Today, the breakthrough product for genealogists and adoptees is autosomal DNA testing. Both men and women are using this type of test to identify previously unknown relatives in their family trees and learn more about their ethnicity.
Now that the prices have dropped below $100 each, thousands of people are taking these tests every week and the databases are growing rapidly. The following summary briefly notes the major strengths and limitations of each test.
Recommended Autosomal DNA Tests
NOTE: Most of these tests offer—or have announced plans to offer—optional health reports. This comparison focuses only on genetic genealogy. Click each link for more information, including pricing.
Thanks to massive amounts of TV advertising, AncestryDNA has the largest DNA database (over 15 million people). They also have the most users with posted family trees, which can be nicely integrated with DNA results. Genetic Communities is an exciting new feature.
They also have an innovative tool called ThruLines that uses Ancestry trees to suggest how you may be related to your DNA matches through these common ancestors. This test lacks advanced analysis features such as segment data and a chromosome browser. To benefit from all the tree integration features, you need to pay extra for a subscription. Yet many genealogists already have a subscription for the records.
23andMe has the second largest database and their Ancestry Composition report currently offers the most detailed breakdown of ethnic ancestry with more than 1500 regions. It also reports your maternal haplogroup and (for males) your paternal haplogroup.
The most innovative feature at 23andMe may be their new Automatic Family Tree Builder. This test also reports on more than thirty genetic traits such as hair and facial features, taste and smell.
Family Finder includes many useful tools for analyzing your genetic matches. Plus, nearly all your genetic matches will be identified by their real name instead of a username. You also get email addresses for direct correspondence. Their Family Matching System provides real advantages when you have multiple family members in this database. I make sure to include every tested relative.
Family Finder has a smaller database than the other tests. But a generous program offering free uploads of raw data from other tests is expanding the database. If you take advantage of the free upload, you just need to pay small optional fee to access the full set of tools.
Unlike the first three autosomal DNA tests, MyHeritage DNA is based outside the United States. It is the most popular DNA test and records service in Europe, making it an excellent choice for tracing ancestry outside the U.S.
Innovative tools include Auto Clusters and the Theory of Family Relativity that suggests how you and many your matches are connected. They also accept uploads for free with a small optional fee for access to their tools.
LivingDNA does not (at the time of this writing) report on your genetic matches. For now, you should think of it as an expanded ethnic ancestry test for people with significant British ancestry. It breaks down your DNA mix across 80 world regions, including 21 in Britain and Ireland.
The British breakdown is based on the Peoples of the British Isles Project of the University of Oxford. That study collected blood samples from 4,500 people in rural populations all over the UK. They focused on people whose parents and grandparents were all born in the same locality. A regional breakdown of Ireland is in the works and a similar study has been announced for Germany. LivingDNA also reports your maternal haplogroup and (for males) your paternal haplogroup.