All you need to know about ancestry testing and 15 DNA ancestry tests reviewed

By Lumminary Team, 27 Aug, 2018

What is ancestry?
What’s the deal with ancestry tests?
Types of DNA tests
What type of information can you get from an ancestry test?
What else can an ancestry DNA test tell you?
Your ancestors’ migration patterns
Haplogroups
Here are three instances of what ancestry tests can reveal:
Getting Started with a DNA Test
How is DNA collected?
How is DNA analyzed?
Costs
Popular DNA ancestry tests
Running your DNA test data through GEDMatch
How to use GEDMatch
DNA ancestry testing caveats
Resources to trace your ancestry:
The census
Investigate the historical context
Birth certificates
Death certificates
Social Security Death Index
Marriage records
Baptism records
Deeds and land records
Wills and probate records
Naturalization lists
Passenger lists
Church records
City directories
Workhouse and union records
Draft cards
Obituaries
Cemetery records
Old family photos and scrapbooks
Asking family members and friends
Conclusion

What is ancestry?

Ancestry is usually defined as a line of descent. Whenever anyone tells you they’re drawing their family tree, tracing their African roots or trying to ascertain if their great-grandmother lived to the ripe age of 102, they are basically tracing their ancestry.

Why would you want to learn about your family history? Genealogy can help you discover a great deal about yourself. You might understand why you have a hard time getting a tan or you might even find a long lost family member. The potential ramifications are particularly interesting if you were adopted as a child or if you family moved around the world.

As early as the 90s, genealogy was a pastime that only a privileged few could afford to spend time on – mainly with the intention of establishing familial relationships for purposes of inheritance. But today it’s accessible to everyone.

Genealogy back then was rudimentary: your wealthy ancestor may have poured over physical archives and sent letters of inquiry to people in the know. Genealogy in the modern age involves DNA testing and supplementary research of historical records to get a full and largely accurate picture of ancestry.

What’s the deal with ancestry tests?

An ancestry test can trace your origins to thousands of years and back ten or more generations, to answer a broad spectrum of questions, including why you have blue eyes or a Nubian nose. It is a DNA-based test that uses your genes to find similarities with individuals or populations around the world. If you want to get a clear picture about your family’s history, a DNA test is currently your best chance at discovering the unalterable, the astonishing and perhaps even the inconvenient.

This is possible because some DNA is inherited from generation to generation. Human DNA undergoes 100-200 new mutations each time it is passes from one person, such as your mother, to the next, you. But certain patterns of genetic variation are usually shared between people belonging to particular backgrounds. DNA tests examine variations in these genes to determine paternal and/or maternal line as well as relationships between families.

Types of DNA tests

There are three types of DNA tests that trace either your maternal lineage, your paternal lineage or your distant male and female relatives. Each is informative and interesting in its own way, and can help answer questions you have about your ancestry.

Y-DNA: This test gathers information about your paternal line DNA passed down from father to son and focuses on the Y chromosome. As women do not have Y-DNA, you can take the test only if you’re a male or have a male member of your family provide a test sample.

Y-DNA is a popular test among those who want to verify paternity and get to the bottom of a particular surname. The testing company’s database will have people with the similar surname, helping establish many new connections and really building out your ancestral chart.

The results of your Y-DNA test go back hundreds of years to determine the population group your recent paternal ancestry as well as your deep ancestral origins dating back to thousands of years. These population groups are referred to as haplogroups in DNA testing.

mtDNA: Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mother to offspring and can help you find your relatives and genealogy on your mother’s side. As mtDNA strands don’t alter much, you can trace your maternal lineage far, far back to even an ancient skeleton. For instance, the test was used to establish the identity of King Richard III (1452 – 1485) through his bones.

How do you have your kids think #genealogy is cool? Tell your daughters they have the same #mtDNA at the Romanov children! Haplogroup H - what’s your mtDNA

Autosomal DNA: You inherit 50% of your autosomal DNA from your mother and 50% from your father. For this reason, the test can point you to both male and female relatives in your family tree.

It is extremely popular among those looking to connect to distant male and female relatives, build out their ethnic mix, and discover common genetic traits, including hereditary diseases/genetic disorders.

An autosomal DNA test can only link you to family members tracing back to five or eight generations, so if you want to learn of your ancestral origins as far back as a hundred generations, mtDNA or Y-DNA can do the time traveling for you. However, if you’re an adoptee, autosomal DNA testing followed by a GEDMatch (read more about this below) can be helpful in tracing your birth parents.

What type of information can you get from an ancestry test?

99.5% of all DNA is shared across all human beings. Genetic variation lies in the other 0.5%. It is what makes each of us unique, from our skin color and hair color to the shape of our faces and our risk for developing a certain disease.

Here are some key facts about ancestry and DNA:

  • About half of your DNA originates from your father and the other half from your mother.
  • DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid and lives within each one of our body’s cells.
  • DNA works like a list of instructions - think of an Ikea assembly guide but with millions of pages and components. The body uses these instructions to build essential proteins that help it function, and they are also passed down from parent to child.
  • DNA is a long molecule shaped like a twisted ladder (the double helix shape), and it twists and coils into a compact structure called a chromosome. Basically, your chromosomes are made from DNA.
  • Each chromosome has one DNA molecule. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, so 46 chromosomes in total.
  • A gene is a short section/length of DNA. Genes encode the forms and functions of various proteins; for example, the insulin gene contains instructions for creating and managing the insulin protein, which regulates your blood glucose levels from getting too high or falling too low.
  • Humans have approximately 20,000 to 30,000 genes.
  • Genes determine our traits. As genes mutate, they change their components and can also alter their function. A mutated gene is called an allele. For instance, each person has four alleles, or modified genes, that determine their eye color (an allele for brown eyes, an allele for green eyes…etc.). Genes also determine hair color, skin color, height, and other physical traits.
  • Your DNA profile is also your unique genetic fingerprint and your chances of sharing your DNA profile with another person across the world is lower than one in trillion!

