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Ancestry Kit Review

Updated on April 19, 2022
Written by
Joel
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If you’re looking for a DNA test that will provide the best odds of finding your ancestors or potential relatives, then check out Ancestry’s DNA test.

Ancestry was initially in the publication of genealogy magazines and books in 1983. It was one of the first companies to computerize family history. 

In 2012, Ancestry offered its first DNA testing kit called AncestryDNA. This product is directly tied to Ancestry’s family tree service. Since then, it has become a powerful tool for finding long-lost relatives. 

Ancestry currently has the most extensive database and most users among major DNA testing companies. As of 2021, it now has 30 billion records and 20 million users.

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This makes Ancestry’s DNA testing kit perfect for amateur genealogists who want to learn about their family histories or find family connections.

In this Ancestry review, let’s look at the company’s products and features, as well as the positives and negatives of this popular DNA testing service.

Quick facts

  • Largest for-profit genealogy company in the world
  • Largest database with 20 million users
  • Access to 30 billion historical records
  • Autosomal DNA test
  • Saliva sample instead of swab sample
  • Over 1,500 global regions for estimating ethnicity
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Products and Prices

Ancestry offers two products: DNA kits and subscriptions. 

Ancestry’s two DNA testing kits are:  

  • AncestryDNA: Helps you find DNA matches and learn about your ethnicity and other genetic information. Costs $99.
  • AncestryDNA Traits: Contains AncestryDNA’s features. In addition, this test helps you look for traits that are influenced by your genetic information. Costs $119.
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If you want to access Ancestry’s massive collection of historical and family resources, then get one of these subscriptions: 

  • U.S. Discovery: Provides access to Ancestry’s U.S. records. Costs $24.99 per month.
  • World Explorer: Provides access to Ancestry’s U.S. and international records. Costs  $39.99 per month. 
  • All Access: Provides complete access to the records of Ancestry.com, Newspapers.com Basic, and Fold3.com. Costs $49.99 per month.

You can expand your family tree and connect with your DNA matches with these subscriptions.

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These monthly services are not cheap. However, there are discounted prices for 6-month memberships if you don’t mind paying bi-annually. 

There’s also a 14-day free trial period if you want to see if the subscriptions are good.

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The Testing Process

You must create an Ancestry account before you order an AncestryDNA kit. If you already have an account, you can use the same login. 

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The AncestryDNA kit contains: 

  • Saliva sample collection tube
  • Stabilizing fluid
  • Instruction booklet
  • Collection Bag
  • Prepaid return package

Once you receive your DNA kit, you need to activate it online using its unique code. This code keeps your sample anonymous. Use this code to track your sample. 

Once you've activated your DNA kit and set up your account, it's time to extract your DNA sample:

  1. Do not eat, drink, or smoke for 30 minutes before collecting your saliva sample.
  2. Fill the tube up with saliva. This looks intimidating at first, but your saliva sample will end up being less than 1/4 of a teaspoon.
  3. Take off the funnel and replace it with the cap full of stabilizing fluid.
  4. Tighten the cap to release the stabilizing fluid into the spit sample.
  5. Shake the tube for at least 5 seconds. This is to make sure the sample mixes with the stabilizing fluid well. Place the tube in the collection bag and mail the completed DNA test to AncestryDNA. Hold on to the card to retain your activation code.
  6. Wait for 6 to 8 weeks to receive your DNA results. (Mine took 16 days.) Ancestry will email you updates as your sample is processed.

The testing lab will extract and analyze your sample. It will generate raw DNA data and compare it to 30 billion records, reference populations, and other data points. 

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AncestryDNA uses autosomal DNA testing. It doesn’t test for mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) and Y-DNA (Y chromosome). Thus, it cannot track your maternal and paternal lines.

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Ancestry Features

Family Tree

Under the “Trees” tab, you can create a family tree. You can populate it with family members using Ancestry’s public records and the trees created by other users. 

However, accessing public records is a subscription service and not included with AncestryDNA and AncestryDNA Trait kits.

These subscription services are not cheap. You have to pay $24.99 to $49.99 every month, depending on the databases you want to access.

Search

Under the “Search” tab, you can look for people in Ancestry’s public records with no need for any genetic information.

You can search for known ancestors. You can use public records to learn things like where they got married, where their children were born, or did they serve in the military. 

Once again, accessing public records is behind subscriptions.  

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DNA

AncestryDNA appears to be strongest in analyzing geographic origins and identifying potential relatives. 

The “DNA” tab provides full results of your ancestral origins. It includes two important reports: 

  • DNA Story: It shows a map of where your ancestors possibly lived, your genetic ethnicity estimates, and communities. 
  • DNA Matches: This allows you to see your matches and be identified as a potential match. You will get information about relatives you may or may not know as long as they took the AncestryDNA test.

