Where to start? Part II – Comparing genealogical DNA tests When you’re just starting your genetic genealogy adventure it might not be easy to choose a test. This article will help you make this decision. If you haven’t read the first part of this article entitled “Genealogical DNA tests- where to start?” I strongly recommend starting there, as it contains information on different DNA tests, who should get them, differences in ethnicity, and uploading the results to different databases.
When you’re just starting your genetic genealogy adventure it might not be easy to choose a test. This article will help you make this decision. If you haven’t read the first part of this article entitled “Genealogical DNA tests- where to start?” I strongly recommend starting there, as it contains information on different DNA tests, who should get them, differences in ethnicity, and uploading the results to different databases.
Ancestry has the biggest number of people in their genealogical DNA database – more than 22 million users1.
In the box we will find four elements:
- A container with a tube, to which we should spit and close with a top with stabilising fluid,
- A card with activation code and instructions on how to collect your saliva sample,
- A collection bag, in which we place the tube when it’s ready to be shipped back,
- A return shipping mailer. The shipping is prepaid so you only need to take it to the post office.
Ancestry test contains a tube, which should be filled with saliva to the marked black line. Inside the tube there is a division, which means that we fill around 0.5cm of the tube with saliva.
When we collect enough saliva in the tube, we remove the funnel and replace it with the cap with stabilizing fluid.
The stabilizing fluid will mix with the saliva – we shake the tube for a few seconds, lightly tighten the cap and place the prepared sample in the collection bag marked with orange, containing a white cotton pad (we leave it inside).
We place the sealed collection bag in the return shipping mailer, take the sticker off to close it and we can take it to the post office. Sometimes the post office employee might be reluctant to accept the parcel but in such a case ask to speak to the manager 😉
The parcels are only accepted by post office facilities, not by post agencies. I’ve also read that some people just put the parcel in a post office box and that the test also reached the lab.
23andMe kit, similarly to Ancestry, also contains a tube, which should be filled with saliva to a marked level.
A big advantage of 23andMe test is, that it checks more parts of our genome, which contain health data. In the US 23andMe test is accredited by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) – a government agency known for its rigorous rules regarding allowing drugs or food products into the market.
Due to legal regulations, 23andMe does not sell its health reports (Health+Ancestry) in Poland. This report is available in the US, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Holland, and Sweden. However, if we buy the basic option (Health +Traits) we can download a raw data file and get a health report from a different source such as platforms Promethese or FoundMyFitness.
23andMe test costs 99$. When buying in a single order, the price of a second and any next kit is lower by 20% (79$). The test can be bought only directly from 23andMe. For users from Poland, you need to select the international version of their website3.
My Heritage tests are not dry swabs tests like Family Tree DNA tests and we don’t need to dry them for 30min after taking the test.
In the kit we will receive swab sticks with a cotton end, which after rubbing on the inside of our cheek we place in a test tube with liquid. We take the ending, close the test tube with a cap and in such a form we place the test tube in return envelope (which we will find in the parcel). We will also find a flyer and a return envelope with the address printed.
iolce z płynem, odłamujemy końcówkę, zakręcamy fiolki i w ten sposób umieszczamy w kopercie zwrotnej (dołączonej do opakowania). W zestawie znajdziemy także ulotkę i kopertę zwrotną z nadrukowanym adresem.
If we want to send more than one kit in one parcel we place each in a separate envelope and then we place the envelopes in one bigger return envelope. I once send two kits in one parcel and the price was the same id est 16 PLN. We will get our results within 10-14 from the moment the parcel reaches the laboratory.
For my husband we decided for the whole genome sequencing in Dante Labs. Thus we have received full autosomal data, mtDNA and a full Y chromosome. From this data we can also read all health information.
For at least 30 min before taking the test you should refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, and brushing your teeth. It is important however to wash your teeth earlier on the day of taking the test as we don’t want to gather material contaminated with bacteria, which can proliferate overnight and impact the test result. Dante Labs provides saliva kits (September 2022 update: currently Dante Labs no longer sends saliva kits but a kit for taking a blood sample).
We get a tube filled with around 2ml fluid. Using a funnel we need to fill the tube with an additional 2ml of our saliva, together adding up to 4ml with no foam. We finish when the saliva mixed with the fluid reached the 4ml level, marked with a black line. This takes a while and I recommend massaging your jaw, as it prompts the salivary glands to produce more saliva and it’s easier to reach the 4ml level. The whole process is very similar to the one with 23andMe and Ancestry tests.
A big advantage of Dante Labs is that they use DHL Express services and with the kit, we get a ready return label, so we don’t need to pay for sending the test back. The parcel was so fast that a test ordered and paid for on Monday morning was delivered on Wednesday before noon and the same day the courier picked up the parcel to be returned and on Friday it was back at Dante Labs. Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic (April 2020), it was really very fast.
In case of Dante Labs test I would recommend to hold on and wait for a special offer to pay only 199€ instead of the usual 299€ and on Black Friday we might even get it for 149$.
