I set out on a journey four years ago to discover my ethnicity and family of origin. As an adoptee, I knew nothing. It was Ancestry DNA that finally helped me put the pieces together. While Ancestry is my favorite on this list, they're not the only ancestry DNA testing kit available today. Whether you're searching for relatives, want to uncover your roots, or build a family tree, these are the tried and true best ways to do so.
AncestryDNA is the grandaddy of kits. For a one-time testing fee, you're given ethnicity estimates, and DNA matches up to the eighth cousin level. Due to the overwhelming number of registered users, you'll likely find the highest number of matches and relatives here. Testing is as easy as spitting in a plastic vial, mailing your sample back to AncestryDNA in a prepaid envelope, and twiddling your thumbs for four weeks while you await the results.
The real meat of AncestryDNA is in their extensive collection of records that go back to the 1600s. Unfortunately, access to this information comes at a price, and this is the only snag to choosing AncestryDNA over other options. You can gather some census information and historical data free online, but not much. That out of the way, if you're serious about locating family members, talking to relatives, and building out a family tree, there's no other company that can compete with AncestryDNA.
You can communicate with relatives via a chat system built into the AncestryDNA website and mobile apps. You're also guaranteed free lifetime access to your list of DNA matches. Basic historical data that includes "best guesses" about where your ancestors came from and what they most likely did for a living is also fee-free. Ethnicity estimates are reliable, and information about ancestors that came before you is presented well. AncestryDNA doesn't currently offer much in the way of health testing, but they have the largest database of users and records. If you're searching for answers to a family secret, you're most likely to find them here.
There's no spitting required with FamilyTreeDNA testing. A simple cheek swab does the job, returning results online in about a month. Known as FTDNA on genealogy forums, this is a popular alternative to the better-advertised brands. Basic testing includes an ethnicity profile and DNA matches. Unique to FTDNA is the inclusion of a chromosome browser. Using this tool, you can find out exactly which DNA segments you share with matches to help identify common ancestors.
Another plus for FTDNA is their open platform. You needn't pay a cent to view family trees, and that's a win-win for anyone on a budget. There's one caveat here: FTDNA does not offer any indexed historical data. That census reports, birth or death records, marriage records, and the like are unavailable. For that, you'll have to look elsewhere.
The FTDNA website isn't as polished as its competitors, there are no mobile apps, and the messaging system is clunky. Even so, data is accurate, useful, and informative. The ethnicity breakdown is thorough and aligns with other tests I've taken, and I found a few matches that were new to me here. If you're interested only in where your ancestors hailed from and want to save a few bucks, this is an excellent kit for the money.
23andMe DNA Test
Best Comprehensive Data
This is really two kits in one. First, it's a thorough and accurate DNA test that displays relevant details about ancestors and your genetic makeup. You're also linked to DNA matches that you can contact through 23andMe's online messaging system. Second, there are 125 health reports included with this test. In general, 23andMe does the best job of displaying lineage details in an easily digestible manner.
If you're a hypochondriac, beware. 23andMe pinpoints your risks for hereditary diseases like late-onset Alzheimer's and age-related macular degeneration. Those results can be scary. On the flip side, it was comforting to learn I did not inherit BRCA (breast cancer) genes, nor am I predisposed for Parkinson's. Take the health data with a realistic grain of salt because, according to 23andMe, I'm not predisposed for Celiac disease, yet I've had it for years. Carrier status, on the other hand, is vital information to have, especially if you're thinking of starting a family. 23andMe tests for all major diseases and results are easy to interpret.
The ethnicity overview is thorough and enjoyable to read. My results differed slightly from other testing companies, but not enough to think they were inaccurate. DNA testing is still in its infancy after all, and like other testing sites, 23andMe continues to refine their process and results. My only real beef here is that some of the health data, called "traits," is just plain silly. I've never needed to know my earwax type or potential for mosquito bite frequency, but maybe that's your thing. Regardless of my feelings about earwax, this is a robust DNA test that's worth the hefty price tag.
Best Detailed Ethnicity Breakdown
The MyHeritage DNA test kit gives you the most detailed ethnicity breakdown, identifying ancestors from 42 regions--more than any other test--and displaying them on an interactive map. By clicking on various countries within the map, you'll learn about the regions where your ancestors once lived and worked. Very cool!
