The 8 Best Ancestry DNA Tests

Updated February 07, 2018 by Daniel Imperiale

8 Best Ancestry DNA Tests
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We spent 45 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. If you've ever wondered where you really come from — and how it makes you who you are — then an ancestry DNA test can help you fill in the gaps of your heritage. These panels work by taking samples of your genes (usually via saliva) and then analyzing them to determine your cultural makeup. In just a few weeks, you could find out more about yourself than you ever thought possible. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best ancestry dna test on Amazon.

8. Rare Genes From History

If you've ever wondered whether you've got famous blood running through your veins, then Rare Genes From History will let you know by checking for unusual markers shared by notable historical figures. There's no guarantee that you'll match up with anyone, however.
  • very quick turnaround of results
  • provides background to your data
  • not as detailed as other options
Brand DNA Consultants
Model pending
Weight 0.3 ounces
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

7. 23andMe Personal Genetic Service

The people behind the 23andMe Personal Genetic Service keep you updated every step of the process, so you're never stuck wondering what's going on. Completing and returning it is easy, thanks to the clear instructions, helpful visual aids, and intuitive provided materials.
  • report is simple to understand
  • includes a regional breakdown
  • results can take a long time to come
Brand 23andMe
Model ANC
Weight 4 ounces
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

6. MyHeritage DNA Kit

The easy and accurate MyHeritage DNA Kit is a great choice for the consumer who doesn't mind waiting. It can take up to four weeks for you to get your results, but the company passes a lot of savings down to you for your patience.
  • mailing envelope is pre-labeled
  • high standard of privacy
  • no hard copy of lab work
Brand MyHeritage DNA
Model pending
Weight 3.2 ounces
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

5. DNA Consultants Premium Male

The DNA Consultants Premium Male gives men incredibly detailed information about their paternal history by examining the Y-chromosome. It will also give you some background on your surname's origin and meaning. Unfortunately, of course, it won't work for women.
  • goes back 500 years
  • heat map of current relatives
  • on the expensive side
Brand DNA Consultants
Model pending
Weight 0.8 ounces
Rating 3.8 / 5.0

4. Vitagene Ancestry

The kit from Vitagene Ancestry will tell you more than just who you are — it will also tell you how you work best. By giving you personalized information about how your body responds to exercise and nutrition, it will help you make informed decisions about your health.
  • good for chronic disease sufferers
  • goes back over 1000 years
  • hard copy of results
Brand Vitagene
Model VW150-21
Weight 1.6 ounces
Rating 5.0 / 5.0

3. Rapid DNA Testing Paternity Kit

With all the lab fees included in the purchase of the kit, and a guaranteed turnaround time of two business days after the company receives your sample, the Rapid DNA Testing Paternity Kit is a fast and reliable way to determine the father of a child.
  • testing is run through twice
  • sample collection is pain free
  • notification by text or email
Brand Rapid DNA Testing
Model pending
Weight 3.2 ounces
Rating 5.0 / 5.0

2. AncestryDNA Kit

The AncestryDNA Kit gives you not only an ethnicity breakdown, but will also connect you with any people in their database that share your genes. Both maternal and paternal lines are represented, so you'll get a full picture of who you are and where you come from.
  • gives you raw data as well
  • quick and painless testing
  • huge group of users
Brand AncestryDNA
Model pending
Weight 5.6 ounces
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

1. 23andMe Health + Ancestry Service

If you want to learn as much about yourself as possible, then the 23andMe Health + Ancestry Service will pull back the curtain on your identity. In addition to learning about where your forebears came from, you'll also discover what makes your body tick today.
  • massive amount of data
  • access to medical risk report
  • website is very secure
Brand 23andMe
Model pending
Weight 5.6 ounces
Rating 4.6 / 5.0

How Ancestry DNA Tests Work

There are a few different types of ancestry DNA tests on the market. Generally speaking, they fall into three categories; autosomal, mitochondrial, and Y-chromosome tests. Each type works a bit differently, and some methods are better than others at detecting certain traits and origins. All tests begin the same way: with the collection of a DNA sample. This can be done using a cheek swab, a spit sample, or with a special mouth wash or chewing gum. If collected at home, the sample must then be sent to a lab for testing.

