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Welcome back to Tenacious Genealogy! With the holidays in full swing and many people looking at DNA tests, I thought I’d post on another one of my favorite DNA sites – 23&Me. 23&Me is the main competitor for AncestryDNA, even though the two focus on different aspects of DNA.
While Ancestry focuses purely on the ancestral side of DNA (where your ancestors came from, etc), 23&Me also offers medical DNA reports for certain health issues.
In fact, 23&Me offers two packages: Ancestry Service (equivalent to AncestryDNA) and Health+Ancestry Service (Ancestry plus medical DNA reports). The first one is normally $99 and the second one is normally $199. If you choose to do just the Ancestry Service and then later decide to add the Health reports, it is $99 + $125. Also, 23&Me frequently has sales going on (Like right now between Thanksgiving and Christmas) where you can get the service(s) discounted.
Both of these companies have been touting their services for a while and especially now that the holidays are here. If you are curious to know what makes 23&Me different from Ancestry or its other competitors, then think of this as a basic primer on 23&Me and its services from someone who has used those services.
5 Things You Need To Know About 23&Me
1) 23&Me not only offers ancestry analysis, but genetic health analysis as well.
23&Me is one of the few DNA sites that offer health reports as well as ancestry reports. While this initially got them in hot water with the FDA, they have since dealt with that issue in a way that allows them to keep offering health reports (for certain genetic illnesses, etc) while keeping the FDA happy.
The way this works is that they have a person’s raw DNA data from their sample and they can test it for a variety of things. The reports that the FDA allows them to release to their customers are available once you’ve taken the test and it has been analyzed. As time goes on and more health reports are available, customers will receive those reports even if they took the test years before. These health analyses can be incredibly helpful to people who don’t necessarily know their medical family history (like adoptees and possibly their children).
However, a precaution with any genetic health analysis is that it isn’t a magic ball. It won’t tell you whether you will get a certain disease or condition, rather it will tell you your chances.
For example, my test shows that I have 1 variant of the APOE gene. This means that genetically speaking, I have a slightly increased risk of getting Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease compared to someone who doesn’t have this variant. However, if there is no history of this type of Alzheimer’s disease in my family, I may not get it. The test isn’t telling me that I will get this illness, but rather ‘you have a gene variant that is connected to this disease, so it’s something to be aware of.‘
2) 23&Me has the second largest DNA sample database (among the major DNA companies)
As noted in my post of AncestryDNA, Ancestry’s database is the largest so far. In April of 2017, they had about 3 million samples and by August, about 5 million. 23&Me is slightly smaller (2 million in April, probably more now), but still growing.
While this might make you think that it is better to have your DNA in Ancestry’s database (higher chance of finding relatives), it all depends on what you are looking for. If you are looking for a DNA test that would help with a medical history, that’s something that 23&Me can offer that Ancestry or the other DNA sites can’t. Also, because of 23&Me’s interactions with the FDA, they can say that the health reports they give you are up to FDA standards.
At the same time, their ancestry reports are interesting to compare to that of other DNA companies such as Ancestry, FTDNA, or MyHeritage. For example, while my British/Irish/Welsh ancestry is roughly the same at Ancestry and 23&me (19% vs 21.8%), my specifically French/German/Europe West is down (42% vs 14.7%) and my Scandinavian ancestry is higher ar 23&Me. (6% vs 14.1%)
Why would this be? Partly because of the database size. Also because of the type of people who are having their DNA tested with each service. There are people who test with just Ancestry, just 23&Me, or both. (So in the case of my Scandinavian ancestry, you could have more or fewer people with that ancestry testing with 23&Me versus Ancestry.
As for the wide gap between my French/German ancestry on Ancestry versus 23&Me? 23&Me has a grouping under each subcategory called ‘Broadly [sub category]’. So my French/German ancestry falls under ‘Northwestern European’ subcategory and my ‘Broadly Northwestern European’ number is 28.3%. Which if you add the French/German ancestry to the ‘Broadly Northwestern European’ ancestry, you get… 43% – which lines up much better with Ancestry’s ‘Europe West’ designation.
