Ancestry Testing Reviews for 23andMe

From £79.00

At a Glance

Editor's Rating:
5 out of 5 stars
Customer Service:
5 out of 5 stars
Clarity of Results:
5 out of 5 stars
References Cited:
5 out of 5 stars
Value for Money:
5 out of 5 stars

Summary

23andMe’s ancestry services were informative, interesting, and fun to use. I was able to view the scientific basis for my results, and was given a wealth of information to explore about ancestry, haplogroups, and Neanderthal heritage. The Ancestry Composition results could have been more specific, and I look forward to them growing more refined as more people are added to the database. The DNA Relatives tool was simple to use, and I imagine would be a useful tool for people wishing to trace their relatives.

The test was a competitively priced, lifetime service, which I look forward to continuing to explore as it’s updated.

Full Review

Founded in 2006 by C.E.O. Anne Wojcicki, 23andMe is one of the largest DNA testing companies in the world. Their ever-growing database currently contains the genetic data of over five million people, many of whom choose to share their data for research.

I was interested to see what 23andMe’s analysis of my genetic data would tell me about my ancestry composition.

Please note that reviews of the health-related aspects of the test can be found here.

Product Expectations

To find out more about their ancestry DNA test, I went to the 23andMe website. On the information page, I read that my DNA could tell me where my ancestors lived more than 500 years ago. I’d receive a regional breakdown showing where they came from, and I’d also be able to view my results on an “Ancestry Timeline”, showing an estimation of when certain populations had entered my family tree.

There was information about their family finder feature: DNA Relatives. I saw that this tool would allow me to connect with people who share DNA with me, and even message them. I could opt out of this feature if I wished to remain anonymous.

Connecting with genetic relatives would allow me to trace my population inheritance, and see which relatives I shared DNA with from the 150+ reference populations around the world. I would also be able to see which chromosome segments I share with my genetic matches, which could help me to place them in my family tree.

I would discover which maternal haplogroup I belong to. If I was male, I’d also be able to see my paternal haplogroup. People born biologically male could trace their paternal lineage through the Y chromosome they inherited from their father. Both sexes were able to trace their maternal ancestry through the mitochondrial DNA from their mothers.

Although people born biologically female would not be able to trace their paternal lineage using their own DNA, I read that could connect with my male relatives on my father’s side (such as my biological father, brother, paternal uncle, etc.), and discover my paternal haplogroup that way.

One feature I found interesting was the Neanderthal inheritance breakdown, which would show me how much Neanderthal DNA I’d inherited. Neanderthal traits included shorter height, back hair, and sneezing after eating chocolate – all things that our prehistoric ancestors apparently found attractive.

In the “How It Works” section, I found a picture of the kit, and a breakdown of the process of ordering a kit, using it, registering online, mailing it back, and receiving results. I’d collect the DNA sample myself using a saliva collection kit: no blood, no needles.

Ordering Experience

The ordering process was very straightforward. I could order an ‘Ancestry’ or ‘Health + Ancestry’ test from their website, and check out using their secure server or with PayPal. The kit was mailed to me within a few days. Before returning my sample, I had to register my kit online, which required me to agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

In the Privacy Policy, I learned that my data would be used for research only with my consent. If I consented, they would use my “de-identified” genetic information and self-reported information in a large pool of customer data for research analyses.

They’d also use my data to improve their services. (I gathered my consent to this was implicit in agreeing with the Privacy Policy.) Analysing customers’ data would allow them to – for example –refine their ancestry results.

I found I would be given control over how my genetic information would be stored and used. If I wished, I could choose to have my saliva sample destroyed after analysis. It would be up to me whom I shared my information with. If I wanted to, I could share it with friends, family members, healthcare providers, other 23andMe customers (i.e. DNA Relatives), and third-party services that accept 23andMe data. 23andMe would not share my information with public databases, or sell, share or lease it without my consent.

