DNA analysis goes beyond what your parents told you about your family. It may even bring to light new relatives, debunk theories about your ancestry, or make you aware of the mix of ethnicities all of us have in our background. A number of companies now offer the means to investigate genealogical issues and find out who came from where, and how. For a fee, they will send you a kit with a cotton swab or saliva vial that you can use to harvest your DNA and send back to the company in a pre-addressed, pre-paid mailer. After the sample is analyzed, it will give you a glimpse into your past, from ethnic background to migration patterns and beyond.

A DNA test can be useful for people who want to know more about where their ancestors came from and how those origins influence them. Furthermore, you can find out about relatives you didn’t even know about—distant cousins, a famous uncle—and claim bragging rights! These tests will provide you with clues about your past and how your distant relatives helped shape you into the person you are today.

Before you choose a DNA kit, find out if the company selling it is reputable. How long has it been in business, how does it handle your genetic data, and how long does it store your data—for a few months or for a lifetime? What if you want to dispute the findings, or claim the right to destroy that DNA sample? The firm should have clear instructions about its customer service and disclose what it will do you with your information. If something raises any red flags, shop somewhere else.

Finally, a few words of caution. DNA testing can be a fun and even illuminating experience, but it’s still a relatively new industry and, historically, first come the tests and then the ethical questions. Not everybody reads the fine print before making a purchase and some services may promise more than they can deliver just to sell you their product. Remember, it’s your DNA. Don’t give it away before fully understanding the consequences.


Top 10 Companies

#1
Our Partner
9.9 / 10
  • FDA-approved health component
  • Ancestry and Health + Ancestry plans
  • CLIA-certified lab
  • Database of over 3 million
  • Checks hundreds of thousands of genetic markers
#2
Our Partner
9.8 / 10
  • One of the largest genealogical testing companies in the world
  • World's largest online collection of family history records
  • Has tested 7 million people's DNA
  • Provides DNA matches with possible relatives
  • DNA results are mapped by region of origin
#3
9.3 / 10
  • 18 Marker Ethnic Panel
  • Autosomal, Y-chromosome, and mitochondrial tests
  • Specializes in Jewish and Native American ancestries
  • Personal ancestry reports written by historians and professional writers
  • Results processed by DNA Diagnostics Center
#4
8.8 / 10
  • Has a database of 33,000 African lineages across 40 countries
  • Can identify an African country of origin and ethnic group
  • Sells maternal and paternal test kits separately
  • Strong social media presence and engagement
#5
8.5 / 10
  • Tracks ancient migration patterns
  • Interactive maps and results
  • Membership to the Genographic Project
  • Sponsored by the National Geographic Society
  • Comprehensive DNA analysis
#6
8.2 / 10
  • Upload your own DNA data or get tested for just $59.99
  • Explore 25 regions with over 90 ethnic groups
  • Connect with your genetic relatives
  • Discover how well genetics can predict your sleeping patterns
  • See what your genes have to say about your happiness
#7
8.0 / 10
  • 3 main tests: the Family Finder (autosomal), Y-DNA, and mtDNA
  • Prices ranging from $79 to $546
  • Results in 4 to 8 weeks
  • Watch a detailed geographic and ethnic breakdown of your ancestors
  • Find out how much autosomal DNA you still carry from ancient European civilizations
  • Compare DNA segments with your genetic matches
#8
Our Partner
8.0 / 10
  • Tests for 650,000 genetic markers
  • Ancestry results go back 10 generations
  • Partnership with over 200 laboratories
  • Young, growing company
  • Invested in mapping out the world’s genetic roots
#9
7.9 / 10
  • Offers customer support in 18 languages
  • Features 2.9 billion profiles
  • Doesn't allow a user to add a relative to a family tree without his or her consent
  • DNA sample destroyed upon request
  • Comprehensive privacy settings
#10
Our Partner
7.8 / 10
  • 7 DNA tests to choose from
  • Tests for detailed ancestry in Asia and Africa
  • Analyze your nutrition and exercise in addition to your ancestry
  • Buy at a store near you or 24/7 online with free shipping on all tests
  • Results in as little as 6 weeks
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How We Compare DNA Testing