So what’s with the ‘Broadly…’ categorization? This is essentially 23&Me saying ‘the DNA here can be traced to a general area, but not a specific area’, so a piece of DNA may be common all over Northwestern Europe, but it can’t be identified as specifically ‘French’ DNA or ‘German’ DNA. 23&Me’s explanation specifically is this: “Broad regional assignments: Sometimes a piece of DNA matches a regional population but cannot be assigned to a more specific population. In such a case we assign the DNA “broadly” to that regional population rather than a specific one.”
3) You can connect with relatives on 23&Me
So we’ve talked about the medical DNA side of 23&Me a little bit and how that differentiates 23&Me’s services from other DNA companies. But for those interested in just connecting with their relatives and doing ancestry/genealogy work, 23&Me can be super helpful.
While 23&Me doesn’t necessarily have ‘family trees’ like Ancestry or MyHeritage do, you can see your DNA relatives and organize them in a variety of ways, including by strength of the relationship. You can also note on 23&Me your exact relation to a person. For example, one of my cousins had her whole family done, parents, children, etc. Her daughter initially popped up as a 2nd cousin to me. But I was able to note her as a ‘1st cousin once removed’ which is technically what she is.
You can also easily message any of these relatives through 23&Me’s system. You just have to tap on their name in the DNA Relatives section and their profile pops up with a message board on the right-hand side where you can contact them for more information if you should so wish. (Whether they respond is a whole different story.)
4) You can anonymously help with scientific research
One of my favorite aspects of 23&Me is the ability to help with scientific research. While this is a completely voluntary aspect of 23&Me, it is also pretty cool. If you choose to ‘opt-in’ (opt-out being the default) to allow your raw DNA to be used in scientific research, 23&Me will use it when research genetic correlations between illnesses, traits, or other areas of genetic research. So far, 23&Me has used DNA from its database (of customers who opted in) to help publish about 90 studies. The nice thing about these studies is that you get to help others (and forward science, yay!) without really doing much. Other than allowing your DNA to be studied (with thousands of other people’s DNA), you answer a question or two, which allows 23&Me to figure out whether your DNA is needed for the study, and if it is, whether it would be in the control group or the test group.
And if you are worried about privacy, the nice thing is that the DNA used isn’t connected to specific individuals (so no one can tell if Jane Smith’s DNA was part of the control group or not) and the groups studied are generally in the thousands of participants. If you are curious about how exactly it works, 23&Me has a page explaining it in more detail here.
Lastly, if your DNA has been used to help in a research study, 23&Me will let you know! While you won’t necessarily know which group you were in (control or not), 23&Me will put a little ‘You contributed‘ tag next to the research your DNA helped with.
5) The raw DNA data from 23&Me can be uploaded to most other DNA and family history sites for free. (Not Ancestry though.)
Another cool thing about 23&Me is that the raw DNA data that they have from you can be downloaded to your computer and then you can upload it to most other DNA and family history sites for free. When doing research on blog posts for Tenacious Genealogy, I figured I would have to try each and every DNA kit to see how they displayed my DNA results. Thankfully, in a group conversation about genealogy, another person mentioned ‘oh hey, you know you can upload your raw DNA data onto these other sites for free, right?‘ Needless to say, I was pretty happy about that. As I was researching the subject more, I realized that this applies to most DNA and family history sites, but not Ancestry. Just a note there. If you want to match up with people in Ancestry’s DNA database, you do have to buy their kit.
You can also upload your raw DNA data on to websites like Promethease for a minimal fee. (Promethease is a site that looks at your data and then pulls scientific literature about the variants specific to you. For example, the variant of APOE that I have. If there was any kind of scientific study or literature on that specific variant, Promethease could show me that literature.)
Questions or comments about 23&Me? Let me know in the comments! And if you like what you’ve been seeing here on Tenacious Genealogy – please subscribe to our email list. Not only will you stay up to date with the latest blog posts, but you’ll also get access to freebies such as ’10 Tips for Starting Your Genealogy’ and other fun ‘subscriber only’ items!