Oxford Ancestors started in 2000, after Professor Bryan Sykes discovered that all Europeans descended from one of seven theoretical ancestors. Public demand forced him to expand his research laboratory into a full-blown genetic testing service. The company provides a number of genealogy and haplotype testing resources. The company is overseen by a board, which still includes Professor Sykes, as well as a number of other Oxford teachers and graduates. The company offers a small variety of genetic testing services, which have been reviewed below.
Oxford Ancestors overview and basic data
|Can be used for||Genealogy, Maternal and Paternal Ancestry Testing|
|DNA collection||Cheek Swab|
|Number of SNPs tested||Not Applicable, use STR marker testing|
|DNA sample stored||No|
|Availability||Worldwide, though focused on UK|
|Price||$250 – $465|
|Platform matching for family||Yes, a kit gives you access to their database search tools|
|Geographical analysis of ancestry||Yes|
|Special Features||Claims to be one of the most accurate and thorough maternal and paternal ancestry services. Also, is directly based out of Oxford University’s laboratories.|
|Number of users||Unknown, reference database has around 50,000 contributors|
|Ownership||Privately owned, spinoff from University of Oxford|
|Client Reviews||Sparse, but several positive testimonials can be found on the company’s website.|
Company background for Oxford Ancestors
Oxford Ancestors first began as part of Professor’s Bryan Sykes’ genetic research laboratory, at the University of Oxford. After publishing The Seven Daughters of Eve, there was an outpouring of public demand for mitochondrial DNA testing. So, Professor Sykes expanded the laboratory operations to a private company which allowed for more genetic tests to be processed. Sykes oversees the board of directors, which has a number of other scientists from Oxford and academia.
A few years after spinning off from Oxford University, Sykes also found a relationship between Y-DNA and surname, and launched Y-chromosome testing for the masses. The company now also offers a “Tribes of Britain” test, which claims can track your roots back to the Vikings, Celts, or Saxons.
In early 2018, the company almost closed due to a restructuring of some local laws and regulations in the UK. By June, they had announced that they were not closing their doors, and would continue providing genetic testing and expanding their offerings. Below is an overview of their current offerings.
Oxford Ancestors’ Offerings Review
Oxford Ancestors offers a number of products, which focus mainly on deep ancestry and haplotype determination. As one of the first companies to offer such a test, they have a deep database an can offer insights other companies cannot. This is especially true for customers who have ancestors from the UK, as the company can test for Viking, Saxon, and Celt ancestry. Their offerings are broken into three general categories: Maternal Ancestry, Paternal Ancestry, and Genealogy Services.
The MatriLine Classic DNA Service is a mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing service. Only your mother can pass on mtDNA, and Professor Sykes of Oxford Ancestors was one of the first researchers to make this connection and study the relationships between different haplogroups, or ancient lineages. The MatriLine service will analyze a portion of your mtDNA, and provide results showing which ancient group your ancestors likely belonged to.
The results of the test are printed on a certificate, signed by Professor Sykes himself. The certificate shows your maternal ancestry, and further research can be conducted on the company’s database after receiving your results. Several maps show possible migration routes your family took out of Africa. The MatriLine Service also provides users with a copy of The Seven Daughters of Eve, written by Professor Sykes. This book details how genetic testing can reveal your ancient heritage, and help you understand what the results are saying.
The MatriLine Service starts at $250. Additional certificates and upgrades to the combo package can also be purchased. The combo package includes the Paternal Ancestry Service, detailed below. Because only males carry the Y-chromosome, paternal services are only offered to men. Women seeking to understand their paternal ancestry can submit a male relative’s DNA for testing, and look at their results.
The Paternal Ancestry test, called the Y-Clan Classic, is also available. This test analyzes portions of the Y-DNA, only carried by males. From this, paternal ancestry can be determined. The results of this test are also packaged in a nice box, with certificates showing your paternal lineage. This test is also $250. An additional test, the Tribes of Britain analysis, can be conducted for an additional $50. This test compares your DNA to that of Vikings, Saxons, and Celts originating from different parts of the UK. If your ancestors are known to have come from the UK, this test is unique among testing companies and may be of some value to a true genealogist.
If you’ve already purchased the test, and wish to upgrade to the combo package to include your maternal ancestry, it is an additional $215. Or, purchase them both at the same time for $465. Since there is no discount for purchasing the upgrade, it may be wise to start with one test and see if the results are appealing and easy to understand before you go all in.
Using both the paternal and maternal ancestry services, the database can be searched for familial matches. However, Oxford Ancestors offers a unique product in the form of the Surname Project, a large-scale and collaborative Y-DNA and surname registry
To join the project, a minimum of 4 members are needed, at a price of $910. Per person, this makes the price around $225. The project analyzes the Y-DNA of the 4 or more male participants, and gives relatedness information and shows how your surname is related to other surnames in the project. The results include a certificate, displaying the results and access to the searchable database.
What separates Oxford Ancestors from other companies in that regard?
Unlike many other companies, Oxford Ancestors refuses to test for race, ethnicity, or even specific geographic location ancestry testing. The reason for them is both moral, and scientific. According to a disclaimer by Professor Sykes on the website’s front page, he claims that the genetic makeup of an individual is much more complex than a simple breakdown of percentages. He claims that their deep ancestry testing promotes an understanding of the similar origins of all people, and does not divide them into false categories such as race, ethnicity, or religion.
