With DNA testing you can trace the zig-zags and journeys of your ancestors, and maybe even find some surprises. These insights can provide you with a newfound perception of yourself and your concept of humanity or they can just confirm what you already knew about your history or just give you a laugh.
As the industry gets bigger, the features offered by DNA companies become more expansive and appealing. In addition to learning about your family’s ancestral roots and migration history, you can also get an assessment of your health and your likelihood of acquiring a genetic disease. You can get personalized recommendations about vitamins that you might need to take, an assessment whether or not you should avoid lactose or if you’re at risk of Alzheimer's, and even a breakdown by percentage of how much Neanderthal DNA you have.
No matter which test you select, one principle shines through—DNA tests are easy to use and cheaper than ever. So let’s take a look at some of the top names.
Here Are the Best DNA Testing Kits
Best in discovering ancestral origins
- $59 per DNA testing kit (on discount, regular price $79)
- DNA matching
- One of the best family tree builders on the market
MyHeritage DNA has become one of the most popular DNA kits and it’s easy to see why. MyHeritage’s DNA test kit is affordable, highly-informative, and can be combined with one of the most extensive family tree builders out there. Simply put, it’s an all-in-one platform for learning about the ethnic makeup of your DNA and the twists and turns of your family history.
With MyHeritage you get an easy to use DNA testing kit that will trace your ethnicity across 42+ regions across the world. You can also pay to access billions of historical records kept on file by MyHeritage, allowing you to really go deep on your genealogy research.
Part of what makes MyHeritage work so well is the sheer size of its user database. This database of tens of millions of users powers the company’s “DNA Matching” tool, which allows you to plug in your DNA sample and see if it matches anyone in the MyHeritage database. It’s a great way to learn more about yourself, and maybe even reach out and connect with a relative.
How to do the test: When your MyHeritage kit arrives you’ll receive a number you will use to activate the DNA kit online so that you can receive the results when they’re ready. Inside you’ll find 2 cotton swabs. Rub one on the inside of your cheeks for 30-60 seconds and then place it inside the enclosed vial, seal it, and do the same with the second swab and vial. Ship it back inside the enclosed envelope and a few weeks later you should be able to see your results online.
Reading your results: You will receive an ethnicity estimate, a comprehensive breakdown of your DNA compositions analyzed by percentage across 42 ethnicities across the world. The results are superimposed across a map of the world for easy viewing. You will also receive a series of DNA matches, in the event that there are other users online that you are related to.
A more sophisticated DNA test
- $79 per DNA testing kit (on discount, regular price $159)
- Family matching feature (coming soon)
- One of the best family tree builders on the market
Every DNA testing company makes use of sophisticated modern technology and scientific know-how, but LivingDNA takes it to another level.
The company goes beyond the industry standard family-line ancestry, known as autosomal DNA, and also provides you results of your maternal line. If you are male the test can also check your paternal family line. This is a more extensive sort of testing that is not provided by most competitors, and can provide you with an extra layer of insight. That said, this does make the test more expensive than the industry norm, and the results can take longer to arrive—up to around 12 weeks.
LivingDNA test results go back 10 generations and cover 80 different regions around the world, so you can get very accurate and specific results about your family history. In addition, the results come with a map called, “Your Ancestry Through History,” which is a sort of timeline that you can use to trace your family's migration over thousands of years.
How to do the test: Your LivingDNA kit will come in a box that includes instructions for activating it online. You then use the cotton swab to scrape inside your cheek, and put the swab back into the enclosed bag to ship back to the company. Within 12 weeks the test results will be ready to view online.
Reading your results: Your DNA report will be posted on your account with an easy-to-read, interactive and color-coded map that breaks down your ancestry across different ethnicities worldwide. It will also show your ancestors’ ancient origins and the results can also be printed if you want.
The largest database of users
- $99 (access to genealogy records for $19.99-$44.99)
- More specific insights than many other kits
- Billions of historical records to review
AncestryDNA is the DNA testing service of genealogical juggernaut Ancestry.com, and since its opening in 2012 it has already become one of the biggest names in DNA testing.
A big plus with AncestryDNA is its massive database of more than 10 million users, meaning that with AncestryDNA you have a better chance of finding a long lost relative that you match with genetically.
