Let’s face it . . . there are lots of choices for DNA test kits and the television commercials make it look so easy. But once you go online, you don’t know the difference between an autosomal test and a Y-DNA test or whether you are getting the best value for your money. Here are the basics you need to know to make an informed decision along with recommendations from National DNA Day.
Types of DNA Test Kits Available
- An autosomal DNA test is the most common DNA test kit on the market currently and tests for DNA inherited from both of your parents. The test results will also include random DNA inherited from your grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.
- Autosomal tests are a good starting point for anyone who has not yet taking a DNA test.
- Autosomal tests are highly accurate when it comes to testing relationships from parent/child up to the second cousin level (2C).
- For higher level relationships (above 2C) you may need to expand the number of people tested for accurate results.
- A mitochondrial or mtDNA test traces the test subject’s maternal (mother’s) lineage.
- Mitochondrial DNA is passed down by the mother unchanged, to all children, both male and female.
- A mtDNA test can be taken by both male and female test subjects.
Y chromosome DNA
- A Y chromosome DNA or Y-DNA test traces the test subject’s paternal (father’s) lineage along a direct line, from male to male, etc. The Y-DNA is passed down unchanged from father to son.
- A Y-DNA test can only be taken by male test subjects since females do not have a Y chromosome in their DNA.
- Females who want to test direct paternal lineage should seek out a male relative such as their father, a brother, etc. for DNA testing.
What Are Your DNA Research Goals?
Selecting the best DNA test kit for genealogy research depends on your research goals.
- Are you confirming your own ancestry or ethnic background?
- Are you trying to determine the ancestry or ethnic background of another person?
- Are you trying to confirm a relationship between two people?
- Are you trying to confirm a family story, such as “We came from Poland according to . . .”
- Are you trying to prove a genealogy theory with an absence of records?
- Are you trying to locate birth parents or siblings?
- Are you trying to determine inherited traits and medical conditions?
Other Factors in Choosing a DNA Test Kit
Age of Person Being Tested
- DNA test kits use either the saliva collection method (aka “spit test”) or the cheek swab collection method (aka “swab test”). Keep in mind that many older relatives may have trouble producing enough saliva, so a swab test might be easier for them.
Medical Conditions and DNA Testing
- It is recommended that chemo patients wait six months until taking a DNA test.
- If you are taking antibiotics for an infection, wait until you have recovered before taking a DNA test.
- Some DNA test vendors, such as Family Tree DNA, allow you to contact them before purchasing a test to see if the condition will impact the test results such as “known genetic disorders, bone marrow transplants, and/or facial reconstruction with donor skin grafts in the mouth.”
- The saliva collection method gathers DNA from cells that are mostly white blood cells; the swab method collects DNA from epithelial cells.
DNA Test Kit Vendors – Is There a Difference?
Believe it or not there IS a difference when it comes to companies who sell DNA test kits. The most important factor: what type of support are you given as a customer and what options are you provided once the DNA test results are received?
How large is the company’s DNA test database?
- A larger database of testers means improved chances for finding matches with others.
How long has the company been in business?
- Be wary of new DNA testing companies or “fly-by-night” companies that offer DNA test kits at very low prices. Most of these products are not accurate nor are they useful for genealogy and family history research.
- While a company’s DNA products may be new, most of the highly-rated DNA companies have been in business for many years, mainly as genealogy-related companies.
Does the DNA company provide matching with other testers?
- Most DNA companies have a way for you to match with other DNA testers and exchange information, based on permission levels. Some companies may charge for this feature.
What are the DNA company’s privacy policies?
- Take time to read the DNA company’s policies on privacy as well as the TOS or TC (“terms of service” or “terms and conditions”). These policies dictate not only what you as a consumer can do with the resulting data from a DNA test kit, but also what the company can do. Some companies sell the “metadata” to third-party vendors for research purposes.
- Check the DNA company’s site for the term “informed consent” and review the informed consent policy. Click here for the current AncestryDNA informed consent policy.
Do you need to buy a subscription with the DNA company?
- You may need to purchase a monthly or yearly subscription to the company’s genealogy platform in order to get the best results in terms of matching with other DNA testers.
Can you export your DNA data?
- Some DNA test kits vendors do not allow you to download the raw DNA test data. Without this feature, your genealogical research options are limited as you cannot import your data to other DNA company platforms or use sites such as GEDmatch.
Can you import your DNA data from another company?
- Conversely, some DNA companies like AncestryDNA don’t allow you to upload your raw DNA test data. Again, this reduces the chances of finding matches with other DNA testers.
DNA Test Kit Recommendations
Here are the recommendations for DNA test kits from National DNA Day:
- Start with an autosomal test. You will learn your ethnic breakdown and for most vendors connect with other testers. Our recommendation is the Family Finder test from Family Tree DNA based on price, company support, and research capabilities. Otherwise choose AncestryDNA based on price, company support, and size of testing database.
- Use mtDNA and Y-DNA testing for more advanced research. Right now Family Tree DNA sells both mtDNA and Y-DNA test kits. It is recommended that you buy the top level tests which provide the most data; however, you can upgrade your test at a later date if needed. Note: although Living DNA does sell a combined autosomal/mtDNA/Y-DNA test, it currently does not allow testers to download the raw data nor does it provide a platform for matching with other testers.
- For UK ancestry, check out the Living DNA test kit. Despite the fact that it does not yet allow you to download your DNA test or match with other testers, Living DNA does offer an amazing advantage over other DNA companies for those with UK ancestry. Keep an eye on Living DNA as it expands its services such as providing a breakdown of Irish ancestry!
Disclosure statement: I have material connections with various vendors and organizations. To review the material connections I have in the genealogy industry, please see Disclosure Statement.
©2017, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.