This post has been updated.
AncestryDNA has, by far, the largest commercial database of autosomal DNA testers in the world, larger than all of the other genealogical databases combined. This graph says it all:
As of this writing, their corporate page says they have “almost 10 million people in the AncestryDNA database”, and I suspect they’ve already broken that threshold. For that reason, AncestryDNA is, hands down, the first place to start if you’re new to DNA testing and interested in genealogy.
But, it’s not the last.
Because each of the DNA testing companies has its own set of customers, you will have DNA cousins at, say, 23andMe who haven’t tested at AncestryDNA, and vice versa. In fact, I recently broke down a brick wall on my Larkin line using three DNA matches at 23andMe who haven’t tested anywhere else. Likewise, I have key matches at MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA who have only tested at those companies. If I were not in those databases myself, I would never have found them.
Paying for DNA tests at multiple companies adds up quickly. Fortunately, you don’t have to! The smaller companies are actively trying to grow their databases by accepting data from their competitors … for free! That means you can pay for a single test at AncestryDNA and copy the results to MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA, and Living DNA at no additional cost. This so-called transfer process won’t remove your DNA data (sometimes called a “kit”) from AncestryDNA, it’ll just add it to the other databases.
Unfortunately, If you want to be in 23andMe’s matching database, you’ll have to purchase a test through them. They do not accept transfers from other companies to find DNA relatives.
AncestryDNA isn’t the only source of data the smaller companies will accept; they will also take data from one another. Click here for a summary of which DNA data transfers are possible. But by the bang-for-your-buck metric, testing at AncestryDNA first is the best way to go.
How to Download Your Data from AncestryDNA
The first step in a data transfer is to copy your “raw data file” to your personal computer. (If you’re working on a public computer, like at a library, make sure to delete the files from the hard drive when you’re done.) That file contains the actual DNA data—the As, Cs, Gs, and Ts—for roughly 700,000 spots in your genome.
To do this, log into your Ancestry.com account, click on the DNA tab at the top of the page, then click the Settings button at the top right.
On the next page, you will see an “Actions” panel at the top right. Click the button to “Download Raw DNA Data”. (Do not click the button below that one! It will delete your data.)
You will get a pop-up form. Enter your password, click the check box to acknowledge that a file stored on your computer is no longer protected by AncestryDNA, and click the orange “Confirm” button.
As an added security measure, AncestryDNA will send you an email with a link to download your data. When the email arrives, click the green button to “Confirm Data Download”.
This link will take you back to AncestryDNA’s web page, where you can now click the “Download DNA Raw Data” button to copy the data file to your computer. This will not remove your data from AncestryDNA.
The file will probably be saved in your “Downloads” folder (unless you’ve told your internet browser to save things somewhere else.) It will be called “dna-data-YYYY-MM-DD.zip”, where YYYY-MM-DD represents the date of the download. The “zip” ending means that the file is in a compacted form. Do not unzip it.
TIP: As a privacy precaution, the file will not have any identifying information in either its name or its contents. If you’re planning to do transfers for multiple people, do all of them for one person before starting on the next person to avoid mixing up the files.
Transfer Your Raw Data File to MyHeritage
The first place you will want to transfer your data is to MyHeritage. They have the largest database of the companies that accept transfer data — the biggest of the smallest, so to speak. To start the transfer, click here.
On the page that loads, click the fuchsia “Start” button.
Now, you will be asked to specify whose DNA you are uploading, to confirm that you accept the Service Terms (again!), and to decide whether to accept the Informed Consent Agreement (for research). The Informed Consent is optional; again, please read them and decide whether you wish to contribute to their research program or not.
If you are uploading DNA data for someone else, you will also be asked to confirm that you have that person’s permission. Obviously, we would not want to upload DNA data for anyone against their wishes.
Finally, click the fuchsia “Upload” button. Navigate to the location on your computer where the AncestryDNA file was saved, select it, click “Open”, and wait for the data to upload. Once the file is safely transferred to MyHeritage, click “Done”. It will take a few days before you are fully integrated into their system and have DNA matches.
TIP: At MyHeritage, you can upload DNA kits for multiple people into the same account, so you do not have to log out then log back in to work with the DNA matches for multiple family members.
Transfer Your Raw Data File to Family Tree DNA
On the next page fill in the form with your name and email address to set up a free account. Be sure to read the Terms of Service. Do not upload your data if you do not agree to them.
(If you already have an FTDNA account from prior yDNA or mtDNA testing, click the red text below the JOIN TODAY! button. You will be asked to log into your account so you can upload the AncestryDNA data into it. If you’ve done the Family Finder test with FTDNA, there is no need to transfer the AncestryDNA file there.)
On the next page, click the rectangle that says “23andMe/AncestryDNA”.
