So, back to the example of the two men (lets call them John and James) we think might be brothers: We find two g-g-grandsons (or any male descendant in a direct father-son line) of each, preferably the most distant cousins we can find, and get a Y-DNA test done for all four men. Usually a 37 marker Y-DNA test is a good place to start. This looks at 37 sections of each persons DNA that the genetic scientists think are most useful for our purposes (the bits that are least likely to randomly change over generations). The results come back looking like a fairly meaningless string of numbers which are fairly useless on their own, but allow us to compare each persons result with others in the database of the testing company.
So, back to the example of the two men (lets call them John and James) we think might be brothers: We find two g-g-grandsons (or any male descendant in a direct father-son line) of each, preferably the most distant cousins we can find, and get a Y-DNA test done for all four men. Usually a 37 marker Y-DNA test is a good place to start. This looks at 37 sections of each persons DNA that the genetic scientists think are most useful for our purposes (the bits that are least likely to randomly change over generations). The results come back looking like a fairly meaningless string of numbers which are fairly useless on their own, but allow us to compare each persons result with others in the database of the testing company.
After collecting spit and cheek cells, we mailed all of the tests at the same time and waited for results, noting all communications from the company in the meantime and how long it took each service to notify us that results were ready to view. We collected data based on testers’ impressions of their results, each service’s features and extras, how easy it was to use and navigate the service’s website, along with several other factors. We added this testing data to rigorous research and information gleaned from conversations with representatives from Ancestry, 23andMe, MyHeritageDNA, LivingDNA, Humancode (now owned by Helix) and 24genetics. 
Consult a doctor on any health data: Cancer. Leukemia. Heart disease. Alzheimer's. There are a lot of scary afflictions out there, and your DNA testing may well indicate which ones to which you are genetically predispositioned. But the data from DNA testing exists in isolation. You should consult your doctor to explore the data from any of these tests. They'll help you determine how to implement any lifestyle changes or followup testing as a result, if it's worth doing so.
There are many places you can upload your raw DNA, and several of them are free. Popular third-party DNA analysis tools include GEDmatch and Promethese. GEDmatch is a free, open database and genealogy site that gives additional DNA relative matching and trait results. This tool has information from users of multiple different testing companies. Promethease compares your raw DNA information against scientific reports that link certain markers to health conditions, though you should take these results with a grain of salt as genetic links do not equal a diagnosis.
In the case of a great-grandchild, or a great-great-grandchild, something even stranger can happen.  Remember that a child will get half of their mother’s DNA, but there is never ever guarantee which 50%.  The way it is chosen is fairly random, as far as scientists know.  Take the example of the 100% Eastern European person.  Their great-grandchild will inherit 50% of their DNA from their part-Eastern European parent, but there is a good chance that they won’t inherit all of the Eastern European DNA that they could potentially inherit.  It’s possible for a person to share NO DNA with a great-great grandparent, even though there is a verified genealogical relationship.

Testers appreciated the amount of information and context given with each report. For example, the regional ancestry report matches your DNA to broad world regions on a map, but it also compares your DNA to two more-specific reference populations. My regions were Northeastern Asia and South China Sea, which fit the Korean and Japanese reference populations. Another tester was matched to 11 geographic regions throughout Europe, North America and West Asia, and they were matched to Argentinian and Puerto Rican reference populations.


Genes make up the blueprint for our bodies, governing factors such as growth, development and functioning. Almost every cell in the human body contains a copy of the blueprint, stored inside a special sac called the nucleus. The estimated 23,000 genes are beaded along tightly bundled strands of a chemical substance called deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). These strands are known as chromosomes. Humans have 46 paired chromosomes (half inherited from each parent), with two sex chromosomes that decide gender and 44 chromosomes that dictate other factors. Certain portions of DNA are unique to each individual. DNA profiling is a way of establishing identity and is used in a variety of ways, such as finding out whether twins are fraternal or identical. DNA samples are usually obtained from blood.


