Thank you for such detailed information. I’m considering buying a DNA ancestry kit for my wife for Christmas (and buying one for myself as well). After reading your article (and many of the wonderful comments), I’m leaning towards the one from Ancestry.com. However, would I still get complete results without a subscription? I looked on their website and it doesn’t say.
Bill Newman, professor of translational genomic medicine in the Manchester centre for genomic medicine at the University of Manchester, and chair of the British Society of Genetic Medicine, says that such tests in this context simply don’t make sense and that, usually, telomere testing would only be used in in-depth studies of ageing and diseases associated with ageing. “There’s some really brilliant work going on, by some of the best biologists in the world,” says Newman, citing Elizabeth Blackburn, who won the 2009 Nobel prize for medicine for her work on telomeres. “But there’s no evidence whatsoever that measuring a person’s telomeres gives any indication about their health – or beauty, intelligence, or anything else that might be listed on these sites.”
As it happens, most of the data on 23andMe seems harmless and fun. There are the “Neanderthal variants” (I have fewer of them than 58% of 23andMe customers, thank you very much), the bizarre earwax/earlobes-type data and, apparently, I have the muscle composition generally found in “elite athletes” (fancy). On the downside, my lineage isn’t as exotic as I’d hoped: 99.1% north-western Europe, of which 71% is British/Irish, with just 0.01% “Ashkenazi Jewish” to offset the genetic monotony. At £149, the 23andMe kit isn’t cheap and I’m quite tempted to demand a recount.
Health & Wellness tests: There are a ton of health and wellness DNA tests. We found several specifically oriented to dieting and weight loss, including embodyDNA, Vitagene, DNAFit and the several options available through the Helix marketplace. While there definitely are some links between DNA and factors that contribute to weight, we advise taking these diet plans with a grain of salt, as DNA science is still a relatively young field. We similarly advise caution for the multitude of non-diet health and wellness DNA tests, which offer insights into your sleep, food sensitivities, and vitamin and mineral levels. And double that for medical information found in consumer DNA kit test results. While medical insights learned from taking an at-home DNA test may be interesting, it’s best not to take them too seriously. If you have a concern about a genetic predisposition to a disease, it’s best to talk to your doctor instead of relying on a direct-to-consumer kit.
My daughter had her DNA tested recently with Ancestry.com and at first it tied in very well with my research. But then they changed it. Now she has just 6% “Germanic European” (whereas before it was 12% North European). I had mine done. My mother’s family were Northern Italian (Tuscany) for as many generations as I have been able to trace, but mine resulted with 41% France!!! Consequently the rest of my family think it’s all rubbish and I’m thinking it hasn’t helped me at all.
All of this is way over my head and confusing! I am wanting to purchase as a gift for a friend. The information I would like for the test to show is : 1. lineage for mother and lineage for father. I am not sure lineage is the correct word?! 2. relatives …don’t know if there are companies that show relatives other than just cousins 3. way to contact relatives. If someone would be so kind to recommend what company would be the best I would appreciate it. I have narrowed it down based on reading about different companies to… Read more »
You control your account privacy. Findmypast and Living DNA keep your data private unless you choose to share information, such as your family tree or DNA results. Your data is encrypted and stored on secure servers, only accessible by staff, vital service providers (such as our laboratory partners) and you. Living DNA has carefully chosen a European laboratory to conduct its DNA testing. Findmypast and Living DNA only disclose your data to third parties where we have appropriate agreements in place. For example, trusted third-party payment processing companies. Findmypast and Living DNA are ISO accredited for data and information security.
A few of the DNA tests we tested, including the National Geographic Geno 2.0, use genetic sequencing instead of genotyping. Sequencing is newer in the mainstream direct-to-consumer DNA testing market, as it used to cost more and take much longer to sequence a person’s DNA. Sequencing identifies the exact makeup of a certain piece of DNA – be it a short segment or the whole genome. The Helix tests sequence the Exome, which are the parts of the genome responsible for protein production, plus several other regions of interest. DNA sequencing gives more information overall and has more uses in medical testing than genotyping. In the future, more DNA kits may move from genotyping to DNA sequencing as the technology gets cheaper and faster, but for now both are effective ways to look into your geographic ancestry.

Even the cousin matches seem to be based on the surnames listed in your tree with no attempt at comparing the people between trees to see if there is actually anyone in common! I have managed to find a few actual matches in the cousin match list, no thanks to their matching service, but more to the fact that I have been researching my tree for many years and am fortunate to know someone who is very competent at DNA and family tree research to help me weed out the rubbish from the genuine matches.
