For these reasons, mapping segments of your autosomal DNA to whole continents can be determined with a high level of certainty, but when you try to attribute these segments to specific tribes, regions or even countries, the certainty decreases. This is why some genetic ancestry companies will attribute a proportion of your DNA to areas such as ‘Eastern Europe’ or ‘Southern Asia’, instead of to specific countries.

Since genome sequencing is still a relatively young science, we don't recommend submitting your child’s DNA to direct-to-consumer companies. We do encourage consulting with your doctor about genetic testing for your child. Due to some concerns with the DNA testing industry, the choice to have one’s genes sequenced by a private company should be made with informed consent. Those concerns are magnified when applied to children, who cannot make their own decisions regarding the unlikely potential risks or privacy concerns.


Having given these questions much thought, I thought a good starting point would be to look back and start researching my own family history. When I was young I always thought I was 100% British. My Dad was born in Edgware and my mum in Hampshire. Of course, none of us are truly 100% British and as I got older I learnt that my Dad had Russian great-grandparents on one side and German on the other, and that my great grand-parents on my mother’s side were Greek. So I suppose this is when I started considering how much of my identity was defined by my family history.
“My concern is that more and more of these tests are being put out, and people are being persuaded to have these tests done, and they get results back that are very often of very low value and dubious helpfulness,” she says. “And often people are told to go to see their GP and that then places a direct stress on the NHS, at no cost to the company. The companies make their profits and walk away, letting the NHS sort out all the fallout, the push-back, from the test results, in a way I find absurd. Why should the NHS have to prop up the problems that these companies create?”
Rachel, it’s been a year since you posted your query. Perhaps you have your answers? In case not, here are a few suggestions. Since you are an adoptee, perhaps with no knowledge of your biological family, you probably are most interested in details there, while your ethnic makeup is a very minor concern and where most DNA services give similar results anyways. Maybe your goal is to locate your birth parents? If that’s all true, then buy an AncestryDNA kit, as they have 10 million DNA profiles in their database, which is more than all competitors combined. The more profiles to DNA match against the more matches you’ll get to your biological relatives. Next download your raw Ancestry DNA data, and then upload it for free into MyHeritage (2.5 million DNA profiles), FamilyTreeDNA (1 million DNA profiles), GEDmatch (1 million DNA profiles), LivingDNA (unknown database size), and DNA.land (0.15 million DNA profiles). That’s almost 5 million more DNA profiles to match against. Combined with AncestryDNA that’s about 15 million profiles. If lucky you may match to a 2nd cousin or closer relative which with luck could lead to your birth parents, definitely will match to a few if not many 3rd cousins and 1000s of 4th or more distant cousins. If you change your mind and decide purchasing a second DNA kit is worth the expense, then buy a 23andMe DNA kit, which adds 5 million more DNA profiles to match against. Hope these suggestions were useful. Good luck.

Many DNA databases, including Ancestry, 23andMe and MyHeritage DNA, have family search features, which match your DNA with that of potential relatives. These features help users searching for family, including adoptees and children conceived through sperm donations. Almost every DNA testing service we interviewed for this article had a story ready about how its service facilitated a heartwarming family reunion. Like these from Ancestry, this one from MyHeritage and this one from 23andMe. Because many DNA services also have resources like family tree builders, the tests work in tandem with genealogical research.
Looking at your raw DNA file might not give you any useful information unless you’re looking for a specific marker. You can also upload the file into a third-party DNA databases for information or results beyond what’s available from your testing company. This process is not without risks, as your DNA testing company only ensures the security of your personal information in its own environment. Once you download the file, you’re responsible for the file’s security. However, uploading your raw DNA to a third party database isn’t inherently unsafe — just be cautious.
We each had two ancestors one generation ago, four ancestors two generations ago, and by the time we’ve gone back five generations, 32 ancestors have each contributed approximately 3% of our autosomal DNA! As an ethnicity test can’t show you how your autosomal segments have been passed from one generation to the next, trying to derive meaningful information about the ethnicities of your ancestors more than five generations ago is virtually impossible.
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.

On all platforms except for National Geographic, you can initiate a search for relatives, though some services let you upload your National Geographic results for further analysis. The software continually searches for DNA matches as more people share their results. This feature may be useful if you're building a family tree or looking for relatives you've never met; otherwise, it may more of a nuisance. You can opt in or out at any time, and the DNA service doesn't share your contact information. Relatives can message you through the software, though. If you already use genealogy software, you may be able to download your results and upload them into your preferred program. Otherwise, AncestryDNA and others featured here have family tree software that you can easily link.


