Best DNA Test for Ancestry from 2018 – 2019

Wouldn’t it be fascinating to know more about your roots and family history? Back in the day, people could only assume where they came from. But now, DNA testing makes it possible for us to learn more about our origins with greater depth and accuracy than ever before.

The technology for DNA testing has become so advanced in fact, that you can even test yourself right at home. DNA testing kits abound, and there are over a handful of companies that offer these kits for at-home use. Now the question – which one is the best one?

If you’re interested in unlocking the mysteries behind your bloodline, we’re here to help. With our comprehensive research, we’re giving you a complete guide on everything you need to know about DNA testing kits and so you can find the right one.

 Ancestry DNAMyHeritage23 and MeFamily Tree DNALiving DNA
Autosomal DNA TestAutosomal + 23 rd chromosome testingAutosomal + 23 rd chromosome testing
Y-DNA TestLimitedLimited
mtDNA TestLimitedLimited
Database size15 million2.5 million10 million900 thousandUndisclosed
Haplogroup detectionGeneralized haplogroup onlyGeneralized haplogroup only
Ethnic regions500+1,000+1,000+850 thousand80 most accurate in the UK
Family matchingYes, with limitations
Health profileYes, for an added costYes, for an added cost
Free trial
Collection methodSalivaCheek swabSalivaCheek swabCheek swab
Genetic traits explorer
Expected turn-around6-8 weeks3-4 weeks6-8 weeks2-4 weeks for autosomal tests, 6-8 weeks for Y-DNA and mtDNA tests6-8 weeks
Accepts raw DNA data
DNA data
Ideal forFamily searchesAdvanced genealogical researchGenetic health reportsHistorical and geographical ancestryStrong ancestry in the UK
WebsiteSee it hereSee it hereSee it hereSee it hereSee it here
Prices*Starts at $99Starts at $79Starts at $99Starts at $59Starts at $99

*Note that prices are subject to change. Check back at the testing company’s official website for the latest discounts and deals.

What is DNA?

First things first – what exactly is DNA and how does it work to reveal the intricacies of our lineage? Deoxyribonucleic acid – known to most of us as DNA – is the genetic material that contains the specific code for the qualities you’ll manifest.

You can think of it as an instruction manual or a recipe that tells your cells how they’ll develop. The information contained in your DNA dictates how tall you’ll be, the color of your skin, the ratio of your muscle mass to fat, and everything in between.

DNA varies from person to person. That’s why each individual will look, act, and think in their unique way. But these variations are anything but random. When we’re conceived, our parents give us 23 chromosomes each for a total of 46 that combine to create our unique genetic code.

The last pair of chromosomes received from our parents – the 23rd pair – determines our sex. Two X-chromosomes result to a female child, and an X-Y chromosome pair results to a male.

This is the reason why you’ll often manifest qualities that mesh together those of your parents. For example, while you might be the spitting image of your mother, you might find that you behave more like your father, thanks to the equal share of genetic material that you receive from them.

In some cases, it’s also possible that you might notice that you have features that closely resemble those of an aunt, an uncle, or even your grandparents. The reason for this is because a single-family lineage will often share DNA qualities.

Though these traits might not be immediately apparent in the manifestation of qualities in your parents, they can be ‘recessive’ traits that are non-dominant traits handed down by earlier generations.

For instance, you might have brown hair despite your mother and father both having blond hair. Tracing back the qualities of your lineage, you discover that both your grandfathers had brown hair as well.

This brown-haired quality is a non-dominant trait that’s carried by your parents’ DNA. By the union of their chromosomes manifested in your conception, the recessive trait becomes dominant, resulting in your brown colored hair.

It’s this interesting quality of DNA that lets us get a clearer picture of our bloodline. DNA testing kits reveal these unique genetic patterns and help us understand where we come from and why we’ve turned out to be the way we are.

Types of DNA Tests – Overview

There are three main ways that at-home DNA testing kits can work. These methods vary when it comes to the specific material, they detect to reveal your genetic background.

Depending on the factors surrounding your situation, one testing method may be more accurate and ideal compared to others.

Autosomal DNA Testing

Autosomal DNA tests the 22 pairs of chromosomes that you get from your parents. The 23rd pair is left out of the process. For this reason, anyone can take an autosomal DNA test regardless of their sex.

If you’re interested in discovering more about your ethnicity and family matches, then an autosomal DNA testing kit would be ideal. Using the sample you provide, the testing company will match your DNA with the information already in their database.

To illustrate how the test works, it helps to remember that our DNA is half from our mother and a half from our father. That would also entail that our DNA is one-eighth of our grandparents’. Tracing further back, we could say we’re one-sixteenth of each of our great grandparents, and so on.

It’s these combinations of DNA from generation through a generation that allows autosomal DNA to provide its results. Tracing back unique genetic codes throughout your lineage, findings can be accurate from 6 to 8 generations prior.