Now, drag-and-drop your AncestryDNA file into the field that appears, or click the red text saying “browse file” to find it on your hard drive. Click the “SUBMIT” button when it turns red.
While you’re waiting for the file to upload, limber up your clicking finger, because you’re going to need it. When it’s done, you’ll get a message with your “kit number” and a notice that your password will be emailed to you.
- Click the orange “GO TO MYFTDNA” button.
- On the next page, confirm your email address, and click the orange “Confirm and Proceed” button.
- Read the Terms of Service and Privacy Statement, and, if you agree, check the box and click the orange “Confirm and Proceed” button.
- Read the “Consent to Participate in Matching” and, if you agree, check the box and click the orange “Complete and Proceed to Dashboard” button.
If you consented to matching, you should be able to access your match list within 24 hours (usually much faster).
NOTE: Each new data file uploaded to FTDNA will be in a separate account with its own login information. You can use the same email address for multiple accounts.
TIP: If you get an error with the upload, use this free online application to convert your AncestryDNA raw data file into a format FTDNA can read, and then upload the resulting file instead of the one you downloaded from AncestryDNA:
Transfer Your Raw Data File to Living DNA
Living DNA is the newest entry into the market. People who transfer data into their database will have access to DNA matching when it is introduced in late summer, 2018, but not to the Living DNA ethnicity estimates. Their data will be used as part of their One Family One World initiative to build a global family tree and to improve Living DNA’s ethnicity estimates.
To transfer into the Living DNA database, click here and fill out the “Your details” form.
You will then be asked to fill in information about your parents and grandparents. Here’s an example:
You will have the option to upload a gedcom if you want.
Click “Submit your application”. In a bit of e-mail overkill, Living DNA will first email you a link to confirm your email address, then, once you’ve done that, a second email with instructions on how to upload the data.
Log into your account at Living DNA and click the blue “Upload Data” button. On the next page, click the small “Choose File” button near the bottom, navigate to the data file on your computer, select it, then click “Upload File”.
You won’t be able to do anything with the uploaded data until matching becomes available in August 2018, so check back then. For now, consider it one more tasks scratched off your list!
TIP: At Living DNA, you can upload DNA kits for multiple people into the same account, so you do not have to log out then log back in to work with the DNA matches for multiple family members. When you enroll a new person into the One Family One World project, simply use the email address for the account you already have.
Transfer Your Raw Data File to GEDmatch
GEDmatch is a third-party site that functions like a common meeting ground for genetic genealogy. They accept data from the testing companies, and have some tools that none of the other sites offer. There are fewer privacy protections at GEDmatch than elsewhere, and US law enforcement uses the database for criminal investigations, so if those facts are a concern for you, GEDmatch may not be right for you. There is a way to “hide” your data at GEDmatch for privacy. I’ll explain how to do that below.
To create an account at GEDmatch, click here, fill out the User Registration form, then click “Register”.
You will receive an email with a registration confirmation code. Enter that code into the confirmation page at GEDmatch.
Find the panel called :DNA file Uploads” and click the link for “Generic Upload FAST“.
On the next page, fill out the form with the name and other information of the tested person. You can designate an alias to be shown to DNA matches instead of their real name, if you like. At the bottom, click the “Choose file” button to navigate to the AncestryDNA file stored on your computer, select it, then click the “Upload” button. Wait for the upload to complete, at which point you will be assigned a “kit number” beginning with the letter A followed by six digits. Some of the tools at GEDmatch will be useable within 20 minutes or so. Matching should be available within 24 hours.
OPTIONAL: To protect your privacy at GEDmatch, you can make your kit a “research” kit. Research kits can use the tools at GEDmatch but will not appear as matches to other people. To change the privacy of your kit, go to the main page at GEDmatch, and click on “EDIT or DELETE” at the bottom of the grey panel titled “Your DNA Resources”.
The next page will have a list of your DNA kit numbers. Click the radio button at the far right of the kit you want to protect.
Above or below the list, click the “Edit” button. Do not click the “Delete” button; if you do, you’ll have to upload the kit again.
On the next page, under “Public / Private / Research”, click the radio button for “Research” (not “Private”).
Finally, at the bottom, click the “Save_Change” button.
Now, your kit at GEDmatch will be invisible to other users unless they already know your kit number. You can change your privacy settings at any time.
TIP: At GEDmatch, you can upload DNA kits for multiple people into the same account, so you do not have to log out then log back in to work with the DNA matches for multiple family members.
Congratulations! If you’ve done one or more of these uploads, you will soon have access to new DNA matches for free! Happy genealogizing. (Is that a word?!?)
Updates to this Post
14 Jun 2018 — updated to clarify that a transfer does not delete your DNA data from the original testing company and to add instructions for making a kit “research” at GEDmatch