22 September 2010

Comparing Family Finder and Relative Finder

Family Tree DNA and 23andMe are the major players in autosomal testing that helps genealogists. In many ways their features are very similar, but they are also greatly different. Most genealogists will tell you that if money is not an issue, you should test with both companies. However, you do need to know which company fits your goals, if you choose to test with only one.

My earlier post on how to choose a DNA testing company applies here as well. Please reread that article entitled Which DNA Company Fits Your Needs (May 2009).

I have tested with both companies, and without getting into the technical arena, the following may help you understand which testing company better suits your needs. Understand that each company uses a different chip to test your genes so there is an overlap, but not an exact comparison between the two sets of raw data. Each company scans around a half million locations in your genome. This, along with the fact that the clientele for each company differs, provides a different set of matches.


Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder

• Founded in 1999; services open to the public in 2000

• Primary focus: Genealogy

• FAQ focuses on using Family Finder exclusively and provides other FAQs for other tests and general information.

• Tests - Cheek swab
........Family Finder $289
Provides maternal, paternal, and autosomal (chromosomes 1-22) ancestry information. You can compare DNA information to other Family Finder customers. Currently Population Finder has been added, and in the future separate web pages for the X chromosome will be available.

Shipping and handling is $4 for the US and $6 Internationally, and you pay about $1 to $1.50 postage in the US to return the sample. If a former testing sample is on file and a complete vial is available, that vial can be used without you providing another sample. If there is not a complete vial, the company then sends you a kit for a new sample at no additional cost.

• The raw data can be downloaded. Family Tree DNA excludes scientifically known health markers in testing, so the data is basically free of health information.


• Founded in 2006; services were opened to the public in 2007.

• The primary focus: health related information; September 2009 they incorporated a genealogy aspect. The primary clientele are persons who tested to discover more about their medical aspects.

• FAQ leans toward health information.

• Tests - Saliva sample needed.
........23andMe Health Edition - $429
Provides information on genetic variations and mutations that may influence your risk for various conditions or affect how you react to certain medications. There are currently more than 150 reports available, and our scientists are adding new information all the time.
........23andMe Ancestry Edition - $399
Provides maternal, paternal and autosomal (chromosomes 1-22) ancestry information. Through Relative Finder you can compare DNA information to other 23andMe customers.
........23andMe Complete Edition - $499
Provides both the Health and Ancestry Editions, along with the ability to browse and download all of your genetic information.

Shipping and handling fees apply to each Edition.
The cost is $14.95 for the US and $70.00 for International. This includes the cost to return the sample. If you purchase the Health or Ancestry Edition and find that you would like to learn even more about your DNA, you can upgrade to the Complete Edition for an additional fee ($100 to upgrade from the Health Edition, $150 to upgrade from the Ancestry Edition). A second saliva sample will not be necessary.

• The raw data can be downloaded only if you have purchased the Health Edition. Purchasing the Ancestry Edition does not allow for you to download the raw data. Any download would include your health issues.

Test Processing Time

The standard sample processing time is up to 4 weeks for either company under normal circumstances. Of course the time depends upon any increase in demand for the service. Samples are processed in the order in which they are received.

Customer Service

23andMe does currently have the larger database, but that is a result of several factors. They have been offering this type of testing longer and they target various groups to obtain result for their health testing. Family Tree DNA, on the other hand, started their Family Finder testing in March 2009 and is geared toward genealogists.

Family Tree DNA rates higher in customer service in every way. It is easy to discover how to contact them. Their response time for inquires is within a day or two at the most. They listen to the customer and make service a priority.

On Family Tree DNA's home page in the upper right under Contact Us on their website, you will find:

Family Tree DNA
Genealogy by Genetics, Ltd.

World Headquarters
1445 North Loop West, Suite 820 Houston, Texas 77008, USA
Phone: (713) 868-1438
Fax : (832) 201-7147

The same page has a form to report problems or make suggestions.