Traits

AncestryDNA Traits kit has an add-on feature called “Traits.” 

It tests for more than 30 traits, broken down into four main sections: 

  • Nutrients (like beta-carotene, omega-3, vitamins B12, C, D, and E)
  • Fitness (like endurance, heart rate recovery, and muscle fatigue)
  • Sensory (like alcohol flush, caffeine consumption, and lactose intolerance)
  • Appearance (like eye color, freckles, hair loss, color, or type)

These traits are estimated from DNA alone. They are not as robust as the genetic health test you can get from 23andme or other DNA testing services. 

Ancestry used to offer a DNA test called AncestryHealth. It checks for genetic risks and carrier status. 

However, this feature was discontinued in 2021. Ancestry chose to “focus on family history,” which remains as the company’s core strength. 

Other Features

  • ThruLines: Uses Ancestry trees to suggest how you may be related to your DNA matches through common ancestors.
  • Personal Discoveries: An optional feature where you fill in surveys about yourself and your family. AncestryDNA uses the information to improve its products and create new features.
  • Download DNA Data: You can download your raw DNA data in a text file format. You can upload this raw data to other sites. However, you cannot upload DNA data from other websites to Ancestry.

My Ancestry DNA Test Results

My Ethnicity Estimates

My ethnic regions are based on comparisons of my DNA with AncestryDNA’s reference populations.  

According to Ancestry, the company looks at around 1,000 sections of the user’s DNA. It assigns each DNA section to the ethnic region with a close resemblance. The estimates are expressed in percentages. 

There are currently over 1,500 global regions for making ethnicity estimates. More than half is from Europe, making Ancestry more accurate for people of European descent. 

Check out the complete list of regions on this page

Here are my ethnicity estimates. I can access them through “DNA” > “DNA Story.” 

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KnowYourDNA / Joel

My DNA looks similar to people from these six regions: 

  • Norway (27%)
  • Sweden and Denmark (25%)
  • Germanic Europe (22%)
  • Finland (15%)
  • England and Northwestern Europe (9%)
  • Wales (2%) 

Ethnicity estimates can change as time passes. Ancestry updates results as the number of regions and the countries covered in each region are added. 

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My DNA Communities

Communities are members of AncestryDNA who probably descended from common ancestors. 

Communities will let you know how genetically connected you are to actual persons with ancestors who lived in a particular area. 

I got six communities:  

  • Central and Southern Finland
  • Central and Northern Germany
  • Early Wisconsin Settlers
  • Michigan Settlers
  • Southeastern, Central and Northern Norway
  • Upper Midwest Settlers
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Compared to ethnic regions, communities will connect us to more recent and specific populations and locations.

Like my ethnicity estimates, I can access my communities through “DNA” > “DNA Story.” 

My DNA Matches

Once your DNA data is processed, AncestryDNA will search its database for DNA matches. This action happens regardless of whether you have a linked family tree on Ancestry. 

You can control how much personal information you can share with potential matches. Unless your matches have a public family tree or profile, you can see their display names only. 

Here’s what my DNA matches look like. I can access them through “DNA” > “DNA Matches.” 

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Unfortunately, this feature is hidden behind a paywall. You can’t enjoy this feature unless you choose one of Ancestry’s subscription services. 

My Traits

Traits can be accessed through “DNA” > “Traits.” For each attribute, the person can confirm whether AncestryDNA hits the spot. 

Here are some examples of my reports. 

In my omega-3 report, it says I have typical omega-3 levels. It also contains genetic information and where I can get my omega-3 dose. 

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Here’s my alcohol flush. It provides similar information about my omega-3 status. This time, there’s a percentage of users who have the same level of my alcohol flush. 

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As I looked at my reports, at least half of them were accurate. 

Nevertheless, this feature is not as robust as the genetic health test you can get from 23andme or other DNA testing companies. 

Is Ancestry DNA Accurate?

AncestryDNA has the largest databases of DNA samples worldwide among its competitors. Having more data points increases the odds of getting an accurate DNA match or ethnicity estimate. 

According to Ancestry

“Accuracy is very high when it comes to reading each of the hundreds of thousands of positions (or markers) in your DNA. With current technology, AncestryDNA has, on average, an accuracy rate of over 99 percent for each marker tested.” 

However, the idea that DNA companies can give you results with anywhere near 99% accuracy is false.

The accuracy of various fields can be measured independently. 

For example, ancestry may be accurate if it limits itself to the continental level (like Europe only, Asia, or Africa). Much better if the person is of European descent as most of Ancestry’s regions are in Europe. 

But accuracy may go down as Ancestry goes deeper into the sub-regions. 

