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Don’t be fooled

Judging from the inbox of The Legal Genealogist (and of every genetic genealogist I know), it happens all too often.

And it’s just happened again.

Reader Theresa wrote in just yesterday: “I purchased AncestrybyDNA — a waste of money. Got a purple blob circle telling me I am European… I KNOW that. No breakdown of percents, Do not waste your money!”

Uh oh.

It’s that “by” word again.

Because, folks, really, without any doubt:


Nope, nope, nope. is a whole ‘nother beastie from AncestryDNA — and anyone who misses that fact is going to be out one heck of a lot of money.

Here’s the bottom line:

• An autosomal DNA test from Ancestry (ordered at “surveys over 700,000 locations in your DNA.”1

• The tests offered by “provides your ancestral proportions based on … identified 144 informative markers in our DNA…”2

Let’s see here… 700,000 on one hand, and 144 on the other. And 144 that are, to put it simply, useless if what you want is to help advance your genealogical research.

This is pretty much a no-brainer, isn’t it?

So why does anybody buy the test?

Two reasons: discounts; and confusion. works a lot with the discount place Groupon. As a matter of fact, right now Groupon has a deal on — down to $69 from the “regular” $195. (I put “regular” in quotes because I’ve never seen a time when Groupon didn’t have a “discount” deal that priced this test at $69.) So anyone who doesn’t know better who looks at this thinks this is a great deal and a great price for a great product.

That’s where the confusion part comes in. Because anyone who doesn’t know better who looks at this really thinks what’s being sold is the product they see advertised on television, with those ads3 showing people trading in lederhosen for kilts based on their test results. But that’s the AncestryDNA test, not the AncestrybyDNA test.

How bad is this? Read what my friend and colleague CeCe Moore said last month in her blog Your Genetic Genealogist: “we have seen many people who intended to purchase the AncestryDNA product extremely disappointed upon receiving their AncestrybyDNA results. It is such a shame to see people spending their hard-earned money and receiving a product that is virtually useless for genealogical purposes. In some cases, this was the only opportunity an individual had to test a family member…”4

Don’t think for a minute that Ancestry doesn’t realize that a lot of people are confused by this. As CeCe reported, on November 16, 2015, Ancestry filed suit in federal court against DNA Diagnostic Center, Inc., the parent company that operates the website.

Charging trademark infringement and consumer confusion, Ancestry is asking the federal court to order to stop using any advertising using a name confusingly similar to the Ancestry family of trademarks,5 and it’s asking the court to issue a preliminary injunction — an order stopping the advertising even while the case is pending.6

The defendant has to answer the motion for a preliminary injunction by January 12th and there’s a hearing scheduled on that motion for January 29th.7

Until the court acts, we as genealogists need to protect ourselves. Pay attention to that graphic above. These tests are not the same. They are not equivalent. And only one will get us information that’s genealogically useful.

But that brings up the question of how even the AncestryDNA test is genealogically useful. Because Theresa added a question as well: “I wanted to see the percents of different nationalities,” she wrote. “What is the best test for that??”

Folks, really, honestly, no foolin’, those percentages are just estimates — guesses — maybe even that technical scientific term wild-assed guesses.8 My own term for them: cocktail party conversation pieces.9

Autosomal DNA tests really are terrific at discerning the difference between European and Asian and African ancestry. They’re decent at painting broad brush strokes. But when they get down to trying to distinguish, say, French from German, or Irish from Scottish? Um… not so good. At all.

So take any autosomal test you’d like from any reputable genealogical DNA testing company — AncestryDNA and Family Tree DNA are on my recommended list right now — but do it mostly to find cousins to work with to advance your overall family history.

And use those percentages mostly for entertainment value.

And if you do test at all, remember to avoid that “by” word. AncestrybyDNA is not the right test for genetic genealogy.


  1. “What does ‘autosomal’ DNA testing mean?,” AncestryDNA – Frequently Asked Questions, ( : accessed 19 Dec 2015).
  2. FAQs for DNA Origins,” ( : accessed 19 Dec 2015).
  3. Don’t get me started…
  4. CeCe Moore, “ Files a Trademark Case Against DNA Diagnostics Center for the Marketing of ‘AncestryByDNA’,” Your Genetic Genealogist, posted 18 Nov 2015 ( : accessed 19 Dec 2015).
  5. Complaint, Ancestry Operations et al. v. DNA Diagnostic Center, Civ. No. 1:15-cv-00737 (S.D. Ohio, filed 16 Nov 2015), (access date 20 Dec 2015).
  6. Ibid., Motion for Preliminary Injunction, filed 24 Nov 2015.
  7. U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio, Civil Docket, Ancestry Operations et al. v. DNA Diagnostic Center, Civ. No. 1:15-cv-00737, (access date 20 Dec 2015).
  8. InternetSlang ( : accessed 20 Dec 2015), “WAG.”
  9. Judy G. Russell, “Those pesky percentages,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 27 Oct 2013 ( : accessed 19 Dec 2015).
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