AncestryDNA Review

A touchstone in the genealogy community, Ancestry’s 15+ million customer database and massive collection of digitized historical records make it an ideal starting point for performing a DNA test. AncestryDNA allows users to identify and contact living relatives, connect their test results to their family tree, and offers scaling subscription options which allow users to connect to a collection of American and international records that’s nearly 20 billion strong.

In a nutshell…

Compared to other DNA testing kits, AncestryDNA is an excellent choice if you’re looking to connect with living relatives. The test offers a customer database that’s many times larger than those of other DNA tests, improving the possibility of finding genetic matches and allowing users to connect with matches via an anonymous messaging system. Although utilizing Ancestry’s historical records database is part of their subscription service, the convenience and value of the bundled service exceeds most other options for the average researcher.

Strengths

  • With a database of more than 15 million users, there’s a good chance of finding living relatives
  • Ancestry.com boasts a strong online genealogy community that’s full of concrete resources, and it allows users to connect with their matches via forums and an anonymous messaging system
  • Users’ DNA results are stored on the site indefinitely, and can be linked to an Ancestry family tree or downloaded as raw data for use on other genealogy sites

Limitations

  • The AncestryDNA test is an autosomal DNA test, which traces genetic information back 4-5 generations; separate and bundled mtDNA and Y-DNA tests that trace data from your mother’s side and your father’s side are not available through this DNA test kit
  • Although the community of users is large, all users may choose to opt out of being included in the DNA database, which may preclude certain matches
  • Viewing family trees created by living relatives requires a monthly or yearly Ancestry subscription

How Does the AncestryDNA Test Work?

When individuals test their DNA using a home collection kit, they are typically performing one of three tests.

  • mtDNA. This test measures the mitochondrial DNA which all people receive from their mothers and which all mothers pass on to their children. mtDNA changes only fractionally over time, which makes it a useful marker in tracking living maternal relatives and motherline ancestry.
  • Y-DNA. This test can only be performed on those with a Y chromosome. The test traces the subject’s direct paternal ancestry, as the Y chromosome is inherited by sons from fathers with virtually no change. Much like mtDNA, this lack of variance makes a Y-DNA test an efficient way to identify common paternal ancestry; though biological women can’t take the test, they can have their father, brother, paternal uncle or first paternal cousin do so in order to gain more insight into their fatherline.
  • Autosomal DNA. This is the most common type of DNA test, which assesses the DNA a subject has received from their ancestors collectively. You received 50% of our autosomal DNA from each parent, who in turn received 50% of theirs from each of their parents. Because this is a broad test, it becomes less effective at identifying matches within about five generations, but is still a helpful tool for finding living relatives and is often less expensive than mtDNA and Y-DNA tests.

At this time, autosomal DNA testing is the only service offered by AncestryDNA. That’s not a bad thing – in fact, it’s an ideal starting point for users who are new to genealogy, as it can help users figure out the basics of their family history. Because the test is less in-depth than an mtDNA or Y-DNA test, the out-of-pocket cost is generally less.

The test can reveal a connection to living relatives within five generations, meaning that it’s possible to match with relatives as distant as fifth cousins based on a user’s test results. It also provides some general information about the user’s ethnic background, but can’t directly reveal whether matches or ethnicities are maternally or paternally linked.

Although autosomal tests don’t provide specific details about motherlines and fatherlines, users who build family trees may be able to successfully determine whether matches are maternal or paternal through the ThruLines tool. Those who test immediate family members will also be better able to match ethnicity estimates to maternal or paternal lines.

Many people won’t need mtDNA or Y-DNA tests. If you do, then these companies are your best option.

What’s Contained In My Kit?

The AncestryDNA testing kit includes instructions for completing your test, a saliva collection tube with a funnel, and a small plastic envelope to place the saliva sample in when testing is complete. Also included is an activation code, which must be used before submitting the kit in order to link the test results to an online profile. A postage-paid return envelope completes the kit, and can be placed into any mailbox once sample collection is complete.