The companies providing ancestry DNA tests are making most of their money from selling the genetic information as opposed to running the tests. Companies purchase this information to increase the size of their genetic databases. Nearly half the companies selling ancestry information are selling to more than just one company. These are sometimes pharmaceutical companies attempting to understand how specific human genome sections can help develop new drugs. Certain mutations will impact the effectiveness of these drugs. The original DNA sample is only destroyed by roughly ten percent of these companies. Most companies keep or sell the sample. This means it is both your data and saliva being sold.
Thank you for such detailed information. I’m considering buying a DNA ancestry kit for my wife for Christmas (and buying one for myself as well). After reading your article (and many of the wonderful comments), I’m leaning towards the one from Ancestry.com. However, would I still get complete results without a subscription? I looked on their website and it doesn’t say.
In our tests, we did find consistency across our results on the continental level. For example, my ancestry is exclusively East Asian, but 23andMe breaks it down into 80 percent Korean, 10.5 percent Japanese and 0.8 percent Chinese, with the remaining 8.7 percent in broader categories. However, Ancestry reports my DNA as 98 percent Korean and Northern Chinese, with only 2 percent Japanese. National Geographic places 85 percent of my ancestry from Northeastern Asia and 14 percent from the South China Sea region, with my DNA most closely matching the Korean and Japanese reference populations.
With over 10 million samples in its database, AncestryDNA is one of the largest players in the consumer DNA testing industry. Its DNA ancestry test paired with its extensive genealogical data from family trees and historical records makes Ancestry the perfect destination for a holistic view of your family history. Getting the most out of your AncestryDNA results requires a bit of work, as the DNA test works best in concert with the site’s other available resources. You can use the DNA service without creating a family tree, though the results are much less interesting. Ancestry uses information gleaned from its user’s DNA and family trees to create compelling stories about your family’s recent history and migrations. Testers with European roots could trace their family’s movements across the Atlantic and see what stops they made on their way across the U.S. I took the AncestryDNA test in 2016 and was disappointed by my initial report, which put my results into a giant area encompassing at least 15 countries labeled “Asia East.” Since then, Ancestry has updated its algorithm and reference population to make its results more specific, but it still only supports 17 regions in Asia and West Asia compared to 296 regions in Europe. Our testers received results from Ancestry 35 days after dropping their tubes of spit in the mail. We generally liked the company’s website and found the interface easy-to-use and navigate. While Ancestry does allow you to download your raw DNA data, it does not allow you to upload raw data from tests taken through other companies.
Living DNA and Findmypast are British companies joining forces to combine cutting-edge science with traditional family history research methods. We’ve made every effort to find a DNA company to partner with that provides the most benefit for those looking to explore their British and Irish roots. Living DNA's test results provide a regional breakdown that perfectly complements our unrivalled collection of British and Irish historical records. It’s this powerful combination that makes this partnership the perfect marriage of science and history.
The trick for collecting a saliva sample is to give yourself plenty of time to create enough spit to fill your tube to the fill line (not including any bubbles). You should not eat or drink anything for at least an hour before collecting your sample, so it’s best to plan to collect your sample before eating. Our testers collected samples before lunch and found that thinking about the upcoming meal made saliva production easier, particularly as we collected multiple samples. Planning ahead and making sure you stay hydrated before you collect a saliva sample helps as well.
We evaluated each kit by ordering one, just like any customer would, and tracking how long it took to arrive at the lab and to get processed. Then we compared the breadth and depth of the results to see what rose to the top. The whole process was a lot of fun, in part because of the anticipation of getting the results. Most of the kits warn that testing your DNA can lead to surprising—even life-changing—results. For example, there's the story of a woman who thought she was Irish, but her DNA test revealed she was also European Jewish, Middle Eastern and Eastern European. After diligent research, she discovered that her father, who had died years earlier, had been switched at birth with another child.
When asked about how database size affects ancestry results, David Nicholson, co-founder of Living DNA, told us, “The tests absolutely rely on the reference database. If you have Polish ancestry but there are no people in the database who are Polish, then what the test will do is show what the next closest group is next to Polish, like German or Eastern European ancestry.” Each ancestry DNA service has its own sample database and reference panel made of the DNA samples collected from their users and information collected from sources like the 1000 Genomes Project. The database consists of all this information collectively. A reference panel is made of certain curated samples with known family history and roots in a specific place. The services use insights gleaned from the reference panel to give you geographical ancestry results. In theory, a larger database leads to more information available to create a good reference panel, which then leads to better results for customers.  