Testing Features

25%

The first thing we looked at when ranking DNA testing companies was the type of tests they offered customers and the number of genetic markers they tested. Most companies only do autosomal tests, but a few also have Y-DNA and mtDNA tests available for purchase. Because those two tests provide in-depth information about a person's ancient origins and their ancestors' possible migration patterns, we ranked the companies who offered them more favorably. The number of genetic markers that a company looks at can make a huge difference on the estimates that a customer will receive after getting their results. This number will depend on how sophisticated the company's genotyping or sequencing technology is. Another point that makes a noticeable difference in our scores is how long the results take to be ready. The industry average for DNA test results is six to eight weeks, but some companies are able to show results in as little as four weeks, while others lag behind with results in ten weeks. Finally, we looked at the way each company collects samples—either saliva or through a cheek swab—and whether the company does their own sample testing or if they send their collected samples to partnered labs.

DNA Testing Features

There are currently three types of DNA tests on the market: autosomal, Y-DNA, and mtDNA. Autosomal DNA tests are the industry standard and offer broader results about a person's ancestry and ethnicity. Y-DNA tests only provide information about a person's male line ancestry, while mtDNA tests only provide information about the female line ancestry. Both offer much deeper insight into a person's genealogy than standard autosomal tests.

Collection Method

All of the companies we reviewed offer one of two alternatives for collecting customer samples: saliva or cheek swab. Cheek swabs look like longer cotton swabs, but they are designed for the unique purpose of collecting and trapping cheek cells in their fibers. The other collection method, saliva, is less common and entails spiting into a vial until the required volume is reached.

Number of Genetic Markers

Genetic markers are short DNA sequences with known locations on a chromosome that can be used to identify individuals. DNA tests look at these markers to (roughly) establish the genetic distance between two individuals, or between an individual and a population. Different kinds of technology will look at varying amounts of genetic markers. Examples of commonly used genetic markers are single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and short tandem repeats (SRPs).


Results Analysis

20%

When looking at results analysis, we focus on the extent to which each company evaluates a customer's genetic data and the under what scope it classifies their information. We first consider how large their databases are. When a company receives a customer's sample, they make a genetic profile for them and add them to an ever-increasing database. These databases are the approximate sum of all DNA profiles analyzed to date by each company. The bigger this database is, the easier it is to find common relatives and create an accurate estimate for a customer's ethnic background. Companies may also use the databases of other institutions so they can issue better, more accurate results. In addition, we looked at two very important classification components: the number of geographical regions and ethnic groups that each DNA tests places customers in. The more of these categories that a company has, the higher they score with us.

Size of Database

After DNA samples are received by a company, they can be analysed to produce a DNA ‘profile.’ Profiles are a series of 20 numbers plus an indicator that shows the person's gender.

Number of Geographical Regions Identified

Geographical regions vary among DNA tests, and the size of each region can differ exponentially. For example, whereas one DNA test categorizes Bengal as it's own geographical region, another just throws that region into "South Asian." Moreover, a DNA test might include relatively small regions like, say, a small portion of Italy, while also having massive regions, such as "Americas."

Number of Ethnicities Identified

Ethnicity is difficult to determine because geopolitical boundaries do not exactly represent the flow and movement of ethnic groups through the Earth. Each company has different standards by which they determine what to call an ethnic group.


Other Services

20%

Because DNA testing companies often offer customers additional ways of using their results, we also take these features into consideration when rating our companies. Family trees are by far the most common additional feature offered by DNA testing companies. This is not surprising, considering that from DNA tests results it is an easy jump into further genealogical research. Information about migration patterns is also common in the way of maps that can roughly show how someone's ancestors moved from place to place, contributing parts of their DNA. Some companies also dabble in DNA testing for medical or overall health and wellness purposes. Companies that do offer these typically sell ancestry and wellness packages in addition to their flagship ancestry tests. We also consider the kind of features that are granted to members, such as online forums, exclusive offers, and priority customer support. Finally, we see if the company has a mobile application that enables the use of their services while on the move.