The Testing Experience

The AncestryDNA testing kit is designed to be accessible and easy to understand for users of all experience levels. The first step is purchasing a testing kit. Unlike some competitors, Ancestry sells tests exclusively online, which means you’ll need to ship a kit to your home.

When purchasing, you can choose from standard shipping, which typically takes 7 – 10 business days, or expedited shipping, which takes 2 – 3 business days, for a price increase. After you’ve bought your kit, it’s a good time to set up a free account on Ancestry’s website — if you don’t do it now, you’ll be required to do so when registering your testing kit.

When your kit has arrived and you’re ready to test, it’s wise to begin by registering the kit. This assures that once it’s been submitted, it will be linked to your Ancestry profile so you can see your results when processing is complete. If you don’t activate your kit, your results will be lost, so this is very important. This process connects your account to your test via its serial number.

Once you’ve activated, it’s time to follow the enclosed instructions for creating and mailing your specimen. The kit contains a clear plastic tube that’s half-filled with a blue liquid and is topped by a funnel tip that reduces mess during sample creation. It’s important that you don’t eat, drink, brush your teeth, smoke, or chew gum for at least half an hour before testing, as these factors can interfere with the test’s accuracy.

After you have filled the specimen tube with saliva and followed the instructions for sealing, you’ll be instructed to place it within a small plastic envelope. That envelope will be placed inside the larger postage-paid mailer, and can be dropped into any mailbox to ship it back to Ancestry for testing.

When and How Will I Receive My Results?

In approximately six to eight weeks, you will receive an email from Ancestry telling you that your results are ready. If you’ve registered to do so, you may also receive this information in the form of a text alert. When you’re ready to access your results, simply access Ancestry’s site via your computer and click on ‘DNA’ to start perusing.

Your Results Explained

Once you’ve received your text alert or email, you’ll view your results by logging into the Ancestry website and clicking on ‘DNA’ in the top text menu.

Your welcome page. What do you want to do?

When viewing your results on the Ancestry website, they will be divided into three categories: your DNA story, your DNA matches, and the ThruLines tool.

DNA Story (Includes Ethnicity Estimates)

The DNA Story section of your test results breaks down your genetic ethnicity results into regions and percentages.

Your DNA Story section includes ethnicity estimates.

Ancestry compares your DNA data against samples from over 500 worldwide regions, some of which may seem fairly broad at first glance, especially for those with European or Irish ancestry. Your results are displayed in the form of a pie chart on the landing page and on an interactive, color-coded map within the DNA Story page.

The interactive map is helpful in guiding you toward more specific points of origin, especially if your ethnicity seems broadly grouped. As you click on each region of origin, the color graduation will help you determine the broad area from which your ancestors likely originated. A list of your ancestors’ most probable countries of origin is also provided, as is a short educational blurb about their history, migration, and culture.

DNA Matches

Your DNA matches are a list of people who have taken the AncestryDNA test, chosen to add their results to the database, and who have been shown to be your living relatives.

Ancestry makes it easy to see a list of family members arranged by strength of relationship.

Your matches will be listed in order from your closest to most distant relations, with the broadest classification being estimated as your 5th to 8th cousins. Because of the nature of autosomal DNA and the way family trees branch over time, it’s likely that the majority of your matches will fall into the class of distant relatives — you’re simply mathematically likely to have more of them.

Each individual match is listed as their name or the username they signed up under. Ancestry doesn’t require participants to ever tie their legal name to their DNA, so you may be left speculating about your connection to some matches; the ThruLines tool can be helpful here, which you’ll learn about next. Your match’s projected relationship to you is once again noted, as is your shared DNA and whether or not your match has made a family tree on Ancestry. You’ll also have the ability to create custom groups and add matches to them for organizational purposes, or note a match’s relevance by ‘starring’ it, making it easy to find again later.

