In fairness to 23andME, it leaves it up to the customer to unlock the more serious results – or not. When I unlock mine, I discover that, while I’m not genetically predisposed to such things as the BRAC1 or BRAC2 variant, Parkinson’s or MS, I have one of the variants for late-onset (mid-80s) Alzheimer’s. However, I don’t have any other markers for Alzheimer’s or family history or conditions associated with it or anything else listed in the rather lengthy disclaimer, which also stresses that it’s not a diagnostic result and to seek further advice from your GP if you are concerned.

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?


And that’s where it starts getting interesting, because then we can start comparing that genetic signature to the results from other men who share the same surname but don’t appear on our family tree. If the matches are close, then we can start thinking “is there a common ancestor for these families another generation or two back? Are the families linked in some way?”. Depending on what we already know about either family group, it can help target the paper research to get those families linked, or take us back another generation or two.
While DNA contains material common to all humans, some portions are unique to each individual. These portions, or regions, contain two genetic types (alleles) that are inherited from the person’s mother and father. A person’s DNA profile is made by investigating a number of these regions. In a paternity test, for example, the mother’s DNA profile is compared with the child’s to find which half was passed on by the mother. The other half of the child’s DNA is then compared with the alleged father’s DNA profile. If they don’t match, the ‘father’ is excluded, which means he isn’t the father of that child. If the DNA profiles match, the ‘father’ is not excluded - which means there is a high probability (more than 99 per cent) that he is the father. DNA tests such as this can’t offer 100 per cent proof.
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.
As discussed, DNA is much more resilient than the items traditionally used to determine someone’s identity, such as passports, licenses or dog tags. In addition, a tiny DNA sample is often enough to produce a complete DNA profile, whereas paper or digital records can become difficult to interpret with even small amounts of damage. DNA profiling for DNA identification therefore offers a quicker and more conclusive method of identification than other approaches.

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
23andMe has also been the target of concerns over how they handle user data. Their tools are more advanced than what AncestryDNA offers, and the International Society of Genetic Genealogists claims that they have the most accurate admixture results – but many in their database are health testers and may not be receptive to matching for genealogy purposes. They also offer no family tree integration at all.
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.

Went the Southern California Genealogical Society’s June Jamboree, signed up and tried MyHeritageDNA. I know I am Italian and Ukraine/Polish. The Balkans and Baltic showed up but my eastern European ancestry didn’t although Irish, Scottish and Welsh did. No specific location in Italy on my Mom’s side though we still have family there. Their matches weren’t true matches and when I tried to look at the matches’ family trees I would have to spend more money between 3 upgrades. Is this how all these things work? I’m really disappointed in MyHeritage and can’t recommend it for anyone on a fixed income. This is the only one I’ve done but it has left me discouraged.
Bill Newman, professor of translational genomic medicine in the Manchester centre for genomic medicine at the University of Manchester, and chair of the British Society of Genetic Medicine, says that such tests in this context simply don’t make sense and that, usually, telomere testing would only be used in in-depth studies of ageing and diseases associated with ageing. “There’s some really brilliant work going on, by some of the best biologists in the world,” says Newman, citing Elizabeth Blackburn, who won the 2009 Nobel prize for medicine for her work on telomeres. “But there’s no evidence whatsoever that measuring a person’s telomeres gives any indication about their health – or beauty, intelligence, or anything else that might be listed on these sites.”

At-home paternity tests have been around much longer than other direct-to-consumer DNA tests. Most of them require you to collect cheek swab samples from a prospective father and child, which you then send off to a lab to determine paternity. For non-legal use, these tests can cost as little as $15, but tests that provide verified results that are admissible in court cost a few hundred dollars. 

Getting the most out of your AncestryDNA results requires a bit of work, as the DNA test works best in concert with the site’s other available resources. You can use the DNA service without creating a family tree, though the results are much less interesting. Ancestry uses information gleaned from its user’s DNA and family trees to create compelling stories about your family’s recent history and migrations. Testers with European roots could trace their family’s movements across the Atlantic and see what stops they made on their way across the U.S.

Went the Southern California Genealogical Society’s June Jamboree, signed up and tried MyHeritageDNA. I know I am Italian and Ukraine/Polish. The Balkans and Baltic showed up but my eastern European ancestry didn’t although Irish, Scottish and Welsh did. No specific location in Italy on my Mom’s side though we still have family there. Their matches weren’t true matches and when I tried to look at the matches’ family trees I would have to spend more money between 3 upgrades. Is this how all these things work? I’m really disappointed in MyHeritage and can’t recommend it for anyone on a fixed income. This is the only one I’ve done but it has left me discouraged.
When STR profiling is carried out, the whole of the person’s DNA is not examined. Rather, specific regions (loci) of the DNA which are known to vary greatly between individuals are examined. These loci are areas of the DNA which contain varying numbers of repeating sequences known as short tandem repeats (STRs). It is the number of these repeating units which can differ between individuals. If there are differences between profiles obtained from different samples, the two samples cannot have come from the same person. If, however, the profiles match, then it follows that the samples could have originated from the same person or from any other person who happened to have the same STR profile.Â
And that’s where it starts getting interesting, because then we can start comparing that genetic signature to the results from other men who share the same surname but don’t appear on our family tree. If the matches are close, then we can start thinking “is there a common ancestor for these families another generation or two back? Are the families linked in some way?”. Depending on what we already know about either family group, it can help target the paper research to get those families linked, or take us back another generation or two.
×