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.
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.
If you’re already using a specific geneology program, use their DNA test. I used My Heritage while I was using Ancestry for my family tree. I got called by a high pressure salesman to sign up for the My Heritage geneology program. (I had uploaded my gedcom to the My Heritage site.) I told him that I couldn’t afford two geneology sites. The guy was snotty and condescending. We figure we just wasted our money with My Heritage and will do the Ancestry DNA as soon as we can afford it.
If you opt in to DNA Relatives, you will be able to send and receive invitations to connect with other customers who share DNA with you. You can choose whether to respond to these invitations or not, and your DNA relatives have the same choice. We cannot guarantee that they will respond to your sharing invitations or messages. Regardless of whether you both agree to share, you will be able to see their birthplace, locations of their ancestors and surnames, if they have chosen to add this information to their profile. If you both accept sharing invitations, you will be able to see ancestry reports and overlapping chromosome segments.
HomeDNA has the simplest DNA extraction process; just swab each cheek twice with a cotton swab, and place the swabs in the included envelope. The National Geographic Genographic Project sent a scraper that you use on each cheek for 45 seconds, and then place in a vial with stabilizing liquid. MyHeritage DNA has a similar process. 23andMe and AncestryDNA require that you spit into a tube up to the fill line (harder than it sounds), and ship it back with stabilization liquid. Most of the services said not to eat, drink, or smoke for 30 minutes to an hour prior to testing to get the best possible sample.
Once your genetic information is out there, it’s difficult to undo. Also, once you know something about yourself, it’s impossible to un-know. Revelations such as having different parents than you expected or finding unknown half-siblings are difficult to process at any age, but it’s particularly troubling for kids. However, you can always simply opt out of family matching features.
23andMe is an excellent DNA ancestry test because of its highly specific results and vast geographic reach – it serves more than 1,000 geographic regions worldwide. The service tests autosomal, mitochondrial and Y-DNA to give you a complete picture of your genes. Four testers took 23andMe DNA kits during testing. We received our results 32 days later, and testers were highly satisfied with the overall experience, from ease of sample collection to the thoroughness of the results. Recently, the company updated its database and increased the number of geographic regions from around 170 to more than 1,000. The updated ancestry reports are also more detailed, especially for non-European regions. 23andMe’s ancestry tests give you information split into several different reports spanning your ancestry composition, maternal and paternal haplogroups, neanderthal ancestry and DNA family. Testers particularly liked the timeline feature, which estimates when your most recent ancestor lived in each of your matched regions. 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’ve been working on my family tree for decades. When I took the AncestryDNA autosomal test, the ethnic results matched my expectations, with mild variations. I knew my mother was of completely Irish heritage, but I came up 58% Irish, so apparently some of Dad’s British ancestors were Irish, not English, for instance. The section that matched me to other DNA test-takers was also accurate. I recognized a couple of my second cousins listed there. Other people had taken the test but hadn’t created a family tree, so there was no point in contacting them to figure out which ancestors we had in common. Be sure you’ve done some research on your own family–these kits do NOT tell you where you grandparents came from, or their occupations, or their names. They tell you how much of your DNA is common with certain nations or areas. I know I have some Germanic ancestors, so when my kit said “14% West Europe” and that turned out to include Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, and Lichtenstein, it made sense.
It may cost a little more, but I would highly recommend saving the extra and using DNA Tribes® rather than spending over half the cost for minimal tribal/biogeographical pinpointed information. The primary benefit of STR rather than SNP testing is the availability of rich reference data. DNA Tribes® tests industry standard autosomal STR systems, which allow the identification of a person’s DNA profile not shared with any other person. Because these STR markers have been tested and used in the court systems around the world, they allow DNA Tribes® to perform the most thorough comparison of a person’s own DNA profile to over 1,200 ethnic groups (populations) around the world. At present, SNP testing from these other autosomnal DNA testing kits does not yet match the geographical detail of DNA Tribes® autosomal STR analysis.
With over 10 million samples in its database, AncestryDNA is one of the largest players in the consumer DNA testing industry. Its DNA ancestry test paired with its extensive genealogical data from family trees and historical records makes Ancestry the perfect destination for a holistic view of your family history. Getting the most out of your AncestryDNA results requires a bit of work, as the DNA test works best in concert with the site’s other available resources. You can use the DNA service without creating a family tree, though the results are much less interesting. Ancestry uses information gleaned from its user’s DNA and family trees to create compelling stories about your family’s recent history and migrations. Testers with European roots could trace their family’s movements across the Atlantic and see what stops they made on their way across the U.S. 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. Our testers received results from Ancestry 35 days after dropping their tubes of spit in the mail. We generally liked the company’s website and found the interface easy-to-use and navigate. While Ancestry does allow you to download your raw DNA data, it does not allow you to upload raw data from tests taken through other companies.

McCartney says that anxious people often contact her, saying they wished they hadn’t done the tests. “These companies often say that it’s worth it for the helpful advice. But I can give you really good advice right now without seeing a single test result: be active, have lots of social networks, do work you enjoy, try not to smoke or drink too much, don’t be overweight or underweight, eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Nobody needs to get tests done to get that kind of basic lifestyle advice.”
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.
If this individual used several different companies for DNA testing, they might get an idea as to their past origins based on the moderate or high similarities of the people currently living in different regions throughout Africa. This is only possible if the companies have established the correct reference populations. This person must understand their DNA is being matched to the current population as opposed to the people who occupied the region hundreds of years in the past. It is just as possible the results would state this African-American individual is 75 percent European. This is because the ancestry markers chosen are only for a small percentage of this individual’s DNA. The African population has a more genetic diversity in itself than a European population and an African population.
Which is all very well, but do these kits work and deliver the service they promise and what about the wider ethics and implications of home genetic testing? Is it always wise for generally under-informed, under-prepared consumers to meddle in the highly complex, nuanced arena of genetics, risking confusion, complacency or even outright panic and anxiety when confronted with ostensible “bad news” (which may not even be true)?
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