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Kimberly Powell

FamilyTreeDNA vs. 23andme - A First Look

By May 4, 2010

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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!

May 4, 2010 at 1:35 pm
(1) Rob says:

Thank you for your detailed review of these two DNA offerings. I am seriously considering this for myself and have been confused as to which one would most benefit me and the research that I am doing. You revew has taken me one step closer to choosing.

May 4, 2010 at 4:26 pm
(2) Sanjay Maharaj says:

Very interesting results, look forward to reading more. You have presented some good comparisions and analysis

May 5, 2010 at 10:48 am
(3) Richard says:

Nice summary. I was a Beta tester for both Relative Finder and Family Finder and am enjoying these new tools for genealogists. See my new summary at this page:


May 21, 2010 at 2:26 pm
(4) Elizabeth O'Neal says:

Thanks for your review, Kimberly. I’m waiting for my 23andMe results to come back. My husband has also tested with FTDNA and has a 23andMe kit sitting on his desk waiting to be used. It will be interesting to compare the results from the 2 companies.

May 21, 2010 at 5:48 pm
(5) Kirk Bogle says:

Thanks for posting that great information. I’m another of those fence sitters – to test or not to test.

Does anyone know of a company that does testing from hair samples?

My reason for asking is I have been sorting through my parents possessions and have found some envelopes with ancestors’ hair – maybe taken at first hair cuts, possibly from deceased, I don’t know.

It’s also too late for my fathers DNA to be sampled from the cheek swab but some hair is left in brushes.


May 24, 2010 at 8:31 pm
(6) Dave says:

I also have been a beta tester for both Relative Finder (23andMe) and Family Finder (FTDNA). You are correct that as of now Relative Finder has the bigger data base. They started a few months earlier. However, that relative size may change relatively quickly. FTDNA is operating its testing lab at capacity each week and has a back log of interested individuals waiting to be tested.

FTDNA is developing tools that give the end user much more control over comparing results with potential matches. One can set the threshold for matches much lower to detect many smaller matches that may add up to more total match than a single larger matching segment. FTDNA also allows one to compare matching segments with up to three others at a time to see if more that one other person shares a match.

I think the real long term value of autosomal testing will only be achieved where multiple known family members are tested and results can then be triangulated to matches of unknown potential relatives. It’s going to take a while to sort all this out.

May 26, 2010 at 12:00 am
(7) Jim Miller says:

I’ve had my DNA done, but I forget by which company.

The results did not say I did, or did not; have any African blood. I know all my lineages for five generations and they appear “white”. I know many lines way back farther, and that appears “white” too. Via Shadrack Wooten, Shadrack Johnson of early 1800′s Pitt Co., N.C., is my great, great, great grandfather from southeastern Virginia. I do not know who his father was?

I’ve read aboard the first ship of Africans to Jamestown was one who’s passage labor indenture was purchased by a white Mr. Johnson who’s name the African took, and who’s daughter he married. When slavery soon evolved, black Mr. Johnson became a slave owner. Likely the next generations, of these Johnson married “up” rather than “down”; and in five generations could “pass for white” in southeastern Virginia?

I wonder, if my only African blood was one line over ten generations ago, could that be revealed in an otherwise “white” DNA heritage?

January 29, 2011 at 1:37 am
(8) John Minger says:

Since the price of these tests is apparently not mentioned, am I to assume they are free?

February 23, 2011 at 10:42 am
(9) Megan says:

no, neither are free. check their respective websites for pricing.

July 17, 2011 at 12:01 pm
(10) Marco Polo says:

without accusing anyone of being biased, I’d like to point out that (3) Richard is a Family Finder affiliate. He does raise a good point about contacting relatives though; I’m with 23andme and it drives me mad that some very close relatives are ignoring my requests to share.
I do appreciate that 23andme gives me privacy control, but for pure genealogy it’s a bit cumbersome, so I guess I’ll do the Family Finder test too unless there’s a way to migrate the 22and me results over ?

August 9, 2012 at 10:02 pm
(11) emil says:

I have tested with Family Tree DNA and, while I like the sorts of testing it offers, my overall experience with the company has been negative. I did a ‘deep clade’ snp test with them a few years ago and it took Family Tree DNA close to 6 months to complete the test. I have also done y-dna STR testing with the company and it has generally taken much longer than the expected date to receive results (I’ve tested up to 67 markers).