In the Terms of Service, I read that sometimes the lab is not able to process a saliva sample. If that was the case, I would be asked to re-test free of any additional charge.

Once I had registered online, I returned my kit using the same box it came in, which had a pre-paid postage label on it. I was able to track the progress of my sample online, and was even told who had signed for it once it reached the lab!

It took about two weeks for my sample to reach the lab, and another two weeks for my data to be analysed. In the meantime, I was able to read up on ancestry analysis, the laboratory process, and so on, and watch a video explaining how they would extrapolate my genetic data.

I could answer a research survey, which contained mostly health questions. If I consented to have my information used for research, then my answers would be used in conjunction with my genetic data.

The Results

Two weeks after my sample reached the lab, I received an email telling me my results were ready, with a link to view my reports. Clicking this took me to my account login page. After logging in, I was taken to a user homepage, where I could see summaries of my ancestry analyses, and browse my ancestry results (and health results too, if I had them). I could also choose to download my raw data.

Results Section: Ancestry Composition

The first thing that greeted me on the Ancestry Composition page was my ancestry map. According to this, I was – uninterestingly enough – 100% European.

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My Ancestry Composition map.

My Ancestry Composition map.

The map was interactive, so I was able to zoom in on different parts by clicking on the various population percentages, which gave a little information about those regions.

I found I was 65.8% “British and Irish”, a slightly lower percentage than I’d anticipated, since for all I knew my family was exclusively English, Irish and Scottish. My next highest percentage was “French and German” at 15.9%, followed by “Broadly Northwestern European” at 12.8%, and Scandinavian at 5.2%. These categories were a little broad, but I hoped that as 23andMe gained more information from their members they would become more refined.

There was also an Ancestry Timeline, which gave an estimation of when ancestors from different populations had entered my family tree (shown below).

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My Ancestry Timeline.

My Ancestry Timeline.

Hovering over the different populations gave more information about when the ancestor had entered my family tree, and their likely relation to me. My Scandinavian ancestor was probably a third- to sixth-great-grandparent, and was born between 1750 and 1840. For my more closely-related French or German ancestor, the estimation was a bit narrower: they were probably my great-grandparent or second- or third-great-grandparent, and were born between 1840 and 1900, meaning they might have lived through the First World War!

If one or both of my parents were 23andMe customers, I would be able to see which ancestries I had inherited from them by connecting with their profiles.

There was an Ancestry Composition Chromosome Painting section, which showed which segments of my chromosomes I’d inherited from which region (shown below).

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My Ancestry Composition Chromosome Painting.

My Ancestry Composition Chromosome Painting.

Clicking on the different population names painted different parts of the diagram, so that I could see which parts of my chromosomes were French or German, Scandinavian, and so on. I could also change the confidence level to get more conservative results.

Results Section: DNA Relatives

One tool that has got 23andMe (and other DNA ancestry sites) a lot of attention recently is their family finder tool: DNA Relatives. This was an optional tool, and I discovered that even while using it I could choose the amount of information I wished to share, and so I could be fairly anonymous if I chose.

I could choose whether I wanted to participate in “Open Sharing”, which would allow my DNA relative matches to see my full name, results from my Ancestry Composition report, and our overlapping DNA segments (which could be used to identify familial relationships). I could use the tool without opting into Open Sharing, and I could still – if I wished – respond to share requests.

If I didn’t opt into Open Sharing, then I could choose whether my full name, first or last name, or initials were visible. My gender would be automatically displayed.

For my profile, I could add an introduction about myself, choose whether or not to display my birth year, enter my location (which could be as broad as the country I live in), and choose whether or not to share the locations of my grandparents’ birthplaces. There was a tick box for people to indicate Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, and I could also enter surnames I knew belonged to my ancestors, and share a link to an online family tree.

I had 941 relatives in the database, most of which were in the US, though some were in Canada, Britain and Ireland, and Australia. My closest relative was estimated to be a second to third cousin, with whom I shared 1.31% of my DNA, and 9 chromosome segments.

