Once you’ve decided to test your autosomal DNA as a part of your family history research, the next consideration is usually which DNA testing company to use.
This guide applies specifically to autosomal DNA tests with matching databases, and is from the perspective of testers living in Australia & New Zealand, although most of it is relevant to all testers worldwide.
As a brief reminder, anyone can do an autosomal DNA test, and it can match you with relatives on all ancestral lines. It is most accurate for very close relatives and those in more recent generations, although it can also be effective in connecting with more distant cousins. Autosomal DNA test results also include admixture/ethnicity estimates.
The information shared below is from my experience as a genetic genealogist who has tested multiple family members at each of the companies listed below, and helped hundreds of other people with their DNA testing and results from these companies. The background information may help you select the most appropriate test for your circumstances and make a positive start on your DNA testing adventure!
The fast growth and interest in genetic genealogy means that the products, features, prices and third-party tools change very rapidly, so I update this page constantly.
There are five direct-to-consumer DNA testing companies available for genealogical purposes (matching relatives):
They all offer DNA test kits by mail and deliver the results online.
If you are not yet familiar with genetic genealogy, you might be wondering why it is so incredibly popular. Most people don’t truely realise the power of DNA testing until they see their own results for the first time, which demonstrate its amazing power as a tool to for family history research.
Everyone tests for different reasons and has different goals, so they may have different testing plans and strategies.
We can use autosomal DNA testing for genealogy to:
If you are adopted, donor-conceived, a foundling, a war baby, a child migrant, of unknown parentage for any reason, or the cost is not a consideration – and you are primarily testing to identify parents or close biological family, then it is recommended that you test either test with or transfer into all the major companies to maximise your exposure and connections to biological relatives in all the international databases. Read What is an AncestryDNA test?
If funds are limited, start by testing with AncestryDNA® first then transfer your raw DNA data file into Family Tree DNA (free upload page), MyHeritage DNA (free upload page), Living DNA (free upload page) and to GEDmatch.
Depending on your initial matching success in these popular databases, you can then consider further testing or upgrades (eg. test at 23andMe; consider a Y-DNA test for males with unknown paternity; consider mtDNA if needed to confirm maternal relationships).
When selecting a testing company, consider your research goals, proposed test types, who you want to match with and which database they might be more likely to be in. Test with your preferred company and then you can transfer your data to the free GEDmatch site once you get your results.
If you test at one company and a relative tests at another company, you can both upload your raw data files from the different testing companies to GEDmatch to compare your results. At GEDmatch you can run the Are Your Parents Related? report to check if your parents were related in recent generations. At GEDmatch you also have the choice to opt-in to be visible to DNA profiles uploaded by law enforcement, to help identify human remains and solve cold cases.
If you can only afford one test, do that test (preferably AncestryDNA) then upload your DNA data file to GEDmatch, and also take advantage of any free transfers to get your DNA into other databases. Note that AncestryDNA and 23andMe do not accept transfers inwards, so you need to test directly with them to get your DNA into their databases.
Autosomal DNA testing produces the following in your online account:
Check the DNA Test Prices & Sales page for special offers on subscriptions!
Autosomal DNA test prices have dropped significantly in recent years, and now range from approximately A$119 to A$169, even less during sales. See detailed pricing information and check for DNA test sales and discounts. The initial test prices might carry less weight in your selection criteria than they would have just a few years ago, so many people now aim to get their DNA into all five genealogical databases.
The prices of some tests require no further payments and include the ongoing use of all features and analysis tools. Others include your DNA results but require membership subscriptions to take advantage of additional tools and features, so ensure you are aware of any additional or ongoing costs that you might not be expecting.
23andMe customers can create a hardcover book called The Story of Your DNA, which includes your Ancestry Composition, your Neanderthal ancestry, the traits you share with your DNA Relatives, and details of what your DNA says about your roots across the globe. 23andMe customers can order this keepsake for themselves, or in the near future they will be able to order a gift for a friend or family member with whom they are sharing their DNA results.
Consider all the features, pros and cons above, and your goals, and see what is most important to you.
If you are just venturing into genetic genealogy for the first time and after reading all of the above you still don’t really know what to do or where to start, or you are just curious about what your DNA might reveal, simply start by ordering either an AncestryDNA®, a Family Finder kit or a MyHeritage DNA kit, and see where it takes you and who it matches you with. To see what you get, read What is an AncestryDNA test? and What is a Family Finder test? If you have British ancestry and you are more interested in a detailed breakdown of where you came from in the last couple of hundred years, rather than matching with other people, start with a Living DNA test.
If you are testing to identify close biological relatives, start with an AncestryDNA test, then once you have the results upload your raw DNA data file to MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA, Living DNA and GEDmatch to get more matches quickly and for free. It is expensive, but you might also consider testing with 23andMe to ensure your DNA is in all five genealogy databases. Males with unknown parentage could consider also doing a Y-DNA test, in case it provides clues as to their biological father’s surname.
Regardless of where you test, you will be embarking on an exciting adventure in a strange new world.
Many keen genealogists test themselves at all available testing companies – for interest, experience and exposure to all databases. Many people only test at one company, so to make sure you’re not missing a great match you will need to be the proactive relative and get your DNA into all the databases. Ideally you will get more matches in the biggest databases (although not necessarily closer matches, depending on your own background and where your relatives have tested), but there are transfers and third party tools available to provide more options. You might test first at AncestryDNA and 23andMe, then upload your DNA data file (free) to MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA, Living DNA, and GEDmatch to make the most of additional databases and utilities. As you learn more, you may want to try other test types, other test companies, and test additional family members.
The genetic genealogy industry is moving at a very fast pace, so I update this page often!
Read blogs and beginners’ links, buy or borrow a book on genetic genealogy, read some DNA user stories, consider joining some online support groups or a local DNA Interest Group to learn more, simply observe, or ask questions. If your local Family History Society doesn’t have a DNA Interest Group, encourage and help them to establish one.
Facebook groups are a great resource for learning, observing, asking questions and for general or technical support. There are so many people in these friendly groups who understand how overwhelming genetic genealogy can be for beginners: