Best DNA Test: FamilyTreeDNA vs 23andMe vs AncestryDNA vs MyHeritage DNA & More

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Can a little spit really tell you that you’ve got some Albert Einstein in your DNA or that your ancestors migrated from the Middle East 2,000 years ago?

Surely, you’ve heard about the craze over at-home DNA tests by now. Interested in digging deeper into your family heritage? Want to know what test to take? DNA testing is easier and more affordable than you might think and can lead to amazing revelations about who you are.

What can these tests tell you? You can learn about your family’s history going back many generations and find living family matches. They can also help you discover your ethnic origins from around the world. Some can even tell you health conditions you may be at a greater risk of developing. An ancestral DNA test may also inspire you to dig in deeper to your family tree with genealogical research.

Article Overview

Best DNA Test For Ancestry Winners

We chose our best DNA tests based on a number of factors, including the:

  • Types of tests they offer
  • DNA database size
  • Extent of ancestry information and matching relatives you can find from each test
  • Cost
  • Genealogy research tools

If you need to brush up on DNA and ancestry-related terms, jump to our DNA terminology section.

AncestryDNA Review

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AncestryDNA is part of the wildly popular genealogical company This company has really stepped up its game over the last several years, giving you an unparalleled ability to find familial matches as well as a breakdown of your ethnicity from 1,000+ regions across the globe.

AncestryDNA offers affordable pricing, an extremely active online community, a huge DNA ancestry database of over 10 million people and access to millions of family trees and billions of historical records via the Ancestry website. Their autosomal test analyzes more than 700,000 genetic markers to find your genetic matches.

AncestryDNA also gives you results on migration patterns from several areas around the world to post-colonial North America. This can help you better pinpoint where your recent ancestors lived in the U.S. and migrated from around the world.

Best For Identifying Genetic Matches

Far more people have tested with AncestryDNA than any other service — a whopping 26 million people. This means you’ll be more likely to find living relatives and shared ancestors. You can also use the website’s extensive historical ancestry records to try to trace your ancestors on your mother’s and father’s sides.



  • Competitive pricing for autosomal DNA test
  • Largest DNA database by far — 10+ million people
  • Provides ancestry ethnicity estimates for 1,000 global regions
  • CLIA and CAP certified laboratory (third-party lab)
  • Reliable security for DNA test samples and results
  • Excellent online community forums and customer service
  • Stores your DNA sample indefinitely
  • Can connect with genetic matches via anonymous email and message boards
  • Discover what your DNA tells you about 25+ different physical traits (lactose intolerance, earlobe type, male hair loss, etc.)
  • Doesn’t offer separate Y-DNA or mtDNA testing
  • Can’t upload DNA data from other services
  • No chromosome browser available to compare shared chromosomal segments
  • Those tested must opt-in so that other users can see their results, meaning you may not be able to see all your matches


The following pricing is for Ancestry’s DNA test and results, including familial matches. If you want to link your results to your family tree or do other research on their website, you must have a paid subscription. See the latest subscription pricing.

  • $99 AncestryDNA® testing kit
  • $9.95 shipping
  • Results available in 6-8 weeks

Read Our In-Depth AncestryDNA Review

FamilyTreeDNA Review

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FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA) is the best DNA ancestry test if you’re committed to serious genealogy research. This company is the only service that offers all three types of tests separately: autosomal, Y-DNA and mtDNA testing. Their Y-DNA and mtDNA tests are much more in-depth than other companies’ maternal and paternal-line analysis. (Learn more about these different tests.)

Also, FTDNA is one of few services that offers a chromosomal browser, which allows you to compare your matching DNA segments (blocks) with each genetic match. You get the email addresses of your matches and can join targeted genealogical projects within their network. This is one of a few services that gives you the ability to transfer your data from other services to help you further your research.

You may have heard about FTDNA’s recent agreement to work with law enforcement to upload genetic files to help identify a perpetrator of a homicide, abduction or sexual assault, or ID the remains of a deceased individual. If this causes privacy concerns for you, FTDNA allows you to opt out of Law Enforcement Matching, so your DNA results on file will not be included in their searches.

Best For Advanced Genealogical Research

FTDNA gives you a list of all your genetic matches who share common ancestors from your maternal and paternal lines from the past 5 or so generations. You can even view, sort and compare individual DNA matches by parental lines and contact matches via email (if they’ve permitted access). Their separate mtDNA and Y-DNA tests give you uniquely specific analysis into your DNA, and their online resources are phenomenal.



