How Much Does AncestryDNA Cost?

I received two emails today from AncestryDNA, the autosomal DNA testing portion of the genealogy empire. You’ve no doubt seen their TV commercials, web advertisements or some other marketing message telling you that you would find so many new cousins through this service. I will be the first to admit that I am an AncestryDNA customer. As I wrote about here, I took one of their DNA tests and as a result, I have in fact connected with several new cousins.

I have a lot of problems with AncestryDNA and how they limit their customers access to information. There are other DNA testing companies which offer users tools to compare matches at the chromosomal level. AncestryDNA basically tells who a match is and forces you to figure out the rest. Today’s beef with Ancestry isn’t so much about their user capabilities, but with their marketing.

At 12:30 p.m. Eastern, I received, in part, this message advertising a discount of the AncestryDNA test price from $99 to $79, a 20% discount and the least expensive one can usually find this test.


I read this email and moved on, but an hour and 45 minutes later, I received this email from AncestryDNA offering only a 10% discount:



So can I buy the test for $79 or $89? It turns out both. I was able to load tests priced at both $79 and $89 into my shopping cart. I did not go forward with the purchase, but was only a “Submit” button away from doing so.

When AncestryDNA holds a sale, it sends that information far and wide and bloggers, such as myself, share that information with readers. It’s confusing, manipulative, and wrong to market the same product for two different prices to the same audience. While I appreciate the sale price, I would prefer some honesty in marketing.

My DNA Says I Am From Where?!

DNA tests can reveal new ancestors, show your ethnic breakdown and solve genealogical mysteries that would otherwise go unanswered. A problem arises when the same genetic material gives you two different answers to one question:
Where Am I From?
Trying to figure you where you came from historically and genetically is much simpler than it was a decade ago. Several companies offer DNA tests that include ethnicity estimates. These estimates are created by analyzing your genetic material (just a small amount of saliva) and comparing it to thousands of others. While realizing they are only estimates, they provide a little more truth to statements such as, “I’m 50% Irish, 30% German and 20% English,” or whatever you’ve always believed your ethnic breakdown to be. Keeping in mind that these are estimates and that Europe is as much of a melting pot as America can lead to some interesting statistics.
I wrote about a DNA test that my father took a few months ago through Family Tree DNA. I recently took a DNA test of my own through AncestryDNA, another company that offers tests as part of their genealogical product offering (the parent is Included in my results was the ethnicity estimate. AncestryDNA writes that they calculate their ethnicity estimates this way:

We create estimates for your genetic ethnicity by comparing your DNA to the DNA of other people who are native to a region. The AncestryDNA reference panel (version 2.0) contains 3,000 DNA samples from people in 26 global regions. 

We build the reference panel from a larger reference collection of 4,245 DNA samples collected from people whose genealogy suggests they are native to one region. The images below show the process of gathering local samples from various parts of the world. 

Each panel member’s genealogy is documented so we can be confident that their family is representative of people with a long history (hundreds of years) in that region.
Each volunteer’s DNA sample from a given region is then tested and compared to all others to construct the AncestryDNA reference panel. In the end, 3,000 of 4,245 individuals are chosen for the AncestryDNA reference panel (version 2.0). These individuals make up 26 global regions.

We then compare your DNA to the DNA in the reference panel to see which regions your DNA is most like. The ethnicity estimate you see on the web site is the result of this comparison. When we calculate your estimate for each ethnicity region, we run forty separate analyses. Each of the forty analyses gives an independent estimate of your ethnicity, and each one is done with randomly selected portions of your DNA. Your genetic ethnicity estimates and likely ranges for these estimates come from these forty analyses.[1]

