AncestryDNA 2020 Review - Valuable Insights into Ancestry and Health

Our score:
9.7
User score:
9.7

Expert opinion:

AncestryDNA is the DNA testing arm of the popular Ancestry genealogy service. Submitting a DNA sample allows you to add DNA-matched relatives to your family tree and can tell you about your predispositions to genetic diseases. Sign up now to discover your ethnic makeup and get actionable recommendations to improve your health, but beware the additional subscription fee to build your family tree.
Written by Moss Stern
Last updated on August 14, 2020
  • Ancestry
  • Health & Wellness
  • Family Tree
Written by Moss Stern on August 14, 2020
  • Ancestry
  • Health & Wellness
  • Family Tree

Discover Your History. Meet Your Extended Family. Delve Into Your Health.

Discover Your History. Meet Your Extended Family. Delve Into Your Health.

Ever since I heard about commercial DNA testing, I’ve been curious about what it could tell me about my background, my family, and my health risks. So I turned to AncestryDNA to try to find out. AncestryDNA is a subsidiary of Ancestry.com, the world’s largest for-profit genealogy company. Over the past few decades, AncestryDNA has gradually grown into a genealogy service that lets customers sift through historical records and fill out their family trees.

Today, AncestryDNA says its database contains the results of 15 million customers’ DNA tests. More people have had their DNA tested through AncestryDNA than any other company. AncestryDNA offers genetic testing for ancestry (obviously) and health (a relatively recent addition). I’ve taken both tests. In this review, I’ll walk you through my sample submission experience and results in detail. Here’s the short version:

  • Its ancestry test explores what ethnicities and geographies lie in your family’s past, and helps you find living relatives around the world today.
  • Its health report tells you about your risk of having or carrying certain diseases.
  • I give both tests high marks for accuracy, but lower marks for the amount of information provided.

If either or both of AncestryDNA’s tests appeal to you, read on…and see how they compare to other available DNA testing options!

See AncestryDNA Deals

My Experience with AncestryDNA’s Tests

AncestryDNA Review AncestryDNA Review

DNA Test Kit

My DNA test kit from AncestryDNA included:

  • An instructions pamphlet
  • A sample collection tube
  • A tube cap
  • A plastic sample envelope

Everything you need is inside the box, and it’s very well designed and easy to use. You’ll mail your sample back in the same box it was sent in.

Sending In My Sample Went Pretty Smoothly

  1. Registration

As soon as I got my test kit in the mail, I went to AncestryDNA’s website, created an account, and entered the code printed on the test kit. This is so my account would be matched with my DNA sample.

  1. Sample Collection

I followed the instructions not to eat or drink for 30 minutes before collecting my saliva sample. (This was so my DNA sample wouldn’t be contaminated with any DNA from whatever I’d just consumed!)

When I was ready, I spat into the sample collection tube (being careful not to overfill). Then I screwed on the cap, which released a blue fluid to stabilize my DNA sample.

  1. Submission

I put the tube into the plastic envelope, put the envelope into the box, and sealed it. The postage is already paid, so you can just drop the box in the mail. After my sample was received, a mobile app lets me follow the status of my DNA analysis. A series of emails told me what was happening and what to expect. AncestryDNA Review

AncestryDNA emailed me when my results were ready. I was able to view the report on the website and in the mobile app.

See AncestryDNA Deals

A Detailed Look at AncestryDNA’s Ancestry Test

AncestryDNA’s ancestry test can tell you a lot about your ethnic heritage, and can even help you discover living relatives. If you subscribe to AncestryDNA’s genealogy service, you can build an extensive family tree using its huge database of historical records and your DNA matches. But this requires paying monthly fees above and beyond the cost of your DNA test.

Standout Features

  • Learn about the ethnicities and geographies that lie in your family’s past.
  • Find biological relatives within the company’s 15+ million person DNA database.
  • See how those DNA matches might be related to you.
  • Build a family tree using both DNA relatives and 20 billion historical records.
  • Optionally upgrade to receive AncestryDNA’s health and wellness report.

See AncestryDNA Deals

Other Tests to Consider

  • MyHeritage DNA: The most similar to AncestryDNA, both in the content of its ancestry report and in its linkage to a genealogy service. If you like the family tree feature, MyHeritage DNA’s subscription fees are lower than AncestryDNA’s.
  • 23andMe: Doesn’t have a genealogy service, though one may be added at some point. However, the ancestry reports have a lot more content.
  • Living DNA or FamilyTreeDNA: Very similar in scope to 23andMe. These tests are a little less expensive, but (in my opinion) are also a little less accurate.

Let’s Take a Look at My Ancestry Report

AncestryDNA Review

AncestryDNA said it would take six to eight weeks for it to finish analyzing my DNA and give me my results. That’s on the long side compared to other companies. However, I got my results in less than two weeks. Not bad! While my ancestry report contained some of the answers I was expecting, I found it less substantial than the ancestry report I got from 23andMe. I was happy to see that AncestryDNA’s ethnicity estimate did confirm my small sliver of South East Asian ancestry (although oddly the ethnicity estimate suggested my ancestry is 3% Filipino, not Indonesian). Aside from that – and not surprisingly – my DNA is about half Ashkenazi Jewish, and half other assorted European ethnicities: AncestryDNA Review

AncestryDNA Review

Next, my ancestry report gave me a list of individuals in AncestryDNA’s database who seem to be related to me via a DNA match. By clicking on each person, I can see how we’re probably related:AncestryDNA Review

AncestryDNA Review

AncestryDNA’s ThruLines service can then show me the common ancestors who likely connect me to my DNA matches:

AncestryDNA Review

I can also build a fairly limited online family tree (using only what I already know about my family):

AncestryDNA Review

If I subscribed to AncestryDNA’s genealogy service, I could add my DNA matches and people from historical records to this online tree. AncestryDNA’s database contains DNA from more than 15 million people, and the historical database contains 20 billion additional records. Bottom line: If you want to track down every known relative, you can do so through AncestryDNA. (Personally, I’d love to, but I think the monthly membership fee is a bit too much.) So, how does AncestryDNA’s ancestry report compare to competitors?

