Both Ancestry and 23andMe provide frequently updated transparency reports detailing their interactions with law enforcement. Because the major companies now offer DNA testing for as little as $100, we eliminated prohibitively expensive boutique options, some of which cost more than twice as much. Full Genomes was the most expensive service we researched at the time of our previous guide, with test prices starting at more than twice as much as any other competitor. Anyone who wants to learn more about their ethnic roots or discover connections to past and contemporary relatives may be curious about at-home DNA kits. Even if you purchase just the ancestry test (as we did for our testers), the lab still captures the raw data that is used for biomedical analysis. We see everything from a comprehensive 100-page policy from a big company to a mom-and-pop shop whose privacy policy might be a sentence long, said James Hazel, a Vanderbilt University Medical Center fellow who co-authored a survey of privacy policies at 90 US genetic-testing companies. The people we talked to for this guide emphasized that getting the most out of DNA testing usually takes some work. Though the percentages varied in the results for our tester of African descent, all of the companies we tested indicated West African lineage. She is a PhD student in the School of Arts and Humanities at Claremont Graduate University, where she holds a Margo L. Goldsmith Fellowship. Ancestry has added a range of other features over the past few years, including DNA-specific ones like ThruLines, which draws on Ancestry public member trees to systematically hypothesize the names of common ancestors that you and your DNA matches might share. Sometimesas with adoptions for instanceour paper trail does not represent our true genetic heritage.. The primary difference between companies like AncestryDNA and 23andMe (which do not work with law enforcement) and companies like FamilyTreeDNA (which does) is that the former group requires its customers to opt in to participate in any kind of sharing, while the latter requires them to opt out to avoid it. Worse, the legal recourse you would have should a company (or another customer) violate those policies is unclear. And in July 2020, the 23andMe research team released a report on a study including more than 50,000 participants of African ancestry in the Americas, highlighting the history and genetic consequences of the transatlantic slave trade. Family documents for even well-chronicled African American families typically extend no further than the mid-1800s, at the end of the transatlantic slave trade, leaving obvious gaps in the historical record. Through the process of analyzing historical records such as customer-provided family trees and other paper-trail documentation relevant to this collection of individuals, the company can piece together the geographical movements of that community over time. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission. Brody noted that, for scientists, ethnicity and race are problematic terms because DNA simply points to biological ancestry. McGinnis found the policies to be in line with common industry practices, though he saw room for improvement, noting that AncestryDNAs DNA-specific terms of service and privacy policies were not as clear as the companys general privacy statement. Biomedical data that conveys your individual risk for diseases such as Alzheimers or Parkinsons is obviously much more sensitiveand much more valuable to third parties, like insurance companiesthan results about where your ancestors might have come from. The ramifications of sharing your DNA with for-profit companies are continuously evolving, and opting into a recreational DNA test today will likely lead to future consequences that no one has anticipated.

We confirmed with the company by email that whether you purchase an ancestry-only test or the combined ancestry-plus-health package, which can indicate a genetic propensity for certain hereditary diseases, the testing and analysis of your DNA is identical. AncestryDNA is the service we recommend for most people who want to learn about their ethnic heritage or connect with unknown relatives. Even if youre comfortable with the privacy risks, setting realistic expectations is crucial. But it bears repeating that even when DNA testing companies provide toggles and promise to safeguard your privacy, youre still relying on their wordas well as a hodgepodge of regulations and laws that differ from state to state and even county to county. But if your primary interest lies in ethnicity estimates, the two services provide similar results. We didnt evaluate biomedical testing for this guide, but if youre seeking info on potential health indicators in your DNA, 23andMe offers a suite of reports as a paid add-on service. Few of the choices youll ever make as a shopper are as fraught with unknowns regarding data security and privacy as submitting a saliva sample to a for-profit company for DNA analysis. If [a service] tells me Im 95 percent Ashkenazi Jewish and 5 percent Korean, he asked, is that really different from 100 percent Ashkenazi Jewish and zero percent Korean?. It can tell you youre related to someone, but DNA cant distinguish between a first cousin, a half aunt or half uncle, or a great-grandparent.. In 2020, we asked about privacy and the sharing of customer data with law enforcement. These additional tools should satisfy nearly any genealogy buff looking to explore their connections to early human migration or wanting to find relatives from one particular side of their family tree. At any time after opting in to the family-matching feature, you can easily opt out in just a couple of clicks via a prominent preferences button. 23andMe has a sleek, brightly accented user interface that includes easy site navigation and a useful summary of your DNA analysis right on your homepage. Creating a customer accounta requirement when youre registering your DNA kitmeans that any customer the company deems a potential family match, no matter how distant, can see your username and profile photo (if youve uploaded one) and contact you through the companys web-based messaging system. In 2019, FamilyTreeDNA released an upgrade to its Big Y test called the Big Y-700 test, which added 700 short tandem repeats (STRs). Which Mobile Payments Are the Most Private and Secure? Before you decide which of our picks is best for your needs, we urge you to spend a few moments reading our privacy section. Through 23andMes partnership with Blurb, you can even have your collection of your DNA analysis compiled into a hardcover book for about $40.