With all of that in mind, I was excited to see my breakdown and learn if it matched my research. That research would indicate that I’m at last 60% German, 25% Irish, and 15% English. Keep in mind this is only going back 5 generations on average; going back any further is rather complicated because of the number of grandparents and the gaps in research. Much to my surprise, it was nowhere close!
My AncestryDNA estimate indicates that I am 62% descended from Great Britain, 20% Ireland and only 5% from Western Europe. WHAT?! Where are my Germans?! I have German surnames including Bahle, Witt, Bixler, Governor, Porubsky, Schulmeister, and Pepperney (Anglicized in a few cases) in my family history and they are getting almost no recognition by my saliva!
My ethnic matches from AncestryDNA’s autosomal DNA test. (click to enlarge.)
I was a bit stunned by the results but realize that over centuries people move. These results aren’t meant to capture a single moment in time but ancestral makeups throughout history.
Once I had my AncestryDNA results, I actually transferred my raw DNA data to Family Tree DNA. They have a service that takes the raw data from another company and uses their algorithms to produce an ethnicity report. After only a few days (since they only had to analyze the data and not test saliva), I had my results based on their algorithm.
According to Family Tree DNA, they calculate their estimates based on the following, in part, and with a bit more science in the explanation:

We assembled a large number of candidate reference populations which were relatively unadmixed and sampled widely in terms of geography. From these we removed related or outlier individuals with the Plink software, utilizing identity-by-descent (IBD) analysis and visually inspecting multi-dimensional scaling plots (MDS). Further visualization established that the reference population sets were indeed genetically distinct from each other. We also ran Admixture and MDS with specific populations to asses if any individuals were outliers or exhibited notable gene flow from other reference groups, removing these. Admixture was run on an inter and intra-continental scale to establish a plausible number of K values utilizing the cross-validation method [Alexander2011]. After removing markers which were missing in more than 5 percent of loci and those with minor allele frequencies below 1 percent, the total intersection of SNPs across the pooled data set was 290,874. The final number of individuals in was 1,353. 

To validate our Reference Population set we tested them against a list of well studied benchmark groups whose ancestral background in the literature has been well attested. Additionally we also cross-checked against individuals with attested provenance within the GeneByGene DNA database.[2]

So both companies test their results against certain population groups who they believe have remained relatively static over time. Still, once I checked my result, I was again surprised and this time for entirely different reasons.

My ethnic makeup according to Family Tree DNA. (click to enlarge.)
My Family Tree DNA estimate indicates I am 42% British Isles (Great Britain and Ireland), 30% Scandanavian, and 26% from Southern Europe. A mere 2% Central Asian is a statistical anomaly that I discount. So what does this imply? It’s certainly very different from my AncestryDNA results. It too fails to properly represent my presumed Germanic background. Neither result indicates anything close to the percentages I had assumed based on my research.
This raises so many more questions than it answered. It is forcing me to dig deeper and cast a wider net than I previously imagined in search of the truth of where I come from. I also realize these are simply estimates based on a small bit of saliva. If the tests were run again, the results could be slightly different. Genetic genealogy is a new field for me, and one that I am eager to continue exploring. I plan to share more of these discoveries in future posts!

Ball, Catherine A., Mathew J. Barber, Jake K. Byrnes, Josh Calloway, Kenneth G. Chahine, Ross E. Curtis, Kenneth Freestone, Julie M. Granka, Natalie M. Myres, Keith Noto, Yong Wang, and Scott R. Woodward. “Ethnicity Estimate White Paper.” (2013): n. pag. 30 Oct. 2013. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.

Khan, Razib, and Rui H. “MyOrigins Methodology Whitepaper – FTDNA Learning Center.” FTDNA Learning Center. Family Treee DNA, 8 May 2014. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.

Serendipity in Genealogy – 94 Years and No Longer Waiting…

Genealogy isn’t always about searching for the dead. Often, it’s about finding the living to help solve the mysteries of the dead. This is a case of a random Google search for a great grand-uncle, a pair of DNA tests and, after 94 years, being able to confirm that the man whom we could only ever suspect as the father of William Thomas Crawford is in fact the right guy.

