FAQ

What is DNA testing?

How does DNA testing work?

How Do I Use the Kit?

Types of DNA Tests

How to Choose a DNA Test Kit

How much does a DNA test cost?

Can you get a DNA test while pregnant?

What do ancestry DNA results look like?

How trustworthy is ancestry testing?

What can you learn from a DNA test?

What about my privacy?

What is the DNA testing process?

How do I choose a DNA testing kit for ancestry?

How simple or difficult is the kit to use?

Are there any added features I should know about?

What is DNA testing?

DNA testing examines the genetic code that’s carried in every person’s unique DNA profile. The code can be found in the cells of any human material, from a drop of saliva to a smear of blood or a strand of hair.

How does DNA testing work?

DNA testing works by taking a sample of cells from the person who’s undergoing the test. Scientists isolate the DNA code that is at the heart of every single cell and carries the information which determines all of your physical characteristics, from your hair color and height to your chances of developing certain conditions.

How Do I Use the Kit?

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.

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 time frame varies; it can be anything from 4 to 12 weeks.

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.

Types 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 Test Kit

Like countless other purchases in life, when it comes to ordering a home DNA kit, it’s crucial you determine what’s most important for you. Here are the key considerations to look for when you choose a DNA testing company or a DNA testing kit.

1) What the test reveals

If you’re most interested in family genealogical research, your best bet would be to go with a company like MyHeritage or AncestryDNA. With both of these companies you can also access a massive database of billions of historical records, as well as trace your roots through the family tree builder. In addition, the companies have millions and millions of users in their databases and can match you with relatives, so if you’re looking to find long lost family members, companies like these are your best bet.

If you’re looking to learn more about your personal health and also perhaps get tips for nutrition and exercise, then companies like Vitagene, 23andMe and Orig3n may be better options. Other than 23andMe—which combines ancestry mapping with health assessments—the kits aren’t marketed toward users who are interested in deep, extensive genealogical research, rather, they are interested in learning about their health through DNA testing.

Finally, you should also consider how important it is to you that the company does more than just autosomal testing and if it travels across enough geographic regions for mapping your ancestry, or if you want a company like GPSorigins, which looks at more than 900 geographic regions.

2) Type of test

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.

3) Pricing

The price of the DNA test varies between different companies as well as depending on the type of test you take. mtDNA tests are the most expensive type of DNA testing, while autosomal DNA tests are the lowest cost and Y-DNA tests come in somewhere between the 2. Although the tests are more or less the same, there’s a huge fluctuation in price between different companies, so compare prices before you buy. Some companies, like LivingDNA, offer a package of all 3 tests for a discount.

4) Ease of 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.

5) Reports

Not every company offers the same range of reports. Very few genealogical DNA testing companies will include health and wellness reports. Most companies provide ancestral reports, which break down your family heritage, ethnicity, and which region of the world you hail from, although some are more detailed than others. Some also provide a chromosomal browser which lets you compare your genetic profile with that of others from around the world. You can also find cousin matching reports, which let you know if you have any matches with other people registered with the same service.

6) Test Accuracy

The type of test you choose affects the accuracy since autosomal DNA tests are less accurate the further back you go but mtDNA and Y-DNA tests remain reliable for dozens of generations. The biggest DNA testing companies such as Ancestry.com, MyHeritage, and LivingDNA are all pretty equally accurate in their test results. However, all companies warn that you shouldn’t use home DNA tests for detailed and critical genetic information like the risk of genetic disorders or of developing cancer.

7) Privacy

With the rise of hackers and cyber thieves, privacy is a big concern for DNA testing. Check that the company you choose uses industry-standard safeguards and firewalls to protect your details. You should also check that the company you choose has a strong privacy policy and won’t sell your details to medical research facilities or commercial partners without your agreement. It’s important to ask what exactly the company does with your details.

8) Special Features

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.

How much does a DNA test cost?

If you’re simply looking for a DNA ancestry test, most companies have similar prices that hover anywhere between $59 - $99 per test.

With most companies, you have to factor in shipping, but shipping is often included—or at least discounted—if you order multiple tests.

Can you get a DNA test while pregnant?

A DNA ancestry test can be carried out during pregnancy without any issue. If you’re looking to establish paternity while pregnant, this can also be done with a number of companies.

A prenatal DNA test can be done with a simple blood sample from the mother. The lab then extracts a DNA profile of the baby from the fetal cells in the mother's blood stream. This can be compared with a DNA test from the father in order to establish paternity.

What do ancestry DNA results look like?

On MyHeritage for instance, your results are shown in a revealing experience that jumps across the globe, showing each ethnic area one by one, with a percentage of your makeup. Whenever it bounces to a different part of the world, the platform plays music that corresponds to the region of origin, and shows you each of the different population groups in your DNA, with fun animation.

With LivingDNA, you’ll receive a breakdown of your ethnicity listed by percentage and shown across a map of the world, and on 23andMe you get a very similar breakdown, shown with varying shades of ethnicities circling around the globe like a pinwheel.

LivingDNA can also give you a “family ancestry visualization,” which creates a recent family ancestry average based on your DNA mix over the past 10 generations. Living DNA can also give you a “migration map” which will show you the trail that your family (maternal line and paternal line) took beginning with the origin of man in east Africa.

How trustworthy is ancestry testing?

The way the tests work is by taking your DNA and comparing it to people from regions across the world and seeing how much of it resembles the DNA of people from specific areas and to what extent. The accuracy is largely linked to how many people the company has in their database, and also how many people from a specific region of the world took the test. As LivingDNA puts it, the tests answer the question, "Which populations in the world is my [autosomal] DNA most similar to?"

DNA tests— both prenatal and after birth—can unequivocally prove paternity, and can be of great assistance to parents trying to sort out issues of custody, immigration, and divorce.

When it comes to ancestral breakdowns, DNA tests can take our jumbled, unclear DNA and create an easy-to-follow mosaic of our family background and where we came from. These tests can zoom out and look at our DNA and how it compares to people around the world, giving us some insight on where our families came from.

You may also find some sort of confusion due to the ever-changing breakdown of nation-states throughout history.

What can you learn from a DNA test?

A DNA test can give you information about signs that indicate that you could develop some sort of genetic health condition down the road. Companies like 23andMe, which do DNA health testing, caution that these tests should not take the place of the consultation of a physician nor do they constitute a medical diagnosis. Nonetheless, they can provide some information that you can follow up.

DNA tests— both prenatal and after birth—can unequivocally prove paternity, and can be of great assistance to parents trying to sort out issues of custody, immigration, and divorce.

When it comes to ancestral breakdowns, DNA tests can take our jumbled, unclear DNA and create an easy-to-follow mosaic of our family background and where we came from. These tests can zoom out and look at our DNA and how it compares to people around the world, giving us some insight on where our families came from.

What about my privacy?

DNA companies are well aware of the concerns surrounding user privacy and have enacted security protocols to fight against threats to user data. Most DNA testing companies today keep customer personal information—credit card details, name, email, etc.—separate from genetic information, so that in the event of a breach they cannot be identified.

These sites also promise to not lease, rent, or sell any of your information without your consent.

What is the DNA testing process?

The process of filling out the DNA test can essentially be separated into 3 steps: collection, packaging, and results.

1.) 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.

2.) 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.

3.) 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.

How do I choose a DNA testing kit for ancestry?

Autosomal

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.

mtDNA

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-Chromosome

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.

Are there 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.,/p>

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.