The only patients having their genome sequenced are those with certain cancers or rare diseases. In some cases, family members may also be asked to participate. To take part, a patient must first be referred by a consultant, before being taken through an extensive consent process to ensure they know what participation in the project means. As well as the genome sequence, Genomics England asks for access to a patient’s lifetime medical records so that links can be made between their genetics and their individual disease. The NHS has made it very clear that, for many participants, taking part in this project won’t help them treat their disease. But it is hoped that the information they provide will go on to help treat others in the future.
Specific tests for your father’s family include ‘Y-DNA’ tests which focus on the ‘Y chromosomes’ in your cells’ nuclei, passed down from father to son. Specific tests for your mother’s family include ‘mtDNA’ tests which report on a subset of DNA found in the ‘mitochondria’ (your cells’ energy factories), passed down from mother to son or to daughter.
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.

I took the AncestryDNA test in 2016 and was disappointed by my initial report, which put my results into a giant area encompassing at least 15 countries labeled “Asia East.” Since then, Ancestry has updated its algorithm and reference population to make its results more specific, but it still only supports 17 regions in Asia and West Asia compared to 296 regions in Europe.


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.
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!
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.
FTDNA offers Y-DNA (y chromosome, fatherline, men only) and mtDNA (mitochondrial, motherline, everyone) tests. These are separate offerings from the Family Finder test and can be very detailed, depending on the test and option you choose. 23andMe offers mtDNA and Y-DNA as part of their main Ancestry offering, but the results are more limited. Read more about these types of tests here.

I took the AncestryDNA test in 2016 and was disappointed by my initial report, which put my results into a giant area encompassing at least 15 countries labeled “Asia East.” Since then, Ancestry has updated its algorithm and reference population to make its results more specific, but it still only supports 17 regions in Asia and West Asia compared to 296 regions in Europe.
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.
— 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.)
×