Personal DNA testing kits that anyone can do themselves at home have become really popular in recent years. That’s because many are easy, can be done at home, they are relatively affordable and they reveal interesting information about ancestry, connect you with relatives, give you insights about your health and lots more.
This has led to more and more people trying personal DNA tests - it’s no longer for early adopters - and they’ve become widely popular thanks to various TV shows about family trees and ancestry, like Who Do You Think You Are? In which famous people discover the secrets of their past.
Only one or two of these at-home DNA testing kits existed 5 years ago, but in that time more and more have cropped up. Some focus specifically on ancestry and others also reveal information about your personal traits and genetic health risks.
To find the right DNA test for you, let’s explore what they tell you, how they work and the different kinds of results that are on offer.
Best DNA testing kit: how DNA tests work
Although there are some slightly different methods from DNA kit to DNA kit, most DNA testing kits have the same initial set-up process.
That involves answering some set questions online, ordering a kit, collecting a sample (usually of saliva, but sometimes of blood), registering your kit, sending it back to be analysed and then awaiting your results online after analysis has taken place.
One of the most important parts is registering your kit before you send it off. All of the kits in our buying guide list below require you to do this, and you won’t get your results back if you don’t. This is to ensure that the sample you’re sending back is definitely yours and things won’t get messed up at any point in the sending and testing process.
It also protects your privacy too, so that your name won’t be associated with your sample. Of course you will need to sign in with your name and details on the service’s website to access the results, but your DNA sample, results and any data stored will just have a unique reference number or barcode attached to it instead of your personal details.
Once your kit has been sent off, most companies will send you an email to tell you it’s been received and will be processed. From there, the processing can usually take between two and eight weeks, at which point you’ll receive an email and be able to log-in to view your results when everything is ready.
Best DNA testing kit: what DNA tests tell you about your ancestry
Most DNA tests are focused on helping you discover more about your ancestry.
It’s worth noting that men and women will notice different ancestry results. Women who have the XX chromosome are only able to trace back their maternal line, whereas men with the XY chromosome can trace back both their maternal and paternal lines. So if you’re a woman and have a brother, it’s worth asking them to take the test too so you can find out more.
Most of the tests then show you details about your ethnicity, which is usually accompanied by a map that presents different countries, and sometimes even regions within countries, where your ancestors are likely to have lived.
Best DNA testing kit: what DNA tests tell you about your relatives
Because most of the DNA tests are focused on charting your ancestry, it means you have the option to view and contact relatives - both close and distant - using the services.
In fact, most continually search for DNA matches, so even years after you’ve had the DNA test and received your results, you’re likely to get notifications that second, third or fifth cousins have also added their data too. This is great and means your DNA test is the gift that keeps on giving long after the initial buzz of getting your first round of results.
How this works differs from service to service, but you can decide what you do with these notifications about new relatives and how much information your relatives can see about you. Some services allow you to share full profiles, others lock your information and there’s a lot to customise too.
That way finding relatives is really interesting if you’re looking to connect with distant relatives, build on your family tree or you’re just really curious. But if you wanted to do the DNA test for other reasons, you have control over who can contact you and find out about you and your DNA.
Some of the services, like AncestryDNA, allow you to link up this information about your relatives with family tree software too.
Best DNA testing kit: what DNA tests tell you about your health
A few of the DNA tests on the market, primarily 23andMe, reveal information about your health, from traits, like hair colour and tasting preferences, through to more serious genetic health risks, such as the likelihood to carry the BRCA1/BRCA2 genes, which are associated with a risk of developing certain kinds of cancers.
Before you purchase a DNA test for health and genetic health risk reasons, you need to read the small print. In some parts of the world, 23andMe doesn’t provide this information, whereas in the UK and US, it does, you’ll just need to ensure you purchase a test that covers Health + Ancestry, not just Ancestry.
If you’re keen to take a DNA test to find out more about your health and less about your ancestry, it might be worth looking into a different kind of health testing kit.
For example, Thriva is an at-home finger prick blood test that you send off in the same way you do with a DNA test. But rather than genetic risks and ancestry data, Thriva will reveal information about your iron levels, liver function, folate levels and much more.
Best DNA testing kit: important things to remember before you buy a DNA test
Getting an at-home DNA testing kit may sound fun and fascinating, and it often is to find out where your ancestors might have come from, connect with relatives and find out more about your health. But it’s also worth considering some of the cons of finding out more about your genes too.