The results will then indicate the list of individuals that you might match with, including the degrees of the relationships you have with them. DNA match percentages can also help you understand the unique ethnic groups that might have contributed to your lineage.

Y-DNA Testing

The Y-DNA testing method only considers genetic information from the Y component of the 23rd chromosome. Because females have two X’s and no Y’s, this test can only be taken by male individuals.

In the same sense, because the test only considers the genetic code of the Y chromosome, it can only show insight on the details of the paternal line or the ‘surname’ lineage.

If you’re a female who wants to know more about the history of your father’s bloodline, the Y-DNA test may be administered to your father, brother, uncle, or any other male on your direct paternal line.

While it might seem limited in a sense compared to the autosomal DNA test, there are some advantages. Because the test only considers the Y chromosome genetic data, the information can be far more accurate and extensive.

We owe this to the fact that Y chromosome information over a single paternal line can remain the same for generation after generation. Without going through the rearranging process called recombination, the information contained in the DNA doesn’t change across ages.

Mitochondrial DNA Testing

Unlike other DNA testing methods, mitochondrial DNA testing doesn’t look into the chromosomal information contained in DNA. Instead, it tests the mitochondria of a cell – its powerhouse.

Mitochondria are passed on from mothers down to her children, so both males and females will have the genetic material for the test. While the mitochondria don’t contain genetic information to determine traits, it does provide data to shed light on your ancestry.

In that way, the mitochondrial DNA test explores your maternal lineage. Similarly, to the Y chromosome, mitochondrial DNA does not undergo the reshuffling process. So, it remains unchanged throughout generations.

With this genetic information, a lab can determine your ancestry up to hundreds of generations in the past. Even more interesting, a mitochondrial DNA test can determine your haplogroup.

Haplogroups are groups of people who descend from a single common ancestor. It’s hypothesized that people living in a specific area share an ancestor, and this can further deepen your understanding of your maternal line.

Short Reviews for 5 of the Best DNA Testing Kits

With the clamor for a deeper understanding of personal and family history at an all-time high, numerous DNA testing companies have popped up to cater to eager clients.

If you’re interested in undergoing a DNA test to learn more about your genealogy or ancestry, then you might feel slightly overwhelmed with your options. Here are quick reviews for 5 of the best choices to help you decide.

1. Ancestry DNA Review

Ancestry DNA presently offers just one type of DNA test – the autosomal DNA test. Its database holds information for over 15 million users, making it the ideal platform if you’re in search of living relatives.

Ancestry DNA offers a strong online community, making it easier to reach out to potential relatives and establish connections to piece together your family tree. They also have a range of intuitive tools that you can use to better understand the information from your DNA.

Results from Ancestry DNA are typically sent back 6 to 8 weeks after the lab receives your samples. The findings will show you a rough ethnic background based on the 500+ regions that Ancestry DNA uses to designate ethnic histories.

Aside from that, you’ll also be notified of individuals in the database that match your DNA profile to help you discover unknown relatives from around the globe.

Pros

  • Largest online DNA database for any DNA testing kit
  • Exceptionally helpful for genealogical research, connecting you with living distant relatives
  • Intuitive platform and tools for ease of data interpretation
  • Hefty number of regions for more accurate geographical representation
  • Allows raw data download for uploading into other websites
  • Relatively affordable kits

Cons

  • Testing methods are limited to autosomal DNA tests
  • Could take up to two months to receive your results
  • No chromosome browser feature

>>> Read Complete Review <<<

2. Family Tree DNA Review

Family Tree DNA is another well-established DNA testing company that offers all three types of tests. Their modest database includes some 850,000 users, which might be a smaller sample than most others.

Nonetheless, their family matching tools are highly intuitive, allowing you to reach out to potential relatives through their database. They also offer strong community support which makes it much easier to piece together a family tree.

Complete with a chromosome browser and raw data upload feature, the Family Tree DNA test can be a great way to maximize the results you get. It also helps to know that they offer the most regions across the board, with over 850,000 regional ethnicities available on the platform.

This helps to fine-tune your results, making it easier to accurately decipher where in the world your ancestors are from and how they migrated to be where they are now.

Pros

  • Hundreds of thousands of regions for easier geographical history targeting
  • Lots of efficient tools for better data analysis
  • All three tests available, also offering bundles and packages for willing buyers
  • Strong community support
  • Accepts raw data upload

Cons

  • Small population limits the extent of finding living relatives
  • Autosomal DNA tests can be impressively affordable
  • Results can take 1 to 2 months to be released

>>> Read Complete Review <<<

3. My Heritage DNA Review

Much like Ancestry DNA, My Heritage DNA only offers the autosomal DNA tests which might limit its scope. Nonetheless, the company does have a range of sophisticated tools that enhance genealogical research.