Without the additional capabilities that come with AncestryDNA membership, I found my AncestryDNA report a little disappointing. I have no reason to believe it’s inaccurate; there just isn’t much to it. It’s comparable in scope to the ancestry report I received from MyHeritage DNA, which didn’t impress me either.

By contrast, the ancestry report I got from 23andMe was a lot more detailed. (You can read more about my experience with 23andMe here.) It included elements like an ancestry timeline, information on my Neanderthal ancestry, an extensive history of my maternal and paternal haplogroups, and a section on how my DNA is likely to affect my physical traits. It felt like I got more value for my money.

See AncestryDNA Deals

Middle-of-the-Pack Test Kit Costs; Above-Average Subscription Fees

Ancestry Test Purchasing Options

  • AncestryDNA’s basic ancestry report gives you the information on your ethnicities and likely living relatives that I’ve described.
  • For a small added fee, you can get a report on how your genetic heritage may influence your physical characteristics and traits such as eye color. Competitors like 23andMe don’t charge extra for this.
  • You can also tap AncestryDNA’s vast historical records database to build an extensive online family tree, but this involves an extra monthly or semi-annual membership charge.

Health and Wellness Purchasing Options

  • AncestryDNA only has one purchasing option in this category.

Are AncestryDNA’s tests worth the price?

Ancestry Test

  • While the cost of AncestryDNA’s ancestry test is similar to 23andMe, I feel like I got a lot more interesting information from the latter, which means more value for the money.
  • MyHeritage DNA’s ancestry test is priced lower than the one from AncestryDNA, and includes roughly the same content.
  • AncestryDNA’s monthly genealogy membership subscription costs more than a subscription to MyHeritage.
  • However, the AncestryDNA database is much larger than MyHeritage, making it that much easier to build your family tree and find relatives.

Health and Wellness Test

  • AncestryDNA’s health and wellness test (which also includes its ancestry report) is a little lower in price than the comparable tests from its main competitors, 23andMe and MyHeritageDNA.
  • However, AncestryDNA’s health test doesn’t cover nearly as many disease risks or carrier statuses as the other two tests.
  • Out of the three health and wellness tests, 23andMe provides the most information in its reports.

AncestryDNA accepts PayPal, Visa, Mastercard, Discover, American Express, and Apple Pay. Aside from U.S. dollars, I’ve been unable to determine what currencies are accepted.

Ancestry
AncestryDNA
  • Read interesting details regarding your geographic history
  • Get insight into your regional origins and genealogy
  • Learn personality traits hidden within your DNA’s code

A Pretty Responsive Customer Service Team!

Every company should be judged, not only by what happens when things go the way they’re supposed to, but also by what happens when they don’t. Or at least what happens when you try to ask a question. In this area, AncestryDNA does pretty well, and seems to be committed to customer satisfaction. Like other testing companies, AncestryDNA publishes a support page, but it offers some pretty basic answers to a fairly limited set of questions.

You can get additional support through an online chatbot (which knows very little) or over the phone (9:00 am to 11:00 pm GMT-5 every day of the week).

My Support Experiences

I initially called the company to ask how long it takes to get results (six to eight weeks), and why it’s so much longer than other DNA testing services. The customer service representative was nice and courteous, and told me that AncestryDNA has a “world-class laboratory” (he implied it was superior to that of other companies), and that that’s just how long it takes.

He added that sometimes it goes faster if the lab isn’t too busy. And in fact, I got my results in less than two weeks! I also submitted this question about the health and wellness test via the online support request form:

The AncestryDNA health report only covered my risk for two cancers. There are a lot of other cancer types for which genetic markers can predict risk. Why weren’t they included? There are also a lot of other disease risks that other companies explore in their health reports, like age-related macular degeneration, late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, Crohn’s disease, etc. Why doesn’t AncestryHealth cover these?

I got an answer that same night (at 3:50 am GMT-5):

Hello Moss, Thank you for contacting Ancestry in regard to your Ancestry Health questions. In the future we hope to be able to provide more health reports for our members but at this time we cannot. If you need additional assistance, please feel free to reply to this message or call us at 1-800-ANCESTRY (1-800-262-3787) between the hours of 9am to 11pm EST, seven days a week. Sincerely, Uma Customer Solutions Associate Ancestry

This stock answer is not the support agent’s fault, of course, but it is not a great answer to my question.

Other Customers’ Support Issues

Some of AncestryDNA customers have complained about website glitches, not getting their test kits in the mail in a timely fashion, and especially the need to pay an extra monthly membership fee to find out much about their extended family.

But I haven’t seen any complaints about the reports being inaccurate, which is not the case with some other testing services. AncestryDNA really seems to care a lot about responding to complaints posted online and trying to make amends. To me, that demonstrates a strong commitment to customer service.

There Are More Substantial DNA Reports for the Price

AncestryDNA has provided more customers with DNA analyses than any other DNA test company. This information is correlated with the company’s huge ancestry database that helps customers discover and map out all their current and recent relatives around the world. If that’s what you’re primarily interested in, and if you’re willing to pay a monthly fee for the genealogy service, AncestryDNA is a very good option for an ancestry test, although the subscription cost is higher than what MyHeritage charges.

