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.
You can read about my personal experiences with each test kit by reading the review:
DNA Test Kits: What You Get and How It Works
The sample collection process for all three companies is pretty standard, and pretty similar. I’ll explain how they’re alike and how they’re different.
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.
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…
- MyHeritage will send you the most sales pitches, aggressively urging you to buy a monthly genealogy subscription. I’ve gotten 40 emails from them in the last two months.
- AncestryDNA comes in second place. They’ve sent me 24 emails. A lot of these encourage me to subscribe, but they’re less annoying than the ones from MyHeritage.
- 23andMe has sent me a total of 28 emails on a variety of topics, but most of them weren’t trying to sell me anything. Instead, they were telling me how my sample analysis is coming along, inviting me to participate in genetic research, asking me for my opinion of their services, etc.
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.
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.
Here is what my ethnicity estimate from MyHeritage looks like: Here is 23andMe’s version:
And here is AncestryDNA’s version:
So far, they’re pretty similar – though 23andMe and AncestryDNA’s ethnicity estimates look a lot more detailed.
You can get further information for each ethnicity by clicking on it. Again, here are my results.
MyHeritage: 23andMe: AncestryDNA:
In this detailed view of a single ethnicity, MyHeritage’s presentation is a little more rich than it was initially.
All three companies will also give you a list of their other customers who appear to be your relatives, based on your common DNA. Here are my lists. I’ve redacted everyone’s names to protect their privacy.
AncestryDNA: All three companies will give you the individuals’ names, as well as estimates of how closely related they are, what percentage of your DNA is shared, and how many DNA segments you have in common.
You can click on each relative to get more information about how you’re related and what family surnames you may share. You can also try to contact them through the testing company.
MyHeritage and AncestryDNA also allow you to link each individual and their family trees to your own genealogy (assuming you subscribe to that service).
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.
MyHeritage: 23andMe: AncestryDNA: Without a subscription, MyHeritage and AncestryDNA will let you manually build your own family tree of a certain size based on your knowledge of your family history. However, in order to add more relatives using the companies’ databases, you have to subscribe to their genealogy services.
Now let’s take a look at some of the features that are unique to each service.
MyHeritage’s Chromosome Browser
With MyHeritage, you can select a certain set of relatives and see which DNA segments you have in common. Each relative is color-coded so you can see the different segments you share with each of them. The more segments you share with a given individual, and the greater their length, the closer you’re likely to be related.
I guess it’s kind of cool, but I’m not sure how meaningful it is to me. Am I supposed to contact my cousin Marie and say “Hey, guess what! We share three segments on our second chromosome! On our ninth, there’s only one, but it’s a lot longer”?
This feature suggests which ancestors you may have in common with your DNA matches. Here’s a sample of this feature from AncestryDNA’s website.
In my case, it’s not nearly as exciting, as you can see below. I’m sure it would be a lot bigger and better if I had an AncestryDNA genealogy subscription.
23andMe’s Many Additional Features
23andMe’s “Ancestry Timeline” lets me see how recently a representative of each ethnicity entered my family tree. Then, my “Chromosome Painting” depicts what ethnicities are represented in each of my chromosomes. Like MyHeritage’s Chromosome Browser, this feature isn’t very easy to read or understand, and I’m not sure it serves me any real, useful purpose. But it does help me understand what my ethnicity percentages are based on.
I think 23andMe’s “Ancestry Traits” feature is a bit silly, and probably not very meaningful. It shows how my ancestors’ traits compare with most 23andMe customers.
So, I guess I come from a long line of people who didn’t grow up near a farm and didn’t like making new year’s resolutions. They were obviously much too busy running marathons, during the course of which their palms and feet were blissfully perspiration-free.
One really cool feature from 23andMe is their “Maternal and Paternal Haplogroups.” By looking at my mtDNA and Y-DNA, 23andMe can trace the major ancestral branches from both sides of my family back to certain individuals who lived a long, long time ago.
Here’s the history of my maternal haplogroup:
As you can see, my maternal ancestry has been traced all the way back to Haplogroup L, descended from a woman who lived in Africa between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago! (By the way, she’s your ancestor, too.)
Since my paternal haplogroup story looks pretty much the same, I won’t show it here. But, for the record, you and I have another shared ancestor. All humans living today belong to Haplogroup A, with a common ancestor who lived more than 275,000 years ago.
23andMe also reports on your “Neanderthal Ancestry.”
Neanderthals and homo sapiens interbred extensively in Europe and Asia before the Neanderthals went extinct around 40,000 years ago. Your 23andMe report will tell you how much of a Neanderthal you are. In my case, rather a lot! And according to 23andMe, this ancestry makes me less likely to sneeze after eating dark chocolate. (For what it’s worth, that happens to be true. Dark chocolate doesn’t make me sneeze.)