Their database includes some 2.4 million users, which is quite sizeable if you’re in search of long-lost relatives. They also offer a chromosomal browser as well as a raw data upload feature that helps to enhance your understanding of your DNA profile.

With a modest regional ethnicity count of just 42, you might say that the My Heritage DNA ethnic matching is general at best. But because the company can take as little as 3 weeks to send back your results, then the minor flaws might be forgivable.

Pros

  • Advanced genealogical tools available nowhere else
  • Highly attainable prices at just over USD 50
  • Sizeable database allows family matching
  • Over 9.9 billion historical records for ethnic background verification
  • Supports 42 different languages

Cons

  • No Y-DNA or mtDNA testing
  • 42 regions might not be enough for accurate ethnic results
  • Better results for people with multi-ethnic backgrounds

>>> Read Complete Review <<<

4. 23 and Me DNA Review

23 and Me offers what you might consider an autosomal test, with a slight twist. Their DNA testing kit package also takes into account the information stored in your 23rd chromosome – thus the company’s name.

At just under USD 100, their kit can be particularly affordable. These basic tests give you a general idea of your haplogroup on top of linking you with DNA relatives. However, they do offer an expanded test that costs closer to USD 200.

This more comprehensive testing kit covers information on your ancestral lineage, your living relatives on the website, and pertinent health information.

What’s especially attractive about 23 and Me is that its community is continuously growing. Today, the database has over 10 million registered DNA profiles. So, it’s close to Ancestry DNA if you were interested in connecting with relevant relatives.

Pros

  • Over 125+ comprehensive reports to help you understand your DNA profile
  • Exceptionally streamlined interface that’s easy to interact with
  • Available health information testing for an added fee
  • Large DNA profile database for genealogical research
  • Includes haplogroup information despite being like an autosomal test

Cons

  • No Y-DNA or mtDNA testing kits available
  • Quirky results may show up on your reports, such as ‘musical pitch’, which might be more subjective
  • Does not allow raw data upload

>>> Read Complete Review <<<

5. Living DNA Review

If you suspect that a large percentage of your ethnicity has its roots in the UK, then the Living DNA testing kit might be a suitable option. This kit is especially targeted towards individuals with ancestry in the British Isles.

Much like the previous kit, the Living DNA testing package considers all 23 pairs of your chromosomes. So, it may be able to provide you a broad idea of your haplogroups on both paternal and maternal sides.

Although Living DNA hasn’t released any official numbers to tell users the size of its database, their platform can be a suitable venue to find living relatives, especially in the UK area.

Their ancestry tracing feature can also be especially accurate in the UK, providing ethnic profiles for 80 different regions. What’s particularly interesting is that they can also show you where your broad haplogroup comes from and where most of them reside today.

So, if you were hoping to reunite with other members of your family tree, the Living DNA testing kit can show you where to find them.

Pros

  • In-depth results and interpretations for individuals in the UK
  • Shows where your haplogroup is most prominent in present times
  • Allows a raw data upload from other DNA testing sites
  • Streamlined data presentation for easy interpretation
  • Detailed breakdown of heritage especially in the UK regions

Cons

  • Limited family matching because of the targeted user database
  • Might not be as accurate or extensive for individuals with ethnicities outside of the UK
  • No Y-DNA or mtDNA testing

>>> Read Complete Review <<<


Choosing the Right Type of DNA Testing Kit

So, what’s the best kit for your situation? While all these types of tests offer similar outcomes, the data they provide can highlight different areas of your ancestry. So, depending on what you want to know, it might be important that you take some time to consider each unique option.

Still not quite sure which DNA testing kit to choose? Here are some details to help you make the right pick.

Everything About Autosomal DNA Kits

Inside a human cell is a nucleus which contains our DNA and the genetic information needed for proper growth and development. Our chromosomes – 23 from our mothers and 23 from our fathers – are contained in this nucleus.

Chromosomes 1 through 22 are called autosomes. These are any chromosomes that are not sex chromosomes. In this sense, the autosomal DNA kit tests all 22 chromosomes, and leaves out the data provided by the 23rd pair.

Compared to Y-DNA and mtDNA tests, the autosomal DNA test is broader in that it allows a wider reach across both paternal and maternal lines.

But because of the reshuffling that happens with autosomal material, the autosomal DNA test can be shallower. In simple terms, the test can accurately determine familial relationships and ethnicity across any branch of your family tree. But it can only go as far as 6 to 8 generations.

How Does Autosomal DNA Testing Work?

Try to trace back a general family tree, no need to come up with the names for each member. Just imagine your parents, their parents, their parents’ parents, and so forth until you reach back about five generations. These should be your great-great-great-grandparents.

Consider the fact that aside from your direct lineage, your great-great-great-grandparents likely had other kids who in turn had their own families as well. This means that you likely have thousands of relatives on parallel branches that you’re completely unaware of.

