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FamilyTreeDNA vs. 23andme - A First Look


I mentioned a few weeks ago that my husband had submitted his DNA to 23andme.com, and that I was looking forward to comparing the results to those from my late father-in-law which we have from FamilyTreeDNA. I was surprised at the number of emails I received from readers letting me know that they were very much looking forward to my report. There are definitely a lot of genealogists out there interested in learning how DNA may be useful in helping them learn more about their family history!

In addition to submitting my husband's DNA to 23andme.com, I also ordered the new FamilyFinder test on my father-in-law's banked DNA at FamilyTreeDNA. Results from both companies came back in April and have been fun to start digging into! There is still more digging and comparison to come, but here is some of what I gleaned from my first look:

  • To begin, my father-in-law's paternal Y-DNA haplogroup came back as R1b1b2 from FamilyTreeDNA and as R1b1b2a1 from 23andme.com. These are essentially the same. Standard results from 23andme.com go a bit further into the Haplogroup's subclades (which is where the extra "a1" came from), but I can also order this as an extra $89 "deep clade" test from FamilyTreeDNA if I so choose.

  • The maternal results from the two tests are different because one is for my husband and one is for my father-in-law. While they share the same Y-DNA, they do not share the same mtDNA (they each got their mtDNA from their own mothers), so there really is no real point of comparison here.

  • FamilyTreeDNA tests STR markers for its Y-DNA test, while 23andme tests SNPs. If you're specifically looking for matches from your direct paternal line (father to father to father, etc.), then FamilyTreeDNA's test offers more to work with - they have the largest DNA database for genetic genealogy, with over 5,879 surname projects based on Y-DNA results, and their 67-marker test helps you find relatives on your direct paternal line. You need to be male, or have a direct-line male relative available for testing for this test to be useful.

The results that most interest me are the new autosomal results (these come from your 22 pairs of non-sex chromosomes) that allow individuals to find connections with relatives across all family lines -not just the direct paternal and maternal lines. 23andme introduced this feature last year as their "Relative Finder" while FamilyTreeDNA's comparative "Family Finder" just officially launched yesterday (it's been in beta testing for a few months). Here is where my results from the two companies get interesting...

  • In 23andme's Relative Finder my husband has 86 results, with no one predicted as any closer than fourth cousin. My results at 23andme, show 150 potential relative matches, with one predicted 2nd to 3rd cousin, but the rest all at fourth or higher. I've made a number of contacts through both my account and my husband's, but neither of us yet have a single confirmed match. One reason is that Relative Finder results are private, and people can choose to respond to your request to share data or not -if they choose not to respond or decline your request, you know nothing about them - not their name, their family surnames, nothing. Since many people test with 23andme.com for their Health reports (especially their large Parkinson's Disease initiative), not all are really interested in family history or connecting with potential cousins. I have yet to hear from my predicted "3rd cousin" after a month :( There are a few cases where Iwas able to connect with a predicted cousin and we have together been able to narrow down the family or location where our connection likely is, but more research is needed to find the exact connection. I do have one RelativeFinder cousin on my Crisp line where out genealogy research does connect us back to a common ancestor!

  • 23andme does have a much larger "RelativeFinder" database than FamilyTreeDNA's "FamilyFinder," both because it's been around longer, and because it is included as part of their standard one-price "Ancestry" test, while FamilyTreeDNA prices their tests individually. That being said, my father-in-law came back with only 10 FamilyFinder matches at FamilyTreeDNA (all but one of them listed as 5th-distant cousin), but one of them is a definite match back to his Powell line in Bristol (and she is even one of the "distant" cousins). Both my husband and his "cousin" are very much looking forward to exchanging information and working together to sort out their connection in early 1800s Bristol, England.

More to come. Stay tuned!

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