Genealogy / Best DNA Test Kits

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. What is the best DNA test? This guide will break down everything you need to know. But first, here’s a quick comparison of the best DNA testing kits:

Comparison of important features

AncestryDNA MyHeritage FamilyTree DNA 23andMe LivingDNA
Website Ancestry.com MyHeritage.com FamilyTreeDNA.com 23andMe.com LivingDNA.com
Best for Genealogy, matches, ethnicity regions Global matches, tools for advanced genetic genealogy Distant ancestry, YDNA, mtDNA Genetic health testing British Isles ancestry
Price See latest price
See latest price
See latest price
See latest price
See latest price
Ethnicity results Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Ethnic Regions 500+ 42 24 1,000+ 80 (in depth for UK)
Family Matching Yes Yes Yes Yes Limited
Database Size 15 million 3.8 million 1 million 10 million None
Y-DNA Test No No Yes Broad haplogroup, no matching Broad haplogroup, no matching
mtDNA Test No No Yes Broad haplogroup, no matching Broad haplogroup, no matching
Collection Method Saliva Cheek swab Cheek swab Saliva Cheek swab
Chromosome Browser No Yes Yes Yes No
Raw Data Upload No Yes Yes No Yes
Health Info No For extra fee No For extra fee No

Best DNA testing kits reviewed

AncestryDNA

The best testing kit for genealogy, AncestryDNA has the most extensive database (15 million customers) so you’ll find the most DNA matches there.

Ancestry DNA test kit

What we like:

  • Database of over 15 million customers for matching
  • Strong genealogical community
  • Connect with matches through anonymous email and message boards
  • Link your DNA results to your online family tree
  • No subscription required

What we don’t like

  • Viewing family trees of your matches requires a subscription
  • Does not allow raw data uploads from other sites

Read our complete AncestryDNA review.

Note that you do not have to have an Ancestry subscription in order to take their test or see your results. You also do not need a subscription to build your own family tree.

A subscription allows you to view genealogical records, view the family tree’s of your matches, and compare your tree with your match to find common ancestors.

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

MyHeritage DNA

The best DNA testing kit if you’re looking for matches outside the United States, MyHeritage has the largest database of international customers. They also offer some pretty neat tools such as auto clustering and a chromosome browser.

MyHeritage test kit

What we like:

  • Largest database of international customers to be matched with
  • Link your DNA results to your online family tree
  • Allows free upload of raw data from other sites
  • Covers 42 ethnic regions

What we don’t like

  • Relatively small (but rapidly growing) database compared to other sites. Currently 3.8 million

Read our complete MyHeritageDNA review.

23andMe

23andMe is the best test kit for dedicated genetic testing for health. Since most people who test there aren’t as interested in family history or communicating with DNA matches as compared to sites like Ancestry, 23andMe would probably not be my first choice for genealogy.

23 and me DNA test kit

What we like:

  • The best company for health and wellness reports
  • Has a large database of more than 10 million customers
  • Includes a chromosome browser for comparing results

What we don’t like

  • Very limited genealogical community compared to other sites
  • No Y-DNA or mtDNA matching
  • Does not allow upload of raw data from other sites

Read our complete 23andMe review.

You may also be interested in our complete comparison of 23andMe vs Ancestry.

FamilyTreeDNA

The best for distant ancestry (beyond 6-8 generations), and paternity testing. One major perk is, even if you do get your testing done by a different company, FamilyTreeDNA lets you upload your raw data into their system as well.

FamilyTreeDNA

What we like:

  • Only company to offer all three tests separately
  • Only company to offer Y-DNA and mtDNA matching
  • Cheek swab DNA collection (much easier for babies and elderly)
  • Allows free upload of raw data from tests run for other sites
  • Has a chromosome browser, which lets you compare two or more sets of DNA results to see segment overlap
  • Surname, haplogroup and other group projects you can join

What we don’t like

  • Has a smaller database of people than sites like Ancestry (since it’s not as popular to the mass market), so you might miss some matches
  • Very broad ethnicity regions

Read our complete FamilyTreeDNA review.

Living DNA

If you have any British or Irish ancestry, you’ll definitely want to do an ancestry test with LivingDNA. Based in the UK, LivingDNA specializes in “high definition” genetic testing in the British Isles and can narrow into the exact regions of your ancestry in the British Isles.

