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.

AncestryDNA has been responsible for taking DNA testing mainstream, and they now have the world’s largest autosomal DNA database. The test benefits from a number of innovative and sophisticated features such as shaky leaf DNA hints integrated with family trees, DNA Circles, Genetic Communities and New Ancestor Discoveries. A subscription is required to access some of these features and to view the full trees of your matches. The lack of a chromosome browser and matching segment data is a big disadvantage for advanced users who are interested in chromosome mapping. Many of the people now taking the AncestryDNA test are lured in by the biogeographical ancestry reports, but are not interested in communicating about genealogy. However, the test is encouraging an interest in genealogy in a subset of this market.


These tests can reveal the migratory paths of your paternal and maternal ancestors after they left Africa 200,000 years ago. By studying the migratory route they took, this can help you identify the ethnic groups they may have been part of. That said, as your paternal line is your father’s father’s father etc., and as your maternal line is your mother’s mother’s mother etc.; your paternal and maternal ancestors represent a smaller and smaller proportion of your ancestry the further back you go (just one sixteenth of your total ancestry five generations ago). Therefore, tracing your migratory paths back thousands of years may provide insights, but they’re a poor means of exploring your ethnic mix.

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.
The 23andMe sample collection kit is extremely easy to navigate. However, it can take a while to work up enough spit for the saliva sample tube, especially since you can’t eat or drink before or during sample collection. Even so, most of our testers preferred the saliva samples over the faster but more painful cheek swabs that many other companies use. Registering the kit on 23andMe’s website was also simple. Each kit comes with a sample return box, which you can just drop in the mail after sealing your sample. After that, you wait for your results.
Living DNA offers the best biogeographical ancestry analysis on the market for people with British ancestry and they are the only company to offer regional breakdowns. With the inclusion of Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroup information, this is a good all-round test for someone who wants an overview of their genetic ancestry. The test cannot currently be used for genealogical matching, though an autosomal matching service is promised for the future. As a late entrant to the market, Living DNA will start with a smaller database though the test is more likely to appeal to people in the UK, especially those who feel safer keeping their DNA data in Europe.
Similarly, mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA, is used by direct-to-consumer DNA tests to trace your direct maternal lineage and determine maternal haplogroups. While most DNA lives in your cells' nuclei, mtDNA lives in the mitochondria. Mitochondria are the cells' powerhouses – their 37 genes are necessary for cellular energy production and respiration. Previous research suggested that mtDNA is inherited directly from your mother, but a recent study found that biparental mtDNA may be more common. This discovery may affect maternal haplogroup testing in DNA tests in the future, but for now, it’s safe to assume your results are correct.

As discussed earlier, in order to determine the ethnicities present in your genetic make-up, genetic ancestry companies can analyse your autosomal DNA to seek out the genetic variants uniquely associated to certain population groups. These groups are known as ‘reference populations’, and they’ve been constructed by sampling the DNA of modern populations around the world, as well as from human remains at various archaeological sites. By identifying these genetic variants in your genetic code, companies can report on the groups that have contributed to your DNA.

DNA test companies that use genotyping technology, including 23andMe and Ancestry, allow you to download your raw DNA file. A raw DNA file is usually a text file that contains all the information about your genetic code gleaned from the company’s examination of your DNA. This is comprised of several hundred thousand markers known as SNPs (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms). Most raw files are organized into five columns: the SNP coded into an rsID number, the chromosome the SNP is located on, the location of the SNP on the chromosome and the two alleles for each SNP.

Wow!  The amount of Eastern European varies from 54% to 63%.  These are verified full siblings – meaning that they had the same parents.  What has obviously happened is that each sibling inherited different DNA from each parent, which is what always happens.  Some DNA is always lost from each parent, no matter how many children that they have.  If you are interested in doing a DNA test for ethnicity purposes, it is really helpful to have your siblings or parents do the test, as well.
The core feature of all ethnicity DNA tests is to show you a breakdown of the ethnic groups who have contributed to your autosomal DNA, normally as a list, pie chart, and/or map in an online account. It’s understood that these tests give you a picture of your ethnic heritage from the past five to six generations, and this is because the number of your ancestors increases exponentially the further back you go.

The test that can tell you about your ethnic makeup is called an autosomal DNA analysis – also known as an ethnicity test – and it can reveal the population groups from this thousand year period who have contributed to your ethnic mix. It’s called an autosomal analysis because it looks at your autosomes; these are our non-sex chromosomes and they make up 22 of the 23 pairs of chromosomes that we inherit from our parents.


AncestryDNA has the largest database to compare your results to when making matches, with 23andMe coming in second and FTDNA in fourth. MyHeritage DNA, although newer than the others, is catching up fast and numbers now surpass FTDNA. Current numbers can be seen in the chart above and are estimates based on available data. Each of these databases is growing, some of them quite rapidly.
So you probably have answered this already and I have no idea. I’m just trying to dumb it down for myself. Really great info not overloaded with the information. I’m trying to do a ancestor tree. I have the names all the way back to 1900 on my dads and moms direct line. I was wandering what test would be best to take to find out more exact answers on bloodline and names in my family all the way back to 1700-2000?

Lets suppose, as we have in the Sinnott/Sennett one name study, we have a whole lot of families who all believe their common ancestor came from Co Wexford, but the paper trail for conventional genealogy research has dwindled away, or we suspect that John and James who emigrated to the US about the same time were brothers but there is no documentation to prove it – genealogical DNA studies can now be used to show whether its possible that two families (that are at the moment quite separate on paper) are actually related and have a common ancestor. And no, we don’t have to go digging up g-g-g-g-grandfather John to get his DNA – remember, he passed it on to his son, and his son’s son, and so on to the present day. So we find a living male descendant and they get their Y-DNA analysed. That gives us a pretty good indication of the genetic signature for the whole family tree (well, the male side, anyway). If we want to check it, we find a distant cousin of the first person who tested and get their DNA analysed. If its a very close match, then bingo – we know the Y-DNA genetic signature (and whats known as a haplogroup) for our whole family group.
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