In order to find out more specific information about a match, all you’ll have to do is click their name or username. There, you’ll see their profile, including whether or not they’ve made their own family tree on Ancestry. If they have, you’ll see a list of any ancestors present in both your trees as determined by the ThruLines tool, but you’ll need a monthly or yearly Ancestry account to view their full family tree.

You’ll also be able to compare your ethnicity estimates side by side, as well as see a list of matches that you and your relative share. Although autosomal DNA tests don’t directly give motherline and fatherline results, ethnicity comparisons and lists of shared matches can help you categorize matches as maternal or paternal, especially when immediate and close family members also take the test.

Finally, you’ll have the option to contact your matches through an anonymous messaging system. No personal data is shared when contacting your match, but it’s notable that not everyone who takes a test continues to view match updates and read messages, especially if they’ve taken the test at someone else’s behest. Clicking on your match’s name or username again within their AncestryDNA profile will take you to their Ancestry account profile, which can tell you broadly how recently they’ve logged in.

ThruLines

Unique to Ancestry, the ThruLines service simplifies the process of understanding how you’re connected to your matches.

Ancrestry’s ThruLines is an advanced family tree view with lots of functionality.

There’s just one caveat — it only works when both you and your matches have made trees on the Ancestry site. Creating a tree is free, but using Ancestry’s huge records database, which seriously simplifies the process, requires a monthly or yearly membership.

The ThruLines section of your results lists your direct ancestors from your parents back to your fifth great-grandparents as notated on your tree, comprising up to a potential 255 ancestors. As you mouse over each ancestor, you’ll see how many of your DNA matches have also listed that ancestor in their family tree. Again, the more distant your relatives become, the higher the likelihood of match connections is.

In order to evaluate you and your match’s shared connection to your ancestor, click on their name or image. This generates a family tree segment that combines data from both your and your match’s Ancestry tree to show how you are related. If living relatives listed on your match’s tree are part of your shared connection, you won’t be able to see those names unless that information has been made public, according to Ancestry policy. While this doesn’t always clarify a match’s identity outright, it can help to narrow down who they might be to you.

Is the Ancestry DNA Test Accurate?

Although it may feel like DNA testing for genealogical purposes is relatively new, it’s simply more accessible now than ever. The technology is improving all the time, and AncestryDNA strives to provide results that are over 99% accurate for each marker tested.

This figure is offered by the company with an awareness that the understanding of DNA’s genetic indicators continues to progress, and as such, they continue to update your interactive map and ethnicity breakdown as new information becomes available. Additionally, although the degree of regional accuracy in results is high, it’s also important to understand that migration can influence genetic origin in unknowable ways and lead to unexpected results.

Will Ancestry DNA Keep My Information Private?

If you’re concerned about your privacy, AncestryDNA’s dedication to protecting your data is reassuring. The company will never share or sell your information, so any sharing or publicizing of information generated by your test is done at your discretion.

Even taking the test can be a fully anonymous experience, as your sample never technically needs to be connected to your legal name. Instead, your sample is linked to an anonymous ID number, which shares data to a profile that you can opt into or out of publicizing.

If you do share your test results, only your living relatives will ever be able to see them. You also have the option to download your raw data, delete your results, or even have the company destroy your DNA sample at will.

How Does AncestryDNA Compare to the Competition?

AncestryDNA vs. Family Tree DNA

The large user base offered by AncestryDNA means that, overall, there’s a greater chance of finding living relatives through the Ancestry service. That said, both of these services offer rich online communities full of researchers who are eager to help as well as genealogical records that can be invaluable in tracing your family’s origins. Family Tree DNA also offers both mtDNA and Y-DNA tests at additional cost, while Ancestry currently only offers standard autosomal DNA tests. This complete review of Family Tree DNA will tell you if you need the extra tests.

