Clash of the titans: vs And the winner is…? - Genealogy Adventures (2023)

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Brian Sheffey

30 Comments and are both great online family history services. The main difference, of course, is that is free with (largely) free access to records (records from being the notable exception). is a paid membership service – although it provides a good level of free access to information to get budding family historians and genealogists going. There, I got that distinction between the two out of the way.

I’ve found another, and more subtle, difference between the two which I’m about to share. It all about performance. But one boring bit first before I get to that. Understanding this first bit will enable you to get the overall performance point I’m making about these two services.

The power and the value of and aren’t solely based on the sheer volume of records each possesses. The same records and digitized archives can pretty much be found on both.

It’s the behind the scenes stuff that seems, in my regular experience of using both, to be the difference. What behind the scenes stuff? Algorithms and databases. The websites of both services are driven by databases – think of these as ginormous warehouses that contain all of the records and data you access when you do a search on either or The databases have to be exponentially huge to hold all of that data.

OK, so I know what an algorithm is. But I was finding it challenging to explain this in an engaging and meaningful way. You know, the kind of way that anyone would be able to understand. So I did my usual Google search to see if there was a far simpler explanation. Blimey, the one’s I read reminded me of every boring and dry math and statistics class I ever took. So I’m going to simplify things and boil it all down to its essence. Purists, forgive me! Calling an algorithm ‘computer code’ or thinking of an algorithm as just ‘some sort of computer language’ would be simplifying things far too much. Think of an algorithm as the lovechild produced by a mathematical equation and a written language.Think of it as looking something like: x+y=a-b+Italian. This lovechild acts like your own person courier. Basically, you’re telling an algorithm to go and fetch something on your behalf. In this case, you’re asking it to fetch you data and records about your ancestors.Each service has its own unique algorithm. Just like Google has its own search algorithm – which is unique to Goolge and completely different from the algorithm used by Yahoo or Bing.

When you type in the name of an ancestor in either service’s online search form, the different algorithms used by each service go off to their respective, huge data warehouses. Each has a look around in its own warehouse, determines what data best fits what you’re looking for, and trots back to you with that data in tow. You know, the data and records (census records, birth records, marriages, etc)it thinks is best suited to your search.An algorithm tries its best to determine what records are the most relevant to your search. and pretty much have the same kind of warehouses that hold all those records and data. Their algorithms, however, are very different. Looking at it in another way…

I’m going to use the horrors of high school algebra and/or trigonometry to illustrate this concept. You’ll find some illustrative examples of what I mean below to better visualise what I mean:

Think of’s algorithm as something like: 2+3, [ 0 ]=0, [ 1 ] =m, [ 2 ] =n

Think of’s algorithm as something like: 2+2, [ 0 ]=0, [ 1 ] =m, [ 3 ] =n

On the surface, at first glance, they look pretty similar. And they are. But those subtle differences determine what records turn up after you click the ‘search’ button on either service. The quality of the search results is largely due to the algorithm each company uses and the language and coding used to produce that algorithm.

The more I research my non-European ancestors and relations, the more I find that produces far more accurate and better results. And it’s all down to the whatever algorithm it uses to fetch records back from its data warehouse.

I’ll show you what I mean below. I’ll start with and then move on to

So….I want to find records for Johann Peter Mattil, born on 16 Mar 1725 in Höheinöd, Sudwestpfalz, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany and died on 20 Jun 1787 in Thaleischweiler, Sudwestpfalz, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany. He married Anna Elisabetha Scheffe.


As you can see from the above, I tend to use the ‘restrict to exact matches’ option. I tend to do this with all of the variables where this option is available. And last, but not least…

I selected his gender. I also applied the country filter – in this case Germany since I really only want to see German records.

And these are the results I receive from’s algorithm:

On the positive side, I did get German records (This hasn’t always been the case. I received US-centric results for a number of other 17th and 18th Century German-domiciled Mattils I was researching). However, none of the nine records suggested were relevant to my search. All nine were 19th Century records. There are no records suggested for a man who clearly lived and died in Germany in the 18th Century.

