Three of the World’s Top Ancestry Tests: How Do They Compare?
MyHeritage, 23andMe, and AncestryDNA are among the world’s most well-known and successful commercial DNA testing companies. If you’re thinking about getting an ancestry test, you should probably be considering one or more of these options.
But which one is right for you? It all depends on what you’re looking for.
They’re all excellent choices, and each has unique features and advantages. I’ve had my DNA tested by all three, so I’m in a good position to give you a side-by-side comparison. Speaking from my own personal experience as well as drawing on the extensive research I’ve done on each company, I’ll try to help you select the ideal test given your personal interests and budget.
DNA Test Kits: What You Get and How It Works
Sample Collection and Submission: What All Three Have in Common
Once you’ve ordered and received your test kit, you go to the company’s website, create an account, and enter the unique code that comes with your kit.
- Donate Your Sample
Follow the instructions in your test kit to prepare your DNA sample. (Don’t eat or drink anything for at least 30 minutes beforehand.) Then mail it in.
- Wait for Your Results
You should receive emails confirming that the company has received your sample and telling you how their analysis is coming along.
- Receive Your Report
They’ll alert you via email when your ancestry report is ready. Then, you just log onto the website to view the report. You can also see it on the company’s mobile app (which all three have).
What Are the Differences?
- Sample Submission
23andMe and AncestryDNA collect your DNA sample via your saliva ( i.e., you spit into a tube), whereas MyHeritage collects it via a cheek swab.
23andMe and AncestryDNA prepay the return postage for your DNA sample. MyHeritage doesn’t, so you have to either guess at the mailing cost or take your sample to the post office.
- Wait Time
MyHeritage and 23andMe promise results within three to four weeks. My own results came in a little over a week for 23andMe, a little more than two weeks for MyHeritage.
AncestryDNA says their results will take six to eight weeks, but I got mine in a little over two weeks (i.e., about the same amount of time as MyHeritage).
5 of the Biggest Differences Between MyHeritage, 23andMe, and AncestryDNA
1) Extra Offerings
In addition to their well-known ancestry tests, each of these companies also has extra features that can provide insight into your personal background.
For example, MyHeritage and AncestryDNA are owned by two of the world’s biggest genealogy companies. If you subscribe to either of their genealogy services, you can build a big family tree on their websites. They will also pull from literally billions of historical records that help bring your familial past to life. You can discover even more family members with the DNA test.
23andMe recently started offering a family tree builder, but they do not have the archival database of genealogical records (e.g., marriage, death, and birth certificates, etc.) that the other companies do. Where 23andMe stands out is with its DNA-based health report that you can add on to an ancestry test (you cannot purchase the health report by itself). This will provide insight into whether you are genetically predisposed to – or a carrier of – certain health conditions.
AncestryDNA and MyHeritage both recently started offering health reports in addition to their ancestry reports and genealogy services. However, the respective health offerings are still new and quite limited compared to 23andMe.
2) Ancestry Focus
Genealogy aside, the ancestry information that 23andMe provides is a lot more rich and detailed than what you’d receive from the other two companies.
For example, your 23andMe report includes:
The story of your maternal and paternal lineages going back tens of thousands of years.
This shows how you’ve descended through various haplogroups from the common ancestors of all people living today.
Insights into your Neanderthal heritage and how this may be reflected in your physical traits, such as your height, what type of hair you have on your head, and your body hair.
Discussions of the genetic traits that are typical of your DNA family (i.e., other 23andMe customers who are related to you) in comparison to the general population, such as your ability to wiggle your ears or your tendency to sweat while sleeping.
If all you want is an ancestry report, without subscribing to a genealogy service, what you receive from 23andMe is much more substantial than what you get from either MyHeritage or AncestryDNA.
3) Number of DNA Tests Completed
In a contest of which company has the largest DNA database, AncestryDNA is the winner by a long shot. They’ve collected samples from 15 million people.
23andMe has about five million people in its DNA database, and MyHeritageDNA has around two million.
Why does this matter?
If you’re aiming to find new relatives by means of your DNA test, your family members are mathematically more likely to appear in a database of 15 million people than in a database of two million people.
Testing more people may also generate a more complete dataset for the genetic markers a company looks at – as well as the conclusions they draw. In other words, your results might be more accurate.
4) Number of Geographical Locations Analyzed
To pinpoint the various ethnicities represented in your DNA and where those ancestors lived, testing companies have to divide the world up into a certain number of geographical regions and compare your DNA to samples collected from people in those regions.
23andMe has divided the world into 1500+ regions. AncestryDNA has divided it into around 500. MyHeritage has 42 geographic regions.
Why does this matter?
Theoretically, breaking the world into more regions should allow greater precision in locating where your ancestors came from.
23andMe and AncestryDNA both detected a small amount of southeast Asian heritage in my background – 23andMe with a bit more precision. MyHeritage didn’t detect this ancestry at all. I’m convinced these differences are a result of how many distinct regions, or how few, each company looks at.
This factor is probably less relevant if your ancestors all descend from ethnicities that are very well represented in DNA companies’ datasets – Western European, for example. But if you’re trying to trace your roots back to a less common and more specific ethnicity, such as a particular tribe in sub-Saharan Africa or South America, I’ll bet it makes a big difference.
5) Volume of Sales Emails
Any time you create an account with a company these days, they’ll send you emails asking you to buy more stuff. And you can opt out of these communications if you choose. But if you don’t opt out…
I’ll give you more specific examples of the differences between these three companies in the next section.
What Will You See in Your Ancestry Reports?
When the big day arrives, and you get that email from your DNA testing company letting you know that your ancestry results are ready, you’re going to rush to look at them on your computer or phone. What will you see?
MyHeritage, 23andMe, and AncestryDNA all have some features in common – though what those features look like may vary, depending on your individual results. And then there are also some very noticeable differences. Let’s review the common features first.
- Ethnicity Estimate
All three companies will tell you what ethnicities are reflected in your genetic background, what percentage of your ancestry is represented by each ethnicity, and where those ancestors lived.
- DNA Relatives
All three companies will also give you a list of their other customers who appear to be your relatives, based on your common DNA.
MyHeritage and AncestryDNA also allow you to link each individual and their family trees to your own genealogy (assuming you subscribe to that service).
- Family Tree
Each company offers family tree builders. And while 23andMe includes this service to anyone who has ordered a DNA test, it is still quite basic when compared to what MyHeritage and AncestryDNA offer in their subscription services.
The Bottom Line: There’s a Good Option for Everyone
If you just want to find out about your ancestors’ ethnicities and where they came from (and maybe a health report), I recommend 23andMe. Its ancestry reports are a lot more substantial and satisfying than MyHeritage or AncestryDNA’s reports.
If you want a genealogy subscription too, it’s a harder choice.
MyHeritage costs less than AncestryDNA. If money isn’t an obstacle, though, I would recommend AncestryDNA over MyHeritage, for these three reasons:
- There are almost eight times as many people in AncestryDNA’s DNA database.
- A genealogy subscription from AncestryDNA seems to offer more features.
- If you sign up for a free trial, AncestryDNA seems less likely to start charging you subscription fees without your consent.
Read the full report on DNA weekly – Moss Stern
- in this article are just some excerpts from the original