When you inherit a particular type of gene, it can be used to measure how closely related you are to other people around the world who carry the same variant. Wherever the same particular DNA variant is found represents a genetic marker. A genetic marker can be used to identify species, individuals, or population groups. Furthermore, each genetic marker has its own geographical distribution pattern.

A DNA testing kit brings together information about these patterns, information on individuals around the world, and variations in your DNA (your DNA alleles) to determine your genetic ancestry. How to choose the right ancestry test

Your choice of DNA test will depend on a number of factors. Chief among them is what you want to learn from test results. Are you curious about your ancestral origin and ethnicity? You may want to do a Y-DNA or mtDNA test that leads you to your ancestors. Want to know who your fifth or sixth cousins are? Go for an autosomal DNA test if you are okay with not going beyond six generations.

Your mtDNA profile is a good starting point to connect to several people with whom you share an ancestor going back to 15-20 generations or find/confirm Native American ancestry in your direct maternal line. Y-DNA testing is a reliable source for understanding if you have Irish or Danish roots or whether or not people who share your surname or a version of it are genetically related to you.

If your goal is to determine your genetic predisposition to developing certain diseases, check if the DNA test reveals insights into heritable medical conditions and response to specific medications. 23andMe, for instance, offers gene tests for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and some rare blood diseases.

The findings of DNA tests have emotional consequences for you and your family. Any upsetting health information may not be received positively by certain family members. Some relatives may, for whatever reason, wish to be excluded from conversations around ancestry and paternal/maternal heritage. Others may welcome revelations about family traits that allow them to gain a broad perspective of who they really are or motivate them to embark on a healthier lifestyle.

Have an open conversation with your family prior to ordering a DNA test. That way, you will have a clear idea about who is interested and who doesn’t want to know. Maybe the reluctant ones will come around eventually, but the onus is on you to respect their decision and back off when you sense discomfort or someone tells you a firm ‘no’.

You will, of course, want to do a price comparison to determine which test best meets your requirements and budget. I personally feel that it is worth learning about your mother’s and father’s direct ancestry. In this regard, Living DNA offers good value for your money, pulling information from 80 regions worldwide and maintaining results indefinitely so you can view and update your family tree whenever you want.

In conclusion:

  • Determine your goal from the ancestry test
  • Be emotionally prepared for unexpected news
  • Bring your family onboard
  • Compare prices but avoid nitpicking over price and prioritize quality

What else can an ancestry DNA test tell you?

Along with your physical traits based on ancestry, family lines along maternal and paternal lineage, an ancestry test will also give you information on your ancestors’ migration patterns, and the population groups your family has been a part of over time.

For instance, maybe your ancestors traveled from the Middle East to Scandinavia, or maybe they sailed from an European city to North America. An ancestry test is a great way to discover your personal history, with scientific accuracy.

Your ancestors’ migration patterns

Humans first evolved in Africa and our genetic footprints over the course of roughly 60,000 years of existence can be traced back today. By mapping genetic markers, DNA tests offer a picture of your ancestors’ migration patterns.

Ancestry.com, for instance, has combined genotype data from DNA samples and family tree information to build migration maps of North America, helping people locate how those before them moved around. The maps date back to the pre-colonial days and in doing so, show some of the earliest patterns of human migration and settlement.

Specifically, you can get the route your maternal or paternal ancestors followed from Africa to the finishing point in their migration journey. The migratory movements are described by where and when they happened.

Note that DNA tests can show you the region of origin as opposed to a country. I mean, in a ‘short’ span of 1,000 years, European borders have changed quite a bit. Russia came into existence in the 1500s and Germany followed in the late 1800s.

The two World Wars, the Cold War, the break of USSR, disintegration of Yugoslavia and expansion of the European Union eastwards are major changes. National borders have shifted around over the past hundred decades, with the annexation of Crimea by Russia being the most recent example.

The point is, DNA tests cannot tell you whether your ancestors from a particular area were German, Russian or French; they can suggest that they came from that region. Some of your ancestors may have migrated far away from their region of origin and consequent inter-marriages could add diversity to your profile.

Haplogroups

A haplogroup can be thought of as a large family – your ancestral clan – if you will, like a large tribe comprising several smaller tribes. A gene mutation in a single member of the family/tribe/clan is carried by all his or her descendants. DNA tests determine the genetic population you belong to.

As you may imagine, the earliest haplogroups are found in Africa. They then migrated to Europe and Asia, developed unique gene mutations and sprung forth Asian, European and Native American haplogroups. So, basically, there are four main haplogroups: African, Asian, European and Native American, and sub-groups within these large haplogroups. Native Americans are the exception, comprising just two male haplogroups.

You could belong to the mitochondrial haplogroup H, which accounts for 40% of all mitochondrial lineages in Europe, and pretty uniformly distributed throughout the continent.

Approximately 20,000 years ago, this haplogroup began expanding, driving migration and creating branches. H1, the most common branch, accounts for 30% of people in haplogroup H and 46% of material lineages in Iberia. About 14% of all Europeans belong to H1 haplogroup.

