For hundreds of years, genealogists have depended upon written and oral documents to follow their family trees. However, around the year 2000, the era of genealogical DNA testing established. This provided family historians and genealogists with a chance to use standardized scientific procedures to develop relationships and ancestry.
In contrast to paper documents, which may be erroneous or incomplete, DNA testing is exact.
- However, is it right for you?
- And if so, which test is suitable for you?
- How can you take it?
- How much do you have to pay?
- Which firm should you use?
If you have read the entire DNA test reviews and are still confused, continue reading. This review guide will provide you the answers you will need to those and a lot more questions.
Before we move onto DNA testing, let us discuss what DNA is. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is present in every living cell anywhere. It’s a lengthy chemical string that educates our cells on how to develop and respond.
DNA is split up into major blocks or chromosomes, which are further subdivided into genes. We have 23 pairs of chromosomes (46 in all) arranged in a double helix.
We all get 23 chromosomes from our mother and 23 from our father. In people, the 23rd chromosome is an X-chromosome or a Y-chromosome and decides if we’re male or female.
Girls have two X-chromosomes, while men have one X-chromosome and one Y-chromosome. It might sound somewhat confusing, but this is important to comprehend because there are various sorts of DNA testing.
Kinds of DNA Tests
There are three different kinds of DNA tests practiced in genealogy. Each of them works a little differently and tells you different things.
Obviously, that means that everyone has its pros and cons.
Autosomal DNA Tests
Autosomal DNA is that DNA that doesn’t contribute to sex; Quite directly, the first 22 pairs of chromosomes.
Because it doesn’t require the 23rd chromosome, it is possible to carry out autosomal DNA tests in both genders with the exact results.
What’s an autosomal DNA test?
These tests analyze single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), or the different “shapes” of human nucleotides, little chunks of DNA. Genealogical autosomal DNA tests to analyze about 700,000 SNPs to ascertain how closely you related are to somebody else.
Bear in mind that half of our DNA comes from our father and a half from our mother. Going back in generations, that means that approximately one-fourth of our DNA comes from all our grandparents, one-eighth from every one of our great-grandparents, etc.
More you go back, the less DNA you’ve inherited from a specific ancestor, and the harder it is to show that you’re related. So, autosomal DNA tests are only helpful for approximately four or five generations.
That means they can link you with relatives as remote as third or fourth cousins, but generally not more distant than that.
What It Tells You
The most important use of autosomal DNA testing is to ascertain how closely related you are to somebody else. This can be quite useful if you understand very little about your parents or grandparents and are having difficulty locating living relatives.
Often, relatives found by the test are researching the same family lines as you, and you are able to share research together.
Autosomal DNA may also give an estimate of your ethnicity, or the areas of the world where your ancestors lived over the past couple hundred years, or possibly a thousand or more, because people used to move a great deal less often.
The companies that supply the testing divide up the world into 20 to 25 regions. They provide an estimate of what percent of your ancestry comes from each.
This can provide additional hints on where to be looking for more of your family history. Every company that provides genealogical DNA testing provides autosomal DNA tests, though National Geographic and Living DNA only offer it combined with the other two tests.
Mitochondrial DNA Testing
It is also referred to as mtDNA and is the genetic material inside mitochondria, small parts found inside each cell and which have their own individual DNA strands.
MtDNA is passed down only from your own mother. Because mtDNA doesn’t include a merge of DNA from both parents, it doesn’t change with each generation. In actuality, mtDNA changes extremely slowly — it could remain precisely the same for centuries!
How It Works
MtDNA testing ignores the first DNA in a cell and appears just in the DNA of the mitochondria alternately. One thing is the test only has to analyze approximately 16,500 genetic base pairs, rather than the 3.2 billion base pairs within our DNA.
The test appears typically at only specific parts of the mtDNA and matches them to based samples.
What It Tells You
mtDNA gives very accurate and precise ancestry results, but just for the maternal line. In other words, it tells you about your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother, etc. back through time.
But it cannot tell you about any of your other ancestors, including your mother’s father or any of your father’s ancestors.
An mtDNA test will determine how closely related you are to a haplogroup. A haplogroup is necessarily a group of individuals with one common ancestor.
Historically, everyone residing in the exact same area might belong to the same haplogroup, or quite closely related ones. This means your haplogroup can identify where your maternal line originated. It might also help you find distant relatives, but a number of them could be quite distant.
Sometimes, mtDNA can stay almost identical for 50 generations or longer. Though a perfect match means you’re related, you may be 48th cousins!
The only organization to provide separate mtDNA testing is FamilyTreeDNA. National Geographic and Living DNA combine mtDNA testing using their autosomal DNA test.
