Best DNA Test Kits

How to Choose the DNA Testing Kit That’s Best for You
Marc McDermott

If you’ve read all the DNA test reviews, and are still confused, read on. This guide will break down everything you need to know.

Read my in-depth reviews of each testing company below. But first, here’s a quick comparison of the big five testing companies:

The top 5 best DNA testing kits

AncestryDNA: best overall

AncestryDNA is the best choice for genealogy and family history research. They have the most extensive database (18 million customers), so you’ll find the most DNA matches there.

AncestryDNA matches
My matches list at Ancestry

Their ethnicity reports look at 1,000+ regions and give you percentage estimates for each.

AncestryDNA ethnicity
My ethnicity report from AncestryDNA

You can create a family tree and link it to your DNA profile. Ancestry has, by far, the most robust genealogical community. You can connect with your matches through anonymous email and message boards.

Family tree

Note that you do not have to have an Ancestry subscription to take their test or see your results. You also do not need a subscription to build your own family tree. A subscription is primarily for the research side of Ancestry and allows you to view billions of genealogical records. You can also view the family tree’s of your DNA matches. And you can compare your family tree with your matches to find common ancestors.

Ancestry subscription options

There are many other features on the research side of your genealogy. Get a 14-day free trial here.

Read my complete AncestryDNA review.

MyHeritage: best for international matches

MyHeritage is the best option if you’re looking for matches outside the United States. They have the largest international customer database.

MyHeritage matches
Match list at MyHeritage

They have some pretty neat tools such as a chromosome browser, auto clustering, and their “Theory of Relativity”. These tools are a goldmine if you’re interested in more advanced genetic genealogy.

MyHeritage chromosome browser
The chromosome browser at MyHeritage

They also allow the free upload of raw DNA. So if you’ve already tested with another company, you can transfer your DNA to MyHeritage.

MyHeritage is usually the most affordable option amongst the big five testing companies.

Read my complete MyHeritageDNA review.

23andMe: best for genetic health testing

23andMe is the best option for dedicated genetic testing for health risks. The health test reports on carrier status, health risks, traits, and wellness.

23andMe health reports
My 23andMe health results. Specific reports blurred for privacy

Since most people on 23andMe aren’t as interested in family history or communicating with DNA matches as sites like Ancestry, 23andMe would not be my first choice for genealogy.

While they offer paternal (males only) and maternal haplogroup reporting, it’s not the same report as you would get with FamilyTreeDNA. These reports are for your haplogroup only and do not include any matching which to me is the primary use of these tests. Learn more about how to find your haplogroup.

23andMe haplogroups

23andMe also has a chromosome browser for comparing segment data with your matches.

Read my complete 23andMe review.

Can’t decide between 23andMe and Ancestry? Read my complete comparison of 23andMe vs Ancestry.

FamilyTreeDNA: best for mtDNA & Y-DNA

FamilyTreeDNA is the best option for dedicated mtDNA and Y-DNA testing. They’re the only company to offer dedicated mtDNA and Y-DNA testing.

FamilyTreeDNA Y-DNA report
My Y-DNA haplogroup migration map from FamilyTreeDNA

Their Y-DNA testing has four levels based on how many markers you want to analyze: 37, 67, 111, and 700. Most people start with the 37 marker test. If you’re working on a specific genealogical problem, then start with the 67. You can always upgrade the markers without taking a new test.

Historically, FamilyTreeDNA has offered three different mtDNA tests; HVR1, HVR1/HVR2, and full sequence. The first two levels of testing were not particularly useful for genealogy. They now offer one test which is the full sequence test.

FamilyTreeDNA mtDNA report
My mtDNA haplogroup migration map from FamilyTreeDNA

Their autosomal testing offers fewer ethnic regions, so the estimates will be much broader than other companies. They also have a smaller customer database, so you won’t get as many matches as other companies. They do have a chromosome browser and allow uploads of raw DNA.

Read my complete FamilyTreeDNA review.

Living DNA: best for British roots

If you have any British or Irish ancestry, you’ll want to do an ancestry test with LivingDNA. LivingDNA specializes in “high definition” genetic testing in the British Isles. They can laser focus on your DNA’s exact regions origins within the British Isles.

LivingDNA regions
My British and Irish DNA by region

LivingDNA divides the UK and Ireland into many more, smaller regions than other services and can help you pinpoint your British and Irish ancestry’s exact regions. But because of the lack of a customer database (and matches), I would also test with another company in addition to LivingDNA.

Read my complete LivingDNA review.


