It’s part of our human nature to research and find out more information with regards to our roots and ancestry. Fortunately, the world has become much smaller now, thanks to the Internet and active social media users. We can now easily connect and reconnect with family members from previous generations.
Furthermore, there are now plenty of options for us when we’re ready to conduct a DNA test. Some of the best DNA testing kits are easily accessible online. A DNA kit is not very expensive, which means that almost anybody can buy one and move forward with a DNA ancestry or family DNA test.
Scientific tests are necessary in order to achieve precision and accuracy when tracing roots and branches of a family tree. This is why more individuals are now getting a DNA heritage test, as well as other types of DNA testing. We can even conduct a home DNA test at an affordable cost and get the results fairly quickly.
For families with a complex history, getting an ancestry DNA test is a smart and practical idea. People also get DNA tests to know the degree of their closeness with a relative. Sometimes, even our grandparents and parents know little about the extent of our family tree’s reach across the world. Certainly, DNA tests are better than word of mouth passed from generation to generation.
How do DNA Kits Work
All DNA testing packages are generally the same. There could be a few different steps when it comes to the procedure in which you collect your sample. However, there are some common procedures which are present across all kinds of DNA kits. Some of these include:
- An official form to answer a few questions
- Instructions to collect your sample for testing
- A guideline on how to register your kit
- A process for sending it back to the tester
Once you have completed all of these steps, all you have to do is wait for the result.
We’ve compared a few kits from various testing providers and the main difference we’ve found between each DNA kit is in the sample collection process and shipping instructions.
Interestingly, some testing providers may be limited by restrictions imposed by your local government. In the past, there were laws that banned the sending of samples for DNA testing due to health and safety reasons, though the situation is generally much improved now. Still, be sure to check your local laws first, to rule out any potential issues that may arise because of where you live.
All of the DNA testing providers we’ve tried have a registration process for their clients, which is needed for privacy protection. When you send the kit back, it won’t contain your name, and neither will the test results when they arrive. Therefore, it’s mandatory for you to register your kit and link it to your identity in the process.
There’s nothing else left to do after shipping your sample for testing. You’ll get a confirmation email advising that the testing center has received your sample, to which you do not need to respond. They will then email you again when the results are ready, and this can take a minimum of three weeks.
How We Test DNA Testing Kits
DNA testing kits are good for several purposes, and some companies help you along towards those goals more than others. Here’s what you can do with a DNA testing kit:
- Find out about your predisposition towards diseases or health conditions based on your genetics. 23andMe is particularly suited for this purpose.
- Find out more about ancestry and where you come from. Tests like MyHeritage and Ancestry.com work wonders to this end.
Here are some misconceptions about DNA testing:
- You can use it to solve a murder mystery in an hour (like your favorite crime shows portray).
Truth: Typically these tests take 4-6 weeks for a response.
- You need to dig up your grandfather’s remains to get accurate results.
Truth: The Y chromosome is passed down and kept safe in your DNA, so no remains are needed.
- You have no privacy once you take a DNA test.
Truth: There are laws in place to protect your ownership, and legitimate testers will respect your privacy in all of their terms. Just look at Ancestry.com for a good example of this.
Top Six Factors
Using a DNA testing kit to find out more about your heritage and yourself is an exciting opportunity, but with so many on the market, it can be difficult to know which one is right for you. After all, what makes for a good testing kit anyway? Here are some factors we used to rate our recommended DNA testing kits.
How is the sample taken?
DNA testing kits take skin or saliva samples, not blood as many misconceive, but some DNA testing kits are more invasive than others. Simple swab tests are easy to use and won’t make you feel invaded. Spitting in a vial is another non-meddlesome method for collecting DNA samples. Some people don’t like the scraping method, so these types of tests scored lower in this area.
Any additional information needed?
If you have to jump through hoops to get your test results, the service isn’t much help. More information is good, but only when it’s accessible. Services earned more points when they were flexible with the information needed, providing more services when the data was there, but not making results contingent upon things that people will have trouble finding (that’s what the DNA tests are for after all!)
How easy is it to send the test back?
Points were earned for having a self-addressed envelope or packaging for the sample ready to be sent back to the company.