By comparing and matching your findings with others in the DNA testing company’s database, you can find these unknown relatives. So autosomal DNA testing can be exceptionally helpful if you’re interested in connecting with members of your family tree that might be too distant for you to find on your own.

Autosomal DNA testing works by taking a closer look at the chains of DNA that you have. Throughout generations, these chains will change and reshuffle, but there will always be segments that remain the same.

After collecting your sample, the lab will observe 700,000 pairs of unique locations throughout your DNA sequence. These locations are what we call single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs.

It’s not uncommon for people to have similar short chains of SNPs, and this is usually chalked up to coincidence. But if you and another person have similar lock blocks of SNPs, and multiple chain matches throughout your DNA, then it’s more likely that you’re related.

The more long block SNPs you match, the higher your degree of relatedness. That’s because these chains indicate that you have one common ancestor.

How Accurate are Autosomal DNA Tests?

For the most part, autosomal DNA tests can be highly reliable up until the level of second cousins. When you strike a match with your third cousin, then results may be up to 80% accurate.

Of course, it’s still possible that the test reveals fourth, fifth, and perhaps the occasional sixth cousin. But keep in mind that the further away you get, the more speculative the results become.

Companies that provide autosomal DNA testing services have specialized algorithms that optimize the results you get. These computations ensure that you’re placed in the ideal middle ground between finding a suitable number of matches and striking too many false positives.

Although not completely impervious to error, autosomal DNA tests can be exceptionally reliable. With a 98% accuracy rate, these tests can shed light on your ancestry and genealogy with minimal error.

Who Is It For?

Autosomal DNA testing kits can be a wonderful way to peek into your family history, ancestry, and genealogy. If there are distant relatives in the company’s database, then you may even connect with unknown family members through the platform.

That said, the autosomal DNA testing kit might be ideal if you’re interested in learning:

  • Both your paternal and maternal family bloodline
  • Your ancestry and ethnicity
  • More about the identity of your parents or estranged relatives
  • More about unknown relatives on parallel branches

Everything About Y-DNA Testing Kits

Unlike autosomal DNA testing kits that explore the information expressed by your 22 chromosomes, Y-DNA testing kits explore just one chromosome of the last pair. The 23rd chromosomes – your sex-linked chromosomes – determine whether you’ll be male or female at birth.

This 23rd pair is a combination of chromosomes from your parents. Your mother will always contribute an X chromosome to the pairing, while your father contributes either an X or a Y. An XX pairing results to a female child, while an XY pairing results to a male.

The Y chromosome passed down from a paternal contributor doesn’t reshuffle throughout generations. That means that the chromosome will remain virtually unchanged no matter how many generations have passed.

This makes it an ideal specimen for DNA testing because it can shed light on your lineage to several hundred of generations in the past. Y-DNA testing kits can even tell you about the migration patterns of your paternal lineage so you can trace back your ethnicity.

How Does Y-DNA Testing Work?

The Y-DNA test works by comparing the genetic information contained in your Y chromosome with that of other males in the database. Two main methods can be performed to detect these similarities.

The first is by the use of short tandem repeat or STR markers. These are sections of the DNA that repeat, creating a pattern in your genetic code. The number of times that these segments repeat is the value of that specific marker.

DNA testing companies may offer to test as few as 12 markers to as many as 111. The more markers you opt to have tested, the higher the cost of the Y-DNA testing becomes.

Let’s say that you chose to have 12 markers tested. All of them match with another person in the DNA testing company’s database. This could indicate that there’s a 50% chance that you have a common ancestor within 7 generations or a 95% chance that this common ancestor existed within the past 23 generations.

Testing more markers can refine the results and improve the accuracy of the test. Most companies recommend testing at least 67 markers, which can give you dial down the gap to as little as 2 generations if you demonstrate a 50% match.

While there are lots of factors to consider when choosing the right number of markers, it helps to know that 37 markers may be more than enough to find a relevant, recent ancestral link. For individuals with very uncommon family names, then the minimal 12 markers may be enough.

The second type of test considers your SNPs, like an autosomal test. The difference is that SNP markers used for Y-DNA testing kits will only cover about 30,000 instead of 700,000.

What sets it apart from STR testing is that it provides a much higher resolution of results. The test can reach far back into the past, giving you insight not only on your ancestry and ethnicity but also on your haplogroup.

It’s hypothesized that all men descended for a single common ancestor, termed in the community as Y-chromosomal Adam. This individual was said to have lived between 200,000 and 400,000 years ago, and all men are believed to have inherited his Y chromosome.

Imagine that Y-chromosomal Adam had five children. These five would likely have had their own families, and their children would have also branched out as well. These branches of families produced by Y-chromosomal Adam is what we call haplogroups.

