The most common type of DNA test is an autosomal test – ie the ones you see advertised all over the place. These tests give you both ethnicity results and matches – not just cousins but whoever you’re related to who have also tested with the same company. Ethnicity results are a result of both parents and cannot be separated with a single autosomal test. Ancestry and FTDNA are great picks and both will suit you well. The main difference in my opinion is that Ancestry has a much larger customer database, which means you’ll get more matches. And yes,… Read more »
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.
I sadly have to agree as after the results appeared in my Ancestry account I was very disappointed to see that they failed to disclose any sign of my Italian heritage at all and even clicking through the Engilsh ethnic breakdown showed absolutely NO connection to any place whatsoever so apparently I am an alien who was dropped here from outer space so I could not recommend this as a service that produces a valid ethnic breakdown at all. Their results graph and click through breakdown are extremely limited, especially after comparing them with other services so from the ethnicity perspective, think they are bordering on false advertising!!
Finally, if you happen to meet a special someone on DNA Romance and want to see what your future child together might look like, there’s BabyGlimpse by HumanCode. Like a very advanced Punnett square, BabyGlimpse compares your and your partner’s DNA to create a profile that examines which traits your offspring might inherit, including things like ancestral DNA, eye color and lactose intolerance.
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.
The 100,000 Genomes Project is an NHS initiative, run by Genomics England, and is the largest national genome sequencing project in the world. On entering, patients have their entire genome, of more than 3bn base pairs, sequenced. This is different from commercially available genetic testing kits, such as those from 23andMe, which only look at very small stretches of DNA in a process called genotyping. The hope of the NHS is that having so much genetic information, from so many different people, will allow “groundbreaking discoveries about how diseases work, who could be susceptible to them, how we can treat them, and what treatments might work”.
Similarly, mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA, is used by direct-to-consumer DNA tests to trace your direct maternal lineage and determine maternal haplogroups. While most DNA lives in your cells' nuclei, mtDNA lives in the mitochondria. Mitochondria are the cells' powerhouses – their 37 genes are necessary for cellular energy production and respiration. Previous research suggested that mtDNA is inherited directly from your mother, but a recent study found that biparental mtDNA may be more common. This discovery may affect maternal haplogroup testing in DNA tests in the future, but for now, it’s safe to assume your results are correct.

Having given these questions much thought, I thought a good starting point would be to look back and start researching my own family history. When I was young I always thought I was 100% British. My Dad was born in Edgware and my mum in Hampshire. Of course, none of us are truly 100% British and as I got older I learnt that my Dad had Russian great-grandparents on one side and German on the other, and that my great grand-parents on my mother’s side were Greek. So I suppose this is when I started considering how much of my identity was defined by my family history.
Hi Mark, Thank you for your article – very helpful. I am adopted from Asian country and live in Australia. I don’t know who my biological parents are and don’t know if I have any siblings. I have been researching through all these websites trying to decide which dna test to take – confused by it all. Your article has helped me to decide on FTDNA (family history and mtDNA) – hoping that it would give me ancestry makeup inherited from my bio parents and ancestry details on my mothers side (as I am female, limited to this test). In… Read more »
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.
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.

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?
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.
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.
The 100,000 Genomes Project is an NHS initiative, run by Genomics England, and is the largest national genome sequencing project in the world. On entering, patients have their entire genome, of more than 3bn base pairs, sequenced. This is different from commercially available genetic testing kits, such as those from 23andMe, which only look at very small stretches of DNA in a process called genotyping. The hope of the NHS is that having so much genetic information, from so many different people, will allow “groundbreaking discoveries about how diseases work, who could be susceptible to them, how we can treat them, and what treatments might work”.
You control your account privacy. Findmypast and Living DNA keep your data private unless you choose to share information, such as your family tree or DNA results. Your data is encrypted and stored on secure servers, only accessible by staff, vital service providers (such as our laboratory partners) and you. Living DNA has carefully chosen a European laboratory to conduct its DNA testing. Findmypast and Living DNA only disclose your data to third parties where we have appropriate agreements in place. For example, trusted third-party payment processing companies. Findmypast and Living DNA are ISO accredited for data and information security.
A few of the DNA tests we tested, including the National Geographic Geno 2.0, use genetic sequencing instead of genotyping. Sequencing is newer in the mainstream direct-to-consumer DNA testing market, as it used to cost more and take much longer to sequence a person’s DNA. Sequencing identifies the exact makeup of a certain piece of DNA – be it a short segment or the whole genome. The Helix tests sequence the Exome, which are the parts of the genome responsible for protein production, plus several other regions of interest. DNA sequencing gives more information overall and has more uses in medical testing than genotyping. In the future, more DNA kits may move from genotyping to DNA sequencing as the technology gets cheaper and faster, but for now both are effective ways to look into your geographic ancestry.

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.
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.
The companies providing ancestry DNA tests are making most of their money from selling the genetic information as opposed to running the tests. Companies purchase this information to increase the size of their genetic databases. Nearly half the companies selling ancestry information are selling to more than just one company. These are sometimes pharmaceutical companies attempting to understand how specific human genome sections can help develop new drugs. Certain mutations will impact the effectiveness of these drugs. The original DNA sample is only destroyed by roughly ten percent of these companies. Most companies keep or sell the sample. This means it is both your data and saliva being sold.
Many people who submit their DNA to a direct-to-consumer company also upload their raw information to public databases like GEDmatch, which law enforcement can access. People upload their raw DNA data after taking another test, like those from 23andMe or Ancestry, to several open online DNA databases. Most companies do not release database information to law enforcement. However, a recent study found that, using publicly available data, it's possible to identify up to 60 percent of Americans with European heritage via third-cousin-or-closer DNA.
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.
The spit is for one of the home genetic-testing kits I’m sampling. A growing number of these kits (brands such as 23andMe, DNAFit, Thriva, MyHeritage DNA, and Orig3n) promise to unlock the mystery of your genomes, variously explaining everything from ancestry, residual Neanderthal variants, “bioinformatics” for fitness, weight loss and skincare, to more random genetic predispositions, denoting, say, the dimensions of your earlobes or the consistency of your earwax.
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