Our chances of finding helpful DNA relatives are greater when we match more people who share more autosomal DNA (atDNA) with us. In other words, when we test in the same database(s) as our relatives.
For the English-speaking world, that database is almost always AncestryDNA. With more than 22 million DNA customers worldwide, they have, by far, the largest commercial database of atDNA testers in the world. It’s larger than all their competition combined!
For that reason, AncestryDNA is the best place to start if you’re new to using DNA for genealogy. This graph shows what I mean.
If you’re serious about genetic genealogy, you’ll want to be in more than one DNA database. That’s because each 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. I have key matches in each of the Big Three databases who have only tested at one company and not the others. I only found them by being in multiple databases myself.
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.
(1) Log into your Ancestry.com account, click on the DNA tab at the top of the page, go to “Your DNA Results Summary”, then click the Settings button at the top right.
(2) On the Settings page, scroll down to the “Actions” section and click the blue “Download” expander at the right. Enter your password, acknowledge that you assume responsibility for the data once you’ve downloaded it, then click the blue CONFIRM button.
(3) As an added security measure, AncestryDNA will send you an email with a link to download your data. When the email arrives, click the blue button to “Download DNA Data”.
(4) 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. You can rename the file if you like. 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
I recommend that my clients upload their raw data is to MyHeritage. They have the largest database of the companies that accept transfer data — the biggest of the smallest, so to speak — and they have an excellent suite of DNA tools for genealogy.
(1) To start the transfer, click here.
(2) On the MyHeritage page, click the fuchsia “Start” button.
(4) Now, you will be guided through several steps. First, specify whose DNA you are uploading, yours or someone else’s. If you are uploading someone else’s data, you will need to enter their details and confirm that you have obtained their permission.
In the following panels, you will (a) confirm that you accept the Terms and Conditions (mandatory), (b) consent to the processing of your DNA (mandatory), (c) confirm that are uploading for personal use only (mandatory), (d) decide whether to enable DNA matching (optional, but needed if you want matches), (e) decide whether to share your ethnicity estimates and DNA segment data with matches (optional), and (f) decide whether to participate in MyHeritage research (optional).
Once you’ve done all this, you’ll see a summary of your choices.
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.
The upload is free, but MyHeritage offers additional tools for $29. If you are serious about genetic genealogy, the added features are well worth the fee.
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.