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Best DNA test UK: Explore your ancestry with a home DNA test kit

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A number of genetic testing sites promise to reveal the secrets of your DNA. Which one is right for you?

These days, the best reason to take a DNA test is curiosity. DNA tests were once the preserve of medical professionals, used on behalf of patients to determine the parentage of a child (among other things). Now, though, you can take a DNA test from the comfort of your own home purely to fill in the gaps in your family tree.

There are dozens of online tests to choose from so which one is right for you? A lot depends on what you want to find out, how seriously you’re taking it and how much you intend to spend. So, to help you navigate this new and growing field, here’s our guide to the best DNA tests in 2021.

If you're not sure which DNA test is for you and want to know more about the process – and are more than a bit baffled by all the various buzzwords – then take a look at our detailed buying guide immediately below.

Save £20 on AncestryDNA

Our favourite DNA test kit for finding relatives is currently on offer. AncestryDNA has held the top spot on this list for quite some time - you can find out why below.
AncestryDNA
Was £79
Now £59

MyHeritage: Still 50% off this December

If your budget won't stretch to 23andMe, MyHeritage offers our favourite basic ancestry-tracking service for lighter wallets. It's currently enjoying a 50% discount.
MyHeritage
Was £79
Now £39

Best DNA test 2021: Where to buy

Strapped for time? Here's a quick list of our favourite DNA test kits.

1. Ancestry | The best for finding relatives

Buy it now


2. 23andMe | The best for understanding health risks

Buy it now


3. MyHeritage | The best basic kit

Buy it now


4. Living DNA | The best value for money

Buy it now


5. Family Tree DNA | The best for detailed results

Buy it now


How to choose the best DNA test for you

What does the DNA test involve?

From your side, very little. Just visit the associated website, enter your credit card details and fill out a questionnaire. A kit will show up a few days later. Simply spit into a tube or take a cheek swab (it’s not painful), package it up and send it off to the lab. Six to eight weeks later, you’ll get an email telling you that the sample has been analysed and your results are ready to browse online.

What happens in those six to eight weeks depends on the kind of test you’ve taken: autosomal, mtDNA or Y-DNA. Knowing what each of those is, and how they differ, will help you make your choice.

In short, an autosomal test covers the whole of your family tree, but can only trace back for four to five generations. mtDNA and Y-DNA testing trace either the female or the male side of your family tree (respectively), but reach a lot further and can be good for proving a single common ancestor, potentially from as long as 10,000 years ago.

The best tests will cover all of these bases, but it’s worth noting that FamilyTreeDNA is the only one below that allows you to mix and match.

You can find a more detailed explanation of these tests at the bottom of the page.

What information are you looking for?

DNA tests are chiefly used for three things and you need to be clear about what you’re hoping to find before you choose one. These are:

Ethnicity

A rough guide to where your past relatives came from and an idea of how your clan has moved over the centuries.

Finding relatives

Whether you’re trying to trace your family tree or looking for long-lost relatives, the majority of DNA testing sites offer this to some degree. Of course, if you want to check you’re related to someone specific, both you and the other person of interest will need to take the same test. If they’re not on the same database, you won’t find them.

Health screening

DNA tests can identify genes that contribute to diseases or conditions that could affect you or your offspring in the future. This is a hugely controversial area, as being marked as higher risk for something isn’t the same as saying you will definitely get the condition – and, given that the results could point to Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s, that may affect how you live your life or your ability to get life insurance.

Should I worry about privacy?

Yes and no. As Gizmodo explains, the privacy policies for DNA companies tend to be extremely comprehensive. They cover things such as the ownership of your sample (them), who pays if you sue and lose (you) and how much you’ll be paid if they somehow get rich off a cure for cancer from your DNA (nothing). In some cases, it’s not clear who has access to your DNA.

But the question is really what can be done with your DNA in a worst-case scenario. The answer, currently, is “not a great deal”.

That could change in the future, of course, as it’s a safe bet that we’ll learn more about genes and DNA over the next few decades. For that reason, I’ve noted in the “key specs” for each test whether you can delete your data.