DNA Buyer’s Guide

In this guide:

The three different types of DNA tests

There are three main types of DNA tests used in genealogy and family history research. Each one works a little differently and tells you different things. Naturally, that means that each one has its advantages and disadvantages. This guide will focus on autosomal testing only. To learn about mitochondrial DNA, refer to this guide on the best mtDNA test. For Y-DNA, refer to my guide to the best Y-DNA test.

Autosomal DNA tests (atDNA)

autosomal DNA inheritance chart
Autosomal tests are the most popular and look at the DNA you inherited from every line in your family tree. This test provides an estimate of your ethnicity – the regions of the world where your ancestors lived within the past few hundred years. This test also matches you with distant relatives.

Autosomal DNA (atDNA) is that DNA that does not contribute to gender; in other words, the first 22 pairs of chromosomes. It is inherited from both your maternal and paternal ancestors. Because it does not rely on the 23rd chromosome, atDNA tests can be done in both men and women with the same results.

What is an autosomal test?

atDNA tests are by far the most popular for consumers. This is the test that gives you ethnicity estimates as well as family matches. This test examines single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). These tests examine about 700,000 SNPs to determine how closely related you are to other people.

Remember that half your DNA comes from your father and half from your mother. That means that roughly one-fourth of your DNA comes from each of your grandparents. One-eighth from each of your great-grandparents. And so on. These percentages are never exact since DNA inheritance and recombination is entirely random. The further you go back, the less DNA you have inherited from a particular ancestor. The less DNA you share with a match, the harder it is to prove the relationship. So atDNA tests are only useful for about 6-8 generations.

What It Tells You

Most people who do an autosomal test do so for ethnicity estimates. Autosomal tests give you ethnicity results based on how your DNA compares to reference populations. Every testing company uses its own reference panels.

For genealogical purposes, the primary use of atDNA testing is to find relatives and common ancestry. This can be especially useful if you know very little about your parents or grandparents and have a hard time locating living relatives. Often, relatives located by the test are researching the same family lines as you, and you can share research with them.

Every company mentioned in this guide offers autosomal tests. Again, it is by far the most popular test for consumers.

Choosing the test that’s best for you

With three types of tests to choose from, how do you decide which is best for you? It all depends on what you want to know.

  • For most people, the basic autosomal test is the clear winner, and it is the one test that every testing company offers. Because your atDNA comes from all of your ancestors, this test is useful for finding a range of ancestors and living relatives. It can also provide you with reasonable estimates of your ancestors’ ethnicity (the regions of the world where they lived). The main drawback to atDNA is that it gets so jumbled together after a few generations that it becomes unreliable the further you try to go back. Most of the time, an atDNA test is only useful for about 6-8 generations. atDNA can provide some great leads on finding others who are researching the same family tree as you. It’s also the most useful test for adoptees. (Read my full guide to DNA testing for adoptees). Y-DNA testing is also great if you have Jewish ancestry on your direct paternal line.
  • mtDNA tests are most useful if you’re only looking at your direct maternal line. You can use it to prove a common ancestor with someone else, but only in a direct maternal line. However, it can trace that line back a very long way – sometimes 10,000 years or more. That can provide evidence that your mother’s maternal line came from a particular region or ethnicity. But it is less useful when finding living relatives.
  • Y-DNA is most useful if you want to prove a connection to a specific ancestor. Say that you have a common surname, like Smith, and want to know if you are related to someone else named Smith. A Y-DNA can prove (or disprove) that the two of you are related. Like the mtDNA test, Y-DNA may let you trace a line back for dozens of generations. It can also tell you the ethnicity or region of origin of your paternal line. One major drawback to Y-DNA is that only males have Y-DNA, so only males can take the test. However, a woman can still find Y-DNA results by having a close male relative take it for her. She can ask her brother, father, paternal uncle, or cousin by a paternal uncle (but not her son, since he got his Y-chromosome from his paternal line, not hers). Similarly, you can trace other paternal lines by asking an appropriate family member to take the test and share the results with you.

Ethnicity/admixture testing

All three of the tests can provide you with information on where your ancestors lived.

But the information they provide varies from test to test.

  • Y-DNA and mtDNA tests will link you to very specific genetic lines, but keep in mind, they represent only a fraction of your family tree.
  • atDNA testing is what’s used for ethnicity testing of your entire family tree.

The companies that provide DNA testing divide the world up into regions in different ways. Each company has different ways of doing this. That means that two different testing companies may give you different ethnicity estimates for the same DNA. As more and more genetic data is collected, companies update their regions, too.