In my experience, Ancestry tends to work best within national search parameters. is robust and accurate for American records. is brilliant for British records. Do an international search…and the results become less accurate.


And now for the same search on FamilySearch.

As you’ll see from the above, there are fewer search options and filters on However, the results its algorithm produces looks like:

Not only did I get results for the Johann Peter Mattil I was seeking…I also received a string of results for other 18th Century Mattils. There wasn’t a single 19th century record suggestion.

The result of all this? Well, for the time being, I’ll be using Familysearch a LOT more for my international record searches. For whatever reason, its algorithm is better suited for the job I need it to do researching non-American ancestors.

Has anyone else noticed any subtle –or not so subtle – performance differences between these two services? Feel free to share via a comment below.

Books by Brian Sheffey:

Clash of the titans: vs And the winner is…? - Genealogy Adventures (6)
Clash of the titans: vs And the winner is…? - Genealogy Adventures (7)


  1. Very interesting! I use both and have been pleased the results. I do like all the state records that are currently on FamilySearch but not yet online @



  2. I find that Family Search is better for identifying different spellings of a first name or nicknames whereas Ancestry will only give you only exactly what you spelled (because sometimes using an * in place of letters just isn’t enough). I use both sites but tend to use Ancestry on databases that are on both sites because I can link the record more easily to my tree.



  3. Great post! It really helps to understand how to retrieve the results you are searching for from different databases. Thank you for taking us back to algorithms. Your perspective really struck home for me—makes sense!



  4. Brian, thank you for your post! Is the FamilySearch, relationship like Apple and Android? My worry is duplication of data, meaning needless work and chance for more error. My hope is that they collaborate and share data. I’m currently asking the same question to BillionGraves and FindAGrave, since I enjoying GPS marking, indexing headstones. Both of theses companies work with FamilySearch and Ancestry respectively.
    Gus Koerner, Titusville, FL



    1. Hi Gus

      Thank you for your comment. Actually, the two are now in partnership (imagine the day that happens with Apple and Android!). You can read about the partnership here:

      On the face of it, I think you’ll see and FamilySearcch divvying up records to digitize. It’s what I would do if I were in their shoes. As a strategy, it would have great synergies of scale and all that – and result in more records being digitized more quickly.

      I’m not sure if this mean they will actually share digitized records. For instance, I’ve literally just found a huge number of Freedmen’s Bureau documents on FamilySearch that aren’t available via Conversely, people have been busy digitizing old Virginia marriage records – which are now appearing on my searches but not my FamilySearch searches.

      IN time, hopefully, it will become clear which company is hosting which records. In the meantime, I;m continuing to use both.



      1. I’d be surprised if there ever becomes total overlap because if FamilySearch remains free, there goes Ancentry’s revenue stream.


  5. I find that builds the tree faster. It gave me records that I knew existed but never could get to appear on ancestry.conm



  6. What software program do you use to store the data you have collected so that you can combine information from both and from just showed me some information from and then suggested that I needed to purchase the information from because it was international. I currently have an online annual subscription to, but think I would prefer to store the information on my own computer.



    1. Hi Barbara

      Thank you for the great question. I’ve built a bespoke database using MS Access. My tree reached something of a critical mass. So, I developed this database to run queries on specific towns & counties as well as the number of occurrences of marriages within family lines, etc. It’s also a great backup.

      It really has taken my genealogy research to a completely different level.



    2. Two or three things here, I appologize, since i do not use heritage at all, To clear up Ancestry data not available, Ancestry has different levels of capabilities based upon cost and “International” is one of them. If you want complete access to third party data bases then this is another level of cost. I have the complete package so as to not be bothered by these issues. This is, for me, advisable since All of my Direct line ancestors came to America in about 1855.

      If you prefer storing your data on your computer or in a safe deposit box, i suggest downloading it to a gedcom file to put in on your computer and then copy it to a flash drive. I have taken my own important document, using a Scanner put them on a Flash drive to put in the safe deposit box or other safe place since i keep most originals in the Box. This is a good Idea for wills and such, but, be sure they are in ADOBE format to be legally viable!



