23andMe vs AncestryDNA

If you’re interested in investigating your genetic background, there’s no doubt that you’ve heard of both AncestryDNA and 23andMe. They’re the two most frequently purchased DNA testing kits; some of their features are fairly similar, but others are unique, and might be the foundation of your purchasing decision. On the fence? Check out our in-depth, side-by-side overview of both test kits to figure out which one is right for you and your family.

Side by Side Comparison

AncestryDNA

Strengths

  • A huge member base, including the largest genetic matching database of any home testing kit with 15 million people
  • A strong genealogical community, including the ability to connect with matches through a messaging system
  • A family tree building tool that can be linked to DNA results, with a vast collection of legitimate resources that can be utilized by subscribers

Downsides

  • No mtDNA or Y-DNA tests are available from the company, so motherline and fatherline ancestry can’t be traced with these kits
  • Ancestry won’t accept raw data sourced from other sites — in order to process your DNA, you’ll need to test with one of their kits

Where to Buy: Ancestry.com

Number of Ethnicity Regions: Over 1,000

Types of Testing Available:

  • AncestryDNA – Autosomal DNA testing
  • AncestryHealth – Autosomal DNA and wellness testing

Family Matching: Yes, with a database of over 15 million users

Health Screening: Yes — it’s a recent addition, and previous test-takers can upgrade without needing to purchase a new test

Price: See latest price

Read our full AncestryDNA review.

23andMe

Strengths

  • Offers maternal and paternal haplogroup reports as part of their basic autosomal test bundle
  • One of the first DNA testing companies to offer health and wellness insights as an option
  • Option to view highly detailed chromosomal breakdown of ethnicity results

Downsides

  • The service doesn’t offer a family tree creation tool, so those looking to create a tree will need to use an off-site resource
  • The company has had issues with meeting FDA guidelines in the past; however, there are no incidents in recent history

Where to Buy:  23andMe.com, but the test can also be purchased at major retailers like Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and Walmart, among others.

Number of Ethnicity

Regions: Over 1,500

Types of Testing Available:

  • Ancestry + Traits – Autosomal DNA testing, maternal and paternal haplogroup information, insight into traits
  • Health + Ancestry – Autosomal DNA testing, maternal and paternal haplogroup information, insight into health and wellness
  • VIP Health + Ancestry – Autosomal DNA testing, maternal and paternal haplogroup information, insight into traits and health/wellness, priority lab processing and customer support, one-on-one results walkthrough

Family Matching: Yes, with a database of over 10 million users

Health Screening: Yes

Price: See latest price

Read our full 23andMe review.

AncestryDNA dominates when it comes to providing a sizable records database and intuitive family tree creation tool, as it gives those interested in tracing their family history a straightforward starting point that prompts them through the process. Having the largest member database of any DNA testing service doesn’t hurt either, making it likely that those who test will have a bevy of matches to review.

23andMe is a strong rival when it comes to database size, ethnic regions, and health and wellness testing. The company has a user base of over 10 million people, ethnicity testing that’s comparable to Ancestry’s, and health and wellness results with content that’s been refined through years of use.
Both companies have upsides and downsides, so read on for a deep dive into the core features offered by both testing services.

The Results Compared

Let’s dive in and explore each feature. You’ll soon see where each company excels or falls short. Start here if you want to see all of the best DNA test kits compared.

Ethnicity Estimates

If you’re curious about the exact nature of your ethnic makeup, you’re not alone; it’s a common reason for purchasing a DNA testing kit, and it’s very common for users to discover that their genetic background is far more diverse than their word-of-mouth ethnicity story may have led them to believe.

AncestryDNA and 23andMe both offer ethnicity estimates as a part of their testing service, and both are at the top of their class when it comes to the number of regions offered. If you’re determined to have your sample tested against the maximum number of ethnic regions available, 23andMe offers a grand total that’s over 1,500, making them top dog in terms of ethnicity testing; in comparison, AncestryDNA states their number of ethnic regions as “over 1,000”, taking the second place spot among all competitors.

The big difference between the two comes down to how the results are interpreted and presented. What the two services have in common is a feature that’s typical of DNA testing services that include ethnicity results, that being an interactive, color-coded map that allows you to visualize the world regions that match with your DNA.

In both cases, a key sorting your ethnic regions by percent from largest to smallest helps users see which aspects of their genetic ethnicity are dominant. Additionally, clicking on highlighted regions can offer additional detail on sub-regional ancestry predictions as well as background information about the ethnicity and culture of note. 23andMe offers an additional feature called Chromosome Painting, in which users can view a diagram of their chromosomes that visualizes where data from each ethnic region is present.

If you’re using Ancestry, you’ll have the option to see how your ethnicity results stack up to those of your matches, which can make it easier to define family lines for the purpose of family tree creation. Ancestry allows you to compare a bar graph of your ethnicity against that of a single match, noting similarities and differences.

