You’re probably familiar with Ancestry.com, one of the most popular genealogy websites, and our Editors’ Choice in that category. Ancestry’s genealogy services enable you to create family trees and build on them with access to public records, such as wedding and birth announcements. In mid-2012, Ancestry introduced AncestryDNA ($99), a service that analyzes your DNA and integrates that data with your family tree, if you’ve created one. Like 23andMe and National Geographic’s Geno 2.0, Ancestry ships you a collection kit, which you return with your saliva sample, and in several weeks’ time, posts the results to your online profile. These tests only analyze your DNA to determine your ancestry; you won’t get any health-related information. AncestryDNA is easy to use and offers a fair amount of information, though not as much detail as 23andMe and Geno 2.0. As of July 2015, Ancestry has collected DNA from more than 1 million people, on par with 23andMe. If you cancel your account, you can download your raw DNA report and take it with you.
AncestryDNA’s $99 price tag includes the collection kit and two-way shipping, and there are often sales; I’ve seen it priced as low as $79. For comparison, 23andMe charges for shipping in both directions (about $10) on top of the $99 collection kit. Geno 2.0, at $199.95, is more costly and includes one-way shipping; you provide your own postage on return. To order an AncestryDNA kit, you must first create an account so you can receive your results; if you already have an Ancestry account, you can use the same login. Your kit should arrive within about a week or so. The AncestryDNA test is available for purchase online only in the United States and for residents of the United Kingdom and Ireland.
When you receive the kit, the first thing you need to do is activate it online using a unique code posted on the kit. It’s a longish code and I wish I had been asked to type it in twice in case I made a mistake. The code is used to keep your sample anonymous, but trackable throughout the process; your name is never displayed on the sample. You then fill in your name, click activate, and then you consent to their terms of service. Next, you can link your kit to your Ancestry family tree, if you have one.
Once you’ve finished activating your kit and setting up your account, it’s time to extract your sample, which involves placing your saliva into a plastic tube up to its fill line. It’s nowhere near as romantic as it is often portrayed on TV. You can’t eat, drink, or smoke for 30 minutes before providing your sample. The whole process is quick and simple, and the included funnel prevents spillage. Not surprisingly, my mouth was rather dry afterward. Next you remove the funnel and screw on the included cap, which releases a stabilizing fluid so that your sample remains viable during travel. Then you shake the tube for about five seconds, place it in the included collection bag, put the bag in the prepaid shipping box, and then drop it off at the post office.
DNA Reports and Extra Features
I received confirmation of receipt just over a week after I mailed my kit to AncestryDNA. The confirmation included my activation number and informed me that the results would arrive in the next six to eight weeks. About two weeks later, my results were ready.
Then the fun starts. On your dashboard, you’ll see a pie chart with an ethnicity estimate and possible DNA matches with other members. Then you can view a map of where your ancestors lived, get more information about your ethnicity matches, and watch videos or read more about how this is calculated and what it means. You can also read more about each ethnicity match and country, see how you compare to the native population, and read about their genetic diversity and the population history.
I wasn’t expecting any surprises from my results; my name and my fair skin make it pretty clear that I’m of Irish descent. I did get a good laugh, though. As I said, you can see how you compare to the native population of the countries where your ancestors lived. The average Ireland native is 95 percent Irish. Me? I’m 98 percent, according to AncestryDNA. More Irish than the Irish.
Depending on your genetic makeup, you may also see “trace regions” in your ethnicity estimate, in which the amount of matching DNA is too small to deem accurate. In my case, I had a one percent match with Scandinavia and one percent with Western Europe. Again, no surprises here.
AncestryDNA will search their database for “cousin matches” whether you have a linked family tree or not, but none of your personal information will be shared; just your username, possible relationship, and your genetic ethnicity. You can view your possible matches on the dashboard, labeled with the “confidence level” and possible range; second to third cousins; fourth to sixth cousins, etc. You can decide how much or little personal information to share with potential matches. So in many cases, unless your matches have a public profile or public family tree, you’ll only be able to view their display name (either a username or their full name), which isn’t much to go on. Members can also include a profile photo.
This feature has the odd feel of a dating site, since you can connect with your matches and see when they last logged in. I didn’t recognize anyone based on the information I could view, though I had more than 60 pages of results, with over 3,000 matches. And AncestryDNA will continue to search for matches as the database grows. 23andMe also looks for DNA matches, though the program is opt-in only. Its database found more than 900 matches for me.
DNA Circles is a feature currently in beta. It goes further than DNA matches by grouping together Ancestry members who share a common ancestor. This is an opt-in program. If AncestryDNA has discovered a possible match, it then compares your family tree with that of your match’s, going back nine generations to look for a common ancestor. Each DNA Circle must have at least three members, and will continue to grow and change as more matches are discovered. You can also see how you’re connected with other members of the DNA Circle. I signed up for this feature, but have not yet been assigned to a DNA Circle. You can learn more about this feature in Ancestry’s help section online.
Should you need any help throughout the process, you can access a wealth of online resources, including how-to articles and an active user community. I frequently consulted the FAQ section while writing this review; it includes a dedicated section just for AncestryDNA, which answered many of my questions about how to understand my results, and how Ancestry interprets your DNA sample.
You can also call Ancestry support seven days a week between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. ET. In my experience using phone support, I waited about 30 minutes before I was connected with a representative, who answered my questions quickly. Beware: The hold music is often interrupted by jarringly loud ads for other Ancestry services.
A Fun Way to Trace Your Past
AncestryDNA is a great way to learn (or confirm) your ancestry, and it’s easy to use, with generous online resources, and it’s cost-effective, too. If you’re already an Ancestry member, it’s worth adding on AncestryDNA. Otherwise, you should consider 23andMe, our Editors’ Choice, which goes deeper into your ancestry, even looking at your Neanderthal DNA, and includes some interactive features.