menu iconknow your dna logosearch icon
The Best DNA Tests for Learning About Your Ancestors
Updated on February 8, 2024
Back to top
back to top icon
DNA Testing
The Best DNA Tests for Learning About Your Ancestors
The Best DNA Tests for Learning About Your Ancestors 16

When it comes to tracing your lineage and getting a better idea of your ancestors, DNA tests are a great tool to discover them all. Whether you’re just curious about your ancestry or you need closure about certain parts of yourself, DNA testing can be useful.

We make sure every DNA test we recommend is scientifically backed and accurate. DNA testing is no simple matter, especially if you want to find DNA matches or learn more about yourself.

Here are the DNA testing kits we believe are the most comprehensive and well-suited for learning more about your ancestry.

Everything We Recommend

These are the six DNA testing companies we recommend the most:

The 6 Best DNA Tests for Ancestry

23andmeAncestryDNAFamilyTreeDNAGEDMatchMyHeritageLivingDNA
Price$119$99-$199$79-$449$10 to upload data$39 (on sale)$80
Size of database12 million22 million2 million1.8 million7.8 millionUnknown
Testing methodY-DNA, mtDNA, and autosomal testingAutosomal testingY-DNA, mtDNA, and autosomal testingDNA uploadAutosomal testingY-DNA, mtDNA, and autosomal testing
SampleSalivaSalivaBuccal swabN/ABuccal swabBuccal swab
Turnaround time3-4 weeks6-8 weeks2-4 weeksN/A4 weeks6-8 weeks

23andMe

The Best DNA Tests for Learning About Your Ancestors 17
Source: 23andme

23andme offers over 30 trait reports and a great breakdown of your personality traits and ancestry. It tests for over 2,700 regions, which contributes to its very wide DNA database. It’s a great way to start looking into your ancestry, as its user interface is very beginner-friendly.

It also uses a variety of testing methods, including a Y-DNA test, mtDNA test, and autosomal test.

23andme also has a test for health reports, so you can discover more beyond genetic ethnicity.

Price: $119

Where to buy 23andme: You can buy 23andme’s Ancestry service on their website

Pros

  • Many said that the platform was pretty straightforward and easy to use
  • There was a lot that consumers learned
  • It was really convenient and relatively quick in terms of returning results
  • 23andme helps you connect with potential relatives, even ones you didn’t know you were related to
  • They promise more insights and trait reports are already being explored

Cons

  • Some people didn’t like that the database was smaller compared to Ancestry DNA, making them worried about the accuracy
  • Some have noted that the health portion of this test is more accurate
  • 23andme can share your data with law enforcement if they have to


Read our full 23andme review here.

AncestryDNA

The Best DNA Tests for Learning About Your Ancestors 18
Source: AncestryDNA

AncestryDNA has the largest DNA database among all the other DNA testing companies. This makes for potentially more accurate results about your genetic ethnicity, more comprehensive reports, and more potential relatives you can find on their site.

You can see possible DNA matches and how closely related you are—but if you’d like to keep your information private, you also have the option to do so. AncestryDNA Traits reports are also very detailed, making them fun to explore.

You can also access historical records related to your ancestry but at the cost of a membership fee.

Price: $99 to $199, depending on the kit you get

Where to buy AncestryDNA: You can buy AncestryDNA on their website

Pros

  • Has the largest consumer DNA database, making finding relatives (even distant relatives or unknown relatives) and comparing data much easier, leading to potentially more accurate results
  • There are three different kits you can opt for, so if you’re just looking for information about your origin and DNA matches, you can get the most basic kit instead of splurging on the most comprehensive one
  • The results are very specific about where you came from, down to the region
  • Many considered it to be the most comprehensive test they’ve taken

Cons

  • If you want more information, especially what people consider to be the more interesting stuff, you need to shell out a little more
  • Some people complained that they didn’t realize they were being billed for membership when they signed up because they weren’t notified
  • Membership itself is a little pricey
  • Long wait time

Read our full AncestryDNA review here.

FamilyTreeDNA

The Best DNA Tests for Learning About Your Ancestors 19
Source: FamilyTreeDNA

FamilyTreeDNA has four different tests at different price points depending on the kind of test you want. If you want to explore family history or ancestry, you can get a test for that.