For starters, DNA tests can reveal results that are surprising or worrying. There have been numerous reports in the press of people finding out their lineage was very different to what they expected after sending off their saliva in a DNA test. And when it comes to genetic health risks, you might find you have a gene associated with a serious condition, like breast cancer or Alzheimer’s. Although 23andMe keeps these results locked unless you ask for them, it could still be shocking for some people.
That means you need to prepare for your results and consult a doctor straight away if you’re worried about them. They’ll be able to tell you how likely you are to develop these conditions and possibly send you to get further tests for more conclusive results. Because with a lot of the genetic health risks, they’re just that, risks. So just because you have a gene associated with a particular health problem, it doesn’t mean you have it - or ever will.
Another thing to consider is privacy. Right now all of the major companies offering DNA testing kits have strict privacy policies and assure users their data is secure. But if you’re concerned about privacy and wouldn’t want your genetic data to fall into the wrong hands one day, the only way to 100% avoid that is not to take the test.
But if you’re happy with those risks, and understand the implications of finding out more about you and your DNA, it’s time to buy a testing kit. But because there are so many on the market, which DNA testing kit should you buy? We’re here to help you decide which DNA kit is right for you.
Best DNA testing kits
One of the best DNA tests on the market
Reasons to buy
One of the first DNA testing kits on the market, 23andMe provides a really detailed analysis of your ancestry, health and much, much more.
Like a lot of the tests on the list, you send off a saliva sample to be tested and within a few weeks should receive your results online. The thing we love most about 23andMe is this genetic ancestry data is presented in really easy-to-understand visuals with interactive elements too that chart your ancestry on a map.
You can see which regions your ancestors hailed from, as well as rough time periods when they are most likely to have lived there. Unlike some of the other services, you can also view your maternal and paternal lines (or just maternal if you’re a woman), as well as how much of a Neanderthal you are.
There are great options for getting in touch with relatives and an easy messaging system, which you can customise so people can find out more about you and message you - or opt out and just use the service to tell you more about you and not as a way to connect.
As well as ancestry, you can also find out more about your health using 23andMe - depending on where you live. If you opt for the Health + Ancestry testing kit you can also find out if you have any genetic risk factors, like the BRCA1/BRCA2 genes, which are associated with a risk of developing certain kinds of cancers, carrier status for more than 40 conditions, wellness information, such as your reaction to alcohol and caffeine, and traits, like whether you have dimples and a fear of heights.
As it’s one of the original DNA tests, the user interface on the 23andMe website is simple and really nice to use, with plenty of colour and interactive visuals. The company also continues to update the service long after you’ve taken the test, adding in new health information and reports every few months, which is a really nice surprise, especially if you’re on the hunt for distant relatives.
Send off saliva and receive your results within a few weeks
Reasons to buy
Ancestry has long been one of the most popular websites for genealogy services and the best place to start building your family tree online. But back in 2012, the company launched AncestryDNA, a service that would provide you with a personal DNA test and then add that data to your family tree.
Like 23andMe, you send off a saliva sample for the AncestryDNA test and receive your results within a few weeks after.
AncestryDNA is all about providing information about, you guessed it, your ancestry. That means you won’t get any health data, information about genetic traits or really deep ancestral data, like your Neanderthal percentage. But AncestryDNA is definitely the best on the list at the time of writing when it comes to database size - and therefore you’re more likely to get accurate information, connect up with relatives and build an awesome family tree.
That means the test is particularly useful if you already have an Ancestry account and family tree data added, because it’ll supplement what you already know and add in some fascinating data. Or, if you’re interested in starting a family tree, it’s a great place to begin.
You’ll also find out information about your ethnicity and, like 23andMe, there are some neat ways to visualise that information, as well as the option to dig deeper and find out more about how your genetics compare to the native population.
3. Living DNA
Living DNA promises twice the detail of other DNA tests
Reasons to buy
UK-based Living DNA may have only been around since 2016, but it’s comprised of lots of scientists and research groups all around the world, making it one of the most robust options for thorough, accurate genetic testing that’s focused solely on ancestry rather than health.
Living DNA promises twice the detail of other DNA tests thanks to its network for DNA experts. It traces your family ancestry to 80 different regions all over the world and even goes all the way back to tell you when your distant relatives were likely to have journeyed from Africa to Asia, Europe and the rest of the globe.