The company is also one of the first ever established for ancestry testing. The book that comes with the kit, written by Professor Sykes, is written in common language and can help you understand the meaning of your results. Unlike many DNA testing organizations, the company is still run by Sykes and a number of other academics committed to the science behind their tests.
In testing with Oxford Ancestors, you will also be submitting your anonymous genetic data to the pool of data used by Oxford researchers. This aggregate data has led to some astonishing discoveries about the origins of human life and their path around the globe. Research such as this led to the Tribes of Britain test, and may lead to more informative tests in the future.
How it works, what will your kit include?
In receiving you kit in the mail you will find 2 cheek swabs. The company sends 2 for redundancy, to ensure a good sample is taken. Swab the inside of your cheek gently, covering the cotton swab with cheek cells. Repeat, and send both swabs back to the laboratory in the sealed container, following the company’s instructions. After 4-6 weeks, the company will have your results and mail you the certificates. You will also gain access to the database, allowing you to search for and contact possible relatives within the database.
Understanding the results
With these services, your results pack will include a number of items. First is a certificate of your results, detailing the company’s findings. There will also be map, or several maps, which show theoretical routes your ancestors took as they left Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago. The results then correspond further to Professor Sykes “Daughters of Eve”, the 7 theoretical populations which established Europe and other deep clan-relations.
The results pack will also come with the Professor’s book, The Seven Daughters of Eve. This book details human expansion out of Africa and into other parts of the world, and will help you understand your results.
If you took the paternal ancestry tests, you will receive a package with similar contents. There will be a certificate of the results, displaying your paternal ancestry connections. Maps and other materials can hypothesize your paternal haplotype, and possible migration routes of your paternal ancestors. Though women cannot take the paternal ancestry test, they can analyze the DNA of their closest living male relative (brother, father, or grandfather) to approximate their paternal ancestry.
In participating in the Surname Project, you will receive interesting results. You and at least 4 other male samples must be analyzed together. The results will show you how your Y-DNA relates to the other samples, and you can use the surname database to understand how your surname connects to others using this platform. Women interested in exploring their surname need only find a male relative with the surname to participate in the project.
Will your data be shared?
Media coverage and user opinions
Oxford Ancestors received a lot of harsh media coverage from about 2006 to 2008. A few stories broke about customers receiving different results from different testing companies, and much criticism was shoveled on genetic testing in general. Oxford Ancestors stood fast by their process, and the science behind it. Much of the coverage seemed to focus on a single consumer who received different results, so it is unclear how valid any of these claims may be. It should also be noted that on their Media Coverage page, there are also 3 articles countering claims of “worthless genetic tests”. These articles are all from 2008.
In more recent years, several articles have been published by Oxford researchers, exploring different human relationships. Though the data they used is undoubtedly from Oxford Ancestors, this is never revealed in the articles or scientific papers. Because of their “Viking, Saxon, and Celt” testing, they received some interesting criticisms for disrupting longstanding traditions and understandings. In early 2018, the company briefly announced their imminent closure, only to retract the statement and continue business-as-usual. Below are several noteworthy articles about the company and their research:
- The Telegraph – DNA heritage tests ‘are worthless’
- The Daily Mail – £200-a-time ancestral DNA test kits are a rip off, say experts
- The Inquirer – Online genetic testing exposed as a scam
- EMBO Reports – Genetic genealogy goes global. Although useful in investigating ancestry, the application of genetics to traditional genealogy could be abused
- Worcester News – Which of the seven daughters of Eve are you descended from?
- Science Daily – Complex genetic ancestry of Americans uncovered: Genetic fingerprints of slave trade and colonization
- The Independent – Genetic geography is playing merry havoc with ancient belief
Beyond the few user testimonials on their website, there are little-to-no customer reviews on the web. The testimonials they do provide are glowing, but there is only a small handful to go by. Their website also has 3 in-depth stories, but they could not be accessed without “signing in”. This option was apparently not even available on the website. The company does not sell their kits on any other platform, and apparently has no legitimate customer reviews. The few points noted by both testimonials and random bloggers and reviewers can be seen here:
Users who are happy with Oxford Ancestors mentioned the following points:
- The ancient ancestry results are detailed and well explained.
- Readers of the book The Seven Daughters of Eve could see connections to the book.
- Users can find genetic relationships to deep ancestors, such as the Iceman or Genghis Khan.
- The results are worth the money spent.
- Oxford Ancestors uses only sound scientific data, and tries not to speculate.
- The company rejects the idea of ethnicity testing, on moral grounds.
Users giving Oxford Ancestors a poor review mentioned the following worthy points:
- The service is only available through Oxford Ancestors’ website.
- Results take a long time, compared to some companies.
- The website, payment processing, and user interface are archaic and outdated.
- The company nearly closed its doors in 2018, leaving customers with uncertainty.
- Though the company is run mainly by a professor, it is more expensive and less intuitive than most.
- The company rejects ethnicity testing, meaning only deep ancestry results are available.
Bottom line conclusions for this Oxford Ancestors review
Oxford Ancestors may be a good choice for customers whose ancestors are definitely from the UK. Their maternal and paternal ancestry tests are one of the first, and have a large database of reference users from the UK. This gives the company an advantage in this area, and allows them to test for things such as Viking ancestry. However, the company relies solely on STR testing, which may be less accurate than SNP testing as it tests less sites. It is also more expensive, with basic testing starting at nearly $250. This is 5 times as much as some companies do ancestry testing for. The company also has a poor website, and slow turnaround time.