For me, this story begins on August 30, 2014. It was late in the evening; Brendan had already been put to bed. As usual, I was sitting in front of my computer searching away to find the next family gem or lost record. I don’t remember my exact search terms, but I in the process I found this request written on a genealogy forum:

I am looking for the birth father of a William Crawford born in Leetonia in 1920 ,family oral history says that a Ed Lowry was the father,only want information,,about the Lowry family from that area,,1 

I looked at the date it was posted: January 20, 2006. It had been almost nine years since Linda Tritt Crawford wrote looking for information about Edward Lowry from Leetonia. Until I stumbled upon it, this request had gone unanswered.

I promptly sent Linda an email stating that my great grand uncle was Edward Martin Lowry, born in 1896 in Leetonia. Still, I didn’t hold out much hope that I would receive a response. Nine years is a long time without someone changing their email address, losing interest in a hobby or dying. Fortunately for me, Linda was still very much on the search.

Linda’s response the next day reemphasized that family history held that the father of William Thomas Crawford, her husband Bill’s father, was Edward Lowry. Edward and Margaret Crawford, William’s mother, had dated but never married. Since 1920, there has been no reliable confirmation that Edward Lowry was the father.

Linda and I exchanged a few emails and I sent her a link to my website and family photos so she could search through my published material herself. Since I held a possible key to this mystery, I wanted to do what I could to help solve this problem. I had the wild idea that maybe her husband and my dad could take DNA tests to attempt to confirm this relationship. I recently have gained an interest in genetic genealogy and although I want to take a DNA test myself, I knew that my dad would be a closer relative and thus more likely to be a match. If the Crawford family story was true, my dad and her husband would be second cousins. They would share a great-grandfather in Michael Lowry (1868-1949).

I proposed the idea to my dad as well as Linda, who passed it along to Bill. Fortunately, both agreed. I suggested an autosomal DNA test through Family Tree DNA. There are basically three different types of DNA tests for genetic genealogy. Y-DNA tests trace paternal lines from father to paternal grandfather to paternal great grandfather, etc. Mt-DNA tests trace maternal lines from a mother to grandmother to great grandmother. Each of these tests looks at the specific parts of chromosome 23 that get passed from parent to child. An autosomal DNA test, on the other hand, looks at shared genetic material on chromosomes 1 through 22. The more shared material, the more likely you are to be related. This is the perfect test for identifying a cousin relationship.

I bought my dad’s test and had it shipped to the house. All that is required is a cheek swab on a glorified Q-tip. Linda and Bill ordered their test as well. Both tests were returned and then we waited. And waited. And waited. These tests aren’t especially fast. This isn’t like we were just waiting for Jerry Springer to announce, “YOU ARE THE FATHER!” DNA tests can take 4-6 weeks for results so we each expected something returned by Thanksgiving.

Even though it was my dad’s test, I was particularly antsy, checking my account almost every day looking for an update. Finally, on December 6, a little more than 3 months since I first reached out to Linda, we had both tests results. Right there at the top of my results, which identify hundreds of very distant cousins who have also tested, was the name William David Crawford – 2nd or 3rd Cousin. A MATCH!

The result’s page. Click to enlarge.

Naturally, we again exchanged emails and shared our excitement over the match. In doing so, I also learned a little more about Linda and Bill. Today they live outside Cleveland, Tennesee, although Bill grew up in Leetonia and they still have family in the area. One of those family members in the Leetonia area is Bill’s niece Debra Moore, who I’ve also started to exchange family information with. Sadly, Bill’s mother Elsie Crawford passed away on December 7, just one day after we solved the mystery of her late husband’s father.

A portion of the results showing a strong genetic link (the orange part) between my dad and Bill Crawford on chromosome 5. Not every chromosome shows a match, but enough do to indicate a close relative.

Of all of my genealogical discoveries, this has been by far the most important. While it’s great to be able to identify new generations of grandparents back in history, it’s more important to be able to connect with those newly found cousins who share small and large branches of your family tree. In this case, we were able to solve a mystery that had existed for almost a century and finally confirm the long-held suspicion that the father of William Thomas Crawford was my great grand uncle Edward Lowry.