  • Competitive pricing for DNA autosomal test and frequent promotions
  • Only site to offer separate autosomal DNA and in-depth Y-DNA and mtDNA testing kits and a good variety of bundled packages
  • Provides ethnicity estimates for 24 global regions
  • In-house laboratory certified by CLIA and accredited by CAP
  • Stores your DNA sample for 25 years
  • Strict privacy policy
  • You receive email addresses for your genetic matches
  • Chromosome browser tool to compare shared chromosomal segments
  • Allows uploading of raw DNA results from 23andMe, AncestryDNA, MyHeritage and NatGeo Geno 2.0
  • Excellent online community forums and customer service
  • Database (~1 million people) isn’t quite as extensive as other services


FTDNA delivers results in 4-8 weeks. All tests are a cheek swab.

  • $79 Family Finder Autosomal DNA Kit
  • $119 Paternal Ancestry
  • $159 Maternal Ancestry
  • $9.95 shipping
  • View all options

Read Our In-Depth FamilyTreeDNA Review

23andMe Review

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23andMe is your best bet if you want to trace your lineage and get disease-risk and carrier-status DNA results. They offer three testing kit types — an autosomal Ancestry test for $99, a Health + Ancestry test for $199 or a VIP Health + Ancestry test for $499.

On the ancestry side, you’ll get reports on your ethnic composition, haplogroups and Neanderthal ancestry. 23andMe also provides you an anonymous report of where your current genetic matches live in the world, and you can opt-in to their DNA Relatives tool to find, connect and message those who share DNA with you. 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

23andMe is the only direct-to-consumer genetic test that has FDA approval for 10+ genetic health risks, including late-onset Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Hereditary Thrombophilia and most recently Type 2 Diabetes and three genetic variants found on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes known to be associated with a higher risk for breast, ovarian and prostate cancer.

Other health results include 40+ FDA-approved carrier status reports (whether you carry genes for certain health conditions), 10+ health predisposition  reports, 5+ wellness reports (lactose intolerance, for example) and 25+ trait reports (male bald spot, unibrow, etc.).

Best For General Ancestry & Disease Risk Screening

If you want to learn where your ancestors lived around the world and, at the same time, gain insights into your health and risk for certain diseases, 23andMe’s Ancestry + Health test is the way to go.



  • Only at-home DNA test to offer FDA-approved health screenings
  • Large DNA database of 5+ million people
  • Provides your ethnicity breakdown from 1,000+ global regions
  • CLIA and CAP certified laboratory (third-party lab)
  • Test samples and results are secure for privacy
  • Provides chromosome browser to compare shared chromosomal segments
  • Stores your DNA sample
  • Doesn’t offer separate, in-depth Y-DNA or mtDNA testing
  • No genealogical DNA projects available to join on website
  • Can’t upload raw DNA data from other services
  • Genealogical community forums are lacking compared to our top two choices
  • Users have to opt-in to allow others to even see that they’re a genetic match (members say many don’t, making it more difficult to identify and connect with living relatives)


  • $99 Ancestry + Traits autosomal DNA test (saliva sample)
  • $199 Ancestry + Health DNA testing kit
  • $499 VIP Ancestry + Health DNA testing kit
  • $9.95 shipping
  • Results available in 6-8 weeks
  • View all options

Read Our In-Depth 23andMe Review

DNA Test For Ancestry Comparison Table

 1st: Ancestry DNA2nd: Family Tree DNA 3rd: 23andMeAfrican AncestryGPS Origins by HomeDNALiving DNAMyHeritage DNAVitagene
Visit WebsiteVisit WebsiteVisit WebsiteVisit WebsiteVisit WebsiteView on AmazonVisit WebsiteVisit WebsiteView on Amazon
Test TypeSaliva sampleCheek swabSaliva sampleCheek swabCheek swabCheek swabCheek swabCheek swab
Best ForIdentifying Relatives Advanced Genealogical Research & Identifying RelativesDisease Risk Screening & Ethnicity EstimatesAncient African AncestryEarly Migratory PatternsAdding DNA to Your Online Family Tree
Database Size10+ Million1+ Million5+ Million30,000+n/an/a1.4+ Millionn/a
Find Familial MatchesCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
Ethnic Geographical Regions500+241,000+n/an/a804225
Price$99$79$99 or $199$299 Check Amazon for availability $99$79 $79.19
Results In6-8 Weeks4-8 Weeks6-8 Weeks6+ Weeks6 Weeks10-12 Weeks3-4 Weeks4-6 Weeks
Autosomal DNACheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmarkCheckmark
In-depth mtDNACheckmarkMaternal haplogroup results onlyMaternal haplogroup results onlyMaternal haplogroup results onlyMaternal haplogroup results only
In-depth Y-Chromosome CheckmarkPaternal haplogroup results onlyPaternal haplogroup results onlyPaternal haplogroup results onlyPaternal haplogroup results only