His work has appeared in Al Jazeera America, The New York Times, Forbes, and The Atlantic.

Making a well-informed decision means youll actually have to read those policies. As a result, its important to familiarize yourself with the privacy settings and matching preferences that are active on your account. When we first reviewed DNA testing services in 2017, we commissioned a legal analysis of the terms of service and privacy policies of AncestryDNA and FamilyTreeDNA by Brian J. McGinnis, a partner with Barnes & Thornburg LLP and a founder of the firms data security and privacy practice group. For male testers, 23andMe can provide a look at the ancient migration paths of both maternal and paternal lines independently. We further limited our contenders to those with large databases of existing customer DNA. All companies add shipping charges of between $7 and $12 (at this writing) to cover the prepaid mailers for sending in your samples. The Embark Breed + Health Kit is the most accurate dog DNA test weve found and will help you unravel your pets specific breed background. Customers have always been in control of how their data is used and shared, and customers choose whether their sample is stored at our lab, or destroyed. Regarding law enforcement requests, Haggarty affirmed that 23andMe has never given customer information to law enforcement.2, Meanwhile, FamilyTreeDNA CEO Bennett Greenspan confirmed to us in 2017 that the companys Y-DNA and mtDNA tests did not return any biomedically relevant data. The testing companies are making efforts to address those gaps. The latter should still be taken with a grain of salt, and vetted using the former., According to Jonathan Marks, anthropology professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the big unknown for customers is the margin of error with these algorithmic estimates. You also see customers who share DNA from only the maternal side of your family going back many centuries, potentially gaining a more complete picture from which you can start building your familys genealogy. In our 2017 testing, our tester of African descent received broadly similar results regarding his African heritage from AncestryDNA, FamilyTreeDNA, National Geographics Geno DNA Project, and 23andMe. The company claims a much smaller DNA database than AncestryDNA and 23andMe, but it still offers a reasonable chance of connecting with relatives. Clicking on a region reveals a percentage range of likely probabilities for your ethnic ties to the specific region or country, a link to more information on how Ancestry calculates this range, and historical information about the region. For instance, if you dont want your FamilyTreeDNA test results used for law enforcement matching (and youre not a resident of the EU), you need to go into your account settings and opt out of the Law Enforcement Matching (LEM) feature. Both the registration and the DNA-collection process are straightforward and well documented. In October 2019, the company launched AncestryHealth, a health-oriented service immediately available for existing AncestryDNA customers for a one-time upgrade fee and to new customers for purchase. And though DNA is a powerful tool, it is just as likely to raise questions as it is to answer them. African Americans face additional hurdles, however. Shown here are the 2017 estimates for one of our testers (their name has been hidden for privacy). DNA works hand-in-hand with paper trail documentation, said Judy Russell, genealogy lecturer, educator, and author of the blog The Legal Genealogist.

Its important to recognize that although DNA tests can give you useful information about your ancestry, and even uncover heretofore unknown relatives, their ethnicity estimates are just that: estimates. African Ancestry wasnt created to tell you if you have African roots. In August 2020, Blackstone Group, the largest private equity firm in the world. AncestryDNA, 23andMe, and FamilyTreeDNA all showed the West African portion of our testers ethnicity map as stretching all the way down to the tip of South Africa. Based on feedback weve seen on customer message boards, wait times are likely to vary depending on current demand, but the six-to-eight-week time frame that AncestryDNA gives on its website seems to be a reasonably accurate worst-case estimate.

