The technique of DNA profiling was developed by Alec Jefferys in the mid-1980s and is based on the analysis of markers in DNA known as microsatellites or Short Tandem Repeats (STRs). These markers are found at specific points (also called loci) in everyone’s DNA and they’re motifs of two-six bases (the units that make up our genes) that are repeated numerous times. The exact number of times these markers are repeated differs between individuals, but members of a family will share the same or a similar number of repeated markers, depending on how closely related they are.
Some ethnicity DNA tests will report on the percentage of your autosomal DNA that can be linked to Neanderthals and/or Denisovans – these are non-human ‘hominin’ species that inter-mixed with humans before dying out tens of thousands of years ago. The percentage of our DNA that originates from hominins is 1-5% and it varies greatly between individuals. Only a few genetic ancestry companies include this analysis in their tests (e.g. 23andMe and National Geographic’s ‘Geno 2.0’) and it can be fun to see how much of these ancient species still live on in your genetic code.

For better ancestry and medical insights, you should encourage family members, especially parents and grandparents, to take a DNA test as well. If your family is from a specific geographical location for generations, your samples could potentially improve the service's reference panel, in turn improving results for everyone. If you’re female and take a test from 23andMe or LivingDNA, you can view paternal haplogroup information, and you get more information when one of your male family members takes a test as well.


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.
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.
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Every company on this list promises test results in 6-8 weeks after they receive a sample, except for MyHeritage DNA which claims 3-4 weeks. This can vary however and is influenced by demand and other factors. It is generally a good rule of thumb to anticipate that it will take 2-3 months for results once you order a test. This accounts for the time it takes for you (or your recipient) to receive the test, provide a sample, mail it back and for processing of your results.

Doing an DNA test without any research can be extremely disappointing - as there are many geographical regions not represented in some DNA kits. This can cause a disconnect or very inaccurate reporting. Beyond ancestry tests, there are companies that recommend wines or exercise regimens based on your DNA. With all the available options, it’s easy to default to a recognizable name, which isn’t necessarily bad. But certain tests do specific things better. Our goal is to match your expectations with the test that fits best. 

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.


Like many of the best DNA test kits, Living DNA examines autosomal and mitochondrial DNA, as well as Y-DNA for males. The service’s Family Networks feature, currently in beta, allows customers to find DNA relatives within its database. I received test results 27 days after dropping my sample in the mail. One fun Living DNA feature is that you can order your DNA analysis in coffee table book form.
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.
A friend of mine knew I had been working on my family history and bought me an AncestryDNA kit for my birthday. My results were surprising to say the least. I discovered I’m 35% Native American, 5% African and 29% from the Iberian Peninsula. This has drastically broadened the way I think about my identity and heritage. I feel connected to those parts of the world now and I’m excited to see how far back our records can go.

Otherwise, the home-testing kits could be said to fit in with our increasingly health-conscious and, if you wish to be cynical, narcissistic times. What says you’re “special” more than finding out everything about yourself, right down to the nitty-gritty of genetics? In this way, these kits could be viewed as the latest plaything of the “worried well”. You could see how the scientific approach would appeal to the health-obsessed of all sexes and ages, your marathon runners and serious gym-goers, who take their fitness extremely seriously.
In testing, we found that many tests have much more specific and detailed results for European ancestry than anywhere else. This is due more to the diversity of the database than size. For example, AncestryDNA has the largest database with over 10 million samples yet results for Asian ancestry are markedly less specific than results from several companies with much smaller databases, including 23andMe and Living DNA.

Men have an X and a Y (chromosome) that are paired together. Women don’t have the Y, they just have two X’s. A child’s genes come from a mix up and recombining of the two parents. So a girl child will still end up with two X’s but some bits of them will come from the father’s X and some from the mother’s. A boy child on the other hand may have some bits of X from both mother and father, but his Y will have just come purely from his father – virtually unchanged. That makes Y-DNA such an exciting possibility for genealogy where you want to follow the paternal (surname) line. You could expect that Y-DNA will therefore pass virtually unchanged from father to son through the generations, meaning that the Y-DNA of a man’s g-g-g-g-grandfather will look very much like that of his own Y-DNA – with some little changes.
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