However, if all you want is an ancestry test, with no genealogy service and no ongoing financial commitment, other companies provide a lot more information for the money. As for the health test, it currently covers only a very limited set of disease risks and carrier statuses. Other companies test for more. That said, AncestryDNA does tell you whether you’re likely to have trouble absorbing various nutrients, which is something its biggest competitors don’t offer. There’s a lot to consider here. Regardless of what’s most important to you, I hope I’ve helped you make an informed DNA test choice.

See AncestryDNA Deals

FAQ

How accurate is AncestryDNA?

AncestryDNA’s ancestry results are highly accurate. The company has the DNA of more than 16 million customers in its database, which allows it to identify many people who are likely to be your relatives based on your shared DNA. These 16 million samples are also a powerful data set to draw upon in order to analyze your family’s ethnic origins. AncestryDNA compares your DNA to samples from more than 1,000 distinct geographic regions and ethnicities around the world, allowing them to estimate your ethnicities with a high level of confidence.

For your health report, AncestryDNA looks at specific genetic markers in your DNA that have been shown to predict your relative risk of developing various diseases or being a carrier for various congenital conditions. Either you have these markers or you don’t. AncestryDNA is able to detect the presence or absence of these markers and tell you what that means for you.

However, finding such markers doesn’t mean you will get a particular disease in your lifetime, or that you will pass a certain congenital disorder on to your children. It just means that your risk may be higher than most people’s. Commercial DNA test results are no replacement for a medical opinion, and your doctor can help you to better determine your actual level of risk.

How long does it take to receive results from an AncestryDNA test?

Once AncestryDNA receives your DNA sample, it should take about 6-8 weeks for you to get your test results. This is on the longer side compared to other companies; for example, 23andMe’s results typically arrive within 2-4 weeks. Our reviewer received his AncestryDNA results in just 2 weeks, but your mileage may vary.

How many generations back does AncestryDNA’s reporting go?

AncestryDNA can trace your family back through approximately seven generations. You share half of your DNA with each of your parents, a quarter of your DNA with each of your grandparents and so on. You share smaller and smaller amounts of DNA with each ancestor the farther back in time you go.

By the time you’ve gone back seven generations, you share less than one percent of your DNA with any given ancestor. Going back any farther, the margin for error is so high that your results would be relatively meaningless (no pun intended).

How much does AncestryDNA’s services cost?

AncestryDNA’s ancestry test sells for $99.00, but is sometimes available at a discount. The company’s ancestry + health test costs $149.00. This is relatively on par with other leading DNA testing companies. For instance, 23andMe charges the same for its ancestry test and $199.00 for ancestry + health. MyHeritage DNA, among the lowest, charges $79.00 for its ancestry test and $199.00 for ancestry + health.

Who should consider taking an AncestryDNA test?

If you’re interested in receiving accurate information on your ancestry as well as building an extensive online family tree, AncestryDNA is an excellent choice. By comparing your DNA sample to its over 16 million other DNA customers representing more than 1,000 different geographical regions and ethnicities, it can identify your family’s ethnicities with confidence and locate many living relatives from around the world to add to your family tree. And its more than 2 billion historical records are also a powerful asset in helping you discover new family members and ancestors.

A Detailed Look at AncestryDNA’s Health and Wellness Test

AncestryDNA’s health test explores your genetic disease risk and whether you’re likely to be a carrier for certain congenital conditions. It also explores how your DNA can affect factors like vitamin absorption, lactose tolerance, and caffeine consumption.

Standout Features

  • Discover whether you’re genetically predisposed to any of six diseases.
  • See if you have DNA markers associated with three congenital conditions.
  • Find out about your predispositions to six vitamin deficiencies, plus caffeine consumption and lactose tolerance.
  • Access genetic counseling on demand via AncestryDNA’s partner, PWNHealth.
  • Receive the company’s ancestry report as part of your purchase.

See AncestryDNA Deals

Other Tests to Consider

  • 23andMe: Tests for 13 health risks and 44 carrier statuses. Also includes Health Traits, a Wellness Action Plan, and other features.
  • MyHeritageDNA: Tests for 13 health risks and 13 carrier statuses.
  • Futura Genetics: Tests for 28 health risks (but no carrier statuses).

Here Is My Health and Wellness Report

I had to wait four weeks to receive my health and wellness results from AncestryDNA, which is a fair bit longer than the two weeks it took to receive my ancestry report.

The first time I went to view my results, I was shown a brief introduction that places AncestryDNA’s findings into context. When my results were ready, the dashboard looked like this:

AncestryDNA Review

The results are arranged into:

  1. Notable Health Results (if any)
  2. Health Results
  3. Wellness Results
  4. Understanding Genetics

Note that if you have a gene marker associated with a particular disease risk or carrier status, it doesn’t mean you actually have that disease risk or carrier status. It just means you’re more likely to. Also, your lifestyle is a factor. Conversely, if you don’t have any markers associated with a disease risk or carrier status, it doesn’t mean you definitely don’t have that disease risk or carrier status.

Your lifestyle is a factor here, too. Now let’s dig deeper into the different results.

Notable Health Results

AncestryDNA Review

I understand this section is populated only if AncestryDNA has identified any particular findings of concern; in my case, the issue of Familial Hypercholesterolemia. Interestingly, this risk was based on my declared family history of high cholesterol rather than any genetic markers (since none were found). Here’s what the report says about familial hypercholesterolemia:

AncestryDNA Review

It then presents some key takeaways:

AncestryDNA Review

The report then goes into more detail about my disease risk. After that, it explains what familial hypercholesterolemia is, and explores how ethnicity can affect a person’s disease risk. Finally, I was advised to speak to a healthcare provider about this condition, and given recommendations for minimizing risk for me and my family.