The Rest Of The Pack

These may not be in the top 3, but some may give you insights you may not find in our top winners.

African Ancestry | GPS Origins by HomeDNA | Living DNA | MyHeritage DNA | National Geographic Geno 2.0| Vitagene Health+Ancestry

African Ancestry Review

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African Ancestry was launched in 2003, and since that time, it has partnered with historians, archaeologists, anthropologists and other geneticists to build the largest collection of African lineages in the world, including over 30,000 indigenous African DNA profiles.

This company offers separate mtDNA and Y-DNA tests but no autosomal test. African Ancestry says they can trace your roots back to a specific present-day African country, but that’s a somewhat problematic claim. Given the science they use and the limits of DNA ancestry testing in general, what they can do is determine a likely estimate of broad genetic matches “based on the frequency of identical and closely related haplotypes,” according to their website. They also provide broad results from other continents.

Best DNA Test To Discover Ancient African Roots

Do you want to know which specific area, or perhaps even tribe, in Africa your ancestors hailed from? If you know (or highly suspect) that you are of African descent, African Ancestry traces your African roots from 500 – 2,000 years ago.



  • World’s largest database of African lineages
  • Traces your African roots back 2,000 years to specific areas and ethnic groups of origin
  • You can upload your mtDNA and Y-DNA test results from FamilyTreeDNA if you have African ancestry (fee for running your results through their algorithm)
  • Active online community
  • They don’t share your sample or results with third parties
  • They destroy your sample once it’s been tested (good for people concerned with privacy)
  • Very expensive
  • DNA database is too small for entirely accurate results — their website states “Company does not warrant that a Report will be accurate or complete.”
  • Can’t identify unknown living relatives or individual ancestors
  • No information on lab accreditation
  • No sample storage option
  • Few genealogical resources on website


  • $299 MatriClan™ Test Kit
  • $299 PatriClan™ Test Kit
  • $680 Family Celebration Package, includes one mtDNA kit, one Y-DNA kit, t-shirts, certificates
  • Free shipping
  • Results available in 6+ weeks
  • View all options

GPS Origins By HomeDNA Review

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GPS Origins test by HomeDNA uses a unique ancestral tracking technique that breaks down your gene pool and family migration patterns. Their in-house and highly-accredited laboratory, DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC), tests 800,000 autosomal genetic markers and analyzes 1,000+ reference populations and 40+ gene pools to tell you where your ancestors moved over hundreds of years starting roughly 1,000 years ago.

Although their GPS Origins test kit is expensive, HomeDNA allows you to upload your results from 23andMe,, the FamilyTreeDNA Family Finder or National Geographic Geno 2.0 for HomeDNA’s unique analysis for a $39 fee. HomeDNA also provides special editions of their GPS Origins test.

  • The African Edition autosomal test analyzes 11 African–specific gene pools and ancestry markers from more than 100 African populations. You receive your African ethnicity in percentages and can see your ancestors’ migration routes going as far back as 2,000 years, along with anthropological stories explaining the movement of your DNA over time.
  • The Asian Edition test analyzes 17 Asian gene pools and goes back 2,000 years, with date stamps and geographic coordinates.

Best For Early Migratory Patterns

Want to know where your early ancestors originated from and migrated to over hundreds of years? The GPS Origins tests give you basic migratory patterns within certain areas of the globe starting as early as 2,000 years ago based on your genetically-matched haplogroups.