Because of the lack of a customer database (and matches), I would also test with another company in addition to LivingDNA.

LivingDNA

What we like:

  • Divides the UK and Ireland into many more, smaller regions than other services

What we don’t like

  • No separate autosomal DNA only test, so highest overall price
  • Almost no database for matches

Read our complete LivingDNA review.

DNA testing buyer’s guide

In this guide:

Types of DNA tests

There are three main types of DNA tests used in genealogy.

Each one works a little differently, and tells you different things.

Naturally, that means that each one has its advantages and disadvantages.

Autosomal DNA tests (atDNA)

autosomal DNA inheritance chart
Autosomal DNA 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 – or 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 atDNA 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), or the different “shapes” of individual nucleotides, small chunks of DNA.

Genealogical atDNA tests examine about 700,000 SNPs to determine how closely related you are to someone else.

Remember that half our DNA comes from our father and half from our mother.

Going back in generations, that means that roughly one-fourth of our DNA comes from each of our grandparents, one-eighth from each of our great-grandparents, and so on. These percentages are never exact since DNA inheritance and recombination is completely random.

The further you go back, the less DNA you have inherited from a particular ancestor, and the harder it is to prove that you are related.

So autosomal DNA 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 will give you a set of ethnicity results based on how your DNA compares to reference populations created by the testing company.

For genealogical purposes, the main use of autosomal DNA testing is to find relatives and determine how closely related you are to someone else.

This can be especially useful if you know very little about your parents or grandparents and are having a hard time locating living relatives.

Many times, 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 DNA tests. Again, it is by far the most popular test for consumers.

Mitochondrial DNA testing (mtDNA)

mitochondrial dna inheritance
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is passed down from a mother to all her children (both male and female) and examines your direct maternal line only. Like Y-DNA, mtDNA changes very slowly over time so you can trace maternal lines back thousands of years. This test should not be confused with X-DNA analysis.

mtDNA is genetic material inside mitochondria, small components found inside every cell and which have their own separate DNA strands.

mtDNA is passed down exclusively from females. Both males and females inherit their mtDNA from their mothers, therefore anyone can take this test.

Because mtDNA does not include a combination of DNA from both parents, it does not change with every generation.

In fact, mtDNA changes extremely slowly – it might remain exactly the same for dozens of generations!

How It Works

While autosomal DNA testing looks at the 22 pairs of autosomes inside the cell nucleus, mtDNA testing looks at the DNA inside the mitochondria which exists outside the cell nucleus.

Among other things, that means the test only has to examine about 16,500 genetic base pairs, instead of the 3.2 billion base pairs found in our DNA.

The test normally looks at only specific portions of the mtDNA and compares them to established samples.

What It Tells You

mtDNA gives very precise and accurate ancestry results, but only for the maternal line.

results, but only for the maternal line.

That is, it tells you about your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother, and so on, back through time.

But it can’t tell you about any of your other ancestors, such as your mother’s father or any of your father’s ancestors.

An mtDNA test will also identify how closely related you are to a haplogroup.

A haplogroup is basically a group of people with a single common ancestor.

Historically, everyone living in the same region might belong to the same haplogroup, or very closely related ones.

This means that your haplogroup can identify where your maternal line originated.

It could also help you locate distant relatives, but some of them could be very distant (thousands of years).

In some cases, mtDNA can remain nearly identical for 50 generations or more. This makes it difficult to use mtDNA matching for genealogical purposes. A perfect match means you are related, but you might be 48th cousins!

The only company to offer individual mtDNA kits is FamilyTreeDNALiving DNA  and 23andMe bundle very basic mtDNA testing with their autosomal DNA test.

Y-DNA tests

Y-DNA inheritance
Y-DNA Tests look at the Y-chromosome (only found in males) which is passed from father to son and changes very little over time. This allows you to trace the direct line back thousands of years. Females don’t have a Y-chromosome so they cannot take this test. However, they can ask a male relative (i.e. brother, father, uncle, etc.) to take the test for them.

The 23rd human chromosome has two versions, the X and the Y.

Women have two X-chromosomes, while men have one X and one Y.