Anecdotally, I’ve sent DNA to all the companies in this list and don’t feel particularly worried. Your mileage may vary.

You can find out more about choosing the best DNA test for you at the bottom of the page.

The best UK DNA tests to buy in 2021

1. Ancestry: The best DNA test for finding relatives

Price: £79, plus shipping (with optional subscription for tree building) | Buy now from Ancestry

With a database of six million samples, Ancestry is the biggest DNA-testing site by far. If you’re only interested in uncovering your geographical heritage, that may not matter, but if you want to track down relatives it could make all the difference.

It’s also a great way to build your family tree. You don’t need to do the DNA test for this, but if you do, the site will give you access to people who share your genetic code, with options to contact them and share your bit of the tree.

Family tree-building is simple and rewarding, and the site does this part of its job very well. If you enter a name with dates, it will often suggest who you’re going to add next, with corresponding local records to prove it.

The one downside is that this can quickly become expensive. You’ll need a subscription to link results to your family tree, and that costs between £11 and £20 a month, with discounts for buying six months at a time.

Still, its basic functionality is a very good way of getting a picture of who you are and contacting any confirmed relatives.

Read our full Ancestry DNA review for more details

Key specs – Test type: Autosomal; Collection method: Saliva; Information provided: Genetic heritage; Contactable matches: Yes; Postage included: Yes; Import results: No; Export results: Yes; Deletable data: Yes

Buy now from Ancestry


2. 23andMe: The best DNA test for understanding health risks

Price: £149 | Buy now from Amazon

Compared to its rivals, 23andMe might initially look pricey, but you are getting a lot of bang for your buck. As well as a genetic heritage test, you’re buying a health screen using genetic information about your susceptibility to illnesses. You’ll notice this is one of only two on test that includes Autosomal, Y-DNA and mtDNA tests. If you just want the genetic test, you can get that for £79.

As tests go, this is probably the most user-friendly. Whether you’re interested in genetics or health screening, all information is presented simply, with fun facts along the way. I’m genetically less likely to get mosquito bites than most, for example. It’s a pity nobody told the mosquitoes.

The test also looks at more serious health risks such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and asks you to read a brief tutorial before receiving your results for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene, which is associated with breast and ovarian cancer.

All in all, it provides an interesting insight into how your genes affect your health. Aside from a slightly raised risk of age-related macular degeneration (declining eyesight), it gave me the all-clear. If you’re a natural hypochondriac, or not sure you can handle bad news, you might want to avoid 23andMe. After all, a higher risk of something isn’t the same as definitely having to deal with it one day.

Read our full 23andMe review for more details

Key specs – Test type: Autosomal, Y-DNA and mtDNA; Collection method: Saliva; Information provided: Health and genetic heritage; Contactable matches: Yes; Postage included: Yes; Import results: No; Export results: Yes; Deletable data: Yes

3. MyHeritage DNA: The cheapest DNA test

Price: £75, plus shipping (plus optional tree building subscription) | Buy now from MyHeritage

If all you want is a cheap DNA test, giving the basics of your genetic lineage and where your family has migrated from over the years, look no further than MyHeritage.

Like Ancestry, this is a purely autosomal test designed to help you build a family tree with help from your genetic code. Unfortunately, as a relative newcomer in its field, its database is quite a bit smaller, with around a million DNA samples as of January 2018. There’s a subscription fee here too, although prices are cheaper than at Ancestry, ranging from £6 to £14.20 per month.

The test itself is only a few pounds cheaper than Ancestry and you do have to pay your own postage, which can be a little bit awkward in the post office. Since it needs to be sent to America, you’ll need to explain what you’re sending. When I sent mine, it cost £3.30.

Feature-wise, the service is very similar to that offered at Ancestry: you can build your family tree and contact relatives as and when the system tags them.

However, MyHeritage DNA has one big advantage over Ancestry: it lets you both import and export DNA information. That means you can take a test at 23andMe or Ancestry and upload your data here, skipping the fee entirely, to increase your chance of finding missing relatives.

