First, I have to admit that I’m a genealogy geek. Since I was a child, I have always been interested in researching my ancestry and I managed to trace 7 generations of my ancestors via archives. As I am a curious family tree researcher, I wanted to try one of the DNA kits.
Unfortunately, I was quite disappointed with the results, so I decided to experiment with other ancestry DNA testing companies. The DNA test results indicated totally different ratios and regions, so I decided to uncover the truth about these discrepancies.
After 7 months of hard work and numerous consultations with professionals, I finished an in-depth research study that reveals which is currently the most accurate and best DNA test kit on the market. I have received numerous questions from readers, which I have attempted to answer at the end of this post. I aimed to utilize everyday language; however, should you have any questions, post them in the comment section below or send them via email.
To date (2020), more than 30 million people have attempted to learn about their ancestry and family tree via DNA testing, but it resulted in more confusion rather than clarity. I’ll try to clear the fog.
The research consists of three areas. One of them — probably the most important — is the comparison of my family tree with the DNA testing kit results: Which DNA Test is the Most Accurate?
During my research, I collected the following data on the best DNA testing kits. Feel free to draw your own conclusions:
|Best for||Health, genealogy, ethnicity, matches||Health, matches||Cheap||Advance genetic tools||–|
|Database size||18 million||10 million||2.4 million||1 million||no data provided|
|Method of collecting DNA||Saliva||Saliva||Cheek Swab||Cheek Swab||Cheek Swab|
|Reference panel samples||44,703||14,344||–||2,943||12000|
|Autosomal DNA test||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|mtDNA test||Not available||Yes||Not available||You can order separately||Yes, included|
|Y-DNA test||Not available||Yes||Not available||You can order separately||Yes, included|
|Close relative match||30||–||–||–||–|
|Responsiveness of matches||Medium||Low||Low||High||–|
|Customer support||Great||OK||OK||Good||Very slow|
|Health test||Good||Best||Good||Expensive||Only wellness|
|Raw data upload||No||No||Available||Available||No|
|How long does it take (in EU)?||35 days||47 days||38 days||31 days||87 days|
|Ownership||Permira Holdings Limited||Privately held by various investors||Gilad Japhet||Gene by Gene||David and Hannah Nicholson|
|Phone Number||1-801-705-7000||1-800-239-5230||1-844-994-1888||713-868-1438||0203 424 3482|
|E-mail address||anc[email protected]|
|Address||1300 West Traverse Parkway; Lehi, UT 84043||899 West Evelyn Avenue Mountain View, CA 94041 United States||3 Ariel Sharon Blvd., Or Yehuda, Israel||1445 N Loop W Fwy, Houston, TX 77008||1445 N Loop W Fwy, Houston, TX 77008|
|Price (October 2020)||Check the latest price||$99||$79||Autosomal: $79; Y-DNA: $119; mtDNA: $159||$99|
How to choose the DNA testing kit that meets your needs?
- For ethnicity estimation: If you are looking for the most accurate ethnicity estimation, then—according to my research—AncestryDNA is the top choice.
- Finding your relatives: If you want to find as many relatives as possible, then your #1 choice is either one of the companies with the largest databases: 23andMe or AncestryDNA.
- Adopted: If you’re adopted and you’re looking for your parents and siblings, then the database size is the most important. The best choices are 23andMe and AncestryDNA. However, if you are really determined to get accurate paternity testing, you should buy home DNA testing kits from My Heritage and FamilyTreeDNA as well.
- Health DNA testing service: 23andMe performs the most complex and detailed health analysis.
- mtDNA and y-DNA for distant ancestry: I would recommend 23andMe for beginners because it shows the basic paths of the origin. If you are more advanced and more curious about the details, you should buy FamilyTreeDNA’s separate packages for Y chromosome tests and mtDNA.
Genetic Health DNA Testing Kits
Another big part of the DNA testing industry is maternal and paternal health. When we talk about genetic predispositions, a lot of things are clear from science. There are specific genes that make people more vulnerable to some diseases like cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s, etc.
If you know about them, you can act in time to control the disease. Since October 31, 2018, the FDA has allowed direct-to-consumer tests for detecting genetic health variants.