Y-DNA testing kits examine only the Y-chromosome, therefore only males can take this test. If you’re a woman who wants to test your father’s Y-DNA male line, you’ll need to test your father, uncle, brother, male cousin, etc. Basically any male on your direct paternal line. Testing the oldest generation possible is always best.

Because you can only get a Y-chromosome from your father, and he from his father, that means it tends to change very little over time.

How It Works

There are actually two sub-tests with Y-DNA testing.

The first is a short tandem repeat (STR) test. The STR test categorizes sections of the DNA according to how often a certain genetic pattern repeats.

The second is a single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) test. It works the same way as in autosomal DNA testing, but it only tests about 30,000 SNPs instead of 700,000.

What It Tells You

The STR test produces a summary of your haplotype. This can be compared to someone else’s results to determine how far back your most recent common ancestor might have lived.

An STR test is often used to determine how closely two people with the same surname are related, if at all.

The SNP test is more detailed, and among other things assigns you to a haplogroup.

A haplogroup is a group of people with one common ancestor and who lived in one or more specific regions.

Both Y-chromosome tests can help you locate relatives.

But like mtDNA, because the Y-chromosome changes slowly, you might be related many generations back. Although Y-DNA tests are much more useful for genealogy than mtDNA.

And because the Y-chromosome is only passed down through males, the test can only tell you about your direct paternal line.

The only company to offer individual Y-DNA testing kits is FamilyTreeDNA, which has three options depending on how detailed a test you want.

Y-DNA testing is especially useful for adoptees. It’s also a great ancestry test if you think you have jewish ancestry.

Living DNA and 23andMe bundles very basic Y-DNA testing with their autosomal DNA tests, but provide much less detailed results than FamilyTreeDNA.

Choosing the test that’s best for you

With three tests to choose from, how do you decide which is best for you?

It all depends on what you want to know.

Autosomal DNA

For most people, the autosomal DNA test is the clear winner, and it is the one test that every testing company offers.

Because your autosomal DNA comes from all of your ancestors, this test is good for finding a range of ancestors and living relatives.

It can also provide you with reasonable estimates of the ethnicity of your ancestors, or the regions of the world where they lived.

The main drawback to autosomal DNA 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 autosomal DNA test is only useful for about 6-8 generations.

Autosomal DNA can provide some great leads on finding others who are researching the same family tree as you.

mtDNA

Because mtDNA comes to you only from your mother, and from her mother, it only helps you trace one line.

You can use it to prove a common ancestor with someone else, but only in a direct maternal line.

It can, however, 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 very specific region or ethnicity.

But it is less useful when finding living relatives.

Y-DNA

The Y-DNA test is sort of like the mtDNA test, but it follows a direct paternal line instead.

That means a Y-DNA test can tell you about your father’s father’s father’s father, and many generations before that, but not about any of your other ancestors.

Y-DNA is most useful if you want to prove a connection to a certain 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 a Y-DNA test 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, such as 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).

In the same way, you can trace other paternal lines by asking an appropriate family member to take the test and share the results with you.

Ethnicity testing

All three of the DNA 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.
  • Autosomal DNA 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 exact 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 constantly improving as more genetic data are collected, and 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.

Regions versus countries

It’s important 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, anyway.

Chances are they’ll bundle Germany and France together, and simply tell you those ancestors came from continental western Europe.

Native American 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 our full guide to testing for Native American ancestry.

Which test is best for you?

It depends on your goals…

Is it worth it?

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.

External references & citations

About the Author

Comments (835)

  1. Erica

    Hello Mark
    This is the best review that I have found so far. Like most, I would like your suggestion though. I am adopted and would like to know more about my living relatives but also I am very intrigued about my ancestry. Everyone I knew growing up seemed to know these elaborate stories about their great,great,great, great… (you get the jist) and I never had anything like that. So although finding living relatives is interesting, I find the deeper ancestry even more interesting. I feel like the National Geographic would be the best for me and then upload to FTDNA to find family. Would you say that is a fairly good route as National Discovery is more on the pricey side, it is still more affordable for me than FTDNA and all my brothers have different dads than myself so having them take a test would be more beneficial for them rather than for me if I am understanding all of this correctly. Thank you for being so informative and willing to answer questions as well.

