Wednesday 7 August 2013

Autosomal DNA testing is now affordable for all

Family Tree DNA announced last week that they will be keeping the price of their Family Finder test at $99 (£64) following the end of their successful summer sale. There does not appear to have been an official press release but the news was announced on their Facebook page. The Family Finder test cost $289 (£188) when it was first introduced in the spring of 2010. It has been possible to buy the test for $199 (£130) if you took advantage of a sale, but the high price was still a major disincentive for most people.

The price reduction has no doubt been prompted by competition from both 23andMe and Ancestry, the only other two companies who offer an autosomal DNA cousin-finding test. 23andMe reduced the cost of their test to $99 in December 2012 after receiving $50 million in investment funding. AncestryDNA followed suit soon afterwards. Family Tree DNA really had no alternative but to reduce their test to keep the price in line with the competition. It may well be that all three companies are effectively selling the test at less than the cost price, but whatever the reality it is good news for the consumer.

The AncestryDNA test is only on sale in the US so for the rest of the world, there is now a straightforward choice between the 23andMe test and the Family Finder test. While both companies charge the same price for their tests there are considerable differences in the postage costs. FTDNA charge just $7 to ship their kits overseas. In contrast 23andMe charge $79.95 for shipping to the UK as their kits are sent by courier and there is no option to have the kits sent out by ordinary post. The comparative prices therefore work out as follows:

Family Finder   $99 + $7        = $106       (£69)
23andMe          $99 + $79.95 = $178.95 (£117)

23andMe offer a 20% reduction for each additional kit ordered but much of this saving is wiped out because it's still necessary to pay an additional shipping fee for each extra kit ordered, albeit at a reduced price of $49. Family Tree sell DNA kits in theory to every country in the world. 23andMe currently only ship their kits to 56 countries, nearly all of which are in Europe or North America. So if you are interested in taking an autosomal DNA test and you live in South Africa, Brazil, India or Thailand or any of the many other countries not on the 23andMe list then the Family Finder test is your only option.

Price is of course not the only consideration. The 23andMe test is not just a genealogical DNA test but also provides health and trait information which is very interesting in its own right. 23andMe have a much larger autosomal database than FTDNA. They currently claim to have over 300,000 genotyped customers in their database. However, many of the people at 23andMe have taken the test for health reasons and are not interested in genealogy so the response rate when contacting matches is low. 23andMe have made little attempt to market their test outside the US, and probably about 90% of their customers are in the US. Nevertheless, there are growing numbers of British people in the 23andMe database as well as customers from countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Family Tree DNA are a dedicated genetic genealogy company so their customers are more likely to respond to match requests. FTDNA also have the advantage of a much more international database. Probably only around 60%-70% of their customers are in the US. They have a huge range of geographical DNA projects covering most of the regions of the world. FTDNA are also much more well known in the genealogy world in the UK. They sponsor the DNA workshop each year at Who Do You Think You Are? Live, the big family history show which takes place at Olympia in London. While FTDNA have the world's largest Y-DNA and mtDNA databases, they have never disclosed the size of their autosomal database. We estimate that they probably had somewhere in the region of 60,000 autosomal test results in their database before the start of their sale in July. With the new low price we can expect to see the database grow very rapidly.

The choice of company will very much depend on your testing objectives. If you can afford it I recommend testing at both 23andMe and Family Tree DNA. It's an interesting exercise to explore your genome with 23andMe and it is an advantage to have your results in two different databases. If you do want to test with both companies, the most economical way to do so is to test first with 23andMe, and then do the FTDNA third-party transfer to add your autosomal results to the Family Finder database. The transfer currently costs $69 (£45). Further details can be found in the FTDNA FAQs. 23andMe do not accept transfers from other companies so if you test first at FTDNA you will have to pay for a new test at 23andMe. However, if you are only interested in finding genetic cousins then Family Finder is the test of choice.

Although my American friends have been finding lots of connections in the autosomal databases for the rest of us it's much more of a waiting game. I've yet to find a genealogical connection with any of my matches at FTDNA or 23andMe. I hope that with the new low price of the Family Finder test and the low shipping costs many more people outside the US will be tempted to explore their autosomal DNA. I'm looking forward to making my first genealogical connection with autosomal DNA testing.

Further reading
- The new Family Finder test from Family Tree DNA
- My first autosomal DNA success story
- My series of articles on my 23andMe test
- ISOGG Wiki Autosomal DNA Testing Comparison Chart
- ISOGG Wiki guide to autosomal DNA

© 2013 Debbie Kennett

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