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DNA test kits like AncestryDNA and 23andMe have become increasingly popular over the past few years and were a surprisingly popular gift item during the holiday season.
Though DNA tests are being added to more and more people’s bucket lists, the sheer number of kits you can choose from is overwhelming. The result? A lot of interested folks opt out simply because they’re not sure which kit to buy. (Even DNA tests for your dog exist. Yeah.)
And that sucks, because finding out the whos, whats, and wheres that made you into the person you are is way too awesome to pass up.
We did some digging to bring you the ultimate DNA test comparison guide. We’ve looked at five of the most popular DNA test kits out there: AncestryDNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage, Living DNA, and Family Tree DNA to give you the rundown on the differences between each kit so you can decide which one is the best for you.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of each kit, it’s important to understand the fancy terms that will be mentioned frequently so you can get a handle on how DNA testing kits work.
Autosomal testing is the most basic and most popular means of genetic testing, commonly known as the family finder. Autosomal DNA tests look at 22 pairs of chromosomes not involved in determining a person’s sex. It is used for cousin and distant relative matching as well as mixture percentages, or your ethnic mix (as shown in those fancy pie charts from the commercials), plus common genetic traits, like heritable diseases and eye color. Each kit evaluated below does autosomal testing.
mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) testing traces your mother’s lineage. These are the DNA strands passed down from mother to child. There’s very little chance that these could be altered, so your direct maternal line can be traced back quite far.
Y-DNA testing focuses on the Y chromosome, which you probably recognize as the “male” chromosome, and can guess that this test traces your father’s lineage. These are the DNA strands passed down from father to son, so your paternal line can be traced. However, it is important to note that only males can use a Y-DNA test directly.
Note: While autosomal testing shows who your relatives are, remember that this is a mix of both sides — and does not necessarily show you which side of the family they came from. Another thing to note is that mtDNA and Y-DNA tests can trace back anywhere from 20-100 generations, while autosomal tests can only trace back to 5-8 generations.
Largest database of all DNA kits • Makes contacting found relatives easy • Results never disappear • Great for adopted individuals finding biological family
No separate maternal/paternal test • Small East Asian genealogical pool
With what is said to be the largest database of all DNA test kits, AncestryDNA offers user-friendly family tree breakdowns and easy ways to connect with relatives.
The good: AncestryDNA pulls results from a very large genealogical pool () and from some 700,000 locations in 150 ethnic regions () around the world () — which is said to be the . DNA matches can be linked online to create your family tree, and if a family match is also signed up on Ancestry.com, you have the option to reach out and connect. Results also never go away and can be viewed indefinitely, as long as you keep up your subscription. Options to contact database matches are great, making this one of the best tests for adopted individuals to connect with biological relatives.
The downside: It does not offer separate mtDNA or Y-DNA tests, so if you’re looking for direct tracing of your mother or father’s direct line or results more specific to your maternal or paternal side, AncestryDNA may not be able to give those details. Also, people of East Asian descent may find AncestryDNA frustrating because they haven’t sample enough people yet to provide specific enough data for that part of the world.
The price: A best seller on Amazon, the AncestryDNA kits normally go for , but are frequently on sale both on Amazon and Ancestry.com.
Only DNA kit to offer health screenings • Next largest DNA pool under AncestryDNA
Pricey • No maternal/paternal line tracing
The only DNA test kit to offer health screenings, 23andMe is ideal for those who have a history of illness in their family (or those who just want peace of mind).
The good: One super unique thing about 23andMe is that it does health and wellness screenings. Though the basic version just traces ancestry, a more deluxe option includes the health screening. 23andMe’s health tests can give valuable information about genetic illnesses, health risks, carrier status on health conditions, or traits that may run in your family — providing you with an important heads up about any checkups you may want to schedule.
The downside: 23andMe’s genealogical community is significantly smaller than that of AncestryDNA, so results are not being pulled from nearly as many places across the world. However, this is the when compared to the other three kits.
The price: 23andMe is possibly the easiest to find, sold at retailers like Target as well as Amazon and 23andMe.com. Though the starting price on these sites is $29.99, the lab fee will add up to either $69 or $169 — $10 cheaper than the base price on 23andMe’s official website, depending on if you choose just the ancestry test or add the health screening to that. 23andMe’s official website and Amazon offer sales frequently, while the other retailers offer coupons.
