Can a DNA Test Help Me Find Relatives and Lost Family Members?
Updated on March 18, 2024
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Can a DNA Test Help Me Find Relatives and Lost Family Members?
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A DNA test can help you find missing family members and other potential relatives. The company you take the DNA test from can locate people on their database who share some of your genes.

DNA testing companies can also help you connect with them. They allow you to track down people you may be related to on some level–as long as they consent to having their data out there for potential relatives to find them.

Some people who take DNA tests may not want to be found for security reasons or because they’re disinterested in furthering their family tree or history. Whatever the reason, finding relatives via genetic testing won’t always show all your potential relatives. Still, there may be some people out there who don’t mind connecting with relatives.


You can find family members via DNA testing by accessing the database of the testing company you bought the test from. If your potential relatives allow their data to be discovered, you can connect with them (some users may not want to be found).

Can a DNA Test Help Me Find Relatives and Lost Family Members? 4

How Does A DNA Test Find Relatives?

It depends on the kind of DNA test you’re taking. In general, out of the several kinds of DNA testing, you want to take an ancestry test as their DNA test results will give you the answers you’re seeking.

Genetic testing often analyzes segments of DNA to determine if there are similarities with others who have taken the test before, but it depends on the type.

There are three types: autosomal DNA, Y-DNA, and mtDNA tests.

Autosomal DNA Testing

Most human chromosomes are autosomes. Autosomes hold genetic information you inherit from both parents and share with everyone you’re related to.1

An autosomal DNA test can help you find people directly or indirectly related to you. This includes possible relatives from maternal and paternal lines.

Y-DNA Testing

A son inherits Y-chromosome DNA (Y-DNA) through his biological father. A Y-DNA test can trace your patrilineal ancestry if you’re biologically male.4

This DNA test can also help you find male relatives from your father’s side of the family. This includes your brother, father, paternal uncle, and paternal grandfather.

mtDNA Testing

A child inherits mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) through their biological mother. An mtDNA test can trace your matrilineal ancestry, whether you’re male or female.5 This is because biological mothers pass down their mitochondria to their offspring, no matter their biological sex.

You can only use mtDNA tests to find female relatives from your mother’s side of the family—like a sister, mother, maternal aunt, and maternal grandmother. You can only find female relatives because only biological women pass down their mitochondria and, therefore, the mitochondrial DNA.


Finding potential relatives may differ depending on the DNA test. There are three types of DNA tests:

  1. Autosomal DNA testing – This DNA test looks for autosomes, which have genetic information that you get from both parents, which means that everyone you’re related to will have overlap with that genetic information
  2. Y-DNA testing – This DNA test can only be done by biological males as they trace male ancestors through their father’s line
  3. mtDNA testing – Biological men or women can take this DNA test that traces female ancestors through your mother’s line

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The Best DNA Test to Find Lost Relatives

1. 23andMe – Our Top Pick

Can a DNA Test Help Me Find Relatives and Lost Family Members? 5

23andMe DNA Test Pros

  • Comprehensive ancestry test – Track your DNA ancestry from over 1,500 different regions.
  • DNA matches – Helps you find lost and distant family members.
  • Understand your genetic traits – 23andMe tests your DNA swab for genetic markers associated with various traits, including freckles, hair, taste, and more.
  • No hidden fees – Once you pay for the test, you get full access to their services.

23andMe DNA Test Cons

  • No cross-platform support – You can’t upload raw genetic data from competitors.

23andMe does all three tests: mtDNA, Y-DNA, and autosomal. Combined with a massive DNA database, it’s one of the most accurate tests for ancestry. 

Here’s our 23andMe review if you want to learn more.

2. AncestryDNA

Can a DNA Test Help Me Find Relatives and Lost Family Members? 6

Ancestry DNA Test Pros

  • Easy to take – Requires a small saliva swab for a DNA sample.
  • Precise ethnicity estimates Get a detailed geographic breakdown of your ethnicity.
  • Migration patterns Discover the migratory routes your ancestors may have taken.
  • Find lost relatives – Matches your DNA with distant relatives you may not know.
  • Raw DNA data – Downloadable results that you can use on other DNA testing companies.

Ancestry DNA Test Cons

  • Limited access – To build a family tree, you must pay monthly fees to access public records and other users’ family trees.
  • Doesn’t estimate your racial group –AncestryDNA only performs genetic matches based on geography, not racial profile (e.g., Asian, American, and European).

Additional services can get expensive. However, its massive database makes it one of the most trusted DNA tests, so many think it earns its price tag. You can learn more about AncestryDNA here

4 Benefits of Finding DNA Relatives

Genetic ancestry testing and the DNA test results they provide can give you information about your family history and current living relatives. Here are some ways finding them via a DNA test can help you:2

1. Fill the Gaps in Your Family Tree

Family trees stretch far and wide. You can have relatives from different places around the world and not even know it. Genetic tests can show you even your most distant cousins and unknown relatives (privacy settings permitting, of course).