Some companies have had problems with their ethnicity estimates in the past. AncestryDNA, for example, used to be well-known for overestimating Scandinavian ancestry. But the accuracy of estimates is continually improving as more genetic data are collected. There’s no clear indication that one company is more accurate than the others. When a company does improve its ethnicity estimates, your profile will automatically be updated, too. You won’t have to retake the test to get the new results, but you will have to visit their site. Chances are they will not email you with the update.

It’s essential to keep in mind that any DNA test will typically give a region of origin, not a country. That’s because countries have changed many times throughout human history, and even within your lifetime!

Consider the case of Alsace-Lorraine, a 5,600 square mile region on the border of France and Germany. Before the 17th century, the area was entirely Germanic (even though Germany as a country didn’t exist at the time). During the 17th and 18th centuries, it was annexed by France. In 1871, following the Franco-Prussian War, it was annexed by Germany. Following World War I, it was returned to France. So how can you say if your ancestors from that area were German or French using only DNA? You can’t. You can only say that your ancestors came from that region. And because of all the migration and intermarrying across borders, the results you get aren’t going to be that specific. Chances are they’ll bundle Germany and France together and simply tell you those ancestors came from continental western Europe.

FAQ

Which DNA kit is the best?

It depends on your goals. If you’re just looking for ethnicity results, I recommend Ancestry, MyHeritage, or 23andMe. Suppose your main goal is to do genealogical research or find/connect with distant relatives. In that case, I recommend Ancestry since they have the largest customer database. Testing for ancient origins, haplogroups, or surname studies? FamilyTreeDNA is your only choice. Are you looking to test for genetic health concerns? 23andMe would be my choice.

Which DNA test is the most accurate?

Most people who ask this question are referring to ethnicity estimates, so that’s how I’ll answer it here. In my experience, Ancestry and 23andMe are the most accurate.

If you test with all five companies as I have, you’ll notice that none of them have the same regions, so it’s hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison. For example, 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA lump together British and Irish ethnicities, whereas Ancestry will separate your Irish, English, Scottish, and Welsh DNA. And for British ancestry, LivingDNA will even go so far as to estimate the exact regions of these areas you’re from. For example, they estimate my English DNA is primarily from Southeast England, which is correct according to my research. 23andMe was also able to tell me that my Italian DNA was from the Calabria region (which is accurate). In contrast, Ancestry just tells me Southern Italian and MyHeritage just says Italian.

Every testing company wants to be as accurate as possible down to the specific region of every country. And companies like Ancestry routinely provide refined ethnicity report updates to their existing customers. It’s a fine balance because the more specific the estimate, the more likely it is to be inaccurate. But as science progresses and more people worldwide get tested, the accuracy will continue to improve.

Which DNA test has the largest database?

AncestryDNA has the largest database with over 18 million customers. This makes it a goldmine for genealogical research.

For comparison, 23andMe is currently at 10 million customers, while MyHeritage is at 3.8 million. Note that MyHeritage tends to have more international matches in their database than any of the testing company.

Which is better AncestryDNA or 23andMe?

Both DNA tests are autosomal tests and report your ethnicity, provide family matches, and offer health reports. 23andMe also does basic yDNA (for males) and mtDNA testing to identify haplogroups (does not include yDNA or mtDNA matching).

For more on this, check out my complete guide to 23andMe vs Ancestry.

​Can DNA testing determine Native American ancestry?

Many people in the United States want to know if they have any Native American ancestry, and if so, from what tribes.

The good news is DNA testing can, in some cases, tell you if you have Native American ancestors.

Read my full guide to testing for Native American ancestry.

Conclusion

So is genealogical DNA testing right for you? In the end, is it really worth the cost and bother?

Absolutely.

Even if genealogy is only an occasional hobby for you, these tests can provide you with some very enlightening insights into your family history. And for the serious genealogist, it is getting to the point where they are nearly essential.

Genealogical DNA testing is finally accurate enough, inexpensive enough, and useful enough for connecting with your family. I recommend it to everyone interested in learning more about their roots.

Recap

External references & citations

About the Author

Comments

  1. Keith Fielding

    I am searching for a birth/baptism around 1720 in Southwell Nottinghamshire.
    England.
    I am almost certain that this person is my direct ancestor.

    Would a DNA test website help me ?

    Reply
    • Marc McDermott

      Honestly, that will probably be too far back to find a connection with DNA unless maybe the person is on a direct paternal line and you both y-tested. Ancestry would be your best bet to find a match to that ancestor but don’t be disappointed if you don’t find one.

