Ancestry Testing Reviews for AncestryDNA

£79.00

At a Glance

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

Summary

All in all, I felt that the AncestryDNA test would be an excellent purchase for those looking to build an extensive family tree. However, for those more interested in their personal ancestry, I’d suggest that other similarly priced tests are more engaging.

Although the terms and conditions made it clear that Ancestry’s subscription service is separate to Ancestry DNA, I think Ancestry promised a bit more than they delivered. Counter to my expectations, I didn’t think the test truly allowed me to discover my distant relatives or uncover my unique family history.

For existing subscribers to Ancestry’s records-based service, or for genealogists who’ve built at least four generations of their family tree, AncestryDNA is a must-buy test.

Full Review

Ancestry have been offering their AncestryDNA test in the US and UK for many years and now sell it in several other countries as well. The company is best known for its subscription service which allows customers to explore their family history and build family trees using a non-genetic, records-based approach. You pay a monthly fee for access to public records such as censuses, birth records, marriage records, death records, passenger lists and more. This makes AncestryDNA all the more appealing, because you can connect your genetic results to your records-based findings for the best of both worlds.

We’ve heard that no company combines the genetic and records-based approaches as well as Ancestry, so I couldn’t wait to try this test.

Product Expectations

Before ordering, I learned that AncestryDNA would help me uncover my ethnic mix, discover distant relatives, and find details about my unique family history.

An FAQ section on their site covered questions such as ‘What will my results tell me?’ and ‘How accurate is the test?’ – I was impressed with the level of detail that this section went into. Ancestry said their test would “identify potential DNA matches and link me to others who’ve taken the AncestryDNA test”. However, they later said that the test would help connect me with distant relatives when I used the results in combination with their subscription service, which seemed slightly contradictory.

Despite carefully going through the site, I have to say that it wasn’t clear to me how much information I’d receive about my genetically matched relatives, and what the limitations would be if I chose not to pay for the subscription service.

Ordering Experience

Using the AncestryDNA website was very simple. An asterisk alongside the price on the homepage indicated that shipping costs were excluded, but when I came to order, I was surprised to see that I had to submit my payment details before seeing the full cost. It turned out to be an extra £20 ($9.95) for shipping which I thought was a bit steep/was reasonable, especially as 23andMe include shipping in the cost of their test/as this also included the cost of returning my samples.

I received the kit four working days after the order was put through. The collection tube and instructions were professionally packaged and I got a real sense of excitement about taking the test. The instructions were easy to follow and I was able to fill the collection tube without any problems.

A box to return the sample had also been provided and it was good to see that the return postage had been paid. One week after dispatching my sample I received email confirmation that it had been received, and that I could expect my results in 6-8 weeks.

Online Registration

Friendly warnings on the kit advised that I must register online before dispatching my sample back to Ancestry.

During the online registration process I was asked to participate in a research project that “preserves and analyses genealogical pedigrees, historical records, surveys, family health data, medical and health records, and genetic information”. This would be used to better understand human evolution and migration, population genetics, and population health issues, all of which seemed like worthy causes. However, as I was planning to create a family tree using Ancestry’s free online tool, I decided not to participate – I didn’t want Ancestry to associate my genetic data to any of my family’s publicly available health data, whatever that might be!

The next part of the online registration process was to agree to the terms and conditions. The first thing I noticed was that several lengthy documents made up the agreement, so I was disappointed that I’d have to hunt through the site for other documents, just so I knew what I was agreeing to!

I read that Ancestry would anonymise my genetic data and use it to make discoveries in the study of genealogy, anthropology, genetics, evolution, languages, cultures, medicine, and other topics. This was confusing as I’d already chosen not to participate in their research project, but it seemed my genetic data would be used for research anyway!?

The terms and conditions went on to say that any data derived from my DNA would continue to belong to me, and it was comforting to see that at any time, I could go into my online account and delete my data from the Ancestry website. However, I later read that Ancestry would own the rights to any commercial products developed which “may relate to my DNA”, and I didn’t understand how this could be possible if I still owned my data.