A rarer branch – H3 – includes groups of travelers who crossed over into southwest Asia and then to the Franco-Cantabrian region stretching from the Asturias to Provence, that served as a major refuge during the Last Glacial Maximum. If you belong to H3, your folks made it through the extremely challenging Ice Age when most of the world was a dry, cold and gloomy place frequented by storms and dust.

Here are three instances of what ancestry tests can reveal:

  • Show haplogroups and geographic locations: if you’re European, you may very well belong to H haplogroup; if you have the H haplogroup, you are likely to have at least one European ancestor.

  • Haplogroup H (Y-DNA) distribution.
  • Neanderthal ancestry: A DNA test may include a Neanderthal ancestry report that tells you if you have Neanderthal origins. Neanderthals became extinct 40,000 years ago after interbreeding with homo sapiens and getting absorbed into a bigger human population. Virtually all human beings today have some traces of Neanderthal DNA. We can be thankful for our Neanderthal ancestors because their migration from Africa to Europe and mingling with modern humans led to an evolution of immune system genes and strengthened our resistance power against harmful pathogens.

  • Native American ancestry: If you’re North American, you may wonder if you have Native American ancestors. A Y-DNA test can show whether or not you have a C or Q paternal haplogroup, which indicates descendancy from Native Americans. Native ancestry can be confirmed if your tests reveals a C3b or Q1a3a haplogroup subgroup. An mtDNA test checks for maternal haplogroups of Native ancestry: A, B, C, D and X. Autosomal markers can also detect Native ancestry so long as it is not as far back as five to six generations.

Science is beautiful when it makes simple explanations of phenomena or connections between different observations. Examples include the double helix in biology, and the fundamental equations of physics.

Answer to question: What are the things you find most beautiful in science?
Stephen W. Hawking

Getting Started with a DNA Test

If you’re considering getting your first DNA test, ancestry or otherwise, you may have wondered how a DNA sample is collected. Is really only a strand of hair needed like TV police investigations would have us believe? Or are needles involved? The answer is neither - the process is quick and effortless, completely pain free, and you can do it at home in a few minutes.

How is DNA collected?

Most home testing DNA kits include saliva or tissue sample collection tube along with instructions on ensuring the sample is not contaminated.

For providing a saliva sample, it is important to let the saliva into the tube without it touching your hands. The entire sample needs to be given within 30 minutes. Once the sample is collected you will need to pour the contents of the attached funnel into the test tube. The funnel contains a substance that prevents DNA degradation, so your sample can make it back to the lab in good shape for analysis.

You should not drink, smoke, use a mouthwash, eat, brush your teeth or chew gum for a minimum of 30 minutes before collecting a saliva or tissue sample from your mouth. The recommended saliva volume is 2 mL or half a teaspoon. All home kits also provide transportation supplies to send the sample for testing.

If you are provided buccal swabs, use the sterile swab provided with your DNA testing kit to scrape the inner cheek for one minute. You can scrape vigorously but ensure it does not hurt or you do not start bleeding from the area.

After one minute take care to not touch the swab with your hands before storing it safely. You should then eject the tip of the swab into the small vial provided with your kit by pushing a plunger on the applicator stick. Shut the vial cap tightly and put them in a plastic bag which then goes into a pre-addressed envelope to be posted to the lab.

In other cases and scenarios, such as medical use, DNA tests may be done on another tissue or body fluid. These fluids can include blood, sweat, mucus, and the DNA samples can be taken from your hair, cells from inside your cheek, or any body cell or human sample such as nails, sperm or items like toothpicks or chewing gum that have saliva.

How is DNA analyzed?

Specific areas on the DNA molecule contain codes sequences or “genes” that pass on specific traits from parents to children. We inherit our DNA code from biological parents and both contribute equally to our DNA code.

Human DNA is made up of 6 billion tiny components called nucleotides. Each nucleotide is labelled A, T, C, or G, and they form pairs based on certain rules such as CG or AT. The human body has nearly 3 billion such letter pairs!

This is important for understanding how much information DNA analysis has to sift through, to find the similarities and differences between two individuals, and especially through thousands or millions of individuals over time.

That’s why, instead of combing through all of the genetic material, genotyping technology looks at specific parts of DNA and pieces them together. About two to thirteen nucleotides are repeated multiple times on the DNA strand and this short portion is tested in “Short tandem repeat” or STR analysis.

The genes are similar to recipes that are passed on from parents to offspring. Many times, this process of passing information is not perfect and there are minor errors in the copying process - just like typos. These errors are called variations or mutations. While some mutations cause harmful diseases, many others are neutral and give rise to the variations in each individual.

When neutral mutations are passed through generations and is prevalent in groups of population, it is known as “single nucleotide polymorphism or SNP”. Out of 3 billion base pairs, 10 million come from SNPs. Genetic testing basically involves looking for and comparing these SNPs between groups of people to provide educated guesses on ancestral origins.

Costs

Most DNA test providers charge between US $99 (£ 79.00) to $1999 (£ 1499) although the cost depends on the specific test or combination of tests required. The cost can depend also on the complexity of the genetic test.

When more than one family member has to be tested to get a meaningful result, the costs tend to go up as the process must be repeated for the other family member.

The basic tests of Y-chromosome DNA, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA are available in some companies for a price range between $50 to $99. Shipping costs are additional in most places which also depends on the lab’s location.

While you can purchase DNA tests for yourself, they also make for great gifts for friends or loved ones. Many companies offer automatic updates on ethnicity estimates, contact details of DNA matches, access to results online apart from a free account on these DNA gifts.