If you only want maternal ancestry or even your paternal lines, there are separate tests for that, too. Their most expensive test is a paternal ancestry test in even greater detail.

This is great for anyone looking for specific information about their ancestry, especially when tracing certain lines only. You can get as specific or general as you want, depending on the test (or tests) you purchase. Whether you do autosomal DNA testing, a Y-DNA test, or an mtDNA test, FamilyTreeDNA is pretty reliable despite its relatively smaller DNA database.

Price: $79-$499 depending on the kind of test you want

Where to buy FamilyTreeDNA: You can buy FamilyTreeDNA on their website

Pros

  • Lots of options in terms of types of DNA tests
  • Great for those who already have a good overview of their ancestry and want more detail when it comes to paternal or maternal lines
  • People liked that all the different lines came separately, so they didn’t have to pay a hefty sum for all of them when they just wanted a focused report
  • Had everything you needed to collect your sample, even return postage

Cons

  • Some people found it way too expensive for the full paternal line test and didn’t think the amount of information was worth it
  • Law enforcement is allowed to use their DNA records to solve crimes (they changed their privacy policies a few years back to allow this)
  • The interface isn’t too beginner-friendly and can be confusing

Read our full FamilyTreeDNA review here.

GEDMatch

The Best DNA Tests for Learning About Your Ancestors 20
Source: GEDMatch

GEDMatch isn’t technically a DNA testing company—in fact, it’s pretty unique in this list of DNA testing services because you don’t test a sample at all.

With GEDMatch, you can upload raw DNA data you already downloaded from websites like 23andme or Ancestry and have GEDMatch do the interpreting for you. It’s great if you want a second opinion or to compare results.

It’s pretty affordable, but technically, it's not a free DNA test since you still have to pay to upload. Still, it beats taking a whole other DNA test to get more information or to see if your original results were completely accurate. It’s only $10 to upload your data and get more data on your family history and genetic makeup.

It’s a more affordable option than other DNA testing companies, and you don’t have to worry about submitting a faulty or contaminated DNA testing kit.

Price: $10

Where to access GEDMatch: You can access GEDMatch through their website.

Pros

  • Very affordable at $10, making it the cheapest option among all the other testing services
  • There are also some free tools and services available
  • Compatible with most big DNA testing websites, so your raw data can easily be uploaded

Cons

  • You need to already have raw DNA data from another service or another genetic test
  • Has a relatively smaller user database, making the accuracy a little questionable
  • Not the most user-friendly interface
  • Some had privacy concerns, given that the information uploaded to GEDMatch has also been used by forensics analysts in the past

MyHeritage

The Best DNA Tests for Learning About Your Ancestors 21

MyHeritage has a database of about 7.8 million users, with most of them coming from Europe. It’s no wonder they’re likely the ideal test for anyone wanting to check for European ancestry.

Unfortunately, it’s not the number one choice of those from different regions because of the limited number of references. It also only uses autosomal DNA tests. However, it at least allows you to upload any raw DNA data you have from other companies.

It’s also relatively affordable and goes on sale pretty often.

Price: $39 (currently on sale)

Where to buy MyHeritageDNA: You can buy MyHeritageDNA on their website

Pros

  • Pretty quick turnaround time
  • The sample is easy to collect (buccal swab)
  • Free family tree software
  • Allows users to upload DNA data from other DNA testing companies

Cons

  • Only uses one type of DNA testing (autosomal DNA testing)
  • Results may not be as accurate or comprehensive for those not of European ancestry
  • Some users complained that a lot of reports lacked context
  • There was no return postage
  • Some found that membership was too expensive

Read our full MyHeritage review here.

LivingDNA

The Best DNA Tests for Learning About Your Ancestors 22

LivingDNA is a great way for those with African heritage to explore their ancestry. They have over 70 regions’ worth of data and research, making it a comprehensive test for anyone who wants to explore their African roots.


It’s also relatively more affordable than other testing companies while still using various testing methods to get more accurate results.

LivingDNA also dives deep with its subregional category reports and not just general regional information. This is great for anyone who loves details.