Unfortunately I cannot say that this company kept the promised deadline as to delivering our results. According to their terms and conditions we should have gotten the results after 8 weeks, which in our case meant 22 June 2020. However, we got them not after 8 weeks but after 7 months. The company claimed that they had problems with components delivery, but in April 2020 they kept informing clients that they work as per usual. On the other side there are people, who ordered their tests in autumn 2020 and got their results after 8-10 weeks. If it is important to you to get the results back quickly Dante Labs might not be the best option, in other cases I would consider it.
Another aspect that is worth considering in the case of Dante Labs is that we will need to process the data ourselves, before uploading them to MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA, GEDMatch, or YFull. There are instructions on how to do it but if you don’t want to get too deep into it, it’s better to buy the test from a different company and not have to process data yourself.
In view of my doctors orders, but also because I wanted to compare the tests I also got the MTHFR Genetics test done. In the parcel I got a saliva kit Isohelix Genefix, exactly the same as in Dante Labs, so the method was also the same. MTHFR Genetics sends a return envelope with their kits, but we have to pay for return shipment.
After uploading the results to GEDMatch the test works the same way as the tests of the most popular genealogical companies and matches well with 23andMe, FTDNA, and MyHeritage, but not so well with Ancestry.
In the case of every DNA test, we need to remember to activate it before sending it back or to take a picture of the activation code.
In my opinion, Ancestry is the king of genealogical tests at the moment (February 2023). Why? There are three reasons:
- Ancestry is the biggest base, which has over 22 million users (https://www.ancestry.com/corporate/about-ancestry/company-facts ). In comparison, the second biggest one is 23andMe with 12 million and My Heritage comes third with 5.5 million users. Family Tree DNA and GEDMatch have 1.5 million and over a million users respectively. In genetic genealogy, we mainly strive to compare our results with as many others as possible and Ancestry enables it best.
- To use the Ancestry base we need to buy their test, we cannot upload a result from a test taken somewhere else.
- However, a result from Ancestry can be uploaded to Family Tree DNA, My Heritage and GEDMatch.
An advantage of the Family Tree DNA test is that it can be later extended with a new test. For example when buying an autosomal Family Finder test we can later buy additional mtDNA haplogroup test (mitochondrial DNA) or Y-DNA (just for men). If we consent, FTDNA will store our sample for 25 years, what may matter if we ask someone to get tested and they pass away. It also works the other way round ie. if we buy a Y-DNA test we can later add autosomal results.
Please share in the comments, which test you have chosen and if you’re still not sure which option would be the best for you feel free to write about your doubts.
And good luck with your search, I hope you find close relatives with beautifully developed genealogical trees! 🧬🌳🙂
- (the European version of the website, ending ‘en-eu’ enables ordering the test to Denmark, Finland, Holland, Ireland, and Sweden). The website ending in ‘en-int’ allows shipment to other countries, including other European countries. This stems from the option (or lack of it) to buy a version with health reports. In the case of 23andMe test, we don’t need to pay for a return shipment, as we already receive an international return shipping label. If we want to send it, it’s worth choosing a bigger postal facility, because when trying to send it from a postal agency I was directed to a postal facility.
Family Tree DNA
Family Tree DNA gives us the possibility of buying three types of tests:
- autosomal- in this post I will describe this test and Family Finder
During special offer on Family Tree DNA tests I bought four of them and got my sister, grandpa, grandma, mum and father in law tested. (Gdy na Family Tree DNA trwała promocja, kupiłam cztery testy i przebadałam siostrę dziadka, babcię, mamę i teścia.)
If it wasn’t for the pandemic, I would have started by getting both my grandma tested, but in view of the situation I have changed the order of who I asked to get tested by prioritizing the people who could do the test and sending them back themselves.
Family Tree DNA tests are swab tests, which means that you get a swab stick, which you rub on the inside of your cheek. It’s a comfortable solution, especially for the elderly. Right now Family TreeDNA sends dry swab kits, where the stick is ended with a brush, which should be dried for at least 30 min before placing it in the foil bag to be sent back.
For at least 60 min before taking the test, you should refrain from drinking, eating, and smoking. It is said in the instruction kit that the swab sticks can be dried on a paper towel but a good idea is to place them vertically in a glass in such a way that they don’t touch on anything.
During the whole process, it is important not to touch anything with the swab stick, and also not to touch another swab stick. After drying, the swab stick should be placed back in the foil bag in which we got them and carefully sealed with a sticker at the end of the foil bag. In the return shipping mailer, we should place not only both foil bags with swab sticks but also filled-in forms (white and green) with the signature of the tested person.
Autosomal Family Tree DNA test, called “Family Ancestry” on offer costs about 39-59$, but the standard price is 79$.
In the kit we have a return envelope and a fast shipment at the Polish Postal Office costs 16 PLN. It’s worth to ask for a parcel monitoring number. Lately, we might also need to fill in duty documents. While filling them in we can write f.ex. genealogical swabs. We will get our results within 13-21 days from the moment of the parcel reaches the laboratory.
Family Tree DNA (Family Finder)
MyHeritage DNA tests
These are the most popular autosomal DNA tests in Europe. Most of the time their price is around 59$, and if we order two or more the shipping is free. We can also find them with free shipment on the Polish Amazon website for 359 PLN 2(price at 03.02.2023).