Ancestry answered the DNA questions 23andMe couldn't

Megan Rose Dickey

A really awesome thing about being black is that ancestry can be very unclear because of, you know, slavery. Enter DNA kits.

In 2013, I sent over my spit kit to 23andMe. After a couple of weeks, 23andMe notified me that I was 71.3% West African. My results didn't specify which specific countries in Africa, but based on the origins of the slave trade, I figured I probably had some ancestry from Nigeria and/or Ghana.

A couple of years later, I took my first trip to Africa. I spent the majority of my time in Ghana, but it turns out I should've been spending that time in Nigeria, where 39 percent of my ancestry comes from, according to Ancestry. Feeling unsatisfied with my 23andMe results, I decided to submit my spit to Ancestry about a month ago. Ancestry, unlike 23andMe, made it very easy to see from which countries most of my ancestry came. It answered the question I had for years: which countries did my ancestry originate from?

Here's how Ancestry broke it down for me:

Ancestry also tells customers their DNA story. From Nigeria and other African countries, AncestryDNA tells me my enslaved ancestors were likely shipped to Virginia and other Southern states in America. It notes how many black people were enslaved and brought to Virginia to work on tobacco farms and "as new lands opened, sugar and cotton planters spread across the South, taking enslaved blacks with them."

It goes on to note how once segregation became illegal, many Southern blacks were part of the Great Migration, and "headed to northern cities looking for jobs and a better life." Based on conversations with my parents and grandparents, I know that to be true on both sides of family.

Here's 23andMe's breakdown of my ancestry:

Note how 23andMe doesn't get more specific than West African. 23andMe, however, does provide more detail in the realm of Europe, noting that I'm 12.2% British and Irish. There's a simple answer for why that's the case.

For starters, Ancestry has over five million customers while 23andMe has just over two million. Secondly, roughly 75 percent of 23andMe's customers are of European descent, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojciki said at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017. 23andMe does have specific initiatives to grow the diversity of its data set, such as giving away free kits to people from different parts of Africa, but there's clearly more work to be done.

In September, 23andMe raised $250 million at around a $1.75 billion valuation. As part of that capital raise, Wojciki said, 23andMe will work to expand the diversity of the data and the research on that diversity.

While Ancestry shines with its data and storytelling around ancestry, 23andMe's main value proposition are health reports. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration started allowing 23andMe to test for ten different genetic risk tests, including ones for Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

In addition to testing risks for certain diseases, 23andMe also tells you fun facts like how your DNA influences your appearance, preferences and physical responses. For example, 23andMe says I'm likely to taste certain bitter compounds. That means it makes total sense why I used to gag when ate Brussel sprouts as a kid.

Now it's time for a not-so-humble brag. According to 23andMe, my genetic muscle composition is common in "elite power athletes." 23andMe describes elite power athletes like myself as sprinters, throwers and jumpers. That explains why I'm a fast sprinter but not very great when it comes to long-distance running.

In sum, I'm glad I did both because AncestryDNA provided more details on my ancestry while 23andMe told me about health risks and random things about myself I wouldn't otherwise know. Both kits offer value to the consumer, but if you're interested in the most comprehensive ancestry data, and you're debating between Ancestry ($79) and 23andMe ($99), I'd suggest going with Ancestry.

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