IMPORTANT: This is not a post about testing for paternity issues, etc. The courts have very specific requirements for DNA testing to be used in legal hearings. You can find out about that on the Get a DNA Test page of the government’s own website.
Which companies offer autosomal DNA testing for genealogy?
Having spent the last few weeks introducing the topic of DNA testing for genealogy, the purpose of this post is to signpost you to the five main companies used for genetic genealogy testing by genealogists and family historians in the UK. Other companies are available and if you come across them you can research and assess their benefits for yourself. However from my knowledge, gained through personal experience and through membership of online discussion groups, these are the companies most genealogists currently use. I have no connection with any of these companies other than as a user, and am receiving no benefit whatsoever for including any of them in this review.
If you’d like to take a DNA test to help with your family tree building, follow the links to each company, look at their websites including privacy statements and terms & conditions, and then make your decision.
You might also like to look at the following DNA Weekly Best Ancestry DNA Tests review, which is updated regularly.
I would also recommend joining an online discussion group, such as DNA Help for Genealogy on Facebook. There, you’ll find people of all levels of understanding from complete beginner to advanced. You can ask questions, including recommendations and preferences for the various testing companies as well as practical questions when your results are in. Somewhere down the line you’ll find you can actually start to answer other people’s questions too. 🙂
Here are the five testing companies, linked to their websites:
Family Tree DNA
Living DNA – UK based, partnered with FindMyPast
My Heritage DNA – my experience is that more European testers use this company
23 and Me
How do they differ?
I’ve put together this table showing features of each testing company that are considered important by genealogists.
When considering the differences between these five testing companies and the advantages or disadvantages of each it’s perhaps useful to bear in mind that two of the companies (Ancestry and MyHeritage) are primarily genealogy websites, providing tree-building, a huge number of record sets, and a DNA testing service that is increasingly dove-tailed into that. One of the companies (Living DNA) has partnered exclusively with FindMyPast. Together, these UK-focused companies have the potential to provide a similar ‘seamless’ service as for the previous two, with a lot of new developments in the pipeline. The final two companies (Family Tree DNA or ‘FTDNA’ and 23andMe) are primarily DNA research and testing companies. They have the facility for uploading or linking to family trees but have no record sets, etc that will help you to develop your trees. However, their DNA features and tools are often more sophisticated.
Uploading to other sites: You will see that Ancestry and 23andMe do not permit uploads to their site, but the remaining three companies do. Uploading will enable you to access the tester database but will not provide use of enhanced features of the test (e.g. Living’s 21 UK-based geographical origin locations feature). Although uploading is free there will be a charge if you want to access additional tools. If you’re looking for biological parents it will help you to have your data on all of these sites.
AutoCluster tool: This is a tool available on MyHeritage. It groups together your DNA matches in colour-coded groups likely to be descended from the same common ancestor.
Ethnicities: A lot of people take a DNA test purely for the fun of seeing their ethnic origins breakdown. Learning about your ethnicities is exciting but it’s only an estimate and still a work in progress. From time to time as more people test or as algorithms are amended, your ethnicities estimate will change.
Chromosome browsers: This is a visual tool that enables you to see precisely where you and another person match. You will be able to see which chromosomes, whereabouts on that chromosome, the length of segments and their start and end points. It is really useful to have this information and once you’ve been able to allocate a segment to a specific common ancestor it will help with identifying whereabouts on your family tree new matches will connect. I will do a post about this in autumn 2020.
Y-chromosomal and mitochondrial testing: This is covered in my previous blogpost on deep ancestral DNA testing. You will see that of the companies included on the above table, only Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) offers testing for these types of DNA. However, 23andMe and Living DNA provide Y-chromosome and mitochondrial haplogroups as part of the autosomal test.
Note about 23 and Me tests: Ancestry + Traits is the basic test, providing an insight into which of your traits (e.g. aversion to coriander, curly hair) can be traced to your ancestry. Health + Ancestry test is more expensive, providing insights into your predisposition of developing certain health conditions. It is not necessary for our family research purposes, but is there as an option should you want it.
GEDmatch: This is not a testing company, but a very useful website where you can upload your DNA test results regardless of which company you tested with. It therefore provides you with a much wider pool of testers and potential DNA matches. It is free to use although payment is required to access certain more advanced tools. I will do a post about this in autumn 2020.
This concludes my series of ‘introduction to DNA testing for genealogy’ posts. I hope they have helped you to decide if DNA testing is for you and if so, what are the next steps you need to take to make it happen. Please note that every effort has been taken to ensure all the details provided are correct, but you should refer to the different companies’ websites before making any decisions.
We’ll now take a break from DNA testing but I do have more posts planned for the future that will help you to make practical use of your DNA results. As mentioned above, these will include Chromosome browsers and GEDmatch, but a number of other DNA topics too.
Edited August 2020
My posts about DNA are aimed at complete beginners and aim to provide information in manageable chunks, each post building on previous ones. Click [here] to read all of them in order, or to dip in and out as you wish. You’ll also find lots of resources and useful links