To prepare to take a cheek swab sample, you also have to refrain from eating for about an hour before. Swab kits generally contain more components, including one or two swabs and containers to protect the used swabs from contamination. We found it easiest to organize all the pieces first, to prevent any fumbling with a sample collection swab in hand. Some cheek cell kits put a stabilizing liquid in the sample containers, which required extra caution to prevent spilling.
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.
To prepare to take a cheek swab sample, you also have to refrain from eating for about an hour before. Swab kits generally contain more components, including one or two swabs and containers to protect the used swabs from contamination. We found it easiest to organize all the pieces first, to prevent any fumbling with a sample collection swab in hand. Some cheek cell kits put a stabilizing liquid in the sample containers, which required extra caution to prevent spilling.
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.
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.

Most direct-to-consumer DNA test companies warn that the tests may reveal things you wish you didn’t know about your family. For example, you could find out that one of the people who raised you isn’t your biological parent or that there’s an entire branch of your family you didn’t know about. There isn’t a way to prepare for a shock like that, but you can opt out of a company’s family-matching services if you’d rather not know.
Next, you'll receive an email alert that your results are ready, and that's when the fun begins. Your results may not be as dramatic as those portrayed in TV ads, but you may find some surprises. One important note: Results are different for women and men. Women, who have the XX chromosome, can only trace back the maternal line. Men, having the XY chromosome, can track back the maternal and paternal line, painting a complete picture. If you're a woman, it's worth asking your brother, if you have one, to take a test and share the results. When some of these services ask for your sex when you order your kit, they simply want to know about your chromosomes.
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.
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.
Although the project states that most participants won’t receive any useful information, patients will be told if something is found in their genome that is relevant to the treatment, explanation or diagnosis of their condition. They can also choose to learn if they have a genetic risk factor for another disease, such as the BRCA1 gene mutation that can cause breast cancer. Genomics England will only look for risk factors that are linked to a disease that can be treated or prevented. Untreatable conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, are not looked for.
Most of the services we tested use genotyping to read your DNA. Genotyping looks for specific markers in your genetic code. For something like ancestry testing, genotyping is effective because it identifies known variants in your DNA. Scientifically speaking, genotyping’s weakness is that it can only recognize previously identified markers. This is one reason DNA tests’ accuracy relies so heavily on the DNA database size; there must be enough information available and identified genetic variants in the database to recognize new customers’ markers.
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.
There is a TV show called Long Lost Family on TLC that uses Ancestry DNA and records to identify and locate families. I am not an adoptee but have taken tests with Ancestry and Family Tree DNA. I think using the Ancestry test would be better to help identify your birth parents since you could view your close matches and their family trees (if public). You can also download the raw data from Ancestry, FamilyTree, or 23&Me and upload them to gedmatch. Gedmatch is a free site where test-takers from different companies can compare results/matches without having to test with all three companies.
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.
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