Most of us have questions about where we come from, no matter how detailed the family tree that's been passed down to us may be. With a DNA ancestry kit, you can not only receive specific details about where your ancestors came from but also receive information about possible genetic health issues you might be prone to. Depending on the kit you use, you may even be able to connect with unknown relatives.
If you're wondering what to look for in a DNA ancestry kit, check out our comprehensive buying guide to learn what features matter most. Our top pick is from 23andMe, one of the best-known at-home DNA ancestry testing companies. It provides both ancestry and medical information based on your DNA.
Considerations when choosing DNA ancestry kits
Types of DNA tests
Several different types of DNA test can reveal information about your ancestry, but some offer more information than others.
A Y chromosome test can reveal a man's ancestors on his father's side, but because it studies the Y chromosome, women are unable to use this type of DNA test.
A mitochondrial DNA test can reveal a person's ancestors on their mother's side using DNA that's found in the mitochondria. Both men and women can use this test, but it only reveals information about one half of your family.
An autosomal DNA test provides information for an individual's paternal and maternal ancestry lines for a more complete look at your family tree. Both men and women can use this test.
A DNA ancestry kit obviously requires you to provide a DNA sample, but the method for taking the sample can vary from kit to kit. Many use a simple cheek swab, which you then place in a sealed tube to send to the testing laboratory. Others require a saliva sample, so you spit into a tube and then add a stabilizing buffer before sealing it. Both sample procedures are fairly straightforward, but users usually find the cheek swab method easier.
The quality and quantity of information you receive about your ancestors and family tree depend on the size of the database that the DNA ancestry company you choose uses. Each brand has its own database, so you should choose the kit with the largest database possible. Avoid any that have fewer than two million samples.
Analyzing DNA obviously requires some time, but some testing kits provide results more quickly than others. You'll usually have to wait six to eight weeks to get your results, but some kits can process your sample in four to six weeks.
To be sure you'll get a complete picture of your ethnic background, it's important to consider how many ethnic regions a DNA ancestry kit can detect. You'll get the most complete estimates of your ethnicity breakdown if you choose a kit that's able to analyze your DNA for the greatest number of regions.
Family tree matching
Depending on the kit you choose, you may be able to use your DNA analysis information to actually fill out a family tree. Some companies disclose any DNA matches between you and other users, so you're able to pick up even more information about your background. If you're adopted, you may want to choose a kit that offers relative matching, so you're able to track down biological relatives that you may not know about.
Genetic health analysis
In addition to ancestry information, some DNA testing kits also use your genetic data to offer information about possible health issues. They can alert you if you're at risk for genetic diseases like Parkinson's disease or celiac disease, provide information about your genetic weight to help you adopt healthier eating habits, or inform you whether you're a carrier for genetic conditions like cystic fibrosis and other issues.
DNA ancestry kits cost between $70 and $200. For kits that only provide ancestry and ethnic background information, you'll usually pay between $70 and $100. If you want a test that also provides genetic health information, expect to spend between $100 and $200.
Q. What's the best way to make sure you provide a valid DNA sample for your kit?
A. Avoid eating, drinking, smoking, and chewing gum for at least half an hour before you swab your cheek or fill your saliva collection tube. For a cheek swab test, make sure to run the swab firmly against the inside of your cheek to collect enough cells. To generate enough saliva to fill the collection tube, press against your cheeks behind your back teeth to help trigger saliva production.
Q. What type of DNA test kit offers the most complete ancestry information?
A. Because an autosomal DNA test provides information about both the paternal and maternal sides of your family, you'll usually get the most detailed and complete results about your ethnic background if you choose a test kit that uses autosomal DNA testing.
DNA ancestry kits we recommend
Best of the best: 23andMe DNA Test Health + Ancestry
Our take: Provides accurate, reliable ancestry and health information and features an analysis system that can expand as the company takes in more genetic data. A kit that's worth the higher cost.
What we like: Ethnic ancestry results are extremely accurate. Serves as a valuable tool for adoptees seeking biological relatives. Includes helpful genetic health information that most other kits don't.
What we dislike: Ancestry results can be somewhat broad. Can take up to eight weeks to receive results. Doesn't detect markers for many common diseases.
Best bang for your buck: AncestryDNA DNA Ancestry Test Kit
Our take: One of the more affordable DNA test kits that draws upon a comprehensive genealogical database. Can help provide general information about your ethnicity and extended family tree.
What we like: Requires less of an investment than other test kits. Allows you to connect with living relatives who share your DNA. Permits you to upload your raw DNA data to other databases, too.
What we dislike: Results are sometimes generic rather than specific to customers. Can take six to eight weeks to get your report. Doesn't provide any health or medical information.
Our take: A kit that puts more focus on genetic health issues than ancestry; an ideal option for athletes or anyone looking to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
What we like: Provides valuable educational resources with the kit. Suggests a wide range of supplements and vitamins based on your DNA, as well as exercise routines. Tests for general ancestry information, too.
What we dislike: May take more than eight weeks to receive your results. Ancestry information is somewhat broad. Includes sales pitch for supplements and vitamins.
Jennifer Blair is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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