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Who are you? Where did your ancestors come from? Do you have relatives that you never knew existed? 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. With Y-DNA and mtDNA testing, you can do a deep dive into your ancestors (we’re talking thousands of years back), which you can’t do with Autosomal DNA testing.
DNA Testing for Ethnicity
All services we review here include DNA testing for ethnicity, so you can get a clearer picture of where in the world your ancestors originated. Each company tests for certain geographical regions (they differ by company), 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, DNA database size, the extent of ancestry information you can find from each test, cost, genealogy research tools and more. 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 tests separately: Autosomal, Y-DNA and mtDNA testing, and the test is a simple cheek swab. The Y-DNA and mtDNA tests are much more in-depth than other companies’ analysis. 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 can 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.
FTDNA offers several bundled packages in addition to the pricing below.
- $89 Family Finder Autosomal DNA Kit (cheek swab), Results in 4-6 weeks
- $79 mtDNA Plus DNA Kit, Results in 4-6 weeks
- $199 mtDNA Full Sequence Kit, Results in 6-8 weeks
- $169 Y37 Markers, Results in 8-10 weeks
- $268 Y67 Markers, Results in 8-10 weeks
- $359 Y111 Markers, Results in 8-10 weeks
- $12.95 shipping
- View all options
Family Tree DNA often has time-sensitive coupons!
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, extensive DNA ancestry database and access to millions of family trees and billions of historical 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. AncestryDNA recently introduced a new tool, Genetic Communities, which focuses on post-colonial North America and helps you better pinpoint where your recent ancestors lived in the U.S. and migrated from around the world.
- $99 Autosomal DNA testing kit (saliva sample)
- $9.95 shipping
- Results available in 6-8 weeks
AncestryDNA often has time-sensitive coupons!
23andMe comes in third as our best ancestry DNA testing company for the unique services they provide. 23andMe is your best bet if you want to trace your lineage and get health-related DNA results. They offer two testing kit types — an Autosomal Ancestry test for $99 or a Health + Ancestry test for $199. On the ancestry side, you’ll get three reports: ethnic composition, haplogroups and Neanderthal ancestry. 23andMe’s health results include three FDA-approved genetic health risk reports (late-onset Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Hereditary Thrombophilia), 40 carrier status reports (whether you carry genes for certain health conditions), five wellness reports (lactose intolerance, for example), and more than a dozen trait reports (male bald spot, unibrow, etc.). If you want to use your DNA results to help you trace your family tree, however, 23andMe’s research tools and genealogy community aren’t up to par with FamilyTreeDNA or Ancestry.com.
- $99.00 Ancestry DNA test (saliva sample)
- $199.00 Ancestry + Health DNA testing kit
- $9.95 shipping via 23andMe website
- Results available in 6-8 weeks
23andMe occasionally has time-sensitive coupons!
What Other DNA Ancestry Tests Should You Consider?
Below are some other DNA tests we’ve reviewed for you to consider.
Living DNA, an England-based company that launched in early 2015, is a new addition to our reviews this year. They say they’re the “first truly global DNA test” because they break down ancestral origins across 80 worldwide regions (while other companies focus on an estimated 30 regions). Furthermore, they break down your roots across 21 regions in the British Isles. If you already have a good idea that your roots are from the United Kingdom, Living DNA could be a great test for you to delve deeper into the region. Living DNA has partnered with several leading genomics, analytical, testing and research organizations, which lends them a lot of credit in our book. We’re keeping our eye on this relative newcomer to see how their reputation plays out.
- $119.00 DNA testing kit
- Free shipping
- Results in 10-12 weeks
Living DNA occasionally has time-sensitive coupons, find and share them here!
MyHeritage is one of the most popular genealogy research and family tree websites in the world. In September 2016, they launched an autosomal DNA ancestry test at a competitive price. Their test is similar to AncestryDNA, with slightly fewer ethnic regions identified. But MyHeritage has plans to expand their testing to 100 regions in the coming years. Although the test is new, their testing lab holds top certification and accreditation from leading organizations. An advantage of MyHeritage DNA? You can import DNA testing results from competing companies to compare with their database. The downside? While they have a massive database of family trees and active users, their database of DNA results is still in its early stages. But based on the popularity of this website, we anticipate their DNA database will grow quickly.
- $79 Autosomal DNA testing kit (cheek swab)
- $10 shipping
- Results in 3-4 weeks
The Geno 2.0 Next Generation DNA testing kit is best for people who want to trace their roots all the way back to ancient origins (even to Neanderthals). 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 historical genomic project.
- $149.95 DNA testing kit (cheek swab)
- Free shipping
- Results available in 8-10 weeks
Don’t Miss GEDmatch on Your DNA Quest
GEDmatch.com is a free website, where you can upload raw autosomal DNA results and your match lists from AncestryDNA, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA, and MyHeritage DNA. In GEDmatch you can compare your DNA results with the results of all other GEDmatch users who’ve made their results public, regardless of what company they used to obtain autosomal DNA results. GEDmatch can help you:
- Identify cousins and share research efforts for matching relatives.
- Identify what portions of your DNA came from each parent if you and one (or both) of your parents have their DNA tested.
- Potentially get more detailed ethnicity breakdowns. GEDmatch has six different options for displaying more detailed ethnicity, with many breakdowns under each option.
How does GEDmatch protect your privacy? GEDmatch requires you to provide your email address and the exact name you used with your testing company, but you don’t have to make your name or any of your information public — but that limits much of what you can do with the website.
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 millions of 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?