If I wished, I could contact my DNA relatives, and share ancestry reports with them. If I had close family in the database (parents, siblings, grandparents, etc.), I could “Share and Compare” genetic traits and ancestries with them.

Results Section: Maternal Haplogroup

Since I lack a Y chromosome, I was unable to view my paternal haplogroup unless I connected with my father or paternal male relative. However, both men and women were able to view their maternal haplogroups thanks to the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) we all inherit from our mothers.

I discovered that I belonged to the maternal haplogroup J1. I was able to view a diagram of my haplogroup’s migration out of Africa and into Europe and Asia as far back as 150,000 years ago! (Shown below.)

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A diagram showing the migrations of my maternal line.

A diagram showing the migrations of my maternal line.

I read that my haplogroup, J1, was rare among 23andMe customers, with only 1 in 16,000 belonging to it! The J1 branch dated back to a woman who lived about 27,000 years ago in the Middle East, where many of her descendants still live today. After the Ice Age ended (about 12,500 years ago), agriculture flourished in the area, causing the population to boom, and leading many of her descendants to migrate west and north into Europe and Central Asia.

One of my J ancestors reached western Europe about 4000 years ago, eventually ending up in the British Isles.

Results Section: Neanderthal Ancestry

The Neanderthal Ancestry section was really interesting. I discovered I had 271 Neanderthal variants, which sounded like a lot at first, until I saw that this was fewer than 57% of 23andMe customers!

Some of these genetic variants have already been associated with certain traits, which could be traced back to Neanderthal ancestors (shown below).

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My Neanderthal Traits.

My Neanderthal Traits.

I discovered that the only known Neanderthal trait I’d inherited was a tendency for less back hair, which was nice. On the “Scientific Details” tab, I was able to view the precise genetic marker they had found which was associated with having less back hair. I found I’d inherited both copies of the variant from my parents. Though I had many other variants inherited from Neanderthals, most of them had not yet been linked to specific traits.

There was also a short history of Neanderthals, from their discovery in the Neander Valley in Germany, way back to our common ancestor: homo heidelbergensis, which inhabited Africa, Europe and parts of Asia from at least 700,000 years ago up to about 200,000 years ago. Modern human beings (homo sapiens) are thought to have encountered and bred with Neanderthals in the Middle East or Europe about 60,000 years ago.

I found it fascinating to think that I’m descended from another species of human living so long ago, and hoped that the research conducted by 23andMe and others would continue to tell us more about them!

Summary

23andMe’s ancestry services were informative, interesting, and fun to use. I was able to view the scientific basis for my results, and was given a wealth of information to explore about ancestry, haplogroups, and Neanderthal heritage. The Ancestry Composition results could have been more specific, and I look forward to them growing more refined as more people are added to the database. The DNA Relatives tool was simple to use, and I imagine would be a useful tool for people wishing to trace their relatives.

The test was a competitively priced, lifetime service, which I look forward to continuing to explore as it’s updated.

See a description of this DNA test from 23andMe >

At a Glance

Editor's Rating:
5 out of 5 stars
Customer Service:
5 out of 5 stars
Clarity of Results:
5 out of 5 stars
References Cited:
5 out of 5 stars
Value for Money:
5 out of 5 stars

Summary

In summary, the genetic ancestry test from 23andMe was excellent. All the interactive features were beautifully displayed, easy to use, and there were a dozen more tools compared to the other ancestry providers I've tried.

The Neanderthal section was an unexpected highlight, and I was impressed by the scientific details accompanying each result. The abundance of diagrams and explanations also made the report easy and enjoyable to go through.

I haven’t seen any other test that provides such a wide range of information about DNA relatives, which was both fun and informative, though I thought the vagueness of the relationship estimates let this section down a little. Overall however, this test is great value for money and I would definitely recommend it.

Full Review

23andMe are one of the largest DNA testing services in the world, with over two million genotyped members. I was intrigued to see what their test would tell me about my genetic ancestry compared to the others I've tried.