Finally, I belong to a relatively rare haplogroup and the company has been very slack about updating its tree to incorporate recent discoveries and research uncovering new SNP mutations relevant to my group. Overall, I would only recommend Family Tree if one is patient and is willing to wait a few months for results. I think the company’s Family Finder test has some nice features, but it is overpriced and some of its components such as the population finder feature are based more on hype than sound scientific research.

February 12, 2013 at 4:02 pm
(12) Douglas W. Fisher says:

I liked seeing the comparison between familytreedna and 23andMe, because some of my results have come in, and I am sort of confused at this point, and maybe kind of disappointed with lack of snp results.

23andMe advertised testing 1 million snp(s), so I was looking forward to good snp results, but their end result is R1b1b2a1(M405) and their is (1) entry above that R1b1b2a1*, which means unknown snp downstream of M405. M405=U106, and I have already tested R1b-U106+Z18+Z14+Z372+ and waiting on L257 results in familytreedna, and I was hoping 23andMe would show L257 snp results and other new snp(s).

Ancestry composition & family finder results are not in yet, so maybe that info will be more informative. So far I am disappointed with my results, but maybe they will get better.

Best Regards, Doug

March 8, 2013 at 9:03 pm
(13) Kathy says:

I have done Family tree and all I can say is they are very slow, They give you a date when your test will be complete, you check on that date excited, hoping the results are in but no, all that’s there is a new date. Patiently I wait and three weeks I check and low and behold no results just a new date another three weeks later. And again no results just a new date when to expect my results. I’m really tired of it and their excuse. They’re overpriced. I checked out 23andme and they are cheaper than Familytree and maybe not so darn slow…..

March 13, 2013 at 8:45 pm
(14) Anne says:

One cautionary note about Family Tree DNA is to anticipate severe delays based upon my experince as I am still awaiting my test results after two delivery date changes. 23andme was super quick at approximately 3 weeks. However, I purchased their kit about a month before their $99 special. They may be positively swamped with orders now.

FTDNA stated that my mtHaplo results would be ready today but I cannot find them on their website. This seems a bit unprofessional as I paid nearly $500 for the full sequence test and therefore expect accurate status updates. At this late juncture, I feel entitled to a partial refund until they finally complete my tests as the test fees were hefty for my budget. However, their refund policy clearly states that this is not permitted.

I also take great exception to their Order Results methodology of providing three possible reasons that the results may be delayed. This general excuse may have been appropriate with the first delay but not at this prolonged delay. I may either have to re-test or may just be delayed due to busy test schedules or poor test sample. Such vaguery is not acceptable considering the cost of the tests!

March 17, 2013 at 9:42 am
(15) jokuvaan says:

Maybe the best idea is to take the 23andme test and then upload the raw-data file into Family Tree DNA for 89 dollars,

March 25, 2013 at 10:56 pm
(16) Anne says:

As a quick follow-up to my earlier complaint, err comment, regarding FTDNA’s testing delays, my latest expected delivery date was today and, again, no results. However, this time there was no date adjustment to my status on the company’s website. Therefore, I resorted to calling, at my expense, a number that was listed on the companyís website as for sales professionals. However, I did manage to get through to a customer service rep who determined an approximately 3-4 week additional delay.

In addition, their status section incorrectly lists my mtHaplo results as completed. However, this is one of the tests still pending and the Family Finder is actually the only completed portion.

This is very concerning that a company can take hundreds of dollars up front, take as long as they need to analyze the results, and not even be organized or efficient enough to revise delivery dates or list the correct test status for their customers. Hopefully, this does not transfer over into sloppy test analytics or record-keeping.

May 9, 2013 at 1:39 am
(17) Ivan says:

I’m a Croat from Herzegovina and am VERY interested in learning this. As some of you probably know, the region where my parents are from has been conquered by numerous empires and peoples. Some examples are the Illyrians, the Romans, the Turks, the Ostrogoths, the Slavs, and just so many other empires/places.

I think that it’s impossible to say in general terms that there is a dominant haplogroup in the Balkans because everyone is mixed!

I’m more interested in the haplogroup side of things, so i might choose 23andme.com.

P.S. Thanks a lot for the article!

June 3, 2013 at 4:42 pm
(18) catherine says:

Family Finder – delay delay delay followed by inane excuses.