    • Marc McDermott

      Hi Erica! Thanks for your note. Ancestry.com might be your best bet for finding living relatives because they have the largest database. You can also upload your DNA to FTDNA for even more matches. For your deep ancestral roots, your only option is an mtDNA test through FTDNA since your brother’s all have different fathers. An mtDNA test will only show you the deep ancestral roots of your direct maternal line – so your birth mother’s mother’s etc. I think your best bet will be to just do the standard autosomal test at Ancestry, find family members and examine their online family trees. Good luck!

  2. Mardia Bishp

    Mark,

    Thanks for this great information. My mom is 87 and very excited about her family’s history. I gave her an Ancestry DNA kit last year and she was puzzled by the results because the majority of her ancestry was Scandinavian. I wanted to give her another kit so that she could compare the results. Is it best to go with the National Geographic in order to have the mtdna test included or purchase the mtdna test from Family Tree and upload her Ancestry data?

    Thanks,
    Mardia

    • Marc McDermott

      Hi Mardia. It depends on what you’re looking to find. If you just want to test her direct maternal line, then I’d get the mtDNA test. If you want to test all of her roots like you did with Ancestry, then you want an autosomal test. For either test I’d try FamilyTreeDNA. P.S. it’s a known concern that ancestryDNA tends to overestimate scandinavian heritage – especially if you have a lot of British isle roots.

  3. Ali

    Hi Mark,
    My husband and I are planning to buy tests and Christmas present for my family (American) and his family (French). We’re not concerned with finding other family, more comparing our dna markers against each other and potentially seeing some fun facts that we have in common vs differences. What sort of test would you recommend best meets our needs? Thank you for your help!

    • Marc McDermott

      Hi Ali. Great idea! It sounds like you want the basic autosomal tests for ethnicity estimates. These will test all of your family lines. YDNA and mtDNA tests will only test your direct paternal or maternal lines. Hope this helps!

  4. Erika

    Thanks for all the great info, Mark! I had no idea DNA testing was this complicated. I’m interested to get my results.
    Three of my four grandparents are from the Portuguese Azores islands and the fourth is from mainland Portugal. Based on that would you think there would be an advantage to any one test over the others? Thanks for your input!

    • Marc McDermott

      Hi Erika! It depends what you’re looking to discover. If you just want your personal ethnicity estimates, you’d get an autosomal test from any of the companies listed in this article. If you wanted something more in-depth for genealogical purposes like a YDNA or mtDNA test, check out FamilyTreeDNA. Hope this helps!

  5. Eliana

    Hi Mark, excellent review! I’m still not sure about the best test for me because I’m Brazilian, and I’ve heard they usually don’t specify south or North American roots, just show as Native American.
    Which one would you recommend?

    • Marc McDermott

      Hi Eliana. You’re right that currently a standard autosomal test will only specify that you’re native american. If you’re sure you don’t have any European roots, then an autosomal test probably won’t tell you much in terms of your ethnicity. The main benefit to you would be the cousin matching for your family tree efforts. If you really wanted to try getting a higher degree of specificity of your native roots, you might look into a YDNA or mtDNA test to determine your paternal or maternal haplogroup. For YDNA you’d need a male relative in your paternal line to take the test for you. Hope this helps!

      • Eliana

        Thank you so much, Mark! Your answer was very helpful, I appreciate it. Based on that, I decided on the Geno 2.0, for myself and for my daughter too, she is Brazilian/North American I’ll let you know the results, it should be interesting.

        • Marc McDermott

          Good luck, Eliana!

  6. Kelemoi Tedeneke

    Hey,

    This is amazing! So my paternal grandfather was never known to my dad. He was a soldier (likely Italian) living in Ethiopia during WWII. I know you went into detail about the Y-DNATIONAL tests but don’t want to lose out on the autosomal data from a larger pool from a more established company. Any suggestions?

    Thanks again,
    Kelemoi

    • Marc McDermott

      Hi Kelemoi. You’re probably best suited with an autosomal test from someone like AncestryDNA or FTNDA. You’ll have to rely on paper records and family trees of your DNA matches once you get the results in order to find your paternal grandfather. Good luck!

  7. Dean

    curious if i take the test with my sister would it give us paternity tests. always been curious if we are for sure related. I am interested in finding out percentages of my ethnicity mostly. any advice?