  • Approach and results are unique with GPS Origins test
  • Provides historical write-ups of specific migratory patterns
  • DNA lab is highly accredited
  • Strict privacy policy
  • Special African and Asian GPS Origins editions
  • You can have your raw DNA from other companies analyzed by HomeDNA for $39
  • Charitable support for the Innocence Project
  • Customers report helpful support reps
  • GPS Origins test kit is expensive compared to most other DNA ancestry tests
  • No familial matches — can’t identify living relatives or individual ancestors
  • Separate maternal and paternal line tests are very limited in what they can tell you (unlike FTDNA’s Y-DNA and mtDNA tests)
  • No chromosome browser
  • No information about sample storage on website
  • Website lacks online community and supplemental resources


Read Our In-Depth HomeDNA Review

Living DNA Review

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England-based Living DNA launched in early 2015. At the time, they claimed to be the “first truly global DNA test” because they broke down ancestral origins across 80 worldwide regions. AncestryDNA and 23andMe, however, have put that claim to rest as both sites have seriously improved their regional ethnicity analysis. Living DNA does still have the edge on British ancestry — they break down your roots across 21 specific 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 credibility in our book. We’re keeping our eye on this relative newcomer to see how their reputation develops.

Best For British Heritage

If you have Brit in your blood, Living DNA is your best choice for DNA testing. Based in the UK, their database is specifically geared toward the European and UK populations, making their results more comprehensive in those regions.



  • Excellent for a more in-depth British regional breakdown (80 regions alone in Britain)
  • Traces your maternal and paternal lines back and gives you your haplogroups
  • Good security and privacy policy
  • Gives you raw DNA results that you can upload to some other sites like GEDMatch
  • Shipping of kit (and return shipping) included in price
  • Doesn’t have its own database, so you can’t compare your results to others who’ve tested or find familial matches (but they recently launched a public beta version of family matching)
  • Lab is located in the UK, which doesn’t hold the same certification standards as in the U.S.
  • Can’t upload raw DNA data from other services
  • No chromosome browser
  • Very limited website resources, tools or community
  • No information on website about long-term DNA sample storage


  • $99 DNA testing kit (cheek swab)
  • Free shipping
  • Results in 10-12 weeks

Read Our In-Depth Living DNA Review

MyHeritage DNA Review

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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. This DNA heritage test is similar to AncestryDNA, with fewer ethnic regions identified.

Although the test is relatively new compared to the top 3 services, their database has grown to 1.4+ million people, and they use FTDNA’s highly-accredited testing lab. An advantage of MyHeritage DNA? You can import DNA testing results from competing companies to compare with their database for free. Most other services (except FTDNA) either don’t give you this option or charge you a fee.

Best For Enhancing Your Online Family Tree

With more than 3.3 billion people in family trees and 103+ billion users worldwide, MyHeritage’s Family Tree Builder and related services are among the best online. How do you benefit from connecting your DNA to your family tree? DNA results can prove or disprove documented family tree connections. Family trees are also vital for understanding the relationship path to DNA matches.



  • Competitive pricing for autosomal DNA test
  • DNA database of 1.4+ million people
  • Provides ancestry ethnicity estimates for 42 global regions
  • CLIA and CAP certified laboratory (they use FTDNA’s lab)
  • Reliable security for DNA test samples and results
  • Can import raw DNA data from any service that uses GEDCOM or autosomal test
  • New chromosome browser
  • They store your DNA sample indefinitely, or you can request to have it destroyed
  • Good online community forums and customer service
  • Additional fee to use their family tree and genealogical services
  • No separate Y-DNA or mtDNA testing
  • Doesn’t offer targeted genealogical DNA projects available to join on website


  • $79 Autosomal DNA testing kit (cheek swab)
  • Free shipping
  • Results in 3-4 weeks

Read Our In-Depth MyHeritage DNA Review

National Geographic Geno 2.0 Review

National Geographic Genographic project logo

Geno 2.0 DNA Ancestry kits are no longer available for purchase since  the public participation phase of the National Geographic Genographic project ended in late May 2019. According to their website, if you already purchased a kit, you may still send it in for processing “in accordance with the Terms and Conditions of sale.” They also say that customers will still be able to access their test results online until the end of 2020.

Vitagene Health+Ancestry Review

Vitagene Health+Ancestry logo

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Vitagene Health + Ancestry by HomeDNA is a combined autosomal DNA test that analyzes your ethnic ancestry and several health traits from one single cheek swab. Its approach is similar to AncestryDNA’s test but with noticeable limitations.

