Although direct-to-consumer DNA test kits emerged in the early 2000s, until recently, it’s been difficult for people not of primarily European descent to get accurate results.
African DNA tests don’t necessarily produce the “same specificity of ethnicity” as those performed by white consumers. This is due to the pool of genetic information currently available and, as more people of Asian, African, and Latino descent submit DNA samples, so that pool is beginning to grow and diversify.
Nevertheless, not all home DNA test companies can offer the best DNA test for African American ancestry, simply because they don’t necessarily have the customers nor the DNA to make that happen. Some DNA test companies, however, have made expanding their pool of genetic information a priority and there are four services we can now recommend to those looking for the best DNA test for black ancestry.
If you don’t want to read the whole article, here’s our list of the best African American ancestry DNA tests:
- 23andMe – Accurate reports, a large genetics database, and in-depth health DNA results make 23andMe the best for African American DNA tests
- MyHeritage DNA – 42 different ethnicity profiles make results of this African DNA test both accurate and insightful
- AncestryDNA – With one of the largest DNA databases in the world, AncestryDNA produces accurate reports that are easy to read and include an ethnicity estimate
- African Ancestry – African Ancestry has over 30,000 indigenous African DNA samples and provides accurate results albeit at a higher than average price
Our pick for the Best DNA Test for African American ancestry: 23andMe
MyHeritage DNA is one of our preferred suppliers for African ancestry DNA test kit packs as it provides users with a full break down of their ethnic past that is split up into percentages. Additionally, it has the ability to find relatives that a customer’s family had lost touch with over six generations. The test kits are suitable for men and women alike and they also test on both the maternal side and paternal line.
- Cost: Around $80
- Type of Analysis: Autosomal
- Family Tree Option: Yes
- Does MyHeritage Sell Or Use Your DNA?
Reassuringly, MyHeritage does not sell or use a customer’s DNA. Their terms and conditions stipulate that:
“When you test on MyHeritage, you are the sole owner of your DNA data. You can delete it from MyHeritage at any time. Personal information provided to MyHeritage is never sold, licensed or shared with any third parties and MyHeritage will never sell or license DNA data to any third parties without your explicit consent.”
However, do be aware that the company does record your data and keep it on file for a length of time. That being said, users are allowed to ask MyHeritage to destroy that data whenever they want.
Finally, perhaps the best thing about MyHeritage, other than the relatively low costs, is that the company is able to cover 42 ethnic regions making it perfect for African American ancestry DNA testing. This is in conjunction with the fact that the company has one of the largest databases of customers that users can match themselves with. The likelihood of a person finding where exactly they are from is therefore increased exponentially.
We rated 23andMe due to the wide range of types of analysis they conduct in addition to autosomal testing. While they also cover many ethnic regions too, they don’t cover quite as many as MyHeritage. More specifically, 23andMe cover 31 areas, with MyHeritage covering 42.
- Cost: Around $100
- Type of Analysis: Autosomal, Y-DNA, and mtDNA
- Family Tree Option: Yes
- Does 23andMe Sell Or Use Your DNA?
In short, just like Ancestry, 23andMe does sadly use your DNA and have the jurisdiction to sell it on. Users give them this ability when signing up to the tests. Again, potential customers may not like the idea of this, particularly when considering that the company actually has a large, lucrative contract with GlaxoSmithKline with regards to their customer’s DNA data. GlaxoSmithKline purchase this data for their drug testing and clinical trials.
We rated Ancestry.com DNA kits as one of the best DNA Test for African American people possible for the following reasons and features.
- Cost: Ancestry DNA have a number of kits available but they cost around $99 in the main.
- Type of Analysis: Autosomal
- Family Tree Option: While there most definitely is a family tree option within the Ancestry DNA kit product, it is only available with a subscription.
Does Ancestry DNA Sell Or Use Your DNA?
The short answer to this is yes, Ancestry DNA most definitely do have the right to sell or use your DNA. However, they are very honest about their approach to customer privacy in their terms and conditions which state that while you still own your DNA, so does Ancestry.com. This means that even after you have passed away the company will still technically own your DNA. This may not scare some potential customers, but it might others.
