This is by far, the most common question I hear during my DNA presentations or informal discussions about DNA. Simple answer – there is no best DNA test or best DNA company. More complicated answer – it depends on what you want DNA testing to help you with. In most cases, none of the above is still the best answer for most reasons people want to DNA test. In other cases, Y-DNA or mtDNA is a better answer and for the most, FamilyTree DNA (FTDNA) or YSEQ.net are almost the only choices for these. For adoptees, orphans, and those with unknown or questionable parentage, my answer is simple – test with all of the Big Five (FTDNA, Ancestry, 23andMe, MyHeritage, and LivingDNA). LivingDNA is one of the newest kids on the DNA testing block, but it has potential to become a major player. I didn’t include National Geographic’s Geno 2.0 Next although I consider it part of the Big Six since it has over 830,000 people tested around the world. I may need to increase it to the Big Seven if Helix becomes a big enough player in the field. If you want deep Y-DNA and moderate to deep mtDNA, then Geno 2.0 was the way to go. Currently, it’s on sale on Helix for $99.95 ($69.95 if you already have a Helix kit). If you order it directly from National Geographic, it’s $99.95 with no discount for having a Helix kit so order it directly from Helix if you have DNA tested with Helix previously. For ethnic results, check out my post about Judy G. Russell’s response (scroll down a couple of paragaphs) on how to take ethnic results.
I posted previously about buying 23andMe kits at local Wal-Mart, Target, CVS, or Walgreens locations. They are still roughly $30, plus an activation fee of $70 for Genealogy or $170 for Genealogy + Health. It’s usually better to order directly from 23andMe or Amazon during a sale unless you have somebody dying fast in which case buying a local kit may be your only option.
Each of the major companies (Ancestry, 23andMe, MyHeritage, and FTDNA) has advantages and disadvantages. For starters, some people only test with one of the companies and don’t upload to GEDmatch so you won’t find them if you don’t test with the same company. I have tested with all but MyHeritage, but I transferred my 23andMe (v3 chip so it had the largest number of SNPs of the major companies with over 960K SNPs) to MyHeritage for free. Ancestry doesn’t offer a Chromosome Browser and has no plans to do so. It has the largest database at about 8 million testers, and will probably hit 9 million in the very near future. However, 23andMe is over 3 million with MyHeritage at 1 million; FTDNA has over 550,000 in their database and processed over 2 million when you count the MyHeritage and Geno 2.0 kits they processed even though most of the kits aren’t included for matching purposes. MyHeritage is probably the biggest threat to Ancestry dominance because it offers free transfers and often undercuts Ancestry’s price. FTDNA allows you to do Y-DNA (for males) and mtDNA as well as numerous other tests that most companies don’t offer. MyHeritage is one of the new kids on the block and will improve its results as they become more familiar with DNA. 23andMe offers health if you spend the extra $100 for the upgrade, but you can easily get more information from Promethease or other sites for a lot less than $100. 23andMe offers a limited haplogroup based on SNPs, but you would need to do Y-DNA or mtDNA for a deeper haplogroup. MyHeritage has the potential of reaching a broader non-U.S. market based on the growing number of testers going with MyHeritage who are outside the U.S. Another downside to 23andMe and Ancestry is the ability to opt-out of DNA sharing. Ancestry also has major messaging system issues with both of its ways to contact other users.
Ideally, you need to test at all four major companies (five once LivingDNA starts accepting transfers; six if Helix later jumps on the matching bandwagon) – while you can transfer your Ancestry results to MyHeritage, FTDNA, WeGene, and DNA.Land, its chip set is different enough you will miss a fair number of matches by doing the free transfers to MyHeritage and FTDNA. LivingDNA is in the process of allowing free transfers once they get things set up so that will be another option. The main differences in the various free transfers involves how much you get for free. LivingDNA will provide matching once it’s set up, but won’t include ethnic results as part of your free transfer. FTDNA allows limited free transfers, but you don’t get full benefit unless you pay $19 (sometimes as low as $10 during a sale) to do a full upgrade. MyHeritage, WeGene, and DNA.Land don’t appear to have any problematic limits on the free transfers.