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.
All this comes into sharp focus with the comprehensive kits such as the one provided by 23andMe: the one I drool into a tube for (incidentally, 23andMe doesn’t test for Huntington’s disease). Most people, like myself, have a low understanding of genetic variants, what phrases such as “higher risk” or “probability” actually mean or how to interpret our results correctly. Is it right that ordinary members of the public must navigate potentially frightening and/or misleading results alone?
Each of the kits work similarly: You answer a few questions about yourself, order the kit, collect your sample, register the kit (this is very important), send it back, and wait for the results. That said, they differ in the collection process and, to a smaller extent, the cost of shipping. When we tested 23andMe back in mid-2015, the company was unable to accept DNA samples collected in or sent from New York State, because of local laws (we had to cross the border to New Jersey). The company was also prohibited from shipping DNA kits to Maryland.
In Newman’s view, the genie is out of the bottle with home genetic-testing kits. He says that while the kits could potentially provide data in the future, right now, they lack “clinical utility” – they look at genetic variants that, individually, have a very low chance of predicting specific health risks, as there are too many variables: “It’s like the Opportunity Knocks clap-o-meter, with some people further along the scale, and therefore more likely to get the condition and then people at the other end of the scale, who are unlikely to get it.”
I hope this helps to clear things up. Ancestry DNA testing is not an exact science, and is limited by the fact that we don't inherit the exact same DNA our parents had, meaning that with each new generation, old DNA is lost. Ancestry tests can provide estimations of our genetic ancestry, and though they are improving all the time, they can't tell the whole story of our heritage.
23andMe is one of the most recognizable names in the consumer DNA testing industry. It boasts over five million users and offers five distinct ancestry reports, as well as optional relative matching. 23andMe’s ancestry testing service is our pick for the best overall DNA test because it’s easy-to-use and understand, gives you a variety of information based on your DNA sample alone, and offers an FDA approved health screening upgrade.
ARSACS Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum with Peripheral Neuropathy Autosomal Recessive Polycystic Kidney Disease Beta Thalassemia and Related Hemoglobinopathies Bloom Syndrome Canavan Disease Congenital Disorder of Glycosylation Type 1a (PMM2-CDG) Cystic Fibrosis D-Bifunctional Protein Deficiency Dihydrolipoamide Dehydrogenase Deficiency Familial Dysautonomia Familial Hyperinsulinism (ABCC8-Related) Familial Mediterranean Fever Fanconi Anemia Group C GRACILE Syndrome Gaucher Disease Type 1 Glycogen Storage Disease Type Ia Glycogen Storage Disease Type Ib Hereditary Fructose Intolerance Herlitz Junctional Epidermolysis Bullosa (LAMB3-Related) Leigh Syndrome, French Canadian Type Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy Type 2D Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy Type 2E Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy Type 2I MCAD Deficiency Maple Syrup Urine Disease Type 1B Mucolipidosis Type IV Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis (CLN5-Related) Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis (PPT1-Related) Niemann-Pick Disease Type A Nijmegen Breakage Syndrome Nonsyndromic Hearing Loss and Deafness, DFNB1 (GJB2-Related) Pendred Syndrome and DFNB4 Hearing Loss (SLC26A4-Related) Phenylketonuria and Related Disorders Primary Hyperoxaluria Type 2 Rhizomelic Chondrodysplasia Punctata Type 1 Salla Disease Sickle Cell Anemia Sjögren-Larsson Syndrome Tay-Sachs Disease Tyrosinemia Type I Usher Syndrome Type 1F Usher Syndrome Type 3A Zellweger Syndrome Spectrum (PEX1-Related)
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.
With a 16-day turnaround, MyHeritage DNA was one of the first companies to send back our test results, but I found the contents of my ancestry report to be a bit off, especially when compared to my geographic ancestry reports from other companies. I was born in Korea and therefore expected at least a little of my Korean heritage to make it onto my ancestry map, as it did with other services, but MyHeritage didn’t report any Korean heritage. 
Looking at your raw DNA file might not give you any useful information unless you’re looking for a specific marker. You can also upload the file into a third-party DNA databases for information or results beyond what’s available from your testing company. This process is not without risks, as your DNA testing company only ensures the security of your personal information in its own environment. Once you download the file, you’re responsible for the file’s security. However, uploading your raw DNA to a third party database isn’t inherently unsafe — just be cautious.
A. Be aware of DNA tests advertised at this price. DNA Clinics have received calls from many anxious individuals who have had these DNA tests carried out for £59 only to realise that the test has been performed at an overseas non UK accredited laboratory. DNA Clinics most affordable test is a Peace of Mind Paternity DNA test available for £119 from www.homednapaternitytest.co.uk. Whilst this is more expensive than the £59 DNA test, you have the reassurance that all testing has been performed at Crystal Health ISO17025 accredited laboratory using strict chain of custody protocols.
Instead, MyHeritage DNA reported I that I’m of Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese, and Mongolian descent. As I was looking for a reason to explain the discrepancy between tests, I discovered that there are large swaths of the map not covered by any of the service’s ancestral regions. The Korean peninsula is one of those areas, as are southern regions in South America, Africa and almost all of Australia and Russia. The oversight seems odd because MyHeritage could have easily included these missed areas inside a larger, generalized region instead of completely omitting them.
I know that this article is old, but I have been interested in my ethnicity. I have a good idea of what ethnicity I am, but I like many people want a thorough DNA test. Now, it seems like Ancestry is the closest to what I am looking for. The only issue that I have with ALL of these DNA tests is privacy. I don’t like that they have the authority to keep my information for their own purpose. This is the reason why I won’t take any of these DNA tests, and as curious as I am, I want… Read more »