AncestryDNA Review

If you have any questions or concerns about your findings, you can request genetic counseling through AncestryDNA’s partner, PWNHealth.

AncestryDNA Review

As you’ll see, AncestryDNA’s presentation for most of the conditions follows a similar format.

Health Results

AncestryDNA Review

The Health Results section is broken down into three categories: Cancer Risk, Carrier Status, and Heart & Blood Health.

But here’s the thing: DNA tests are capable of evaluating many more health risks aside from cancer and heart/blood health. (By the way, medical professionals would not usually combine heart and blood health. Heart health is the province of cardiologists. Blood health – in this case hereditary hemochromatosis and hereditary thrombophilia – is managed by hematologists.)

Other testing companies screen your DNA for markers associated with age-related macular degeneration, late-onset Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, Crohn’s disease, and a lot more.

Cancer Risk

AncestryDNA Review

Even the Cancer Risk section only covers Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome and Lynch Syndrome. I feel like checks could have been made for at least a few more genetically linked cancers, such as MUTYH-associated colorectal cancer.

Anyway, here’s what my report says about hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome (i.e., cancers caused by certain defects in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes):

AncestryDNA Review

Then there’s a standard disclaimer, reminding me that a negative result doesn’t mean I won’t develop breast or ovarian cancer (although, as a male, I’m probably not going to contract ovarian cancer):

The HBOC report goes on from there, but the format and content are similar to what you saw with familial hypercholesterolemia, above. So let’s move on.

Carrier Status

AncestryDNA Review

AncestryDNA checks your carrier status for three congenital conditions: cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, and Tay-Sachs disease. These are three of the most common – and scary – diseases you could pass on to your children.

In contrast, MyHeritage checks your carrier status for 13 congenital conditions. 23andMe checks 44, including tyrosinemia type 1. So again, I’m wondering why AncestryDNA didn’t look at more.

For each of the conditions, the report follows a standard presentation of information:

  • What the results mean for you
  • What the disease/condition is
  • How ethnicity impacts risk
  • Test limitations

About those limitations: To assess my carrier status, AncestryDNA only looked at 17 of the more than 700 variations in the CFTR gene that have been linked to CF.

I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt and hope that those 17 variants are the most common and telltale markers of carrier status. But even so, if I really was worried that I might be a carrier, I would hope for a more thorough analysis.

That’s essentially the overall pattern with my AncestryDNA health report. It only provides a pretty limited number of health risks and carrier statuses. And for each of those, only a short list of potential DNA markers were analyzed.

AncestryDNA declared that I’m probably not at increased risk of any of them – but how reassured should I be? It leaves me feeling a little dissatisfied with the content of the health report that I paid good money for.

Want my advice? If you’re planning to have children, get an actual blood test from an OB/GYN or reproductive medicine specialist. Don’t rely solely on a commercial DNA test to tell you if you’re a carrier for any of these diseases.

Heart and Blood Health

AncestryDNA Review

This report covers my risk of:

  • Cardiomyopathy (no DNA differences found, but I could still have it)
  • Familial hypercholesterolemia (no DNA differences found, but my family history puts me at higher risk; see “Notable Health Results,” above)
  • Hereditary hemochromatosis (no DNA differences found)
  • Hereditary thrombophilia (no DNA differences found)

Each of these sections gets its own summary of my results, key takeaways, what this means for me, what is the condition in question, how ethnicity comes into play, what I can do to avoid it, and the limitations of the report.

Here’s what my report says about cardiomyopathy:

“This technology looked for 9 of the more than 1,100 DNA differences in the MYH7 and MYBPC3 genes that scientific research has found are linked to cardiomyopathy. These are the DNA differences this technology can best detect, but it’s possible you could have DNA differences linked to cardiomyopathy that this test did not look for.”

Wellness Reports

AncestryDNA Review

This section explores my genetic likelihood of having below-normal levels of:

  • Beta-carotene
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E

It also covers my genetic likelihood of lactose intolerance and what my DNA says about my likely caffeine consumption.

In my case, the report tells me that people with my genes tend to have normal levels of these nutrients and are likely to consume an average amount of caffeine. I mention this because a DNA health test from 23andMe told me I’m likely to consume more caffeine than most people.

Understanding Genetics

AncestryDNA Review

This last area in my AncestryDNA health report explains how genetics and genetic testing work:

AncestryDNA Review

Finally, I had the opportunity to fill out my family health history as a way of visualizing what health risks I may have inherited. I can click on each of my forebears and assign some health conditions to them.

AncestryDNA Review

Personally, I didn’t find this feature to be all that special. How does AncestryDNA’s health and wellness report compare to others on the market?

  • More DNA companies are getting into the health and wellness testing business, so you have lots of options to choose from.
  • AncestryDNA only tests for a very limited number of health risks (two types of cancers, four heart and blood diseases) and three carrier statuses.
  • It doesn’t feel like very many genetic markers were analyzed before it was concluded that I’m in the clear for basically everything.
  • However, AncestryDNA tests for genetic predispositions around vitamin absorption, which many other health and wellness testers (including 23andMe) don’t include.

If you’re looking for lots of substance and plenty of actionable information in a DNA health report, you can do better than AncestryDNA.