How long is the wait time?
Once you send the sample, you want answers fast. Quick response times earned more points.
What else do you get?
Many DNA testing services provide additional information and services along with your results. Providers scored points for family tree builders, database size, mobile services, etc.
What kind of privacy policies are in place?
Respecting your privacy is of utmost importance with something as personal as DNA. Services scored much higher for strong privacy policies.
Different Types of DNA Tests
You can choose from three different types of DNA tests, the results of which will tell you different things:
- Autosomal DNA: This is the most popular kind of genealogy DNA test or family DNA test. This will study the DNA you inherited from all the branches of your family tree. The results of this test will tell you where your ancestors lived hundreds of years before. It’s also known as DNA ethnicity test, as it can match you with distant relatives. Gender does not play a role in this test. Both men and women can take this test and get the same results.
- mtDNA: This is also known as mitochondrial DNA test. This will look into the DNA that came from your mother. You will learn about your grandmother and great-grandmother from your mother’s side, but it won’t give you information about your mother’s father. This test is helpful if you’ve never met your mother or have no way of knowing her relatives.
- Y-DNA: Human DNA is divided up into 23 pairs of chromosomes, which are subsequently divided into genes. Our 23rd human chromosome has two versions, the X for women, and Y for men. Y-DNA tests only look into the Y-chromosome. This is a DNA paternity test.
The Y-DNA works the same way as the mtDNA test, except it traces your direct paternal line. Since we generally use our father’s last name, we can use this test to determine if we are related to someone with the same family name.
Which DNA Test is Right for You?
If you want a bird’s eye view of your DNA which will help you trace distant relatives from your maternal and paternal lines, go for autosomal DNA testing.
For instance, if you want to have a Native American DNA test in order to determine the percentage of your ancestry that is Native American, this is the right one for you. However, this study goes back to about five generations only.
In contrast, both mtDNA and Y-DNA can go back to as far as 10,000 years or more. Since the test is looking into one side of your ancestry (mother or father), it’s able to gather more information in its focused examination.
If you want to fully understand your health risks, or have a DNA test for diet and exercise, or a general DNA health testing, you have to choose both mtDNA and Y-DNA.
#1 Living DNA – Wide And Deep Analysis
Living DNA makes our list due to the extensive collaboration features it offers. Unlike many DNA testing services that seek to box you into using just their tools, Living DNA shows an amazing commitment to its core mission. It allows users to cross-check and index the results of their search with other leading DNA ancestry sites like Family Tree DNA and Scotlands DNA.
Its native DNA test results will return information about:
- The whole of your genetic makeup
- Paternal lineage (Y-chromosome DNA)
- Maternal lineage (Mitochondrial DNA)
These features give you an intuitive breakdown of every aspect of your ancestry through both of your parents.
There are also numerous features designed to help you comb through this information and get the answers you are looking for:
- “Through-history” analysis — an interactive map that shows you the migration patterns of your ancestors throughout history
- “Phylogenetic tree” history — shows you not only where your ancestors were physically present, but also the role of their interactions in producing your unique genome
- Academic collaboration — Living DNA has close relationships with several universities that allow users to benefit from new studies and discoveries in DNA testing
For more information on Living DNA features, read our extensive Living DNA review.
#2 Ancestry.com – Best Value For Money
This is perhaps themes well-known DNA testing company in the world, and with good reason. It has access to more than a billion different data points about your lineage, allowing it to create one of the most comprehensive pictures of your origins possible.
The most popular feature offered is their online family tree builder, that allows you to interact with the sites’ other users in order to find new connections and relatives without even actively searching for them. In addition, there is a very active and helpful community of lineage enthusiasts who will offer support in your search, as well as keep you in the know about the latest techniques available.
To ensure that it remains affordable for anyone, Ancestry.com also offers a number of different pricing options:
- US Discovery ($19.99/mo)— Access to all US records dealing with ancestry
- World Explorer ($34.99/mo) — Access to all US and international records
- All Access Full Membership ($44.99/mo) — Access to all US and international records, as well as Newspapers.com basic and Fold3.com
For more information on Living DNA features, read our extensive Ancestry.com review.