But you get what you pay for, and if youre committed to unearthing family history and are familiar with terms like SNPs (pronounced snips) and centiMorgans, youll feel right at home within the companys community of genealogy-centric customers. This genealogical crowdsourcing combines the science of DNA with historical context to give a fuller picture of your family history. Though DNA is a powerful tool, it is just as likely to raise questions as it is to answer them. 23andMes DNA ancestry analysis draws on samples from 14,437 people belonging to 45 distinct populations. Melvin J. Collier, author of Mississippi to Africa: A Journey of Discovery, described the role of DNA in his genealogical research: As someone who is only three generations from slavery, DNA has essentially shown me who some of my family members were, where they ended up during slavery, and has provided clues to determining who the potential slave-owning family may have been., For Collier, results from DNA testing kits functioned as a critical link between documentary evidence and previously unknown ancestral geographic ties and familial relationships. Its something you do with, not instead of, regular [genealogy] research. Since the publication of our original guide, a series of news stories surrounding DNA testing companies has brought increased scrutiny of their privacy and security practices. Theyre not alone: The web is littered with stories of DNA tests gone wrong, often in relationship-destroying ways. 23andMe offers the same type of ethnicity estimates (and presents the same privacy concerns) as AncestryDNA, at a similar price. Whatever your personal stance on FamilyTreeDNAs actions, its failure to notify customers of the policy (the company amended its terms of service but gave customers no notice of the change) is disturbing. Living DNA is a UK-based service that launched in the US in 2017. To further evaluate the role that sample size plays in ancestry results, we had our tester of African descent, a biracial teenager with an African American father and a South Asian mother, submit a sample to African Ancestry, whose promotional materials claim access to the worlds largest database of contemporary African DNA. Thats not even the biggest challenge, said Lawrence Brody, PhD, director of the Division of Genomics and Society at the National Institutes of Health. *At the time of publishing, the price was $100. However, it cant differentiate between maternal and paternal lineages, and the company may monetize your DNA data if you opt into its research program.

The site does offer a collection of guides and online handbooks that cover key topics. The privacy and psychological factors to consider before purchasing this type of analysis are significant and fall well beyond the scope of this guide. But such DNA testing services also come with inherent privacy concerns, and theyre bound by few legal guidelines regulating the use of your data. We have not evaluated the companys more recent, lower-cost DNA testing and analysis options. FamilyTreeDNA provides separate family matches for each test you order. Unlike with AncestryDNA, you can take full advantage of 23andMes family-matching feature, including messaging customers who share your DNA, at no additional charge. My team alone has helped law enforcement achieve 110 successful identifications over the last two years, averaging one per week, thanks to investigative genetic genealogy, she told us, referring to her work as chief genetic genealogist at Parabon NanoLabs. Unlike a doctor or HMO, the vast majority of these companies are not subject to the HIPAA laws governing the privacy of your health and medical records. To begin to answer the questions it raises, you need to turn to family documents, public records, and interviews. The appeal is obvious: By simply spitting into a tube or swabbing the inside of your cheek, you can unlock genetic mysteries that may stretch back generations. Just be aware that the company voluntarily provides law enforcement access to its customer database. Our testers AncestryDNA results report from 2017 showed broad percentage estimates for each geographic region of ancestry. Youll need to devote time to reading them. But the scope of DNA analysis extends far beyond genealogy, with consequences for everything from medical diagnosis to law enforcement investigations. Moore also emphasized that investigators must abide by policies protecting the individual's choice concerning whether their DNA data can be used. Once the results were available, we asked each tester to complete a survey comparing how the companies conveyed basic ancestry information and how easy or difficult it was to navigate to more detailed analyses of the results. Not only is the information inherently personal, but recent history (including a series of high-profile data breaches at major companies) has shown as well that its impossible to guarantee who will and wont be able to see and use that information, now or in the future. If youre taking on the challenge of building a detailed family tree, a DNA test can provide useful information about your ancestry. Weve updated this with the latest customer database sizes. Though the percentages varied in the results for our tester of African descent, all of the companies we tested indicated West African lineage. The continental predictions [as in] European versus African versus Asian are pretty solid, said CeCe Moore. All of our testers received their results in just under four weeks, which is about what we experienced with