By tracing back your DNA, you might be able to determine which haplogroup you belong to. This also allows you to learn more about your ethnic background, as well as the migratory patterns of your haplogroup throughout generations.

How Accurate is a Y-DNA Test?

The accuracy of a Y-DNA test depends on the number of markers that you want to test. If you’ve chosen an STR testing method, then paying to test the highest number of markers – 111 – can provide you much more accurate results, giving 99% reliability within 2 generations.

The SNP tests can be even more accurate. We owe this to the fact that the Y chromosome doesn’t reshuffle throughout generations. So, any ethnic and ancestral information derived from the test can be treated as 100% accurate.

Who Is It For?

The Y-DNA test is narrower than the autosomal DNA test in that it only explores one side of your family tree – the paternal line. However, if your mother has a brother or if your maternal grandfather is a willing candidate, then they can be tested to explore your mother’s paternal lineage.

Despite that, the Y-DNA test is much deeper than the autosomal DNA test. Offering to bring you as far back as your haplogroup, this can be a more far-reaching test than the autosomal DNA test that can only verify up to 8 generations at best.

For the most part, the Y-DNA testing kit might be suitable for you if you’re eager to learn:

  • More about your paternal lineage
  • Unknown male relatives in parallel branches 
  • Your ancestral haplogroup
  • Your ethnicity
  • Your paternal lineage’s migratory patterns

Everything About Mitochondrial DNA Testing

The mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA test is especially unique compared to the previous two because it tests not any of the chromosomes – which hold determining genetic material. Instead, it looks into your mitochondrion – the powerhouse of the basic cellular unit.

Just like your Y chromosome, your mitochondria can only be inherited from one parent – your mother. All living persons have mitochondria passed on from their maternal line, and just like the Y chromosome, it doesn’t reshuffle across generations.

MtDNA testing lets you trace your maternal lineage several hundreds of generations back. Similarly, to the Y-DNA test, the mtDNA test also lets you trace back your ethnic roots, your ancestry, and your haplogroup as descended from Mitochondrial Eve.

How Does mtDNA Testing Work?

We all receive our mitochondria from our mothers. So, both men and women are eligible to take the test in the pursuit of learning more about the maternal lineage.

A way back, mtDNA testing was performed on just two regions of the mitochondria. Even today, clients have the option to test just these two which can identify haplogroups and migration paths.

But today, most mtDNA testing companies recommend that people test the full mitochondrial genome sequence. The full mtDNA sequence test reports result for 16,569 bases in the mitochondrial genome sequence for accurate, in-depth results.

These bases are then compared to those in a database. Matches found with other women in the existing base can tell you more about unknown family members, ethnic history, as well as the origins of your maternal lineage.

With enough matches, you may be able to trace as far back as Mitochondrial Eve who is believed to be the direct maternal ancestor of all living persons.

How Accurate Is the mtDNA Test?

If an mtDNA test result comes back to show you a match with another person in the database, then that means you are certainly descended from the same ancestors. If all 16,569 genetic base pairs are exactly matched, then your most recent common ancestor (MRCA) is within 22 generations or 500 years.

While a match guarantees that you are related to that specific person in the database, it can’t tell you how near the relation is. For instance, if the test indicates that you share a common ancestor with one other individual, then you could be related but 38th cousins, which might not be too relevant.

Nonetheless, mtDNA testing can be an accurate tool for tracing ethnic roots and haplogroups. For functional, recent genealogical information, however, there might be better options.

Who Is It For?

The mtDNA test – just like the Y-DNA test – is narrower because it only explores one side of your family tree. Nonetheless, it goes far deeper than an autosomal test, taking you back hundreds of generations in the past and shedding light on your maternal ethnicity and haplogroups.

Because we all have mitochondria inherited from our mothers, we’re all eligible candidates for the mtDNA test, unlike the Y-DNA test that limits test-takers to just the males in the population.

The mtDNA test can be versatile and expansive, but it’s best for users who want to learn:

  • More about their maternal lineage
  • Their haplogroups to the single common ancestor, Mitochondrial Eve
  • Their ethnic background
  • Their maternal migration patterns
  • Unknown relatives across various, distant branches of your family tree

Ancestral DNA Testing

Some take DNA tests to learn more about their genealogy – or their family history. Then some take DNA tests to learn more about their ancestry – or their distant relational lineage that sheds light on origins and ethnicity.

What DNA Tests Can Show

All DNA tests can show you some information on your ethnic background and ancestry, but they vary in what they can present. Consider this table:

 Autosomal DNA TestY-DNA TestMtDNA Test
Determines ethnicityYesYesYes
Haplogroup determinationNoYesYes
Reach3-4 generations accurately; 5-8 generations speculativelyRegional haplogroupRegional haplogroup
CoverageBoth sides of family treePaternal lineage onlyMaternal lineage only

As demonstrated by this simple table, all three tests can show you information regarding your ethnicity. But it’s important to know that they don’t all present the same quality of ethnic or ancestral information.