  7. I have long thought the same. I have been actively doing research on both sites for about 8 years. Familysearch is a better search engine for European ancestors whereas is better for the US side of the Atlantic. Thanks for reinforcing my assumption.



  8. I have a question. I’m relatively new to family tree research. I haven’t signed up with Ancestry yet due to the cost. I did try FamilySearch for a few months but wasn’t entirely happy with it (maybe I was impatient and/or doing it wrong). I found the tree building awkward. AND THEN, I found out that other members can alter the info on your tree which turned me right off. So my question is……do all the people that like Familysearch JUST search on it and then build their tree elsewhere? This beginner is starting to get confused.



    1. Hi Wendy. I think it’s a matter of preference. and Family Tree are also great family tree building sites. Even better, people can’t change the information in your tree.



      1. Thanks for the quick reply. I was on Myheritage a couple of years ago briefly. I found that I didn’t have as much time to commit to it as I thought. I may try again & will check out Family Tree as well. I’m determined & not giving up! Thanks for listening.


  9. Considering – MyHeritage or Family Search

    In the mid ’90’s when living in Sweden I began tracing my Swedish lineage with Family Tree. Since then I’ve lost the data file but still have hard copies of what I created. Of course, the mid 90’s was before the explosion of the internet and cloud servers. I was frustrated with a system that resided on my computer and wanted to put it into a place that relatives from other countries and states could all collaborate. I’ve held off on Ancestry.Com because I don’t want the recurring cost.

    Two things I would like to do:
    1. My family was split in the early immigration to American, children were adopted by other Swedish families and I have both an adopted family and a biological family. Family Tree in the 90’s would not allow me to trace two separate trees. Can I do this with one of the programs mentioned?

    2. I would like to give access to the data to distributed family members and have people work in a collaborative fashion. Which of these programs would be best for collaboration?


    Thank you



    1. Jac: In both cases, i find it possible, in fact, rather easy to do in I have never done either in Family Tree, but I understand from others that you cannot do adoptions in Family tree.
      When doing adoptions in Ancestry, you can add an extra Father and or Mother and show each of them as: Biological, Adopted, Step, Foster, Related, Guardian, private or Unknown and you can toggle between them. it is a little clumsy, but, it works quite well. I use it, since, I have two adopted children, I have a Cousin who was adopted out of the Family at Birth and another adopted out at 2 1/2 years. I have not yet found any others using it, however, unless I permitted by another to share and have collaboration or edit permission I would not be able to see it, further, unless, I had permission to see living persons, that would further limit my ability to see it.
      The only way I have been involved in sharing or collaboration in Family tree is by downloading a gedom file and then send it to someone who can then upload to the tree of their choice. This is how I got started on my Ancestry Tree, The husband of my First cousin provided me with such a file which I uploaded to Ancestry. now with my Ancestry file, i can invite people who have or do not have their own Ancestry account to join my tree. After that I can select the level Viewing they may have and the amount of collaboration they can take part in, such as, Read only, provide information or full edit capability. Further the tree owner can if they desire, provide to See living persons since that is almost always not visible to others due to privacy concerns. There is no additional cost for this service.
      I hope this helps
      Arlin Simmons



  10. Just a quick comment from an old timer who has worked for many many years in Computer based research and analysis: In your comparison of Algorithms you loaded the comparison in favor of Family Search. IE: simply put, you admittedly placed a hobble on Ancestry by asking for only exact matches. That means what it says, Exact to the letter. this eliminates spelling errors, spelling variations, use of initials when full names are provided and use of full names when initials are provided. also you can really mess up on birth and death locations since for many persons this is not all that cut and dried since a person may be born in a hospital in a different town from where the family lived, it is a toss up as to which is listed in the search and likely as not it is where they lived while the official record is the hospital or location of a mid wife. on death records a person may die in aen accident in an nearby town from where they live yet because that town is the official place of death and the search may not know that and uses the last known address or town name from an obituary. Ok enough but there is a lot more, the point is you must use as close as possible the same search restrictions on both to have a valid comparison. You did not. Just like statistics, you cannot use selective data unless you are striving for a predetermined outcome either consciously or unconsciously. it is easy to make that mistake. Please comment.
    Arlin Simmons



    1. Arlin, you raise some good points. However, I’m going to respectfully disagree. With Ancestry, at least at the time this was written, if I didn’t use the ‘exactly match’ option, the search returns were even more random.I could be looking for someone in Virgins, yet the results would be front loaded with results for people in England, Scotland… anywhere other than Virginia. As I did say, both platforms have their strengths and weaknesses. And, to this day, I still split my searches between the two depending on the kind of search I’m doing.