There isn’t much to get excited about with Vitagene’s test. Their ancestry analysis only gives you ethnicity results for 25 regions around the world with percentage breakdowns — you can get these results and more (e.g., familial matches) from AncestryDNA, 23andMe and other ancestry tests.

Vigagene also looks at specific genes related to vitamin deficiencies and common sensitivities, like gluten or lactose intolerance, as well as several other physical and wellness traits (AncestryDNA’s test now does this, too). Finally, there’s an online questionnaire, where you provide secure and confidential information about your medical history and lifestyle.

They claim they can then use the results of their DNA test and your medical history to develop a personalized plan for exercise, diet and supplement recommendations. But here’s where there’s a problem — they take the results too far. No published scientific studies show that genetic tests can give you useful and actionable information about boosting your wellness through diet and exercise solely based on your genetic profile. 



  • Ethnicity breakdown across 25 global regions
  • DNA lab is highly accredited (same lab as GPS Origins)
  • Strict privacy policy and they destroy your sample once it’s tested
  • You can have your raw DNA from other companies analyzed for $49
  • Quicker results than many other companies
  • Good online resources
  • Customers report helpful support reps
  • No familial matches — can’t identify living relatives or individual ancestors
  • Doesn’t offer separate mtDNA or Y-DNA tests (can’t learn about maternal or paternal lines)
  • Website lacks online community


  • Health Report + Ancestry: $79.19
  • Health + Skin and Beauty + Ancestry: $99.00
  • Free shipping
  • Results in 4-6 weeks

Read Our In-Depth Vitagene Review

Take An Ancestry Tour To Your Heartland

Go Ahead Tours logo

Visit Go Ahead Tours

EF Go Ahead Tours, in partnership with, is now offering special Ancestry Tours where you can uncover your family story on one-of-a-kind genealogy tours to six different regions in Europe, including Germany, Scotland, two in Ireland and two in Italy.

Each trip includes an AncestryDNA kit and pre-trip family history review. Then, when you’re at your destination, an Ancestry genealogist will accompany your tour group to answer questions about your heritage. EF Go Ahead Tours offers travel planning, handpicked hotels, authentic cuisine, guided sightseeing and an expert tour director in all of its tour packages.

EF Go Ahead Tours’ all-inclusive ancestry trips are from 10-14 days and start at approximately $3,300 per person.

Other Types Of At-Home DNA Tests

DNA Paternity Test

Historically one of the more common types of DNA tests, a paternity test determines the biological link between a father and child. There’s even a non-invasive prenatal paternity test available now. Read our Paternity Test Comparison for the scoop.

DNA Health Testing

At-home DNA testing for most medical and health-related purposes is still in its infancy, but scientists are making advances every day. It’s always a good idea to talk with your physician and/or a genetic counselor before deciding whether to test yourself. A counselor can also help you decipher the results.

Check out our article on DNA Testing For Health Reasons to see which at-home tests are legit.

Note: Keep in mind, these tests analyze your genetic makeup to see if you’ve inherited genes that could make you more likely to develop a certain condition. But they can’t predict whether you’ll actually get that disease (or even your chances of getting it).

Genetic Testing For Cancer Risk

Some people have a higher risk of developing specific types of cancers that tend to run in the family. In these cases, a physician may test your DNA to look for gene mutations that could indicate a higher risk. One of the better-known examples is testing for mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes (breast cancer genes) in women whose mother and sister have had breast cancer.

Genetic Testing For Carrier Status

Want to start a family, but you’re worried you may pass on an unwanted risk to your child? Some DNA tests can tell you if you’re a carrier for certain inherited conditions, such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia or hereditary hearing loss. A positive match doesn’t mean your child will inherit the condition; it just lets you know whether you carry the gene.

Not all DNA tests are the same. A carrier status DNA test, for example, focuses on the specific markers known to be associated with certain inherited conditions. On the other hand, DNA genealogy tests focus on specific markers related to our ancestry.

Pet DNA Testing

Why should your pets be left out of the family tree fun? You can now test dog DNA with Embark, a top-rated company that can help you find your dog’s breed makeup and identify many health markers. Your cat can get in on the genealogical action too, with the reputable cat DNA company, Basepaws.

Statistics & Facts About DNA Tests

Here are some recent stats and fun facts related to DNA and its growing popularity.