    • Marc McDermott

      Hey Dean! You would have to have your father tested as well to determine paternity. Any of the companies listed in this article would show the paternal matching.

  8. Mazin

    Solid review. A very clear, step by step and systematic explanation. Thanks a lot man!

    • Marc McDermott

      Thanks Mazin!

  9. Bernadetta Mroz

    Hi Mark, excellent article! Condense and to the point.
    My origin is pure Slavic (or I might just think so). Family on both sides comes from what is now Ukraine and Lithuania, but then it was Poland. Do you know of the company that concentrates on regions of Central and East Europe? I was considering LivingDNA, or Nat Geo. What do you think?
    I don’t care about locating any relatives. Just detailed geographic regions.

    • Marc McDermott

      Hi Bernadetta. Any of the companies listed in this guide will work well. But I might lean towards FTDNA.

  10. Robert

    Hi Mark, I’m guessing the best DNA test would be a autosomal plus mtDNA test along with the Y-DNA and if so who would offer the best price for that complete test? And also some family members, my son and some cousins have already done the ancestry.com test and I thought it was pretty cool looking thru my sons webpage and recognizing cousins etc.. but thinking now that most family members have chosen ancestory.com I might be best to use them for just the autosomal test? And for middle east people like myself, half Armenian and half Jewish(I think)would a certain company give me better results, thanks and sorry for the rambling lol

    • Marc McDermott

      Hey Robert. I would look at the bundle deals from FamilyTreeDNA. Ancestry only offers autosomal test. If you go with FTDNA, you can ask your family members to upload their raw dna from ancestry to FamilyTreeDNA for free so you share results. Good luck!

  11. Barbara

    Mark, my deceased parents always identified as German ancestry but there has been a question of ancestors being Jewish. Will the DNA tests tell me If there is any Jewish ancestry in my DNA? Thank you for the excellent article.

    • Marc McDermott

      Hi Barbara. Yes it should pick up on that. FamilyTreeDNA has a strong database of Jewish ancestry so I would try that. Good luck!

  12. Margie Baker

    Hi Mark,
    I just received my DNA results and am really shocked at the results. If I’m not completely happy with the results would it be worth the money to have it done again or is the first one enough?

    Margaret A. Baker

    • Marc McDermott

      Hi Margaret. Which type of test did you do and with which company?

  13. Tawnya

    I just jumped into this DNA madness trying to buy the right one for my husband’s birthday. It looks like full DNA results are cheapest through Nat Goegraphic, then can be up loaded to Family Tree for further evaluation, possibly at an additional fee. I went to National Geographic’s website to check reviews, which made me doubt the process of uploading Family Tree would happen. Have you had any feedback on this process? If the process does work, am I accessing properly that this is the best route for my money?

  14. Timothy

    Hi Mark,

    What an amazing article! Really! I have been looking through a lot of this over the past 6 months and, like everyone else here, it just gets more and more confusing. My partner is one of those people that goes out and just gets what he wants when he wants it, which makes Christmas presents quite difficult, so I was looking at getting one of these for him as his mother is Taiwanese and father (estranged) is Dutch. I just thought it’s one of those things that you don’t tend to get for yourself, so a nice present. A lot of people here are asking about European genealogy, but I was wondering if you know which would also have a good database (or that you could simply recommend) for Asian data?

    Kind Regards,

    • Marc McDermott

      Thanks Timothy! I would probably go with Ancestry.com since they have the largest database. You can also upload your raw data to other sites like FTDNA to find matches in their databases as well. Hope this helps and good luck!

  15. Diane Diaz

    I am perplexed on which test to do. My parent’s are 3rd cousins. Their father’s are first cousins. Which makes their father’s brothers. Now for another twist. My mother’s maternal grandfather & my father’s maternal great grandmother were also siblings. Which test should I do. I am going towards ancestry DNA. What do you advise me to do.

    • Marc McDermott

      Hi Diane. I would just get a standard autosomal test. Ancestry is definitely a great choice as are any of the companies in this guide. Hope this helps!

