Best DNA Ancestry Test (Review & Ratings 2018)

Have you ever wondered about your ancestry, and who your great-great- (many more times great) grandfather may have been? Imagine how exciting it would be to find some long-lost relatives just living across your street or perhaps thousands of kilometers away in another part of the world – someone you’ve never met but would definitely not mind knowing about. If you’re one of those who loves to think about such eventualities, getting the best DNA ancestry test is a great option. And even if you’re among those who simply can’t imagine such an eventuality, then let’s surprise you today by going through these ancestry DNA reviews.

The best DNA ancestry test would be one which is mapped to a database of millions of people spread across hundreds and thousands of family trees. What you need to search for is a huge online family history resource to work as your one-point source for ascertaining your ancestry.

To get you started, let's go through each ancestry DNA kit, one by one:

Product Reviews: The Top 4 DNA Ancestry Test

Family Tree DNA is a division of Gene by Gene, a commercial genetic testing company based in Houston, Texas.

As the only DNA testing service that provides all three types of tests – autosomal, Y-DNA and mtDNA. The Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) does seem to have an edge over other ancestry DNA test providers. The autosomal testing provides family finder matches with ethnic percentages while the Y-DNA results trace automated matches going back to 340,000 years through the father’s line. And the mtDNA+ and mtFullsequence tests are designed to unveil up to 180,000 years through the mother’s line.

Another useful feature of this service is the ability to allow you to transfer your data from other services for free

Finally, FTDNA store test results for 25 years – which may or may not be a good thing, depending on which way you look at it. Interestingly, the FTDNA doesn’t stop at simply matching your DNA but also provides you with the email ids of your matches to enable you to connect with them.

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Things We Liked

  • Only site that offers all 3 types of DNA tests
  • DNA sample is stored for 25 years
  • Privacy is maintained throughout
  • Targeted DNA genealogical project support is provided
  • Biogeographical ancestry analysis is provided
  • Website is easily navigable
  • Provides live customer service for timely response to customer queries

Things We Didn't Like

  • Database is somewhat limited at 766,000 people
  • Results on ethnicity are found to be quite generic and ambiguous, with no explanations
  • Huge delays observe in sharing of results
  • You may prefer not to have your sample stored for 25 years

If you need a secure DNA ancestry test with a large database to match with, AncestryDNA is just the place from where you may like to embark on your life-changing discovery.

A two milion-strong community makes AncestryDNA a great choice for those looking for answers to their parentage and ancestry, or simply wanting to satiate their curiosity about their ethnic linkages.

The extent of privacy and security provided, along with the large size of the database, make this test an attractive proposition.

The simplicity of the testing procedure and the ease of obtaining the results add to the appeal of this test. You simply order a kit online and return a small saliva sample to the lab in a pre-paid envelope. The DNA sample is then analyzed at more than 700,000 genetic markers to deliver online results in 6-8 weeks.

Among the best features of this ancestry testing service is the high level of accuracy in the results. From discovering distant relatives to helping you uncover your ethnic mix, this simple DNA test promises success through the use of cutting-edge technology. The test is designed to enable you to trace your unique family history from the comfort of your home.

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Things We Liked

  • Privacy is assured with AncestryDNA – data/information isn’t shared without explicit consent or unless legally required
  • Test uses standard security practices with respect to your DNA sample and test result
  • Gives choice of destroying sample and/or deleting test results at any time
  • Uses high-end micorarray-based autosomal DNA testing, ensuring high level of accuracy
  • Maps ethnicity going back multiple generations and covering 26 regions
  • Also provides breakdown of ethnicity
  • Helps identify relationships with unknown relatives through a dynamic list of DNA matches

Things We Didn't Like

  • Genome mapping is done at around 700,000 locations as against over 1 million by most other labs
  • Complaints of huge delays in receiving results
  • No separate Y-DNA or mtDNA testing provided
  • Shared chromosomal segments can’t be compared
  • Users find the results to be somewhat vague

Part of the National Geographic Genographic Project, the Geno 2.0 Next Generation is another popular ancestry DNA test option for you to explore.

The National Geographic Genographic Project is a scientific effort to analyze historical patterns in human DNA worldwide. This simple cheek swab test is conducted through advanced methods,  which helps identify thousands of mtDNA markers for direct maternal lineage.