Shared matches are listed in order of match quality with the most closely-related appearing first. Here, you can also review how many DNA segments you share with relatives and their estimated relationship to you. MyHeritage is broad in its estimations. My known second cousins were pegged as probable first to fourth cousins. This is, perhaps, their biggest area for improvement.
High fives to MyHeritage for letting users create and display free family trees to matches. This is a helpful feature when you're searching for information. If you require vital records, you'll need to upgrade to a paid membership. While I hate to recommend excessive spending, records at MyHeritage are on par with those from Ancestry, though membership costs a few dollars more per month.
Best Health Information
TellMeGen does both ancestry and health testing with their DNA test. They emphasize health features, and the forums are staffed by doctors that dole out medical and nutritional suggestions based on your DNA. TellMeGen tests for more than 175 genetic diseases and conditions, and also identifies potential personal traits like your sensitivity to pain and whether drinking coffee may exacerbate your anxiety. (Duh!)
The ancestry portion of this test offers a high level of information. Your ancestors are not only linked by country, but also by region, then further sorted into various ethnic groups. It's a fun process to weave through your history with TellMeGen, but it's also frustrating because the website is problematic. I was frequently logged out of the site while reading, unable to log myself in at times, and pages often didn't display when clicked.
Another issue is the length of time it takes to get results back. Because TellMeGen headquarters are in Spain, there's a several month gap between when you mail your kit and when results are available. That out of the way, if you're an athlete or expectant parent, you'll enjoy diving into the scientific medical reports and receiving tailored nutritional advice from one of the many doctors and nutritionists on the forums.
Best for Improving Health
If you're serious about living a long, healthy life, the Vitagene DNA test is right up your alley. Once your DNA is analyzed, Vitagene works out a genetic-based diet that's best for your body and recommends exercises and supplements meant to do your body good. My results indicated that I was more likely to lose weight with exercise. Yes, you read that right. On a more positive note, the food recommendations did help me drop six pounds without much effort.
The ethnicity results were error-free and matched what I'd learned elsewhere. There isn't a public database of users with tellmeGen so that you won't find DNA matches here. Still, ethnicity estimates and additional data about relatives from long ago are presented well and are just as thorough as more recognizable testing companies.
My only real complaint is that Vitagene sells the supplements on their website that they recommend to you. While this isn't precisely troublesome, it does give me pause. I didn't buy into the supplement push, but I did start taking Vitamin D3 daily after Vitagene told me my levels were likely low, and my doctor confirmed the same.
Testing Testing 123
It was only by testing with AncestryDNA that I was able to unravel a complicated history, put roots to my family tree, and meet birth family for the first time. I shared my DNA with every other company on this list before going with AncestryDNA. Even though all the testing kits and websites I tested with first gave me small pieces to my puzzle, I still felt far away from putting those pieces in their proper place.
The ethnicity estimates at AncestryDNA are spot-on, according to newly found family members and my own research. My blonde hair and blue eyes made no secret of the fact that I was likely Scandinavian, but I was taken aback to learn my hardworking ancestors also came from other, more remote areas, and that my tree leads straight to the indigenous people of Finland and Norway.
It's only fair to mention that I did eventually pay for a monthly membership giving me permission to view census data and the family tree information of relatives. If I'm going to nitpick, this is the downside to AncestryDNA. One must shell out a fee to view and save vital records, census data, or even take a peek at the raw data collected by other members. It's a shame you must part with your money to both test and research, but then I suppose AncestryDNA could not pay their web hosting bills on the backs of testers alone. And if you're wondering, yes, it was worth it.
Once in, you can see and save private family pictures and read stories recorded by near and distant kin. Seeing family members that look like you for the first time is a mind-bending experience! I can trace my larger than average size nose back to great-great-grandparents (thanks!) and the blue eyes I share with my siblings to our father.
Today, I'm in a reunion with my tough-as-nails 90-year-old paternal grandfather, an amazing and accepting sister, several aunts and uncles, and more than 500 cousins. Were it not for the considerable number of helpful users on AncestryDNA and access to (paid) records; I'd still be trying to solve a mystery that was almost hidden in plain sight.