The 23andMe sample collection kit is extremely easy to navigate. However, it can take a while to work up enough spit for the saliva sample tube, especially since you can’t eat or drink before or during sample collection. Even so, most of our testers preferred the saliva samples over the faster but more painful cheek swabs that many other companies use. Registering the kit on 23andMe’s website was also simple. Each kit comes with a sample return box, which you can just drop in the mail after sealing your sample. After that, you wait for your results.
Similarly, mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA, is used by direct-to-consumer DNA tests to trace your direct maternal lineage and determine maternal haplogroups. While most DNA lives in your cells' nuclei, mtDNA lives in the mitochondria. Mitochondria are the cells' powerhouses – their 37 genes are necessary for cellular energy production and respiration. Previous research suggested that mtDNA is inherited directly from your mother, but a recent study found that biparental mtDNA may be more common. This discovery may affect maternal haplogroup testing in DNA tests in the future, but for now, it’s safe to assume your results are correct.
First of all, what is DNA? The letters stand for Deoxyribonucleic acid, a molecule encoding the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms. Its structure was first described by Nobel Prize winners Crick and Watson in 1953. The information in DNA is stored as a code made up of four chemical bases: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T). The DNA bases pair up with each other, A with T and C with G, to form units called base pairs. Each base is also attached to a sugar molecule and a phosphate molecule. Together, a base, sugar, and phosphate are called a nucleotide. Nucleotides are arranged in two long strands that form a spiral called a double helix. The structure of the double helix is somewhat like a ladder, with the base pairs forming the ladder’s rungs and the sugar and phosphate molecules forming the vertical sidepieces of the ladder.
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.
As stated at the start of this guide, each one of the main tests will provide you with easy-to-use reports and cousin matching that you can use in your genealogy research. You will need to carefully review the information provided in this guide to make a decision about which test is best for your particular needs. You may also choose to test with (or upload your results to) multiple companies.
People with hereditary hemochromatosis are typically monitored for symptoms or complications. Iron overload related to hereditary hemochromatosis is a treatable condition. In some patients, having blood drawn on a regular basis can help lower iron levels. People with iron overload are encouraged to avoid drinking alcohol to minimize liver damage and to limit intake of iron-rich food.

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.”

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.


Whole genome sequencing is the most accurate representation of your DNA that you can buy, as it provides you with the details of every single base in your DNA (more than 5 billion). This is unsurprisingly much more expensive than DNA profiling, and isn’t necessary if you are looking for a profile for identification purposes. However, if you’d like to know more about DNA sequencing, we’ve listed the companies that can sell you your sequence.
AncestryDNA is appealing to many because the results can be matched (to some degree) with many well-established family trees, but major privacy concerns (about how your data is used and sold) have been present in the past. For many, this is a deal breaker. They also offer the fewest advanced tools for analyzing data, although their database is very large.

The little changes are where “mutations” occur over generations – these aren’t necessarily bad, it just means that the gene has been copied slightly differently as it passed from father to son. Because its possible to predict how often mutations are likely to occur, comparing the Y-DNA from distant male cousins with a common ancestor (and seeing how many differences there are in a standardised set of markers tested) allows a rough estimate of when that common ancestor might have lived. A very close match between two men who share a common surname (only one or two differences) makes it very likely they are related, and a bigger number of differences makes it either less likely they are related, or that the most recent common ancestor is very many generations back.


Rather than simply looking at your DNA in isolation, the Findmypast DNA test analyses unique combinations of linked DNA. This proprietary method delivers a level of detail impossible with other ancestry DNA tests. It also uses the latest technology, which is constantly updated in response to the latest industry innovations and peer-reviewed research. As the technology evolves so too does the detail of your test results, which will receive free ongoing upgrades.

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.
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.
A few of the DNA tests we tested, including the National Geographic Geno 2.0, use genetic sequencing instead of genotyping. Sequencing is newer in the mainstream direct-to-consumer DNA testing market, as it used to cost more and take much longer to sequence a person’s DNA. Sequencing identifies the exact makeup of a certain piece of DNA – be it a short segment or the whole genome. The Helix tests sequence the Exome, which are the parts of the genome responsible for protein production, plus several other regions of interest. 
If you’ve already taken a test with another company, MyHeritage lets you upload your raw data to its database for free. This feature is particularly useful if you’re looking for lost relatives, as you can pay slightly more for one test with Ancestry or 23andMe, which have larger databases, but still access MyHeritage’s database as well, which has 1.75 million users as of October 2018.

