Buyer Beware: Make sure you know THIS about AncestryDNA before you buy a kit!

by | Jun 12, 2018 | 2 comments

I have been recommending AncestryDNA here on this site for the past several months now because I’ll be the first to admit it’s much easier to use than FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA) in terms of seeing possible shared ancestor hints and locations of the ancestors of your matches. In addition, they’ll generate matches further back in your genealogical history than will FTDNA.

One thing I was not aware of, however, is that without a paid Ancestry membership, you cannot view your matches surnames or your shared ancestor hints. Now for a regular Ancestry user like me, that’ not a big deal, but for someone who bought the DNA test and hasn’t done much genealogy research before, they’re either going to quickly give up on DNA or they’re going to be angry when they realize the only thing they were really paying for was paying for was their ethnicity results (which they’ll likely learn are ever changing) and a list of matches that basically serve as bait to pay for a monthly subscription. In that way, it feels like they’re holding your information hostage.

That’s hugely disappointing since this is one area in which FamilyTreeDNA beats them hands-down. While FTDNA only gives you results to the 5th cousin level, and their family trees are cumbersome to navigate, at least they don’t pretend like they own that data.

Ancestry, on the other hand, does pretend they own the data. A shared ancestor hint is NOT like a hint for data in their subscription-only collections. They are essentially telling you that a genetic cousin and you likely share a certain ancestor, but they won’t tell you who it is — even though you ALREADY PAID FOR the DNA kit — unless you buy a monthly subscription.

Do they really think that their best, most loyal customer base is buying a DNA kit for that lame, constantly changing ethnicity report? Of course not! So if someone like myself, who pretty much is a year-round Ancestry subscriber with only very occasional, short periods in which I’m not paying for a membership, takes a break from a regular genealogy research subscription for a month or two (while they’re trying to fix all of their massive, system-wide technical issues), I shouldn’t be also locked out of any usefulness in our family’s AncestryDNA results. I bought the kits. Does that entitle me to nothing useful on the AncestryDNA site?


It just goes to show there are no perfect genealogical DNA companies. If GEDmatch could allow easier surname searching for your matches’ DNA kits, it would be near perfect and I’d gladly pay a monthly subscription for that! This is where free markets work… ultimately, customer demands will create newer and better products and services and I look forward to seeing that as it unfolds.

In the meantime, I still think the AncestryDNA test is most useful for serious researchers, but only if you go into it aware of the fact that you’ll have to pay for a monthly membership to have full access to your results AND you’ll probably want to import your results into GEDmatch if you’re to the point where you need to start looking more closely at where you’re matching on different chromosomes.

That’s all for now! Happy researching!


  1. Ann R

    Sara, I don’t have a membership w/ ancestry but I did take the dna test. I’ve been able to do quite a bit even without the membership and having a private tree. Fortunately my father did a lot of the genealogy tree for me 30 years ago and I have been fine tuning it a bit. I’ve found a lot with my cousin matches (when they leave their name rather than a code name) by just googling them and going to also since I’m from the Northwest the Washington state digital archive (it’s free also) has been a good source of info. Perhaps you’re taxing the system by doing searches on such a common name as Smith as shown in your picture. I think you’re being unduly harsh on ancestry I think they offer a lot without a membership I just try other sites to supplement my research.

    • Sara Whitford

      I appreciate where you’re coming from Ann, but I only used Smith in my example to show what’s happening with this acknowledged “system-wide issue” that Ancestry is having. [I should note that I’m a website developer by trade, so I know that searching for a name like Smith shouldn’t “tax the system”, as you mentioned.] Many kits that have come back recently are not allowing users to search their matches by surname or location. Those of us who have contacted Ancestry about it are told, “We are aware of this problem. It’s a system-wide issue and they are working on it, but we cannot give you an estimate of when it should be working again.”

      I manage several DNA kits with Ancestry, FTDNA, and I also have my own kit at 23andMe, so I’m familiar with how all of this is supposed to work. With Ancestry, on all of the other kits, I’ve been able to search a kit’s matches based on surname or location, but with the most recent kit that came back, no matter what I search for, it comes back with “No matches found.” I used the name Smith in my example image only to illustrate the fact that it isn’t because I’m searching for less common surnames, because even with the most common surname, no matches are found.

      I’m 42 and I’ve been doing genealogical research since I was 16, so I do know how to use the variety of resources available online for family tree research (and, in fact, I’ve tried to CREATE another resource with this site, that I do not charge anyone to use). My point in this post is that when you buy a DNA kit from Ancestry, they shouldn’t hold hostage some of the information that comes from that kit by forcing you then pay for a monthly subscription just to be able to see the surnames and trees for your genetic matches. As I mentioned, FamilyTreeDNA doesn’t do that. You buy the kit and you’re buying the service of getting those genetic matches WITH their surnames and locations. I’m not interested in just taking names from someone else’s tree. At this point, I’m largely trying to verify speculative ancestors from the 1700s by seeing if there are matches with other descendants of those individuals for whom no other shared ancestors can be found in their tree.


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