All in all, I was left feeling a bit dismayed by the contradictions in Ancestry’s terms and conditions.

The Results

Four weeks after the lab acknowledged receipt of my sample, I received an email to say that my results were ready – this was two weeks sooner that I was expecting.

Upon logging in to see my results I was shown a two minute video which was excellent. It touched on the genetic analysis used and explained that they’d looked at 700,000 markers in my DNA. It also went through the ethnicity percentage estimates they make, and talked about the high levels of human migration we’ve had in the past thousand years.

My results were split into three sections: ‘Genetic Ancestry’ (which contained ‘Ethnicity Estimate’ and ‘Genetic Communities’) ‘DNA matches’ and ‘DNA Circles’.

Results Section: Ethnicity Estimate

This section revealed that I was 99% European (no surprise) and less than 1% West Asian. My European ethnicity was broken down into Irish (36%), West European (28%), British (20%), and Scandinavian (7%). 8% of my European ethnicity was attributed to ‘trace regions’ such as Finland and Greece.

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The four major European regions that contribute to my ethnic mix.

The four major European regions that contribute to my ethnic mix.

The results weren’t quite what I expected, but definitely correlate to what I’ve learned about my genetic ancestry from other tests. My paternal grandmother is Irish so this part of my ancestry is no surprise, but I had no idea that my DNA would link me more deeply to Ireland than to any other region. In terms of my Scandinavian DNA, I already knew that my paternal line (father’s father’s father etc.) is Scandinavian, and that my Y chromosome can be traced to Scandinavian populations in the last few thousand years, so it was great to see this reflected in the results.

By clicking on each of the four European regions that contribute to my ethnic mix, I was shown a confidence interval for that result. The corresponding location was then highlighted on the map, and information about the region’s genetic diversity and population history was provided. This is what was shown after clicking on Western Europe:

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My Western European result with confidence interval, location and countries included in the region.

My Western European result with confidence interval, location and countries included in the region.

At first I was surprised that the confidence interval for my Western European result was so broad. I was told my ethnicity was approximately 28% Western European, but the margin for error meant that it could really be anywhere between 0% and 57%!

I could see that a typical Western European native would also have a broad confidence interval, but even factoring for error, their ethnic mix would be at least 15% Western European. All in all, my Western European result seemed quite meaningless.

The confidence intervals for my British and Scandinavian results were just as broad, but I was pleased to see that the margin for error was much smaller for my Irish result.

The section went on to show the other ethnicities that are commonly associated to native Western Europeans:

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Other ethnicities commonly associated to native Western Europeans.

Other ethnicities commonly associated to native Western Europeans.

It was interesting to see that the second most common ethnicity associated to Western Europeans was British, but I was surprised to read that just 416 people had been used to produce this graph. This seemed like a small sample size given I’d read that more than 4 million people have taken the AncestryDNA test so far!

The remaining Western European info was very well put together… I learned that because the region hasn’t experienced long-term isolation, the ethnic mix of Western European natives varies greatly. This explains why the confidence interval for my Western European result was so broad.

All the info was light, easy to read, and interspersed with pictures that helped explain the history of the region. For me, the volume of info in each regional section was perfect – just enough to give me a feel for the life and times of my ancestors, but not too much that I felt overwhelmed.

Please note that I’ve only covered the Western European section in this review, and that there were equivalent sections for the other regions that contribute to my ethnic mix, even for those contributing less than 1%.

Results Section: Genetic Communities

The second part of the Genetic Ancestry section was a relatively new addition to the service. I had been assigned to specific Genetic Communities, which I read are groups of AncestryDNA members that share common ancestry and therefore are likely to have ancestors that lived in the same geographic populations.

I had been added to two Genetic Communities, Southern English and Munster Irish. My connections to these were rated as ‘Very Likely’ and ‘Possible’ and I could click on both to find out more information about them.

I clicked to see further information about the Southern English community and was able to see the exact area of the country that was included in it. I could also tell how big different populations that lived within this region were, by the size of several orange spots that covered it.

