Ancestry DNA Kit Review – does it beat 23andMe?

AncestryDNA has the biggest database of DNA samples amongst its competitors, with 23andMe coming in second.

However, the two companies are vastly different, with entirely separate missions and goals. Where (23andMe has a strong focus on health and disease), Ancestry has a unique niche. They focus on your ancestors and relatives, assisted by comparing your DNA to their 10 billion historical records and data points.

This Ancestry.com DNA kit review will show the positives and negatives of this service.

If you are specifically looking for genetic relatives and family tree tools, AncestryDNA is the way to go. The company started long before it was feasible to test your DNA at home, building connections and databases since 1983.

In this Ancestry.com DNA review guide, we’ll run through a brief overview of the service, which offers both one-time and subscriber models. Additionally, we’ll also answer some core and popular questions, and give the verdict on if it’s worth it or not.

Ancestry.com:

  • Is the largest for-profit genealogy company in the world
  • Provides access to 10 billion historical records
  • Has 3 million paying subscribers
  • 15 million sequenced genomes in their database
  • Has sold 14 million DNA kits to customers

Quick facts:

 

Sample Collection:Spit tube
DNA testing type:Autosomal
Speed: 6-8 weeks (mine took 16 days)
Privacy Protection:Strong 

How much does Ancestry.com’s DNA kit cost?

 

Ancestry Kit

$ 59 one time
  • Ethnicity Details
  • Your DNA Through History
  • Relative Finder

US Discovery

$ 19
99
per month
  • Access All US Records
  • Contact any Ancestry Member
  • Create & Edit Family Tree

World Explorer

$ 34
99
per month
  • Access All Records on Ancestry
  • Contact any Ancestry Member
  • Access to Ancestry Academy

All Access

$ 44
99
per month
  • Priority Customer Service
  • Access Fold3
  • Access 4,400+ Newpapers

Ancestry sells a DNA testing kit that provides you access to your direct genetic matches and ethnicity origins at a flat price. To access and explore their databases of records, and construct expansive family trees, you will have to subscribe for a monthly fee. There are discounted prices for 6-month memberships if you only want to pay for a limited time.

What is in the box?

The ancestryDNA test kit contains the following:

  • DNA collection tube for a saliva sample
  • Stabilizing fluid
  • Instructions
  • Collection Bag
  • Return package

As with all DNA test kits, you are not supposed to eat or drink anything for 30 minutes before spitting into the tube.

Send in steps

  1. Activate your kit – you must go online (or the app) and enter your 15 digit activation code.
  2. Fill the tube up with saliva. This looks intimidating but ends 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
  6. Place the tube in the collection bag and mail in the sample. Hold onto the card to retain your activation code.

Ancestry will email you updates as your sample is processed:

Email ancestry.com sends showing they received your sample for DNA kit review.

How is my privacy protected on Ancestry.com?

You run risks when sending in your DNA to companies. Although, it is ultimately a matter of government regulation and trust in the actions and choices of the company.

Ancestry has publicly stated that they won’t cooperate with law enforcement requests unless receiving legal or extreme pressure. However, they did collaborate with law enforcement in 2017 on the murder of Jane Britton, a cold-case from 1969.

Ancestry.com has its privacy philosophy posted to its site.

Ancestry:

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

There are some details and caveats on these statements that will enable you to make an informed decision before DNA testing with AncestryDNA.

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

Finally, while it is by no means a final judgment on the company, Ancestry won a 2019 German Big Brother Award. These are the kind of awards that companies try to avoid, recognizing “the government and private sector organizations…which have done the most to threaten personal privacy.” 

While the ethical concerns of DNA testing at-home involve all companies that provide the service, Ancestry 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.”

The competition

The main competitors for Ancestry are 23andMe, LivingDNA, and MyHeritage. Ancestry occupies the “look at your genealogy and connect with distant family members” niche.

Ancestry has a more extensive database to connect you with others; it is the best at this. LivingDNA and MyHeritage both will give similar ancestry information. On the other hand, 23andMe differentiates itself by being FDA approved and giving you health information, though Ancestry gives you some health info as well now.

The results

Behind the scenes, Ancestry uses its advanced microarray technology to assess thousands of your DNA markers and genes. They highlight, organize, and map them for you to quickly reference. 

Unlike 23andMe that scans your autosomal, Y-chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA; Ancestry only checks the first, autosomal. This limits the detection of individual traits and ancestry indicators. The Y-chromosome is only found in men, and passed through the patrilineal line; mitochondrial DNA is present in all cells, but can only be passed through the matrilineal line. These differences are only apparent when downloading your raw genetic data, as some critical genes and locations will not be included.