Finally, 23andMe offers to turn your personal results into a hardcover book. Fairly inexpensively, 23andMe will print your ancestry report as a beautiful book that you can keep on your coffee table or bring to family gatherings.
(I’m seriously tempted!)
Are the DNA Test Kits a Good Value for the Price?
MyHeritage DNA is currently the cheapest option. 23andMe and AncestryDNA are tied at just below the one hundred US dollar mark, but they do offer more value.
If all you want to do is buy an ancestry test, and you’re not interested in an elaborate genealogy, 23andMe gives you a lot more substance for your money. I found the other two tests pretty disappointing by comparison.
But what if you also want your genealogy?
If building your family tree is important to you, and you’re willing to pay a monthly fee for it, then your choice comes down to either MyHeritage or AncestryDNA. So, how do their prices compare? Even the most costly monthly subscription to MyHeritage (as currently discounted) is less expensive than a monthly subscription to AncestryDNA. And if you buy a six-month subscription to AncestryDNA, which is a lot more affordable than a monthly subscription, it still costs more than MyHeritage.
Although, an AncestryDNA subscription arguably includes a greater number of features. So, if making this choice, don’t just think about how much you’d have to pay per month, but also whether the features that you’d get are worth it.
How Much Help Will You Get If Something Goes Wrong?
Hopefully, when you take your DNA test everything will go perfectly and you won’t need any questions answered. But if that isn’t the case, you might want a glimpse of the customer service experience that awaits you.
I’m going to tell you about my own experiences, then summarize what other customers have had to say.
The Support Process
All three companies have FAQ pages to answer your most basic questions. If that doesn’t help, your next options are to either fill out a support request form or call their customer support phone numbers.
The Response (In My Experience)
I asked each company a question, both via phone and through their support forms. I didn’t have to wait long on the phone – the customer service representatives were all pleasant and helpful, and they answered my questions in a satisfactory way.
Getting a response to my online support request is another story.
- 23andMe answered my query in about an hour and a half, and their response was perfectly clear and straightforward.
- AncestryDNA likewise got back to me in a reasonable amount of time and gave me the same answer I’d received over the phone.
- MyHeritage never answered the question I submitted. I got an email acknowledging that I submitted a support request, but they never emailed me an answer to my question. And that was over a month and a half ago, so I’m not holding my breath.
Mind you, I’ve gotten lots of other emails from MyHeritage. Virtually all of them were pushing me to subscribe to their genealogy service. Or telling me that they’ve found more relatives for me…but that I have to subscribe in order to add them to my family tree.
Yes, I’ve gotten lots of emails from 23andMe and AncestryDNA too. But MyHeritage has sent me a lot more. I’m pretty tired of it.
Other Customers’ Support Issues
Every company gets its share of complaints, and these should be taken with a grain of salt. Usually there are many satisfied customers for every one that’s disgruntled.
But the complaints I’ve read for these three DNA testing companies are quite distinct from one another, which should tell you something.
- AncestryDNA customers have complained about website glitches, not getting their test kits quickly enough, and the need to pay monthly subscription fees. With that said, AncestryDNA seems to place a high value on responding to customers’ complaints.
- Some 23andMe customers claim their ethnicity reports were inaccurate. Others have said 23andMe made them take their DNA test over and over again because their sample didn’t contain enough DNA for analysis. They tried many times, kept being told the same thing, and never got a refund.
- As for MyHeritage, a lot of customers say they signed up for a free one-month genealogy subscription, then canceled it…but still got charged for a full annual subscription without their permission.
I’m not saying any of these things will happen to you. I just think it’s helpful to know what kinds of issues other people have had, and how the companies have responded.
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.
- 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.
I hope I’ve helped you decide. Enjoy your ancestry test!
When should someone choose a 23andMe DNA test?
Both 23andMe’s ancestry test and its ancestry + health test offer some of the most accurate, detailed, and substantive reports in the industry. If you’re hungry to find out about your family’s origins, your Neanderthal ancestry, your genetic disease risk and so on, 23andMe delivers a very satisfying amount of information at a great cost, whereas other vendors may disappoint in comparison.
When should someone choose an AncestryDNA test?
If your interest in your ancestry includes your genealogy, and you’re interested in building the most robust possible family tree, AncestryDNA is an excellent choice. Moreover, its ethnicity estimates are considerably more accurate than those of its chief rival, MyHeritage DNA.
How do these vendors compare on cost?
How long does it take to get your results from each of these vendors?
23andMe’s test results arrive 2-3 weeks after they receive your sample. MyHeritage’s results are ready in about 3-4 weeks; AncestryDNA’s results arrive after 6-8 weeks.