  • As of early 2019, more than 26 million consumers have taken DNA tests with commercial DNA kits. 1
  • More people took DNA tests in 2018 than all previous years combined. 1
  • If DNA test trends continue, there could be 100 million people’s genetic info in commercial databases by 2021.1
  • Privacy is the #1 concern people have about DNA tests. 2
  • 40% of surveyed travelers reported that they want to take, or have taken, a trip inspired by their DNA test results. 3
  • A California-based travel agency Authentic Vacations booked $1.5 million in Ancestry tours in 2018 (nearly double compared to 2017).3
  • Music sharing service Spotify has teamed up with Ancestry to provide musical DNA playlists inspired by your test results. Since launching in September 2018, more than 10,000 people have signed up for a custom playlist. 4
  • According to Google Trends, West Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts and Vermont are the states most interested in DNA kits in the past 5 years (since April 2014). 5

How Does At-Home DNA Testing Work?

Order Your Kit graphic Step 1: Order Your Kit

Order your kit online from anywhere in the world. It takes about a week to receive the kit. The package should arrive sealed, so you are certain it has not been tampered with.

Set Up Online Profile graphic Step 2: Set Up Your Online Profile

You’ll need to activate your kit online using a unique code provided to you. This connects your name and contact details to your sample so you can track progress as it’s tested and later view results. You’ll most likely sign a consent form and agree to the company’s legal terms and conditions before getting started.

Provide DNA Sample graphicStep 3: Provide A DNA Sample

Now for the fun part — providing your DNA sample! Most tests offer cheek swab tests. AncestryDNA, 23andMe and NatGeo Geno 2.0 tests require you to spit in a vial.

Either way, they recommend not eating, drinking, smoking, chewing gum or teeth brushing at least one hour before to ensure a good sample. Also, wash your hands before opening the test tubes to ensure a clean sample.

Seal & Ship graphic Step 4: Seal & Ship Your Sample

Once your samples are complete and ready to go, seal the samples in the specimen bag, place them in the provided mailing envelope and drop it in your mailbox for delivery. Don’t forget to make sure your unique ID is on each sample, so the labs have a way to track it back to your profile.

Step 5: Wait For Analysis

Wait For Analysis graphic

In an age where we can get most things instantly, you might be anxious to get results right away. But, how long does a DNA test take to come back? Given the complexity of the process of analyzing your DNA and comparing your results to other samples, expect to wait anywhere from 4-10 weeks depending on the company.

Step 6: View & Share Your Results

View & Share Your Results graphicTo access your results, sign in to the online portal using the login you created when you activated your kit (results will not be mailed to you for privacy reasons). Once logged in, you can view and analyze your DNA in more detail using the provided percentages, maps and more depending on which kit you chose.

Types Of DNA Tests For Ancestry: Autosomal, mtDNA & Y-DNA

Now that you have a better understanding of the scientific part let’s define the various types of tests, what to look for and who can take each one. It’s important to do your research about the kind of test to make sure you’re testing your DNA for the specific information you’re looking for.

Autosomal DNA Test

Autosomal DNA Test relationship graphic Autosomal DNA tests look at chromosomes 1-22 that you’ve inherited from both your parents. Don’t know much about your grandparents or other relatives? Autosomal DNA testing can determine how closely related you are to other individuals.

  • Who Can Take The Test: Males and females.
  • What It Tests For: Autosomal DNA testing matches you with other individuals based on a certain amount of shared DNA.
  • What It Can Reveal: You can expect to find matches as far out as 5th cousins and in some cases even further. Tests analyze shared DNA and give you your matches as well as how much DNA you have in common. Autosomal tests also give you estimates of your ethnic origins from around the world.
  • How Far Back Are Results: Autosomal DNA tests trace back anywhere from 5 to 10 generations on both your mother’s and father’s sides of the family.

What Are Ethnicity Estimates?

Autosomal DNA tests match your DNA with population samples and studies from across the globe. When you get your DNA test results back, you’ll get a report that gives you a mixture of percentages (ethnicity estimates). These are your unique percentages of where your ancestors lived in defined geographical regions, i.e., 82% British Isles, 10% Eastern European, 2% Native American and so on.