It also examines Y-DNA markers for direct paternal ancestry. In addition, more than 750,000 other ancestry-informative markers are also tested to find out your ancestors’ regional affiliations.

The test uses a custom-built genotyping chip, enabling mapping of the DNA markers, many of which have been specifically selected to provide highly detailed ancestry-related information. This high-capacity testing chip ensures improved results, making it one of the most attractive features of this kit.

The kit includes painless cheek swabs and instructions for submitting your DNA samples (return postage required). The kit box itself is a virtual souvenir as it’s designed beautifully.

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Things We Liked

  • Allows you to upload your results for free into their database
  • Privacy and security of test samples and results are assured
  • Feeling of pride at contributing to a globally targeted genealogical DNA project
  • Biogeographical ancestry analysis is provided
  • Helps in discovering the migration paths of your ancestors over thousands of years
  • Provides information on genome percentage affiliated with more than a dozen regions across the world
  • Gives a platform for sharing your story and connecting with other project participants

Things We Didn't Like

  • Database is relatively small
  • Test is quite expensive
  • Y-DNA testing is limited and no separate mtDNA is provided
  • Sharing of raw data from other services isn’t possible
  • Doesn’t provide support for connecting with genetic matches found
  • Information provided is extremely basic and vague

Though its focus has now shifted to medical DNA testing, 23andMe still has a proven track record and history in ancestry DNA testing.

One major benefit this provides for you to consider is the medical DNA results along with ancestry results it gives. However, considering the reduced focus on ancestry DNA testing, the services in this field are limited.

Unfortunately, this means you don’t get the entire gamut of matches thrown up in the test since the number they provide in the result is limited to 1,000.

But, they don’t share genomic information of matches without permission.

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Things We Liked

  • Database is 1 million strong
  • Tests are conducted at CLIA-certified laboratory
  • Privacy and security are maintained throughout
  • DNA samples are stored for future testing, if and as required
  • Biogeographical ancestry analysis is provided
  • Shared chromosomal segments can be compared through chromosome browser
  • Comes with a collection of educational materials to help you through your ancestry discovery journey

Things We Didn't Like

  • Doesn’t provide Y-DNA and mtDNA testing service
  • Raw DNA data can’t be uploaded from other services
  • Doesn’t have genealogical community forums
  • Connecting with genetic matches is tough and complicated
  • Price is on the higher side
  • Genealogical DNA projects aren’t available for joining on website

Conclusion: Which DNA Test for Ancestry To Pick?

The four tests we’ve reviewed here have the common feature of ease and convenience, along with privacy and security.

The differences lie mainly in the level of accuracy and in-depth details provided in the result and the customer service. Considering these differences, the Family Tree DNA testing kit seems to be among the most useful of those discussed here. The unique feature of this service is that it’s the only DNA testing service that provides all three types of tests – autosomal, Y-DNA and mtDNA. The resulting accuracy also seems to be high, going back several thousands of years. Free transfer of raw data from other services to this one is another exceptional feature you’ll probably love. What’s more, armed with the results of FTDNA, you could connect directly with your genomic matches and discover unknown and long-lost relatives around the world. The ease of navigation of the website, backed by live customer service, are other advantages of this service.

You may, of course, come across some delays in receiving your results, but with a bit of follow-up, you can probably hasten the process.

Buying Guide: What to Consider Before Buying a DNA Test for Ancestry

How DNA Test Works

For the uninitiated let’s start by telling you what exactly the DNA is.  One of the definitions thrown up by Google search is: “DNA is a deoxyribonucleic acid, a self-replicating material which is present in nearly all living organisms as the main constituent of chromosomes. It is the carrier of genetic information.” DNA testing, then, is a tool for mapping the genes for a range of purposes – from uncovering ancestry to verifying parentage to tracking criminals through forensic investigation.

Getting Hold of the DNA Kit

In this article, we’ll confine ourselves to talking about just the ancestry-testing benefits of DNA testing. This is basically an easy way of ascertaining your ancestral links and tracing your family through generations. The process itself is quite easy and can be conducted at home. Like all DNA test kits, ancestry test kits can easily be ordered online and delivered to your doorstep. It involves a simple saliva test, to be conducted as per the instructions provided along with a saliva collection tube. The manufacturers of the kit usually provide a pre-paid return mailer/courier facility for the lab testing of the sample. So all you need to do is collect the sample of your DNA (taking care not to contaminate it in any way), pack it in the pre-paid mailer and send it to the lab for analysis.