I used 23&me, (who has around 80 geographical regions) and while I was disappointed with the nationality results, it was only because I thought they were a bit vague – but in all honesty, I didn’t really know what to expect, so there’s that. Now understanding a little more about the limitations of results from any company, have no problem with what I received.

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This is the ‘Out of Africa’ theory, and it’s reflected in our DNA which shows that we’re all descended from ‘Y chromosomal Adam’ (our earliest common male ancestor) and ‘mitochondrial eve’ (our earliest common female ancestor). Our DNA can also show us the migratory paths that our ancestors took after leaving Africa in the intervening millennia, to get to where they settled in the thousand year period before the era of mass migration circa 1850.
Direct-to-consumer DNA tests are still relatively new. The first ancestral DNA test launched in 2001 by FamilyTreeDNA, but companies didn’t start genotyping autosomal DNA until 2007. Still, tests and results have come a long way since then, with much lower prices and streamlined sample collection, registration and results. If you’re still on the fence about whether or not to buy a DNA ancestry test for yourself or as a gift, here are a few things to consider. 
For our evaluations, we assembled a group of testers willing to spit into a tube on camera. We chose four individuals of varying backgrounds. Two had previously taken one or more DNA ancestry tests, and two had not. Two had fairly well-documented family histories to compare against, one was adopted, and one had information about one side of the family, but not the other. All of us took DNA tests from AncestryDNA, 23andMe, National Geographic and Family Tree DNA. One tester also took each of the five additional tests we reviewed. 
Of course, most DNA used by law enforcement in the U.S. does not come from direct-to-consumer DNA tests. The federal government and many states collect DNA samples from suspects of violent crimes after arrest or due to probable cause. These samples are added to the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, which is a national database for forensic information.
Three of the companies, MyHeritage, Ancestry and FTDNA, use the Illumina OmniExpress chip and 23andMe uses the new Infinium® Global Screening Array chip from Illumina. The fact that all of the chips come from the same company may be confusing, leading some to believe that all tests are created equal. This is not the case. The chip used to process DNA samples is only one part of the process. Each company develops their own analysis of the results, references different population samples and provides different reports. In addition, each one of these DNA test providers offers different tools for you to analyze the data you receive, creating variations in results, accessibility and usefulness.
This is very interesting…thanks for sharing—regarding you husband’s results– the Somali 1% might not be so crazy at all—look at the map– horn of east Africa to Yemen area (had a large Jewish population long ago)…to Palestine-Israel…to Europe in the centuries long diaspora..actually your comments made me more inclined to try this newer company. I am grateful to you.

All this comes into sharp focus with the comprehensive kits such as the one provided by 23andMe: the one I drool into a tube for (incidentally, 23andMe doesn’t test for Huntington’s disease). Most people, like myself, have a low understanding of genetic variants, what phrases such as “higher risk” or “probability” actually mean or how to interpret our results correctly. Is it right that ordinary members of the public must navigate potentially frightening and/or misleading results alone?
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.
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.

Hi Mark, Thank you for such an informative and clearly stated article. I am American Jewish and have done several of the tests. I’m now submitting a question for a close friend. He is Burmese and would very much like to test. His biggest interest is ancestral origins. Would he be best off doing a Ydna test or could he find sufficient information in an autosomal test? I assume the Y test would be with Familytree. If so, should he also do an autosomal test with Familytree, or with Ancestry or MyHeritage? Thank you so much!
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).
— 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.)
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