Key specs – Test type: Autosomal; Collection method: Cheek swab; Information provided: Genetic heritage; Contactable matches: Yes; Postage included: No; Import results: Yes; Export results: Yes; Deletable data: Yes

Buy now from MyHeritage


4. LivingDNA: The best-value DNA test

Price: £99, plus shipping | Buy now from LivingDNA

LivingDNA is more expensive than MyHeritage DNA, but I’d still judge it best value when you add up what you get. Like 23andMe, LivingDNA includes autosomal, Y-DNA and mtDNA tests, while Ancestry and MyHeritage only offer the former.

Does this make a difference? Well, yes and no. You can see the results based on each individual test, which is handy as it means you can figure out with more accuracy whether your foreign heritage comes from your father or mother. It’s especially good for the UK, where most samples have been collected and even breaks down your heritage by regions of Britain. I’m 30.1% from the southeast and only 9.2% from the north west, for example. All of this data is illustrated using delightful animations that show your family’s migration over the years.

But there’s one major drawback: currently, there’s no way to contact your genetic matches. That feature is coming, and you can opt in to the beta right now. On a more positive note, you can both export and import your genetic data from here and – given that this provides autosomal, Y-DNA and mtDNA tests – LivingDNA looks like a good value way to obtain all of this data for subsequently uploading to other sites.

Key specs – Test type: Autosomal, Y-DNA and mtDNA; Collection method: Cheek swab; Information provided: Genetic heritage; Contactable matches: Not yet; Postage included: No; Import results: Yes; Export results: Yes; Deletable data: Yes

Buy now from Living DNA


5. Family Tree DNA: The best DNA test for detailed results (at a price)

Price: $79 to $649 | Buy now from Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA may appear off-putting at first. Compared to the other sites, it doesn’t feel hugely user-friendly, its prices are only in dollars and it offers a dizzying array of tests. This actually makes it the most flexible, albeit at a price that some will find hard to justify.

A standard autosomal test starts at $79 (around £60), and you can buy various Y-DNA and mtDNA tests separately or as a bundle to supplement your results. The more detailed the Y-DNA test, the more expensive things get, with a 37-marker test coming in at $169 (around £129) and a 500-marker test aimed at experts for $649 (around £497). If these sound high, it’s worth noting that you can import results from some other sites, but obviously then you’ll have to satisfy yourself with the limitations of those third-party tests.

Family Tree DNA has just over a million records in its database, so only a sixth of what Ancestry boasts, but the nature of its tests means that any matches they offer may be of a higher quality than some of the cheaper options are able to provide. As the choice of serious genealogists, this service not only boats an impressive set of tools (the chromosome browser lets you compare between people to see which DNA strands you share, for example), but the community that uses it is also extremely well informed about what can be read into your DNA should you have any questions. And let’s face it: you will.

Key specs – Test type: Autosomal; Y-DNA and mtDNA available for extra; Collection method: Cheek swab; Information provided: Genetic heritage; Contactable matches: No; Postage included: Yes; Import results: Yes; Export results: Yes; Deletable data: Yes

Buy now from Family Tree DNA


How to choose the best DNA test for you (continued)

Autosomal, mtDNA and Y-DNA tests explained

Before we begin to explain the minutiae of these various tests, keep in mind a bit of high-school biology: humans have 46 chromosomes, of which 23 come from the mother and 23 from the father. They’re arranged along two strands, which are twisted to form a double helix. The final chromosome on each strand is either an X or Y and determines whether you’re male (XY) or female (XX).

Autosomal DNA testing

This concerns itself only with the first 22 pairs of chromosomes, before the gender-defining twenty-third. That’s important, as it means both men and women can take an autosomal DNA test.

The autosomal test examines around 700,000 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to reveal how closely you’re related to somebody else. However, because you inherit half of your DNA from each of your parents, the results from this kind of test become less reliable the further back you go in time: parents pass down 50% each, grandparents 25% each, great grandparents 12.5% and so on. It’s really only accurate for the last four or five generations, so third or fourth cousins may be identified, but not much beyond that.