AncestryDNA

Want to know where your ancestors come from or wondering if you have long lost relatives in Italy? AncestryDNA can answer these questions in great detail. With a DNA database of more than ten million people across 350 regions in the world, AncestryDNA can give you plenty of insights into your origin.

You can get an ethnicity estimate, match your DNA to your living relatives and know the migration details of your ancestors. Ethnic estimate is given in the form of a pie chart with percentages against each ethnic origin. With AncestryDNA, you are also more likely to find your living relatives and by just clicking on a button, message your long lost aunt or cousin!

To take an AncestryDNA test, you need to provide a saliva sample, which you can do with the at-home sample kit that the test includes. Based on this sample the test measures 700,000 markers on your genome and uses the data to find out where your ancestors lived across 350 locations in the world.

23andMe

Although its ancestry database is not quite as comprehensive as that of AncestryDNA, 23andMe includes multiple health insights, as well as personal traits analysis, so it is more than only an ancestry test.

On the ancestry side, however, 23andMe has a pool of over three million genotypes from across 150 regions in the world. You can get a region-wise breakdown of where your ancestors lived and also discover timelines when different ancestries mingled with your DNA. A unique DNA relatives report lets you view chromosomes that overlap with your DNA matches and connect with relatives you didn’t know you had across the world!

If you want to know if you have Neanderthal heritage, 23andMe also has a gene database based test that can tell you what percentage of your DNA comes from Neanderthals and how you compare to others. You might also discover that traits like brown eyes or black hair that you are proud of have been inherited from Neanderthals.

Living DNA

If you’re looking to find out which particular region in Britain or Ireland your ancestors belong to, Living DNA is the test for you. The DNA test from Living DNA gives you details of your Irish or British ancestors that are “peer reviewed.” The database has over 80 regions across the world with 21 of them being in Ireland and Britain.

The “3-in-1 ancestry test” gives you insights into not only your family ancestry, but motherline and fatherline as well. You can details of your ancestry dating back ten generations with a break up that shows how you are connected through history to all of them.

My Heritage DNA

My Heritage has been around for fifteen years and currently has 98 million customers across the world. Their database stores 9.2 billion historical records with family trees consisting of 3 billion people. With 42 supported ethnicities, My Heritage DNA has the largest pool of ethnicities, including Irish, Jewish, Japanese, Italian, among others.

You can get an overview of where your ancestors came from along with a percentage break up of your DNA of each of the areas. The large ethnicity pool has been built by a “Founder Populations” project that My Heritage DNA undertook. The project involved hand picking more than 5000 people who had ancestors living in the same region for generations and testing their DNA.

The result was a consistent database of 42 founder populations which is used to give you a more accurate ethnicity estimate. If you are looking to build your family tree, My Heritage DNA’s extensive database of marriage certificates, obituaries, census and other records are useful.

African Ancestry

While most other tests can find out which country or continent your ancestors belonged to, most do not pinpoint the specific location within the continent. African Ancestry since 2003 has helped many reconnect with their roots by indicating the precise location within Africa.

African Ancestry is completely owned by African Americans and dedicated to helping people trace their African lineages.

African Ancestry is a unique company helps you trace your origins to the present day Africa and to ethnic origins of 500 years ago. The test results will indicate which continent you belong to as well in case you do not have African origins.

Like other DNA test providers, African Ancestry also tests mtDNA or mitochondrial DNA inherited from the maternal lineage, the Y chromosome from paternal lineage and autosomal DNA.

Family Tree DNA

If you dislike the idea giving a saliva sample, Family Tree DNA can be a great alternative for getting your first DNA test done. With Family Tree DNA, all that’s required is a swab from the inside of your cheek. When you order a DNA test, two samples are taken for DNA extraction. You will get your results within four to eight weeks after the first sample is analyzed.

The second vial is stored in ambient conditions for 25 years and this is used in case the first sample was insufficient or poor in quality. FamilyTreeDNA has been building its database since 2000 and now have more than 2 million customers who have had their DNA tests done.

FamilyTreeDNA has an in-house accredited laboratory with the latest equipment including NovaSeq Sequencing System and Illumina’s powerful HumanOmniExpress-24 chip. You can order a family, paternal or maternal ancestry tests to get a percentage breakdown of ancestors who lived 500 years ago.

WeGene

WeGene is dedicated to helping Chinese individuals understand their genomic data. The DNA test analyses and provides genomic data along with personalized weight loss, nutrition and exercise recommendations apart from genomic medicine.

WeGene helps those with Chinese heritage understand their risks for many health conditions including prostate cancer, anorexia, suicidal tendencies, risk of preterm birth, asthma, fatty liver and much more.

With Whole Genome Sequencing WeGene can obtain data from 3 billion locations in the human body while you get an in-depth genome-wide report.

Full Genomes

With whole genome sequencing, Full Genomes gives you the entire book instead of only a page worth of details. If you have wondered if there are any disease causing genetic mutations you should be aware of, you can get the right answers by getting your whole genome sequenced at Full Genomes.

Whole genome sequencing is the next-generation sequencing method that is used to find the order of nucleotides in the DNA. This test is used in healthcare to find out mutations or variations of genes that can cause diseases. When your entire genome – that contains all of the genetic material – is sequenced, you can get valuable insights into whether you have a risk of certain genetic diseases and if your children will inherit them.

Full Genomes has many test options in whole genome sequencing that include Long Read Whole Genome test, Basic analysis, Advanced Variant analysis, 30X and 20X whole genome sequencing.