  11. Hi there. Has any of this information changed since 2014?



  12. Honestly…familysearch didn’t find ANY members of my family whereas I managed to find plenty of records on I’m from Germany. I also find it frustrating that familysearch actually expects me to visit their center for the only records I may actually find useful. Arrghh…



  13. I have used both but mostly use Ancestry for the simple reason that I am good at understanding how to tweak the searches to find what I am looking for. It’s like getting good at using one search engine rather than skipping around. I might be able to find the same data on FamilySearch… but I might not find it as easily due to my own skill set. And I have finally been converted to using an online tree on Ancestry rather than just the FTM tree on my computer. I was converted by three advantages. 1. The sync feature works great and fast, so my FTM tree always matches the one online (I sync at the end of each session). 2. The way Ancestry links documentation to your online tree is so easy and it downloads to your home tree with the sync.. and finally 3. You have a great backup online..
    A pet peeve with Ancestry though… there is a little social engineering going on as they hide the slave censuses from their searches. The slave holders in the 1850 and 1860 slave censuses do not show up even when you search for their name in the specific county. You have to go to the slave censuses specifically and search there to find them. I have written them about this, no response. Come on Ancestry….



    1. I’m glad you mentioned the slave censuses, David. The GA research team thought it was just us, or our collective imaginations.



  14. I’ve been incredibly frustrated by both services given their lack of documentation trails for my African-American, early 19th century ancestors. Most frustrating of all is changing incorrect later information in If the people who put the information in the data base won’t correct it, it stays wrong in the data base. Any ideas in correcting incorrect affiliations or attachments in especially?



    1. As reluctant as I am to say this, there is very little that can be done. If it is a misspelling of a name, this can be tagged. However, the incorrect spelling still remains. If it involves incorrect information supplied by another Ancestry user, nothing can be done unless that person changes it. I’ve had grey hairs over this issue so I fully empathize with your frustration. – Brian



  15. thanks this and the comments were so so helpful…



  16. Family search let’s people post information from ancestry. You can’t access this information, so why is it posted on family search. If it’s on family search you should be able to pull it up and see the information



  17. Why can someone arbitrarily change information in your family tree on Family Search? They don’t even have to be related. Someone did just that and messed up both sides of our family tree. Thanks.



    1. We are so sorry to hear about your experience with your FamilySearch tree. It’s happened to both Donya and Brian. Neither use that platform for that reason.



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Which genealogy site is most accurate? ›

The 6 Most Accurate Ancestry Sites in 2022
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What is the best search engine for genealogy? ›

Specialized Genealogy Search Engines
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What is difference between FamilySearch and ancestry com? ›

Here's my answer: The two sites contain most of the same material, but Ancestry costs money, and FamilySearch is free. Always use both, I say.

Is there a site better than Ancestry? ›

1. FindMyPast. is a popular Ancestry alternative from the United Kingdom. Started in 2003, it now houses over 4 billion historical records (including 11 million newspaper articles), with thousands more – particularly from the U.S. and Canada – being released every week.

Which is more accurate Ancestry or FamilySearch? ›

The more I research my non-European ancestors and relations, the more I find that produces far more accurate and better results. And it's all down to the whatever algorithm it uses to fetch records back from its data warehouse.

What is the number one genealogy site? ›

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Which is better ancestry com or genealogy com? ›

On the other hand, has a rather limited database that covers only the US. If your ancestors settled in the US and are of some other descent, it is difficult to know about them using Genealogy because of its limited database. In such cases, it is better to go with

Which search engine is the most unbiased? ›

DuckDuckGo doesn't track your search history at all, making it one of the best search engines for privacy-concerned users.