When looking for possible relatives, Ancestry states that its accuracy is high, up to the third or fourth cousin level. Thanks to a special algorithm, the company can filter out pieces of shared DNA that look identical but without common ancestors. 

Things get a little trickier when it comes to assigning relationships. Parent-child or sibling relationships are okay. Other connections are harder to set. 

Ancestry’s results may not be perfect. Still, the results can give people an excellent idea of where their ancestors lived or their possible relatives. 

At most, this information is for fun, and some degree of error isn’t a big deal. 

Privacy

Ancestry stated on their privacy page that you own your DNA data and personal information. 

Still, there are some minor risks when sending something as private as a DNA sample to a testing company.

Although, risks are ultimately a matter of government regulation and your trust in the actions and choices of the company.

AncestryDNA has publicly stated that they won’t cooperate with law enforcement requests unless legally required. 

However, they did collaborate with law enforcement in 2017 on the murder of Jane Britton, a cold case from 1969.

Ancestry has its privacy policy posted on its site.

AncestryDNA:

  • Stores your DNA test results in a secure database
  • Doesn’t allow the lab processing your DNA results to know who you are
  • Stores the DNA sample securely
  • Doesn’t share your DNA data unless compelled by law enforcement
  • Allows you to delete all of your AncestryDNA test data

A few more points regarding this service will help you make an informed decision before deciding to do your genetic testing with AncestryDNA:

  • The testing company is incredibly popular among donor-conceived individuals. It is something to consider if you have ever donated genetic material (sperm/egg).
  • AncestryDNA outsources its DNA sequencing to Quest Diagnostics, while other genetic testing companies use in-house solutions.
  • The testing service is in an active partnership with Calico, a subsidiary of Google, to drive longevity research through data-sharing and collaboration.

While it is by no means a final judgment on the company, AncestryDNA won a 2019 German Big Brother Award

This is the kind of award that companies try to avoid, as it recognizes “...government and private sector organizations...which have done the most to threaten personal privacy.” 

While all at-home DNA testing companies face similar ethical concerns, AncestryDNA was particularly noted for: 

“exploiting an interest in genealogy to entice people into submitting saliva samples...to pile up a treasure trove of genome data for commercial research, because that is their actual business model.”

Ancestry DNA vs. Competitors

Ancestry DNA vs. 23andme

Where 23andMe has a strong focus on health testing, AncestryDNA puts more of an emphasis on ancestry DNA testing.

Unlike 23andMe (which runs autosomal, Y-DNA, and mtDNA tests), Ancestry only performs autosomal DNA tests. You can’t find your maternal and paternal lines with Ancestry. 

Ancestry DNA vs. MyHeritage

Ancestry competes with MyHeritage when it comes to historical records and the ability to build a family tree. 

However, it's not much of a competition when it comes to the sizes of their databases. Ancestry has 20 million users, while MyHeritage only has 5.5 million. 

Both companies offer ancestry testing and the ability to build a family tree. But with Ancestry’s massive database, you are more likely to find better results with Ancestry.

Ancestry DNA vs. Living DNA

AncestryDNA only tests autosomal DNA. LivingDNA’s ancestry test kit has autosomal, mtDNA, and Y-DNA. 

LivingDNA can give a detailed breakdown of a person’s ethnicity into more regions.

Ancestry offers a more comprehensive DNA matching where you can find more possible relatives who also took the AncestryDNA test. 

Conclusion

Ancestry’s DNA test is great for learning more details about your heritage. 

But ultimately, with so many features hidden behind an expensive monthly payment, the service isn’t worth your time or continued investment.

23andMe does a much better job presenting the data and giving you more actionable information.

Still, AncestryDNA is a superb way to learn about your ancestry.

It is easy to use. It has comprehensive online tools. It’s cost-efficient. 

For people seeking distant cousins or even biological parents, the company’s DNA database of 20 million users increases the odds of successful matches.

If you’re already an Ancestry member, it's worth adding AncestryDNA. It’s an excellent tool if you want to build and expand your family trees.

The business continually adds new features and updates your ethnicity results as they accumulate data.

But if ancestry and family trees are not your primary concern, you should look into 23andMe or other DNA testing companies.

PROS

  • Easy-to-understand, continually updated results
  • Have the largest DNA database (meaning higher chances for DNA matching) 
  • 30 billion historical and family records to build and expand your family tree
  • Over 1,500 global ethnic regions for estimating ethnicity
  • Ability to download raw DNA data

CONS

  • Health traits are not as robust as health testing from other DNA tests (like 23andme)
  • Access to public records locked behind paid subscription services
  • Subscription packages are not cheap
  • Can’t differentiate between paternal and maternal lines
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Joel
Joel
Content Contributor
Joel is a writer that loves exploring DNA, at-home health, and optimizing my health. He believes that the democratization of home health is in its early stages.
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