Note: Each company’s ethnicity report differs by their defined global regions, how they present their data to you and the number of population studies they use in their analysis. Your percentages can also differ because of each lab’s unique testing methods. Some autosomal tests also look at parts of your DNA going back even further.

mtDNA Test

Mitochondrial DNA Test relationship graphicA mitochondrial (mtDNA) test traces your mother-line ancestry using the DNA in your mitochondria. mtDNA is passed down unchanged by every mother to all her children, both male and female.

  • Who Can Take The Test: Males and females.
  • What It Tests For: mtDNA tests along the direct maternal line, examining genetic markers on your mtDNA, which is passed down from mother to child each generation.
  • What It Can Reveal: Your direct maternal deep ancestry and which haplogroup you belong to.
  • How Far Back Are Results: All humans descended from Mitochondrial Eve, who lived an estimated 200,000 years ago in Africa. Her descendants are organized into different branches called haplogroups.

Y-DNA Test

Y Chromosome DNA Testing relationship graphicThe Y-chromosome DNA (Y-DNA) test traces direct male-line ancestry — grandfather to father to son and so on. The Y-chromosome passes down each generation virtually unchanged. Since females don’t carry the Y-chromosome, they can’t take this test. Females, however, can learn something from this test by having a brother, father, paternal grandfather, paternal uncle or a male cousin (your father’s brother’s son) take a test for you.

  • Who Can Take The Test: Males only (because women don’t have a Y-chromosome).
  • What It Tests For: The Y-DNA test traces direct male-line ancestry. 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.
  • What It Can Reveal: This test can tell you which Y-haplogroup you belong to if you’re male. Your Y-DNA haplogroup reflects the ancient ancestry of your paternal line.
  • How Far Back Are Results: Like mtDNA tests, Y-DNA tests can go back hundreds of thousands of years.

Other Terminology & FAQs

What Is DNA?

DNA graphic DNA stands for “deoxyribonucleic acid,” and everyone’s DNA is unique to the individual. More than 99% of your DNA is the same as everyone else’s in the world. But there are small groups of sections across each person’s genome that differ (these variations make you the unique person you are).

What Is A DNA Test?

DNA analysis looks at small sections of DNA, called “markers,” to create your DNA profile —  a unique genetic fingerprint. Not every DNA test, however, is the same, and not every test’s design finds the same information from your DNA.

What Are Genetic Markers?

A genetic marker is a DNA sequence with a known location on a chromosome. Scientists use genetic markers to identify cells, individuals, populations, etc.

What Does Autosomal Mean?

Autosomal refers to a chromosome that is not a sex chromosome. People have 22 pairs of autosomes in each cell, as well as 2 sex chromosomes (X & Y in a male and X & X in a female).

What Is Shared DNA?

Two people who share identical segments of DNA share a recent common ancestor. The relationship between relatives (siblings, cousins, etc.) depends on the length and number of these identical segments.

What Is Deep Ancestry?

Deep ancestry is based on either mitochondrial (maternal) DNA or Y-chromosome (paternal) DNA, and it shows a single line of descent. It’s often referred to as a direct maternal line or direct paternal line, going back hundreds to thousands of years.

What Does Haplogroup Mean?

A haplogroup is a genetic population (group of people) who share a common ancestor on the direct paternal or maternal line.

What Is Y-Haplogroup, E3a, Q3, Etc.?

Each haplogroup is assigned its own group “name,” which consists of a letter of the alphabet followed by more specific refinements indicated by additional number and letter combinations. Some haplogroups indicate clear ethnic groups. For example, the Y-haplogroup E3a is the most common among African Americans, and Y-haplogroup Q3 solely includes Native American populations.

How Accurate Is DNA Testing For Ancestry?

DNA testing for forensic purposes, paternity and ancestry are 99.9% accurate. This DNA accuracy level for ancestry pertains to matching relatives, not for ethnicity results.

What About DNA Testing Privacy?

Are my DNA sample and results protected? We see this question often. What do companies do with your results and private information? The best testing sites don’t share your DNA results with insurance companies or other third parties. We recommend you read each company’s privacy policy before ordering a test if you’re concerned about your results ending up in the wrong hands.

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.

Do My Parents Or Siblings Need To Take A DNA Test For My Results To Be Accurate?

It depends on what type of information you’re looking for. It’s not necessary if you just want general ethnicity results. An autosomal DNA test will tell you what’s been passed down through your mother and/or father’s blood line, so save yourself the money!

