Wednesday 28 January 2015

AncestryDNA test now on sale in the UK and Ireland

The AncestryDNA test is now on sale in the UK and Ireland. The AncestryDNA test is an autosomal DNA test which puts you into a database and gives you matches with your genetic cousins on all your different family lines going back for about the last five or six generations. It also gives you estimates of your ethnicity percentages from different regions of the world. AncestryDNA are now the third of the big testing companies along with 23andMe and Family Tree DNA to offer an autosomal DNA test in the UK.

We received reports in the ISOGG Facebook group that e-mails started to be sent out late last night to subscribers who had applied for an invitation. The invitation e-mail can be seen below.
AncestryDNA have a ready-made market in the UK and Ireland with around 250,000 subscribers, and their test is probably going to introduce many new people to genetic genealogy. That can only be good news for all of us who are already in the databases and who are looking for those all important matches to solve our family mysteries.

However, it is somewhat disappointing that the UK price is so high. The dollar and the pound are not at parity yet Ancestry are charging £99 in the UK - the same price in sterling as they charge in dollars in the US. Ninety-nine dollars works out at just £65. It is difficult to understand how Ancestry can possibly justify charging us 52% more than they charge their American customers. Ancestry have their headquarters in the Republic of Ireland so it may well be that the cost of the test also includes VAT which would account for some of the extra cost.

The postage is double the price that they charge in the US. It will cost £20 for the first kit with a reduced rate of £10 for each additional kit. In the US the charge for shipping is $9.95 (£6.60). However, the £20 shipping charge does include a prepaid mailer to cover the cost of the return postage. It is not known as yet if the kits will be sent out from the US or from Ireland.

When Ancestry launched in the US they offered a free test to 12,000 Ancestry subscribers in order to kickstart the database. The test was officially launched in the US on 3rd May 2012 at an introductory price of $99. In November 2012 the test became available to everyone and the price went up to $129 for subscribers and $199 for non-subscribers. There has been fierce competition in the autosomal DNA testing market in the US. 23andMe reduced the price of their test from $299 to $99 in December 2012. Ancestry later responded by lowering their price to $99 for subscribers and $129 for non-subscribers. In May 2013 the price of the AncestryDNA test was changed to $99 for everyone - subscribers and non-subscribers alike. Family Tree DNA reduced the price of their autosomal Family Finder test to $99 in August 2013. Since then it's been a level playing field in the US with all three companies charging $99 for a test.

However, in the UK it's a somewhat different picture. We now have three autosomal tests available, but all at different prices. The 23andMe test costs £125 inclusive of shipping, though this test provides health reports in addition to the ancestry reports. Canada, the UK and Ireland are currently the only countries where the 23andMe health reports are sold. 23andMe withdrew their health reports in December 2013 and are currently seeking regulatory approval from the FDA. The health reports were relaunched in the UK in December 2014. The FTDNA Family Finder test, which is purely an ancestry test, costs $99 (£65) plus $9.95 (£6.60) for shipping bringing the total cost of the test up to about £72. The new AncestryDNA test works out at £119 (£99 for the test plus £20 for shipping.)

The choice of testing company will depend on your objectives for testing. There is a detailed autosomal DNA comparison chart in the ISOGG Wiki, which offers a side by side comparison. 23andMe and FTDNA both provide a lot of essential features such as a chromosome browser and the ability to download your matching segment data which are not available at AncestryDNA. However, Ancestry have tried to simplify the testing process and offer a nice interface for integrating with your Ancestry family tree. They also offer a DNACircles feature which puts you in groups with your genetic and genealogical cousins though it remains to be seen how this feature will work in practice for testers in the UK and Ireland. However, in order to have access to the family trees and the DNA Circles feature you will need to maintain your AncestryDNA subscription. Once your Ancestry subscription lapses you will have to pay an additional subscription charge (currently $49 per year in the US) to access these features. Dave Dowell has further details in his blog post Did AncestryDNA quietly become more expensive?

23andMe currently have the largest database. They sell their test in 56 countries and have around 800,000 people in their database. However, I estimate that about 90% of their database are in America. Also, a significant proportion of the 23andMe customers have only tested for health reasons and are not interested in participating in the DNA Relatives cousin-matching service.

Family Tree DNA sell their tests in almost every country of the world and have the benefit of a well established network of projects. There are over 8000 different projects with a wide range of surname projects, geographical projects and haplogroup projects all run by volunteer project administrators. FTDNA are the market leaders for both Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA testing. It is estimated that FTDNA have around 120,000 people in their autosomal DNA database. FTDNA have the highest proportion of international customers. It is thought that around 70% of their customers are in the US, and they already have lots of British, Irish, Canadian and Australian people in their database. FTDNA are the only company who allow you to transfer your autosomal results from other companies. 23andMe results (version 3 chip only) and AncestryDNA results can be transferred free of charge, though a small fee is required to unlock additional features. If you test at AncestryDNA make sure you also transfer results over to FTDNA. For details see the article on the autosomal DNA transfer programme in the FTDNA Learning Center.

