Thank you for such detailed information. I’m considering buying a DNA ancestry kit for my wife for Christmas (and buying one for myself as well). After reading your article (and many of the wonderful comments), I’m leaning towards the one from Ancestry.com. However, would I still get complete results without a subscription? I looked on their website and it doesn’t say.
We provide sample collection kits for all our tests. Paternity testing, relationship tests and most of our other tests entail the easiest and most painless method of sample collection using oral swab samples. Visit our collection guide for information about how to collect your own samples from home using our DNA test kit. Thanks to state-of-the-art genetic identification systems we are able to perform testing with many other samples such as hair, garments and toothbrushes. The discreet DNA samples section has more information on the types of totally non-invasive samples that can be tested.
When my results appear, they show nothing bad. If anything, it’s anticlimactic: cholesterol, vitamins, liver proteins and the like are all in the normal range, with only ferritin (iron stores) slightly high, with a recommendation to go easy on any iron supplements. My problem with the baseline test is that, unlike Thriva’s other products, clients are supposed to have one every three months to keep track, but would I really want (or indeed need) to do such a test so regularly?
Haplogroups are a different story. Your maternal line haplogroup assignment is derived from a separate piece of DNA called the mitochondria. Since mitochondria is passed on only by mothers to their children, your maternal line haplogroup assignment only tells you about your mother's side of the family. Similarly, the paternal line haplogroup assignment is derived from a different, separate piece of DNA called the Y chromosome. The Y chromosome is only passed from fathers to sons and only traces the paternal line.
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.

DNA tests give you an educated estimate of your ethnic makeup and help inform genealogical research by verifying existing family trees and informing future avenues of investigation. Additionally, there's a possibility you'll find living DNA matches - distant cousins and other relations - who could share their family history with you to build a bigger picture of your family tree.
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.

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.
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.
In Newman’s view, the genie is out of the bottle with home genetic-testing kits. He says that while the kits could potentially provide data in the future, right now, they lack “clinical utility” – they look at genetic variants that, individually, have a very low chance of predicting specific health risks, as there are too many variables: “It’s like the Opportunity Knocks clap-o-meter, with some people further along the scale, and therefore more likely to get the condition and then people at the other end of the scale, who are unlikely to get it.”
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.
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.
When I found out about AncestryDNA, I thought this could be the perfect tool to pinpoint where my family emigrated over the past few hundred years (AncestryDNA can actually go back 1000 years) and give me a focus where to take my search next. When I got the email that my results were ready I felt like a kid on Christmas day. They revealed that I was only 40% British, 25% German and 35% Greek. I’ve now focused my search on these three countries and already discovered ancestors I never knew existed.
In Newman’s view, the genie is out of the bottle with home genetic-testing kits. He says that while the kits could potentially provide data in the future, right now, they lack “clinical utility” – they look at genetic variants that, individually, have a very low chance of predicting specific health risks, as there are too many variables: “It’s like the Opportunity Knocks clap-o-meter, with some people further along the scale, and therefore more likely to get the condition and then people at the other end of the scale, who are unlikely to get it.”
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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