Even if you know your parents and grandparents, there are other relatives you likely haven’t met. In some cases, family members may not even know about them.

An ancestry test can determine your closest potential DNA matches and help you connect with them. Having this knowledge can give you the confidence to reach out and even further flesh out your family history and even connect over common ancestors.

DNA testing can also help you reconnect with family members who may not have known they had other connections or relatives, which can sometimes be a positive experience.

2. Find Relatives You’ve Never Met

DNA testing kits can match you with potential parents and full siblings. However, usually, more tests (whether DNA tests or otherwise) are needed to confirm your biological relationship.

DNA testing for distant relatives can be challenging, but finding a genetic link is still possible. Finding long-lost relatives is one of the best benefits of DNA testing.

Depending on the DNA testing companies and their privacy policies, you might be able to contact potential relatives.

It’s not unheard of that DNA tests often bridge missed family connections. While not every family discovery via genetic testing has turned into a feel-good story, many have.


The first two benefits of finding DNA relatives are:

  • Fill the gaps in your family tree – If you’ve always been curious about how wide your family tree really expands, finding relatives via DNA testing is a good way to delve deeper into your own family history
  • Find relatives you’ve never met – Meeting family you’ve never met can also be a rewarding or fulfilling experience as you can find parents or siblings you may have always wanted to connect with

3. Learn About Your Biological Family

The current trend with adoptions includes an open system. This means that an adopted child may access information about his biological parents. 

In the past, many adoptions were closed and discreet. Interactions between birth mothers or parents and their adoptive families were not allowed.

If you were placed in a closed adoption, a DNA test could help you track biological relatives, including your mother and father.

Further tests are needed to confirm maternity or paternity.

You can talk to a genetic counselor first before you start your search. They can better explain how DNA tests help you find relatives.

4. Understand Your Health Risks

Learning about your biological family can be emotionally rewarding. However, it has practical benefits as well.

It can uncover your family’s health history and help you predict health risks. This allows you to adjust your diet and lifestyle before it’s too late.

Knowing your family’s medical history can also help you find out which genetic risks you might pass on to your children. You can use this information to consult a genetic counselor before having children.

There are plenty of congenital conditions and diseases that run in families that you may not even know about. DNA tests can give you a leg up on looking into them and early prevention if you’re at risk.

Some of the most common genetic disorders are:

  • Thalassemia
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Fragile X syndrome
  • Hemophilia
  • Hereditary cancers


The next two benefits of finding DNA relatives are:

  • Learn about your biological family – In the past, birth parents could not communicate with the biological children they put up for adoption. Finding relatives via DNA tests can be rewarding.
  • Understand your health risks – DNA tests can also reveal conditions, diseases, or even risks you may be predisposed to. If you find a relative who can tell you more about their own medical history, you can prepare accordingly.

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Accuracy of DNA Testing for Ancestry

DNA tests aren’t created equally. Some are more reliable than others. You must do extensive research before choosing a brand.

If you want the most accurate ancestry tests, you should consider:

  • The type of DNA test (e.g., autosomal, Y-DNA, and mtDNA)
  • The size of the testing company’s DNA database
  • The degree of the relationship being tested
  • The regions that they have the most results from (if, for example, the company doesn’t have too many people from Asia who have taken the test, anyone of Asian descent may have less accurate test results)

23andMe and AncestryDNA are two of the most accurate DNA tests for finding relatives. Both direct-to-consumer (DTC) testing kits perform autosomal DNA testing. They also have a large database of users.

According to 23andMe, the reliability of their DNA results depends on the relations. Their tests are 100% accurate in detecting close family relations, like parents, siblings, or first cousins. However, they are less accurate for distant relatives like second cousins.3

23andme’s test can help you find third cousins with up to 90% accuracy. However, a fifth cousin only has a 15% chance of being detected.2

The same goes with Ancestry DNA. Your chances of finding closer relations are much higher than finding distant relatives.


DNA tests aren’t all the same, so accuracy isn’t the same across the board. It also depends on the types of DNA tests, the size of the DNA testing company’s database, and the degree of the relationship being tested.

DNA tests like 23andMe and AncestryDNA have pretty large databases, which can make finding relatives a little easier.

DNA Testing Accuracy Numbers

DNA testing, when done correctly and by a reputable company, is pretty accurate. Here are some numbers and statistics:

  • When it comes to forensics, there is a one in 7,000 chance of an unrelated person having the same DNA as the DNA obtained at a crime scene6
  • Genotyping genetic tests can obtain data on up to two million data points, gathering plenty for analysis7
  • Paternity tests, in particular, are consistently accurate, with a 99.99% accuracy rate given a good-quality sample8

In general, accuracy will depend on the quality of the test, if the sample is handled correctly, and how well the sample is analyzed. Mistakes can happen at any point—whether it’s in the chain of custody or even just an outdated algorithm.