The DNA reports cover more than 350 regions around the world, giving you your ethnic makeup estimate, a look at your family’s migration routes from the ancient world to the modern era, and can even tell you how much Neanderthal DNA you have.
With AncestryDNA you can also make use of the resources of the world’s most popular genealogy website. By purchasing a membership for the archival records, you can potentially access billions of records form across the world.
How to do the test: AncestryDNA will send you a package that includes a vial that you fill with your saliva, and then add a blue stabilizing liquid. Place it in the collection bag and ship it back to the company. Make sure not to eat, drink, smoke or chew gum for 30 minutes before providing your sample. Make sure to activate your account online beforehand.
Reading your results: You can view your DNA matches online as well as receive an ethnicity estimate broken down across all types of ethnicity regions. On the “map and locations” map you'll see different colored pins that may show the locations of where your ancestors came from.
Your history—and health—all in one
- $99 for DNA ancestry test alone, $199 for Ancestry + Health test
- Trait reports
- DNA relative finder
With 23andMe you can get a look back at where you come from, and also learn about your health and possibly what to expect down the road.
23andMe is one of the few DNA testing companies that also provides you with a wealth of information about your health, if you opt for the Ancestry + Health test. The health report gives you information such as an assessment of your chances of acquiring Parkinson’s or Alzheimer's, in addition to other genetic conditions. It also gives you “trait reports,” which can determine some pretty specific things, such as if you’re more likely to enjoy sweet or salty foods.
If you opt for just the ancestry test, you get a break down of your family history, including your ethnic mix and what percentage of your genes match certain global populations. In addition, the DNA relatives tool can find you people you genetically match and help you build a family tree.
How to do the test: Your 23andMe test will come in a small kit that includes a sheet of instructions, a plastic bag, and the sample collection tube with funnel cap. First create an account online and register your kit with the company. Then fill the tube with your saliva, after making sure you didn’t eat, smoke, drink, chew gum or brush your teeth 30 minutes before giving your sample. Then put the buffer liquid in, seal the tube, shake it, and ship it back to the company in the enclosed box.
Reading your results: Your online genealogical report will show your family history on a helpful map as well as your ethnic mix and what percentage of your genes match certain global populations. You will also get a report of what percentage of your DNA you share with Neanderthals, in addition to some assessments of your health, if you opted for the ancestral + health test.
Knowledge of your roots, supplements for your health
- Health report - $49, Health + Ancestry report - $79, Health + Ancestry report + smart supplements - $149
- Trait reports
- DNA relative finder
Vitagene is more than a DNA test—it provides health screening and the potential to buy into a monthly supplement plan. This is a pretty rare offering for the DNA testing industry, and really sets Vitagene apart.
First things first: the ancestry report section of the test will show you unique blend of ethnicities mapped across 25 regions of the world with a breakdown by percentage. The health section provides recommendations about which vitamins you need to take, in addition to which exercises and fitness regimens are best for your unique DNA. It can also check a variety of traits, including how your body handles lactose and alcohol, and if you should avoid gluten.
With Vitagene you can opt in to a plan that will provide you with supplements that are custom-made specifically with your DNA results in mind. While there isn’t an option for an ancestry-only report, the combined ancestry and health report costs the same as what many companies charge for the ancestry test alone. That said, while Vitagene provides a unique package focused on your health, it doesn’t have the same genealogy research documents or family tree builders offered by other companies.
How to do the test: Your Vitagene test should arrive 3-5 days after ordering, at which time you should register your kit online, and then use the cotton swabs to rub on the inside of your cheeks and then seal them and ship them back. The results should be ready for viewing 3-4 weeks after they are received by the lab.
Reading your results: With Vitagene you’ll receive your health, diet, and supplement reports online, in addition to tips for exercising. You can also receive the results from the company as a raw DNA file that you can later use elsewhere.
“Get a glimpse into the blueprint of you”
- Fitness and nutrition test - $79, Behavior test - $47, Run test - $59, Child development test - $59
- Test results in 2-4 weeks
- Insight to help craft a fitness regimen
While many DNA testing companies are focused on decoding the history of your family bloodline, Orig3n is all about using DNA science to help you figure out what makes your body tick.
You can opt for a “fitness and nutrition” test, to show you what type of food and exercise might work best for you, a beauty test, which looks at what skin regimen could get better results, a child development test that is meant to give some insight into childrens’ health, and the “superhero test” which tests your DNA to gauge your strength, intelligence, and speed.
The tests only take about 2-4 weeks to turn around, which makes Orig3n one of the fastest on the market. The prices on the tests also vary widely, depending which one you opt for.
How to do the test: Orig3n uses a simple cheek swab test. You simply order your kit, and when it arrives you swab your cheek for about 30 seconds, reseal it, and register your kit online. Then you ship it back, and in 2-4 weeks your results will be ready for viewing.
Reading your results: Your Orig3n results will be sent directly to you as soon as they are available, and you will be able to view them on your phone or computer. The results will include insights and tips about health and fitness, as well as which physical traits you have. The results are easy to read on your device and scroll through at your leisure.
7. GPS Origins
Precision geographic mapping of your roots
- GPS Origins DNA test kit - $199 shipping included
- Some users have received results in only 10 days
- Can check across more than 900 geographic regions
GPS Origins touts its tests’ ability to map your DNA and family history over more than 900 unique geographic regions across the globe. This is more than most companies promise, though with GPS Origins the price is also somewhat higher.
The DNA test doesn’t offer you health or fitness suggestions, though through GPS Origins you can also order skin and healthy weight tests that are geared toward fitness. The DNA origins test checks your DNA to find the specific migration paths of your gene pool, by looking at hundreds of thousands of autosomal markers.
In addition, the test results are very easy to read across a series of color-coded maps, as well as reading material that is included with your results.
How to do the test: GPS Origins uses 4 cheek swabs which you wipe inside your mouth and then include in a package that you send back to the company, after registering the kit online.
Reading your results: When you receive your reports, you can read them online by way of a series of handy, easy-to-read maps that trace your family’s migration path over the many, many generations. The report will be posted on your profile page on the GPS Origins website, where you’ll see the percentages of your makeup that comes from dozens of gene pools.
DNA Testing Kits Compared
All About the Test
Main Types of DNA Tests
When looking at DNA tests, there are three main types you may have not heard of before: y-DNA, mtDNA, and autosomal test. Each of these tests provides different information:
Y-DNA: Y chromosome (Y-DNA) test traces your patrilineal ancestry (your father's side), and does so by checking the Y chromosome.
mtDNA: Known as a mitochondrial DNA test, these look at your matrilineal heritage. While these tests don’t check your patrilineal line, they can also go much further back into your history than what is known as an autosomal test.
Autosomal: These tests check 22 out of the 23 pairs of chromosomes from both males and females in your bloodline.
What to consider when choosing a DNA test kit
Like countless other purchases in life, when it comes to ordering a home DNA kit, it’s crucial you determine what’s most important for you. If you’re most interested in family genealogical research, your best bet would be to go with a company like MyHeritage or AncestryDNA. With both of these companies you can also access a massive database of billions of historical records, as well as trace your roots through the family tree builder. In addition, the companies have millions and millions of users in their databases and can match you with relatives, so if you’re looking to find long lost family members, companies like these are your best bet. If you’re looking to learn more about your personal health and also perhaps get tips for nutrition and exercise, then companies like Vitagene, 23andMe and Orig3n may be better options. Other than 23andMe—which combines ancestry mapping with health assessments—the kits aren’t marketed toward users who are interested in deep, extensive genealogical research, rather, they are interested in learning about their health through DNA testing. Finally, you should also consider how important it is to you that the company does more than just autosomal testing and if it travels across enough geographic regions for mapping your ancestry, or if you want a company like GPSorigins which looks at more than 900 geographic regions.
Mapping the Story of You
Now that you’ve read more about what the DNA testing industry can provide you, it’s time to get comfortable and find the test that really speaks to you. Genealogy is a fascinating hobby, and it's also a very personal one. You may be more interested in health information than detailed ethnic history, you may want to go deep on genealogical records and track down family relatives across a vast family tree, or you may just want to learn solely about your ethnic makeup. This is a journey that you call the shots on.
You also may find that you can use the DNA information and tools as a sort of jumping off spot for building a full-on family tree. Luckily, a number of companies can set you up with an extensive, intuitive digital family tree which you can update in a flash and even use to meet other relatives online.