Price: $80

Where to buy LivingDNA: You can buy LivingDNA on their website

Pros

  • Uses a wide range of DNA testing methods
  • Users loved that there were no features hidden behind unnecessary paywalls
  • Sample collection is really easy
  • Great for those with African ancestry, as it has information for different African regions

Cons

  • Nobody’s sure of how large their DNA database is, making it hard for some to trust their results as they don’t know how many points of reference LivingDNA has
  • Long wait time for results

Read our full LivingDNA review here.

Know Your DNA Reviews

Best DNA Kit

Don't miss out on the opportunity to learn more about yourself. Read our best DNA test page to find the best one for you.

How Does DNA Testing Work?

DNA testing works by taking a sample (often saliva, blood, or a swab) and then having it analyzed in a lab to observe any genetic markers and genes you have inherited from your ancestors.

The Best DNA Tests for Learning About Your Ancestors 23

In terms of ancestry, it can identify certain markers that may match the markers of others who have used the same DNA test kit and make an educated guess about your origins or ancestry.

When it comes to health, DNA testing can help you determine genetic disorders by identifying mutated genes, genetic variants, a mutated or cloned genetic trait, or inherited genes that may put you at risk.

Why Use DNA Tests to Learn About Your Ancestry?

Your DNA can tell you more about your family lineage and even complete or add to your family story.

Many people use DNA testing to find out more about themselves and to feel more rooted in their culture, so to be able to figure out where they may have come from and how their ancestors moved can help them complete a story in their minds and feel more at ease.

A lot of people use it for peace of mind, while others use it when they want to know more about their biological families (especially if they were adopted). Ancestry can also tell you more about your health and heritable conditions you may have to watch out for.

You can also find family and establish how closely related you are to others.

The Best DNA Tests for Learning About Your Ancestors 24

What Can Your DNA Tell You About Your Ancestry?

DNA tests can offer you a lot of information about your heritage. Aside from health reports and genetic health risks, these tests can trace your lineage, tell you more about where your ancestors came from, and even see how they migrated.

Depending on the kind of testing method used, you can take a more detailed look at your paternal line, maternal line, or family history in general.

Some testing services show you where your ancestors may have originated and where they migrated (if they did). Other tests can break down your ethnicity, which may be helpful if you’re mixed race or don’t know where your relatives came from.

Some tests can even recommend “heritage trips” to bring you back to your roots.

Can a DNA Test Tell Me Where My Ancestors Were Originally From?

Yes, but again, take this information with a grain of salt.

While DNA tests can match your genetic markers with the markers of those from a certain area, nothing is ever fully conclusive. With that disclaimer in mind, DNA tests can tell you where your ancestors may have come from, given that their database has enough references to back up their claim.

The more testers with similar genetic markers, the more accurate the result.

Can a DNA Test Tell Me My Ethnicity Estimate?

Yes, again, with some potential discrepancies, but a DNA test can offer you a breakdown of your ethnicity.

Some DNA tests offer percentages of ethnicities. For example, some DNA tests may tell me I’m 50% of European descent on my dad’s side, while others will go into even more detail by naming specific regions in Europe.

Others may not be as detailed and have just a general area that you may be from.

It’s important that you take DNA tests properly and follow the instructions carefully so you get a better and more accurate breakdown of your ethnicity estimate. Choose a DNA test that has a lot of users in your region as well so that you have a better chance of more detailed and precise results.

What to Consider When Choosing a DNA Testing Kit

The Best DNA Tests for Learning About Your Ancestors 25

When choosing a DNA testing kit, consider the following:

  • Price
  • Ease of use or sample collection
  • How easy the instructions are to understand
  • Turnaround time for results
  • Kinds of testing methods they use
  • Regions they have a lot of users in
  • Privacy policies for data safety
  • Any previous scandals or data breaches
  • Size of database
  • Number of reports
  • Online reviews of each

It’s best to stick to more well-known companies as those with less information about themselves online can seem shady. You may be giving them access to very sensitive information about you and, knowing very little about them, putting yourself at risk.

Ultimately, it’s about what you want to know more about and which test can offer that to you.

How Accurate Are DNA Tests When It Comes to Ancestry?

While many DNA tests explicitly say on their websites that they are highly confident in the accuracy of their results (especially since they have larger databases), take note that no one DNA test has 100% accuracy.

If you’re really worried about any potential inherited congenital risks or want to be even more sure about your ancestry and ethnicity estimates, you can opt to take another test at home, do one at a lab, or consult a geneticist or genetic counselor to be sure.

