in time that you won’t be able to identify a common ancestor just by fishing.

  130. Joe says:

    Does anyone do DNA testing on hair? I have a large lock of hair that I am quite certain is from my paternal grandfather’s brother — born in Switzerland, died in Long Island, 1905. I’d like to have the hair tested to confirm the origin.

    Any ideas???

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Not the genetic genealogy companies, no. You’d have to locate a private lab, pay a high fee and (I am certain) be told that there’s no guarantee of success.

  131. Holly says:

    Hello! I am interested in getting a DNA kit for my father’s birthday. He is turning 70 and thought this may make for a cool gift. Which company do you reccomend in this case? I want a good deep dive but don’t think we will find long lost reletives necessarily etc. If anything, I think it would be more entertainment. Thanks for your time!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Same recommendation if you can: test him with AncestryDNA and then immediately transfer the data to Family Tree DNA: two databases for a lot less than just one used to be.

  132. Robyn says:

    FTDNA is no longer a good option as they no longer allow anyone to transfer their DNA to GEDMATCH to find matches. I have recently tested new family members only to find out they filed some sort of lawsuit to prevent us from sharing.

    Take your business to one of the other DNA testers if you want to know more about your DNA and find relatives!

  133. Alberto Echaide says:

    I have recently tested with Ancestry(99$ DNA Test) and I’m looking towards buying another kit from a different company. It seems 23 and Me is better alternative but after reading more about the National geographic Test GENO 2.0 it seems to offer wider range of autosomal, Y chromosome and Mitochodnrial SNPS.I’m looking toward learning more about my admixture heritage and surname. Which one would you recommend? The National Geographic is cheaper at this time. Any input would be appreciated.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      The National Geographic Geno 2.0 project is primarily aimed at science and if you do test with them you will get one of the better admixture estimates (remember, it’s ONLY an estimate and NOT to be taken to the bank). For surname research, however, you really need the YDNA test so will need to test separately with Family Tree DNA.

  134. Frances E. Ruffin says:

    Dear Legal Genealogist: I have just come across your 2015 More Bang for the DNA Buck, and also the articles discussing the 23youandmeMeltdown. Alas, I had already sent in my spit tests and fill out hours’ worth of questions for 23youandme. I’m a senior with limited funds, and I felt that (given their terrific TV commercials) I had made good decision. My main interest has been finding out about my ancestry, and now I discover that 23 may not be the best selection. For reasons that I won’t discuss here, I am still very much intent on finding information about my ancestry, I am willing to try another company. Which company would you suggest? Thank you for any information you might be able to offer. Sincerely, Frances E. Ruffin

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Frances, for genealogical research, as opposed to ethnicity estimates (which are only truly valid at the continental level), your best bet now is to save up and do the AncestryDNA test and then when you get those results upload the data to Family Tree DNA as well. The test itself is no more than $99 (often less on sale and we’re waiting to see if there will be a sale this month for DNA Day) and the transfer cost to get your data to Family Tree DNA is no more than $39 (you can see your 20 closest matches for free but without the underlying data and without being able to contact them). Doing it that way will get you into all available databases and connect you with the most cousins to pursue your ancestry and genealogy.

  135. eileen says:

    What about the company called :”DNA Origins”. I saw a special for $69 on Groupon…. You haven’t mentioned this company…. what do you think? Thanks

  136. Diane C says:

    Eileen, I used AncestryBYdna thinking it was AncestryDNA. I was extremely disappointed. There are no people to connect with, they only give 4 areas of ethnicity and there is NO raw DNA available. It was literally a waste of $99. My experience.

  137. Dianna M. says:

    Hi,thank you for your great DNA info! I’m still trying to learn about all the types of DNA testing.
    1. My mother and I just sent in our saliva samples to AncestryDNA today for the ethnicity testing. I plan to enter those results into the FTDNA as you have recommended to others.
    2. But I am also very interested in learning more about my father’s Y chromosomal origins (ie. Scottish, Irish, Danish, Viking, etc perhaps in 800-1400s AD time period and earlier) but unfortunately he has passed away and I don’t have any brothers or male cousins from his line that I can find (yet.) I only have one of his baby teeth and a lock of his hair. Do you have any suggestions? Does the Y chromosomal testing provide the male haplo group that he belonged to?
    3. I also want to learn about my mother’s Mt DNA origins or haplo group, but I’m not sure what types of info it actually provides.
    Thank you!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Realistically, your father’s YDNA can only be reconstructed through a surrogate. No genetic genealogy company tests teeth or hair today; you’d have to find a private lab and that would be expensive. So, realistically, you do have to find one of those male cousins, and yes that’s the test that will give you his male haplogroup. As for mtDNA, that’s really only useful to test a theory — to answer a question that mtDNA is specific for (such as which of two wives you descend from). Otherwise, just having the haplogroup isn’t all that valuable and since you have the same mtDNA as your mother, it can wait.

  138. Ant says:

    The Geno 2 is $50 off for 150 today and Family tree says

    Transfer your National Geographic Genographic Project results to Family Tree DNA for FREE to find your relatives and get additional insight on your ancestral origins.

  139. Andrea says:

    I am a little confused on how this works…. Me being a female is it possible for me to find out from my DNA my ethnic back round on both my father and my mothers side? Or do I need a male family member to do my fathers side?