Please note that reviews for the health-related aspects of the test can be found here.

Product Expectations

I was told the test would cover my maternal and paternal ancestry using over 750 maternal and 500 paternal lineages. I’d also find out how many Neanderthal genetic variants I had, and would be shown what proportion of my DNA comes from various populations around the world. I’d be able to break down my European ancestry by region, contact living relatives in the 23andMe database, and even build an extended family tree. Unfortunately, the exact regions that were used for the test weren't listed on the main product page, but I was able to find out by searching 'Reference populations' in the help section, that the test would compare my DNA to 31 reference populations from around the world, all of which were listed.

I really appreciated being able to preview what I should expect to find in my kit in the 'How it works' section. There was also a three minute video which gave a thorough explanation of how they would test my DNA and interpret it to provide me with results. All of this was helpful and made me feel a lot more prepared for taking the test.

Ordering Experience

The ordering process was really straightforward - I received the kit within three working days via DHL, and was glad to see that the return DHL cost had been paid. I had to return the sample from a DHL Express location which was a little inconvenient, but after sending it off, 23andMe confirmed receipt in under a week.

The Results

An email indicated my results were ready eight weeks later in an online account. On signing in I was shown a ‘Recommended for You’ section which contained a few of my abridged results, a ‘Featured Content’ section with links to surveys and video resources, and a 'research' section that prompted me to answer survey questions.

Results Section: Ancestry Composition

The first section I looked at contained an 'Ancestry Composition' breakdown. This was displayed on a map (shown below), and it then went on to reveal that my DNA was 100% European: 74.8% British & Irish, 4.9% French & German, 0.6% Scandinavian, 17.4% Broadly Northwestern European, 1.9% Ashkenazi Jewish and 0.5% Broadly European.

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My Ancestry Composition map.

My Ancestry Composition map.

I was also able to view this information as a proportion of each of my 23 pairs of chromosomes, which was accompanied by a more detailed breakdown of the different populations. This provided another effective way of visualising these results and made it easier to understand how they had been worked out.

For some of the ethnicities identified in my Ancestry Composition, a further diagram showed me the approximate time period in which my most recent ancestor had likely lived. This added an extra level of detail that helped me to better understand my ethnicity breakdown and made its connection to my ancestors clearer.

There was a lot more to explore than I had expected in this section. I felt that I’d gotten a really in depth insight into my ancestry and how it linked to my genetic ethnicity.

Results Section: DNA Relatives

The ‘DNA Relatives’ section wasn’t grouped with the rest of the Ancestry results, instead being classed as a tool. It showed I have 1234 DNA relatives in the 23andMe database.

All of these relatives were displayed in a list and I was able to see quite a lot of information about them, including their ethnicity breakdown, the percentage of DNA we shared and on which segments our DNA matched. Additionally, I could contact them in order to ask for further details.

I was slightly disappointed to find that my closest relative was estimated to be a ‘Third to Fifth Cousin’ which, as well as being quite a distant relationship, was a bit of a broad classification.

The DNA Relatives section had another great feature, which allowed me to focus on a smaller selection of my long list of matches, to compare them to each other and myself. I was able to pick up to five matches, each of which was assigned a different colour. This allowed me to look over all of my chromosomes to see where the segments I shared with each match were located, and whether any were the same. Hovering over these coloured regions provided detailed information about the segments, including the genomic position, genetic distance and SNPs. This information was a bit too complex for me, but I imagine that it might be helpful for someone more experienced and/or with a more serious interest in genealogy.

Results Section: DNA Family

There was another part of the report that provided information about my DNA relatives, the DNA Family section. Instead of adding more details about individual matches, this part of the report gave me an overview of the people I shared DNA with.

These results started with a diagram (shown below) that displayed how many matches I had that were estimated to be ‘Close Family to Second Cousins’, ‘Third to Fourth Cousins’ and ‘Fifth to Distant Cousins’.

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My DNA Family relationship diagram.

