It’s worth bearing in mind that when you’re presented with the population groups that have contributed to your DNA, some of the groups revealed may be very general (e.g. Western European) and the report may not tell you when or for how long each group was located in the region that it’s named after. The specificity of the population groups depends on the reference populations used by the company you test with (discussed later). Therefore, if a detailed ethnic breakdown is important to you, look for example reports from the company you’re considering, or get in touch with them to ask for a list of the reference populations that they use.
Hi Mark, Thank you for such an informative and clearly stated article. I am American Jewish and have done several of the tests. I’m now submitting a question for a close friend. He is Burmese and would very much like to test. His biggest interest is ancestral origins. Would he be best off doing a Ydna test or could he find sufficient information in an autosomal test? I assume the Y test would be with Familytree. If so, should he also do an autosomal test with Familytree, or with Ancestry or MyHeritage? Thank you so much!
23andMe is a bit different in that many people have tested with their company for the health results and are not necessarily interested in genealogy or matching with relatives, even if they opted into this feature. That doesn’t mean you won’t get a good response when reaching out, but it may be less common than with the other testing companies. Recently 23andMe has been placing more focus on genealogical testing, however, so this is may be shifting.
If you want to obtain your DNA profile for either of these reasons, we recommend that you purchase a ‘legal’ version instead of a ‘peace of mind’ version. Legal DNA profiles cost more and the samples need be taken in the presence of a health professional so that your identity can be verified. This means that legal profiles are admissible in court, as opposed to profiles produced for peace of mind which are not. You can read more about the differences between legal and peace of mind tests in our article: What is legal DNA testing?

Each DNA processing company divides the world into regions. One company has divided the world into 24 regions while another company has divided the same world into over 350 regions. This is why there is a noted disparity in the results that people are getting who have happened to use more than one company. results you have received are not necessarily wrong, just perhaps are not as finely sorted as you were maybe expecting.


Admixture percentages are one of the biggest reasons people choose to have their DNA tested. This report attempts to accurately match your DNA with population samples from around the world to tell you where your ancestors came from. Each of these companies has strengths and weaknesses when it comes to this calculation, and in the reports it provides to users.
MyHeritage shows cousin matches as part of your DNA purchase for free and has some really wonderful tools to connect your research to your DNA matches. Using smart matching features to see how your tree is connected to others, and adding records you discover this way, may cost an additional monthly fee however. Still, MyHeritage is generally less expensive than Ancestry. You can also try their record collections for free here.

In Newman’s view, the genie is out of the bottle with home genetic-testing kits. He says that while the kits could potentially provide data in the future, right now, they lack “clinical utility” – they look at genetic variants that, individually, have a very low chance of predicting specific health risks, as there are too many variables: “It’s like the Opportunity Knocks clap-o-meter, with some people further along the scale, and therefore more likely to get the condition and then people at the other end of the scale, who are unlikely to get it.”
“My concern is that more and more of these tests are being put out, and people are being persuaded to have these tests done, and they get results back that are very often of very low value and dubious helpfulness,” she says. “And often people are told to go to see their GP and that then places a direct stress on the NHS, at no cost to the company. The companies make their profits and walk away, letting the NHS sort out all the fallout, the push-back, from the test results, in a way I find absurd. Why should the NHS have to prop up the problems that these companies create?”
As well as showing you which ethnic groups you’ve inherited your DNA from, autosomal DNA tests can also be used to find living relatives and build your family tree. Many people attempting to build their family tree will often make breakthroughs in their research when they combine a DNA genealogy test (such as an ethnicity test) with traditional genealogical techniques.
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. 
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.

If you’re more interested in learning about the relatives you already know you have, 23andMe has a few unique tools that let you compare your DNA with your children, parents and grandparents. If multiple people in your family tree want to get tested, fill out a GrandTree, which shows you which segments of DNA you inherit from each of your tested parents or grandparents. While nowhere near as comprehensive as AncestryDNA’s family tree and genealogy tools, 23andMe’s more nuclear approach to family genetics is a great option that lets you explore your genetic relationship with more immediate relations.


Every human carries two copies of the genetic code, one inherited from the mother and one from the father, some 6 billion letters in all. Apart from identical twins, no two individuals have the same genetic code.  With the exception of the egg and sperm cells, all the cells of our bodies have 23 pairs of chromosomes, 46 in all. One chromosome of the pair is inherited from the father and one from the mother. However, in males the 23rd pair consists of a so-called Y-chromosome and an X-chromosome, whereas females have two X-chromosomes.  The Y chromosome contains a gene which triggers embryonic development as a male and carries information about the male’s paternal lineage.
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