That means it’s the best option for identifying living relatives. It also offers some clues as to your ethnicity, which can be firmed up with additional tests.

mtDNA testing

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing describes the kind of analysis that concerns itself with the genetic material found inside mitochondria. Mitochondria have their own separate DNA strands, which are passed down through the mother.

The big advantage here is that mtDNA changes are remarkably slow. That means mtDNA testing is both accurate and reaches a long way back in time – sometimes more than 50 generations. But – and it’s a big but – you can only roll back through a line of female relatives. So, the mother, then the mother’s mother, the mother’s grandmother and so on. That means it’s of limited use on its own, but some companies bundle it with the autosomal tests for greater accuracy. As it goes so far back, it’s very useful for getting a picture of where your relatives were thousands of years ago.

Y-DNA testing

Remember our XX and XY chromosome explainer back in the introduction? Y-DNA testing looks at the Y on the twenty-third chromosome, which females lack, so this test is only available for men. In contrast to mtDNA testing, which only rolls back through female ancestors, Y-DNA testing concerns itself exclusively with male relatives. So, the subject’s father, his father’s father, his father’s grandfather and so on.

Although women can’t take the test themselves, they can still potentially benefit from the data by getting a close male relative to take it on their behalf. A woman’s father, brother or uncle would be the best fit, as long as she’s certain they’re related. A son won’t help, as his Y-chromosome will have come from his father, not his mother, so would have originated in an entirely separate part of the family tree.

What can’t a DNA test tell me?

The first thing to understand is that the geographical estimates are at least partially guesswork. If you’ve read and absorbed the last section, this should come as no surprise. That's because autosomal DNA covers the entire family tree, but is too mixed up to examine after five generations, while Y-DNA and mtDNA go back thousands of years, but only for one side of your tree. That, combined with the fact that geographical borders change all the time, means your ancestry estimates may even vary from test to test. They are, after all, estimates. Even when they agree, they can generally only point you to regions – Eastern Europe, say – rather than countries.

Second, while DNA tests can tell that you’re related to someone, for more distant relatives it can’t say exactly how. That’s why you’ll find a lot of possible matches coming up as “fifth to eighth cousins”. Likewise, while they can often point to who your father is, that’s only the case if your father has also taken a DNA test on the same site, since the various services don’t share their results.

Third, be wary of tests that promise insights on things such as optimal diet and sporting ability. Scientific consensus is that drawing these kinds of conclusions from DNA is either unproven or impossible.

Finally, health-related DNA tests can only show you increased risk, which isn’t the same as either a medical screening or actually looking into your future. By the same token, getting an all-clear on a DNA health test shouldn’t make you complacent – you may still fall ill.

Are you sure you want to know the results?

That brings us to a key point: do you really want to know this stuff? There’s a reason that each of these tests asks you to agree to its terms and conditions: you may discover things you don’t want to know.

A risk of Alzheimer’s doesn’t mean you’ll definitely get it, so you may end up worrying over nothing. Likewise, a variant not being detected shouldn’t lull you into a false sense of security. With cancer, in particular, your genes only tell part of the story as lifestyle choices and plain bad luck also play their part.

That’s probably why most DNA tests avoid health-related issues, but even straightforward genealogy has its pitfalls. Are you ready to discover that you’re adopted or that the man you (and possibly he) thought of as your father actually isn’t?

Do I need to take more than one test?

Not necessarily. Plenty of DNA-testing sites let you export your results. Unless you’re a professional genealogist, you won’t have any luck decoding these yourself, but several services will let you upload them for the benefit of their opinion. This is handy if you’re on the hunt for long-lost relatives, as you can check for matches between different services.

Why would sites offer this? Well, some charge a fee for the service (though it’s not as expensive as actually taking the test again), but most offer it gratis, either to expand their database so it’s more useful for paying customers or because they want to sell you their own subscription services.

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