With never-ending, diligent work we collected all the health predispositions, traits, and carriers from eight of the most popular health DNA test kits:
Often, people ask me about these diseases, so I made it simple for you:
Breast Cancer BRCAX/BRCA2: DNAfit; Veritasgenetics; 23andMe; My Heritage, Ancestry.com
High Blood Pressure: DNAfit; Veritasgenetics; MyHeritage
Type 2 Diabetes: DNAfit; 23andMe; MyHeritage
Parkinson’s Disease: DNAfit; Veritasgenetics; 23andMe; MyHeritage
Melanoma: DNAfit; Veritasgenetics
Crohn’s Disease: DNAfit; MyHeritage
DNA Testing Kits Reviewed
AncestryDNA Review – Tracing Your Roots and Finding Relatives
Ancestry is one of the most famous genealogy companies. If you’re building your family tree, there are no better companies. Their database is large, and its ethnicity DNA results are the most accurate (according to my research).
For adopted people (who are searching for their relatives), this is a great option because of its database size. See my in-depth AncestryDNA review and here is the 23andMe vs AncestryDNA comparison article.
- Huge database
- Accurate ethnicity estimation
- Huge genealogy community
- #1 option in terms of price/value
- Family Tree & Genealogy tools
- DNA testing results arrived pretty quickly.
- No mtDNA or Y-DNA testing option
- No option to upload raw data from another company.
The bottom line:
The most accurate DNA tests with the best price to value ratio. Also, excellent for looking up relatives for adopted people. IMHO, the #1 service on the market in 2021.
23andMe Review – Genetic Testing for Health
23andMe is one of the oldest companies in the DNA industry and it started with health DNA analysis. According to my research, its genetic health risks test is the most comprehensive. After a while, it entered the market and its database is one of the largest.
It offers Y chromosome and mtDNA analysis in its package as a default. See my in-depth 23andMe review.
- Large family tree and DNA sample database
- Health DNA testing kits available
- Chromosome browser is available for comparing your results with other people.
- No option to upload raw data from another company.
- It isn’t the most accurate kit
The bottom line:
A great source for looking up relatives because its database is similar to Ancestry’s family tree database.
MyHeritage Review – Budget Testing Companies
MyHeritage started offering its DNA testing kits in 2016, so it is one of the youngest companies on the market. However, its pricing is affordable.
Recently, it started offering the best kits for health analysis. It allows the uploading of raw DNA from other companies and searching for relatives in its database. See my in-depth MyHeritage review.
- Affordable pricing
- Chromosome browser for comparing results with other users
- Option for uploading raw data from other companies.
- Smaller family tree database than the previous two companies
- No Y-DNA or mtDNA test option.
The bottom line:
It offers affordable kits but not the top one.
FamilyTreeDNA Review – Ideal for Maternal and Paternal Heritage
FamilyTreeDNA’s customers and community are the savviest. You can join their expert groups if you want to find out more about the topic of ancestry. It also has regular podcasts and support videos about its DNA testing kit tools, family history, ancestry, maternal and paternal lines, and other interesting genealogical topics.
However, for an ordinary user, I think its platform and its tools are too complex and its ancestry test database is pretty small.
The biggest disadvantage is that it offers Y chromosome and mtDNA testing separately from autosomal. The price is pretty high, too. See my in-depth FamilyTreeDNA review.
- Great DNA tools for savvy customers
- Raw DNA upload is available
- Expert community and forums.
- Accurate DNA results
- No Y chromosome and mtDNA testing in the basic ancestry test package
- Its price to value ratio isn’t good IMHO.
The bottom line:
I recommend it only for advanced DNA testers because it is too complex for most people.
LivingDNA Review – Great for UK
LivingDNA is the smallest home DNA testing kit company on our list. It hasn’t provided any information about its DNA database… I had to wait more than 3 months for my results, and their customer support is pretty slow as well.
- Its ethnicity region is quite detailed in the UK.
- Slow customer support and service
- I don’t recommend this home DNA test company unless you are looking for UK relatives (however, I don’t know anything about its ancestry test database).
The bottom line:
This is the least satisfactory test the market IMHO.
FAQ about DNA testing
Which DNA testing company has the largest ancestry & living relatives database?
Based on my inquiry via email and their website, AncestryDNA has the largest database.
Since these are very important points and we have to rely on the company’s honesty, I attempted to find out whether the data is accurate.
I checked how frequently their company names were searched on Google and compared it with the data provided by the companies themselves. Apparently, they are telling the truth, as there is a parallel between the two numbers (searches on brand and database size).