Other DNA Testing Methods

Apart from the saliva (or buccal) swab test, which is the most common, other testing methods for ancestry DNA test include mouthwash, chewing gum and split-cups. All these are standard ways of testing and you can take your pick of any of them. Whichever method you choose, however, just be careful that you don’t accidentally touch the sample and contaminate it. Contamination may lead to inaccuracy in the result, and in some cases can also yield an unclear result, which means it’s a good bit of money down the drain.

Technique for Processing

The sample you send to the lab can be testing using various techniques. A common procedure is the autosomal DNA testing. The autosomal DNA test takes information from the autosomes (chromosomes apart from the X, Y and mtDNA) testing around a million markers across the genome. Since the autosomal DNA is not gender-specific, this kind of test can be conducted equally effectively on both men and women. Another type of DNA test for ancestry relates to testing of genetic variations in mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondria are, technically speaking, not really DNA but cell structures in the body which have their own small amount of DNA (known as mitochondrial DNA). These different techniques are useful in different ways, depending on the reason for undergoing the test in the first place.

Factors to be Considered

Genetic profiling for ancestry involves checking out your DNA fingerprint or profile against a database of profiles of other ethnic groups and families. Naturally then, the success of the test would depend, in a large measure, on the size of the database against which it’s being tested. So if you’ve decided to purchase an ancestry DNA test for home, go for a brand that is backed by a large database. The smaller the database, the lower the chance of accuracy in results. Technologically, too, you should go for labs that have the latest instruments and equipment for processing your sample. If these details aren’t provided on the kit there’s no harm in inquiring about them before your purchase. Then there’s the cost factor, of course. The more advanced the processing technique and the larger the database, the higher the cost of the test. But then, unless you’re doing this test for fun you ought to be ready to pay for a thorough reading.

What Exactly Can You Find Out From the DNA Test?

The ancestry DNA test will tell you how much of your DNA you share with another individual. The shared DNA is measured in centiMorgens (CM) and helps predict the relationship between two individuals, though it doesn’t really tell you the exact nature of the relationship, especially among cousins.

DNA profiling can have other benefits though, from expanding your knowledge about your ancestral links to working out your health and fitness regimes based on future predictions of your physical appearance and other traits. Here we’re talking mainly of ancestry DNA tests, which are aimed at ascertaining your ethnicity and perhaps finding out about your long-lost relatives. With the report in hand, you can start tracing your family members back across a multitude of generations, from different regions and ethnic backgrounds around the world.

Is it a Long Wait for the DNA Results?

It usually takes about 6-8 weeks to get the results after the laboratory has received your DNA sample. Most good labs provide online tracking and access to results, in addition to sending you a colored hard copy of the same.

Concerns Regarding the DNA Test

Cost, as mentioned earlier, is a major issue in getting the ancestry DNA test done. The best DNA ancestry test available online can be expensive, which is understandable given the costly techniques involved and the expenditure entailed in building a huge database (a good one should be nothing less than one million strong). Another concern with this test relates to privacy issues. Try to find a company that doesn’t retain your sample and signs a privacy agreement with you beforehand.

DNA Test Accuracy

This is probably the biggest concern for those opting for an ancestry DNA test. Some experts say the error margin is as high as 15%, though most companies claim a less than 0.1% error margin. Since the human body is an organically evolving entity, the chances of mutations in the DNA can’t be ruled out. Furthermore, you may come across cases of secret adoptions and such like, which may yield misleading results. Problems may also arise because of the migrations most ethnic groups have gone through in history. In fact, you’ll often come across genetic variations even within ethnic groups due to such factors. Despite these concerns, however, DNA testing is the only existing method you can use to find out your ancestral links with some degree of accuracy.

Usefulness of the DNA Test

Does the ancestry DNA test have any other benefits apart from helping ascertain ancestral links? Frankly, it doesn’t. Such tests are of no medical value and don’t help in finding out about genetic problems such as diseases or disorders. The utility of this test lies in providing clues about the origin of your ancestors and about relationships between different families.