  16. Helen

    Hi Mark

    Thanks for the article. I am only interested in getting my ethnic mix. I am not interested in finding relatives or a family tree I simply want to find out what percentage and where. What company do you think is the best

    Thanks so much

    • Marc McDermott

      Hi Helen. For a standard ethnicity test, you can’t go wrong with any of the companies I mentioned in this guide.

  17. Kimberlee D Ingraham

    So, if I wanted to find out more about my maternal grandfather’s ancestry, which test would you recommend?

    • Marc McDermott

      Hi Kimberlee. You would want to find a male descendant of your maternal grandfather such as your brother, cousin, uncle, etc. Then have them do a Y-DNA test with FamilyTreeDNA. If that’s not possible, just do a standard autosomal test with someone like Ancestry.com and use their large database to find matches so you can view their family trees. Hopefully you’ll be able to find a match on your maternal grandfather’s side but you’d need to do some genealogical research first to determine that. Hope this helps!

      • S Ross

        Am I misunderstanding this? In order to find out more about my maternal grandfather’s ancestry (I am female, btw,) and my maternal grandfather is deceased, as is his only son, my uncle… you say my male cousin would do? But not surely if he is the son of my aunt, right? His Y-dna wouldn’t pass down through her to him, would it?

        • Marc McDermott

          If your looking specifically for maternal grandfather’s roots, then one of his male descendants needs to take a yDNA test. An easy way to think of it is (in most cases) any male relative with the same surname as the line your researching is who you want to take the yDNA test. Your maternal grandfather -> your uncle (his son) -> your cousin (his son) would likely all have the same surname. Make sense?

          • Catherine

            Hi Mark,
            I’m also looking into my maternal grandfather. My mother was one of five children and there were two separate fathers. My mother’s paternity was always in question, but we have reason to believe her biological father was one of the two men my grandmother was involved with. The difficulty now is trying to find out for sure, if we can. Sadly my mother passed away in 2016, and both of the brothers who we believe she shared paternity with have also passed away. I have a male cousin who is the son of one of those brothers, myself and my own brother. Is there a way to find out if he is my maternal grandfather? Or will it only be possible to say so to a certain percentage? My brother and I, and my cousin are related through our maternal grandmother, so this would show up on tests if we compared them. It would be a shame if we couldn’t connect our grandfather more definitively. Of course, my cousin can follow the line Y my grandfather is part of, I guess the question is can my brother and I be linked to that in a genetic test?
            Many thanks,
            Catherine

          • Marc McDermott

            Hi Catherine. Two questions. First, do you know the general ethnicity of the 2 men in question? Meaning was one Italian and the other German? Second, does your cousin know which of the 2 men is his grandfather?

  18. Andrea Zeason

    Hi Mark i am so confused the more i research, so my family tree is supposed to be mostly German and Italian with Irish English Norwegian Swedish at an eighth each, with that in mind which test would you recommended for me and from what I’m gathering is to have a complete view i need my brother to do a test as well? i have lost both of my beloved parents with the majority of German on moms side and the Italian on my dads side will my dna show my dads side in me?

    • Marc McDermott

      Hi Andrea. It sounds like you want to do the basic autosomal test. Any of the companies I list in this article will work for you. Getting your brother tested is not needed but could provide some additional clues in your genealogical research. You and your brother would have inherited different levels of DNA from your ancestors. An autosomal test will show the DNA that you inherited from both your parents. But keep in mind that just because your mother was say 100% Greek, that doesn’t mean your results will show that you’re 50% greek (even though you could be and your brother’s results could show 50% greek). The results show you how much DNA YOU inherited. Hope that makes sense!

  19. Melissa

    Hi Mark – Fantastic article. Thank you!
    I’ve tested on Ancestry.com and 23andMe – trying to find biological father.
    Is there a tutorial on how to navigate 23andMe?
    Does one have to match each DNA strand to be related? This is confusing to me.

    Thank you!

  20. Frances

    Hi Mark, Thank you for the very helpful review. I have been watching documentaries over the past few years about the connection between humans and Neanderthals. Some genealogy TV shows (particularly in the UK) have given folks DNA test results that tell them whether they have Neanderthal DNA in their lineage. Do any of the tests you mention above give that information? Or any others on the general market?

    • Marc McDermott

      Hi Frances! I believe 23andme will estimate how much Neanderthal you are.

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