Users of 23andMe don’t have that option; as an alternative, they can compare chromosomes with their family matches, using their own chromosome painting feature to note which ethnicities they may share with the match in question.

Family Matching

Connecting with long-lost or unknown relatives and filling in gaps on the family tree is another common reason that people and clans decide to attempt a DNA test. Those looking to match with family will be heartened to know that both AncestryDNA and 23andMe offer familial matching, but there are a few differences to look out for.

Ancestry’s massive user base means finding familial matches on the site is pretty easy, and users can view an ethnicity comparison and the matches they share with every family member in their results. In order to view family trees made by their matches, however, it’s necessary to have a monthly or yearly subscription, which can be costly. If you’re focused on building a great family tree, though, a subscription can be very worthwhile — it not only connects you to a huge database of records, but allows you to pull valuable information from trees made by your matches.

On the flip side, 23andMe’s user base is comparably large, but users can opt into or out of being a part of the company’s shared database. This can mean that some potential matches could be eliminated from your results in their attempt to preserve their privacy.

When viewing matches on 23, you’ll see their display name, sex, a profile photo if they’ve added one, your percentage of shared DNA and the number of segments shared, and relatives you have in common. Clicking on their profile allows you to compare a visualization of your shared chromosome segments and see if they’ve added any familial surnames or familial points of origin to their profile.

Both services allow users to message back and forth with matches without requiring a subscription fee.

Tests Offered

Generally speaking, there are three types of DNA tests offered by DNA testing services. They include:

  • Autosomal DNA testing. Accurately tests for ethnicity and familial matching within 5 generations of DNA as received equally from the maternal and paternal line
  • mtDNA testing. Also called mitochondrial DNA, mtDNA is passed down from every mother to all her children, male and female; this DNA is also part of a maternal haplogroup, which identifies a common ancient female ancestor and helps today’s amateur genealogists to track their motherline migration
  • Y-DNA testing. The flip side of mtDNA, Y-DNA is passed down by all fathers, but only to their children with a Y chromosome. This means that women curious about their fatherline DNA will need to have their father, brother, paternal uncle, or paternal male cousin take a Y-DNA test for these results.

At this time, both DNA services only offer autosomal DNA testing. MyHeritage only has one basic test kit available. AncestryDNA recently expanded their offerings from one test to two, including:

  • AncestryDNA. Offers autosomal DNA testing, family matching, ethnicity results
  • Ancestry Health. Offers all included in AncestryDNA as well as health reports and wellness insights
  • Y-DNA testing. The flip side of mtDNA, Y-DNA is passed down by all fathers, but only to their children with a Y chromosome. This means that women curious about their fatherline DNA will need to have their father, brother, paternal uncle, or paternal male cousin take a Y-DNA test for these results.

Though health and wellness results are often an option when purchasing a DNA kit, they are not technically a “type” of test, they are merely an additional feature that can be evaluated from a sample via lab testing.

Both AncestryDNA and 23andMe offer autosomal DNA testing, and neither offer a dedicated mtDNA or Y-DNA test or bundle. However, 23andMe offers maternal and paternal haplogroup information and a basic rundown of motherline and fatherline migration, an excellent value for autosomal test — mtDNA and Y-DNA tests are often far more costly. Female users should note that they will not receive Y-DNA/paternal haplogroup results, as these are only available to male users.

If you require detailed mtDNA and YDNA testing, then FamilyTreeDNA offers the most thorough testing.

Ancestry currently offers two test options:

  • AncestryDNA. A basic autosomal DNA test which provides an ethnicity estimate, family matches, and insight into the history and geography of ethnically relevant areas
  • AncestryHealth. All the features included in AncestryDNA, as well as a personalized report on health with insights that can be put into action, access to information about genetic counseling, and a family health history tool that rests largely on information input by the user

Meanwhile, 23andMe has three test options:

  • Ancestry + Traits Service. A basic autosomal DNA test with bundled maternal and paternal haplogroup information, details on DNA-related traits including those linked to Neanderthal ancestry, and an opt-in matching database
  • Health + Ancestry Service. All of the features included in Ancestry + Traits, as well as health predisposition, carrier status, and wellness reports that can offer actionable insight to both test takers and their doctors
  • VIP Health + Ancestry Service. All of the features included in the previous two tests, as well as priority lab processing of test results, dedicated customer service, and an one-on-one analysis and read-through of your results with a trained associate from 23andMe

Health Screening

If you’re curious about what your DNA can tell you about your health, you’re far from alone. It’s an in-demand service, and a market that 23andMe has been cornering since its inception (albeit with a bit of initial pushback from the FDA, but things seem to have evened out).

AncestryDNA has recently copped to the demand for health screening features, rolling out their AncestryHealth test at 1.5x the cost of their original test offering. Users who’ve already taken an initial Ancestry test won’t need to shell out big bucks for health insights, though, as the company is offering AncestryHealth Core — a health assessment of their existing sample — to users at about 66% off the cost of a full test kit.