Ancestry sends you an email with your reports:

Email Ancestry sends to show that your DNA results are completed, DNA kit review guide.

Once inside, there are a few places to go; your menu looks like this:

Screenshot of the navigation bar

Trees

You can immediately look at your family tree as a subscriber. Ancestry populates your family tree with your family members using public records and the trees created by their users that have allowed public access. However, this is a subscription service that you can sign up for (after paying for your DNA results).

Ancestry.com dna kit review pricing chart.

The service is not cheap at $20 to $45 every month, depending on the extent of the databases you’d like to access.

Search

A screenshot that shows different ways to search ancestry.com's premium database.

Search allows you to check public records for people, no use of genetic information here. You can start searching for known ancestors and pull public records telling you where they got married, their children, etc. This is all hidden behind the subscription-based ‘Tree’ paywall.

Your DNA

The other main portion of AncestryDNA is the ability to access your DNA ethnicity estimate results and genetic connections. You see a pie graph with an ethnicity quote and the number of DNA matches with other AncestryDNA members. 

You may also learn more about each ethnicity match and state, see how you compare to the aboriginal population, and read about their genetic diversity and population history.

Pie chart of the author's DNA results.

Viewing the full results provides a map of where your ancestors lived, and you get more detailed information about your ethnic matches. In addition, you can also watch videos and read more about how Ancestry calculates these conclusions and what they signify. Ancestry has some cool features that allow you to look at when your DNA made it to where it is now.

There are also many resources to assist you in learning more about each ethnicity match and state. An additional focus is on how you compare to aboriginal populations, with supplemental reading on their genetic diversity and population histories.

Map of DNA's migration from Europe to North America.

Unfortunately, the subscription paywall hides many of the advanced features, necessitating the monthly payment. However, considering the static nature of your DNA, many traits and results reported by Ancestry will not change and often do not require a second look.

Since most at-home DNA testing companies have a health focus, Ancestry has recently added Traits to their results options. While 23andMe’s Health section has definitely inspired these details, it is nowhere near as exciting or comprehensive as the offering from 23andMe. From novelty to actionable, you can look at things like:

  • Nutrition Traits
    • Baseline Omega-3 levels
    • Variations in Vitamin C, D, and E requirements
  • Appearance Traits
    • Estimated Facial Hair Thickness
    • Impact of retained Wisdom Teeth
    • Chance of having a Cleft Chin
    • Estimated Finger length
  • Sensory Traits
    • Bitter Sensitivity
    • Cilantro Aversion
    • Sweet Sensitivity
    • Asparagus Metabolite Detection (‘Asparagus Pee’)

While this might seem like a bizarre and specific list, these particular traits are reliably called or estimated from DNA alone. Ancestry looks at markers that play a role in determining some of these traits we have. When reviewing mine, I confirmed (where I could) that at least half of them are accurate. Also, you can also answer questionnaires to provide Ancestry more data about your traits.

Accuracy/Usefulness

The idea that DNA companies can give you results with anywhere near 99% accuracy is false. The results are not perfect but can give you a very good idea of where your ancestors lived. For most, this information is for fun, and some degree of error isn’t a big deal. However, if you are looking to 100% understand where your ancestors are, you are going to be disappointed taking these.

For example, they are accurate enough to accomplish 99% of people’s goals, including mine.

Overall Review – How does the Ancestry Kit Stack up?

PROS

  • Easy-to-understand, continually updated results
  • Largest Database
  • Strong privacy protection
  • Ability to download raw DNA data
  • Free shipping

CONS

  • Health-related info isn’t always actionable
  • Some of the features are still in infancy and aren’t always useful
  • Lots of features hidden behind a paywall

Ancestry’s DNA test is neat for seeing details about your heritage. Ultimately, with so many features hidden behind an expensive monthly payment, the system is not worth your time or continued investment. 23andMe does a much better job of presenting the data and giving you more actionable information.

Above all, AncestryDNA is a superb way to learn about your ancestry. It is easy to use, with ample online tools, and it is cost-efficient, too. Further, If you are already an Ancestry member, it’s well worth adding AncestryDNA, as it is an excellent tool if you are in charge of building and updating trees.

The business is also continuously adding new features and updating your results as their tools and insights improve. Finally, if family trees are not your primary concern, you should consider our first choice, 23andMe, that goes deeper into your ancestry and health, even covering your Neanderthal DNA and other engaging, interactive capabilities.

 

Sources