#3 MyHeritage DNA – The Best DNA Testing Kits
MyHeritage DNA sets itself apart for two main reasons:
Comprehensiveness — it can trace your family lineage back over more than a millennium
Price — it offers some of the most competitive pricing plans available Even more incredible is the fact that despite being so thorough and so low-cost, it also offers one of the most intuitive and easy to use interfaces as well
There is a single, master page that will allow you to navigate quickly to the major categories of your search including:
- Your family tree
- Photos of potential family members
- Additional research sections
A number of excellent functionalities are held within these pages, including:
- The “Hints” feature — allows you to cross-reference your lineage with that of others to find matches you might not have thought to look for
- “Family Tree” — Allows you to upload your current knowledge of your family tree, eliminating the need to do double work recreating it
In addition, there are three different pricing options so you can get all the information you want for your search, without having to pay for anything you don’t need:
Premium subscription ($6.88/mo)
- 2500 people in your family tree
- Priority support
- Premium family tree builder
- Enhances smart matching
- Access to MyHeritage family sites and members’ collections
PremiumPlus subscription ($10.95/mo)
- Everything in the premium subscription
- Online tree consistency checker
- “Instant discovers” feature lets you add whole branches or photos with a single click
Data Subscription Plan ($9.95/mo)
- Access to over 7 billion historical records including:
- Birth/marriage/death certificates
- Census & immigration records
- Military records
For more information on MyHeritage DNA features, read our extensive MyHeritage DNA review.
#4 23andMe – Comprehensive And Popular
23andMe offers the ability to trace your lineage all the way back to the Neanderthal’s. But be careful! A search so comprehensive that it can trace your DNA to its non-human origins is not for the faint of heart.
Another reason we love 23andMe is that the service is very intuitively designed. Information about your lineage is broken down into two main categories:
- Easy to read format uses graphs, charts and color coded maps to show you your genetic history
- See what percentage of your DNA is Neanderthalic
- Understand how specific parts of your genome are manifesting in ways such as food allergies
Finding lost relatives
- See a list of family members with their exact relations noted (such as distant cousins)
- Quick and easy contact functionality
- “Share & Compare” builds a family tree based on a comprehensive database search
23andMe only offers a single pricing option, $99 for its Personal Genome Service kit. Although a one size fits all policy isn’t ideal, the amount of information available and the numerous features for searching, indexing, and understanding it still makes this service stand out as one of the best available.
For more information on 23andMe DNA features, read our extensive 23andMe review.
#5 Family Tree DNA – Easy and Intuitive UI
Family Tree DNA makes our list because it offers one of the downright coolest features of any DNA lineage testing service. Its “Ancient Origins” functionality continuously checks your DNA test results to DNA being found at ongoing archeological digs on the European continent. It’s a visceral way to bring your lineage to life that no other service can match.
In addition, Family Tree DNA is also one of the most easy to use services available. It offers several search and index features for your data:
- MyOrigins tool — creates a visual depiction of ethnic and national origins, on a percentage basis
- Family Matches — lets you compare your results to that of other members on the site in order to find lost relatives. Data is filtered by both maternal DNA and paternal DNA
Depending on how thorough you want your search to be, there are also four different pricing options available:
“Family Finder” ($79)
- Family finder matches
- Ethnic percentages of your autosomal DNA
“Family Finder + Y37” ($248)
- Everything in the Family Finder kit
- Y-chromosome testing for 37 markers
“Family Finder + Y67” ($347)
- Everything in the Family Finder kit
- Y-chromosome testing for 67 markers
“Autosomal + mtFull Sequence” ($278)
- Everyone in the Family Finder kit
- Full mitochondrial sequencing
For more information on Family Tree DNA features, read our extensive Family Tree DNA review.
DNA Testing Kit – is it Worth It?
YES! DNA tests are useful for a number of reasons. Some of these reasons come from complicated family histories such as adoption processes and forced separations. If you’re getting married, it makes sense to take a deep look into your ancestry. This is particularly useful in cases where the couple has similar or nearly-similar surnames.
So, if you’re someone who has thought about taking a DNA test or are just plain curious to trace your history, then don’t hesitate to try any of the DNA tests we’ve mentioned above as they’re both affordable and accurate.