Gteat article! Thank you so much. I am Jewish American. Both sides of my family immigrated from Eastern Europe/Russia about 5 generations ago. I would really like to try and find out more about exactly where they came from, identify potential living and deceased distant relatives in the USA and abroad and ultimately start creating an extensive family tree. Which test would you suggest?
This is another feature of these genetic-testing sites – they are littered with caveats and disclaimers, forever emphasising that they’re not actual “diagnostic tests” and, if you are really concerned by your results, to seek further advice from your GP or another health professional. As has been pointed out by McCartney, when anything looks serious, ultimately it’s back to the very GP and exact NHS infrastructure that these kits profess to smoothly bypass.
Newman says that there’s a basic lack of “literacy” and understanding about genetic testing, among the public and even other health professionals. People are given false reassurances or made to panic (just because you have certain genetic variants, it doesn’t mean that you will develop a particular condition). Newman also makes the point that, in his field, counselling happens before and after testing and, while people with cancer or heart issues nearly always opt to have the test (as they can then take action to varying degrees), often people with conditions such as Huntington’s disease in their family decide not to go ahead because a diagnosis would change nothing for them. In any event, Newman says that, with genetic testing, while there are different levels, intensive counselling is always “absolutely key”.
23andMe started out by testing for genetic markers of diseases and medical conditions before rolling that back in response to the governmental concerns. It has since started slowly adding more health-related features with approval from the FDA. In April, 23andMe got approval to offer risk analysis for ten genetically linked diseases. The company now offers two options: Health + Ancestry ($199) and Ancestry ($99). The Health + Ancestry plan includes testing for genetic health risks and carrier status, as well as reports on your genetic weight, hair loss, and other traits.
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.
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.
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.
AncestryDNA is a cutting edge DNA testing service that utilises some of the latest autosomal testing technology to revolutionise the way you discover your family history. This service combines advanced DNA science with the world’s largest online family history resource to predict your genetic ethnicity and help you find new family connections. It maps ethnicity going back multiple generations and provides insight into such possibilities as: what region of Europe are my ancestors from, or am I likely to have East Asian heritage? AncestryDNA can also help identify relationships with unknown relatives through a dynamic list of DNA matches.
Most ancestry DNA kits cost about $100. AncestryDNA, 23andMe’s Ancestry test and National Geographic’s Geno 2.0 test all fall nicely into that price point. If you’re looking for a bargain, we recommend waiting to buy until your preferred test is on sale, as they’re often available well below their usual price. To get the most for your money, buy an Ancestry or 23andMe kit on sale then upload your raw data to MyHeritage DNA’s database, which is free.
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.
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.
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.
Our testers took multiple DNA ancestry tests, and the services returned slightly different results for each person. This doesn’t necessarily mean that any one company is more accurate than another. Every DNA testing service uses its own algorithm and data set – different reference populations drawn from different databases. Nacho Esteban of 24Genetics told us, “Ancestry is not an exact science. The top five companies in the world would show very similar results when talking about continents; the similarity is smaller when talking about countries. In regional ancestry, some border regions are difficult to identify and sometimes there may be discrepancies. So we cannot take the information as something 100% sure. But at the end, it gives a great picture of where our ancestors were from.”
Uploading my Raw AncestryDNA file to the free GedMatch service, immediately displayed my known Italian, Scottish, Welsh and English heritage along with French that I had been hoping to find to confirm a verbal family history plus Irish, German and Swedish which were a pleasant surprise that I will enjoy trying to discover which branch of the tree they belong to! I have also uploaded the DNA file to other free services, MyHeritage that also shows the Mediterranean connection along with LivingDNA whose results I am still waiting for. All these services also include cousin matches who share dna so you end up with a much bigger pool of possible matches than Ancestry alone.
Health & Wellness tests: There are a ton of health and wellness DNA tests. We found several specifically oriented to dieting and weight loss, including embodyDNA, Vitagene, DNAFit and the several options available through the Helix marketplace. While there definitely are some links between DNA and factors that contribute to weight, we advise taking these diet plans with a grain of salt, as DNA science is still a relatively young field. We similarly advise caution for the multitude of non-diet health and wellness DNA tests, which offer insights into your sleep, food sensitivities, and vitamin and mineral levels. And double that for medical information found in consumer DNA kit test results. While medical insights learned from taking an at-home DNA test may be interesting, it’s best not to take them too seriously. If you have a concern about a genetic predisposition to a disease, it’s best to talk to your doctor instead of relying on a direct-to-consumer kit.
Obviously, the more information you can provide, the more results you will receive. But not everyone has access to all of their ancestral information. . Digging up various info about yourself can be time-consuming and downright impossible for some. That’s why it’s important to look for services that are flexible with how much information they’ll require from you.

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?


DNA test companies that use genotyping technology, including 23andMe and Ancestry, allow you to download your raw DNA file. A raw DNA file is usually a text file that contains all the information about your genetic code gleaned from the company’s examination of your DNA. This is comprised of several hundred thousand markers known as SNPs (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms). Most raw files are organized into five columns: the SNP coded into an rsID number, the chromosome the SNP is located on, the location of the SNP on the chromosome and the two alleles for each SNP.
This is another feature of these genetic-testing sites – they are littered with caveats and disclaimers, forever emphasising that they’re not actual “diagnostic tests” and, if you are really concerned by your results, to seek further advice from your GP or another health professional. As has been pointed out by McCartney, when anything looks serious, ultimately it’s back to the very GP and exact NHS infrastructure that these kits profess to smoothly bypass.

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.

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.”
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