      Reply
  2. Sheila

    Hello,
    Thank you for sharing this informative article.
    My great grandmother is adopted. She knew nothing about her biological family. She is in my mothers direct mitochondrial line. Which DNA company would be best to use to find out about her ancestors and ethnicity?

    Reply
  3. Carol B

    Which Y-DNA test would be best to take?
    Family lore has always been that John Broady, who was at The Battle of Kings Mountain with his master, General William Campbell, in Oct 1780, is my significant other’s 4th or 6th great grandfather (depending on what family tree you believe). Because John Broady was General William Campbell’s man servant, he is mentioned in many books. It is also mentioned in some of these books that many thought John Broady was a half brother to General William Campbell. What Y-DNA test would be best for my significant other (last name Broady) to take to try and confirm his Broady lineage??? [He has taken an Ancestry DNA test and his results have been uploaded to Gedmatch.]
    Thank you, in advance, for any input you can provide.

    Reply
    • Marc McDermott

      Hi Carol. For Y-DNA, I recommend starting with 37 markers. Then if there are some close matches who have tested at higher levels such as 67 or 111, you can upgrade your test without having to retake the test. But for what you’re asking, you’d need to match a known descendant of Gen. Campbell on the paternal line. And Broady would have to be the surname of your significant other – meaning John Broady is on his direct paternal line. So I would go ahead and test, but expect that you’ll likely have to do some genealogy research once you get your results.

      Reply
  4. Charles Daniels

    Hello Marc,
    Thank you for the informative article. Question… I have already taken the AncestryDNA test, and want to know where my male line and Surname came from. I was always told we were Irish, and I know that some of my family… Great grandparents on up immigrated from Canada (FR) to the states. But, my results are 43% French, 14% Ireland and Scotland, and 1% England, Wales, & Northwest Europe.
    What test should I get to better know exactly where my male line came from… Ireland,Scotland,France, or England.
    Thank you in advance.
    And once again great article.
    Sincerely,
    Charles

    Reply
    • Marc McDermott

      Hey Charles. For your direct paternal line, you can do a Y-DNA test at FamilyTreeDNA. The 37 marker test should be fine. You can also do another autosomal test with 23andMe because they report on broad Y-DNA haplogroups.

      Reply
  5. LeAnn

    Hi Marc- I greatly appreciate the comparisons!!! Please can you provide your expert recommendation on which test(s) would be best for my elderly mother that is best suited for a cheek swab? She is the matriarch from very old colonial American lineages (British, Mayflower, Virginia, North Carolina). Can any produced DNA results be uploaded into Ancestry where I have my tree? She has a hard time spitting into the small tube for the saliva test. Thanks again!

    Reply
  6. Sandra Ridgeway

    Good Afternoon –

    How would I go about finding out my father’s biological family. I believe his adoption was a closed one. My father has passed so has his adoptive parents. Which DNA testing do I need to do?
    Thank you,
    Sandy

    Reply
    • Marc McDermott

      You’d want to test with as many companies as possible to have the greatest chance of finding close matches. From there, you need to do a bit of genealogy research. Or you can hire a genealogist who specializes in adoption. But the first step is to get your DNA tested. Go with Ancestry then upload the raw data to MyHeritage, FTDNA, LivingDNA and Gedmatch.

      Reply
  7. mary

    Hello! I have never met my biological father. I do know he is deceased. I know his name. My mother is deceased. I have a half brother with the same mother. I would like to find information regarding my fathers side; is that possible? What test would give the most information? I have some health issues that my mother did not have and im wondering if it is genetic on fathers side. I have a son who I would like to give the information to as well. Thank you

    Reply
    • Marc McDermott

      Hi Mary. If you’re looking for a health test, try 23andMe or AncestryHealth.

      Reply
  8. T.K.

    Thanks a lot for a very good intro to this matter! Ended up choosing 23andme for genetic health markers.

    I was wondering if you have had a possibility to look at any of the full sequencing tests offered? I just recently run into an offer from Dante Labs, and was thinking how they would compare.

    Reply
    • Marc McDermott

      I have not yet but plan to look into it.

      Reply
  9. Nicola Bowie

    Hi Marc
    I am an English woman living in the US for the past 18 years. My father was Scottish and we have quite a bit of information about his side of the family. My Mother was illegitimate and we know nothing about her other than the town she was born in in England and her Mother’s first name. I did a CRI genetics test including the Maternal Haplo test which showed that she was part of the H1c group and therefore came from eastern Europe. We want to know more about her ancestors and genealogy. Given that I have already done a DNA test, what might you advise as to the best avenue to take. Thank you, Nicola

    Reply
    • Marc McDermott

      Hi Nicola. I haven’t tried CRI Genetics so I don’t know what/if you can do with the raw DNA data. I would check with both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA (and even gedmatch) to see if they accept raw data uploads from CRI. You need to be in a large database where you can potentially find living cousins in order to see how you fit in their family trees. Then with a bit of research, you can deduce who your mother’s parents were. If you cannot upload your data anywhere and you have the budget, I would strongly recommend you test again with ancestry.

