Today, you can order a home DNA test from dozens of companies. Sadly, most of them are a waste of time and money. As someone that has been active in genetic genealogy since 2006, I know which tests are worth doing.
Follow my advice and you will enjoy better results for a lower total investment.
If you are interested in a direct paternal line and have a suitable male to test, order the 37-marker or 111-marker Y-DNA test at Family Tree DNA.
For a more detailed breakdown of European ethnic ancestry, consider the Living DNA test. This UK-based company breaks down British ancestry into subregions and is adding subregions in continental Europe. It is not yet a major source of genetic matches but that is expected in the near future.
Treat mitochondrial DNA testing as your lowest priority, unless you have a specific goal to prove or disprove that two people share a direct maternal line ancestor. Unlike the other test types, mtDNA testing is rarely productive if you are just fishing for genetic matches.
If you do need an mtDNA test, Family Tree DNA is the absolute right place to get it.
You can accomplish all your genetic genealogy goals by testing with the companies mentioned here.
No other companies offer a comparable autosomal test…and those that offer Y-DNA or mitochondrial DNA testing have far smaller databases and less robust comparison tools.
Some of the autosomal DNA tests can also provide valuable insights into your genetic health. Specifically, these DNA tests can measure your inherited risk for genetic disorders, your carrier status for diseases you could pass on to your children, and other wellness and trait reports.
23andMe has been the leader in this field, winning FDA approval for additional health reports over time. I have found their reports to be fascinating and clearly explained.
The 800-pound gorilla in the field of DNA health is Nebula Genetics. They sequence 100% of your DNA, which is 10,000 times more than 23andMe etc. Now that the price of their test has dropped below $300, this is a great option for anyone with the desire and funds to dive deeply into the health aspects of DNA.
Many companies are still offering old-technology tests that don’t live up to their promises. For example, many people hoping to prove a sibling or half-sibling relationship turn to so-called “sibling” or “kinship” tests. Such tests are based on a handful of markers and are inconclusive at best and misleading at worst.
If you are trying to prove a parent-child relationship, then classic DNA paternity tests like EasyDNA can do that perfectly. You can even do a legal test with in-person sampling that is court admissible. Just don't use such tests for any relationship other than parent and child.
Avoid any DNA test that claims to place you in a specific tribe, either Native American or African, or promises to trace your ancestry to a specific village. Such tests are based on very small samples and the results are more wishful thinking than science.
While DNA testing offers huge potential in many areas, I am currently skeptical about DNA tests that claim to help with dieting, exercise, skin care etc. The science behind such claims is still weak.
Each DNA test offers many options through your personal account settings. For example, if you are interested in your ethnicity breakdown but don’t want your DNA to be compared with other users, you can turn off matching.
Some companies share anonymous genetic data with other companies doing medical research. A couple of databases will cooperate with law enforcement to identify murder victims or perpetrators of violent crimes.
Such secondary applications are noble causes that help society as a whole and I am happy to participate. But if you don’t feel that way, you can opt out through your settings. In some databases you are opted out by default and need to opt in if you wish to help.
Like many bloggers in this field, I depend on income from affiliate links to support my writing about DNA testing. This allows me to develop valuable free content and answer thousands of DNA questions a year.
If you plan to order any DNA test mentioned on this site, please click on my link to order it directly from the testing company. You won’t pay any more but I will earn a small commission.
I refuse to join affiliate programs for any product or service that I can not wholeheartedly recommend.