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All this comes into sharp focus with the comprehensive kits such as the one provided by 23andMe: the one I drool into a tube for (incidentally, 23andMe doesn’t test for Huntington’s disease). Most people, like myself, have a low understanding of genetic variants, what phrases such as “higher risk” or “probability” actually mean or how to interpret our results correctly. Is it right that ordinary members of the public must navigate potentially frightening and/or misleading results alone?
There are two questions I would want answered through DNA testing. I never knew my mother but was told my great grandfather was “full blooded Cherokee Indian” and my six year old grandson is told by father “he is direct descendent of the Zulu nation”. Their words! Which DNA testing company would be able to answer these questions? I’m a little confused with the info presented. Thank you!
If you want to keep things really simple then we recommend 23andMe as it offers the best all-round DNA testing kit. It offers a mix of everything including family matching, ancestry percentages and optional heath insights. If you’re more interested in your genealogy then the AncestryDNA kit provides more detail along a gene pool and family tree. The National Geographic Geno 2.0 DNA kit is the best kit for connecting your genes to history going back up to 100,000 years.
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.

The trick for collecting a saliva sample is to give yourself plenty of time to create enough spit to fill your tube to the fill line (not including any bubbles). You should not eat or drink anything for at least an hour before collecting your sample, so it’s best to plan to collect your sample before eating. Our testers collected samples before lunch and found that thinking about the upcoming meal made saliva production easier, particularly as we collected multiple samples. Planning ahead and making sure you stay hydrated before you collect a saliva sample helps as well.


Since genome sequencing is still a relatively young science, we don't recommend submitting your child’s DNA to direct-to-consumer companies. We do encourage consulting with your doctor about genetic testing for your child. Due to some concerns with the DNA testing industry, the choice to have one’s genes sequenced by a private company should be made with informed consent. Those concerns are magnified when applied to children, who cannot make their own decisions regarding the unlikely potential risks or privacy concerns.
For about $20 less than other DNA ancestry services, MyHeritage DNA gives you an ethnicity estimate and access to DNA matches. It’s true value, however, lies in its free raw DNA uploads. 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. With a 16-day turnaround, MyHeritage DNA was one of the first companies to send back our test results, but I found the contents of my ancestry report to be a bit off, especially when compared to my geographic ancestry reports from other companies. I was born in Korea and therefore expected at least a little of my Korean heritage to make it onto my ancestry map, as it did with other services, but MyHeritage didn’t report any Korean heritage. Instead, MyHeritage DNA reported I that I’m of Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese, and Mongolian descent. As I was looking for a reason to explain the discrepancy between tests, I discovered that there are large swaths of the map not covered by any of the service’s ancestral regions. The Korean peninsula is one of those areas, as are southern regions in South America, Africa and almost all of Australia and Russia. The oversight seems odd because MyHeritage could have easily included these missed areas inside a larger, generalized region instead of completely omitting them.
Some of the companies providing ancestry DNA testing have an option that will reveal information regarding any individual with similar SNP’s. It is even possible to acquire a list of individuals who may be included in the ancestry of your family. Once permission has been given, they are able to contact you and you can contact them as well. This may sound entertaining and harmless at first, but raises a lot of questions about what information people may not be ready to hear. You may already know specifically where you come from. Now imagine if you found out your real mother was actually your grandmother. Perhaps you were raised as you birth mother’s sister. You have to ask yourself if you could handle that type of information. Prior to signing up for an ancestry DNA service, you must be aware of all the potential implications that may be revealed.
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.
Who knows how much of it made solid scientific sense? However, I have to confess that I rather enjoyed it on the level of an indulgent genome-oriented “pampering session”, just as I had a hoot with the ancestry/Neanderthal/earlobe data on 23andMe. Where Thriva is concerned, I also noted that it did advanced thyroid tests. Although such tests are available from the NHS, I’m hypothyroid myself and I know that sometimes it can be difficult and time-consuming getting tests repeated and it could be useful to be privately tested in this way.
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.

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.

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.
You might want to stay away from DNA tests if you or any of your close relatives have committed a crime. Although ancestry DNA testing companies don’t typically share database information with law enforcement, consumer DNA tests may result in future identification. For example, FamilyTreeDNA, which has a database of close to a million samples, has agreed to give the FBI limited access to the company's DNA database. This access consists mainly of consumer-level insights, like matches with other members of the FamilyTreeDNA community who have enabled family matching; by law, however, more in-depth investigation requires a subpoena.
In addition to showing geographic ancestry percentages, some direct-to-consumer DNA tests also include insights about physical traits like hair and eye color. With 23andMe, this trait information is mostly available in the upgraded Ancestry + Health kit, but some interesting tidbits can be found in the Your DNA Family report, which is available if you opt to participate in the DNA Relatives service. This report tells you interesting information, such as that your DNA relatives are 32 percent more likely to own a cat or 11 percent less likely to have lived near a farm when they were young. DNA Passport by Humancode offers information about more than 20 physical traits, from appearance to grip strength. Ancestry DNA recently added its AncestryDNA Traits upgrade for $10, and it lets customers who have already taken one of its tests unlock information about 18 genetically influenced traits, including bitter taste perception, freckles and cilantro aversion.

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.
“My concern is that more and more of these tests are being put out, and people are being persuaded to have these tests done, and they get results back that are very often of very low value and dubious helpfulness,” she says. “And often people are told to go to see their GP and that then places a direct stress on the NHS, at no cost to the company. The companies make their profits and walk away, letting the NHS sort out all the fallout, the push-back, from the test results, in a way I find absurd. Why should the NHS have to prop up the problems that these companies create?”
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