As mentioned in other comments, this company is beyond slow. Three delays in testing results, no notification to customer. I called the only number available, Sales, and spoke with Morgan who said my first test had failed (no explanation why) and that it took another 6-8 weeks to test the second sample. Appears when your test fails, your backup sample is sent to the back of the line.

My new results deadline is now 3 months after submitting my samples. Not what I was told by Sales when I bought the product “6 weeks is average, 8 at the outside”. Now I am told by Morgan that the results should be uploaded maybe end of this week or maybe next. Evidently results are only uploaded once a week. She had to ask her supervisor when I might be able to actually see the uploaded results – could be several weeks after they are uploaded.

Not happy with the customer service from this company and now suspect of the test results from my one remaining sample. How do I know the samples were not contaminated in their lab?

Wish I had gone with 123 instead.

July 29, 2013 at 7:02 pm
(19) Jeff Cook says:

I don’t trust FamilyTreeDNA. I think they charge too much. I think they use family and friends to recommend their product on the internet. I think they give as little information of current DNA information as possible so that we keep ordering more testing. I am now trying the DNA Testing at Ancestry.com and 23andme.com to compare the difference. Customer Service lacks sincerity at FamilyTreeDNA.com.

July 30, 2013 at 3:37 am
(20) Aleut1969 says:

Firstly, let me specify that I am an Aleut, certified by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, born and raised in Alaska. Being male, I have paid for the Y-DNA 111, mtDNA full sequence, and the autosomal DNA testing called family finder. I wanted a broader understanding of my ancestral history, well beyond what I was able to grasp from my rather extensive family tree.

At this point, I am very unsatisifed with the results, especially where cost for this extensive testing is considered. As far as determing Haplogroup, FTDNA seems just fine, but provides only the most generic information on origin, lacking related ethnicity. For example, my mtDNA was classified as D2A1A, which is specific of Aleuts. However, the report I received (if it can even be called that), just said that the Haplogroup first emerged about 20,000 years ago. No additional information was provided.

I haven’t received the Y-DNA 111 results yet, although I already know the Haplogroup. Both my father and grandfather have done the testing, but only at 37 markers. My decision to test at the maximum level was to determine most common ancestor by those people who share my family name, currently engaged in a large testing project at FTDNA. It was already determined that my direct male lineage was originating from the Brigantes (Celt).

Now for the family finder, AKA autosomal DNA testing. It was not only expensive, but provided horrible results.

Oddly, my overall classification was European with a sub-continent of Russia at more than 96% with an additional 13+% cited as Middle Eastern. This was all wrong, so I have sent numerous e-mails to FTDNA to get this problem resolved, without success.

July 30, 2013 at 3:38 am
(21) Aleut1969 says:

Just recently, I learned some valuable information that everyone should know. The most important is that if you are of Native American / Native Alaskan origins, just like me, this test is a waste of time and money and will only upset you. FTDNA has proven that not only are they incapable of identifying us, but have no problems classifying us the wrong way. All you can expect to hear, as a result of your concerns, is “sorry you aren’t satisfied”. I think this is unacceptable.

Furthermore, out of the 700,000 SNPs in the test, FTDNA has told me that they only match about 1/3rd of them, using a worldwide population genepool of a mere 62 ethnic groups. Their reasoning is that they believe that some people are so genetically similar, it is not worth the effort to attempt and identify them.

The only upside to my testing with FTDNA was the fact that I was able to download the raw genome data. With that, I paid $50 to a company called DNA Tribes, who performs third-party SNP analysis, and has a current reference population of almost 1,300 ethnic peoples, including nearly 900 that are considered “Native” to their particular area. They then provided me a 40 page report, matching my SNPs to the groups in their database. I will honestly say, I was not only suprised at how accurate it was, but how detailed. They were able to identify my father’s primarily Northwest European background (not Russia like FTDNA said), in addition they showed my relation to several ethnic Russian groups on my maternal side, including my Aleut heritage, plus identification of Mesoamerican and Native American DNA.

July 30, 2013 at 3:41 am
(22) Aleut1969 says:

In my humble opinion, based upon price and services offered, you would do far better to get tested at 23andme, which provides Y-DNA, mtDNA, and autosomal DNA results, all for less than the cost of 1 test at Family Tree DNA. Afterwards, if you crave more specific information, do the third-party SNP analysis at DNA Tribes and you will be set.