Is FamilySearch org any good? ›

Is FamilySearch a legitimate site? Yes. FamilySearch is a non-profit organization providing genealogical records, education and software to all users. You will not be asked to join the LDS Church in order to use the website.

How reliable is FamilySearch org? ›

The documents accessed through familysearch are generally reliable, especially if there are copies of the original documents included. Even original documents such as census records however, can have errors since census takers typically wrote down what individuals told them.

Is ancestry com owned by the Mormon Church? ›

In 2001, Mormon billionaire James Sorenson started one of the earliest genetic test kit companies, Relative Genetics, in part due to his religious interests. It was later bought by, another Mormon company. While today, Ancestry is a publicly traded company, it uses LDS church records and the IGI.

Which Ancestry test goes back the furthest? ›

Mt-DNA Haplogroup Testing (Up to 100,000 Years)

You can use mt-DNA testing to trace your family history up to 100,000 years, and see each major step your ancient ancestors took along the way.

What is the furthest back genealogy? ›

The longest family tree in the world is that of the Chinese philosopher and educator Confucius (551–479 BC), who is descended from King Tang (1675–1646 BC). The tree spans more than 80 generations from him and includes more than 2 million members.

What is the oldest record in ancestry com? ›

Through the Time Machine: the Oldest Documents on Ancestry®
  • Nikolai's search took him to Mühldorf in Bavaria, near the Austrian border.
  • Nikolai was amazed to see 700-year-old documents with the wax seal still attached.
  • Some of the documents in the Mühldorf Deeds dated back to the 1300s.
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What has happened to FamilySearch? ›

The website was recently closed down because, among other things, it no longer allowed us to provide the best possible service and data resources to our users. The few users who were still using the site were redirected to the current FamilySearch Family Tree website.

What is the accuracy rate of ancestry com? ›

Accuracy is very high when it comes to reading each of the hundreds of thousands of positions (or markers) in your DNA. With current technology, AncestryDNA has, on average, an accuracy rate of over 99 percent for each marker tested.

Is FamilySearch a Mormon site? ›

FamilySearch is a nonprofit organization and website offering genealogical records, education, and software. It is operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), and is closely connected with the church's Family History Department.

What is the simplest free genealogy site? ›

Free General Genealogy Websites
  • Access Genealogy.
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  • Olive Tree Genealogy.
  • RootsWeb.
  • USGenWeb.
  • California Digital Newspaper Collection.
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What happens to my family tree if I cancel ancestry com? ›

Family trees

Unless you delete them, any trees you've created in your account will remain on the site whether or not you have a membership. As a registered guest, you'll be able to do the following with your tree: Adding and removing people and photos. Adding, deleting, and editing names, dates, and other facts.

Is a subscription to Ancestry com worth it? ›

When it comes to online genealogy research, really does have it all. You should definitely have a subscription. It is well worth the money.

Is ancestry com genealogy accurate? ›

Accuracy is very high when it comes to reading each of the hundreds of thousands of positions (or markers) in your DNA. With current technology, AncestryDNA has, on average, an accuracy rate of over 99 percent for each marker tested.

What is the most preferred search engine in 2022? ›

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What search engine does not use Google? ›

2. DuckDuckGo. DuckDuckGo is easily the most well-known private search engine around—and the antithesis to Google when it comes to favoring user privacy.

What is the number 1 search engine? ›

Google. With over 80% of the search market share, Google is undoubtedly the most popular search engine. Additionally, Google captures almost 95% of mobile traffic.

What is the 110 year rule FamilySearch? ›

If the person was born within the last 110 Years you will be required to submit a form verifying your permission from one of the closest living relatives.

Can non LDS use FamilySearch? ›

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides FamilySearch free of charge to everyone, regardless of tradition, culture, or religious affiliation. Originally intended for Church members, FamilySearch resources help millions of people around the world discover their heritage and connect with family members.

Is the genealogist website any good? ›

Image and Transcription Quality. Overall I've been really impressed by the quality of the transcriptions and the clarity of the images on The Genealogist. For example, the census scans, in my opinion, are far better than those used by Ancestry or Find My Past. The transcriptions, generally, have been very good too.