See AncestryDNA Deals

Middle-of-the-Pack Test Kit Costs; Above-Average Subscription Fees

Ancestry Test Purchasing Options

  • AncestryDNA’s basic ancestry report gives you the information on your ethnicities and likely living relatives that I’ve described.
  • For a small added fee, you can get a report on how your genetic heritage may influence your physical characteristics and traits such as eye color. Competitors like 23andMe don’t charge extra for this.
  • You can also tap AncestryDNA’s vast historical records database to build an extensive online family tree, but this involves an extra monthly or semi-annual membership charge.

Health and Wellness Purchasing Options

  • AncestryDNA only has one purchasing option in this category.

Are AncestryDNA’s tests worth the price?

Ancestry Test

  • While the cost of AncestryDNA’s ancestry test is similar to 23andMe, I feel like I got a lot more interesting information from the latter, which means more value for the money.
  • MyHeritage DNA’s ancestry test is priced lower than the one from AncestryDNA, and includes roughly the same content.
  • AncestryDNA’s monthly genealogy membership subscription costs more than a subscription to MyHeritage.
  • However, the AncestryDNA database is much larger than MyHeritage, making it that much easier to build your family tree and find relatives.

Health and Wellness Test

  • AncestryDNA’s health and wellness test (which also includes its ancestry report) is a little lower in price than the comparable tests from its main competitors, 23andMe and MyHeritageDNA.
  • However, AncestryDNA’s health test doesn’t cover nearly as many disease risks or carrier statuses as the other two tests.
  • Out of the three health and wellness tests, 23andMe provides the most information in its reports.

AncestryDNA accepts PayPal, Visa, Mastercard, Discover, American Express, and Apple Pay. Aside from U.S. dollars, I’ve been unable to determine what currencies are accepted.

Health & Wellness
AncestryHealth
  • Receive actionable health and wellness reports
  • Get support from genetic counselors
  • Build a family health history tree

A Pretty Responsive Customer Service Team!

Every company should be judged, not only by what happens when things go the way they’re supposed to, but also by what happens when they don’t. Or at least what happens when you try to ask a question.

In this area, AncestryDNA does pretty well, and seems to be committed to customer satisfaction.

Like other testing companies, AncestryDNA publishes a support page, but it offers some pretty basic answers to a fairly limited set of questions.

AncestryDNA Review

You can get additional support through an online chatbot (which knows very little) or over the phone (9:00 am to 11:00 pm GMT-5 every day of the week).

My Support Experiences

I initially called the company to ask how long it takes to get results (six to eight weeks), and why it’s so much longer than other DNA testing services.

The customer service representative was nice and courteous, and told me that AncestryDNA has a “world-class laboratory” (he implied it was superior to that of other companies), and that that’s just how long it takes. He added that sometimes it goes faster if the lab isn’t too busy. And in fact, I got my results in less than two weeks!

I also submitted this question about the health and wellness test via the online support request form:

The AncestryDNA health report only covered my risk for two cancers. There are a lot of other cancer types for which genetic markers can predict risk. Why weren’t they included? There are also a lot of other disease risks that other companies explore in their health reports, like age-related macular degeneration, late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, Crohn’s disease, etc. Why doesn’t AncestryHealth cover these?

I got an answer that same night (at 3:50 am GMT-5):

Hello Moss, Thank you for contacting Ancestry in regard to your Ancestry Health questions. In the future we hope to be able to provide more health reports for our members but at this time we cannot. If you need additional assistance, please feel free to reply to this message or call us at 1-800-ANCESTRY (1-800-262-3787) between the hours of 9am to 11pm EST, seven days a week. Sincerely, Uma Customer Solutions Associate Ancestry

This stock answer is not the support agent’s fault, of course, but it is not a great answer to my question.

Other Customers’ Support Issues

Some of AncestryDNA customers have complained about website glitches, not getting their test kits in the mail in a timely fashion, and especially the need to pay an extra monthly membership fee to find out much about their extended family.

But I haven’t seen any complaints about the reports being inaccurate, which is not the case with some other testing services. AncestryDNA really seems to care a lot about responding to complaints posted online and trying to make amends. To me, that demonstrates a strong commitment to customer service.

There Are More Substantial DNA Reports for the Price

AncestryDNA has provided more customers with DNA analyses than any other DNA test company. This information is correlated with the company’s huge ancestry database that helps customers discover and map out all their current and recent relatives around the world.

If that’s what you’re primarily interested in, and if you’re willing to pay a monthly fee for the genealogy service, AncestryDNA is a very good option for an ancestry test, although the subscription cost is higher than what MyHeritage charges.

However, if all you want is an ancestry test, with no genealogy service and no ongoing financial commitment, other companies provide a lot more information for the money. As for the health test, it currently covers only a very limited set of disease risks and carrier statuses. Other companies test for more.

That said, AncestryDNA does tell you whether you’re likely to have trouble absorbing various nutrients, which is something its biggest competitors don’t offer.

There’s a lot to consider here. Regardless of what’s most important to you, I hope I’ve helped you make an informed DNA test choice.

See AncestryDNA Deals

FAQ

How accurate is AncestryDNA?

AncestryDNA’s ethnicity estimates are extremely accurate. Its health test results are as accurate as any, but the company tests for fewer health risks and carrier statuses than many other companies.

How long does it take to receive results from an AncestryDNA test?

Once AncestryDNA receives your DNA sample, it should take about 6-8 weeks for you to get your test results.

How many generations back does AncestryDNA’s reporting go?

AncestryDNA traces your family back through seven generations. Any farther back than that, the company says its results would be inaccurate.

How much does AncestryDNA’s services cost? (Any discounts?)