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.

Your DNA information is gathered using saliva capture, which, once analyzed, is stored forever on 23andMe's servers. The service also provides for a chromosome browser and comparison, as long as any possible matches approve your access. The service's matrilineal and patrilineal line testing can geolocate your DNA ancestry in more than 1,000 regions. 

This report tells you interesting information, such as that your DNA relatives are 32 percent more likely to own a cat or 11 percent less likely to have lived near a farm when they were young. DNA Passport by Humancode offers information about more than 20 physical traits, from appearance to grip strength. Ancestry DNA recently added its AncestryDNA Traits upgrade for $10, and it lets customers who have already taken one of its tests unlock information about 18 genetically influenced traits, including bitter taste perception, freckles and cilantro aversion.


If you have the Health + Ancestry Service you have access to the full 23andMe experience. If you only have the Ancestry Service, you can easily upgrade to the Health + Ancestry Service for £90 which gives you access to all 125+ reports on ancestry, traits and health. You are eligible to upgrade once you have received your Ancestry reports. To upgrade, log in to your 23andMe account and navigate to the Settings page. You will receive immediate access to your new health reports.
Once your genetic information is out there, it’s difficult to undo. Also, once you know something about yourself, it’s impossible to forget. Revelations such as having different parents than you expected or finding unknown half-siblings are difficult to process at any age, but it’s particularly troubling for kids. However, you can always simply opt out of family matching features.
MyHeritage DNA is the newest kid on the block and, while their database is still growing, it is comprised of people who have tested from all of the other three testing companies (this is thanks to their free DNA upload offer). In addition to this, they have shown a clear commitment to concerns and requests by their users by promising to provide advanced tools in the future and by creating an open and optional consent policy for use of DNA data. They also offer the ability to tie in with a large database of family trees and records. We think this test has a lot of promise if they continue to respond in this positive way to users.
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.
Once your genetic information is out there, it’s difficult to undo. Also, once you know something about yourself, it’s impossible to forget. Revelations such as having different parents than you expected or finding unknown half-siblings are difficult to process at any age, but it’s particularly troubling for kids. However, you can always simply opt out of family matching features.
To prepare to take a cheek swab sample, you also have to refrain from eating for about an hour before. Swab kits generally contain more components, including one or two swabs and containers to protect the used swabs from contamination. We found it easiest to organize all the pieces first, to prevent any fumbling with a sample collection swab in hand. Some cheek cell kits put a stabilizing liquid in the sample containers, which required extra caution to prevent spilling.
We have zeroed in on autosomal tests only. These tests are used to give you the ancestry percentages and cousin matching most people are seeking. If you are interested in YDNA (paternal line only, for men) or mtDNA (maternal line only) you can find these tests at Family Tree DNA. 23andMe also offers limited motherline and fatherline results as part of this main ancestry test.
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.
When you get your 23andMe results, it takes you to an easy-to-navigate dashboard with your ancestry composition report front and center. Testers reported both high levels of confidence in the accuracy and high rates of satisfaction with the contents and detail of their results. The service breaks down the world into 171 populations, based off its reference panel of 10,000 individuals with known ancestry. Some of these population groups are a tad redundant. For example, I received hits for South Korean, Korean, Broadly Japanese & Korean, and Broadly East Asian in my report, which all represent a similar area but show different levels of certainty. Scrolling down your ancestry summary, you can also view your ancestry timeline. This estimates how many generations back your most recent ancestor from each of your matched regions probably lived. You can also view your ancestry composition mapped out on chromosomes. This view is interesting, as you can change the level of confidence from speculative to conservative, which equates a match percentage of 50 to 90 percent.