GPS Origins

With GPS Origins you can zero in on the exact village or town of your ancestry. You can trace the roots of where and when your DNA was formed along with the migration history of your ancestors. With detailed stories on migration, war, famine and other conditions that led to DNA mixing, you can get an overview of both paternal and maternal lineages.

An interactive, dynamic online map allows you to explore your DNA GPS pinpoints. You also get a percentage breakup of ancestral origins along with a list of top three ancestral communities that have shaped your genetic makeup.

GPS Origins uses autosomal DNA from chromosomes 1-22 to determine your ancestry. As compared to mitochondria or Y chromosomes, chromosomes 1-22 are believed to be more sensitive to your recent ancestors’ genetic signatures.

The gene pool at GPS Origins is created by mixing 41 gene pools available globally in various proportions.

The Genealogist

If you have always wanted to trace your maternal or paternal line, the DNA test at The Geneologist is a good option. Mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome DNA are the two tests that are available for finding out your maternal and paternal lineage. mtDNA is passed on to children from the mother without any changes. This test measures the hypervariable regions 1 and 2 (HVR1 and HVR2) along with the coding region in the mitochondrial genome.

What do HVR1 and HVR2 tests reveal? There are thousands of mitochondria in each human cell. Each mitochondrion contains many copies of genetic code (denoted with alphabets A, C, T, and G). This is the mtDNA or mitochondrial DNA that controls the function of mitochondria apart from instructing them on copying itself. The copying process, over time, can lead to small changes called “mutations” or “polymorphisms.” If these polymorphisms are in the egg cell of the mother, the child inherits them and may pass on the same mutations to her own children later.

The mitochondrial DNA has two regions – coding region and the control region which is also called hypervariable region. The term ‘hypervariable’ (HVR) means fast changing and this is the region in the mitochondria that changes fast. This region is further divided into two regions, HVR1 and HVR2. These tests are used to understand genetic ancestry of your maternal line (since only females can pass on mtDNA mutations to their children).

The coding region contains genes and is slower mutating as compared to the control region. Changes in the coding region are useful for identifying haplogroups (major branch on paternal or maternal tree).

The Full Mitochondrial Sequencing (FMS) test tests all of the mtGenome. If you get an exact match on the FMS test with another person, it means you both have a common ancestor within 16 generations.

The Autosomal DNA test looks at specific markers found in unique geographical populations to find out where your ancestors came from. With this family finder test, you can find matches within the last five generations and confirm close relationships while also getting a percentage breakup of your ancestral origins.

iGENEA

Do you or your loved ones want clues about your unknown parents? If you or anyone you know has been adopted and want a link to your biological parents, iGENEA provides tests to find your genetic relatives with options of basic, premium and expert level tests.

With all three levels of tests, you can find out the percentage break up of ancestral origin dating 2000 years back, find your relatives and get a written result with a certificate in a picture frame. The premium and expert level tests also offer maternal or paternal lineage along with haplogroup and ancient tribe testing.

If you have been keen on understanding your ancient origins, the haplogroup testing is a great option. This test shows movement and origins of your ancestors dating back to primeval times. The ancient tribe testing gives you insights on your ancestors from 900 BC to 900 AD. You can also gain insights into where your ancient ancestors lived in the medieval era.

HomeDNA

Known as the “Walmart of DNA testing” HomeDNA tests are available at leading retail outlets in the US including Walmart, Rite Aid and CVS.

Separate kits are available to test:

  • Food and pet sensitivity

  • Genetic makeup based diet and exercise strategies

  • Skin care

  • Paternity

For those who are interested in their ancestry, HomeDNA offers wide-ranging testing products that suit different budgets to trace the historical background. Results of the tests are stored for 25 years.

Easy DNA

Want to know what your health risks derived from ancestry are? Easy DNA offers wide ranging DNA tests that include paternal, maternal lineage, clinical tests, prenatal tests and even animal DNA tests.

Whether you have a dog, cat or a bird as a pet, EasyDNA is the go-to place where you can find out your mixed breed’s genetic heritage. Allergy tests and health risks of your pet’s breed allow you to take proactive measures to reduce the risk of many diseases. The Animal test provides gives insights on breakdown of breed composition, health and illness problems and personality traits.

Other unique DNA tests include the “Karmagenes” personality test, Nutrifit Health and Fitness test, Skincare and diet and healthy weight tests. With the Skincare DNA test, you get an overview of your risks related to the seven aspects of aging. You can find out if your skin has a high risk of developing wrinkles, fine lines, sun damage and collagen deficiency among others.

DNA Tribes

Want to know which areas and populations your ancestors most likely belonged to? DNA Tribes has an extensive database of 560,000 people from more than 1200 populations across the world that includes more than 950 indigenous populations.

The regularly updated population database currently includes African, East Asian, Australian Aboriginal, Native American, European, South Asian, Near Eastern and Modern Diaspora. You also get a high resolution “World Region Match analysis” that shows your genetic connections to world regions including Native American, Sub Saharan, European, Pacific and Central and South Asian regions.

DNA Tribes measures genetic markers from your autosomal STR and this test method has been developed and used by the FBI as a method of individual identification.

National Geographic Geno DNA Kit

Ever wondered if you are genetically related to a celebrated genius? By partnering with Helix, National Geographic’s “Geno 2.0 Next Gen” helps you find out which geniuses you are genetically related to. The test analyses Y-chromosome or mitochondrial DNA, to give you insights on your famous genes!