AncestryDNA’s ancestry test sells for $99.00 US, but is sometimes available at a discount. The company’s ancestry + health test costs $149.00 US. As for their genealogy service, you pay $99.00 US for a six-month subscription, or $24.99 US per month for a monthly subscription.

Who should consider taking an AncestryDNA test?

An AncestryDNA test is ideal for anyone who wants to combine accurate information on their ancestry with access to a huge genealogy database and would like to build an online family tree.

So Many Records, So Little Time

Family Tree by Ancestry Homepage

You’re all excited about the prospect of building your family tree online. You’re researching your options. And you discover, wow! Family Tree by Ancestry has 13+ billion historical records! Wow! It also has more DNA samples in its database than any other DNA testing company – over 16 million!

And you think: If I want to build a really accurate and detailed family tree, surely I can find more of the information I want through the Ancestry family tree builder than anywhere else.

But is the volume of data the only consideration? You should also ask yourself how easy or hard Family Tree by Ancestry is to use…and whether its advantages justify its hefty monthly subscription fees. And whether your family’s geographical origins are well represented within those many, many historical records.

I signed up for a trial subscription and tested it out myself. Here’s my story. I hope it will help you decide whether a Family Tree by Ancestry subscription would be worth your while (and money).

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My Search for My Most Elusive Ancestors

My main curiosity about my ancestry involves some details from my maternal grandmother’s family line. I’m particularly interested in tracing my family roots back to our most famous supposed ancestor, Gerard van Swieten (1700-1772), who was the personal physician of the Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa. How exactly am I descended from him?

I also wanted to locate my rumored and much-discussed Indonesian ancestor on that same family line. Not only does she figure prominently in my family history, but several DNA tests that I’ve taken (including the one from AncestryDNA) have confirmed that I have some Indonesian or Filipino ancestry. But what was her name, how many generations back did she marry into my family, and when was she alive?

So, I set out to solve these two mysteries. This was the process:

amily Tree by Ancestry – Starting Your Family Tree Couldn't Be

The first step was to create an account on the Family Tree by Ancestry website, sign in on my computer and/or smartphone, go to “Trees,” and start building my family tree – beginning with myself.

Next, I added my mother, where she lived, what year she was born, and when she died. After that, I added my grandmother and grandfather. Then, I searched the company’s records for each of them. Here are some of the results I got for my grandfather.

Family Tree by Ancestry Search Results for My Grandfather

I checked out each of these records, and where they were clearly a match, I added them to my grandfather’s profile.

I’ve been able to do this research and access my family tree both on my computer (via web browser) and on my iPhone (via the proprietary mobile app).

Family Tree by Ancestry provides hints of people and/or historical records I could consider adding to my tree. Whenever I find a record that seems to match, I’m given the option to add it.

MyHeritage does this too. That company sends me frequent emails to tell me it has found likely relatives within its records. If I had a paid genealogy subscription, I’d be able to view these matches and add them to my tree. I like this proactive approach better than the one taken by the Ancestry family tree builder, where I have to be logged in to see if there are new ancestry hints for me.

The historical records I’ve seen on Family Tree by Ancestry include birth, death, and marriage certificates, immigration documents, and a lot more. Some of these documents are really cool – like the record from my grandmother’s emigration to the US.

Emigration Record from Family Tree by Ancestry's Database

Family Tree by Ancestry will also occasionally tell me they’ve found a potential ancestor for me to add.

Family Tree by Ancestry's Potential Ancestry Match

Over time, I’ve been able to uncover and add more and add records. This is how far I got over the course of about a week:

My Growing Family History on Family Tree by Ancestry

If I want, I can share my tree with other people – either via email, Family Tree by Ancestry’s username, or shareable link – and give them the ability to contribute to or edit my tree.

How to Share Your Tree on the Ancestry Family Tree Builder

And since my Family Tree by Ancestry account is linked to my AncestryDNA profile, theoretically the company can suggest potential relatives from among its millions of other customers based on our shared DNA.

But that hasn’t happened. I have yet to see one DNA match suggested as an addition to my tree.

I also searched for the family name that I’m particularly keen to explore – van Swieten – and while there are a number of Family Tree by Ancestry members with that family name, none of them has taken the company’s DNA test.

Anyway, if I keep going with this project, over time my family tree could become extremely elaborate and awe-inspiring. I’d be building an extremely rich history of my family that would be very meaningful to me and all my living relatives as well as to future generations.

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5 Standout Features of Family Tree by Ancestry

1. World’s largest genealogy database – 13 billion records

No other genealogy company has nearly this many records in it. For instance, MyHeritage only has around nine billion records. So you’re mathematically more likely to find relevant information on Family Tree by Ancestry than on MyHeritage. However, not all areas of the world are represented the same; there are more records from Europe than South America, for example.

2. World’s largest DNA database – 16 million people tested

16 million people have gotten their DNA tested through AncestryDNA – again, more than any other commercial genetic testing company can boast. (MyHeritage has 2.5 million, by way of comparison.) Again, you should, therefore, be more likely to locate relatives through this company than competitor testing companies.

However, as mentioned earlier, this only helps you if your relatives have actually taken the test. Personally, I wasn’t able to locate any matches for the people on the branch of my family tree that I was investigating. But you might have better luck.

3. Add DNA matches and historical records to your tree

You can search Family Tree by Ancestry’s historical and DNA records for certain names, and you can incorporate the results that you find into your tree, making it more rich and visual. For a particular family member, you can often find quite a number of historical documents and records – and these, in turn, can help you discover even more new people who’re related to that family member.

