Most ancestry DNA kits cost about $100. AncestryDNA, 23andMe’s Ancestry test and National Geographic’s Geno 2.0 test all fall nicely into that price point. If you’re looking for a bargain, we recommend waiting to buy until your preferred test is on sale, as they’re often available well below their usual price. To get the most for your money, buy an Ancestry or 23andMe kit on sale then upload your raw data to MyHeritage DNA’s database, which is free.
Otherwise, the home-testing kits could be said to fit in with our increasingly health-conscious and, if you wish to be cynical, narcissistic times. What says you’re “special” more than finding out everything about yourself, right down to the nitty-gritty of genetics? In this way, these kits could be viewed as the latest plaything of the “worried well”. You could see how the scientific approach would appeal to the health-obsessed of all sexes and ages, your marathon runners and serious gym-goers, who take their fitness extremely seriously.

Each of the kits work similarly: You answer a few questions about yourself, order the kit, collect your sample, register the kit (this is very important), send it back, and wait for the results. That said, they differ in the collection process and, to a smaller extent, the cost of shipping. When we tested 23andMe back in mid-2015, the company was unable to accept DNA samples collected in or sent from New York State, because of local laws (we had to cross the border to New Jersey). The company was also prohibited from shipping DNA kits to Maryland.


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.
You might want to stay away from DNA tests if you or any of your close relatives have committed a crime. Although ancestry DNA testing companies don’t typically share database information with law enforcement, consumer DNA tests may result in future identification. For example, FamilyTreeDNA, which has a database of close to a million samples, has agreed to give the FBI limited access to the company's DNA database. This access consists mainly of consumer-level insights, like matches with other members of the FamilyTreeDNA community who have enabled family matching; by law, however, more in-depth investigation requires a subpoena.
Who knows how much of it made solid scientific sense? However, I have to confess that I rather enjoyed it on the level of an indulgent genome-oriented “pampering session”, just as I had a hoot with the ancestry/Neanderthal/earlobe data on 23andMe. Where Thriva is concerned, I also noted that it did advanced thyroid tests. Although such tests are available from the NHS, I’m hypothyroid myself and I know that sometimes it can be difficult and time-consuming getting tests repeated and it could be useful to be privately tested in this way.
In addition to showing geographic ancestry percentages, some direct-to-consumer DNA tests also include insights about physical traits like hair and eye color. With 23andMe, this trait information is mostly available in the upgraded Ancestry + Health kit, but some interesting tidbits can be found in the Your DNA Family report, which is available if you opt to participate in the DNA Relatives service. This report tells you interesting information, such as that your DNA relatives are 32 percent more likely to own a cat or 11 percent less likely to have lived near a farm when they were young. DNA Passport by Humancode offers information about more than 20 physical traits, from appearance to grip strength. Ancestry DNA recently added its AncestryDNA Traits upgrade for $10, and it lets customers who have already taken one of its tests unlock information about 18 genetically influenced traits, including bitter taste perception, freckles and cilantro aversion.
The National Geographic database doesn’t specialize in finding long lost relatives, but the Geno 2.0 test does give you plenty of information linking you and your DNA to the past. With autosomal, mitochondrial and Y-DNA genotyping, the Geno 2.0 test examines your ancestry in three time periods, including your Regional Ancestry report, which spans 500 to 10,000 years ago. The test also delves into your Deep Ancestry through your maternal and paternal line haplogroups and you Hominin Ancestry, which tells you how much Neanderthal DNA is hanging out in your genetic code. One quirky but interesting feature explores possible relations to famous geniuses throughout history and estimates how many thousands of years ago you shared a common ancestor with Abraham Lincoln or Charles Darwin. Testers appreciated the amount of information and context given with each report. For example, the regional ancestry report matches your DNA to broad world regions on a map, but it also compares your DNA to two more-specific reference populations. My regions were Northeastern Asia and South China Sea, which fit the Korean and Japanese reference populations. Another tester was matched to 11 geographic regions throughout Europe, North America and West Asia, and they were matched to Argentinian and Puerto Rican reference populations. The Geno 2.0 test uses a Helix spit-tube test, which is extremely easy to register. It took National Geographic 27 days to notify testers of results. Because Helix uses exome sequencing instead of the more-common genotyping, you cannot download your raw DNA information from this test to upload into other databases. You can, however, purchase more DNA apps from the Helix Marketplace to run your data through partner databases without submitting additional samples.
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.
HomeDNA has the simplest DNA extraction process; just swab each cheek twice with a cotton swab, and place the swabs in the included envelope. The National Geographic Genographic Project sent a scraper that you use on each cheek for 45 seconds, and then place in a vial with stabilizing liquid. MyHeritage DNA has a similar process. 23andMe and AncestryDNA require that you spit into a tube up to the fill line (harder than it sounds), and ship it back with stabilization liquid. Most of the services said not to eat, drink, or smoke for 30 minutes to an hour prior to testing to get the best possible sample.
If you wanted to learn about a specific side of your family, you must consider your genetic markers. A good example is if an individual wanted to know the origins of the African-American part of the family. Some luck would be required to retrieve this information. This person may be able to learn the percentage of genetic markers that favorably match certain regions of Africa. This is dependent on if different regions can be distinguished by the AIM’s. The most commonly used African AIM’s for determining African ancestry come from West Africa.
So from that perspective, if DNA testing for fun and to find potential cousin matches is something you are considering, then wait for when they have a cheap special offer available. If you want a proper ethnic breakdown, either use the raw DNA file and upload it elsewhere or use one of the more accurate providers. Note they only do autosumnal DNA testing and NOT Y-DNA testing so you will need to use another service for that.
Once your genetic information is out there, it’s difficult to undo. Also, once you know something about yourself, it’s impossible to un-know. Revelations such as having different parents than you expected or finding unknown half-siblings are difficult to process at any age, but it’s particularly troubling for kids. However, you can always simply opt out of family matching features.
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.
The 23rd pair of chromosomes is comprised of sex chromosomes – X and Y chromosomes that determine whether you’re male (XY) or female (XX). Traits like red-green color blindness, male pattern baldness and hemophilia are specifically linked to X or Y chromosomes and are called sex-linked characteristics. All of those examples, and most other sex-linked traits, are X-linked and more common in males, who only have one X chromosome. Many DNA tests isolate Y DNA in males to show consumers their paternal haplogroup. Since the Y chromosome is directly inherited from father to son, it is possible to trace direct paternal lineage for many generations.
Finally, if you happen to meet a special someone on DNA Romance and want to see what your future child together might look like, there’s BabyGlimpse by HumanCode. Like a very advanced Punnett square, BabyGlimpse compares your and your partner’s DNA to create a profile that examines which traits your offspring might inherit, including things like ancestral DNA, eye color and lactose intolerance.
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!