According to National Geographic website, there are 948,795 participants across 140 countries in the genographic project. Apart from finding out your links to geniuses, you can also get a “deep ancestry” report that tells you the ancient stories that go all the way back to 100,000 years ago, giving you an overview of where your ancestors lived and migrated.

Other reports include the regional ancestry makeup which gives a percentage breakdown of ancestors based on their region and Hominin ancestry.

Running your DNA test data through GEDMatch

Are you looking for a free service that lets you find your relatives? GEDMatch is a completely free resource to find more relatives. In fact you can find more genetic links with GEDMatch than you would using the relative finder of 23andme!

Founded by Curtis Rogers and John Olson, GEDMatch allows you to compare your results from other DNA tests providers including Ancestry, Family Finder and 23andme.

GEDMatch uses data from Family Tree DNA or FtDNA along with data from 23andMe which means you can match your results with more number of people. As FtDNA is all about helping you research your family tree, you are also likely to find matches who have a specific interest in family tree or genealogy as compared to those on 23andme.

GEDMatch is much like getting a “second opinion” on your DNA test results. It gives you many options to analyze your results. The “One to many” option enables you to compare your results with everyone else on GEDMatch. You can also get an eye color prediction or if your parents are related. Other tests include:

  • One to many matches
  • Admixture heritage
  • One to one compare
  • X one to one
  • Admixture (Oracle)
  • Predict eye color
  • Are your parents related?

How to use GEDMatch

Unlike most ancestry DNA tests and resources, you may need some background information to use GEDMatch. Here are the essentials of the process:

  • The first step to start using GEDMatch is to download data from your DNA tests at 23andme. For this, log in to your account at 23andme click on the tab "Account" and select "Browse Raw Data." In this page, select "Download Raw Data." After you answer security questions, download "All DNA".

  • Now type www.gedmatch.com on your browser and find the tab that says "Upload your Data Files". Select "Upload your 23andMe raw data file" and provide the information as requested.

  • If you are looking for mitochondrial haploidgroup, select Maternal Line on 23andme. If you are male you can find Y haploidgroup in your Paternal line.

  • Wait for the uploading to get completed and for the chromosomes to be processed.

  • Now you will get a kit number that you should make a note of and preserve. You will not be able to access GEDMatch results without this number.

  • You can also use advanced features on GEDMatch. If you are looking to find "cousins" you may need to wait for one day for database to get updated so that you can get a list of all your matches.

  • After 24 hours, again log in to www.gedmatch.com and choose "Compare your FTDNA or 23andMe results with all raw DNA results in our public database." Enter the kit number that you have noted down and choose "Display Results." You will now get a list of your relatives and their contact details. You can email most of them if you need to.

There are also plenty of options when it comes to calculators on GEDMatch Genesis. The choice of calculator and the admixture project depends on your ancestry.

Want to explore more? Join the DNA Genetic Genealogy Interest Group

DNA ancestry testing caveats

DNA testing is easy to take and that is one of its best features. Since every cell in the human body contains DNA, a sample can be taken from anywhere without carrying out a blood test. In the lab, the sample is subjected to admixture testing and results are compared to DNA samples from a worldwide database to get the best matches. You then get a percentage breakdown of lineage across geographical regions.

As easy and uncomplicated as DNA tests are, there are some caveats you should be aware of:

  • It is not currently possible to check against a complete database of human DNA samples simply because a “complete human DNA database” does not exist. Your DNA sample is checked against the existing samples and the accuracy or quality of the results depends on the comparative sample size.

    All DNA testing companies have built their own database so depending on the representative sample used the results also can vary.

    One good thing is that the database is gradually growing as new samples are added and more customers undergo DNA testing. What you can do is to check the database of your chosen company and the bigger it is, the better the results.

  • The second caveat is that if you are non-white, your results may be less accurate as compared to a white European. Apart from the size of samples, variety is also important. So, if your lineage is to be traced from other continents outside Europe, there is smaller sample subset available for comparison.

    This may soon change as new databases emerge such as the “WeGene” and the “African American” DNA testing which are building a database for the Chinese and for populations in the African continent respectively.

  • While DNA testing provides you the best matches with existing data, you still cannot definitively link your DNA to that of your ancestors. Half of a person’s DNA is transferred to the offspring and when you do the math after seven generations, the unique contribution is down to less than 1%. Although we get mitochondrial DNA only from mothers and Y-chromosomes DNA from fathers, these DNAs give clues about distant ancestors who make up only a minor part of our lineage.

  • In any kind of tests done on samples, terms such as “confidence interval” and “reliability” are used. Because only a representative sample is used to compare your results, there are always chances of some error. Confidence interval shows the degree of error that is present in the testing. Most statistical surveys use a confidence interval of 95%. The more the confidence interval, the lesser the reliability of the result.

    Many companies let you see results by choosing different confidence intervals. For instance, if you get your results that say you are 2% Scandinavian with 75% confidence interval, if you choose to see results with 60% confidence interval, the probability of your Scandinavian lineage will increase but is less reliable.

  • Although you may get a result that says your risk of Parkinson’s based on a certain gene variant is three or four times higher, the normal risk is just 0.3 %. This means that your overall risk is only 1%. DNA testing for genetic mutations or disease risk should not replace seeking medical advice and treatment from qualified healthcare professionals.

Resources to trace your ancestry:

While DNA tests are the gold standard for uncovering your ancestral origin and building out your family tree, there are several resources that can make the journey more fun and rewarding. Of course, you should be sufficiently motivated in the first place to devote time and energy to the discovery process. Many people treat it like a family project, a giant jigsaw puzzle where everyone participates to piece bits of information that lead to ‘aha’ moments.