It is very important that you take the time to read the privacy policy, terms and conditions and consent forms associated with any DNA test you take or any site you choose to upload your data to. While FTDNA has a proven track record of protecting the privacy of its users, there have been serious concerns over how AncestryDNA and 23andMe have used data in the past, as well as how they may use or sell your data in the future. Please read this article from Roberta Estes for more information on this issue. MyHeritage states that their consent form (that would allow sharing or selling of your results in aggregated data) is optional.  You can read more about that on The Legal Genealogist, who compliments MyHeritage DNA on their policy and openness.
DNA tests give you an educated estimate of your ethnic makeup and help inform genealogical research by verifying existing family trees and informing future avenues of investigation. Additionally, there's a possibility you'll find living DNA matches - distant cousins and other relations - who could share their family history with you to build a bigger picture of your family tree.
My favorite DNA test for finding ethnicity is Ancestry DNA.  My second favorite is 23 and Me.  The way Ancestry presents their DNA results is easy to understand, and their test is general less expensive than 23 and Me.  I have also found Ancestry DNA’s ethnicity estimates very closely represent what I have been able to research the old-fashioned way, both in my family and that of my husband and other family members.
Kits are despatched within 5-7 days of purchase date. The delivery time for your kit will vary depending on the postal service you have selected. Once you receive your kit, follow the simple instructions to activate it and send us your DNA sample. If you’re a new or returning Findmypast customer, you’ll receive a complimentary 14-day Findmypast subscription when you activate your kit.
The reason that saliva works as well as blood (or hair follicles or skin samples) is that your DNA -- which is short for deoxyribonucleic acid -- is present in all of them. It's the basic genetic code present in all of your cells that makes up your key attributes, from the color of your eyes to the shape of your ears to how susceptible you are to cholesterol.
Product Price Overall Rating Cost Ancestry Results Ease of Use Online Database Features Upgrade Option Available Geographic Regions Database Size Tester Confidence in Results Tester Satisfaction Score Overall Experience Score Sample Type Sample Collection and Registration Score Result Access and Interpretation Score Turnaround Time (Days) App Genetic Relative Connections Online Family Trees Upload RAW Data Download RAW Data
As a postscript, I eventually end up having an interesting chat with Titanovo about my “bioinformatics” (distilled from my 23andMe data). One of the first things I’m told is that my eyes are green (they’re brown). However, the bioinformatics got my skin type and frame/weight generally right and had interesting (albeit occasionally generic) things to say about exercise, diet, goals, steering clear of too much sugar and so on.
Then comes the section about serious genetic variants. So far as “counselling” goes, previously, I’d waved away concern for my psychological welfare from the Observer’s science editor (“I’m a former goth,” I said. “My default setting is ‘doomed’”), but it turns out to be quite daunting. It doesn’t help that I initially mistake the full list of potential conditions for my own results, hence (thankfully briefly) thinking that I have higher risk factors for everything going. It makes me wonder – how many other people are going to do that?
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.
DNA profiling isn’t exclusive to human DNA. Animals also have genetic markers in their DNA which can be used to build up a profile for DNA identification or determining parentage. The most common animals that this is used for are dogs. Similarly to human DNA profiling, dog DNA profiling uses 10-20 markers in order to build up a profile that can be used to identify your dog if it is ever lost or there is some kind of ownership dispute. Companies that offer this service will often include the profile in the form of a certificate, with details about your dog along with its DNA profile. It should also be said that these companies tend to store your dog’s profile in their database, so you that you can check back with them if you ever need to.
I’ve tested with each of the big five. It’s wise in the sense that you have access to every database of matches. Some companies allow you to upload your raw DNA that was generated from other testing companies. That can save you a lot of money. So you can test with Ancestry, then upload your raw DNA to MyHeritage, FTDNA and LivingDNA. 23andMe do not allow uploads right now so you’d have to test with them separately. Ancestry also does not allow uploads, that’s why I would use them to do your initial test.
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.
On the not-so-serious side of at-home DNA testing, there is a company that offers wine recommendations based on your genes. Vinome is part of the Helix marketplace. It creates a personalized taste profile for you based on your genes and offers a curated list of wines you can buy through the service. If you buy and rate the wines, Vinome hones in on your preferences and matches you to new products.