Is really free? ›

Free to All

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides FamilySearch free of charge to everyone, regardless of tradition, culture, or religious affiliation. FamilySearch resources help millions of people around the world discover their heritage and connect with family members.

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A red circle with an exclamation point (!) is a tagging suggestion. You see it when you view a memory item from the Person Page. The photo is associated with a person, but you did not identify the person within the photo. Only the submitter sees the exclamation point.

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On, you will find a free, user-friendly resource to provide simple, beginner-level answers to common DNA questions, such as: What is DNA?

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For instance, an inheritance between 3 and 7% could represent your 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th great-grandparents. That means instead of look at your 64 4th great-grandparents to find out who has a particular heritage, you now need to add: 32 3rd great-grandparents.

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This is because you may have inherited genetic markers that AncestryDNA does not use to identify Indigenous American ethnicity. Additionally, some Native American communities are underrepresented in genetics research.

How many generations back is considered an ancestor? ›

Your parents are one generation back. Your grandparents are two generations back. Your great-grandparents are three generations back, and so forth. First cousins share grandparents, counting back two generations to their shared ancestors.

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It will confidently identify relationships for five generations. Family Finder tests thousands of data points on your 22 autosomal chromosomes.

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A new genetic study suggests all modern humans trace our ancestry to a single spot in southern Africa 200,000 years ago.

What family has the oldest DNA? ›

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23andme is as accurate as AncestryDNA and also provides the migration paths for maternal and paternal lineages. But its DNA database is smaller than AncestryDNA's, and the company monetizes the biomedical data of customers who opt in to research.

Which is more accurate Ancestry or MyHeritage? ›

AncestryDNA's ancestry reports are more detailed and accurate than MyHeritage's ancestry reports. And AncestryDNA also has the largest DNA database as well as the largest database of historical records in the world, which should allow you to find more relatives and discover more about your family's past.

Is MyHeritage or 23andMe more accurate? ›

As far as ancestry DNA tests go, MyHeritage provides one of the best. While they have fewer regions than 23andMe, this actually makes MyHeritage more accurate and its ancestry reports easily understood. MyHeritage recognizes all of the major European regions, such as Scandinavian and Irish.

What is the most accurate form of DNA testing? ›

A DNA paternity test is nearly 100% accurate at determining whether a man is another person's biological father. DNA tests can use cheek swabs or blood tests.

Does 23andMe and Ancestry give the same results? ›

Because of the aforementioned different kinds of DNA the tests examine, the results you get also differ. AncestryDNA just provides an ethnic breakdown of your DNA through an interactive map, while 23andMe does this and much more. The results from 23andMe are more varied and informative than AncestryDNA.

How accurate is FamilySearch? ›

Current accuracy has been verified at better than 98%.

Why are my DNA results different with Ancestry and MyHeritage? ›

To answer Lee's question: Because each testing company has its own reference panel and algorithms, you are likely to get different ethnicity results from each company. It's called an ethnicity estimate for a very good reason!

Can siblings have different ethnic DNA? ›

Many people believe that siblings' ethnicities are identical because they share parents, but full siblings share only about half of their DNA with one another. Because of this, siblings' ethnicities can vary.

Is it worth paying for MyHeritage? ›

Yes, it's totally worth it.

It is still half the price of a DNA test, and it unlocks powerful tools that can help you make some progress in your research. Your other option for getting access to these tools is to maintain an ongoing Premium/Premium Plus/Complete subscription plan at MyHeritage.

Is MyHeritage worth the price? ›

Indeed, MyHeritage DNA testing is one of the most economical options available, and it is routinely discounted. In addition, your MyHeritage DNA results will allow you to fill in the gaps in your family tree so that you can identify and connect with your relatives. So, the wait is worth it.

Which DNA test goes furthest back? ›

The type of DNA testing that takes us back the farthest, according to most estimates, is mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing. One reason that scientists can trace mtDNA back further than Y-DNA is mtDNA mutates more slowly than Y-DNA, and because we have copies of mtDNA in almost all of our cells.

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Introduction: My name is Prof. Nancy Dach, I am a lively, joyous, courageous, lovely, tender, charming, open person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.