We now know from the Ancestry e-mail reproduced above that there are around 700,000 people in the AncestryDNA database. (My estimate last week of 740,000 was not far off! See my blog post What is the current size of the consumer genomics market?) However, the AncestryDNA database is about 99.9% American. Much will depend on how many people in the UK and Ireland decide to take the plunge with the AncestryDNA test. I was able to test with Ancestry back in June 2012 when their test first came on the market and before they closed the loophole to stop people from ordering the test from outside the US. I've written a series of articles about my AncestryDNA test which you can find here:

At the moment an autosomal DNA test is best used for testing a particular hypothesis. The databases still have a long way to go before they reach critical mass for testers in the UK and Ireland so if you take a test to go on what we call a "fishing trip" you will probably find that you don't get that many meaningful matches. You should regard an autosomal DNA test as a long-term investment. I've tested with all three companies and here are my statistics:

23andMe: I have 1100 matches. I have one predicted 2nd to 4th cousin, two predicted 3rd to 5th cousins, and 48 predicted 3rd to 6th cousins. My remaining matches are predicted to be 3rd to distant cousins. I have not been able to find the genealogical connections with any of my matches.

AncestryDNA: I  have 1250 matches. I have nine predicted 4th to 6th cousins. The rest of my matches are predicted to be 5th to 8th cousins. I have no "leaf hints" and I am not in any DNA Circles. I have not been able to find the genealogical connections with any of my matches.

Family Tree DNA: I have 357 matches. I have tested both my parents at FTDNA. I have five predicted 2nd to 4th cousins and 31 predicted 3rd to 5th cousins. The remainder of my matches are predicted to be fifth to distant cousins. Apart from confirming that my parents are my parents (!) I have been able to make just one genealogical connection from my FTDNA matches. I have written about that match in my blog post on My first autosomal DNA success story.

If you are testing to find genetic cousins then it's worth being in all three databases if at all possible as you just don't know where you might get the long-awaited match. When the tests work and you do manage to make the connection it does become very exciting and, as the databases grow, we will see many more success stories.

With thanks to Trevor Rix, David Hollister and Stuart Phethean.

Update 29th January 2015
Chris Paton has published the official press release from AncestryDNA on his British Genes blog:
© 2015 Debbie Kennett


William Flowers said...

Unfortunately, the exchange rate is not the only determinate of price when comparing goods and services between countries. When comparing the U.S. and the U.K., for example, UK prices are much higher for the same good or service in comparison to the U.S.

To simply set a price based on the exchange rate would give people taking the test in the U.K. a heavily discounted price. And that may be desirable to encourage participation, but that's a different argument.

Unknown said...

Hi Debbie, an extremely well presented blog if I may say.

As having been in trade with the US for many years, I tend to agree that it is quite normal for the $ to be transposed with the £. There are always extra costs involved - handling, postage, duties and a different flavour of support.

As a by-the-way, I have suspicion that Ancestry are actuality using the resources of FTDNA in Texas.

At the end of the day, I'm sure we are all quite excited that DNA testing is now readily available for the serious Genealogist this side of the pond. Perhaps they, over there, will take more note of our contribution to the understanding and knowledge of how it all works. We have much to give.

All the best with what you do.
Graham - a DNA-NEWBIE

Debbie Kennett said...

Hi Graham

Thanks for the kind words. It does indeed often seem to be the case that we end up paying the same price in pounds as in dollars. Presumably a lot of our taxes and overheads (eg, property) are higher here. However, I would have thought it would have been in Ancestry's interests to set a lower initial price to encourage UK participants.

Nevertheless it's good news that we now have three high-profile companies selling autosomal DNA tests in the UK and I'm sure we will all benefit.

Our American friends are well ahead of us in terms of strategies for analysing autosomal DNA results, but because of the database limitations and the fact that we go back to a wider gene pool I think things work very differently for us and it will take longer for us to get meaningful matches. The population of Britain and Ireland was about 16 million in 1800/1801 yet the population of the US was just over 5 million. Americans with Colonial ancestry, who are the primary consumers of these tests, are therefore much more inter-related than we are. I think that's why they are having much more success than we are.

Sometimes we are indeed "two nations divided by a common language"!

Debbie Kennett said...


I forgot to say that Ancestry have no connection whatsoever with Family Tree DNA. Ancestry have their headquarters in Dublin and have offices on the west coast of America. Family Tree DNA are a privately held company based in Houston, Texas, and are not listed on the stock exchange.

Unknown said...

AncestryDNA works through their own lab here in the US (though I am not sure if they actually own the laboratory or are just contracted with the owner.) They do not use the FTDNA lab (Gene by Gene.)

The question AncestryDNA had about UK testing is if they could find a UK lab. If they have not then they have to send the sample to Utah. Even if they found a lab in the UK, then I suspect the lab costs there are more than in Utah.

Also, most people will not be able to find the genealogical connection to many, probably most, of their matches. Family trees are often erroneous, and the NPE/adoption rates are high enough that all family trees turn into lies eventually.

And, the autosomal matching can be from many more generations previously than 5 or 6 generations ago. The new "Timber" algorithm at AncestryDNA is intended to reduce the influence of population wide chromosome regions in the matching results. However, some people are complaining that Timber is too aggressive, but it has helped make much better sense of the matches in the profiles I manage.

Anonymous said...

In a nutshell what is your assessment of the claimed 2nd-4th cousins? Can you rule them out at least as being that close?

Debbie Kennett said...

My Family Finder 2nd to 4th cousins are all in America and I've been unable to find a connection. Their trees all go back many generations in America. I suspect they are related on multiple lines in America which is making the relationship look closer than it actually is.