Updated: Feb 23
This article was written in December of 2018..
Ancestry’s marketing has fueled a lot of interest in DNA tests. People who are thinking about purchasing a test often ask, “Which test should I take?”. The most common answer from the ‘experts’ is to test at Ancestry. Two reasons are often given – They have the largest database and they do not accept uploads from other companies.
Is this the best advice? Just what do people who purchase a DNA test at Ancestry get for their $99? I let my subscription lapse, so I could see for myself. Each DNA test requires a free guest account. Ancestry offers subscriptions to their research database, but a subscription is not required to process a DNA test. To Ancestry’s credit, the DNA test activation page clearly states that the tester will receive Ethnicity results and be able to communicate with matches. I think those who have Ancestry subscriptions overlook this limited use.
I logged into my guest account to see my DNA results. The results surprised me. The main or landing page looks the same as when I had a subscription. When I click on my DNA Matches the page looks the same.
Clicking on “View Match” takes me to the first unexpected change!
The screen says “Pedigree and Surnames”, but I see a page trying to get me to subscribe. I do not see a pedigree or list of surnames. I am able to send the match a message from this screen. But without any information on surnames or a family tree to look at, it is difficult to guess how we may be related.
Clicking on the Shared Matches tab takes me to the same screen I see with a subscription. When I click on a match’s name, I am taken to a page offering me a subscription.
Clicking on the Maps and Locations tab takes me to the subscription sales page, instead of the Map.
Compare shows me an ethnicity comparison and shared matches. This is the same with or without a subscription, however, without a subscription, I see the subscription sales page when I click on a match.
Is recommending Ancestry DNA testing the best advice? When a person asks, “Which DNA test should I buy?” my answer just got more complicated. First, why do you want to test? If you only care about ethnicity and have no interest in connecting with your matches, then My Heritage, Ancestry, Living DNA and others all have comparable Ethnicity information. The size of the testing database does not appear to skew the results for the casual user. Your results may vary slightly between companies, that is to be expected.
Are you interested in connecting with cousins, verifying your records-based research or connecting with other researchers on your lines? Then consider Ancestry, but factor in the cost of a subscription or hiring a professional. Also consider My Heritage and Family Tree DNA who both allow you to create a tree, see your matches tree, and correspond with matches without a subscription.
Ancestry does have the largest database of DNA testers, but to access any features beyond Ethnicity testing, you must subscribe. If you ‘might’ consider subscribing to Ancestry in the future, then I suggest you test at Ancestry (simply because they do not allow you to upload your file from another company). If you test at Ancestry, immediately download your raw data file and upload it to one or more of the other companies who do provide access to your matches trees without a subscription and connect with your matches there. Some of these companies do charge a small fee to upload. These companies also have chromosome browsers, a tool Ancestry has refused to make available to their customers.
GEDMatch is a third-party company that does not offer DNA testing. They do allow you to connect with others who have tested with a variety of companies, allow trees via GEDCOMS and Wikitree, and have excellent tools as your research advances. Uploading to GEDMatch is free.
Ancestry is an answer, it may not be the ‘best’ answer. Ancestry’s lack of access to the matches pedigree tree and other tools available from their competitors negates their database size in my opinion.
I wanted to see just what a person is offered who purchases a DNA test from Ancestry. A close relative agreed to test so I could document what a new person sees.
Ancestry very clearly offers Ethnicity results and the ability to communicate with your matches. When she activated her test, she was encouraged to build a tree. Search results were presented. I chose to go to Find A Grave first and was successful in adding this information to her tree.
Next, I chose a record I knew was not available without a subscription. When I clicked on the ‘Review’ button, I was taken to a subscription sales page. So, it appears new DNA testers can build a tree and attach sources that are free, but a subscription is required for other records.
Ancestry does offer a free 14-day membership, but frankly, the constant sales pages as I navigate through the site was a real turn off. It felt very much like the salesperson who follows you around a store.
Many researchers are frustrated when a new match appears with little information. Ancestry may have the largest DNA testing database, but be prepared to purchase a subscription.