It could be that, in the main, genetic-testing kits such as these could, if promoted and used responsibly, end up zoned completely away from legitimate science and medicine and placed where perhaps they belong, firmly in the lifestyle-extra zone, if and when people think they’re “worth it”. Though, somewhat tellingly, when I ask Newman if he thinks that any of the genetic testing kits are worth buying, he instantly says: “No. I’d say, go to the cinema, watch some sport. Spend the money on something nice, something life-enhancing.”
Having given these questions much thought, I thought a good starting point would be to look back and start researching my own family history. When I was young I always thought I was 100% British. My Dad was born in Edgware and my mum in Hampshire. Of course, none of us are truly 100% British and as I got older I learnt that my Dad had Russian great-grandparents on one side and German on the other, and that my great grand-parents on my mother’s side were Greek. So I suppose this is when I started considering how much of my identity was defined by my family history.
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.
Living DNA supports 80 geographical ancestry regions, 21 of which are located within Britain and Ireland alone, making it a great DNA test for people wanting to delve deep into their British heritage. Of course, it also covers 60 regions outside of the British Isles, and is expanding its efforts to bring the same level of detail to other world regions. Although I have absolutely no British or Irish ancestry, I found my results extremely satisfying. I particularly appreciate that living DNA gives you a lot of ways to view your data. You can see your ancestry results as color-coded dots filling up a person’s silhouette, on a map, as a pie chart or on a timeline. All the graphics present the same set of data, but each has its own appeal. Within each graphic, you can also choose to view global or regional matches and cautious, standard or complete estimates, which each have a different level of detail and certainty. Like many of the best DNA test kits, Living DNA examines autosomal and mitochondrial DNA, as well as Y-DNA for males. The service’s Family Networks feature, currently in beta, allows customers to find DNA relatives within its database. I received test results 27 days after dropping my sample in the mail. One fun Living DNA feature is that you can order your DNA analysis in coffee table book form.

For about $20 less than other DNA ancestry services, MyHeritage DNA gives you an ethnicity estimate and access to DNA matches. It’s true value, however, lies in its free raw DNA uploads. If you’ve already taken a test with another company, MyHeritage lets you upload your raw data to its database for free. This feature is particularly useful if you’re looking for lost relatives, as you can pay slightly more for one test with Ancestry or 23andMe, which have larger databases, but still access MyHeritage’s database as well, which has 1.75 million users as of October 2018. With a 16-day turnaround, MyHeritage DNA was one of the first companies to send back our test results, but I found the contents of my ancestry report to be a bit off, especially when compared to my geographic ancestry reports from other companies. I was born in Korea and therefore expected at least a little of my Korean heritage to make it onto my ancestry map, as it did with other services, but MyHeritage didn’t report any Korean heritage. Instead, MyHeritage DNA reported I that I’m of Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese, and Mongolian descent. As I was looking for a reason to explain the discrepancy between tests, I discovered that there are large swaths of the map not covered by any of the service’s ancestral regions. The Korean peninsula is one of those areas, as are southern regions in South America, Africa and almost all of Australia and Russia. The oversight seems odd because MyHeritage could have easily included these missed areas inside a larger, generalized region instead of completely omitting them.
I sadly have to agree as after the results appeared in my Ancestry account I was very disappointed to see that they failed to disclose any sign of my Italian heritage at all and even clicking through the Engilsh ethnic breakdown showed absolutely NO connection to any place whatsoever so apparently I am an alien who was dropped here from outer space so I could not recommend this as a service that produces a valid ethnic breakdown at all. Their results graph and click through breakdown are extremely limited, especially after comparing them with other services so from the ethnicity perspective, think they are bordering on false advertising!!
There are many places you can upload your raw DNA, and several of them are free. Popular third-party DNA analysis tools include GEDmatch and Promethese. GEDmatch is a free, open database and genealogy site that gives additional DNA relative matching and trait results. This tool has information from users of multiple different testing companies. Promethease compares your raw DNA information against scientific reports that link certain markers to health conditions, though you should take these results with a grain of salt as genetic links do not equal a diagnosis.
Note that DNA testing isn't the only kind of kit that collects physical evidence from you these days. Ubiome is one noteworthy example. The service evaluates your microbiome—basically the bacteria that live in and on you. In our review, we took its gut biome test, which required our intrepid reviewer to send in a poop sample (insert poop emoji here).
I’ve been working on my family tree for decades. When I took the AncestryDNA autosomal test, the ethnic results matched my expectations, with mild variations. I knew my mother was of completely Irish heritage, but I came up 58% Irish, so apparently some of Dad’s British ancestors were Irish, not English, for instance. The section that matched me to other DNA test-takers was also accurate. I recognized a couple of my second cousins listed there. Other people had taken the test but hadn’t created a family tree, so there was no point in contacting them to figure out which ancestors we had in common. Be sure you’ve done some research on your own family–these kits do NOT tell you where you grandparents came from, or their occupations, or their names. They tell you how much of your DNA is common with certain nations or areas. I know I have some Germanic ancestors, so when my kit said “14% West Europe” and that turned out to include Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, and Lichtenstein, it made sense.