most of the competitors we evaluated. In February 2020, 23andMe announced the addition of a new feature, Family Tree, which automatically starts your family tree. In addition, the spokesperson said, We commit to not sell DNA data to insurers, employers, or third-party marketers without our customers explicit consent. Eric Heath, chief privacy officer at Ancestry, similarly affirmed in 2020 a commitment to fighting law enforcement requests for genetic information: Ancestrys commitment to privacy includes not sharing customer personal information with law enforcement unless compelled to by valid legal process, such as a court order or search warrant, and we will always seek to narrow the scope of any compelled disclosure, he told us via email. Simple Online Security: Secure Your Sensitive Data, FamilyTreeDNA acknowledged in early 2019 that it has been, In November 2019, the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida issued a warrant to allow a detective to. Ultimately, people interested in testing kits have to decide whether they trust these companies with their genetic information. There are no comprehensive federal laws or guidelines stipulating what a direct-to-consumer genetic-testing company can or cannot do with your DNA data. Despite the many legitimate concerns about providing law enforcement with access to citizens genetic information, CeCe Moore has a more optimistic view of such collaborations. In particular, these articles have highlighted the ways in which companies like AncestryDNA, 23andMe, and FamilyTreeDNA monetize biomedical data and/or collaborate with law enforcement: Despite these eyebrow-raising developments, there has been some movement toward standardizing security and privacy practices in the DNA testing industry. Europe is much easier, acknowledged FamilyTreeDNAs Greenspan in 2017. There are more scientists who have studied people of European background and more opportunity to do DNA testing., For one of our 2017 testers, an East Asian woman of known Thai, Laotian, and Chinese descent, the vagueness of the results from every service we tested was infuriating. Using these filters, we narrowed our list of contenders down to just five companies: African Ancestry, AncestryDNA, FamilyTreeDNA, the National Geographic Geno DNA Project (no longer available), and 23andMe. Wirecutter is the product recommendation service from The New York Times. In a phone interview conducted after we had received the test results, Kittles examined the results and expressed full confidence in the Angola findings. The marketing for DNA tests at times advertises a level of certainty and precision about ethnicity that the underlying science simply cannot provide, and people with non-European ancestry may find themselves especially frustrated at a relative lack of detail in their ethnicity results. The companys DNA-matching feature automatically compares your DNA with that of its entire customer database, alerting you to any genetic matches alongside an estimate of how closely you may be related. The DNA Solutions website indicates a primary focus on paternity testing, with ancestry information limited to a wall chart showing broad migration patterns of your ancient ancestors. AncestryDNA was the only service we tested that is limited to autosomal testing. In June 2017 we asked a customer service representative, who told us that the size of the companys database was not yet publicly available. If youre comfortable with that, we think AncestryDNA is the most effective service. For this guide to the best DNA testing kits, we focused exclusively on services offering ancestral DNA testing: tests that comb through your DNA to help find where in the world you came from, identify unknown contemporary relatives, or both. The aptly named AncestryDNA test stood out as the best DNA testing kit because it presents test results in a clearer manner than other services and places the ancestry information it provides in a useful historical context.

The directions state that you must refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, or chewing gum for at least 30 minutes prior to collecting your sample. For example, he told us, Theres no single gene variant that makes you Tunisian; almost any variant that youll find in Tunisia youll also find in Argentina. DNA tests simply look at how often these variations occur, and algorithmically assign geographical areas based on statistical probabilities. A bigger issue is that genes rarely correspond exclusively to one part of the world versus another. Unlike most of the other services we tested, however, AncestryDNA cannot track your maternal and paternal heritage independently or trace your ancient migration path out of Africa. AncestryDNA showed ties to a Senegal region that encompasses Guinea but also to a Cameroon/Congo region that, on its map, extends from Nigeria all the way down to northern Angola. Since all the DNA services we tested provided broadly similar results for the ethnic origins of our panel of testers, AncestryDNAs thorough reports and interface gave it a clear advantage. Kittles did see a cluster of identical matches in Guinea-Bissau, but those matches occurred with four times less frequency than they did in Angola, leaving Kittles to make a subjective call on the results our tester received. As of June 2020, this test is no longer available. For more information about the services we dismissed and why, see the Competition section. One possibility lies in the fact that Angola was a Portuguese colony beginning in the 16th century.