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.
This is another feature of these genetic-testing sites – they are littered with caveats and disclaimers, forever emphasising that they’re not actual “diagnostic tests” and, if you are really concerned by your results, to seek further advice from your GP or another health professional. As has been pointed out by McCartney, when anything looks serious, ultimately it’s back to the very GP and exact NHS infrastructure that these kits profess to smoothly bypass.
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The 100,000 Genomes Project is an NHS initiative, run by Genomics England, and is the largest national genome sequencing project in the world. On entering, patients have their entire genome, of more than 3bn base pairs, sequenced. This is different from commercially available genetic testing kits, such as those from 23andMe, which only look at very small stretches of DNA in a process called genotyping. The hope of the NHS is that having so much genetic information, from so many different people, will allow “groundbreaking discoveries about how diseases work, who could be susceptible to them, how we can treat them, and what treatments might work”.
A DNA profile can also be adapted to produce artwork. Several companies will use the profiling technique discussed above, but they’ll combine florescent colours with your genetic markers to produce bands that look a bit like a barcode. These bands can be mounted on canvas, wood, metal or other materials to create a piece of art that can be displayed in your home. They can also be digitised and customised with different colours or background themes to make a range of ‘DNA portraits’. One company, Dot One, even makes scarves and rugs inspired by these patterns!
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.
The introduction of home DNA testing means that anyone who wants to can now order their own DNA profiling kit online, and one common reason is for DNA identification. This is often important for those who work in high risk jobs, in case there is an accident that means their body would need to be identified. For example, the US army requires all active service personnel to submit a DNA sample upon enrolment, primarily for the purpose of identification if they are killed in service. Not everyone who works in a high-risk profession is given this option by their employer, but individuals with dangerous jobs are free to buy their own DNA profile from a private testing company.
As discussed earlier, in order to determine the ethnicities present in your genetic make-up, genetic ancestry companies can analyse your autosomal DNA to seek out the genetic variants uniquely associated to certain population groups. These groups are known as ‘reference populations’, and they’ve been constructed by sampling the DNA of modern populations around the world, as well as from human remains at various archaeological sites. By identifying these genetic variants in your genetic code, companies can report on the groups that have contributed to your DNA.
More controversially, some of these kits profess to tell you your biological (as opposed to actual age) by measuring the length of your telomeres (in basic terms, the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect chromosomes, like plastic tips at the end of shoelaces). Other tests, such as 23andMe, predict higher risks of developing serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, including the test for BRCA1/BRCA2 (breast and ovarian cancer) that Angelina Jolie famously underwent, going on to have a preventative double mastectomy and surgery to remove her ovaries.

Our testers received notifications that our samples were received 15 days after we mailed them. The email also said that it would take approximately six to eight weeks from that point for results. It actually only took 17 days after the email to get our results notifications. From mailing our samples back to collection, all in all, was 32 days. This was slower than several other DNA services, including the speedy MyHeritage DNA, which had a 16-day turnaround.
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.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of irreversible vision loss among older adults. The disease results in damage to the central part of the retina (the macula), impairing vision needed for reading, driving, or even recognizing faces. This test includes the two most common variants associated with an increased risk of developing the condition.
While 23andMe does offer DNA relative matching and some tools to compare your genes to your DNA relatives, it doesn’t have robust genealogy tools, as its focus rests more in personal discovery and exploration. To that end, 23andMe has an optional health upgrade that provides reports on DNA traits like hair color and genetic predispositions to certain illnesses and diseases. It is the only DNA test with FDA approval for testing genes linked to conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, late-onset Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. If you’re interested in the health portion of the test, we recommend buying the Health + Ancestry test together, as this option costs less than upgrading later.

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.
Lets suppose, as we have in the Sinnott/Sennett one name study, we have a whole lot of families who all believe their common ancestor came from Co Wexford, but the paper trail for conventional genealogy research has dwindled away, or we suspect that John and James who emigrated to the US about the same time were brothers but there is no documentation to prove it – genealogical DNA studies can now be used to show whether its possible that two families (that are at the moment quite separate on paper) are actually related and have a common ancestor. And no, we don’t have to go digging up g-g-g-g-grandfather John to get his DNA – remember, he passed it on to his son, and his son’s son, and so on to the present day. So we find a living male descendant and they get their Y-DNA analysed. That gives us a pretty good indication of the genetic signature for the whole family tree (well, the male side, anyway). If we want to check it, we find a distant cousin of the first person who tested and get their DNA analysed. If its a very close match, then bingo – we know the Y-DNA genetic signature (and whats known as a haplogroup) for our whole family group.
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