4. Receive hints about records and people you can add

Family Tree by Ancestry’s algorithms will search through the company’s records and then give you hints to help you find and add new people to your family tree. This can help you grow your tree much more quickly than if you had to uncover those people on your own.

Personally, I received many hints while doing my ancestry research, most of which were extremely helpful in helping me grow my family tree.

5. Exchange family tree information with other members

In the course of your research, you will sometimes discover that members of your family also exist on another Family Tree by Ancestry member’s family tree. You can then benefit from the family connections that those other members have already put together. This saves you from having to “reinvent the wheel” when building your tree!

In fact, I just found out that one of my relatives has a HUGE van Swieten family tree on the Ancestry family tree builder. I’ve asked him to share his tree with me, and I expect this will answer quite a few of my questions about my family history.

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I Had a Lot of Growing Pains!

Using Family Tree by Ancestry is strangely addictive. In fact, it can turn into a massive time suck! I’ve been sitting here for days on end, looking up names, following hints, and adding people and historical documents to my tree! There are many time-consuming holes for me to get sucked into. (Please send help!)

At the same time, it can be very frustrating. The results I get for my name searches aren’t always very “smart,” and include too many people who didn’t live within the right time span to be the relatives I’m looking for. And when I’ve accepted the wrong record match by mistake, it led to a lot of wasted time and effort chasing after the wrong people, and got me very confused.

I made mistakes and then found it hard to fix them. Maybe I was a bit sloppy accepting suggested matching records. Maybe there were simply too many people in the Netherlands named Pieter van Swieten, Cornelis van Swieten, or Willem van Swieten.

But somehow I added several individuals to my tree who were in the wrong generation, or who mistakenly seemed to be their own parents. Or who appeared to be polygamously married to two separate women that were actually the same person with two slightly different names. Once I discovered these errors, they were bafflingly hard to fix without undoing hours of work.

Once I was about ready to scream, I chatted with a Family Tree by Ancestry support person and got past some of these stumbling blocks – see “Support,” below.

Still, while I’m starting to get the hang of it, I still find the user interface annoying and counterintuitive at times. It was hard for me to figure out how to navigate either the website or the mobile app in the first place. And obviously I had trouble discerning when two seemingly separate people with the same name were actually the same person.

And then there was the upsell issue. I started out with a basic membership. But in researching my mother’s family – all of whom lived in Europe – I ran into limitations on what kinds of records I could access. To get to anything useful, I had to upgrade to a more expensive membership level.

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Some Mysteries Remain

I’ve now spent at least ten hours trying to find my Javanese ancestor, or establish how (or whether) I’m actually descended from Gerard van Swieten. No luck so far. But I feel like I’m getting closer, and if I could just spend another hour – and then another – and then another…

I have a distant relative in Canada who has a huge van Swieten family tree on the Ancestry family tree builder and has offered to share it with me. I showed him what I had uncovered so far, and he pointed out several errors that I had made.

He wasn’t able to identify my Indonesian ancestor, but he was able to explain how I’m related to Gerardus van Swieten. This begs the question:

If one of my relatives has already worked out all of these familial relationships before me, why couldn’t Family Tree by Ancestry basically have handed me my entire van Swieten family tree in one fell swoop? Why did I spend hours and hours trying to figure out who was whose father and mother, etc., when all this is well known and documented?

Maybe some people just enjoy the research for its own sake. But I would rather have been spared the agony of chasing down so many leads, only to discover dead ends. Or at the very least, I would rather just have received one accurate hint after another, which would have allowed me to complete this family tree in a quarter of the time.

All in all, you can use Family Tree by Ancestry to construct your family’s genealogy and populate it with a ton of fascinating historical documents. But if you’re like me, be prepared to invest a huge amount of time, and run into a lot of frustrations along the way.

But How Good is Family Tree by Ancestry If You’re Not of European Descent?

A lot of genealogy companies have significantly more records of European populations than on other populations around the globe. How does Family Tree by Ancestry stack up? The answer is, “it depends.”

You can specify what regions you want to include in any records search, and the website tells you how many historical records are available for that region.

North America does pretty well in that regard, although it depends on the country; there are more than 900,000 records available for the US, vs. only 608 for Mexico.

Similarly, in Europe, the UK has more than 999,999 records; Germany has over 10,000; and Spain has 33.

Family Tree by Ancestry's Historical Record Database for North America and Europe

There are (fortunately!) more records for Africa than I would have expected: more than 999,999 for South Africa, for example, and several hundred each for Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda, Zambia, and Sierra Leone.

South America is not so fortunate. Family Tree by Ancestry has the most records for Brazil (3,400), but only eight for Columbia! That’s eight records as in eight people.

Family Tree by Ancestry's Historical Record Database for Africa and South America

Oceania is even more scant. There are more than 30,000 records for Australia, but only two (!) for Samoa. And only 30 for Indonesia…so what are the chances I could ever find my Javanese ancestor here?

Surprisingly, Asia is the least well-represented region of them all. 2,187 records for China – the most populated country in the world! And only 67 for India, 12 for North Korea, etc.

I don’t know if other genealogy companies do a better job of covering these areas, but I wouldn’t recommend Family Tree by Ancestry for people of Asian, Oceanian, or South American descent.

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The Potentially High Cost of Your Voyage of Discovery

Family Tree by Ancestry has three different tiers of membership depending on what kinds of records you’d like to access: US Discovery, World Explorer, and All Access. You can pay for each by the month, or get a discount when you pay for six months at a time.

If you’re like me, and are trying to get to a lot of historical records from Europe or elsewhere, chances are that a basic (“US Discovery”) subscription isn’t going to do it. Family Tree by Ancestry will dangle a tempting piece of information in front of you, and then whoops! To access it, you have to upgrade.