I would like to know about the paternal side of my father’s family. My problem is that there are no living males. (My father’s sister had a son that is still living, however, if he does a Y-dna test I believe that will only give out HIS father’s information). I wonder if I should have this male cousin take the mtDNA test instead. That way I could at least find out more about the maternal side of my father’s family. Any advice?
While men can trace both their maternal haplogroup (from mitochondrial DNA) and their paternal haplogroup (through the Y chromosome passed down from their father), women can only trace their maternal haplogroup (through the mitochondrial DNA passed down from their mother). This is because the paternal haplogroup is traced through the Y chromosome, which women do not inherit.
Some services include shipping costs in the cost of the kit; AncestryDNA's $99 fee includes two-way shipping. National Geographic's Genographic Project ships the kits for free, but you have to purchase postage when you send your kit to their lab. 23andMe tacks on a two-way shipping fee of $9.95 for the first kit and $5 for each additional one. HomeDNA includes a prepaid envelope to return your sample and offers three shipping options: $7 for two-day shipping, $14 for overnight, and free shipping that takes 7 to 12 business days. Finally, MyHeritage charges $12 for shipping; if you order two kits, you pay $6, and if you order three or more, you get free shipping.
The most common type of DNA test is an autosomal test – ie the ones you see advertised all over the place. These tests give you both ethnicity results and matches – not just cousins but whoever you’re related to who have also tested with the same company. Ethnicity results are a result of both parents and cannot be separated with a single autosomal test. Ancestry and FTDNA are great picks and both will suit you well. The main difference in my opinion is that Ancestry has a much larger customer database, which means you’ll get more matches. And yes,… Read more »
When I found out about AncestryDNA, I thought this could be the perfect tool to pinpoint where my family emigrated over the past few hundred years (AncestryDNA can actually go back 1000 years) and give me a focus where to take my search next. When I got the email that my results were ready I felt like a kid on Christmas day. They revealed that I was only 40% British, 25% German and 35% Greek. I’ve now focused my search on these three countries and already discovered ancestors I never knew existed.

Hi Dianne, First thing first, thanks for your comment. “he only test that can give information about recent relatives ( 5 generations back only) is the autosomal test” – autosomal test is indeed a DNA test that gives you the info regarding your relatives, both from the paternal and maternal lineage. We clearly specified it in the article. Ancestry.com, our best-rated provider, offer this test in their Ancestry DNA test. Regarding the accuracy of the time frame you specified, there is indeed a diminishing marginal utility of accuracy as you go back deeper into the past (generation wise). According to one of our most trusted sources (University College of London), the accuracy is 10 generations back and not 5 as you specified (Please provide a source to your number, so we would be able to check it and revise if needed). 10 generation back is a quite long time span – 300 years (more or less). “The tests that say we are such-and-such % of this or that ethnicity isn’t very accurate because keep in mind, the wars and the spoils of wars that humans have been engaged in forever, mean we all have a mixture of genetic material from around the world” – Indeed, most of our ancestors were mixed due to historical events (wars, migration and etc.), but I don’t find how your statement is connected to the fact that this test is not accurate. DNA test is objective and gives you the naked facts. To conclude,
Uploading my Raw AncestryDNA file to the free GedMatch service, immediately displayed my known Italian, Scottish, Welsh and English heritage along with French that I had been hoping to find to confirm a verbal family history plus Irish, German and Swedish which were a pleasant surprise that I will enjoy trying to discover which branch of the tree they belong to! I have also uploaded the DNA file to other free services, MyHeritage that also shows the Mediterranean connection along with LivingDNA whose results I am still waiting for. All these services also include cousin matches who share dna so you end up with a much bigger pool of possible matches than Ancestry alone.
Some concerns about the ultimate efficacy of certain home tests seem to emanate from the industry itself. I did a telomere-measuring test (a mouth swab) by Titanovo, based in north Colorado, which came back saying that my telomeres were too short, putting me at 10 biological years older than I am. However, when I contacted Titanovo, it explained that it had stopped telomere measuring and was now concentrating exclusively on its DNA-utilising “bioinformatics” health, fitness and wellbeing website (analysing client data from other genetic testing sites).
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