Ancestry DNA

AncestryDNA Review 2021: Costs, Benefits, and Results

Learn where your ancestors originated, map your family tree, and find relatives.
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Key takeaways

  • AncestryDNA is the world's largest home DNA testing company with the largest database of DNA profiles.
  • AncestryDNA testing is best for analyzing your geographic origins and identifying potential relatives. 
  • The test does not analyze susceptibility to genetic diseases.
  • Before submitting a sample for analysis, you should make sure you understand privacy issues and what risks you're comfortable with.

If you want to learn about your geographic origins and perhaps find long-lost relatives, you might want to purchase a DNA testing kit from AncestryDNA and spit into a tube. That bit of spittle could uncover the roots of your family tree.

The company has a massive, constantly growing database of ancestry DNA profiles for comparison to help consumers trace their ancestry around the world. AncestryDNA also continuously updates the algorithms it uses to analyze profiles to determine geographic roots and potential relative matches.

All that genetic analysis is complemented by the company's database of more than 30 billion genealogical records, which can integrate with your DNA results to help build a more complete family tree.

DNA tests and health risk assessments

You should know that AncestryDNA tests are not designed to analyze genetic health risks. The company did venture briefly into offering health tests, launching AncestryHealth in 2019.

AncestryHealth was an effort to compete against companies like 23andMe. The short-lived service screened for conditions like heart disease and breast cancer. But Ancestry dropped its health testing in January 2021, saying it was a "strategic, but difficult decision" to focus on its family tree business.

So, if learning your ancestry isn't your main objective and you're really looking for an analysis of your genetic health risks, you should consider another direct-to-consumer DNA test kit company, such as 23andMe.

Review methodology

In compiling this review, we combed through a variety of resources, including the AncestryDNA website, white papers from the company, privacy statements, transparency reports, news reports, academic studies, government websites, and consumer review and ratings sites. We also built on our previous work in which we talked to experts and purchased home DNA kits to test them out.

Why we chose AncestryDNA

AncestryDNA has the largest database of DNA profiles among home testing companies. The company says it has more than 20 million DNA profiles in its network, significantly more than 23andMe, the next largest company.

We compared it to other companies and rated it the best for family matching.

Pros and cons of AncestryDNA

Pros

  • The company database, the largest of its kind, has more than 20 million ancestry DNA profiles for comparison.
  • The DNA analyses can be integrated into the Ancestry database of billions of family genealogical records that you can access through a subscription.
  • Free shipping included in the price. 
  • Results are continuously updated over time as more data becomes available. 
  • Data can be integrated into the company's highly rated online tools for use in family research.

Cons

  • Laws generally do not protect the privacy of genetic information given to private companies like Ancestry. 
  • Results, especially for lineage outside of Europe, may be limited to a large region and may not be as granular as you'd like.
  • Does not provide information about genetic health risks.
  • Results can take longer than other companies' tests.

How it works

After you place an order on the company's website, Ancestry will send you a DNA kit in the mail. The AncestryDNA test kit includes a tube for saliva collection, directions, and a prepaid mailer for you to send the sample. 

The directions tell you how to prepare to collect your saliva by brushing your teeth and refraining from activities like eating, drinking, or smoking for 30 minutes. The directions give tips for encouraging saliva production, like rubbing your cheeks and placing sugar on your tongue. After you've collected the sample, you send it to the company in the mailer.

Looking for a match

In performing its analysis, AncestryDNA looks at hundreds of thousands of markers on 22 pairs of chromosomes that almost everyone has. The 23rd pair of chromosomes are the X and Y chromosomes that determine biological sex. These other 22 pairs are known as autosomes or autosomal chromosomes. 

The company's researchers compare the markers on your chromosomes with its ancestry DNA databases looking for matches to identify close relatives or people with roots in different parts of the world. 

Ancestry uses two methods to identify your regions of origin:

  • Reference panel: This panel includes more than 44,000 DNA samples from 70 overlapping regions of the world. These samples come from people with long family histories in the same place.
  • Communities: The second method, communities, are members of AncestryDNA who probably descended from common ancestors. Once the results are ready in about six to eight weeks, you will be notified by email that your results are available on the company's website.

The results will include an analysis of your geographic lineage. And if you choose to be identified as a possible match and see your matches, you will get information about relatives you may or may not be aware of who have taken the AncestryDNA test. Over time, your AncestryDNA results will likely be updated as the company gets more data and improves its algorithms.

Price and payment options

Ancestry charges $99 for a DNA testing kit. For $1 more, you can get the DNA kit and a three-month, auto-renewing membership in World Explorer, the company's genealogy records database that provides access to records and photographs.

For $119, you can also get information about personal traits that could be influenced by your genes. The usefulness of this information is debatable, though. For example, you don't really need AncestryDNA to know your own eye color. But it can be a fun way to test the company's accuracy. If the tests say you're likely to have freckles and you don't have a speck on your skin, you might wonder about the test. 