Like AncestryDNA, Living DNA also has family tree features, which it’ll fill out for you based on your data and using smart machine learning tech - less hassle for you. Like 23andMe, Living DNA will also show you how your father and mother’s line stretches back (although if you’re female you’ll only see your mother’s line).
One of the only cons of Living DNA is that some users report the test can take up to 10 weeks to return results. Although this may not bother some people who want a thorough test and don’t care how long it’ll take, it is a long time to wait in comparison for the 3 or so weeks from its competitors.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that because it’s not one of the most popular tests to date, the pool of users is smaller, so you may find less relatives than you would with other services.
4. MyHeritage DNA
One of the cheapest DNA testing kits on the market
Reasons to buy
Currently one of the cheapest kits available, the MyHeritage DNA kit maps the ethnic groups and geographic regions that you and your ancestors originate from.
As you might expect from the price, it’s one of the more basic tests on the list, so doesn’t include health data like 23andMe or deeper ancestral analysis. But it does get the job done if you’re looking for information about where you come from and you’re on the lookout for distant relatives to connect up with while you’re at it.
Most users report receiving their reports back from MyHeritage DNA within 3 to 4 weeks and are greeted with an email that offers up cool visualisations about where in the world your ancestors were from - as well as music and animations about those areas, which is a nice touch.
You can use your results to then create a free family tree, which has a lot of great features, or opt-in to DNA matching, which matches your info up with people who you’re related to. Although, like Living DNA, this service has less users than the likes of 23andMe and AncestryDNA, which means you’re likely to get fewer matches.
5. FamilyTree DNA
One of the most serious and detailed DNA tests available today
Reasons to buy
One of the most serious and detailed tests on the list when it comes to tracking your genealogy, FamilyTree DNA is a little different to the rest because you need to select which kind of test you want.
There’s the Family Ancestry kit, which is an autosomal DNA test that analyses the mixture of DNA that’s passed on from all your ancestors. This is good for an overview of your ancestors going back about five generations, so it’s not as in-depth as the kits below or kits from other companies, but a great starter kit. It also give you information on their geographic origins and is a great way of connecting with living relatives.
There’s the Paternal Ancestry Kit, which analyses YDNA, which is the DNA that only males have and is passed from father to son. This provides information about where your paternal line came from going back about 25 generations or sometimes more, how they moved around over time and is a great way of connecting with people of the same surname.
Then finally there’s the Maternal Ancestry Kit, which is an mtDNA test to analyse the DNA passed on by mothers to their kids, whether they’re male or female. This provides information about where your paternal line came from going back about 25 generations or sometimes more, where they came from and how they migrated over time.
It’s the only company that allows you to select all three tests individually, giving you ultimate control, or you can check the website to see if there’s a deal on all of them. Although that’s only going to work for men, sorry ladies.
Your results will vary depending on which kit you go for. But you’ll get a detailed map that explores geographic origins of your family, maternal or paternal line, a graph of your personal ethnic breakdown, a migration map that shows how your ancestors moved from region to region, as well as tables of genetic matches.
Like the rest of the kits, you can contact others who have similar genetic information to you, allowing you to connect with distant relatives with the Maternal and Paternal kits, as well as living relatives with the Family kit.
If all of that sounds confusing, it’s because FamilyTree DNA is one of the most comprehensive and detailed DNA testing kits. That means it’s great for those who take their genealogy research seriously and want some thorough results to dig deep into.
Best DNA testing kits: should you buy a DNA testing kit?
If you’re interested in learning about your ancestry and ethnicity, DNA testing kits are a great idea, especially if you’re keen to connect with relatives, add more detailed information to your family tree or just find out more about you and where your descendants come from.
If you’re more interested in health, it’s worth looking for a DNA test with integrated health testing, and for that we’d highly recommend 23andMe. Alternatively, you could purchase a separate health test altogether if you’re less interested in who your great-great-gran was and you’re more interested in how your health and body are doing right now.
We don’t want to be scaremongers, but it’s definitely worth thinking about whether a DNA test is for you. All the companies on this list have strict privacy controls in place, but we can’t guarantee that’ll always be the case. It’s also worth mentioning that some of the results you get might surprise you - especially those about your ancestry or your genetic health risks.
But if you’re curious, prepared and have the cash to splash on finding out more about yourself, DNA testing kits are mostly fascinating and fun, providing you with a great insight into your ancestry, or they make fantastic gifts for others who are interested in theirs.