DNA Testing Process
The process of filling out the DNA test can essentially be separated into 3 steps: collection, packaging, and results.
- Collection - If you use a home DNA testing kit, you’ll find all the instructions included. Usually, you’ll be sent a sterile tube to collect your saliva sample. It can be awkward to get enough spit for the test purposes. Some companies send a cheek swab that you rub against the inside of your cheek to get a sample of cells from there, instead.
- Packaging - Once you've collected your DNA sample, you'll seal it into the sterile package and use the included mailing package to send it back to the company. It usually takes a few weeks to get the results, but the timeframe varies; it can be anything from 4 to 12 weeks.
- Results - When your results are ready, you’ll typically get an email inviting you to view the results online. Ancestry DNA companies have a dashboard that lets you explore your results. MyHeritage makes a short video for each user that displays an overview of their background, with music that matches each person's geographic origins. On most sites you can then view a dashboard with a percentage breakdown of where you come from.
What Are the Different Uses of DNA Tests?
Paternity tests are used to confirm who is the father of a baby, child, or adult.
Genealogy tests are used by genealogists to determine ancestral ethnicity and relationships.
Gene therapy DNA testing is most commonly used for parents before they try to conceive or for fetuses to check for inheritable genetic conditions or if an embryo is carrying any birth defects.
Forensic DNA tests are used by police at crime scenes in order to identify victims or find criminals after certain crimes.
How to Choose a DNA Testing Kit for Ancestry
Here are the key considerations to look for when you choose a DNA testing company or kit.
There Are 3 Types of Tests. Start by Choosing the Type You Need
If you want a DNA test in order to learn more about your family and your origins, you have a few options. An autosomal DNA test checks only 22 out of the 23 pairs of chromosomes and can be used to compare DNA from both males and females, so it's best for finding a range of living relatives. It gets less reliable the further back you go because of autosomal DNA changes every generation, so it's only good for identifying up to third or sometimes fourth cousins and can only give reliable information back to your great-great-grandparents.
A mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) test checks the tiny mitochondrial strands inside every cell. Both males and females inherit these mitochondria from their maternal line. It can be extended much further back in time because it doesn't change quickly. It gives very precise details about your ancestors and distant cousins – even your 48th cousin! – but only if they lie on your maternal line. It’s good for proving you come from a particular region, ethnicity, or family group but not for finding relatives.
Y-DNA testing examines only the genetic information in the Y-chromosome, which is only found in males. It also does not change quickly, so like mtDNA, Y-DNA testing is good for proving relationship to a common ancestor or checking relationship with another individual, but it only works along the male or paternal line. This also means that only men can do a Y-DNA test, although women could ask a close male relative to take the Y-DNA test and then share the results.
How Simple - or Difficult - Is the Kit to Use?
Most DNA testing kits are pretty straightforward, but some elderly or weak individuals can find spit tests awkward to use. In those cases, companies that offer a cheek swab for taking samples instead of needing a saliva sample could be easier.
Any Added Features I Should Know About?
As well as these considerations, there are a few extra features that are offered by some DNA testing companies. Some companies store your data indefinitely which means you can discover new family history information 50 years down the line. Others only store it for a certain number of years. Another feature is the size of the database. The bigger the database of users, the better your chances of finding a match. Some companies also permit you to upload raw genealogical data to their database so you can see if you have any matches without taking a test again.