If you’re interested in understanding your unique ethnic mix on a holistic scale, then it might be ideal to opt for the autosomal DNA test. This specific option considers DNA information from both your parents.

So, the results you get will ultimately present you a complete ethnic background. Percentages will be broken down to show you the major ethnicities that contribute to your unique genetic identity.

On the other hand, if you’re more interested in learning about your ethnicity from a single lineage – your father’s paternal line or your mother’s maternal line – then the Y-DNA and mtDNA tests are more suitable.

These tests can go as far back as several hundreds of generations. In effect, they let you trace the migrations of your ancestry as well as the possible regions where these people might have come from. A good test may even shed light on your haplogroup.

Limitations of Ancestral Information from DNA Tests

Unfortunately, there isn’t a DNA test that can provide you exactly where you came from and what your precise ethnic mix is. In any case, the results will be very close estimations with a small margin for error.

The reason for this is because of the ever-changing migrations and the complex intermarriages that occur between people of different ethnic backgrounds. For that reason, DNA testing companies won’t show you what countries your ancestors are from, neither their nationality.

What they can show you are the regions where these people might have originated. Keep in mind that a country is never exclusively populated by natives. For instance, your distant ancestor from the 1800s might have migrated to the United States despite being German in nationality.

This typical behavior of moving between borders makes it virtually impossible to detect nationality based on DNA. Instead, DNA testing companies rely on connections throughout different individuals in a database and comparisons with known ethnic DNA templates to know what region your relatives were from.

It also helps to know that different DNA testing companies designate regions based on their unique system. These can update and change as the company expands its database, so you might want to consider checking back in to see any updates to your results as time goes by.

Finally, it’s important to discuss the limitations of the three different types of DNA tests available. Consider these points:

  • Autosomal DNA tests explore both paternal and maternal lineages as well as both their parents and their parents’ parents and so on. But the results will be limited by the depth of the test which can only reach up to a maximum of 8 generations. So, any ethnic information before that will be mostly undiscovered.
  • Y-DNA tests unravel the ethnic history of your paternal male lineage. This leaves out all females in the line, including your grandmother, great grandmother, and so on. So, you’ll only be able to explore a limited, single paternal line.
  • mtDNA tests consider information from your mitochondria – a maternally inherited cellular organelle. This limits the results to just the females in your maternal line. So, your grandfather, great grandfather, and so on will be left out of the results.

If you’re hoping for a more complete ancestral and ethnic profile, it would help to combine tests. For instance, a male can test himself and his maternal grandfather with the Y-DNA test to discover the information on all males in both branches of his family tree.

Then, this same individual and his paternal grandmother may undergo an mtDNA test to determine the ethnic background of all females in his lineage. Of course, it will cost more, and it may require some extra reading to fully understand the results that you receive, but it may help provide higher resolution results.

Tips for DNA Testing at Home

DNA testing can seem like a highly technical process. So lay people who don’t know a lot about the system might feel some apprehension with test selection and use.

If you want to maximize the accuracy of your results and get the best value for your money’s worth, consider these tips for DNA testing at home.

1. Know your purpose

Are you interested in discovering relevant relatives within a recent, accessible scope? Or do you want to learn more about the depths of your ethnic history and lineage?

Depending on your purpose for DNA testing, you must consider the type of test you choose. For the former, autosomal testing might be best to discover recent unknown relatives. The latter would be best achieved with either a Y-DNA or mtDNA test or both

2. Exercise customer support

You’ll essentially only get one chance at sample collection, so don’t be afraid to ask for help if necessary.

If any part of the process is unclear to you, reach out to customer support for more information. Most of the DNA testing companies available offer excellent after-sales assistance to help you fully understand the collection process.

3. Understand the restrictions

Certain circumstances can interfere with the DNA results you receive. Understanding the restrictions of the testing company should allow you to determine whether you’re truly eligible for the test.

Proper DNA Sample Collection

A common source of apprehension for most at-home DNA testers is sample collection. Fortunately, DNA testing companies provide highly detailed sample collection instructions to guide you through the process.

Here are some steps to guarantee the exact execution of the test’s specific sample collection steps:

  • Read the instructions thoroughly. Plot out the steps in your mind and keep the manual within reach during collection.
  • If there’s anything unclear or confusing, take your time. Check the company’s website for more information or call their service hotline for clarification.
  • Do not start the process until you’re completely certain of each step.
  • Have all the items laid out and prepared before beginning collection. This should prevent the need to look for them during the process.
  • Don’t hesitate to collect as much sample as you can. For saliva collection, there should be a specific amount required indicated in mL or a similar measure. For cheek swabs, be liberal and glide the swab freely around the testing area until completely coated.

