Which DNA testing company should you use? Do different companies give different results? Short answer: Yes. Here are 3 ways your DNA test results may vary.
While doing a Q&A for Legacy Family Tree webinars recently, I got this great question:
Does doing DNA through different companies produce different results? – Chris
That’s a great question. At first glance, you’d think that the DNA testing experience across different companies would provide pretty similar results. After all, you’re giving them the same DNA, right?
Same DNA, true, but your DNA test results will vary in 3 big ways.
Before I explain how, let me just clarify: if you’re asking about which test TYPE to take (autosomal, YDNA or mtDNA), that’s a different question. Explore these different test types here.
Now, let’s talk about the 3 ways your results from different DNA testing companies will vary. These are important factors to consider when you ask,
“Which DNA Testing Company Should I Use?”
1. DNA Ethnicity Results Vary
Many people are excited to receive their ethnicity results—meaning, a breakdown of the places around the world where their ancestors once lived.
DNA ethnicity results are becoming more accurate and more precise. As the pool of global testers grows, so does information about what constitutes Welsh DNA, for example, or the number of subregions into which the testing companies may break down West Asia.
That said, each testing company reports somewhat different geographic regions. The larger issue, though, is that ancestral ethnicity is a hugely complex thing to tease out of your DNA. It’s so complex, in fact, that your own DNA ethnicity results could vary even from the same company if you test more than once.
2. DNA Matches: Cousin Connections
For many people, the most important component of DNA test results is the DNA match list. This list is generated by comparing your DNA test with that of everyone else who tests at the same site (and agrees to participate in the matching experience). Those who share a significant amount of DNA with you end up on your list. Most of the time (there are exceptions), this means you’re related to them.
It stands to reason that your DNA match list will vary based on which testing company you use. Different people test at different companies. This matters if you’re looking for something—or someone—specific, such as a birth relative or other descendants who share your unknown great-grandfather.
Starting with the largest testing pools gives you the best odds of finding the matches you want. At this writing, the companies where people have taken the most tests are AncestryDNA and 23andMe. But those huge numbers don’t matter if the relative you’re looking for tested only at one of the other companies. Many people, after testing one place, will retest or transfer their test results to another company so they can see a new list of matches (and get another take on their ethnicity results, too).
3. DNA testing tools
Each testing company has special features and tools that can help you learn more from your DNA. The trick is that you may not know which of those tools or features you may need until you get further into the testing experience.
All the major testing companies provide ways to help you determine how you may be related to your DNA matches. A super important feature is the Shared Matches tool (or In Common With, at Family Tree DNA), which helps you cluster matches into common descendancy groups—further helping you determine how you’re all related). Three companies have tools that (with varying degrees of accuracy) automate some of the work of figuring out how you are related to your matches, such as AncestryDNA’s ThruLines, MyHeritage’s Theory of Family Relativity and 23andMe’s Family Tree.
There’s so much more we could tell you but we don’t want to overwhelm you if you’re just getting started!
What you need next: our Autosomal DNA Testing quick reference guide! This inexpensive purchase can save you TONS of money by helping you purchase the right test—and then use it effectively. It’s got an exclusive side-by-side comparison table of the 5 major testing companies. It answers key questions, like what DNA testing can (and can’t) tell you, and choices for controlling your privacy.