They dont say it quite so bluntly, but that is effectively their policy.". The company does provide a free trial, however, to help you decide if this data is worth the additional expense. We independently review everything we recommend. AncestryDNA estimates the amount of your DNA that is linked to a geographical region and compares it with the amount of DNA that those with deep ancestral ties to that region possess. AncestryDNA has also made significant additions to its global region sample datasets. In researching this guide, we spoke with experts in the fields of genetics, anthropology, law, and medical ethics from the National Institutes of Health, Stanford Law School, the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, and the NYU School of Medicine, as well as genealogists who have provided commentary for television news magazines like Nightline and 20/20. DNA test kit results can play a crucial role in genealogical research breakthroughs for African Americansbreakthroughs that may not have been possible with traditional, often limited written records alone. The interface makes finding detailed information easy, with the most modern site design of the contenders we tested. Its not only individuals who are concerned about the implications of this unregulated market: In late 2019, the Department of Defense advised all military personnel to avoid direct-to-consumer genetic testing on security and privacy grounds. Like 23andMe, Ancestry participates in biomedical research with both for-profit and nonprofit groups, but it shares anonymized data and does so only with customers explicit consent. Sometimes we find identical matches across a broad geographic range, he explained. This screenshot shows a portion of our testers 2017 FamilyTreeDNA results. In theory, keeping your genetic data under the roof of a single company with a unified privacy and data policy means a higher likelihood that your data will stay private. But if you simply want an ethnicity breakdown without the potential to discover unknown family connections, services such as 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA dont reveal any of your information to other customers until you opt in to their family-matching services. 23andme is as accurate as AncestryDNA and also provides the migration paths for maternal and paternal lineages. Prices range from about $100 on the low end for AncestryDNA and 23andMe to as much as $360 for FamilyTreeDNA if you opt to add the companys high-resolution Y-DNA and mtDNA tests. A FamilyTreeDNA spokesperson told us by email that the company will allow the upload of law enforcement samples to the database if they meet a very specific set of criteria. The spokesperson also said, Customers have the option to opt-out of participating in our genetic witness program in their account settings in their matching preferences.3, I often, in my own head, kind of lump Ancestry and 23andMe into one bucket and put FamilyTreeDNA in a totally separate bucket, said Natalie Ram, associate professor of law at the University of Marylands Carey School of Law and lead author of an article titled Genealogy databases and the future of criminal investigation. Ram continued: Ancestry and 23andMe have a whole law enforcement guide that says, you must bring a warrant and we will fight you. Since the initial publication of this guide, 23andMe has launched The African Genetics Project to add more customers with detailed knowledge of their African ancestry to its reference database. This is the reality of DNA ancestry testing when it comes to ethnicity. It has a much more narrow goal: to match a person of African descent with the tribe and present-day country location of their contemporary relatives. Given this context of the probabilistic ethnicity range shown, although its statistically possible for him to have roots from this region, its certainly not something he can claim with complete certainty unless its supported by family documents or historical records. To get a clearer sense of what the numbers mean, you can click on any subregion to get a more detailed view of your ethnicity estimate. This is one product category where you definitely shouldnt click blindly on a consent box, as you might with app updates or when youre setting up a smart thermostat. Note that FamilyTreeDNA has its own DNA testing lab, a rarity in the industry, as most services contract with outside labs. It cannot track your maternal and paternal heritage independently, nor can it tell you about your ancient ancestors and their migration out of Africa. Because of the sensitivity involved with DNA test results, in this guide we are withholding the names of our test participants. In 2017, the National Geographic Societys nonprofit Geno DNA Project was one of the five contenders we tested for the first edition of this guide. MyHeritage began offering DNA tests only in late 2016, which almost certainly means it has a relatively small database from which to generate family matches. Even if youre paying only for an ancestry test, many consumer-oriented genetic testing companies can analyze biomedical markers in your DNA, as well.1 And its becoming more and more evident that your choices about what information to share may not only affect you but may also have implications for your relatives, no matter how distant. The service compares the DNA with this reference data to inform your Ancestry Composition results. Of the remaining 0.1% that actually is different, around 85% of those distinctions are unrelated to characteristics that people think of as relating to ethnicity or race. DNA can place you on a given branchor branchesof the human family tree but doesnt give a precise picture of the time period ancestors spent living in a particular geographic area, which is how people commonly define their heritage. There are two parts to the DNA tests offered by the major DNA testing companies that are relevant to genealogy, 1) the DNA match lists of relatives and 2) the admixture or ethnicity predictions. To see how this bias plays out in actual results, we recruited a panel of testers (three men and four women) who collectively had known ancestry from Africa, East Asia, Europe, the Middle East, (native) North America, Polynesia, and South Asia.