    Thank you

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Anyone can test and get basic ethnicity information based on DNA inherited from both parents, so no, you do not need a male member of the family to test. Be aware, however, that the ethnicity data is very good at the continental level (Europe versus Asia versus Africa) and basically little better than cocktail party conversation at the country or regional level. DNA simply can’t readily distinguish between, say, Irish and Scottish or between French and German.

  140. Dave says:

    Similar recommendations fore 2016, Judy?

    I’m in a position where both of my parents are willing to be tested, so I’m test-shopping (even more now having found your site). Also, my father has a sister, and my mother has brothers. I suspect having an opposite-sex sibling of each tested would be ideal. And I’m also in contact with two of dad’s female-line 2nd cousins from a sibling of dad’s grandfather, and understand they could provide useful information.

    If this is a one-time thing, as everyone above is in their 70s, is more necessarily better in terms of $$? I see FamilyTreeDNA offers up to 111 “markers” (whatever that means… sounds cool, must be good) for the paternal line. Likewise “Full” sequence on the maternal test surely must be better than “empty?” sequence. And of course we can bundle a family finder, male 67 marker, and a full sequence female test for a mere $566.

    • Dave says:

      And of course, Ancestry offers 700,000 markers, which makes 111 seem rather paltry. Are these sites using a common definition of “marker” that would make the Ancestry test that much better?

      There is a family project for my surname on Family Tree DNA, though only 16 people at this point on the list. The ability to import is nice, and I suppose the Ancestry trees are projects themselves. I would expect to end up with data in both places.

      • Judy G. Russell says:

        You’re confusing apples (YDNA markers, 12-25-27-67-111 versions limited to the paternal line testing that is done only at Family Tree DNA) and oranges (autosomal markers, around 700,000 at all three companies that do autosomal tests). These are very different tests done for very different reasons.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Once you take a little time to read up enough to understand the differences among the three kinds of testing, you can make better choices. But for now, your best bet is to get all of the available older members of your family tested with an autosomal DNA test. That’s the Family Finder test from Family Tree DNA or the AncestryDNA test, and because of an announcement from AncestryDNA today about a chip change, I recommend testing anyone you may ever want to do a YDNA or mtDNA test on at Family Tree DNA (the future of inter-company transfers is up in the air at the moment). You can add those tests in later if there’s enough sample left, but since that is the only company that does those tests you need to make sure you get a sample in to FTDNA for anyone you want those results from.

  141. Brent T Grover says:


    Wow you have stayed on top of submitted comments; good job!

    I too am interested in finding out health issues that are not to be found at the doctors office.
    You have not said a whole lot about 23 and me since mid April.
    What say ye, do you think they are the best still to find about health Data?


    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Their health reporting currently is pretty lame because they’re trying so hard to meet FDA limitations, but the raw data you get from 23andMe is the most complete at the moment for running through third party analyses like what you can get at Promethease.

  142. Connie says:

    Hi: I am new to this genealogy thing and I am not sure how to quite go about this.
    I am of full European descent. I would like to have my DNA checked so I can test for Germanic, Celtic, and possibly Iberian lineage. Which company should I contact for that type of test? I am not interested in knowing that I am 100% European, I know that, but I need to check DNA makeup to pinpoint Haplogroups, etc, so would you say FDNA would be the one to go to? Thanks!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      As long as you understand that no DNA company can guarantee 100% accuracy below the continental level (in other words, the reported percentage of German, Iberian, etc., will be nothing but an estimate within a wide range of statistical accuracy — or inaccuracy — and NOT something you can take to the bank), then purely for ethnicity your options (in order) are 23andMe ($199 or $149 on sale), AncestryDNA and Family Tree DNA.

  143. Jordan Maffuccio says:

    Hey Judy, first of all thanks for all of your awesome responses!

    I have the same question as Connie, I’m not really interested in know the continental level data, I’m interested in what she referred to as “Haplogroups”. I would like to know percentage breakdowns of these groups (again I understand that beyond the continental level nothing can be taken to the bank as you said, but I’m ok with an estimate). So for example, I’ve been told (though I have my doubts) that I may have a bit of Native American, specifically Chippewa in my ancestry. Would the FTDNA or hte 23andme help me confirm or deny these claims even if the percentages are a bit off? Thanks!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      There is no DNA test on the market that can do better than just an estimate. No DNA test can tell what tribe if it does detect Native American anyway.

  144. Lexa says:

    Hi Judy,

    Thanks for taking the time to write your blog. As a newbie all of this is still VERY confusing to me but I enjoy reading it and hopefully I’m starting to get a grasp on it. :) Two questions for you though:

    1) How do I determine that my mom and I are really related through one of these tests without me giving these companies that information? Is there a way I can figure out my dad’s lineage without his DNA (i’m a girl)?

    2) I was checking out FTDNA and they have a MtDNA Plus+ $69 and a MtNA Full $199. The full gives you “genealogy.” If I have no close family isn’t this kinda pointless for me? I grew up in a different country, no family members in the US. Not sure paying the extra benefits unless it’s helpful for something else maybe?

    Thanks for your reply :) )))

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      If you and your mother both do the autosomal DNA test (Family Finder from Family Tree DNA or the AncestryDNA test), you will be able to determine 100% if you are really related and, most likely, who else you’re related to (by finding cousins to work with). That’s a good place to start. While mtDNA is a great test, it is expensive and it really works best when you’re using it to test a theory that mtDNA can help prove or disprove, rather than just taking the test to see what it shows. Since you and your Mom would both have the same mtDNA and you don’t have a research question right now that you need it for, I’d wait on that one. Just do the autosomal test on both of you for now.

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