March 10, 2020
Product Reviews

FamilyTreeDNA vs. LivingDNA | A Detailed Comparison

See the differences between FamilyTreeDNA and LivingDNA in this extensive comparison. Everything you need to know before you buy!
Tomohiro Takano

DNA kits can be confusing. Before you jump into a purchase you may regret, make sure you have a full understanding of the differences different companies can offer you. In this comparison, we put FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA) and LivingDNA side-by-side so you can easily see the differences and similarities.

Keep reading to see how these companies are the same, how they differ, and what your options are with a raw DNA data file from each company!

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Similarities Between LivingDNA and FamilyTreeDNA

Both LivingDNA and FTDNA focus mainly on ancestry DNA kits. With their basic ancestry kits, users of both companies will get an “Ethnicity Estimate” breakdown of their DNA by region. Users will also have access to a number of other tools to explore their DNA results on an online platform. Plus, you can search for living relatives on either platform through their family finder network. Both companies market their basic autosomal tests for similar prices, though as we will see, these tests contain information of differing quality.

While the companies appear to be similar on the surface, the companies are actually aiming for slightly different markets.

Differences Between LivingDNA and FamilyTreeDNA

LivingDNA is focused on average consumers. Both of its DNA test kits have quality, consumer-friendly information that is general in nature. As a leader in consumer ancestry testing, LivingDNA has the highest number of reference populations at 150. This gives them a huge advantage when it comes to ethnicity estimates and determining the makeup of your DNA.

In fact, LivingDNA claims the most accurate ethnicity estimates when it comes to the UK (British isles) and Africa. Their database originated in the UK, and LivingDNA has capitalized on users from this area to create many solid reference populations. LivingDNA also recently added 72 reference panels from Africa, greatly expanding its coverage on the continent. Most other companies boast far less than half this amount of reference populations (between 24 and 60, roughly). Plus, LivingDNA throws in a Y-DNA and mtDNA analysis for free, which can tell you which branches of humanity you came from as people expanded out of Africa nearly 100,000 years ago.

By comparison, FamilyTreeDNA is aiming for a slightly different audience. While their basic ancestry test covers many of the same things LivingDNA’s genetic testing covers, they use only 24 reference panels to develop this information. That means FTDNA delivers far less clarity than LivingDNA when it comes to the basic ancestry kit. However, FTDNA started as a niche market for Y-DNA testing and continues to be a leader in deep genealogy research.

With FTDNA’s Y-DNA or mtDNA tests, you can get very comprehensive analyses of these genomes. LivingDNA will give you a basic overview of these chromosomes, but FTDNA can really break it down. For example, FTDNA offers a Y-DNA test that looks at far more regions of your chromosome than any other company. However, this test is nearly $500! FTDNA is not marketing this to general users, but to professional and advanced-amateur genetic genealogists who are really trying to develop and complete a family tree. This information can be really useful when trying to see what surnames your family is related to and really take your family tree back many generations.

Product Offerings

LivingDNA Offerings

Your DNA Ancestry Kit - $79

The basic LivingDNA ancestry kit is a powerful buy. It contains analyses of your autosomal DNA, as well as mtDNA and Y-DNA. This gives you a picture of both your more recent family history, as well as information about which maternal and paternal haplogroups you are related to. This can move the picture of your family history to about 80,000 years ago!

LivingDNA also has the highest number of reference populations of any testing platform, giving you an ethnicity breakdown that compares your DNA to over 150 different reference panels. You can also find living DNA relatives through their DNA matching service and will continue to receive free ancestry updates at no extra cost. All of these benefits make the DNA Ancestry Kit from LivingDNA one of the best values in the industry!

Your DNA Ancestry & Wellbeing Kit - $149

In addition to the powerful ancestry analyses provided with the above kit, LivingDNA also offers an Ancestry & Wellbeing kit. This kit takes a look at several genetic variations related to nutrition and exercise. LivingDNA will analyze these genes, and the company will even provide you with diet and exercise advice customized to your genome. However, unlike some companies, this wellbeing information does not include any recommendations or analysis around genetic health traits, such as your risk for breast cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.

FamilyTreeDNA Offerings

Family Ancestry - $79

While this basic autosomal ancestry test is the same price as a similar test from LivingDNA, you won’t be getting the same quality of information. LivingDNA has 150 reference populations, while FamilyTreeDNA only has 24. That means FTDNA results will be far less thorough that LivingDNA. Second, FTDNA has a much smaller user base, so you will likely find fewer family networks. Lastly, this test does not include an analysis of your haplogroups, also known as your maternal and paternal lines. For these, FTDNA charges much more.

Paternal Ancestry - $119

Before LivingDNA and other large DNA testing companies started covering haplogroups as a standard part of their ancestry analysis, FTDNA was one of the only companies that offered an analysis of your Y-DNA. However, now that LivingDNA offers this test as part of its $79 package, it seems completely unnecessary to purchase the Paternal Ancestry test from FTDNA. However, if you are really trying to break down your paternal line and need all the information you can get, FTDNA does offer several more comprehensive Y-DNA analyses, but they can cost you up to $449! Most people do not need this depth of information, and a more simple Y-DNA analysis serves just as well.

Maternal Ancestry - $159

Likewise, the maternal ancestry DNA test analyzes your mtDNA to find your maternal haplogroup. But, since LivingDNA offers this information as part of their $79 package, there is almost no reason for the average DNA consumer to consider this test over LivingDNA. In fact, the LivingDNA Ancestry test covers all three tests offered by FTDNA. So, you could spend $357 dollars at FTDNA or $79 at LivingDNA for roughly the same DNA test results. Yes, FTDNA may analyze these chromosomes in a little more detail, but at a very high cost.

The Bottom Line

Unless you have a dire need to fully explore your Y-DNA or mtDNA in extreme detail, most consumers will be better off with LivingDNA. They have a well-established and interactive platform, the most reference populations of any DNA testing company, and are geared towards average consumers. FTDNA, on the other hand, has some great tools for genealogists and family tree fanatics who are really trying to dig deep into someone’s genetic ancestry. That being said, their products are surprisingly more costly and unless you are familiar with genetic genealogy, their ethnicity results are likely beyond basic genetic comprehension.

Don’t Forget about Raw DNA Data!

Luckily, with either of these companies, you will be able to download your raw DNA data file. While each company only uses several hundred-thousand SNPs to do their research and give you results, they both measure around 700,000 SNPs! This means there is a ton of information stored in your raw data file that these companies do not report on. Using Genomelink, or any of the third-party sites below, you can get information about many different traits that these ancestry-focused companies do not analyze. Check it out!

Know "More" About Your DNA Data

1. Genomelink — FREE

2. Promethease (genetic health risk)

Ancestry Tests & DNA Matches

3. Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) — FREE

4. MyHeritage DNA — FREE

5. LivingDNA — FREE

6. GEDmatch — FREE

Nutrition and Fitness

7. Genopalate

9. Vitagene

10. DNA Fit

If none of these sites spark your interest, check out this page on all the different options you have for exploring your raw DNA data!

Tomohiro Takano
Tomohiro Takano
Co-Founder and CEO