The 23rd human chromosome has two variations, the X and the Y. Girls have two X-chromosomes, while men have one X and one Y. Y-DNA tests analyze only Y-chromosome.
Because you can only receive a Y-chromosome from your father, and he from his father, so it will change very little over time.
How It Works
There are in fact two sub-tests with Y-DNA testing.
The first one is a short tandem repeat (STR) test. The STR test categorizes segments of the DNA based on how the frequently specific genetic pattern repeats.
The next is a single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) test. It functions the same way as in autosomal DNA testing, but it only tests about 30,000 SNPs rather than 700,000.
What It Tells You
The STR test generates a summary of your haplotype. This may be compared to somebody else’s results to ascertain how far back your most recent common ancestor lived.
An STR test is frequently utilized to ascertain how closely two individuals with the same surname are related, if at all.
The SNP test is much more comprehensive, and among other things frees you to a haplogroup. A haplogroup is a crowd of people with a single common ancestor and that lived in one or more particular areas.
The two Y-chromosome evaluations can help you locate relatives. However, like mtDNA, since the Y-chromosome changes gradually, you may be related many generations back.
And since the Y-chromosome is passed down through men, the test can only tell you about your direct paternal line.
The only organization to provide individual Y-DNA testing is FamilyTreeDNA, which has three choices depending on how comprehensive a test you need.
Y-DNA testing is particularly useful for adoptees in addition to Jewish ancestry. Living DNA and National Geographic package Y-DNA testing using their autosomal DNA tests, but give less precise results than FamilyTreeDNA.
Selecting The Test That’s Perfect For You
With three tests to choose from, how can you decide which is right for you?
It all depends on what you need to understand.
1. Autosomal DNA
For many genealogists, the autosomal DNA test is the obvious champion, and it’s the one test that all testing company allows. Since your autosomal DNA comes from all your ancestors, this evaluation is excellent for finding a range of ancestors and living relatives.
It may also give you reasonable estimates of the ethnicity of your own ancestors, or the areas of the world where they dwelt.
The principal disadvantage to autosomal DNA is that it becomes so jumbled together after a couple of generations that it will become unreliable the farther you try to go back. Mostly, an autosomal DNA test is only helpful for around five generations.
Concerning existing relatives, that means it goes to your third cousins or fourth cousins. Still, combined with sites that allow you to link with most relevant matches, autosomal DNA can offer some excellent guidance on locating others that are researching the same family tree as you.
Since mtDNA comes to you just from the mother, and from her mother, it merely helps you to trace one line. You can use it to establish a common ancestor with somebody else, but just in a direct maternal line.
It may, however, trace that line back a very long way — sometimes 10,000 years or longer. That may provide evidence that your mother’s maternal line came out of a particular region or ethnicity.
Nonetheless, it is not as useful when locating existing relatives. It also tends to be more expensive.
The Y-DNA evaluation is somewhat similar to the mtDNA test. However, it follows a direct paternal line instead. That involves a Y-DNA test tell you about your father’s father’s father’s father, and several generations before that, but not any of your other ancestors.
Y-DNA is most helpful if you would like to establish a connection to a specific ancestor.
Say you have a common surname, such as Pederson, and wish to know if you’re associated with somebody else named Pederson. A Y-DNA can determine whether the two of you are related.
Like the mtDNA test, Y-DNA may allow you to trace a line back for centuries. It may also tell you that the region or ethnicity of the root of your paternal line.
One key drawback to a Y-DNA evaluation is that only men have Y-DNA so only men can take the test.
But a woman can still find Y-DNA outcomes by having a close male relative to take it for her, such as her father, brother, cousin or paternal uncle (but not her son, because he got his Y-chromosome out of his eponymous line, not hers).
In precisely the exact same way, you can trace other paternal lines by requesting an appropriate relative to take the test and discuss the results with you.
Points of Origin and Ethnicity
All three of those DNA tests can supply you with details about where your ancestors lived. However, the data they provide differs from test to test.
Y-DNA and mtDNA tests will connect link you to quite specific genetic lines, but bear in mind they represent just a portion of your family tree.
Autosomal DNA covers your whole family tree but has really mixed up after a couple of generations it can only provide quotes. The firms that provide DNA testing divide up the world into regions in various ways.
Most companies now use 20-25 areas, but the amount, location, and names of areas differ from company to company. That means that two distinct testing firms may provide you different ethnicity quotes for precisely the same DNA.
As a substantial amount of data collected, companies upgrade their areas, also. Some companies have experienced problems with their ethnicity quotes in the past. AncestryDNA, by way of instance, was renowned for overestimating Scandinavian ancestry.
