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A less expensive choice

The DNA testing company 23andMe has been in a state of flux for a very long time, leaving genetic genealogists wondering if there really was any reason to test with 23andMe.

First, 23andMe has always been focused on health results more than on genealogy results, so the utility of the testing there for genealogy has always been somewhat iffy. People who test for health issues don’t tend to be interested in genealogy and so are largely unresponsive to requests to share information.

23andme-newThen the company got into a very public and very damaging tiff with the Food and Drug Administration that left the entire testing system in suspended animation.1 That didn’t get resolved until late in 2015,2 and 23andMe customers who’d tested with the old system didn’t get transitioned until this year.3

But the resolution of the tiff left genealogists in even more of a “why should I test with these guys” quandary, since the price of the test more than doubled — to $199 — and the health information being provided… well… let’s just say that not everyone was convinced it was worth the extra money. We’ll talk about that in a minute.

So… what happened was predictable. Although there are some new features that are good for genealogists, the number of new people testing at a price point much higher than competitors was — shall we say — disappointing.

And 23andMe finally came around.

There is now an ancestry-only option at 23andMe, and the price point is back to where it should be to be competitive.

You can test for ancestry only at 23andMe for $99.

So… if you’re thinking about testing with 23andMe, which way should you go? What’s the deal with health + ancestry versus ancestry only?

According to 23andMe, the two are absolutely identical on the testing side. It’s not that the sample is treated differently if you do ancestry only versus health + ancestry. The difference is solely in the reporting side: you just won’t see the health-related results unless and until you pony up for that information. And, the company says, if you do decide later to pony up, “You will receive immediate access to your new health reports.”4

The singular downside to unlocking the health reports later, should you ever decide to do so, is that you’ll pay a little more: it costs $99 to do ancestry only, $199 to do health + ancestry, and $125 to unlock the health reports, so $99 + $125 is a penalty of $24 to decide later you want to see the health reports.5

Is the health testing worth it? You have to make that decision yourself. I can only tell you that the health reports for test-takers in the United States, after the FDA kerfuffle, are far less comprehensive than they used to be, or than they are outside of the U.S.

Right now, those who are newly-tested and get the health reports get seven wellness reports (lactose intolerance, saturated fat & weight, alcohol flush reaction, caffeine consumption, deep sleep, muscle composition and sleep movement), 22 traits reports ranging from taste and smell to facial features to hair to physical responses, and 41 carrier status reports for conditions ranging from cystic fibrosis to Zellweger Syndrome Spectrum (PEX1-Related).

Those who previously tested with 23andMe get fewer reports — the same seven wellness reports, only 19 traits reports and no carrier status reports. (We do get the previous archived health reports if we chose to archive them.)

In both cases, the health reports are far less comprehensive than you can get by running your raw data through the third party site Promethease for a whopping $5.6

So… your choice on the health + ancestry option, but at least the ancestry only option is back to being reasonably priced.

Whether testing with 23andMe at all is worth it, remember one thing: this kind of research is fishing for cousins using your DNA as bait. So the right company for you to test with is the company where your critical match has tested. Which company is that? You’ll never know until you test — and encounter that critical match. That cousin with the family Bible or the family photographs you’ve never seen.

You pays your money, you takes your chances.


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “23andMe suspends health tests,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 6 Dec 2013 ( : accessed 15 Oct 2016).
  2. See ibid., “The winds of change,” posted 8 Nov 2015.
  3. See ibid., “Really, 23andMe? Really?,” posted 17 July 2016.
  4. How can I upgrade from Ancestry to Health+Ancestry?,” How It Works, 23andMe ( : accessed 15 Oct 2016).
  5. Ibid.
  6. See Judy G. Russell, “A healthy choice,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 13 Sep 2015 ( : accessed 15 Oct 2016).
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