Family Tree by Ancestry's Tiered Package Options

It’s nice that you get a break if you pay for six months at a time: you can save around $50, $90, or $100 over the monthly price, depending on the tier level. But if you do the math, an annual subscription will still end up costing you hundreds of dollars per year.

In comparison, Family Tree by Ancestry’s biggest rival – MyHeritage – will also cost hundreds of dollars a year. Now, granted, the Ancestry family tree builder possesses more historical records than MyHeritage (13 billion vs. 8.8 billion). But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’d be any more satisfied with the process of Family Tree by Ancestry.

Is Family Tree by Ancestry worth it? Only you can decide whether the ability to build a detailed family tree over time, full of historical records, and conduct your own genealogy research is worth the amount of money you’d pay. But you might find this reassuring:

If you cancel your subscription, you can still access your Family Tree by Ancestry. You can…

  • View and continue building your family tree. Mind you, you won’t be able to access most of Family Tree by Ancestry’s historical records, but if you learn about new ancestors some other way, you can add them manually.
  • Respond to messages from other Family Tree by Ancestry members.
  • Initiate messages with your AncestryDNA matches, if you’ve taken the company’s DNA test.
  • See that there are new Family Tree by Ancestry hints (but not read them or add them to your tree).
  • Search Family Tree by Ancestry’s database and access certain free indexes, even without a paid membership.

So, theoretically, you could spend a month, or a few months, doing whatever intensive research you want to do and then cancel your subscription – while continuing to be able to access your family tree forever.

Family Tree by Ancestry accepts PayPal, Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover.

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A Pretty Productive Chat

As I said earlier, I was getting very frustrated working on my family tree – especially since I’d added a number of known relatives and then couldn’t find them anywhere!

So, I used the Family Tree by Ancestry chat feature to try to get some help. And, after waiting for a while, I got through to a very nice customer service person named Fiona.

Family Tree by Ancestry's Customer Support Experience

Fiona introduced me to a feature I hadn’t noticed called a “Tree Search,” which lets me view all the people I’ve added to my tree – including the ones I couldn’t see on my tree yet because I hadn’t established how they were related to the people I could see.

When I did this, I found out that there were a lot of duplicate people on my list. Most of these I was able to merge. The more connections I was able to make between the various individuals, the more the pieces started to come together.

Anyway, my point is that if you get stuck somehow while using the Family Tree by Ancestry builder, a knowledgeable helping hand is just an online chat away.

A Powerful Genealogy Research Tool, If You Have the Time and Money for It

If you’re passionate about your family history, Family Tree by Ancestry is definitely a very good option (depending on where your family is from)! Particularly if you’re of European descent, you will almost certainly be able to explore your family tree going back quite a few generations and spreading laterally in all directions.

Just bear in mind that all this research takes time. Lots of it. And if you’re planning on doing this research ongoingly for months and years to come, the costs can add up too.

Alternatively, you might want to look into MyHeritage’s tree builder. The company still has impressive genealogy and DNA databases, but I found the suggestions to be more helpful than Family Tree by Ancestry, not to mention there is a free plan option – meaning, you could save both time and money.

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FAQ

Can I import my AncestryDNA results into Family Tree by Ancestry?

If you’ve taken AncestryDNA’s DNA test, you can view a long list of “DNA Matches,” i.e., people who appear to be related to you based on your DNA. Some of them may even be 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th cousins. You can then contact these people and get their permission to view their family trees, and even merge their family trees with yours.

How is Family Tree by Ancestry different from the one offered by MyHeritage?

The main difference between these two family tree builders is database size. Family Tree by Ancestry’s database contains more than 13 billion historical records; MyHeritage’s database contains around 8.8 billion. Both of which are impressive. 

That may mean you’re mathematically more likely to find someone in Family Tree by Ancestry’s database than in MyHeritage’s database. But that difference might be completely unnoticeable to a lot of people.

Aside from database size, the differences between the two family tree builders are somewhat minimal. For instance, if you don’t have a paid subscription, you can only create a 250-member family tree on MyHeritage, whereas Family Tree by Ancestry has no such limitation.

And then, of course, there’s the matter of monthly subscription costs. MyHeritage is consistently less expensive than Family Tree by Ancestry, and even offers a free version.

Do I need to take the AncestryDNA test to be able to use Family Tree by Ancestry?

No, you absolutely do not. To use Family Tree by Ancestry, all you need to do is create an account. Then you can build your online family tree, starting with yourself, and manually add all the relatives you know about.

If you want to be able to search through the company’s historical records and use them to add members to your family tree, you’ll need a paid subscription – although the first month is free.

If you do take the AncestryDNA test, you could theoretically leverage the relatives you discover via that test in building your family tree.

How much does Family Tree by Ancestry cost? 

You can manually build your own family tree on Family Tree by Ancestry, just by creating a free account. However, if you want to be able to search through the historical records and add the people you find to your tree – with all the historical documents that are associated with those people – you need a paid monthly subscription. (The first month is free.)

Depending on how many collections of historical records you want to be able to access, you will pay anywhere from about $25-50 per month, or from a hundred to a couple hundred dollars for six months at a time.

By way of comparison, a subscription to MyHeritage is less expensive. There is a free option or, depending on the tier you choose, you can pay up to about $10-25 a month for a full year.

Moss Stern
Moss Stern
Writer
Moss Stern is a professional writer, amateur musician, voracious fiction reader, recreational bicyclist, cutthroat Scrabble player, and gleeful health and science nerd. He resides in the vicinity of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

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