My DNA Family relationship diagram.

I thought this was a really nice way of displaying my matches and it gave a much better overview than looking through the extensive list in the DNA Relatives section. The only thing that I found a bit frustrating was that I couldn’t go on to see exactly who was included in each category, just the number of matches in each.

This section went on to show two maps, one of which showed where in the world my matches lived and another showing in which states my US ones were located. I thought that it was a bit of a shame that even though I'd bought the UK version and paid in GBP, there was no UK map included.

I was also given an overall ethnicity breakdown, showing how many of my matches had at least 1% of each of the genetic ethnicities identified by the test.

These were all great features, but my favourite was definitely the list of some of the traits and experiences that, as a group, we were more likely to share. A part of this list is shown below.

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My DNA Family traits and experiences.

My DNA Family traits and experiences.

It was interesting to see that my matches and I seemed to be a lot less likely to carry out big challenges, such as running a marathon. Maybe it was because of our higher likelihood of having differently sized feet!

Results Section: Haplogroups

The ‘Maternal Haplogroup’ and ‘Paternal Haplogroup’ sections revealed that I was in paternal haplogroup 'R-U152’, which was a subgroup of R-M269 and that my maternal haplogroup was H1. I wasn’t really sure what these apparently random set of letters and numbers meant, but fortunately there was a short and straightforward explanation beneath my result. I learnt that a haplogroup was a selection of people descended from a common ancestor on either their maternal or paternal side of the family who therefore share a specific set of genetic variants.

The result also came with a map (my maternal one is shown below), that showed the migratory routes of my ancient ancestors.

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The map showing the migratory paths of my maternal ancestors.

The map showing the migratory paths of my maternal ancestors.

As well as displaying my result in such a visual way, this map provided extra information, going through all the haplogroups that had led to mine, the oldest of which (L) dated to around 180,000 years ago! The next section went on to explain that although H1 was common, (1 in 17 23andMe users were assigned it), it wasn’t seen in large numbers outside of Europe, except in a group of nomadic Libyan people. It also went through a bit of the science, explaining how my mitochondrial DNA had been analysed to determine my maternal haplogroup and my Y DNA had been for my paternal one. I found all of this really interesting to read about and felt that I had a gained an all round understanding of my haplogroups.

Results Section: Neanderthal Ancestry

The ‘Neanderthal Ancestry’ section of the report revealed that I had 265 Neanderthal genetic variants. Apparently this is less than 69% of other 23andMe customers and accounts for less than 4% of my overall DNA. I was fascinated to discover that Homo sapiens mixed with Neanderthals tens of thousands of years ago, and that our DNA reveals the extent to which they contributed to our genetic ancestry. It was really fun to see the actual characteristics that might have been influenced by Neanderthal DNA too (shown below).

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Characteristics influenced by Neanderthal DNA.

Characteristics influenced by Neanderthal DNA.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any of the variants that were associated with these characteristics, but there was plenty more to discover in this section. As well as the percentage of 23andMe users that had more Neanderthal variants than me, I found out that the person with the most had 397. There was also a timeline that went through how the Neanderthals had ended up mixing with Homo sapiens and how they evolved and eventually died out.

Overall, this was definitely one of my favourite parts of the report. It added something extra and fun and also taught me about the ancient history of humans, putting the rest of my ancestry results into perspective.

Summary

In summary, the genetic ancestry test from 23andMe was excellent. All the interactive features were beautifully displayed, easy to use, and there were a dozen more tools compared to the other ancestry providers I've tried.

The Neanderthal section was an unexpected highlight, and I was impressed by the scientific details accompanying each result. The abundance of diagrams and explanations also made the report easy and enjoyable to go through.

I haven’t seen any other test that provides such a wide range of information about DNA relatives, which was both fun and informative, though I thought the vagueness of the relationship estimates let this section down a little. Overall however, this test is great value for money and I would definitely recommend it.

See a description of this DNA test from 23andMe >