Still, they can be pretty accurate across the board as long as you collect your sample properly.

What Makes a DNA Test Accurate?

Aside from the details that modern science can unfold from your genetics and the way your DNA is structured, there are several other factors that come into play:

  • How many people have used the DNA test and have contributed to the database
  • User error, if any
  • The company itself and the technology they use

Discrepancies can always happen, and they can arise at any stage of the DNA testing process—which is why the accuracy of DNA tests is still a point of conversation for many.

Number of Users

When it comes to databases, it’s important to have a large one with a large variety of regions represented to be able to more accurately compare data.

So even though more than 26 million people have done DNA tests, it depends on where they’re from, what their background is, and where their ancestors came from too.1

So even if you have several million testers, but they all come from one region, anyone from a different region may have a difficult time getting more accurate and meaningful results. Not only should your database be big, it should be diverse in terms of international records.

The Best DNA Tests for Learning About Your Ancestors 26

User Error

Because the nature of the test is that it’s taken at home, some users may often accomplish the test incorrectly, leading to inaccuracy.

For example, a saliva sample that doesn’t meet the required minimum amount of saliva will show discrepancies and inaccuracies.

Food particles in a cheek or buccal swab may also interfere with DNA analyses. If you tamper with your sample and accidentally add anything to it, your results may also suffer.

Do your best to collect your sample in a clean, orderly manner.

If saliva is required, make sure your mouth is clean, and you add enough to the tube or whatever apparatus they use to store it. If it’s a buccal swab, clean your mouth again and keep it free from food particles. If you need a blood sample, make sure not to contaminate the blood with anything else like moisturizer, alcohol, etc.

The Best DNA Tests for Learning About Your Ancestors 27

When sending back your sample, make sure you follow all the send-back instructions. Keep your sample clean and safe, and make sure it doesn’t break or open. Seal it properly to keep any foreign contaminants from coming in contact with it.

Follow the instructions in your DNA test kit, and you will get better results.

The Companies and their Technologies and Algorithms

Depending on the algorithms, software, and technologies that each company uses, you may get different results. There was a case where identical twins who grew up together took different DNA tests and still got different results from each other across the board.2

This most likely has to do with how companies define regions and how many shortcuts they might take if they don’t have enough references to compare the samples to. It’s also possible that the samples may not have been collected correctly.

Of course, these can all change as technology evolves, so be mindful of which companies are doing their best to adapt to new ways of doing things.

Can DNA Tests Become More Accurate Over Time?

Yes, they can.

While some people may be skeptical about DNA tests and the results they offer, given that they don’t always seem the same across the board, many geneticists and even the heads of these genetic testing companies are keen to remind people that these results are not be-all and end-all.

“We try to convey the notion that this is a living document. It does change over time,” says Robin Smith, head of the Ancestry division at 23andme, in an interview.3

With more testing, larger databases, and better points of reference, DNA testing can become more accurate. Once more regions are represented and technology and algorithms evolve, DNA testing can better break down your ancestry. So you shouldn’t take any results you have right now as completely conclusive—they can evolve.

The Best DNA Tests for Learning About Your Ancestors 28

Remember that while DNA is scientifically rooted, borders, countries, and regions are all constructed by human beings culturally. Human beings are the ones who made delineations on a map saying that this country is this and that country is that—these are not found in science, just culture.

So there is no explicitly French or Italian DNA specifically, only certain markers in DNA that belong to people who originated in those regions that may match ones in your own DNA sample hundreds of years later.

When a DNA test kit says you’re 5% European, it’s not because there is a European DNA marker that exists in the scientific world, but just that you have markers in your DNA that match those who do originate from Europe. Migration patterns cannot be scientifically stored; they just match with those who have similar patterns.

The Best DNA Tests for Learning About Your Ancestors 29

Over time, DNA testing will make it easier to figure out where you’re from and even find relatives or family members to make or complete family trees or bring you closure.

The bottom line: many at-home DNA tests can still give you good results as long as you do them properly, ensure that there’s a good representation of your region so you get good references, and take all results with a grain of salt.

It’s still a fun way to get to know yourself and your ancestors, provided everything goes according to plan.