AncestryDNA vs. Living DNA

While Living DNA is exceptional at offering specific, in-depth regional results to testers with origins in the UK, their ethnicity groupings are far broader elsewhere, and the lack of a database of matches means that family matching is far more limited than it is when using Ancestry. Living DNA’s tests do, however, offer broad haplogroup testing of mtDNA and yDNA while Ancestry’s do not.

AncestryDNA vs. My Heritage

With 42 ethnic regions and a database of 1.4 million users, it’s a bit harder to get specific answers and long lists of matches using My Heritage. Like Ancestry, it doesn’t offer mtDNA or Y-DNA tests, but it does offer a chromosome browser that allows you to compare your chromosomes to those of living relatives.

My Heritage also allows users to upload raw data captured by other companies’ tests, a feature that Ancestry doesn’t allow. Both companies offer health and wellness data add-ons for an upcharge. Learn more about My Heritage DNA testing with this complete review.

Read next: An in-depth comparison of AncestryDNA vs. My Heritage.

AncestryDNA vs. 23andMe

Users looking for hyper-specific information about their ethnic origins may find more success with 23andMe, which uses over 1,000 ethnic regions when breaking down test results. However, the site’s user database sits around 1 million, which is about 15 times smaller than Ancestry’s; this means it’s harder to match with living relatives.

23andMe performs broad haplogroup testing for mother and fatherlines, but no separate mtDNA and Y-DNA tests are available. For this, you’ll need to turn to companies like FamilyTreeDNA.

Like Ancestry, 23andMe offer health data at an additional charge. Here is a more detailed review of 23andMe.

Read next: An in-depth comparison of AncestryDNA vs. 23andMe.

Ancestry DNA: Frequently Asked Questions

Will I Be Able To Locate Living Family Members?

Yes — in fact, AncestryDNA may provide the best chance at connecting you with living matches, thanks to a database of users that’s over 15 million-strong. It’s important to know, however, that those who take the test aren’t required to add their results to the database, so you won’t be able to find living relatives unless they want to be found. Even so, the database is still many times larger than that of the four other major genealogical testing companies, and the likelihood of matches is significant.

Send messages to your relatives from your DNA Match page.

You’ll be able to connect with your matches via an anonymous messaging system, but can also reach out to them via forums. The site lists your matches in order of their genetic closeness to you and notes a projected relationship (ex: 2nd cousin), and creating a family tree on the Ancestry site can help you and matches who’ve also created trees to determine your common ancestors.

If you are less interested in living relative but instead want to follow your family roots way back in time, you may need to use other tests. The AncestryDNA kit currently performs an autosomal DNA test. This is only useful for going back five or six generations. This guide to the best DNA test for ancestry will help if you want to go further back.

Does the Test Measure Neanderthal DNA?

Science can be relatively certain that human beings interbred with Neanderthals about 40 millennia ago, which means that you may well be a carrier of Neanderthal DNA. Unfortunately, Ancestry’s autosomal DNA test only has the capacity to measure your DNA going back approximately 4-5 generations, so it can’t officially tell you if you’re part primitive.

Does the Test Measure Native American Ancestry?

Identifying Native American ancestry is a common goal, but Ancestry’s regions can’t help you to pin down a specific tribe or tribes you may have descended from. The test can establish confidently whether or not you’re descended from people who lived in North and South America, and may even offer concrete regional data, but can’t determine more about Native ancestry than that and cannot be used as documentation of Native American descent.

Is It Possible to Access My Health or Medical Information With the Ancestry DNA Test?

Recently, Ancestry has added the option for members who’ve tested to purchase the Ancestry Health Core or Ancestry Health Plus membership add-ons. Both have a base cost of $49, and offer the following features:

  • Information on cancer risks, blood and heart health, carrier status for certain illnesses
  • Data on genetic influence on vitamin levels, intolerance to lactose, consumption of caffeine
  • A family health history tool with access to genetic counseling resources
    Interactive online seminars and educational media for people at risk of some illnesses
  • A printable report to share with your doctor

The Ancestry Health Plus membership plans to utilize next generation sequencing technology arriving in 2020 to provide members with ongoing health updates and personalized insight at a cost of an additional $49 per six months. If selected, the first membership charge will take place when the new sequencing service goes live, but the membership may be terminated at any time.