A part of this feature that I found particularly interesting was the fact that when I clicked to see information about each time period, I was shown the range of migration routes that were common during that time. An example is shown below:

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Common migratory routes between 1850 and 1900.

Common migratory routes between 1850 and 1900.

It was a shame that this didn't seem to relate directly to my personal ancestry, but it was interesting to see how the populations changed during the different time periods. It also helped me to further understand why our ethnicities are so mixed and why it’s sometimes difficult to attribute DNA to a very specific region.

As well as the routes, it also highlighted people in my family tree that were associated with each time period and provided ‘Historical Insights’, which were notable events that took place during that time.

Overall, this section was really interesting. It provided me with an alternative and more detailed insight into my ancestry, with interactive features that made it easy to explore.

Results Section: DNA Matches

In the DNA Matches section I was shown the living relatives whom I have a genetic connection to – the top of the first page of results is shown below. I learned that of that out of all the people on the Ancestry database, I had 74 4th cousins or closer (though I later found out that I only had two 3rd to 4th cousins), and many more distant cousins.

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My top two 3rd to 4th cousins.

My top two 3rd to 4th cousins.

For each relative I was able to view their profile, see when they last used their Ancestry account, and send them a message. I could also see their ethnic mix, matches I shared with them and how many people were in their family tree (provided they’d built it with or imported it to their account).

Viewing my relatives’ ethnicity was interesting, but I could only see the ethnicities that contributed to their make-up, not the percentages they possessed or the parts of my DNA that I share with them.

Unfortunately, even though most of my living relatives had public family trees, I wasn’t able to view them unless I paid the subscription fee for Ancestry’s records-based service. However, I was able to sort my matches by those that were present in either of my Genetic Communities.

Overall, I felt the DNA Matches section was useful, and I was glad that I had the ability to contact my matches. However, as the degree to which I was matched with most relatives was vague (e.g. 4th to 6th cousin), I doubted we’d be able to identify the ancestors we shared if I got in touch.

Results Section: DNA Circles

The third component of AncestryDNA’s results was DNA Circles, which claimed to help me discover other living relatives, even if those members hadn’t taken the DNA test.

I read that the tool would identify my living relatives according to the direct-line ancestors I shared with them, by using family tree information from the members I’d been genetically matched to. I thought this sounded intriguing but was disappointed to see that Ancestry hadn’t yet added me to any DNA circles, as not enough people had been tested.

Results Section: Family Tree

It seemed clear that to get more from my genetic results, I should build a family tree using Ancestry’s free online tool. I was interested to see if the living relatives I’d been matched with according to my DNA could be placed on my tree…

I added three generations of family to my tree, and although the tool indicated there were public records that could be used to corroborate it, I wasn’t able to access these without subscribing to the records-based service.

I was then given the option to link my family tree to my genetic results, which I was told would allow me to see ‘Shared ancestor hints’ in the DNA Matches section. This was potentially very exciting as I might be able to connect my tree to others, and trace my broader ancestry. Unfortunately, my three generation family tree wasn’t big enough, and so no shared ancestor hints were made available after I selected this option.

Given I was unable to access my genetic relatives’ public family trees without paying extra, I didn’t see how I could identify the ancestors I shared with my living relatives, or discern my exact relationship to them. That said, if I’d known more about my family and had built a bigger tree, I’m sure Ancestry would have provided the necessary hints for me to start making these connections.

Summary

All in all, I felt that the AncestryDNA test would be an excellent purchase for those looking to build an extensive family tree. However, for those more interested in their personal ancestry, I’d suggest that other similarly priced tests are more engaging.

Although the terms and conditions made it clear that Ancestry’s subscription service is separate to Ancestry DNA, I think Ancestry promised a bit more than they delivered. Counter to my expectations, I didn’t think the test truly allowed me to discover my distant relatives or uncover my unique family history.

For existing subscribers to Ancestry’s records-based service, or for genealogists who’ve built at least four generations of their family tree, AncestryDNA is a must-buy test.

Please note that we were invited to take this test free of charge.

Click here to visit the Ancestry website to learn more about their DNA test.

See a description of this DNA test from AncestryDNA >