      Reply
      • Nicola Bowie

        Thanks so much for your advice Marc. I will give it a try. Very best wishes,
        Nicola

        Reply
  10. Jennifer

    Hello, I am the A-typical American Heinz 57.
    Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Italian.
    All I want is a break down of how much of this-that-and the other I am.
    Not interested in a family tree or finding distant relatives to connect with.

    Reply
    • Marc McDermott

      Go with Ancestry or MyHeritage.

      Reply
  11. Jayson Harvey

    Hi Marc, thank you so much for posting this information. My wife and I adopted our daughter but she actually my niece as my half-sister was her birth mother. I have used My Heritage to get info, my sister has not as far as I know. I obviously have contact with my sister but the birth father is not present and all I know about him is that he is from Mexico. I would like to be able to give some information to my daughter down the line as she would be the only member of our family with Mexican heritage. What would be the best test to use on her and should I get a test for my sister as well?

    Reply
    • Marc McDermott

      Hi Jayson. What type of information are you looking for? Family tree and ancestors or just ethnicity?

      Reply
  12. rachel

    I was adopted back in the 1980’s. I have no information about either of my biological parents and my adoption was a closed one. I am wanting to find out health information as well as possibly finding out if I have any siblings. Since I know nothing, where should I start? What would be the best test or tests to give me an idea/ possibly find relatives and “open” pandoras box so to speak? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Marc McDermott

      Hi Rachel. Your best bet will be the Ancestry Health test which also includes the standard ancestry test where you can find relatives. To expand your reach of living cousins, you can transfer your raw DNA from ancestry to myheritage once you get the results.

      Reply
  13. Allison

    Hi, I’m fairly new to genealogy but my main concern is do you get names, l know the last name we’ve been using as our family name for the last four or five generations isn’t correct and would love to find out who we really are, is that possible?, and on my mother’s side the family is basically instinct, mostly females and no family name, surely there are relatives living, we don’t know them, will we be able to know who they are?

    Reply
    • Marc McDermott

      A DNA test is a good start, but you’ll need to learn more about genealogy research.

      Reply
  14. Robert Stack

    I was adopted with no living adopted parents. I know my maternal lineage. I do not know my father’s name, only that he was an American Serviceman. If I take a y-111 test, will names of relatives, be reported in the results?

    Reply
    • Marc McDermott

      Your best bet would be an autosomal DNA test at ancestry. Then with a bit of research, you can find extended family members on your paternal line which may lead you to your birth father.

      Reply
  15. Juli Crane

    I don’t see CRI Genetics included in this list. Is there a reason for that? How does that company compare?

    Reply
    • Marc McDermott

      I have not tested with this company since they aren’t a big player in the genealogical community. That may change at some point.

      Reply
  16. Greg EW

    I think you should add “privacy policy” to your criteria. These are increasingly a concern to people, and they, in conjunction with the provider’s “Terms of Service” are as, or more, difficult to understand than the various types of DNA testing!

    Reply
    • Marc McDermott

      That’s a good point, thanks Greg. I’ll look into adding that.

      Reply
      • Sharon Morris

        Great job. The same here if I knew who had access to my information without trawling through every provider’s terms and conditions, my extended family and I would have done ours long ago.

        Reply
  17. Debbie

    I would love to know how my grandparents ended in the regions they did, and would love to trace back to overseas family

    Reply
  18. Antonio Bestard

    I want to know if my older brother is related to me. I now have ordered two(2) DNA kits for he and I to take. I am interested to find out if he is related. How do I go about asking this specific question to 23 & M

    Reply
    • Marc McDermott

      As long as you both take an autosomal test with the same company, they will tell you when you get the results.

      Reply
  19. Janet Dixon

    Hi there, interesting info – thanks. You missed out on a very important point though, 23&Me also checks for Neanderthal pointers, which other sites do not appear to do… cheers

    Reply
  20. P. J.

    Hi Mark, there’s some evidence that my mother’s family were Gypsies. Is it possible that DNA from these Roma/Gypsy ancestors would show up in anything other than mtDNA because Gypsies are a “founder population”?

    Reply
    • Marc McDermott

      I don’t think a DNA would pick up on this – sorry to say.

      Reply

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