Most of the services we tested use genotyping to read your DNA. Genotyping looks for specific markers in your genetic code. For something like ancestry testing, genotyping is effective because it identifies known variants in your DNA. Scientifically speaking, genotyping’s weakness is that it can only recognize previously identified markers. This is one reason DNA tests’ accuracy relies so heavily on the DNA database size; there must be enough information available and identified genetic variants in the database to recognize new customers’ markers.
AncestryDNA is a cutting edge DNA testing service that utilises some of the latest autosomal testing technology to revolutionise the way you discover your family history. This service combines advanced DNA science with the world’s largest online family history resource to predict your genetic ethnicity and help you find new family connections. It maps ethnicity going back multiple generations and provides insight into such possibilities as: what region of Europe are my ancestors from, or am I likely to have East Asian heritage? AncestryDNA can also help identify relationships with unknown relatives through a dynamic list of DNA matches.
If you opt in to DNA Relatives, you will be able to send and receive invitations to connect with other customers who share DNA with you. You can choose whether to respond to these invitations or not, and your DNA relatives have the same choice. We cannot guarantee that they will respond to your sharing invitations or messages. Regardless of whether you both agree to share, you will be able to see their birthplace, locations of their ancestors and surnames, if they have chosen to add this information to their profile. If you both accept sharing invitations, you will be able to see ancestry reports and overlapping chromosome segments.
Some of the companies providing ancestry DNA testing have an option that will reveal information regarding any individual with similar SNP’s. It is even possible to acquire a list of individuals who may be included in the ancestry of your family. Once permission has been given, they are able to contact you and you can contact them as well. This may sound entertaining and harmless at first, but raises a lot of questions about what information people may not be ready to hear. You may already know specifically where you come from. Now imagine if you found out your real mother was actually your grandmother. Perhaps you were raised as you birth mother’s sister. You have to ask yourself if you could handle that type of information. Prior to signing up for an ancestry DNA service, you must be aware of all the potential implications that may be revealed.
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 »
Following a recent case in Phoenix, in which a patient who had been in a coma for nine years gave birth, Arizona lawmaker David Livingston sponsored a senate bill that would require certain occupations to submit DNA samples along with fingerprints for use by law enforcement. Though Senate Bill 1475 has been updated since its initial draft, it could set a precedent that normalizes collection of DNA samples from everyone, not just those suspected or charged with a violent crime. 
If you have the Health + Ancestry Service you have access to the full 23andMe experience. If you only have the Ancestry Service, you can easily upgrade to the Health + Ancestry Service for £90 which gives you access to all 125+ reports on ancestry, traits and health. You are eligible to upgrade once you have received your Ancestry reports. To upgrade, log in to your 23andMe account and navigate to the Settings page. You will receive immediate access to your new health reports.
Thank you for this webpage! It is very insightful. I wish I had found it earlier. I did the DNA test through 23andMe, a doctor’s office already had me DNA checked for health (Medical DNA Labs in Tampa, Florida). I am wanting to know more about my genealogy and the report I received from 23andMe shows most concentration from the British Isles so now I will probably do ancestry and maybe Living DNA. You did a fine job in explaining everything, again thanks!

Every company providing DNA testing has their own database of DNA samples. These are called AIM’s or ancestry informative markers. These markers were derived from the current populations of America, Asia, Europe and Africa. Every database is looking for a pair of genes located on a specific chromosome in a specific position. The way the DNA is evaluated is through the SNP’s or the single nucleotide polymorphisms. The SNP’s are chosen according to the frequency in a specific geographical population. Your SNP’s are compared to the most common SNP’s for the various populations in the company’s reference database. The results are not conclusive because they are based on common genetic variations. The probability for your DNA being from a certain country is based on a comparison between your DNA and the database. If you used a different company, they would have a different database. This means your results would most likely differ. According to studies, the lowest concordance is with individuals of South Asian, East Asian and Hispanic descent.
Many DNA databases, including Ancestry, 23andMe and MyHeritage DNA, have family search features, which match your DNA with that of potential relatives. These features help users searching for family, including adoptees and children conceived through sperm donations. Almost every DNA testing service we interviewed for this article had a story ready about how its service facilitated a heartwarming family reunion. Like these from Ancestry, this one from MyHeritage and this one from 23andMe. Because many DNA services also have resources like family tree builders, the tests work in tandem with genealogical research.
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.  

It could be that, in the main, genetic-testing kits such as these could, if promoted and used responsibly, end up zoned completely away from legitimate science and medicine and placed where perhaps they belong, firmly in the lifestyle-extra zone, if and when people think they’re “worth it”. Though, somewhat tellingly, when I ask Newman if he thinks that any of the genetic testing kits are worth buying, he instantly says: “No. I’d say, go to the cinema, watch some sport. Spend the money on something nice, something life-enhancing.”

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 »
Findmypast & Living DNA are excited about the opportunities this partnership creates for everyone from serious genealogists to those just starting to explore their family history. As we focus on the best of British and Irish family history, we are committed to continue making improvements to the Findmypast DNA test to make it possible to not only discover where your ancestors came from, but learn their amazing stories too.
As a postscript, I eventually end up having an interesting chat with Titanovo about my “bioinformatics” (distilled from my 23andMe data). One of the first things I’m told is that my eyes are green (they’re brown). However, the bioinformatics got my skin type and frame/weight generally right and had interesting (albeit occasionally generic) things to say about exercise, diet, goals, steering clear of too much sugar and so on.