Since mid-2017, the DNA Lab Processing Times Survey has crowd-sourced data on how long genetic genealogy test results take. The information can give us a snapshot of what to expect when we’re expecting DNA results at any given time, and also provide a large-scale overview of how wait times vary throughout the year.
The most recent reports, as of October 2020, were about 12 days for 23andMe, 29 days for AncestryDNA, 44 days for MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA (which use the same lab), and 50 days for Living DNA. Times are from the day the test was mailed back to the lab to the day the results were first available.
The graph below shows autosomal DNA processing times for all five major testing companies combined in 3-month rolling averages since July 2017.
As you can see, there’s an annual pattern; processing times increase in the first quarter of the year (red horizontal lines). The delays correlate to the winter holidays. Consumers tend to buy kits during the Black Friday sales (the day after Thanksgiving in the United States), when the lowest prices of the year can be had. Sale kits given as holiday gifts get sent back starting in early January, and the surge causes the labs to backlog for a time.
The post-holiday backlog in 2020 is nearly completely masked by a much larger problem unique to 2020: COVID-19. Although processing times eased in the March–May 2020 period, as in previous years, the trend changed drastically after that (black horizontal line). Lab times peaked in spring and summer, as the labs were overtaken by other priorities.
A little background is needed here. AncestryDNA outsources their lab work to Quest Diagnostics, and 23andMe subcontracts to LabCorp. Both are clinical laboratories that also perform medical diagnostics, including COVID testing. Even FamilyTreeDNA, which boasts its own lab, was impacted, as its parent company started performing COVID tests in May.
For obvious reasons, genealogical testing must take a back seat to public health. I suspect it’s no coincidence that atDNA processing times started to improve again just as the second wave of covid in the US subsided in September.
This convergence of events suggests that we may see an even bigger backlog than normal in the coming months, as the holiday sales collide with the third wave of COVID in the United States. If you are buying kits for yourself, send them in before the holidays. And if you are buying them as gifts, encourage the recipients to take the tests as soon as possible.
As always, you can submit your own processing times, for any genealogy test at any company, to the perpetual survey at bit.ly/DNAProcessingTimes.