Direct-to-consumer DNA tests are still relatively new. The first ancestral DNA test launched in 2001 by FamilyTreeDNA, but companies didn’t start genotyping autosomal DNA until 2007. Still, tests and results have come a long way since then, with much lower prices and streamlined sample collection, registration and results. If you’re still on the fence about whether or not to buy a DNA ancestry test for yourself or as a gift, here are a few things to consider.
In fairness to 23andME, it leaves it up to the customer to unlock the more serious results – or not. When I unlock mine, I discover that, while I’m not genetically predisposed to such things as the BRAC1 or BRAC2 variant, Parkinson’s or MS, I have one of the variants for late-onset (mid-80s) Alzheimer’s. However, I don’t have any other markers for Alzheimer’s or family history or conditions associated with it or anything else listed in the rather lengthy disclaimer, which also stresses that it’s not a diagnostic result and to seek further advice from your GP if you are concerned.
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.
When we speak, co-founder Hamish Grierson describes Thriva as “a lifestyle brand with medical-grade testing at the back end”, an opportunity for “people to see themselves as consumers rather than patients”. Grierson gives examples of people who have benefited from Thriva testing, sometimes picking up early on serious issues. As for alarming people, Grierson says that Thriva has on-site facilities to discuss results and is intended to be “complementary to the NHS” rather than replacing it: “If there are questions we can’t answer, we’re very clear that people should pick it up with their GP.”
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.
Hi, I’m just a bio major, but my genetics professor was just talking about this. These tests are not complete genome sequencing. They only look for SNPs (genetic markers) parts of the genome that tend to have a lot of variation. They determine your ansestry by comparing your markers to those of others in their database, but because their database is always expanding, the numbers change. Its still a good approximation and gets more accurate as more people take it, but if you want to be certain you have to have complete genome sequencing. There is a company called Nebula that does it. Hope that helps.
The DNA tests we reviewed either require a saliva or cheek cell sample. Saliva-collecting kits include a tube that’s marked with a fill line and sample number. The tube often has a liquid-filled cap with a stabilizer that acts as a preservative to protect your DNA from degradation during transport. Cheek swab sample kits include one or two swabs for scraping the insides of your cheeks for 30 seconds to a minute to collect cheek cells and some sort of container to place the used swabs into after collection. This prevents contamination. Our testers found upsides to both types of kits but generally preferred saliva collection kits, even though they took longer.
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.  
There is a TV show called Long Lost Family on TLC that uses Ancestry DNA and records to identify and locate families. I am not an adoptee but have taken tests with Ancestry and Family Tree DNA. I think using the Ancestry test would be better to help identify your birth parents since you could view your close matches and their family trees (if public). You can also download the raw data from Ancestry, FamilyTree, or 23&Me and upload them to gedmatch. Gedmatch is a free site where test-takers from different companies can compare results/matches without having to test with all three companies.
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!
An ancestry DNA test uses a saliva sample to determine which areas of the world your DNA can be traced back to. DNA kits have become very popular during the last few years. This has led to many people having numerous questions. You may be wondering if your genetic information will be used for research or sold and how this impacts your privacy. You may also be concerned regarding the accuracy of this test or have numerous additional questions. The first thing you must realize is the question of your DNA is complex and there may not be a simple answer. The majority of people in the world have DNA from numerous different regions. You may perceive this combination as unique or you may see it is odd. Either way, you need to be open and prepared for a surprise.
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 »

Although FamilyTreeDNA is the only DNA testing company openly working with law enforcement, other DNA companies don’t necessarily keep your DNA information private. Many direct-to-consumer DNA testing companies sell your data to third parties. For example, 23andMe shares customer data with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, which uses the information to develop medical treatments. In this case, you can opt out of having your DNA information used for research, and the data is shared only in aggregate.
If this individual used several different companies for DNA testing, they might get an idea as to their past origins based on the moderate or high similarities of the people currently living in different regions throughout Africa. This is only possible if the companies have established the correct reference populations. This person must understand their DNA is being matched to the current population as opposed to the people who occupied the region hundreds of years in the past. It is just as possible the results would state this African-American individual is 75 percent European. This is because the ancestry markers chosen are only for a small percentage of this individual’s DNA. The African population has a more genetic diversity in itself than a European population and an African population.
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.
Gteat article! Thank you so much. I am Jewish American. Both sides of my family immigrated from Eastern Europe/Russia about 5 generations ago. I would really like to try and find out more about exactly where they came from, identify potential living and deceased distant relatives in the USA and abroad and ultimately start creating an extensive family tree. Which test would you suggest?
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.  
Direct-to-consumer DNA tests are still relatively new. The first ancestral DNA test launched in 2001 by FamilyTreeDNA, but companies didn’t start genotyping autosomal DNA until 2007. Still, tests and results have come a long way since then, with much lower prices and streamlined sample collection, registration and results. If you’re still on the fence about whether or not to buy a DNA ancestry test for yourself or as a gift, here are a few things to consider.
Your review of the various testing companies is misleading and incomplete. The only test that can give information about recent relatives ( 5 generations back only) is the autosomal test. The others only give our ‘deep’ roots out of Africa migration thousands of years ago. But for the autosomal test to provide us names with whom we can contact, we have to give permission to have our email and name listed (and of course so do others). 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. I can tell that the author(s) of this review did not really understand what these tests are about.
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 »
The only patients having their genome sequenced are those with certain cancers or rare diseases. In some cases, family members may also be asked to participate. To take part, a patient must first be referred by a consultant, before being taken through an extensive consent process to ensure they know what participation in the project means. As well as the genome sequence, Genomics England asks for access to a patient’s lifetime medical records so that links can be made between their genetics and their individual disease. The NHS has made it very clear that, for many participants, taking part in this project won’t help them treat their disease. But it is hoped that the information they provide will go on to help treat others in the future.
There is a TV show called Long Lost Family on TLC that uses Ancestry DNA and records to identify and locate families. I am not an adoptee but have taken tests with Ancestry and Family Tree DNA. I think using the Ancestry test would be better to help identify your birth parents since you could view your close matches and their family trees (if public). You can also download the raw data from Ancestry, FamilyTree, or 23&Me and upload them to gedmatch. Gedmatch is a free site where test-takers from different companies can compare results/matches without having to test with all three companies.
Miscellaneous, fun DNA tests: On the not-so-serious side of at-home DNA testing, there is a company that offers wine recommendations based on your genes. Vinome is part of the Helix marketplace. It creates a personalized taste profile for you based on your genes and offers a curated list of wines you can buy through the service. If you buy and rate the wines, Vinome hones in on your preferences and matches you to new products.
Although the project states that most participants won’t receive any useful information, patients will be told if something is found in their genome that is relevant to the treatment, explanation or diagnosis of their condition. They can also choose to learn if they have a genetic risk factor for another disease, such as the BRCA1 gene mutation that can cause breast cancer. Genomics England will only look for risk factors that are linked to a disease that can be treated or prevented. Untreatable conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, are not looked for.
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.”
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