Part of my family history is a mystery. For several years I’ve been piecing together clues on FamilySearch.org from the oldest generation in my family. But between the confusion of World War II and the poor record-keeping practices in some foreign countries, I’ve hit a lot of roadblocks. I also want the truth and not necessarily what misinformation might have been passed on through the generations.
Hoping to find some answers, I bought a couple of home DNA kits. There are several kits to choose from. Even National Geographic now has a DNA test kit. But 23andMe and AncestryDNA are the two most popular, so I decided to try them both. Which DNA test is better? Each test has its advantages and disadvantages. Here’s a comparison between 23andMe vs Ancestry DNA and what you should know before you buy a home DNA kit and expose your DNA info.
23 and Me Health + Ancestry
I had heard a lot of great things about 23andMe, so I was anxious to try their product. 23andMe offers two different versions of their DNA test. The cheaper $99 version just has the basic ancestry test. That’s fine if all you care about is your family tree. But the $199 version provides you with both ancestry info and a DNA health scan. If you are going to spit in a tube and mail it to a lab, then you might as well get the health scan done too.
The test itself is very easy. No needles or blood required. Just spit into a tube, seal the tube and put it in the mail. You don’t even have to read the instructions. Just follow along step by step with the pictures.
23andMe’s health report includes physical traits, wellness, and carrier status. Personally, I found the health scan fascinating and I’m glad I had that part done. It’s where I’ve spent most of my time after receiving my results. Here’s a breakdown of what is provided in each report.
23andMe Health Report
I was nervous and anxious to get my health results. The 23andMe health report will tell you some basic stuff like your likelihood to have red hair, a unibrow, motion sickness, or Celiac disease (allergic to glutton). But the 23andMe health report will also tell you some of the more scary or serious stuff like your carrier status for things like polycystic kidney disease, Bloom syndrome, cancer, cystic fibrosis.
- Carrier Status Reports: Carrier variants affect the health of your future family. Just because you are a “carrier” doesn’t mean that you have that genetic condition. You can, however, pass a genetic variant down to your children. Odds may increase if your partner is also a carrier.
- Health Predisposition Reports: These reports detail your Genetic Health Risk. They tell you what genetic variants you possess that have been associated with certain health conditions. The information in this report will tell you if you have variants typically connected with late-onset Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease or the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes associated with ovarian, breast and prostate cancer.
- Traits Report: Your DNA influences everything from your senses and appearance to eye color and even taste preferences (i.e. salty vs sweet). The Traits Report is just their best guess. Meaning, the different items in the report just mean that you are more likely to have a trait. It’s not definite, but it’s really close. All of my predictions were 95% right. And the things that my 23andMe health report missed, like a cilantro taste aversion, were true with a close relative of mine, like my dad.
- Wellness Reports: Have you always thought that things like caffeine or milk behave differently with you than other people? Your DNA influences how different foods and activities work with your body.
23andMe Ancestry Report
From immediate family to distant cousins, according to 23andMe, I have 1,000+ DNA relatives in their system. In addition to your DNA relatives, the 23andMe ancestry report also provides info on your Ancestry Composition, Neanderthal Ancestry, and Paternal and Maternal Haplogroups.
- DNA Relatives: 23andMe’s DNA Relatives tool will show you all of your relatives, predict your relationship and tell you how much DNA you have in common. To do this, they use a technique called genotyping. The human genome has 3 billion base pairs of DNA. Genotyping technology searches for shorter DNA sequences and uses similar groups to predict your relatives. 23andMe will even show you all on your DNA relatives on a map. Thanks to 23andMe, I discovered that I have a 5th cousin near me that I didn’t even know.
- Ancestry Composition: Your 23andMe Ancestry Composition provides a percentage breakdown of what you’re made out of. My entire life, I had always thought I was part Scottish. It was something that my grandmother had told me. Now I know that’s not exactly true. While I may have some Scottish relatives, percentage-wise, my ancestry composition is more French & German than British & Irish.
- Neanderthal Ancestry: Before Homosapiens became the dominant human species, we shared the planet with an ancient human subspecies called Neanderthals. Although they went extinct 40,000 years ago, most humans today have some Neanderthal variants in their DNA. About 20% of Neanderthal DNA survived in modern humans. Traits like straight hair, height and sneezing habits may trace back to your Neanderthal DNA.
- Paternal Haplogroup: 23andMe can trace the journey of your father’s family over thousands of generations of history. By comparing the genetic markers in Y-chromosomes in men, DNA researchers were able to build a genealogical paternal lineage tree that goes back 27,000+ years to a single man from East Africa.
- Maternal Haplogroup: Information on your maternal haplogroup traces your ancestry through your mother’s mother, but not your mother’s father. Mitochondrial DNA is passed only from mother to daughter between the generations.
AncestryDNA By Ancestry.com
While 23andMe is more of a scientific-like experience, Ancestry’s AncestryDNA test is closer to a family history lesson. The Ancestry DNA results report doesn’t provide health and wellness info. But for a ~$100 kit, Ancestry is fantastic at tracing your family lineage through historical documents and connecting you with your ancestors.
Similar to 23andMe, Ancestry analyzes your DNA using genotyping technology. But they also match you to your ancestors using historical documents. Ancestry will use things like marriage certificates, census data and military records to build your family tree.
Ancestry DNA Story
When you combine the DNA results with Ancestry’s database, you can get some pretty incredible results. For example, Ancestry can use both DNA and historical records to show you your family migration history.
23andMe vs Ancestry
Both 23andMe and Ancestry can help you discover a lot about your family as well as yourself. So which test should you buy? If you are only getting one test, then 23andMe Health + Ancestry is probably the test you want. The Health Report is so compelling that it’s hard to not get it. But if a family tree is really important to you, then definitely go with AncestryDNA. And if you can afford it, do both tests.
If neither 23andMe or AncestryDNA is exactly what you are looking for, don’t worry. There are dozens of other DNA testing companies each with their own unique features.
I just want to offer one point of caution before you put your family privacy into a tube and mail your spit to a DNA testing lab. Once you get your DNA scan, there are no more family secrets. For example, one of my friends discovered a secret half-brother the same age as herself from an affair her dad had in the 1960s. Awkward! Also, several of these DNA tests have helped authorities solve cold cases. Your quest to discover your family history might reveal a relative with a criminal past.
So consider yourself warned. Your DNA test may reveal new family connections or even put some of your family members in jail. It’s amazing what a little bit of spit can do.