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Who are you? Where did your ancestors come from? Do you have relatives that you never knew about? These are some of life’s biggest mysteries, and thanks to scientific breakthroughs over the last few years, you can now fill in more of your ancestry puzzle than ever before. Yes, we’re talking about the magic of DNA testing, which has added an exciting element to tracing your family’s roots. How? Through a home DNA test that you can order online, easily administer yourself and send in to get your individual genealogy DNA tested. Here, we examine just what these at home DNA tests involve, the kind of information you can learn, and which is the best DNA ancestry test for your personal needs.
What Exactly is a DNA Ancestry Test?
When you order a home DNA ancestry test, typically you’ll get either a cheek swab or saliva test, which are both easy to follow and submit to the lab (they give you a sample container in each kit). What’s more important than how you administer the test is the part of your DNA that’s being examined by the lab. Each service we review here offers something a little different. Here’s a breakdown of the three types of genealogy DNA testing.
Autosomal DNA Testing
The main focus of autosomal DNA testing is to find matches with other individuals based on a certain amount of shared DNA. Testing can’t predict exact relationships, but you can expect to find matches as far out as 5th cousins and in some cases even further. Sites like AncestryDNA analyze shared DNA and give you your matches as well as how much DNA you have in common.
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) Testing
mtDNA tests both males and females along their direct maternal line, examining genetic markers on your mtDNA, which is passed down from mother to child each generation. This testing reveals your direct maternal deep ancestry and which haplogroup you belong to. All humans descend from Mitochondrial Eve, who lived an estimated 200,000 years ago in Africa. Her descendants are organized into different branches called haplogroups. mtDNA test results predict your mtDNA haplogroup.
Y Chromosome DNA (Y-DNA) Testing
Only males can take a Y-DNA test (you might recall from biology class that women don’t have a Y-chromosome). The Y-DNA test traces direct male-line ancestry — the majority of the Y-chromosome is transmitted from father to son with very little change. Each male’s Y-DNA test results are compared to other males’ results to find out their most recent common ancestor (MRCA) in their direct patrilineal lines. Most testing companies will provide this information. While females can’t be Y-DNA tested, you can have your brother, father, paternal grandfather, paternal uncle or paternal uncle’s son (your cousin) take a test for you.
Benefit of mtDNA and Y-DNA Testing
You can do a deep dive into your ancestors (we’re talking thousands of years back), which you can’t do with Autosomnal DNA testing. All services we review here include DNA testing for ethnicity, so you can get a clearer picture of where in the world your ancestors came from. The world is separated into about 25 different regions, and you’ll get an approximate percentage of your inherited DNA from each region.
Best DNA Ancestry Test Winners
We chose our best DNA ancestry test winners for 2017 based on a number of factors, including: the types of tests they offer, how many people are included in each site’s DNA database, the extent of ancestry information you can find from each test, cost, availability of online community forms, ability to contact genetic matches, customer support and genealogy resources on each website. And now, on to our genetic testing reviews!
Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) is the clear winner of best DNA ancestry test if you’re committed to serious genealogy research or if you want to learn as much as possible from your DNA testing. Family Tree DNA is the only service that offers all three types of test: Autosomal, Y-DNA and mtDNA testing, and the test is a simple cheek swab. They also give you the ability to transfer your data from other services and store your results for 25 years. You get the email addresses of your matches and are able to join targeted genealogical projects within their network. What’s missing? Although not related to ancestry, you don’t get medical-specific DNA results, like with 23andMe. But if your focus is on your family roots, FTDNA is the best way to go.
- $99 Family Finder Autosomnal DNA Kit (cheek swab)
- $69 mtDNA Plus DNA Kit
- $199 mtDNA Full Sequence Kit
- $169 Y37 Markers
- $268 Y67 Markers
- $359 Y111 Markers
- $9.95 shipping
Family Tree DNA often has time sensitive coupons, find and share them here!
AncestryDNA, part of the wildly popular genealogical site Ancestry.com, is our number two pick for best DNA ancestry test. The company offers affordable pricing, an extremely active online community, large DNA ancestry database and access to millions of family trees and billions of historic records via the Ancestry website. They analyze your simple saliva test at more than 700,000 genetic markers to find your genetic matches and give you a breakdown of your ethnicity. AncestryDNA suspended its Y-DNA and mtDNA testing, however, so you don’t have the ability to drill down as deep into your genetic profile and ancestry as you can with FTDNA, which still offers those tests.
- $99 DNA testing kit (saliva sample)
- $9.95 shipping
- Results available in 6-8 weeks
AncestryDNA often has time sensitive coupons, find and share them here!
The Geno 2.0 Next Generation comes in third as our choice for best DNA ancestry test. The test is part of the National Geographic Genographic Project, a scientific effort to analyze historic patterns in human DNA across the globe. How does it work? You purchase and submit your simple cheek swab test, their lab runs its newest advanced DNA testing, which identifies thousands of mtDNA markers for direct maternal lineage, examines Y-DNA markers for direct paternal ancestry and analyzes more than 750,000 other ancestry-informative markers to reveal your ancestry’s regional affiliations. The Geno 2.0 Next Gen test is expensive, and their database is relatively small which limits your research abilities. But the great thing about this test is that FTDNA allows you to upload your Geno 2.0 results into their database for free, so you can find your relatives and get additional insight on your ancestral origins. And you get the satisfaction of knowing that you’re contributing to a global historic genomic project. You can even learn if you have Neanderthal DNA in your genome — pretty cool, huh?!
- $199.95 DNA testing kit (cheek swab)
- Free shipping
- Results available in 8-10 weeks
Although 23andMe didn’t make our top three, they’re still worthy of consideration. 23andMe has been providing home DNA tests since 2007, but recently they’ve placed more of a focus on medical DNA testing. The result for DNA ancestry testing? 23andMe still conducts autosomnal DNA ancestry testing, but overall the service isn’t what it used to be for genealogists. First, 23andMe raised the price of their DNA test from $99 to $199, but the ancestry side of testing hasn’t changed. The upside? You can get medical DNA results from 23andMe, and you can’t from the other best DNA ancestry test providers we’ve reviewed here. The downsides? If you’re looking for ancestry results and related services, 23 and Me is limited compared to its competitors. Their website isn’t as user-friendly; they cap the number of matches they report to you at 1,000 (other services are unlimited). Also, matches must give prior approval to share their genomic information.
- $199.00 DNA testing kit (saliva sample)
- Results available in 6-8 weeks
You Never Know What You’ll Discover
Watch this heartwarming story from the Katie Couric Show about what one man discovered from his AncestryDNA test.
Is Your DNA Ancestry Sample Protected?
Yes. The testing services reviewed here all have strict privacy policies in place to protect your DNA sample from being misused — you can find these policies on their websites. And in 2008, the U.S. passed the Genetic Information and Non-Discrimination Act to protect citizens from having their genetic information used against them for health insurance or employment purposes.
A Big Piece of Our Collective Human History
Whether you’re searching for living relatives or want to know where your ancestors originated from, a DNA ancestry test is a fun way to find out more about what made you who you are. With nearly three million genetic ancestry profiles conducted since genetic genealogy became commercially available in 2000 and a growing interest in DNA ancestry, we can all learn more about our shared human evolution. If you’re not already researching genealogy online, you may want to check out our Best Online Genealogy Software comparison article for our recommendations.
What do you hope to discover about your relatives and genetic makeup through DNA testing?