- AncestryDNA: 18 million
- 23andMe: 10 million
- MyHeritage: 2.4 million
- FamilyTreeDNA: 1 million
- LivingDNA: No data provided
What is DNA?
Our DNA strands provide every piece of information that defines everything about us. Basically, our DNA defines us. Also, over time, our DNA determines the changes in us. A big part of our destiny is in our genetics.
To what extent do we inherit our DNA?
We inherit 50% of our DNA from each of our parents, one half from our maternal line and the other half from our paternal line.
However, we don’t inherit it to the same extent from our grandparents. The optimal ratio would be 25-25-25-25%.
Then again, it can also occur that a person inherits their grandparents’ DNA in a ratio of, for instance, 20-25-25-30%, so they inherit more from one of their grandparents than the others, either the paternal line or maternal line.
In the list below, you can see the optimal case of our ancestors’ inheritance ratio:
- Parents: 50%
- Grandparents: 25%
- Great-grandparents: 12.5%
- Great-great-grandparents: 6.25%
- Great-great-great-grandparents: 3.125%
- Great-great-great-great-grandparents: 1.563%.
This list reveals that we inherit very little from each distant relative when viewed alone. Rather, our DNA is defined by the totality of our ancestors.
Basic information about DNA
DNA consists of 23 pairs of chromosomes, so there are actually 46 chromosomes.
22 pairs of chromosomes are from the autosomal genes, while the 23rd pair is the sex chromosome, which differs in men and women. I will provide more details about this later.
By the way, it is interesting that the proportion of the DNA that matches other people’s DNA is 99.9%. The reason for this is that it contains the total functioning of the human organism, so the difference that we see is actually 0.01% of the DNA (that actually differentiates us).
In addition, our DNA is very similar to other organisms’:
- Human to human: 99.9%
- Neanderthal: 99.7%
- Chimpanzee: 98.8%
- Cat: 90%
- Mouse: 85%
- Cow: 80%
- Chicken: 65%.
Read this article if you want to find the answers to How much DNA do humans share with other animals?
What types of DNA tests exist?
There are three types of DNA kits: the autosomal test, the Y-chromosome test, and the mitochondrial (mtDNA) test.
What is worth knowing about these tests is that autosomal DNA testing can be performed on men and women. This test defines the ethnicity of the person.
A Y-chromosome testing kit can be performed only on men, as only men have the Y-chromosome.
Finally, mtDNA testing can be performed on men and women, as both women and men have mtDNA.
I will discuss all of these tests later.
What is the autosomal DNA test?
As I mentioned above, this method compares the DNA pattern with other reference patterns. The autosomal DNA tests assist in ethnicity estimation.
The tests compare a “small” portion of the DNA with other DNA. Companies involved in genetic information research and estimation analyze 600,000–700,000 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs are specific small parts of DNA) and compare them with the reference groups.
What is a reference population/panel or reference groups?
They are people whose location of origin and family history is certain, and their ethnicity estimates are from the same area.
It should be noted that it is important to select these reference groups with care since any mistake will distort the results. In addition, it is important that the reference groups include as many samples as possible so that the relevant and typical genetic signs of the ethnic group and the region can be successfully identified by the testing company.
The autosomal test can go back to 5–8 generations and identify the ethnicities of your ancestors (from 200 years ago).
What is the YDNA test?
The 23rd pair of chromosomes is the sex chromosome, which defines whether the person is a man or a woman. Men have a Y and an X chromosome, whereas women have two X chromosomes. These chromosomes make it possible to find your maternal and paternal lines’ ancestors. Based on this information, it can be concluded that only men can undergo this type of DNA test. The illustration explains how Y-chromosome ancestry DNA testing works.
As the Y-chromosome is passed from father to son, only one line of inheritance can be analyzed; however, a very long line of male ancestry can be revealed from the paternal line. A large amount of interesting information can be discovered from Y-DNA. I encourage everyone to find out the ancestry of their patriline since astonishing revelations can be made.
The Y-chromosome rarely mutates, so through genetic testing, people can learn where their “forefathers” originated several thousands of years ago. Haplogroups and reference populations can be established via mutations.
What is a haplogroup?
Y-DNA ancestry that underwent mutation is classified into haplogroups; therefore, the haplogroups can be identified with certain (similar) regions and territorial units.
