As it happens, most of the data on 23andMe seems harmless and fun. There are the “Neanderthal variants” (I have fewer of them than 58% of 23andMe customers, thank you very much), the bizarre earwax/earlobes-type data and, apparently, I have the muscle composition generally found in “elite athletes” (fancy). On the downside, my lineage isn’t as exotic as I’d hoped: 99.1% north-western Europe, of which 71% is British/Irish, with just 0.01% “Ashkenazi Jewish” to offset the genetic monotony. At £149, the 23andMe kit isn’t cheap and I’m quite tempted to demand a recount.
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.
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.
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.
Below we have included both a quick comparison chart that looks at each DNA testing option side by side and a detailed breakdown of each section in that chart. We’ve covered Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage DNA, AncestryDNA and 23andMe in our comparison because these four companies are the main trusted providers of genetic genealogy tests in the current market.
Specific genetic variants in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are associated with an increased risk of developing certain cancers, including breast cancer (in women and men) and ovarian cancer. These variants may also be associated with an increased risk for prostate cancer and certain other cancers. This test includes three genetic variants in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that are most common in people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.
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.”
The test kit gathers saliva from spit. It offers a free family tree tool to which users can contribute their specific results. You can also download your full DNA profile and import that data into another tool -- but it doesn't offer a chromosome browser, so you can't really do DNA segment comparisons. Given this, if you're a true DNA geek, Ancestry may not be the service for you.
the beauty of a y-DNA test is that it tracks the paternal y-chromosome…..yes, even indicating a surname change but not when the surname changed [does not match known male descendants]. In all DNA testing, it really helps to have researched about 5 generations back on all lineages……that way you can find common surnames in the autosomal tests. The y-DNA tests go back for centuries…..and the autosomal testing really only goes back about 5 generations…….
Starting at $79, the company's DNA test kit is competitively priced and covers the basics: A simple cheek swab will give you an analysis of your ethnic origins and the identification of relatives who share your DNA. In addition to MyHeritage's free basic subscription, which will let you assemble a family tree up to 250 people, there are other packages that accommodate larger trees, advanced DNA features, and more robust research tools. The company allows you to upload test data from other companies.
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.
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.”
Some concerns about the ultimate efficacy of certain home tests seem to emanate from the industry itself. I did a telomere-measuring test (a mouth swab) by Titanovo, based in north Colorado, which came back saying that my telomeres were too short, putting me at 10 biological years older than I am. However, when I contacted Titanovo, it explained that it had stopped telomere measuring and was now concentrating exclusively on its DNA-utilising “bioinformatics” health, fitness and wellbeing website (analysing client data from other genetic testing sites).
Molly K. McLaughlin is a New York-based writer and editor with more than a decade of experience covering technology. She has tested and reviewed all sorts of software, mobile apps, and gadgets. Before launching her freelance business, she was an editor at PC Magazine, covering consumer electronics, followed by a stint at ConsumerSearch.com, a revie... See Full Bio
I’ve had the same experience, and so have many others. My mother’s family is all from Italy, and yet my results came back with NO Italian whatsoever. Another said there was. None of them report German as a result, which is quite strange since Germans are definitely a people! These DNA tests are subjective and based on human analysis. As we all know, humans make mistakes. At the end of it all, I’ve decided that I’ll just stick with the ancestry my grandparents told me about when they were alive.
And a final note: be on the alert for surprises in your DNA – sometimes its as simple as realising that what you thought was a surname that had come down through the male line, has actually been taken from a female at some point who kept her maiden name (which means the DNA signature will match the surname of the father of her children, and not the surname the child was given). Sometimes the man who is believed to be the father just isn’t – and that will show by his real sons having a different DNA signature to the ones fathered by another man. Often these NPE’s (non-paternal events) will be many generations back, but they could be much closer.
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?
— 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.)