However, the precision of estimates is always improving as more data are accumulated, and there is no visible sign that one firm is more precise than others.
When a company does change its areas for its ethnicity quotes, your profile will automatically be upgraded, too. You won’t need to retake the test to obtain the new results. However, you’ll need to visit their website. Chances are they won’t email you with the upgrade.
Regions versus Countries
It’s important to bear in mind that any DNA test provides a part of the source, not a nation. That is because nations have shifted many times throughout history, and even in your lifetime!
Think about the case of Alsace-Lorraine, a 5,600 square mile region on the border of France and Germany. Before the 17th century, the region was entirely Germanic (although Germany as a nation did not exist at the time). Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, it was joined by France.
In 1871, after the Franco-Prussian War, it had been annexed by Germany. After World War I, it had been returned to France.
So how do you say if your ancestors from this area were French or German using only DNA? You can’t.
You can just say that your ancestors came from this area. And because of all of the migration and intermarrying across boundaries, the results you get are not going to be specific, anyway.
Possibilities are they’ll bundle Germany and France together and just tell you those ancestors came out of continental western Europe.
Native American Ancestry
Can a DNA test determine Native American ancestry?
Lots of people in America want to know if they have any Native American ancestry, and if so, from what tribes. The fantastic news is DNA testing can, sometimes, tell you when you have Native American ancestors.
An autosomal DNA test will give an ethnicity report but remember it only goes back about five generations. Y-DNA and mtDNA tests go back much farther, but only in a single family line each.
The bad news is not one of the tests can let you know exactly what time your ancestors might have come from. And none of them can be utilized as proof of ancestry in regards to applying for tribal rolls.
Any of them can say is that the overall area of North or South America where your ancestors probably lived.
Getting Started With a DNA Test
If you have read this far, then possibilities are you are sincerely thinking to have a genealogical DNA test performed. But we are sure you still have a lot of questions, like which firm is best, what are its charges, time it takes and much more.
You have questions, we have answers.
How is the DNA Collected?
DNA is obtained either using a cheek swab or a saliva sample, depending on which company you use. For the most part, there is no benefit to a method over the other.
But if the individual being tested is quite young or very old (and cannot generate enough saliva), the cheek swab may be more comfortable.
At the moment, 23andMe and AncestryDNA use saliva samples; other firms use cheek swabs.
What Happens Next?
As soon as you’ve assembled your DNA sample, merely return it to the company for processing. It will often require six to ten weeks for sample to be processed – but could take long after the holidays since DNA tests are a favorite gift.
Once your test is performed, you will be emailed with the outcomes or you login into their website and access your account.
Based on the company and the test, your results may include:
- your raw data
- ethnicity estimates
- ways to get potential relatives
How Much Does It Cost?
Prices vary based on analysis and company. During holiday time periods many will offer discounts, like Christmas, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.
Autosomal DNA tests generally cost $79 to $99. The only organization to provide different Y-DNA and mtDNA tests are Family Tree DNA, now for $169 to $359 for Y-DNA and $199 for the mtDNA test evaluations based on the number of markers tested.
National Geographic and Living DNA provide all three tests in 1 package for $150 to $159, which seems an unbelievable bargain. But, their Y-DNA and mtDNA results could be not as comprehensive as the individual tests from Family Tree DNA.
23andMe delivers a combined genealogy and wellness report for one fee.
Health reports may identify if you take the genes to get a few dozen distinct illnesses or ailments, which might indicate potential health risks for you or your kids.
Along with the cost of this test, most firms charge $10 to $12 for shipping.
Bear in mind that nearly everyone these businesses run earnings from time to time, so if you are prepared to wait a month or two, you can save yourself a little cash.
Buy It as a Gift
You can also buy one of these evaluations as a present for your family members. This is a fantastic way to boost accuracy by comparing outcomes. Surprisingly, you can even purchase a test for your puppy!
Additionally, it lets girls use the Y-DNA evaluation by using a male relative to take it for them.
However, before you spend your cash, you should probably make sure that the person you’re buying it for will really take the test.
Choosing a Company
The number of alternatives for genealogical DNA testing has improved over the years. All these sites provide autosomal DNA testing.
All of them will give you a geographical breakdown of where your ancestors lived. Beyond this, each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Here are the top six choices, recorded based on how useful overall we believe they are for genealogists.
AncestryDNA is an excellent another option for genealogical DNA testing. They have the most comprehensive database of DNA sequences for correlation and many other features for genealogists, but a couple more drawbacks than Family Tree.