At the bottom of any page click on Sitemap to see every aspect of the website.

On 23andMe's home page I do not see any way of contacting them. I found a couple of emails for various portions of their website.

Under Privacy Statement I found:

"How to Contact Us
Questions about this Summary, our Privacy Statement, or about 23andMe's handling of your Personal Information may be emailed to privacy@23andme.com, or sent to:

Privacy Administrator
23andMe, Inc.
1390 Shorebird Way
Mountain View, CA 94043"

AND, on the same web page, I found...

"Account Closure and Correction of Personal Information
If you no longer wish to participate in our Services, you may close your account by sending a request to Customer Support at help@23andme.com."

Under Consent Document, I found:

"How do I withdraw from this study?
At any time, you may choose to withdraw all or some of your Genetic & Self-Reported Information from 23andWe research by sending a request to the Human Protections Administrator at hpa@23andme.com."


"You may also discontinue participation by closing your Personal Genome Service(TM) account, as described in the Terms of Service. Requests for account closure must be made in writing to Customer Service at help@23andme.com."

These emails were not easy to find, and as a customer, I am unsure about using these emails to ask most questions. However, in desperation, I would use any and all emails to get a reply. I was told when I wrote the company that customers can contact them at: help@23andMe.com

That is good to know, but why isn’t it on the home page clearly posted?

In the past I have written both Family Tree DNA and 23andMe regarding their testing and found a much faster reply from Family Tree DNA on repeated occasions. In some cases, I never heard from 23andMe. I also know that the staff at 23andMe was reduced about a year ago and that could be the problem. Hopefully the customer service issue will be corrected.

Contacting Matches

For Family Finder, you receive the email and names of your matches whenever a match occurs as the database is updated daily. You can see on what part of which chromosome you share genomes with any of your matches. You simply email the match and discuss your lineages.

You can add your surnames and locations to your profile. Those surnames are automatically compared to those whom match you. If you and a person have the same surname, you will find that surname in bold. List variant spellings separately.

Relative Finder requires that you send an invitation to no more than five matches per day to request contact and to share genomes. The match could elect to decline your invitation or to make contact with or without sharing genomes. You have three opportunities to send invitations to each match. All correspondence goes through the website unless your matches wish to share their personal emails.

If your match chooses to share genomes, there are two levels: Basic and Extended. Basic allows you to see on what part of a chromosome you match a person. Extended allows you to see their health information. Basic is all that is needed for genealogy.

In a new feature you can make your profile public so others can see the surnames you have added to your profile.

DNA does not give you the name of the common ancestor nor when or where that ancestor lived. Contacting the match and sharing genealogical data is the only way to determine the common ancestor.


For Family Tree DNA, their Family Finder FAQ is quite extensive with charts and examples to explain the system and how it relates to genealogy.

For 23andMe, the FAQ focuses on explanations of various parts of the website. If you are interested in how to use the test results for genealogy, other than finding matches and comparing the various matching segments, the FAQ will not help you. I suggest that you read my blog and others like it which explains how to use this test for genealogy

The company encourages you to sign up for their free demo account to get a first-hand look at our service. The demo account contains both health and ancestry data for the sample family, The Mendels are the “fake family” you can explore to help you understand what this test can tell you.

Choose with Knowledge

We know that both of these databases will grow over time, and if money is no object, you can find different matches from each company. If genealogy is your interest and you can only afford on of these tests, you may wish to go with Family Tree DNA whose focus is genealogy as your matches would be other genealogists.

Regardless of your choice, understand the nature of this test before you buy. No genetic genealogist wants disgruntled customers, and with the various articles posted on this blog in the last three month, you should get a good understanding of how this test can help your lineage. Before you buy, write the companies with your concerns and join the International Society of Genetic Genealogists (ISOGG) and subscribe to the Newbie Email list. That group can answer questions on any DNA testing for you.

Emily Aulicino
© 22 Sept 2010

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