Comparing genealogical DNA tests

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(Sources: 123RF, 23andMe and Ancestry DNA) (Sources: 123RF, 23andMe and Ancestry DNA)

Q: Which DNA test is better, 23andMe or Ancestry DNA?

A: The popularity of genealogical DNA testing is growing and there are a variety of reasons that so many people are interested making use of them.

What do you want to know?
Starting with this question is the best way to evaluate the various tests available because each one its own proprietary datasets it provides in its analysis.

There are many companies other than the two that you’re asking about, but these two are the most popular services and I recently used both myself to see the differences.

23andMe offers two types of tests: ancestry only or ancestry plus health-related reports.

If you’re interested in learning about genetic variants that you have that may increase your risk of developing certain health conditions, then paying for the extra health report may make sense.

In my case, I had extensive knowledge of the health issues on my maternal side, but very little on my paternal side, so I opted for the additional health information.

What I got back was information on seven different health conditions: macular degeneration, late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, AAT deficiency (lung and liver disease), celiac disease, hereditary hemochromatosis (iron related) and hereditary thrombophilia (blood clots).

The report included information on whether variants were detected and whether there is an increased risk if they were.

[RELATED: Why DNA test results may not change your health habits]

The company is quick to point out that this is far from a medical diagnosis and that your lifestyle, environment and family history have as much to do with your specific risk regardless of whether variants were detected.

They also supplied a "Carrier Status Report," which looks for variants that may not affect your health, but could affect the health of your future family members.

In all, I received 84 reports that included ancestry, carrier status, genetic health risks, traits and wellness.

[RELATED: FDA approves 1st direct-to-consumer genetic risk tests]

Ancestry DNA
The Ancestry DNA test was much cheaper because it didn’t include the health reporting. Anyone specifically interested in extensively researching his or her family tree will find Ancestry’s DNA test very helpful.

Because of Ancestry’s extensive database of family trees combined with genetic matching, the company was able to provide much more detail about the paternal side of my DNA.

23andMe generally pointed to my paternal DNA being Northwestern European, with the highest likelihood to be British or Irish. But Ancestry was able to link my shared DNA to a specific region in Ireland that gave me a much better sense of place.

[RELATED: Spit, science, and social media help Valley woman find long-lost father]

Ancestry also provided information that it was likely my ancestors migrated to the Ohio River Valley or other Midwest states during the 1700s, again based on DNA matches in the area.

If you’re trying to connect your family tree to others who have taken the test, you can find users in the database that are likely second, third and fourth cousins and see if they have started their own family trees.

[RELATED: Arizona man reunites with daughter he never knew existed]

Privacy concerns
There have been many privacy advocates voicing their concerns about DNA testing, including the Federal Trade Commission. Nobody knows how DNA samples will be used in the future, so make sure you understand what you’re giving up in order to get your test results.

[MORE: Data Doctors]

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