DNA for Medical Purposes

DNA tests can provide significant information about a person's current medical condition. Moreover, they can also serve as a note of caution by informing people of dangerous genetic illnesses they might be predisposed to.

Family Tree Creator

Family trees have been around for far longer than DNA tests, but many leaders in the personal genealogy industry have adapted their models to incorporate the increasing demand for DNA testing. A family tree allows users to more neatly see how their ancestry and lineage stacks up, which means DNA tests are a natural supplement for stretching a tree's branches.

DNA Health Analysis

Combined ancestry-wellness packages are becoming more popular thanks to the spike in both genealogical and fitness industries online. DNA tests that offer customers an added health element can suggest lifestyle choices that go hand-in-hand with their genetics, help them build a custom-tailored fitness or nutrition plans, or explain how their genes influence their weight, etc.


Pricing

15%

Pricing is a very important factor in judging which DNA test stands above the rest. This is natural, since price is one of the first things consumers will want to know about the product they are buying. Every DNA testing company has one flagship test they offer, which currently ranges from $59.99 to $299.00 among the companies we review. Y-DNA or mtDNA tests, and tests that include noteworthy additional features or add-ons, are sold at higher prices. 

Cost of Add-ons

Some companies allow customers to add features onto a DNA test plan after making the initial purchase. Most companies however, will simply offer a range of products so people can choose whichever one fits their needs best.


Reputation

10%

We first look at a company's current standing with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) when considering its reputation. In addition to being accredited by the BBB, we look at a company's rating, which ranges from an F to an A+, and the nature of the customer reviews they have on the page. We also look at the company's score on Trustpilot, which is completely user generated and goes from one to ten. Finally, we search for any litigation or regulatory actions that are being taken or have been taken against the company for the services we are reviewing.


Privacy

10%

Privacy is incredibly important when we are talking about companies that will be taking a sample of your DNA. This is why we give an individual rating based just on a company's privacy policies when rating DNA tests. For starters, customers should know how long a company is going to keep said sample. Will they keep it for a specific amount of time, or are they entitled to withhold any samples sent to them indefinitely? Another thing to consider is if their policy lets them sell or divulge customer DNA to third-parties, such as advertisement companies or insurance providers. It is also important for these companies to have secure encryption software that protects customer information from being stolen or misused.

Time Company Holds Data

Regardless of whether a company destroys your DNA sample or not, almost all of them will keep your genetic information in order to increase the size of their database.


What's important to know about DNA Testing?


What's the difference between genealogy and family history?

The terms genealogy and family history are sometimes used interchangeably, but they describe different kinds of lineage research. Whereas genealogy is focused on the study of ancestry, that is, tracking down the names and chronologies of an individual’s ancestors, family history is more concerned with context, migration patterns, location during historical events, family accomplishments, etc.

How long will I have to wait for my DNA test results?

The average wait time for DNA test results is six to eight weeks. Some companies may have a shorter or longer wait time, such as four or ten weeks, depending on the breadth of their analysis and the size of their database.

What else can DNA testing show?

Aside from genealogical purposes, DNA testing can show a number of health-related information. A customer’s genetic makeup can tell if he or she has a genetic ailment or is prone to certain types of disease. DNA testing can also help athletes or fitness enthusiasts get better acquainted with the intricacies of their bodies by showing them their genetic traits and makeup.

What can DNA testing tell me about my ancestors?

DNA testing can show customers different kinds of data about their ancestors, depending on the kind of test they purchase. A standard autosomal test will typically point to potential cousins and provide a rough estimate of your ethnicity. However, a Y-DNA (patrilineal) or mtDNA (matrilineal) test will be able to give customers in-depth information about their forebearers. These tests can also show deep ancestry, including migration patterns and geographical origin.