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No more waiting

If you’ve been waiting — patiently or otherwise — for an invitation from AncestryDNA for its new autosomal DNA testing, the wait is over. The test is now open to anyone, subscriber or not, from the United States.1

Prices range from $129 for an subscriber to $199 for a non-subscriber who doesn’t want a subscription. (You have to log in to see the $129 price for a subscriber.)

And there are special introductory combination prices for a non-subscriber who does want to subscribe: $189 for the test plus a six-month subscription to U.S. records; and $249 for the test plus a six-month subscription to world records. The regular prices for those combinations will be $277 for the U.S. subscription and $349 for the world subscription.

If you were on the waiting list to get the $99 price as an subscriber, AncestryDNA has honored that price,2 but only if you call customer service. There’s no way in the automated pricing system to get that deal.

Subscribe or not

For most of us serious genealogists, the question of whether or not to subscribe to isn’t a serious question. The Legal Genealogist couldn’t survive without it. (Well, okay, yeah, I could… but I wouldn’t want to give up the convenience.)

But if you’re not a subscriber now, here’s what you need to know about what you get with a subscription versus what you give up if you take this test but don’t subscribe.

On the plus side for subscribing, the introductory offer — as long as it lasts — is a no-brainer. For $10 less than the price of the test alone for a non-subscriber ($189 versus $199), you get the test plus six months of access to U.S. records. For another $60, you get access to the entire worldwide database.

On the flip side, if you’re not interested in the records or have access through other means, you’re not giving up nearly as much as we all feared when the service was first announced. The two key things we were all concerned about were (a) whether you’d have access to your match list and be able to contact anyone on that list if you weren’t a subscriber and (b) whether you’d be able to see the family tree of a match, since frankly the service is pretty much useless without that.

But CeCe Moore of Your Genetic Genealogist has reported, with a copy of a PDF flyer from AncestryDNA, that you will be able to contact your DNA matches through the Ancestry internal system and see a limited view of any public family tree posted by any of your matches (seven generations will be shown) even if you don’t subscribe.3

What you won’t be able to do without a subscription is:

     •  contact other Ancestry members through the internal system
     • see all of a match’s family tree
     • see other family trees posted by other Ancestry members
     • add or share documents or photos to your own family tree
     • access records from the Ancestry system relevant to your family

Why you may still want to wait

So even though you don’t have to wait any more, and the introductory prices are excellent, there are some good reasons why you might still want to wait.

First and foremost, AncestryDNA still doesn’t make your raw data available. That information — the underlying plain text file showing your results so you can use third-party utilities like to compare your results to more people and extract more overall useful data — is readily available from the other major players in the autosomal DNA market, Family Tree DNA with its Family Finder test and 23andMe with its Relative Finder. AncestryDNA has promised that the raw data will be available, sometime in early 2013. But it isn’t soup yet.

Second, I said above that AncestryDNA is pretty much useless without access to the family trees of your matches. That’s simply the truth. Unless a match has a family tree online at Ancestry, and unless your tree and your match’s tree intersect, you’re pretty much at a dead end. You don’t get information on exactly how and where and on what segments of your DNA you and a cousin match. That’s standard stuff in genetic genealogy and not getting it is frustrating, particularly since family trees online are notoriously inaccurate. It’s of limited utility to know that someone in your family tree is also reportedly in the family tree of a match. I could be wrong about my tree; my match could be wrong about her tree.

Third, even if you and a match are right about your family trees, the interface has some serious deficiencies. There are only two ways to sort matches: by relationship and by date. And there are only two available filters: a reviewed-vs.-unreviewed filter (whether you’ve already looked at this match); and a starred-vs.-unstarred filter (you can highlight a match by clicking on a star icon to highlight that match for further review). There’s no way to easily find matches where my tree intersects theirs, no way to search for matches where we have particular surnames in common, no way to add a note to a match, no way to compare two matches to each other, rather than just to me. And there’s no way for the system to tell you that a match whose results you’ve already reviewed has changed something in his or her online family tree. That change could highlight an ancestor in common or correct an error — and right now, you wouldn’t see it at all.

Bottom line

AncestryDNA is an attractively-packaged product at an attractive price, and it’s a good way for beginners to get started without spending a lot of money to stick their toes in the DNA waters. But there’s still some major work that needs to be done before it’s a serious contender in the genetic genealogy market.


  1. There’s no indication as yet when, or if, the test will be available outside of the United States.
  2. See e.g. “zlotys_blitz” to, e-mail, 29 Oct 2012, “Re: atdna test PRICE”; privately held by JG Russell.
  3. CeCe Moore, Official Clarification: AncestryDNA With and Without an Subscription , Your Genetic Genealogist, posted 31 Oct 2012 ( : accessed 3 Nov 2012).
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