You don’t need to have an Ancestry subscription to take their test, but you do if you wish to receive the maximum benefits from it (currently $20 to $45 per month, based on the program).
A subscription lets you construct a family tree, view the family tree of your matches, and analyze your tree with your match to find common ancestors. There are of course several different features on the research side of your genealogy.
- A comprehensive database of above six million sets of DNA results for comparison
- The compelling genealogical community
- Allow connecting with matches through anonymous email and message boards
- Ability to link your DNA results to your online family tree
- Stores your results indefinitely
- No longer provides separate mtDNA or Y-DNA evaluations
- Members can choose not to share their DNA results so it may be harder to find and contact matches
- Requires a continuing subscription to the website to use their online family tree performance
- Doesn’t allow raw data uploads from other sites
The top overall for serious genealogists. One significant benefit is, even if you get your testing done by another firm, FamilyTreeDNA enables you to upload your raw data into their system also.
- The only company to offer all three tests separately
- Stores results for at least 25 years
- The website has a powerful genealogical community and targeted DNA projects
- Lets you email others with matching profiles
- Enables free upload of raw data from tests to run for other sites
- Includes a chromosome browser, which lets you compare two or more sets of DNA results to determine how much overlap they have in common
- Has a bigger database of individuals than websites like ancestry (since it is not as accessible to the broad market) so you might miss some matches
- Doesn’t offer health-related testing
3. MyHeritage DNA
MyHeritage is a long-established genealogical website, but they’ve just started offering DNA services quite recently so that they have a ways to go to catch up to Family Tree and Ancestry.
- Largest database of international clients to be matched with
- Connect your DNA results to your online family tree
- Contact matches for free
- Enables free upload of raw information from other sites
- Covers 42 cultural areas
- The relatively small (but rapidly growing) database in comparison to other sites. Currently 1.4 mils.
23andMe isn’t as old as the other sites, but is by no means a poor option, and provides some features that others do not.
It’s the only site that provides health-related DNA testing.
- Only site to provide wellness and health reports
- Has an extensive database of over one million results
- Contains a chromosome browser for comparing results
- Minimal genealogical community when compared with other websites
- Limited ability to get matches
- Doesn’t allow upload of raw data from other sites
- Health and health test isn’t a part of the necessary fee, it costs additional
5. Living DNA
The principal benefit of residing DNA is that it breaks the world down into approximately 80 areas, in comparison to the 25-30 of different services.
In theory, it can help you limit your searches.
This is particularly true when your relatives came from the British Isles, as Living DNA splits that tiny area of the world to 21 different regions.
- Divides the planet into several more, smaller areas than other services
- Includes 21 regional categories for the British Isles alone, and 80 globally
- No different autosomal DNA only test, so highest total cost
- No database or alternative way to contact or find matches
6. National Geographic Geno 2.0
The National Geographic Genographic Project is a nonprofit scientific endeavor to examine patterns in human DNA since it’s moved and changed throughout the planet throughout history.
By itself, this website isn’t designed or particularly helpful for genealogy.
- Combines all 3 tests at a reasonable price
- You are helping a worldwide targeted scientific research effort
- The Y-DNA evaluation is more restricted than those from Family Tree DNA
- Doesn’t offer a less costly’ autosomal DNA-only’ evaluation
- Can’t connect with other matches
- Can’t upload raw data from other sites
Which Test Is Best For You?
The solution is, it depends on what you would like. If you wish to know which DNA test is ideal for genealogy, we urge FamilyTreeDNA.
- best overall for genealogists
- Best for linking with hereditary matches (AncestryDNA has a more extensive database, but more limited contact options). FTDNA is one of the most significant genetic testings.
- the only option for in-depth Y-DNA testing
MyHeritage DNA and AncestryDNA
- both great overall for genealogists
- best options for connecting your DNA to your online family tree
- the only option for genetic health screening
- best for narrowing explorations in the British Isles
AncestryDNA and FamilyTreeDNA
- if you are adopted and are trying to connect with biological relatives, this is the best option
- best if you want to contribute to the progress of science (but make sure to add your raw data to MyHeritage DNA or FamilyTreeDNA for the benefits of these websites )
Is It Beneficial?
Finally, is genealogical DNA testing right for you?
For a long-term, is it really worth the price and bother?
Even if genealogy is merely an occasional pastime for you, these evaluations can offer you some very enlightening insights into your family history.
And for the serious genealogist, it’s getting to the point where they’re nearly essential.
The genealogical DNA testing is ultimately right enough, economical enough, and useful enough for connecting with your loved ones. We suggest it to everybody interested in learning more about their origins.