Part 2: DNA Testing

Eastman, P. D. (1998). Are you my mother? New York: Random House.

As most adoptee-helper sites will tell you, it’s important to “fish in all the ponds,” or to have your DNA in every database available. If you’re looking to find your birth parents as quickly as possible, you can expect to spend anywhere from $150-$300, depending on whether or not the kits are on sale.

There is a lot of outdated information circulating online regarding testing companies, specifically regarding DNA data transfers. Back in 2016, you could take a test at one company and then upload that data to a few other places (this is called an autosomal transfer).

Unfortunately, some newer versions of these tests are not compatible with other companies’ software, so the data will not transfer. It’s a bit difficult to keep track of, but this post from The DNA Geek has the most accurate and current comparison chart I’ve found.

If you haven’t taken a DNA test yet, you may be cringing at the thought of paying for three different kits. In reality, the cost per test has gone down and the frequency of 20-30% off sales has increased, so buying three tests today isn’t much more expensive than a single test taken a few years ago. As of this writing (March 2018), Family Tree DNA tests are $79.

So my answer to the oft-asked question,”Which kit should I buy?” is:

Ancestry.com

and

23andme

and

FamilyTreeDNA or MyHeritage

Yes, buy three of them. Each of these services has its own set of pros and cons, but by testing with three, you can be sure you don’t miss any possible matches. MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA are fully compatible with each other, so results from one can be transferred to the other.

(In case you were wondering, any affiliate links you see in the right sidebar have been carefully chosen because they are companies I use and trust. All opinions are my own and I will never post ads for questionable or otherwise irrelevant products or services.)

Let’s start with the pros:

Ancestry: Largest member database, DNA matches often linked to family trees

23andme: Most accurate basic relationship prediction of the three, Chromosome browser tools helps see which DNA matches also match each other

FamilyTreeDNA: Only site for region-specific DNA projects (run by dedicated volunteer genealogists, like yours truly), DNA test only requires swabbing the inside of your cheek

MyHeritage: Most DNA matches have attached family trees

And now some cons:

Ancestry: Has no chromosome browser, Has no chromosome browser (yes I purposely wrote that twice because it really should count as two cons), DNA-matching algorithm “misses” more true matches than the other two companies, no maternal or paternal haplotype reports

23andme: Matches are (in my experience) less likely to respond to messages than members of the other two companies, no easy way to see which members have attached family trees

FamilyTreeDNA: Often suggests relatives are a closer match than they really are (the opposite of Ancestry’s flawed match algorithm)

MyHeritage: Has an annoying pop-up in the header that urges you to purchase their family tree service and research tools, also shows matches are more closely related than they actually are

Once you get those results back, which can take anywhere from 2-12 weeks, depending on the time of year, it’s time to upload them to the other matching sites. Oh, and here’s a bit of advice — buying a kit on sale may save you $40, but you’ll probably end up waiting an extra 4-6 weeks or more due to slowed processing times (because everybody else is buying the kit when it’s on sale).

Real-life examples (kit mailed date vs. how long it took to get the results):

Ancestry, October 2017 : 16 days

Ancestry, December 2017:  9 weeks

23andme, July 2017:  3 weeks

23andme, December 2017: 10 weeks

Or maybe just don’t send in your kit between Thanksgiving and New Years…

 

Part 3: Making Sense of  Your DNA Matches