Will My Results Be Clearer If Other Family Members Also Take the Ancestry DNA Test?

Due to variance in DNA, it can be helpful to have other immediate and close family members complete an AncestryDNA test in order to identify the largest possible number of living relatives. If you’d rather not spring for an mtDNA or Y-DNA test, testing close family members from both your maternal and paternal lines can help you to determine the origin of your ethnic groupings. It can also help to create a better picture of how you may be related to matches who haven’t created a family tree and can’t be viewed through ThruLines.

Can I Export My Raw Data For Use on Other Sites?

Yes! Ancestry has made exporting your DNA easy, convenient, free, and anonymous. In order to access your raw data, simply go to your main DNA Insights homepage and click on Settings in the upper right-hand corner. Scroll to the bottom of the page to the heading Actions, where you’ll be able to download your raw data in the form of a .zip file for use on other sites.

How Much Does the Test Cost?

Currently, the base price of the AncestryDNA test is $99. However, sales on the test are fairly common, often heavily advertised, and may save you as much as $40. Sales on the kit often happen around major holidays, especially Black Friday, Christmas, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, so be aware of this and plan your purchase accordingly.

Shipping the kit to your home costs $10.00, and sales tax may be included on your purchase depending on your jurisdiction. Currently, Ancestry will only ship kits to users who live in the US, UK, or Ireland.

While it doesn’t cost any further money to view and interact with your results once the test is complete, an Ancestry membership will allow you to view family trees created by your matches and access a scaling database of genealogical records that make accurate tree creation much easier. Ancestry offers three membership tiers currently.

  • U.S. Discovery. Allows access to all U.S. records on the site for $19.99/monthly or $99 every six months
  • World Explorer. Allows access to all U.S. and international records on the site for $34.99/monthly or $149 every six months
  • All Access. Allows access to all records on Ancestry as well as a newspapers.com basic membership and a fold3.com membership for $44.99/monthly or $199 every six months

If you choose to add on Ancestry Health Core or Health Plus features, expect to pay a base cost of $49. For those who choose a Health Plus membership, a charge of $49 every six months will apply pending the release of new features next year.

Should I Give Kits as Gifts?

Since testing your family members can help to provide clearer results when identifying living matches, an AncestryDNA kit is a gift you’ll both enjoy. Many people enjoy having the opportunity to gain insight into their ethnic background and genetic makeup, and buying the kits in multiples actually makes more fiscal sense — the company offers a discount for buying more than one kit at a time, sometimes even offering a freebie when a certain number is met. They don’t expire, so buying them on sale and waiting for gift-giving events is also a plausible option.

Expert Tips

  1. Because Ancestry currently offers testing only in the US and UK currently, first and second-generation Americans and Britons may have difficulty finding any close matches on the service. Over time, it’s likely that the number of connections available for these users will increase.
  2. Those looking for genetic proof of ancestry for admission into the Daughters or Sons of the American Revolution (DAR & SAR) will need to choose a different test — the organizations only accept Y-DNA and mtDNA at this time.

The Bottom Line

AncestryDNA offers users a multitude of helpful tools for connecting with living relatives. Their database of over 15 million users far exceeds those of their competitors, and their site allows you to connect your results to your family tree in order to achieve a clearer picture of your familial connections. Their interactive world map makes it easier to understand your ethnic breakdown, and the test provides an experience that guides the amateur researcher while also satisfying deeper curiosities and providing access to raw data without compromising privacy. With or without an Ancestry membership, the informative kit continues to earn its place as one of the most popular DNA testing services.

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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