If you’re up for some old-school investigation, check out these resources, many of which are available free of charge.

The census

The earliest United States census dates back to 1790 and has been taken every ten years since. The current national census was performed in 2010 and the next one is scheduled for 2020. Between the decennial censuses, the Census Bureau uses surveys and statistical models to make estimates.

Full censuses have also been performed in the United Kingdom every year since 1801, with the exception of 1941 (on account of WWII). Look up census records for names, ages, locations and birthplaces, among other information that can aid genealogical research.

Investigate the historical context

Think about the history, events and culture that occurred during your ancestors’ lives. A historical context is important in creating a fuller picture of how your ancestors lived, whether a natural disaster, war or disease caused some of them to perish, and what their lives consisted of, including the religion they followed, their political affiliations, source of livelihood and migration patterns.

County records are a good source of such information. You can also conduct a Google search of the particular county or town for details on how life was during those times.

Birth certificates

As birth records show the names of both parents, they are frequently used to flesh out family trees. While there is no nationwide index of health information, each state maintains vital records.

Contact the Vital Records office of the particular county for the certificates; some counties may even have records for the entire state. You can make your payment online to the government website or order via mail using forms provided on the website or in-person if the office is in proximity to your home.

Death certificates

Vital records contain birth, marriage and death certificates, which means you can get parents’ names, spouses’ names and family relationships. Maiden names and names of relatives or witnesses are also provided, which can give you further clues about your ancestral history.

Ireland’s Civil Registration Index offers birth, death and marriage information from 1864 onwards. You can order photocopies from the General Register Office (GRO) for a small fee. Ditto for U.K certificates of births, marriages and deaths.

Social Security Death Index

The US Social Security Death Index (SSDI) contains information on an individual’s month and year of death, Social Security Number, the state where the number was issued, and the last residential zip code or the zip code where the death benefit was sent. The SSDI contains entries from every U.S state and covers deaths between 1800 and 2013.

Marriage records

Marriage records offer an excellent way to decipher family connections. A marriage record contains names, addresses, birthdates, blood types, marriage location and witnesses to the ceremony. You can order copies from your county administrator’s office or alternatively, use a third-party company to do the legwork and provide you a certified copy.

Baptism records

Baptism records are yet another useful resource for genealogical research. They provide names (and maiden names), dates of birth, names of each parent, residences and names of witnesses. If your ancestors were Catholic, you may find yourself figuring out information recorded in Latin, which was the Catholic Church’s official language until the 1960s.

But you only need to translate some words like anno (year of), pater (father), mater (mother), mensis (month) and matrimonium (marriage), among a few other words, to get all the information you need to help your research.

Deeds and land records

Records on the sale and transfer of property also offer important clues. How so? Well, land records show the relationship between two individuals and also help to differentiate two individuals who share the same name.

Additionally, you can learn about where the individual lived, their occupation, spouse, heir, whether they served in the military or if they were a naturalized citizen. You can easily access property deeds of a distant relative or ancestor from a local courthouse.

Wills and probate records

More people should be looking at wills and probate records in their genealogy research but many aren’t. Here’s why: prior to the legal requirement for birth and death registration, probate and land records were the only living documents offering information about your ancestors. You may chance upon mentions of adoption or guardianship of minor children, besides learning about the ancestors’ children and siblings.

Once you have the data on heirs, you can move down the line and expand your research. Wills and probate records also hold interesting testimonials and stories – you may understand what was important to your ancestor, how they expressed themselves and perhaps even their joys and regrets.

Naturalization lists

Beginning from 1790, immigrants to the United States were allowed to become naturalized citizens. Naturalization records are an important source of family history, offering information about an ancestor’s arrival to the United States – including the date and ship they travelled in – which can confirm migration patterns. Other information you can access includes birth date and place, country of origin and names of relatives.

Passenger lists

The federal government began maintaining a record of immigrant passenger arrivals only in the 1820s, but state or local authorities created pre-820 lists, which have been published in numerous works. You can access them in the following sources:

  • The guide entitled Passenger and Immigration Lists Index: A Guide to Published Arrival Records of about 500,000 Passengers who Came to the United States and Canada in the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries.

  • Immigrant and Passenger Arrivals: A Select Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications

  • Family History Library and its centers

  • National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

For more information, check out this link.

Church records

The massive membership numbers of religious congregations in some areas like the United States or rural Europe are a positive for genealogical research! Thank church parishes and congregations for marriage records, death and burial records, ages, birth dates, maiden names, former and subsequent residences (including overseas birthplaces), and relatives’ names and relationships.

An online research will point you to microfilmed or published versions, perhaps even digitized online records. This Wikipedia article offers helpful information on church records.

City directories

City, town and country directories offer key information on addresses, occupations and even marital status, religious and political affiliations. You can not only verify an ancestor’s location during a certain time period but also add important personal details for the years in which a census or vital record event did not take place.

Workhouse and union records

Workhouse and union records are a goldmine of family history, allowing you to learn about personal details about ancestors, such as whether they had fallen on hard times or if they suffered from a particular disease/disability.

You can also plug in missing details in your research, pertaining to dates and places or unidentified relationships. Refer to the workhouse connections for a UK ancestry search.

Draft cards

World War I and II draft cards contain details about your ancestors’ physical appearance – height, build, eye color and hair color – as well as birthdates and birthplaces. British Army record and Military Service records also offer information on family, occupation and military service.