There have been instances where even identical twins did not receive totally similar results despite having near-identical DNA.

Still, DNA testing is wholly reliable and can be repeated or confirmed with further tests or other methods.


DNA tests are pretty accurate on average, and inconsistencies usually only occur because of someone mishandling a sample or an algorithm that is no longer up-to-date. Errors will occur as nothing is foolproof, but ancestry tests should still give you a pretty good estimate of your origins.

Limitations of Ancestry DNA Tests

Ancestry DNA tests have the following limitations:

  • These tests don’t tell you where each family member it finds may have lived specifically. They give you an estimate of where you and potential genetic matches may have come from, not a pinpoint accurate location.
  • Reference groups can differ with every DNA testing company. Not every DNA testing service will have a good number of references from your region, affecting the accuracy of your test results.
  • False positives are always a risk, so take results with a grain of salt and make sure you accomplish the test properly.
  • You will need confirmation or interpretation by your healthcare provider or a genetics expert to be sure of what your results say. This may include further tests or confirmatory procedures to be sure.
  • DNA testing services vary in terms of their algorithms and testing methods. You may see some discrepancies if you take more than one test and compare them.


While DNA tests can tell you a lot, there’s still room for improvement. They are still working with estimates rather than specifics and may not offer you a totally accurate picture of your ancestry if they have only a few people with your ethnicity in their database, among other things.

How to Use DNA Tests to Find Relatives

If you’re ready to find relatives with a DNA test, here are four tips to get started:

  1. Work with DNA services that have large databases – They can compare your results with more people and more genetic data. This increases your odds of finding genetic matches.
  2. Upload your raw DNA data for DNA matching – It’s one of the things you can do with your DNA so you can find genetic relatives on other platforms. It also lets people with similar DNA find you.
  3. Connect with DNA matches – Most services let you get in touch with people you may be closely related to. You can connect with them online and find other ways to communicate if they agree.
  4. Respect the privacy of your DNA match lists – Not everyone wants to be found. A genetic match may also not know of your birth or adoption. If they opt out of the program or stop communicating midway, you must respect that.

What Should I Do When I Find Relatives?

It depends on what your objective is. If you want to fill out your family tree, you can reach out to them. If you want to establish connections with family that you didn’t expect, you can also try to connect.

Remember to:

  • Respect boundaries
  • Contact them politely
  • Remember that other family members may not take news of unknown relatives well
  • Be courteous if they don’t want to establish a connection

It’s always up to you if you want to pursue further connections. Just keep in mind that not everyone will want to be found and that certain revelations about family may not be welcomed.

What If a Relative Doesn’t Want to Be Contacted?

Respect their wishes and leave them be. There’s no reason to push further. Everyone has their own reasons, whether it’s peace of mind or privacy in general.


When it comes to finding relatives, DNA testing services are your best bet. However, remember that you need to respect people’s boundaries if they’d rather not connect, even if you are a genetic match.

How Do I Deal With Difficult Revelations from DNA Tests?

If you make any sensitive discoveries with your DNA results, you can seek some psychological help. Your DNA testing company may even be able to recommend someone who also has genetic expertise, so you can get both the psychological and genetic insight you might need.

If you know that it’s also going to affect the rest of your family or loved ones, take the time to weigh out the pros and cons before discussing it with them. Family may respond negatively or make rash decisions based on the revelations.


If there are certain discoveries you make with your genetic matches that are shocking and upsetting, feel free to seek out psychological help. Make sure you also give it some thought before sharing the information with other family members, as they may also become upset.

Is My DNA Data Safe and Private?

DNA testing companies work hard to keep their databases and all their information secure. However, they also acknowledge that some breaches may occur—and they have already occurred in the past. Still, they strive to keep their security as tight as possible.

One great thing about a lot of these companies is that they’ll offer you the option of deleting your DNA data, destroying your sample, and making you unsearchable in DNA match results. You can also download your raw DNA data so you can upload it elsewhere if you want to see how other services estimate your origins.


Your DNA data is safe for the most part, though breaches can happen. Still, companies will try to secure your information as much as possible.

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Updated on March 18, 2024
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8 sources cited
Updated on March 18, 2024
  1. Chromosome.” National Human Genome Research Institute.

  2. Genetic Ancestry Testing What Is It and Why Is It Important?” National Center for Biotechnology Information.

  3. DNA Relatives: Detecting Relatives And Predicting Relationships.” 23andMe.

  4. The Y-Chromosome and Genetic Genealogy.” Stanford.

  5. Maternal or Matrilineal Studies Using mtDNA.” Stanford.

  6. How DNA Evidence Works.” How Stuff Works.

  7. How Accurate Are DNA Tests?” Sequencing.

  8. Paternity Testing: Blood Types and DNA.” Scitable by Nature Education.

Cristine Santander
Cristine Santander
Content Contributor
Cristine Santander is a content writer for KnowYourDNA. She has a B.S. in Psychology and enjoys writing about health and wellness.