You might want to stay away from DNA tests if you or any of your close relatives have committed a crime. Although ancestry DNA testing companies don’t typically share database information with law enforcement, consumer DNA tests may result in future identification. For example, FamilyTreeDNA, which has a database of close to a million samples, has agreed to give the FBI limited access to the company's DNA database. This access consists mainly of consumer-level insights, like matches with other members of the FamilyTreeDNA community who have enabled family matching; by law, however, more in-depth investigation requires a subpoena.
Of course, most DNA used by law enforcement in the U.S. does not come from direct-to-consumer DNA tests. The federal government and many states collect DNA samples from suspects of violent crimes after arrest or due to probable cause. These samples are added to the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, which is a national database for forensic information.
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.
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.
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.
Many people who submit their DNA to a direct-to-consumer company also upload their raw information to public databases like GEDmatch, which law enforcement can access. People upload their raw DNA data after taking another test, like those from 23andMe or Ancestry, to several open online DNA databases. Most companies do not release database information to law enforcement. However, a recent study found that, using publicly available data, it's possible to identify up to 60 percent of Americans with European heritage via third-cousin-or-closer DNA.
I recommend one of two options. It may cost a little more, but I would highly recommend saving the extra and using DNA Tribes® rather than spending over half the cost for minimal tribal/biogeographical pinpointed information. The primary benefit of STR rather than SNP testing is the availability of rich reference data. DNA Tribes® tests industry standard autosomal STR systems, which allow the identification of a person’s DNA profile not shared with any other person. Because these STR markers have been tested and used in the court systems around the world, they allow DNA Tribes® to perform the most thorough comparison of a person’s own DNA profile to over 1,200 ethnic groups (populations) around the world. At present, SNP testing from these other autosomnal DNA testing kits does not yet match the geographical detail of DNA Tribes® autosomal STR analysis.
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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