This past Christmas, my sister and I decided to exchange AncestryDNA kits. Although we knew our mom’s heritage (Czech, German, and British, respectively), our dad was adopted so we had no idea what was actually lurking in the other half of our genome. Plus, the exchange made picking out presents a heck of a lot easier.
A spit swab and two months after sending in the tests, we finally got our results back. I learned that I’m basically a smorgasbord of Eastern European countries and that my dad’s side most likely hailed from Norway, Denmark, and Poland—not Ireland or Wales like his adoptive mother claimed he was. It was pretty cool to see.
We ended up choosing AncestryDNA because it was the cheapest at the time, but there are a ton of other DNA kits out there like 23andMe, MyHeritage DNA, and Living DNA. Each one tests a little differently and gives you different kinds of results. If you want to try a DNA kit, the options can be overwhelming, so we decided to break down the most popular DNA kits out there to help you find the right one.
Price: $79 and $159
How it works: Using a saliva sample, the service goes beyond basic ancestry by looking into your maternal and paternal lines as well as determining how much Neanderthal DNA you have.
What it tells you: Once your results are ready, you can log in to see a basic graph of your heritage through the Ancestry Overview page. You can dive deeper using sections devoted to your Ancestry Composition, Maternal Line, Paternal Line, and Neanderthal Ancestry. Like other DNA kits, you can also opt to see potential relative matches with other members.
What’s different: For double the price of the DNA kit, you can get the 23andMe Health + Ancestry Kit, which analyzes your DNA as it relates to your health. It reveals if you have any genetic health risks, such as Parkinson's disease, or if you’re a carrier for health conditions like cystic fibrosis. You can also find out neat health facts, such as your genetic predisposition for being above or below average weight or your likelihood of hair loss.
How it works: Send out a saliva sample and the test will analyze your DNA in relation to your ancestry.
What it tells you: Once your results are in, you can check out your ancestry in a handy dashboard that includes a pie chart of your ethnicity estimate and potential DNA matches. From there you’re able to dive deeper into where your ancestors lived, possible migration patterns, and “trace regions” where the amount of matching DNA is too small to deem accurate. The results will be there indefinitely, so you can always come back to look for new matches.
What’s different: AncestryDNA has the largest pool of data to pull from with more than 5 million DNA matches. So if you’re looking for long-lost relatives or trying to complete your family tree, you might have the most luck here.
National Geographic Genographic Project
How it works: Rather than saliva, National Geographic's DNA kit, Geno 2.0 Next Generation, requires you to scrape your inner cheeks with a plastic swab. From there it tests your DNA in relation to historical migration.
What it tells you: Geno 2.0 gives you comprehensive results of your ancestry in relation to time periods: hominin ancestry (60,000-plus years ago), deep ancestry (1,000 to 100,000 years ago), and regional ancestry (5,000 to 10,000 years ago). The regional ancestry shows your relation to world regions, which is what most people are interested in.
What’s different: Rather than diving into your personal ancestry, this DNA kit focuses more so on tracing back 200,000 years of migration patterns to Africa. So you’re also contributing to the documentation of history by participating.
How it works: Swipe the side of your cheeks and send your DNA sample to receive basic autosomal results.
What it tells you: One of the cheaper DNA tests out there (unless AncestryDNA is having a sale), MyHeritage pulls from 42 geographic regions and gives you your ancestry results for up to 25 years. DNA can be linked online to create a family tree, but there’s only a small matching database available.
What’s different: Nothing really. It’s possibly the most basic of the DNA kits, which is good if you’re just looking for your heritage. But if you want to know more, you can spend an extra $10 to get 23andMe or try to catch an Ancestry DNA sale to get more results for the same price.
How it works: Swab the inside of your cheek with the provided tool for your basic ancestry as well as mtDNA and Y-DNA tests—or your maternal and paternal ancestry.
What it tells you: When your results come in, you’re able to see your DNA as it relates to 80 world regions. From the dashboard you can break down your Family Ancestry and your motherline and fatherline ancestry as they relate to “the point in Africa when we all shared the same DNA.” Results are kept indefinitely, but unfortunately there isn’t a huge database, so you’re less likely to discover long lost relatives.
What’s different: Living DNA has an immense focus in the British Isles, and breaks down the area into 21 separate regions. So, if you know your heritage is most likely rooted in the U.K., this may be the DNA kit for you.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.