Naturally, there is no homogeneous haplogroup ancestry in any country, as their population has mixed quite regularly throughout history; however, a dominant group can always be identified in each region, as the map below indicates.
Here is the haplogroup map of the world:
African American Haplogroups
There is very interesting ancestry data about African Americans. Most African Americans’ patriline (father line) belongs to the E haplogroup ancestry, which is typical for Western and Central Africans; however, about 15% of them have the R haplogroup ancestry and 7% have the I haplogroup ancestry, which is very common in Western and Northern Europeans. This means that approximately 22% of African Americans have a European patriline ancestry. Unfortunately, according to ancestry research studies, this is a result of sexual abuse in the time of slavery.
For instance, as the map above indicates, the R1a haplogroup ancestry is dominant in Eastern Europe, while the R1b haplogroup ancestry is dominant in Western Europe.
The basic test pack of 23andMe and LivingDNA includes the Y chromosome results.
FamilyTreeDNA offers the #1 Y chromosome test kits separately at a rather high price. However, it also provides more sophisticated packages that analyze the sub-haplogroup in great depth. If you don’t wish to analyze your Y-DNA in-depth, then the 2 companies mentioned above will satisfy your curiosity.
Women can learn about their father’s DNA via their male siblings or their father’s male siblings, as these relatives have the same haplogroup ancestry as their father.
What are the mt-DNA tests?
MtDNA has a rather unique feature: It can be inherited only via the matriline.
Therefore, mtDNA is passed from mother to daughter. However, in contrast to the Y-chromosome, both women and men inherit mtDNA from their mother. This means that both sexes can explore the benefits of mtDNA testing. The mtDNA test analyzes the matriline, the origin of our “foremothers.”
MtDNA mutates even more rarely than the Y-chromosome, so it can reveal information dating back 10,000–50,000 years. It is important to emphasize that in the case of mtDNA, one does not speak of countries or nations, as they did not exist in those eras, but rather of regions where our ancestors originated.
In Europe (especially in Western Europe), for example, the H mitochondrial haplogroup is the most common ancestry, with approximately 50% of the total population belonging to this particular haplogroup ancestry.
Why isn’t there any overlapping between Y-DNA and mtDNA results? Most probably because throughout continuous wars and conquests in human history, women were less frequently victims and were less frequently expelled so remained in their original place of ancestry. In other words, their genes descended via females.
MtDNA tests are only available at 23andMe, LivingDNA, and FamilyTreeDNA (not in the basic Family Finder package, but in a separate one). These are for mtDNA available, and they tell you a lot about your family history with accurate ethnicity estimates.
A DNA test as a gift
Recently, gifting DNA tests for Christmas or birthdays has become very popular. In addition, more and more people are now purchasing tests for themselves. I think AncestryDNA has the most accurate kits.
How is the DNA sample collected?
One of two methods is utilized by different testing services: saliva-collecting or a cheek swab. In the case of saliva, you need to spit into a plastic test-tube 10–15 times to produce an adequate sample.
In case of the cheek swab, you are required to rub the swab in your mouth (between your teeth and cheek) for 1 minute.
In both cases, you mustn’t eat or chew gum for 30 minutes to 1 hour before taking the sample. The top kits tend to be cheek swabs since they are easier to use and ship.
What are the steps of the DNA test procedure?
- You have to purchase the kit on the company’s website.
- The testing company sends you the kit (image on the left).
- The kits contain step-by-step instructions and the tools for collecting your DNA.
- IMPORTANT: In the kit, you receive a specific number which must be registered on the company’s ancestry website (this is how it identifies your DNA anonymously).
- You send back the living DNA kit by post (generally, it is prepaid).
- You’ll receive your ancestry results after a while (depends on the company). See the spreadsheet under “how long does it take to receive my living DNA test results.”
#1 DNA test kit?
According to my estimation and research, the winner is the Ancestry DNA testing kit. Currently, it offers the top service on the market regarding its price to value ratio.
AncestryDNA vs 23andMe: which is the better?
Considering all aspects, in my opinion, AncestryDNA is a better choice. If you are looking for relatives or family members, then it is worth choosing 23andMe as well, since both companies have a rather large DNA matches database, and it isn’t likely that the overlap between their databases is significant. See my in-depth 23andMe vs AncestryDNA comparison.