Not only do I not recommend Family Tree DNA, I do not believe that they are adequately prepared to provide reasonably accurate autosomal results or family finder services, due larger to their small genetic reference population and lack-of matching to SNPs. Not sure how they expect to find ample relations when only 1/3rd of the SNPs are matched, leaving the rest without analysis.

Hope this information helps someone else to avoid the disappointment I felt and aids in making a better selection when it comes to your DNA testing needs, whether that is for genealogy of the determination of close genetic relationship.

October 3, 2013 at 12:51 am
(23) Jeff O'Brien says:

I donít trust FamilyTreeDNA. I think they charge too much. I think they use family and friends to recommend their product on the internet. I think they give as little information of current DNA information as possible so that we keep ordering more testing. I also use the DNA Testing at Ancestry.com and 23andme.com to compare the difference. At these two web sites, I keep getting updates every week. At familytreedna, I have never received updates. On the paternal side, I have never received any data for the 67 and 111 sequence even though I signed up a year and half ago. On the maternal side, I received only one name after one year of full testing. Customer Service lacks sincerity at FamilyTreeDNA.com. There prefer to turn the communication into an argument rather than attempt to be helpful. It appears this is a family operation and they all back each other in a highly defensive manner. It does no good to ask for a Supervisor or Scientific Researcher. Telephoning or emailing this Company is a waste of time. Customer Service will tell you anything, even though the responses they provide are nonsensical and provided in a degrading manner.

July 30, 2013 at 3:37 am

October 4, 2013 at 2:53 pm
(24) Levi Wilcox says:

Hello! Thanks for your article. I think I’m related to your husband. 4th to Distant Cousin 0.10% shared, 1 segment with a David Powell on 23andme. I’m still waiting on my test from FTDNA. I think it’s important to note that 23ndme does SNP testing and FTDNA does STR testing. From what I’m reading, it’s like apples and oranges. But its also possible to upload your 23andme results to FTDNA and FTDNA will do free SNP testing if they can’t define your hapologroup.

October 5, 2013 at 2:59 pm
(25) jasmin7 says:

I was tested by FTDNA, 23 and me and Ancestry.com. Most interestingly, the results are not the same. 23 and me says 99% European with 90.6 of that Northern European, 1.9 % Southern Eropean, 7.5% Non-specific European with small amounts of African and Ashkenazi) FTDNA is 90.74 Western European with 9.26 Middle Eastern. Ancestry. com says 71% British Isles, 23% Scandavavian and 6% Uncertain.

Has anyone else had a similar outcome or have you come upon any explanations?

November 2, 2013 at 2:45 pm
(26) Melissa says:

I did the FamilyTreeDNA test, and only came up with one exact match. One. Out of over half a million? I was adopted, and was hoping to find more than one possible match. At least the person responded to me, but had unfortunately denied any connection. So the search goes on.

February 8, 2014 at 6:01 am
(27) Deborah Anderson says:

I’m puzzled about the number of matches people are reporting – I have 997 matches on 23andme, even though most of them are not close matches (lots of 5th cousins or 5th through distant cousins)! That may be accurate, however, because the families were often quite large back 4-5 generations. Other than my siblings, I have one 2nd to 3rd cousin (2.24% shared, 10 segments), two 2nd to 4th cousins, 5 3rd to 4th cousins, 36 3rd to 5th cousins, and a lot of 3rd to 6th cousins (and beyond), sharing around .34% DNA or less. At that point it becomes difficult to find your common ancestor. I did, however, find 3 people that were clearly related by surname and location, and one of them replied to me (and we are sharing genomes, so hopefully the connections will get clearer. I like FT’s “projects”, and their MtDNA, but I like the fact that 23andme wraps the autosomal test with the y and MtDNA tests, all for $99.

March 16, 2014 at 3:04 pm
(28) Brad says:

Remember if you are testing through 23 and me they go back to around 500 years.

National Geographic goes back to your deep anscestry, telling youi when your mother and fathers originators were born(IE 28,000 years ago.). They do not match relatives, 23 and me does.

April 2, 2014 at 11:04 am
(29) arlena dodd says:

I’m looking to find out if I am French Canadian or not – originally from Northern France.
Can someone suggest the best company for this kind
of information please?

April 4, 2014 at 5:58 am
(30) Victoria Honorio says:

Is there a company that we can save hair for later testing for future use? Person still alive, but after same person passes.

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