What Else Can a DNA Test Tell Me?

A DNA test can do way more than just tell you more about where your ancestors came from or what your origins might look like.

It can also tell you about any genetic predispositions you may have, any health concerns you may want to look out for, and other gene mutations you may not have known about.

DNA tests are also used in the health world to diagnose potential risks of congenital disorders or diseases you can inherit from your family members.

Understanding DNA results when it comes to your health is a good way to prepare for any discomfort or difficulty down the road and is a good blueprint for preparing to make life as easy as possible despite any sickness.

Some DNA tests can also give you fun reports, such as whether or not you’re prone to alcohol flush, whether you’re more or less likely to consume caffeine, or the kinds of exercises that may be best for you.

Can a DNA Test Show Me Potential Family Members?

A DNA service can absolutely show you potential family members, so long as they also have taken the test or completed the DNA testing kit. If several of your relatives have also taken the test, you can even see your family lineage.

You can also see if you have any half-siblings, distant cousins, or even relatives from either side of the family you’ve never met before. Depending on your privacy options, you can even connect with them.

The Best DNA Tests for Learning About Your Ancestors 30

Source: 123rf

What Should I Do After a DNA Test?

After getting your DNA test results, it’s best to assume that you need a second opinion before doing anything rash. Some people, especially with DNA test results about their health, tend to panic immediately after finding out some information about their genetic makeup.

It’s best to do another test or even upload your test results to a different service to be sure. If not, you can take your results to a geneticist or genetic counselor to get their opinion. This is also to avoid any inaccuracies or to be more sure about your results.

Once you get a more nuanced idea of your results and better detail, you can start making decisions from there, whether it’s contacting long-lost relatives, trying to find your roots, or even just understanding more about you and your family.

It can be exciting to share your results, but always remember not to take everything at face value. Taking an extra step to be sure can only help.

Are DNA Tests Private?

It depends on the company.

You want to pick the most private DNA test for you to keep your data safe, so make sure you read the fine print and any caveats any company has for their data protection. Always check privacy policies and remember that these privacy policies may change.

To be safe in case of any data breaches or hackers, you may want to look into deleting your DNA data from services after downloading your raw data and results. This can keep you and your information safe.

Remember to also look into the history of a company before trying out their tests. Some have been embroiled in privacy issues in the past and have let down their customer base for their shady tactics. Make sure you choose a trustworthy company to analyze your data.

How We Picked the Best DNA Tests for Ancestry

We take product recommendations very seriously at KnowYourDNA, so we only want to endorse trusted products that we know work. Here are our criteria for evaluating products:

  • Price and value for money – Is the product worth how much you’re paying for it? We consider how much you’re getting in exchange for your money, so we try to only recommend products that live up to their price tag.
  • Comprehensiveness of results – DNA tests that only offer baseline information and don’t go in-depth at all aren’t very useful to us at KnowYourDNA. So we try to only recommend services that give you a lot of information and detail.
  • Privacy and security – We considered tests that took good care of your private information, even those with caveats that they sometimes allow law enforcement to look at their data.
  • Variety – We tried to find a good range of products that would be useful for a variety of users and consumers.
  • Company reputation – We made sure to only recommend products by companies that have been proven to be trustworthy and make efficient, useful tests.
  • Customer service – All the companies we mentioned have given us positive customer service experiences, and this is consistent amongst other reviews we’ve read.
  • Convenience and accessibility – Tests shouldn’t be too difficult to purchase and use, so the simpler the process, the better. Many of these tests are locally available and are even easier to purchase online.

Why Trust Us

KnowYourDNA is committed to making healthcare more accessible to the public, which is why we feature products that meet industry standards.

We only choose at-home test kits that undergo reliable testing methods. We also picked test companies with science-backed reports aimed at improving your health.

Our in-house medical experts help ensure the accuracy of the information we give to our readers by reviewing them before publication.

Know Your DNA Reviews

The Best DNA Test

Looking for a DNA test that's accurate and can tell you about your health and heritage?

Updated on February 8, 2024
Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad
Content Contributor
Angela is a full-time digital content manager and editor for Know Your DNA. She also contributes freelance articles to several local and international websites when she has the time. She's always been a voracious believer in finding the truth and ensuring the science is sound.
Back to top icon