Now that I’ve played around with the DNA features that several different companies have to offer, I think I can give some good advice.
The most interesting part of doing the DNA test, for me, has been finding some distant cousins and adding new generations to my family tree. There are pros and cons to each service, and no one has all the features I’d like to see yet. Here’s the breakdown:
Ancestry is my favorite. They have a huge database of users, and a large percentage of them are interested in their family history – so they do the extra work of setting up a family tree to help make connections. There is a feature called “Thrulines” that puts AI to work searching the family trees of your DNA matches to try to figure out how you are related, and it even suggests new people(grandparents/great-grandparents) that might belong in your tree based on what the AI finds.
Ancestry is my first choice because of their very helpful AI. They aren’t perfect though. On the downside, if you want to do any “DNA verification” there is not enough information from your DNA matches to get very far. To get that additional information you have to download your DNA results and upload them to another platform. AND… your matches also have to download their results and upload them, so good luck with that.
The other gottcha is that you have to take the AncestryDNA test to use all their cool tools – you can’t upload results from other companies.
23&Me also requires you use their test to have access to their tools. Their tools are fun, but not as useful as Ancestry for genealogical purposes. For that reason, I can’t recommend them right now. They do not have a good system for setting up your family tree or connecting with cousins.
What they do have, that Ancestry lacks, is detailed information about your DNA matches. You can compare your DNA results by chromosome and segment and see how your matches match each other. If you know how you are related, these features can help with the verification process. Unfortunately, If you don’t know how you are related, they are virtually useless.
The best part of MyHeritage is that you can upload DNA results from another service. They have the missing half for both Ancestry and 23&Me.
You can build a tree, and their software will point out matches when it finds them. If you got a 23&Me test and want to find family members, MyHeritage gives you an option to compare trees with out the cost of another test. Their tree builder is good at finding matches and record and can help build a tree, even if you don’t know more than your grandparents names. Their matching tools don’t seem as robust as Ancestry’s Thrulines, but that may be because they have a smaller database of users.
On the other side, if you have an Ancestry test, you can upload your results and get the detailed comparisons to help verify your more distant ancestors with an even more intuitive interface than the one on 23&Me.
The only downside is how few people have uploaded their results, and if they did, they still have to build a tree on MyHeritage for the matching features to work.
GedMATCH was designed to bridge the gap between Ancestry and23&Me. Like MyHeritage, you can upload your DNA results from other services (and a GEDCOM) and then compare your results to others in their database. They do not offer a DNA test of their own.
I found their tools to be less than user-friendly. But unlike MyHeritage, you can do most of the things on the site without any kind of subscription fees. For the more advance tools, there is a monthly fee of only $10. If you are on a budget this is the place to go.
Again, the challenge is the size of the database, or the challenge of convincing your DNA matches to download/upload their results as well.
FamilyDNA also offers their own DNA test, but allows you to upload results from other services. They also allow you to upload a GEDCOM or build a tree. There are a lot of special projects for various surnames, and there seem to be a lot of tools there too. I have not been able to figure out how to use their website to find matches, though. Possibly it’s because I have only got the free level membership. I’m not sure if subscribing would help or not. Their website seems hard to use and I don’t know what I really get from the subscription. I don’t recommend FamilyDNA at this time.
If I started over with the DNA testing, I’d test with Ancestry and upload my results to MyHeritage and GedMATCH. There are a few other places I’ve found that you can upload your results to get traits and heritage reports that go beyond what Ancestry offers, and many of them are free.
I’d really like to see Ancestry add a chromosome browser and let you compare your matches to each other as well as to yourself. I hope that they will develop something that uses segment-based triangulation in the future. With their AI, I think they could create something really powerful.