Obituaries

FamilySearch International and GenealogyBank have the largest online US historic records, encompassing a billion records from more than 100 million U.S newspaper obituaries. If you want a single source of extensive information – names, dates, locations, relationships and multi-generational family members – this collection is hard to beat.

Cemetery records

Cemetery transcriptions provide information not available elsewhere, including spouses’ and children’s names, country of origin, military service, and other important details. You can look at church-owned cemeteries located in the church’s vicinity, church-run cemeteries, national, state and local cemeteries, and non-church, privately-owned cemeteries.

Old family photos and scrapbooks

What mysteries do old black-and-white families hold? There’s something charming and nostalgic about tintypes and rusty family photos, even if you are completely unfamiliar with the subjects of the photographs.

As far as ancestry research is concerned, family photos and scrapbooks offer a glimpse into your ancestors’ lives: their social or financial standing, occupation, familial life, place of origin and a wealth of other useful personal information.

Asking family members and friends

You can bet that at least some of your oldest relatives will have memories of their ancestors and anecdotes passed on from generations ago. You may just have a serendipitous conversation that helps solve a vital puzzle about your family tree or offer a broader perspective about a particular ancestor or paternal line.

Your older relatives’ close friends may also be a source of interesting information and stories, so it is worth your while to engage them at family picnics, bar/bat mitzvahs, wedding celebrations and the like.

Conclusion

Old-fashioned genealogy is time-consuming. No one has the time to request, purchase and sift through records. Genealogy groups on Facebook, useful as they are, may not provide a lot of or the specific information you seek.

There is also the likelihood of making wrong inferences, which can take you on the proverbial wild goose chase. And yes, you will need your grandpa or a great grand aunt or a senior member of your family to collaborate with you or guide you. While it may seem like fun, it will likely be unviable for most.

DNA testing is the most convenient and effective method currently in existence to trace your roots back to the Ice Age. If you’re a man exploring your patrilineal ancestry, get a Y chromosome DNA test. You can verify common ancestry between yourself and someone you suspect may be related to you. Or you could find ancestral cousins on the paternal line.

Y-DNA tests can indicate common ancestors during a certain time period. If there is an issue related to adoption, will or probate, the test can help you prove or disprove recent or distant genealogical connections.

A mitochondrial DNA test tells you about your maternal heritage in recent and ancient times. It should be your go-to test if you want to know if you and someone you know share a common maternal ancestor, trace your maternal line back 2,000 years, and get insights into the migration history of mtDNA haplogroups.

Autosomal DNA tests examine about 1 million genetic markers across the genome. Genetic testing is done by examining single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs or small DNA chunks that allow scientists to get faster results.

Even if you opt for an Autosomal DNA tests that looks at about 700,000 SNPs, you can get useful information on how closely you are related to someone. You can also gain information about your ethnicity by matching against references databases of modern populations labelled geographically or ethnically.

It is rare but not impossible for DNA tests to reveal family secrets that may be quite disconcerting for you or a family member. Keep this in mind when you order a test, and preferably keep immediate family members in the loop.

If a genealogical mystery pops up, you can all jointly make the decision to pursue it and set the record straight. It is always more rewarding to know rather than knowingly stay in the dark and regret it many years later. I mean, you may miss the chance to connect with recent cousins from a completely different ethnicity or learn that you have a diverse genetic background. If anything, DNA tests can increase your appreciation of cultures and places foreign to you.

Some DNA tests offer you deeper insights into genetic mutations, health risks and even on skin health, wrinkles and aging. These tests help healthcare providers personalize treatment advice while you can take proactive measures to stay healthy and happy.

That being said, going solely by the results of DNA tests is unadvisable. No test will check for more than three or four mutations in genes, and thousands of other mutations as well as non-genetic factors can impact your health. So, while DNA testing offers clues that you can expand upon with your physician, it is not a crystal ball on predicting diseases.

The bottom line is, whether you are just curious about your ancestry or seriously searching for your biological parents, DNA testing offers you many useful and interesting insights. Finding long lost cousins or relatives, understanding the geographical locations and migration history of your ancestors and knowing your health risks are just some of the advantages DNA tests provide.

The growing popularity of DNA tests can be attributed to the fact that they are quick and convenient.

The kit is mailed to you; you only need to provide your saliva or buccal sample in the vial/test tube, and mail it back. Express testing options are available, providing results in as less as two days.

Choose your DNA test carefully after determining what exactly you want to know. Some tests provide ethnic estimates and help you contact a hitherto unknown relative. If you wish to learn about your British or Irish ancestors, or find African or Native American roots, focused tests exist.

A DNA test may provide information about both your fatherline and motherline. Another may be concerned with pointing out the towns and villages where your ancestors resided. This is a wonderful discovery if you are an avid traveller seeking a new adventure!

When health management is the primary reason for ordering a DNA test, you won’t be disappointed with the choices. Some tests shed light on disease-causing mutations while a few are dedicated to helping you understand your pet’s hereditary conditions.

DNA testing is not for harmless enjoyment. When used wisely, it is a meaningful endeavor that can enrich your life and enable you to make important decisions with a long-term impact. Think about it, talk it over with your family, and take the plunge!

More Stories

Is skipping breakfast a good idea? How your genes may hold the answer

Read More

What to do with your 23andMe or Ancestry raw DNA data to get additional analysis

Read More

7 reasons why your DNA should only be stored in the DNA Vault

Pictogram of scientists researching DNA strand in glass capsule on dark background
Read More