Do’s and Don’ts for At-Home DNA Testing Kits

  • DO give it time. Tracing back a family takes a lot of work. Taking your time with the database by adding as much information as possible such as names, locations, and dates can make the database more accurate not just for you, but for those who might be related to you.
  • DO respond to potential relatives. If another user discovers that you might be genetically linked and they send you a message, make sure you respond. These people might be trying to piece together their ancestry, and your input might be the missing piece they need.
  • DO read all the resources available. Take your time to read the matches that the site offers to you at the get-go. This information may help you start your genealogical research and answer more questions than you assume.
  • DO practice courtesy. During your research for your family tree, you may interact with others who are doing the same. Respond and reach out to other genealogical researchers with courtesy – it’s one of the cornerstones of this interconnected community.
  • DO test older generations when possible. If you have living grandparents or great-grandparents, then you might want to consider testing them as well. This cuts the lineage shorter, so your test can reach further back into your family tree.
  • DON’T start testing without first trying to piece together a family tree. A DNA test will show lots of helpful information about your ancestry and genealogy. However, they will not produce a family tree for you. Find out what you can before you take the test and use the results to support your findings.
  • DON’T ignore messages on DNA testing sites. There are lots of people who just want to understand their ancestry and genealogy. If you match with someone and they reach out to you, do them a favor by responding and providing the information they’re looking for.
  • DON’T refuse to share your tree. Of course, you have the option to keep your tree hidden from other users. But if you match with someone and they request to view your tree, be gracious and let them. It might have vital information that can help them complete their research.
  • DON’T take results at face value. There is a lot to understand about DNA tests, depending on which test method you chose. Just because it doesn’t look how you thought it would, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
  • DON’T limit yourself to a single tool. There are tons of available online tools to help you with your genealogical research. Use every tool at your disposal for a more holistic understanding of your DNA.

What Happens at the Lab?

Once your sample is sealed and sent, it gets delivered to the DNA testing company’s lab. Here, they analyze your results by their unique processes and compile your data to be sent to your address.

The information may also be uploaded in their database for you, and with your consent, others to view as well.

So, what exactly takes place once your DNA reaches the lab? That ultimately depends on the company you’ve chosen. For the most part, however, they may implement some of the following steps:

  1. Sorting and scanning – DNA testing companies are careful to ensure that all samples are registered to their corresponding users. The first step of the process is sorting and scanning which helps to make sure your samples are switched.
  2. Refining the sample – DNA samples are heated in a special machine to reduce the number of enzymes. This allows for more accurate results.
  3. DNA extraction – DNA is extracted from your sample, processed, and then placed onto ‘chips’ that will later be scanned for genetic information.
  4. Chip processing – The chips are set into a machine that heats them so the genetic material clings to the chip material. They’re then washed to ensure that they’re free from any sort of contaminants.
  5. Scanning and reading – The information contained on the chips are then scanned, your information is complied, and the data is uploaded and sent to you.

Keep in mind that these processes may change from lab to lab. However, most labs will be able to provide you genetic information, ancestral and ethnic origins, and some might even provide health-related data derived from your samples.

How Much Does DNA Testing Cost?

Now, the big question – how much does DNA testing cost? Well, the prices vary between DNA testing companies. But you can expect attractive price tags once you start to scour the web for options.

Some companies can offer their tests for as little as USD 59, but of course, the results may be limited. These kits often give you the basics such as your ethnic background and geographical insight. They may allow you to see matches but connecting with these matches might require an added fee.

Then there are more expensive tests that reach up to USD 250 or more. These are either more comprehensive with their results or provide you more tools to process the information you get.

Keep in mind that shipping costs and expedited analysis might also factor into the price you pay. Most companies provide you a stamped envelope and box to send your samples back by snail mail for free.

However, you also have the option to shoulder the shipping cost, so your results reach the lab much faster. If you’re in a rush to receive your results, you can add in an extra payment to have your samples tested sooner.

Comparing these rates to clinic-based DNA tests, it’s easy to see that at-home kits can be far cheaper. This applies even with the most expensive testing kits you’ll find, so they are more accessible to buyers watching their budget.

In-clinic testing can cost anywhere from $300 to USD 500 and will often serve the purpose of confirming relationships or determining potential health risks. That said, these tests are not used for determining your ethnic background and ancestry.

DNA Testing FAQs

In-clinic vs at-home DNA testing – what’s the difference?

You might be thinking of stepping into a DNA testing clinic to get yourself tested instead. While testing clinics that offer genealogy and ancestry information do exist, they often charge more for the process. On the other hand, results from certified clinics are admissible in court, which may be relevant to some individuals.

When can I expect to receive the results of my test?

That depends on your testing clinic of choice. Some companies – like 23andMe – can take as little as two weeks after the lab receives your results. Other can take longer, extending up to eight weeks before they can send back the information from your sample.