Customer service and reviews

In general, AncestryDNA receives favorable reviews. Some customers are split, though, on whether they think AncestryDNA is a good service. On Trustpilot, for example, 44% rate it as excellent or great, and 42% rate it as poor or bad. The remaining 14% rate AncestryDNA as average. On Consumer Affairs, customers overall gave the company nearly 4 stars out of 5. 

AncestryDNA privacy concerns

Anytime you send your DNA and other personal data to a private company, you're trusting the company with information you may not want shared or compromised. 

Consumer Reports is advocating for laws protecting the privacy of DNA information, arguing that the current law is inadequate, leaving customers to trust companies and to accept privacy policies. The Federal Trade Commission strongly recommends consumers scrutinize company websites and thoroughly read terms of service and privacy policies before using home DNA testing services, including AncestryDNA.

Ancestry promises to resist law enforcement requests and require court orders or warrants before handing over information. When compelled to share customer information, Ancestry pledges to "do our best to provide you with advanced notice, unless we are prohibited under the law from doing so."

Shortcomings for people with non-European ancestry

People with European backgrounds are likely to obtain more detailed, specific analyses of their geographic ancestry than customers from other parts of the world. Ancestry has a DNA database that includes 838 regions of Europe. This could allow your DNA origins to be traced to very specific parts of Europe.

On the other hand, Ancestry has DNA from just 63 regions of Asia, a much larger continent that makes up about 25% of the world, and 110 regions of Africa. The data still lags substantially for non-European parts of the planet. 

This means that if your background is Asian or African, Ancestry has fewer people's DNA with which to compare yours and is likely to produce less detailed results on your geographic origins.

Interestingly, the company has DNA broken down by just 133 indigenous regions of the Americas. 

Data and algorithm updates

The good news is the company continually expands its databases and updates information as more data becomes available. In May 2021, for example, it updated its communities in the Balkans, Mediterranean, Western Asia, and East Africa. Ancestry is also refining its algorithms to allow for more precise analysis of your DNA.

The company provides free updates to customers' analyses as its data and algorithms are improved. However, if you deleted your data or your account to protect your privacy, those updates won't be available. 

Bottom line

If you're curious about your geographic background, building a family tree, or looking for potential relatives, AncestryDNA could be a worthwhile investment of your time and money. This is especially true for people whose ancestors are from Europe. If you're looking for DNA information about health traits, however, other choices, including 23andMe, might be better options.

Frequently asked questions

How accurate is DNA testing for ancestry?

Sheldon Krimsky, professor of humanities and social sciences at Tufts University, says it's not clear how accurate the tests are because independent scientists haven't validated the methods of private consumer companies and there are no generally accepted standards of accuracy. 

People can send their DNA to different companies and receive different results partly because the companies have different databases and use different testing methods. Ancestry notes that people's results change over time as the company updates its data and algorithms.

Is AncestryDNA better than 23andMe?

The companies offer similar services with differences. Which service is better depends on your goal in taking the test. AncestryDNA is geared toward determining the part of the world your ancestors may be from, building a family tree, and finding potential relatives. On the other hand, 23andMe is more about health information and identifying possible genetic diseases.

Is AncestryDNA ever wrong?

When it comes to home DNA analysis, it's best to consider this an art more than a precise science. Within the art, there's a significant amount of variation and room for changes, differences, and improvements. AncestryDNA strives to be as precise as possible, but the fact that it's continually updating and changing its analyses proves that perfection is a goal not yet achieved.

Ancestry tells customers to look at the ranges of likely percentages of ancestry. In cases where the percentage given is low, the range could include zero as the bottom. This means it's possible that when Ancestry identified a customer as having a small bit of background from a particular region, that person may not actually have ties to that location.

When it comes to identifying possible relatives, however, the DNA analysis is highly accurate. Ancestry says it's unlikely that results are incorrect when someone is determined to be a third cousin or closer.

Who shouldn't take AncestryDNA tests?

If you've had a bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplant from someone else, Ancestry recommends you not take the test because DNA from your donor will compromise the results. Instead, you should have a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, take the test.

What are the risks of AncestryDNA?

If you take a DNA test, you may learn information about your background or parentage that shocks or surprises you. 

But the main risk is to your privacy. The company says it fights requests for information from law enforcement and ensures that it only shares the data when compelled to do so. But it does share information with affiliate companies and service providers. 

How long do AncestryDNA results take?

Ancestry says it takes six to eight weeks after sending in your sample to be able to view your results.

Can I keep my AncestryDNA results private?

Yes. Ancestry allows customers to delete their DNA results from their accounts, removing them from the company database. However, the company shares some information with service providers and affiliates, including related brands like include newspapers.com and Find a Grave.

Elaine Silvestrini has been a journalist and writer for more than 25 years. She has worked for the Tampa Tribune and Legal Examiner, as well as the Asbury Park Press. Her work has also been featured on Drugwatch.com and Annuity.org. Her writing has won several awards, including a 2018 silver award for digital health writing and First Place in Community Leadership from the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors.