Because DNA testing strongly depends on the database of users as a reference (the more people taking the tests, the more accurate the results will be), and since the vast majority of people participating in these tests until now have been of European descent, Africans, Asians, and other non-European seekers have found it difficult to find conclusive evidence about their past.
Fortunately, the balance is now shifting in everyone’s favor. With more people from varying backgrounds taking DNA tests, the sample database is expanding, shedding new light on a greater area of the world and history. This is great news for African Americans looking for their lineage. But the system isn’t foolproof just yet. Some DNA testing kits work better for these results than others.
Here’s everything you need to know about the 5 best DNA tests for African American ancestry discovery and what they’re all about.
1. African Ancestry
- World’s largest database of African ancestry DNA
- Non-invasive cheek swab
- Identifies country of origin
- Identifies specific ethnic group
African Ancestry is an obvious choice for anyone seeking to discover more information about their African roots. For one thing, this is the largest database of African lineage across the globe. African Ancestry holds some 33,000 DNA lines spanning 40 different countries. The larger the database and more targeted the demographic, the more accurate and precise the results of your own DNA test will be. This really puts African Ancestry at the top of the list for African Americans looking into their ancestry.
What’s more, African Ancestry has some of the most conclusive and exact results, being able to identify both specific origins and ethnic groups from your DNA sample. Incidentally, AA is also the only 100% African American-owned DNA testing service and uses black scientists for its research. Even more importantly, African Ancestry will never sell your DNA information to anyone.
2. MyHeritage DNA
- Family tree option
- Reputable name in the industry for years
- Tremendous database
One of the top names in ancestry discovery, MyHeritage, recently launched its own DNA test kit called MyHeritage DNA. This test takes advantage of the massive ancestry database this company has amassed over the years, providing some of the most accurate results out there. In addition to a huge database, MyHeritage DNA brings to the table an incredibly extensive report filled with details, explanations, and more. What’s particularly useful are the ethnicity chains broken down into percentages (since we’re all a mixture of different ethnicities). And MyHeritage DNA covers 42 ethnic regions, making it an ideal option for people looking for African American descent.
MyHeritage DNA tests autosomal DNA chains for the most extensive results possible. In fact, you can find relatives spanning over 6 generations, both backwards and linearly. Finally, MyHeritage DNA has a family tree option that lets you connect to relatives from all corners of the Earth. You can discover cousins that you never knew existed thanks to this exhaustive report.
3. Family Tree DNA
- Can take all the tests, or take individual ones
- Stores your results for a long time (good to refer back to)
- Chromosome browser
- Connects you to DNA matches
Another autosomal testing service, FamilyTree DNA offers some pretty thorough DNA tests. You’ll get both your Y DNA and mtDNA tested, so you can find out the most information about both your maternal and paternal lines. With FamilyTree DNA, you can also access a neat tool called a chromosome browser. This lets you compare multiple sets of DNA results to see how similar they are. This is great for finding relatives, learning more about yourself, and discovering new lineage you might not have known you had.
FamilyTree DNA also has a great feature that lets you upload your raw data. This is helpful in case you want to do more research, take additional DNA tests, or use other resources that require access to your DNA (this way, it’s already available and online, so you can send it in easily and don’t have to pay for another lab test).
- Extensive DNA testing
- Fast answers
- Family tree available
- 31 ethnic regions
23andMe has long been known as one of the most thorough DNA testing services out there. Not only does it test the all-important autosomal DNA strands, but 23andMe also tests your mtDNA and Y DNA to determine your haplogroups. Without getting into too much scientific babble, haplogroups are able to trace back specific groups of people as far back in history as 75,000 years! You could potentially find the earliest members of your ancestral line.
This service also offers health testing to show if you are a carrier or have a disposition toward certain common genetic diseases or conditions. This is something not just interesting to note but can be a real lifesaver in matters of health. Plus, 23andMe delivers results in just 6-8 weeks. That’s several weeks faster than many other services. If you’re itching to get your answers already, this could be your best bet.
- Online results for rapid answers
- Joins family tree and DNA testing in one
- Enormous DNA and historical database
- Unique messaging system for contacting DNA matches
As the name would suggest, Ancestry.com is all about ancestral discovery. Launched 30 years ago, the company has continued to thrive by constantly updating its tools and resources in line with the latest technologies and research being done in these fields. For 3 decades, Ancestry.com has been building its ancestry database, so it’s no exaggeration to say that this thing is gargantuan. With more than 7 million participants, it isn’t surprising that this company delivers extremely detailed and accurate results.
Oh, and if speed is your goal, Ancestry.com can deliver. Your results will be sent to your online account dashboard, so you can access it in a much shorter time, and you can see it or review it wherever and whenever you want. Reports include DNA relative matching, Neanderthal DNA test, deep ancestry that includes migration paths from Africa to present day locations, and ethnic estimate percentages, along with regional breakdowns.
What to Look for in a DNA Test Kit If You’re African American
While you'll find many similarities between the various DNA at-home test kit brands, there are several key factors that you should look for when comparison shopping for your own test if you are of African American descent. After all, you don't want to have spent all that money on a DNA test only to find out that the results are inconclusive because of a mismatched test kit and ancestry. Here are the features you should look for when buying a DNA test kit for yourself:
- Autosomal DNA Testing
Autosomal DNA testing tests the 22 chromosome pairs (i.e., everything but the sex-linked chromosomes) to yield a well-spring of genetic information about you. Interestingly enough, not only does autosomal testing help people find their genealogical matches, but it'll also help by giving you an estimate of your overall ethnic ancestry. What's more, this type of testing can branch out to about 5 cousin removals. Autosomal testing can actually get you in touch with thousands of relatives that you didn't even know you had.
This is an important feature as it gives you a clear snapshot looking backwards, as well as an illuminating exposure to living relatives that might be living right near you unawares.
- Family Tree Software
Speaking of finding those long-lost relatives, a family tree software is invaluable toward this end. Not all, but many of the best DNA test companies have tremendous databases. These are made up of all the people who created a profile while taking their DNA tests. This is an opt-in only feature, so if you don't want to, you won't be included in the database. However, it is a fabulous way for relatives to find you via the DNA testing service. When you enter your profile into the database, the system will automatically search for matching DNA samples. When it finds them, you’ll be notified that you’ve got relatives in the database and how you can get in touch with them. It’s an easy way to create some real, tear-jerker reunions.
- Racial and/or Ethnic Results
While this may seem obvious, always opt for a DNA test that offers racial and/or ethnic results in their reports. Since no DNA test to date has been able to pinpoint the exact ethnic group you come from with 100% accuracy for African Americans, you want to be given as much information as possible regarding whatever ethnic group breadcrumbs you have to go by. This will help you follow the trail back to your roots. The good news is that many African American ethnic groups stayed in the same place for long periods of time. So, if you trace your family tree back a little bit to a specific area, you may be able to confirm your exact ethnicity after all.
African American Ancestry Revealed at Last
Discovering your roots is getting easier by the minute with the rapid pace of technology. And the more people getting involved in this exciting field, the more accurate the results they'll yield. So, if you’re of African American descent, take the plunge. You might find out some fascinating things about yourself!