As with traditional genealogical research, DNA testing can provide surprises so be prepared for the unexpected. You might uncover family secrets by matching with a cousin or a half-sibling that you didn’t know existed. Conversely a relation who is expected to share DNA with you might turn out not to be a genetic relative at all. In rare cases, people discover that their parents are not their biological parents. For a good overview of the ethical implications of DNA testing see the Genetic Genealogy Standards.
Almost immediately after the technique of DNA profiling was developed, it was put to legal use. The case of Colin Pitchfork, the first criminal convicted using DNA fingerprinting, is well publicised, but the very first use of this technique was actually in an immigration case. Alec Jeffreys (the person who developed the technique) helped a Ghanaian boy to avoid deportation by comparing his DNA to that of his alleged British mother’s, to prove that he was her biological son. Since that case, DNA profiling has been used in thousands of cases of immigration, by either keeping families together or reuniting them by proving biological relationships.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

One of the most popular reasons for doing a DNA test is to determine ethnicity.  Many people start out on their DNA journey trying to learn about their ethnicity and end up discovering new family members, or learning something really cool about their family history.  Is there such a thing as a DNA test for ethnicity, and if so, which one is the best?


Home DNA testing has gone from a niche pursuit to a simple way to map out your family tree. A DNA test can be used to determine paternity and research ancestry or familial origin. And over the past few years, they've become quite affordable, with a wide range of companies selling DNA test kits -- from trailblazers such as Ancestry and 23andMe to upstarts that include LivingDNA. 

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.
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.

We evaluated each kit by ordering one, just like any customer would, and tracking how long it took to arrive at the lab and to get processed. Then we compared the breadth and depth of the results to see what rose to the top. The whole process was a lot of fun, in part because of the anticipation of getting the results. Most of the kits warn that testing your DNA can lead to surprising—even life-changing—results. For example, there's the story of a woman who thought she was Irish, but her DNA test revealed she was also European Jewish, Middle Eastern and Eastern European. After diligent research, she discovered that her father, who had died years earlier, had been switched at birth with another child.
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.
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.
the beauty of a y-DNA test is that it tracks the paternal y-chromosome…..yes, even indicating a surname change but not when the surname changed [does not match known male descendants]. In all DNA testing, it really helps to have researched about 5 generations back on all lineages……that way you can find common surnames in the autosomal tests. The y-DNA tests go back for centuries…..and the autosomal testing really only goes back about 5 generations…….
The Y chromosome is a special chromosome, passed on from fathers to their sons, while mothers pass on mtDNA to both their sons and daughters. But mtDNA dies with men and so it survives only in the female line. This means that a man’s lineage can be followed along both paternal and maternal lines, while in a woman only her maternal or mtDNA line can be followed.
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