Although reference populations are the primary method by which companies calculate your ethnic mix, they don’t represent actual living populations. Instead, they’re a theoretical group who share a unique set of genetic variants, believed to belong to a distinct ethnic group in the past. This is why an ethnicity DNA test will show you that you’re a mix of different ethnicities, instead of placing you in a single ethnic group.
23andMe is one of the most recognizable names in the consumer DNA testing industry. It boasts over five million users and offers five distinct ancestry reports, as well as optional relative matching. 23andMe’s ancestry testing service is our pick for the best overall DNA test because it’s easy-to-use and understand, gives you a variety of information based on your DNA sample alone, and offers an FDA approved health screening upgrade.

23andMe tests autosomal and mitochondrial DNA for all users, as well as Y-DNA for males. These different types of DNA play into the service’s different ancestry reports. Your geographical ancestry report stems from the autosomal DNA, which is a combination of both of your parents’ DNA. Your maternal and paternal haplogroups are derived from mitochondrial DNA and Y-DNA respectively. These show the migration of your direct parental line through thousands of years. 23andMe also identifies your Neanderthal ancestry.


When my results appear, they show nothing bad. If anything, it’s anticlimactic: cholesterol, vitamins, liver proteins and the like are all in the normal range, with only ferritin (iron stores) slightly high, with a recommendation to go easy on any iron supplements. My problem with the baseline test is that, unlike Thriva’s other products, clients are supposed to have one every three months to keep track, but would I really want (or indeed need) to do such a test so regularly?

Family Tree DNA (the longest running testing company) offers a well-established database of “cousins” and advanced tools for exploring your results. MyHeritage offers the ability to sync your results with your family tree research in a very unique way. Both are a good choice, but since every person’s needs are unique we suggest you read the full guide before deciding.

— Once you have chosen a test and received your autosomal results there is still a great deal more fun to be had. Independent tools and websites created by scientists and enthusiasts allow you to take the raw data provided from FTDNA, 23andMe and Ancestry DNA and explore them in astounding detail–giving you a wide variety of new admixtures, phasing options, chromosome browsers, SNP tools and connections with family across the world. Gedmatch is our favorite because they have so many wonderful and meticulously updated tools from a variety of sources. Easily upload your raw data and run your results for free (if you love the tools, don’t forget to donate and uncover even more options.)
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