While the size of their databases is similar, Ancestry proves to be more successful in ethnicity estimation.
Are home DNA tests accurate? Which DNA test is the most accurate?
As my research confirms, yes, they are accurate.
If you need my opinion, which is the most accurate? The Ancestry DNA test results match my family tree research results and my own ethnicity calculation.
How to provide saliva sample
You are required not to eat or chew gum for 30 minutes to 1 hour before taking the test. For further details, check out this short video:
Number of DNA matches (living relatives) by companies:
Unfortunately, the idea of “relative” is interpreted differently. To be specific, AncestryDNA considers 6cM DNA congeniality as cousinship, whereas FamilyTreeDNA considers above 20cM congeniality as cousinship. CentiMorgan (cM) is a unit of (DNA segment) frequency that is utilized to measure genetic distance.
There is no standard index number for defining how close a relative is; however, it is obvious that the larger the database, the more probable it is that cousinship will be discovered.
How much does a kit cost?
It is quite difficult to answer this question, as various companies offer several types of genetic and health test packages. Luckily, they offer discounts.
In addition, if a health DNA data test is required, the price will obviously be higher. However, if you take a basic ethnicity estimation test, then it is in the range of $80–100.
It is important to remember that in the case of FamilyTreeDNA, the YDNA and mtDNA packages can only be requested separately. AncestryDNA is the most reasonable choice considering its price to value ratio. More importantly, based on my own family tree research, this company’s tests are the most accurate as well.
How long does it take to receive the results?
This varies since it depends on several factors, such as the company, the location of the order (postal services), and seasonality (Christmas time is the busiest). I can only report how long my test results took to arrive.
It is important to note that I live in Hungary (European Union), so with a United States address, you are likely to receive your kit much faster than I did, as the test results will probably arrive sooner.
See my spreadsheet for the details:
Moving your DNA data from one company to another — Uploading raw data
These are possible only with two companies: MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA. For instance, if you have a result from 23andMe, you can download the raw DNA data and upload it on the website of the two companies mentioned above.
It is worth doing this for two reasons:
- We are not satisfied with the results of ethnicity estimation, so we are looking for other calculations.
- We would like to find other relatives in the database of MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA.
What is a chromosome browser?
Advanced users often utilize it for the comparison of two DNA samples. Basically, you can see where there is congeniality between two (or more) DNA samples (see the image below). For more details, see my post.
Ethnic regions covered by DNA companies
Unfortunately, there is no unified system for the localization of ethnic regions. This is logical, as the more regions the company covers, the greater the likelihood the ethnicity estimation is accurate.
However, to my surprise, 23andMe, for instance, did not manage to provide accurate results despite having a rather detailed regional database. So, you shouldn’t rely only on this feature of the company.
Genetic health DNA testing
Genetic health DNA test reports provide information about your inherited illnesses that can affect your health condition. These include cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and other syndromes, infections, anemias, and diseases.
Currently, 4 DNA companies offer genetic health DNA tests; however, the depth of health risk analysis varies.
Health DNA reports
- Carrier reports: They tell you about variants that may not affect your health but could affect the health of your future family.
- Wellness reports: You can learn how your genes affect your well-being and your everyday health condition.
- Health reports: They tell you how your genetics can influence your chances of developing certain health conditions.
23andMe: The most health risks and illnesses are tested by 23andMe: 10 health reports, 5 wellness reports, and 40+ carrier reports. See details here.
AncestryDNA: 2 cancer reports, 3 carrier status reports, and 4 heart and blood health reports. See details here.
MyHeritage: 18 risk reports and 18 carrier status reports. See details here.
LivingDNA: The company provides reports on well-being: 8 nutrition reports and 6 fitness reports.
It is completely understandable that some DNA test takers have concerns about their personal DNA information and their privacy. So do I! Two very important questions were raised:
- Does the company provide any individual-level genetic data to third parties?
- Can I delete my genetic testing information and analysis from the company’s website and database anytime in the future?
I asked all 5 companies to answer these questions. The good news is that each of them answered. See their responses here.
The even better news is that all the companies have confirmed that they never provide their data to a third party, and we can delete our data from the database at any time.
Top DNA test for Native American ancestry
If you are looking into your Native American ancestry, then AncestryDNA could be the top choice. See their reference panel for more information: AncestryDNA.
#1 DNA Test for African Americans
I suggest AncestryDNA.