Are at-home DNA tests 100% accurate?

Each clinic uses a unique algorithm to arrive at the results that they send you. These may show you the degree of your relationship with other people in their database, as well as the percentage of your ethnicity based on their list of regions.

For that reason, you might get slightly or significantly different results if you take tests from two different providers. That said, there are no tests that are 100% accurate, as most of these companies allow for a small margin of error.

Nonetheless, their reports are not merely a shot at the moon. The findings from your samples are calculated to provide you with very precise estimates that could closely reflect your actual genetic and ethnic background. So, they are reliable for personal use and identity.

Can people with stem cell or bone marrow transplants take a DNA test?

It’s often not recommended for people with bone marrow or stem cell transplants to undertake a DNA test. That’s because the DNA sources from the individual and their transplant might combine and thus result in a failed analysis. That is – no results can be derived.

In the rare event that the DNA test does turn out to be a success, there’s no way to tell whether the results are from the individual or the transplanted tissue.

Can I see if the lineage is paternal or maternal with an autosomal DNA test?

Your autosomes are a combination of genetic material from your mother and father. The 22 pairs are fused. That said, there is no way to determine which one comes from your mother or father.

That said, testing the autosomes does not allow users to determine which ethnicities and belong to which side of their family. The results are a summation of your unique ethnic and ancestral background, regardless of whether inherited from your mother or father.

I’m a person of color, but my DNA test shows that I’m mainly European in ethnicity. Is this an error?

Some people fall into confusion when their results return with ancestry and origins that aren’t what they expect. This is most common with individuals who strongly associate with the racial identity that they’ve adapted.

However, it pays to know that some tests – especially Y-DNA and mtDNA tests – only explore one ancestral line. That means that if you take a Y-DNA test, you ignore information from your paternal grandmother, both your maternal grandparents and all the ancestors up those lines.

So, if you’re an African American woman and you discover through an mtDNA test that you’re mainly European, it doesn’t immediately indicate an error. During the 1800s, it wasn’t uncommon for European settlers to have relationships and sexual contact with African workers.

This means that as you trace your lineage upwards through your mother’s maternal line, the ethnicity will soon reflect European roots. And because this European ancestor would have likely come from a strictly European family, then your results might show a strong link to that ethnicity.

Are at-home DNA tests admissible in court?

No. Companies like Ancestry DNA, 23andMe, and My Heritage all provide their services for your personal use. These tests are not admissible in court. If you need DNA test results for legal matters, consider visiting a certified DNA testing clinic to process your sample.

Is it possible to find unknown family members with a DNA testing kit?

Absolutely. The way that DNA testing companies provide you results is by comparing your DNA profile with those of others existing in their database. So aside from being able to pinpoint your historical and geographical history, these tests can also link you with relatives that you might not know.

Most of their platforms will show you how many people in their database that your DNA matches with. They even offer you the opportunity to reach out to each other so you can establish a connection.

That’s why it’s important to consider the size of the company’s database. Some of them can have up to 15 million different DNA samples available on their website, so the odds of finding a match are far more likely.

Will my DNA test results be confidential?

Yes. These DNA testing companies understand that some people prefer to protect their privacy by keeping their results to themselves, and that’s allowed. You have the option to keep your data private so that no one else can view it on the platform.

However, by agreeing to take the test, you also agree to enrich the database with your information. That said, other users may find their DNA to match yours. But aside from that, specifics will be hidden unless you permit them to view your profile.

Conclusion

DNA testing can offer a load of insight when it comes to your identity. Shedding light on your family roots and ancestral origins, these tests can make you feel more secure and confident in your unique personality.

On top of that, there’s a lot of excitement and amusement to be had with the whole genealogical research project. Unraveling the truth behind your history, using a DNA testing kit can feel a lot like a journey towards personal discovery, drizzled with bits of science here and there.

So, whether you’re hoping to achieve the family reunion of a lifetime, or if you’re interested in understanding where you came from, a DNA testing kit might be right for you. Discover unknown truths about you, your family, and your origins, all with the convenience of a DNA testing kit.

Resources

  1. What is DNA? Taken from https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/basics/dna on September 3, 2019
  2. Genetic Recombination. Taken from https://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/genetic-recombination-514/ on September 3, 2019
  3. Mitochondrial Eve and Y-Chromosome Adam, and Adam and the Genome. Taken from https://evolutionnews.org/2018/02/mitochondrial-eve-and-y-chromosome-adam-and-adam-and-the-genome/ on September 3, 2019
  4. Haplogroup. Taken from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/haplogroup on September 3, 2019
  5. Estimating time to the most recent common ancestor (TMRCA): comparison and application of eight methods. Taken from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26669663 on September 3, 2019
  6. Use of DNA Information in the Legal System. Taken from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK234535/ on September 3, 2019