If you have the Health + Ancestry Service you have access to the full 23andMe experience. If you only have the Ancestry Service, you can easily upgrade to the Health + Ancestry Service for £90 which gives you access to all 125+ reports on ancestry, traits and health. You are eligible to upgrade once you have received your Ancestry reports. To upgrade, log in to your 23andMe account and navigate to the Settings page. You will receive immediate access to your new health reports.
Health and disease info: DNA testing can also indicate which conditions for which you may have a preponderance. It's a controversial feature, to be sure. Knowing that you have a genetic predisposition to a certain form of cancer may make you more vigilant for testing, but it may also lead to increased stress -- worrying about a potential condition that may never develop, even if you're "genetically susceptible" to it. The possibility of false positives and false negatives abound -- any such information should be discussed with your doctor before you act upon it.
Although, I have absolutely no British or Irish ancestry, I found my results extremely satisfying. I particularly appreciate that living DNA gives you a lot of ways to view your data. You can see your ancestry results as color-coded dots filling up a person’s silhouette, on a map, as a pie chart or on a timeline. All the graphics present the same set of data, but each has its own appeal. Within each graphic, you can also choose to view global or regional matches and cautious, standard or complete estimates, which each have a different level of detail and certainty.

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.


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.

There is one really, really important thing to know about this estimate, however.  Each child inherits 50% of their DNA from each parent.  That means that 50% of their parents’ DNA does NOT get passed down to the child.  This can mean that a child of a 100% Eastern European person will only show 50% Eastern European DNA, and their grandchild will only show 25%, and their great-grandchild 12.5% – in a perfect scenario.
If you want to keep things really simple then we recommend 23andMe as it offers the best all-round DNA testing kit. It offers a mix of everything including family matching, ancestry percentages and optional heath insights. If you’re more interested in your genealogy then the AncestryDNA kit provides more detail along a gene pool and family tree. The National Geographic Geno 2.0 DNA kit is the best kit for connecting your genes to history going back up to 100,000 years.
FTDNA is the market leader for both Y-DNA and mtDNA testing, and has the world’s largest Y-DNA and mtDNA genealogical matching databases. They are the only company that allows complete integration of Y-DNA, mtDNA and autosomal DNA test results for genealogical purposes. They host a wide variety of surname projects, haplogroup projects (Y-DNA and mtDNA), and geographical projects. Experienced and knowledgeable volunteer project administrators can often provide advice and help with the interpretation of results. They are not the first choice for autosomal DNA because of the smaller database but matches are more likely to be responsive and interested in genealogy.

Even though we are all unique, most of our DNA is actually identical to other people’s DNA. However, specific regions vary highly between people. These regions are called polymorphic. Differences in these variable regions between people are known as polymorphisms. Each of us inherits a unique combination of polymorphisms from our parents. DNA polymorphisms can be analysed to give a DNA profile.
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.
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
Although the project states that most participants won’t receive any useful information, patients will be told if something is found in their genome that is relevant to the treatment, explanation or diagnosis of their condition. They can also choose to learn if they have a genetic risk factor for another disease, such as the BRCA1 gene mutation that can cause breast cancer. Genomics England will only look for risk factors that are linked to a disease that can be treated or prevented. Untreatable conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, are not looked for.
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.
Most of the services we tested use genotyping to read your DNA. Genotyping looks for specific markers in your genetic code. For something like ancestry testing, genotyping is effective because it identifies known variants in your DNA. Scientifically speaking, genotyping’s weakness is that it can only recognize previously identified markers. This is one reason DNA tests’ accuracy relies so heavily on the DNA database size; there must be enough information available and identified genetic variants in the database to recognize new customers’ markers.
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.
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