More specifically, when you send off your saliva sample to Ancestry.Com you agree to “grant Ancestry DNA and the Ancestry Group Companies a perpetual, royalty-free. world-wide, transferable license to use your DNA, and any DNA you submit for any person from whom you obtained legal authorization as described in this Agreement, and to use, host, sublicense and distribute the resulting analysis to the extent and in the form or context we deem appropriate on or through any media or medium and with any technology or devices are now known or hereafter developed or discovered.”
Furthermore, according to the Terms of Service, “it is possible that information about you or a genetic relative could be revealed, such as that you or a relative are carriers of a particular disease. That information could be used by insurers to deny you insurance coverage, by law enforcement agencies to identify you or your relatives, and in some places, the data could be used by employers to deny employment.”
This last point, in particular, may be off-putting to some customers, which is a shame given that these tests are incredibly robust and return a comprehensive set of results for users.
While there are obvious benefits to purchasing African Ancestry DNA test given how specific the product has been made to answer the questions and queries of those interested in testing their African American heritage, we found that the cost was too high and the quality of the results too low to justify the price. The big problem with African Ancestry DNA is that to test both your mother and your father’s line, you need to buy two kits. Additionally, the results that are then spurned from those tests are quite sparse -, especially when compared to competitors.
- Cost: Around $300
- Type of Analysis: Either Y-DNA or mtDNA
- Family Tree Option: No
- Does African Ancestry Sell Or Use Your DNA?
African Ancestry has no shortage of shortcomings, but as a company, they neither sell or use your DNA. Here is what their terms and conditions say:
“The Company will not disclose or sell a Customer’s name, genetic information, or other personally identifiable information (“Customer Confidential Information”) to any third party, other than to its employees, consultants or other agents who must have access to such Customer Confidential Information for such party to perform certain duties in connection with such Customer’s order (collectively, “Employees”).”
Whether this has had an effect on the size of its database that allows making links with long lost relatives or not is clear, but that database is nevertheless much smaller than others on the market. The result is the data you are given in your report is much more generic and also less reliable than others.
Why Take an African DNA Test to Trace Ancestry?
Many people simply want to be able to piece together sections of their past to gain a better understanding of who they are, where their ancestors came from, and how they came to be. For others, tracing their roots back to a specific African ethnic group brings a strong sense of community and belonging.
According to an associate professor at Emory University’s religion and African American studies department, Dianne M. Stewart, “That great unknown concerning heritage has always been important. On top of that, people of African descent who ended up in the United States as a result of the transatlantic slave trade were directly denied knowledge and access to their specific heritages. The search for ancestral information then becomes all the more intensified”.
For some, the results of the best DNA test for African American ancestry is just the start of their journey. The DNA travel industry is booming as more DTC DNA test consumers use the results to guide their travel choices, going in search of an even deeper connection with their ancestors by visiting the regions they were originally from.
After an African DNA test tracked actor Samuel L. Jackson’s roots back to Gabon, he went on a “journey of discovery”, visiting the Benga people of the region his ancestors originated in. For others, the results of an ancestry DNA test may be somewhat more surprising.
Expect the Unexpected: How the Best DNA Test for Black Ancestry Could Change Your Life
Sigrid Johnson had spent her life identifying as an African American and suffering the injustices that went with it for someone born in Sixties America. At the age of 62, however, a DNA test revealed that she was a mere 2% African, leaving her wondering who she really was and embarrassed to reveal the results for fear that people would think her a fraud.
Johnson isn’t the only one to have received such surprising results and, if you’re contemplating taking an African DNA test, you should make sure you expect the unexpected and prepare for the possible consequences the results could have on your sense of identity, your life, and the lives of your loved ones.
For others, the discovery that they’re part African American has given them new opportunities. In September 2018, Ralph Taylor decided to apply for “disadvantaged business enterprise” certification on the strength of his DNA test which estimated “his ancestry to be 90 percent European, 6 percent indigenous American, and 4 percent sub-Saharan African”.
