15 October 2019
Learn how to make successful DNA family history discoveries and find out about a selection of home DNA test kits to help you with your journey into the story of your genes.
Which DNA tests are available?
There are three main types of DNA tests available for home testers keen to learn about their roots.
- The Y-DNA test (which will tell you about your father line – ie your father, his father etc)
- The mt-DNA test (which will tell you about your mother line – ie your mother, her mother etc)
- And the autosomal test (which will tell you about the blend of genes you’ve inherited from your ancestors across your family tree).
In this guide we’re going to look at the autosomal tests as these are the tests that have taken the family history world by storm (and have also captured the imagination of anyone just curious about ‘where they’ve come from’).
DNA Test Kit Buyer’s Guide
Where can I buy a DNA test kit? & How much does a DNA test kit cost?
AncestryDNA - RRP £79, plus £9.99 standard shipping (7-10 days). £4.99 shipping per kit if more than one ordered.
FamilyTreeDNA - RRP US$79 (Family Finder test), plus US$12.95 shipping.
Living DNA - RRP £99, plus £9.95 standing shipping (5-7 working days). (There is an option to buy a Personalised Ancestry Book, £39, when buying a kit too)
MyHeritageDNA - RRP £75, plus £12 standard shipping (8-12 days). Free shipping if two or more kits are ordered in one go.
23andMe - RRP £79 (Ancestry Service test), plus £9.99 standard shipping (4-5 business days)
DNA shipping tips! The postage includes both the cost of the test being posted to you, and prepaid packaging for you to return it to the lab for processing.
DNA sales tip! DNA testing companies often have sales (eg for Black Friday, Christmas, Mother’s Day and DNA Day) – so keep an eye out for these deals!
Find out more about DNA matches in every issue of Family Tree in our DNA series - dedicated to helping you make sense of your genes and get the most from your DNA discoveries! Never miss an issue – Get your monthly dose of DNA know-how.
How long do I have to wait for the DNA test results?
Once the lab receives your DNA sample, it will be processed. Bear in mind that after Black Friday and Christmas sales, for instance, the labs may be extra busy. Below are the typical estimated number of weeks you’ll have to wait before your results are ready for you to see.
AncestryDNA – 6-8 weeks
FamilyTreeDNA – 4-8 weeks
Living DNA – 10-12 weeks
MyHeritageDNA – 3-4 weeks
23andMe – 2-4 weeks
Remember that as well as popping your kit in the post, you will need to activate your kit. Activation of your kit simply means registering your DNA kit number (found in your kit packaging) on the relevant website. If you don’t do this promptly, you may experience a delay in getting your results.
How far can your DNA results trace back in time?
This is a question with two answers.
The results of autosomal tests will typically allow you to identify living relatives and common ancestors within the past few hundred years. This neatly ties into the typical family history time frame we’re used to working to (eg using birth, marriage, death, census and parish records, say). To make these matches, the test will analyse and compare segments of your DNA. The longer the segment of DNA that you match with someone else, the more closely you are related.
From your DNA timeline mapping you will also be able to view the places in the world with which you share (and your ancestors have shared) matching segments of DNA – showing the journey your DNA has taken over, perhaps, tens of thousands of years (ie depicting the many places where your ancestors might have once have lived).
How many generations can DNA go back?
The autosomal tests below will give you the opportunity to make matches with people with whom you share ancestry over the following timeframes:
Ancestry – typically up to a few hundred years ago
FamilyTreeDNA – typically from the last five generations and beyond
Living DNA – typically up to the last 10 generations
MyHeritageDNA – typically up to the last 10 generations
23andMe – doesn’t say on its website, but refers you to its Ancestry Timeline, so that you can estimate how long ago you and a match might share common ancestry.
How is DNA mapping worked out?
Whether the DNA mapping is for creating maps to depict the journey of your DNA over time, or whether it is to provide you with an ethnicity estimate, the rough principle remains the same. Using DNA samples from current populations (ie living people, not digging up dead people from centuries ago) with proven links to a place, profiles are built up - to which your DNA can be compared. This will show which strands of DNA you match with in the profile database. The length of strand will indicate how long ago your ancestry was found in that area (the shorter the strand, the further back in time).
Tip! Give your brain a visual workout and check out the ‘Genetic map of human admixture history’ from University College London.
How accurate are the DNA test results?
Your DNA does not change; it is your genome that you were born with – so if a test result shows you matching segments of DNA with a cousin today, that is an unchangeable accurate fact.
However, the ethnicity estimates are calculated from analysing people in a database, and then determining your likely ethnicity percentages when compared to theirs. As the databases become larger and the analysis more refined over time, then your ethnicity percentages will continue to change – to become more accurate.
If you enjoyed this article, why not try the Family Tree DNA Guide (PDF Download) and learn even more about DNA for family history. Alternatively join Michelle Leonard in our new year DNA bootcamp, starting on 4 February. Details here.