Autosomal tests look at the 22 pairs of chromosomes not associated with gender, in order to trace both matrilineal and patrilineal ancestries. These chromosomes carry traits from distant relatives on both sides of a family. The data collected from them enters a database used to find similar patterns among other individuals, called matches. Testing companies typically set thresholds for the length of a DNA strand that constitutes a match.

The primary purpose of an autosomal test is to determine whether you are related to another specific individual, or to find relatives you don't know about. Some companies also provide ethnicity estimates based on your matches and where in the world the patterns found in your DNA are most common.

Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mothers to their children, which is why services testing it are often called maternal origin tests. Most cells in your body contain hundreds of mitochondria or more. Mitochondrial DNA contains far fewer base pairs than the full human genome, so it's easier to pinpoint differences between two individuals' tests. The tests can be used to find one's maternal ancestors or locate their ancestral heritage on their mother's side.

Y-chromosome tests are only available to men, as women have two X chromosomes. As a result, they track patrilineal ancestry, and are often called paternity tests. These tests are some of the most accurate when it comes to determining a person's lineage, because the Y-chromosome barely changes when it is passed from one generation to the next. They can be used to determine whether two people are related on their father's side, as well as how many generations prior a common relative existed. Like maternal origin tests, Y-chromosome tests can also be used to determine the pre-colonial ethnic groups of which one is a descendant based on the haplogroups found in their DNA.

Many commercial tests combine some or all of these methods to give customers a more nuanced understanding of their lineage. Only by analyzing both sides of your family can you determine your true heritage, and the more data you test, the more accurate the results will be.

Why Get Your DNA Tested?

DNA tests of all kinds have exploded in popularity in recent years. The reasons for getting tested vary widely from one individual to the next, but generally fall into one of two categories: an interest in personal ancestry or an attempt to find a common relative with another individual.

Americans tend to take a particular interest in DNA tests because, with the exception of the roughly five million people who know of their Native American heritage, the vast majority of people in this country came from somewhere else. Even those with native ancestry have more than likely been displaced by American colonialism, and so determining to which of the over 500 recognized tribes they belong may be a priority for them as well.

While Americans whose families emigrated to this country in recent generations may know a fair bit about where they come from, it's safe to say that many people don't. Even among those who think they know everything about their own heritage, there is a good chance that there is information they don't know, or that's been lost in intergenerational translation.

Of course, there is also a sad history of people brought to this country with their family histories intentionally erased. There were roughly 12.5 million African people brought to the Americas between 1525 and 1866 under the slave trade. An ancestry test can help their descendants determine where their families lived before being forcibly removed from their homelands.

Whether it's the impetus for taking a test or an added bonus, many DNA tests can also help people find relatives they don't know about. If someone you're related to has taken a DNA test, for example, your results will more than likely match with theirs, and most services will let you know. They can also be used to test whether or not you are related to a specific individual.

The Complicated Politics Of Heritage

Everyone has a different understanding of the question, "Where are you from?" The intention behind the question also varies based on who is asking.

To use myself as an example, I am from New York City, but I was born in Jerusalem. My father's parents are Holocaust survivors from Poland, while my mother's family has been in America for a few generations. I believe they came over from Eastern Europe, specifically Russia, but I am not sure exactly where. To make matters more confusing, Russia looked quite different 150 years ago than it does now.

Beyond the intricacies of family history, the biggest problem with understanding heritage is that the human race has been moving around since its formation. Even the borders we've drawn to designate countries change frequently. If you go back far enough, for example, there was no Europe, so what does it mean to call yourself European?

The truth is that, if you go back far enough, we're all from the landmass now known as Africa. The best DNA ancestry tests attempt to combat the confusion of race, ethnicity, and countries of origin by focusing on historical migration patterns. The key to knowing where you're from is actually understanding that you're not really from anywhere. Your relatives have been all over the place, which is why your ancestry test results might be all over the place. as well.

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Last updated on February 07, 2018 by Daniel Imperiale

Daniel is a writer, actor, and director living in Los Angeles, CA. He spent a large portion of his 20s roaming the country in search of new experiences, taking on odd jobs in the strangest places, studying at incredible schools, and making art with empathy and curiosity.

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