Taylor’s application was rejected, however, on the basis that there was “little to no persuasive evidence that Mr. Taylor has personally suffered social and economic disadvantage by virtue of being a Black American.”
It was also argued that the DNA test Taylor took was outdated and inaccurate but even if a perfect African DNA test did exist, it wouldn’t necessarily reveal each user’s exact ethnicity. After all, how much African DNA do you need to be considered an African American? If 4% is insufficient, what about 6% or does it need to be closer to 60%?
According to Sheryll Cashion, a law professor at Georgetown University, “You cannot rely on DNA evidence alone to decide what is really a socially constructed concept”.
Nevertheless, DNA testing gives African Americans a better chance of finding out who they are than any other method. The brick wall that slavery has traditionally posed as an obstructive to African Americans being able to trace their past is slowly being dismantled through African DNA tests.
“People with African heritage are the original victims of identity theft” but DTC DNA testing is changing that and giving people the power to reclaim their pasts and understand their origins and their ethnicity more accurately.
How To Conduct African Ancestry DNA Testing
Most home DNA tests, including the best DNA test for African American ancestry, use one of two different methods of sample collection. Those opting for AncestryDNA and 23andMe will need to collect a DNA sample by spitting into the receptacle provided, whereas MyHeritage and African Ancestry users can do a cheek-swab test instead.
Some people struggle to produce enough saliva when spitting to submit a suitable sample while others may simply be put off by this method of collection, making a cheek-swab sample collection more appealing. Either way, everything you need will be provided by the DNA testing company of your choice, making the process both simple and straightforward.
To get the best results from the best DNA test for African American ancestry, follow these step-by-step instructions:
- After buying your home kit, sign up and register your home DNA test kit online following the brand’s instructions.
- Collect a cell sample. This can be by either swabbing the inside of your cheek or spitting saliva into a tube.
- Send off your sample back to your manufacturer’s lab – in most instances, the DNA testing company will provide a pre-addressed and paid-for envelope for this.
- After a few weeks, your test maker will send you the results of your test, either online or by post.
The Bottom Line
African DNA tests aren’t always as accurate as those conducted on users of European descent because the necessary information and capacity for DNA comparisons haven’t always been available. The slave trade made it difficult for African Americans to trace their ancestors, effectively acting as a “research brick wall”, while the absence of written records in the primarily oral history of Native Americans has also made tracing origins and establishing ethnicity challenging.
Increasingly, however, more African Americans are submitting DNA samples and conducting African DNA tests, which means that the genetic databases held by the likes of AncestryDNA, are becoming more diverse and offering more answers than ever before. Not only can the best DNA test for black ancestry give you details of where your ancestors originated from and how they ended up in the US, but health tests from DTC DNA-testing companies like 23andMe can also shed light on hereditary conditions specific to those of African descent.
While the best DNA test for African American ancestry can give you some answers, for those wanting a more in-depth understanding of their past and who, precisely, they’re related to, it’s just a starting point. Eric Depradine has invested hours of his time researching his family history and says, “It’s wonderful to get your results. [23andMe] has this great pie chart, and you may be related to a thousand people. But it’s no substitute for paper research.”
DNA test results can be paired with records about emancipation and slave owners to give a more accurate picture of your African American ancestry. You may even be one of the lucky ones that finds out which slave port your ancestors traveled through or the name of the ship they were transported on.
The best DNA test for black ancestry can’t give you a complete picture of your past or your ethnicity, but it can give you a sense of identity and community that could very well change your life and those of your previously unknown relatives.
The Bottom Line
In this instance, we recommend the use of MyHeritage when looking for a test that is best for investigating African American DNA tribes or DNA testing African American lineage. We like it due to its relative low cost, the comprehensive nature of its reports and the reliability of the results it produces. Plus, it does not record personal data and sells it on. It simply, if allowed by the customer, maintains a database that improves a person’s chances of finding a long lost relative.
For those interesting in African American ancestry DNA testing, this is the best test for them.