As 23andMe’s health and wellness testing has been around a bit longer, their results are more in-depth. They include reports about your health predisposition, including predisposition to selected variants of the breast cancer gene, late-onset Alzheimer’s, and other potentially debilitating illnesses; this is information that can be relevant to your doctor, and the results make it easy to print and share the info with medical professionals.

You’ll also learn about your carrier status reports for over 40 conditions — this doesn’t mean that you yourself will ever experience them, but it does mean that you’re a genetic carrier, which can be relevant to your children. Also included are over five wellness reports on aspects of your well being like your sleep, weight, and ability to process lactose.

When you choose AncestryHealth, the experience is quite a bit different. Instead of a real direct-to-consumer health and wellness result, you’ll be required to answer a physician’s questionnaire and be approved for test ordering. You won’t have to make an appointment or pay additional money — it’s included in the kit price — but the barrier to entry is enough to make some people hesitate to try the new service, especially since the questionnaire is given after the test has been purchased.

Users who make it through the initial questionnaire and take the test will receive personalized health reports including some information on carrier status and health and wellness information that can be shared with doctors. Access to genetic counselors is also a part of the initial test fee. You can also track your family health history with an included tool, but it relies solely on your input and knowledge, not your test results.

The Services Compared

Test Kits

As DNA testing kits are designed to be used by people of varying ages and skill levels, they’re relatively straightforward in content and use. Both kits use the saliva sample collection method for specimen creation, which means the contents of the kits themselves are minimal. Wondering what’s included?

AncestryDNA

  • Saliva collection tube
  • Funnel
  • Specimen bag
  • Return box with postage
  • Instructions
  • Online activation code

23andMe

  • Saliva collection tube
  • Specimen bag
  • Instructions
  • Return postage label

A few key points to note: Users of the 23andMe test will notice that they have a postage label rather than a new box. The intent of this is to minimize packaging, encouraging the reuse of the initial test box when shipping the sample back to the company.

In both cases, it’s important that users activate their test kit online before mailing it to the company, assuring they are linked to their sample. It’s always essential to refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, chewing gum, or brushing teeth for at least 30 minutes before a test of this type in order to avoid accuracy issues.

Receiving Your Results

Regardless of which test you choose, the process of receiving your results is very similar. After your sample has been received by Ancestry or 23andMe, you’ll receive an email that the sample is being processed. Processing will take about 6 – 8 weeks. Once your sample has been processed, you will receive an email from the company prompting you to log onto your account via a web browser to receive your genetic information.

Controlling Your DNA Data

Once your sample is in the hands of AncestryDNA or 23andMe, you’re obviously no longer physically in control of what happens to it. If you take no action, the sample remains in their lab indefinitely, theoretically under the guise that it could be used in future testing should you choose to purchase it.

If you’ve obtained all the information you need and don’t feel comfortable with the company hanging onto your sample, both AncestryDNA and 23andMe state that they will destroy DNA samples upon request. Simply contacting customer service can put the request in place, but users who’ve tested in past years and opted into sharing data for research should note that it may not be quite as easy to have your sample destroyed.

Safety and Security

Privacy concerns are one of the biggest issues surrounding direct-to-consumer genetic testing, as many people are hesitant to share such vulnerable and unique data without feeling sure about the hands it winds up in.

Though both companies make strong claims on the fact that no personally identifiable information is tied to your specimen unless you decide to do so, Ancestry still takes heat for a past Privacy Policy that essentially required users to share their test results with the company’s research partners. This hasn’t been the case since 1997, , however, and it’s also factual that neither company requires users to provide their full legal name when providing their sample.

Price

The cost of DNA testing through both AncestryDNA and 23andMe can fluctuate throughout the year, especially around major family gift-giving holidays like Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. The kits go on sale often enough that it’s wise to wait until the price drops — plus, DNA testing kits don’t expire, so it’s a good time to stock up for gifts to give throughout the year.

The base prices for the kits are as follows:

AncestryDNA

  • AncestryDNA: $99
  • AncestryHealth: $149

23andMe

  • Ancestry + Traits Service: $99
  • Health + Ancestry Service: $199
  • VIP Health + Ancestry Service: $499

The Bottom Line

While both AncestryDNA and 23andMe are trusted providers of direct-to-consumer DNA tests, there are differentiating factors that may make one better for you than the other. If you’re focused on finding distant family members and creating an encyclopedic family tree, Ancestry’s massive database of users and resources is an excellent starting point. If your focus leans more toward the specifics of your ethnicity and your future health and wellness, 23andMe has more bang for your buck.
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Hannah H.

Hannah H.

Hannah is both a parent and a freelance journalist and author. You go, girl! She is an impeccable wordsmith and her warm and witty outlook on life makes her pieces a joy to read.

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