Fastest results • Cheapest DNA kit • Most graphic regions behind AncestryDNA and Living DNA
Results only kept for 25 years • No separate maternal/paternal tracing • Extremely small database for contacting relatives
If you’re just interested in the pie chart and don’t care about contacting relatives, MyHeritage is a great option that won’t break the bank.
The good: MyHeritage is said to be the fastest and cheapest test, usually sending results back to participants in 3-4 weeks and not requiring a monthly-paid subscription to access results. MyHeritage also pulls from 42 graphic regions, the behind AncestryDNA and Living DNA. DNA can be linked online to create a family tree, and there is an option to upload raw data — so if you’ve gotten some sort of genealogy tests done before or have outside genetics information that you’d like to use, it can easily be included in results.
The downside: Though MyHeritage uses a good number of geographical regions, it has the out of the kits compared here (aside from Living DNA, which doesn’t have a database). It also does not offer separate mtDNA or Y-DNA tests, so if you’re looking to trace your mother or father’s direct line or results more specific to your maternal or paternal side, MyHeritage may not be able to give those details. If you’re looking for an , MyHeritage may not be the right kit.
The price: MyHeritage can be purchased on Amazon or MyHeritage.com for $69, which is $10 less than the next cheapest kit in the list. Creating an account and logging back in to see results is free.
Maternal and paternal tracing for no extra charge • In-depth into the British Isles • Great value for the price
Long wait time • No database to connect with relatives
Living DNA will trace your mother and father’s line for the best price we’ve seen.
4. Living DNA
Autosomal, mtDNA, Y-DNA
The good: Living DNA is the best deal if you definitely want all three tests. It offers mtDNA and Y-DNA tests in the basic kit with no extra charge, which is something none of the other kits do. It also pulls info from 80 geographical regions, meaning that Living DNA provides pretty detailed information when it comes to region.
The downside: Unlike the other four tests discussed here, Living DNA does not have a matching database or the feature to connect with relatives who also have a Living DNA account. Living DNA results also take the longest to come back.
The price: Living DNA is $99. It’s the best deal if you want more than autosomal testing — considering that the other kits offering all three tests add up to $169 (23andMe) and $199 (Family Tree DNA).
Most in-depth maternal and paternal results • Many options to contact database matches • Can upload outside info
All tests must be done separately • Pricey
Ideal for non-first timers, FamilyTree DNA is said to have the most extensive tests of the bunch (if you have the budget for it).
5. FamilyTree DNA
Autosomal, mtDNA, Y-DNA
The good: Not only does Family TreeDNA give the option for mtDNA and Y-DNA analysis, it is said to give the most in-depth maternal and paternal results compared to the other kits. If you’ve gotten some sort of genealogy tests done before or have outside genetics information that you’d like to use, there is an option to upload raw data. Options to contact database matches are great, making this one of the best tests for adopted individuals to connect with biological relatives.
The downside: Though FamilyTree DNA does offer the mtDNA and Y-DNA tests as well as autosomal, all three tests must be conducted separately. This means that you’ll need three different swabs and three different payments, making this the most expensive kit if you want all three tests done.
The price: Prices start at $79.99 for the autosomal Family Finder on FamilyTreeDNA.com or Amazon. Adding the Y-DNA test brings it up to $169, while adding the mtDNA will be $199. Pricey, but worth it for the detailed analyses.
Unique info on Neanderthal connections • Trusted brand • Maternal and paternal line tracing
Least extensive autosomal tests • Long wait time
Geno 2.0 gives you the opportunity to see how much you have in common with Neanderthals — but we wouldn’t expect anything less from Nat Geo.
The good: Geno 2.0 users technology that no other kits use, meaning you’re getting info that no other kits can offer you. While genotyping looks for specific parts of DNA and pieces them together, next-generation sequencing is a speedier process that looks at the protein-encoding parts of your genome. Whole exome sequencing picks up information that genotyping can’t, making Nat Geo’s kit able to give you your Hominin ancestry — AKA the percentage of DNA that you have in common with a Neanderthal. How cool is that?
The bad: This kit puts its focus on Neanderthal stuff and not so much on tiny details to fill your pie chart. If you’ve done a DNA test before, you probably won’t mind this as you’ll already have those lineage percentages. However, if you’re a first-timer and are really looking to see where you hail from, Geno 2.0 may not be the most helpful.
Price: While the Nat Geo kit may not be quite as expansive as the others, you still get cool graphics with your results, as well as a custom video of your ancestry journey. Geno 2.0 goes for $99.99 on National Geographic’s website and Amazon, but is regularly on sale for as low as $65.