But keep in mind, each person inherits different percentages of each parent’s DNA, and every person is different (even twins!). So, if you want the most complete results, everyone in the family should test.

Why Did My Sibling (& Even My Twin) Get Different Results From Mine?

Every person gets half of their DNA from their mother and half from their father. But what ends up in each half differs for each sibling. For example, you could’ve inherited more of your mother’s Asian DNA, and your brother got more of your mother’s European DNA. The same goes for the DNA you inherit from your father.

Can DNA Tests Tell Me What Countries My Ancestors Lived In?

In most cases no, although some (like AncestryDNA and 23andMe) will break them down to very specific regions. Be wary of these specific breakdowns because they’re typically based on very small population samples, so the results aren’t representative of a large enough population sample to make them highly valid (see below for more detailed info).

How Accurate Are DNA Ethnicity Tests?

DNA ethnicity results are the least reliable part of DNA tests, but the science behind this testing is improving. AncestryDNA and 23andMe have recently dramatically expanded the number of global regions they identify in your ethnic mix, but drilling down to specific countries is complicated and problematic. Why? There are two major reasons:

  1. Each company that offers ethnicity tests uses groups of reference populations to compare your results and place you in an ethnic group. Results, however, can vary widely based on which and how many of these reference populations a certain company uses.
  2. Over the course of hundreds and thousands of years, there has been a great deal of intermixing of populations, particularly in Europe. Let’s use warfare as a good example. Wars cause invasions, which in turn change country borders and cause the mixing of disparate populations. Refugees migrated to different parts of their continent, further mixing people of different ethnic regions.

Because of these factors, you can see why your ethnicity results are just estimates. The better testing companies, however, give you confidence levels for each of your ethnic percentage results, so you get a better idea of how “accurate” your results are.

How Accurate Is DNA Testing For Health Reasons?

The lines are a bit more blurry when it comes to DNA testing for disease risk (i.e., health).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal organizations want the public to be aware that many companies are prematurely marketing genetic tests for disease risk with limited scientific backing. Many of these tests may not provide valid or useful results. Why? Researchers have yet to identify a large part of the genetic makeup with most diseases.

23andMe, however, is one company that has received FDA approval for a few of its health-related DNA tests. You can discover your genetic disease risk for certain cancers, Parkinson’s Disease, Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, Celiac Disease and other hereditary conditions. Learn more in our article about 23andMe and other DNA tests for health reasons.

Don’t Miss GEDmatch On Your DNA Quest is a free website, where you can upload raw autosomal DNA results and your match lists from AncestryDNA, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA and other services. 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 6 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. While we don’t recommend that you make your name or any of your information public, not sharing will limit much of what you can do with the website.

DNA Test Myths vs Facts

Still a bit confused? This short video breaks down the DNA tests in a nutshell for you.

DNA 101 Infographic

Infographic: DNA Tests

To share this DNA heritage test infographic on your site, simply copy and paste the code below:

Learn More About Our Human History And How You Fit In

Whether you’re searching for living relatives or want to know where your ancestors originated, a DNA ancestry test is a fun way to find out more about what made you who you are. If you’re not already researching genealogy online, you may want to check out our Best Online Genealogy Software comparison article for our recommendations.

Check out our At-Home Paternity Test Review to learn more about legal paternity tests, prenatal paternity tests, a host of relationship tests (sibling, grandparent, maternity, etc.) and more. You’ll find features, pricing and pros and cons.

We tried to answer all your questions but if there’s something we neglected to cover, feel free to ask us below in the comments.

What do you hope to discover via DNA testing?

Sources: International Society of Genetic Genealogy, [1] MIT Technology Review, [2] Mashable, [3] New York Times, [4] Quartz , [5] Google Trends (2014-2019)

About The Author:

Sally holds a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in anthropology from James Madison University. She went on to pursue a master’s in journalism at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. An international traveler since she was under 10 years old, Sally loves exploring the world’s mysteries first-hand. Her favorite destinations? Greece, the British Virgin Islands and NYC.

She also spent much of her career in health sciences communications and has enjoyed working with and learning from some of the world’s leading academic scientists in genetics, global health, addiction research and other fields. Her work has appeared in many notable media outlets, including The Washington Post, Entrepreneur, People, Forbes, Huffington Post, and more.

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