Best DNA Testing and Ancestry Websites
ConsumerAffairs Research Team
Updated on 03/05/2018
Until recently, you could only learn about your family history by talking to your oldest relatives and visiting libraries and archives to confirm what they told you. These days, digitized public records and DNA analysis make it possible to learn so much more. You can see the manifests from the ship your relatives came to the United States on and even learn where your ancestors lived thousands of years ago. You can also get health information from these DNA tests.
If you’re ready to learn more about your family ancestry, this guide will walk you through all your options when choosing a DNA testing company or ancestry website.
Compare Reviews for Top DNA Testing and Ancestry Websites
|Ancestry||Read 528 Reviews|
Ancestry offers a membership to search genealogy records for $99 for six months. DNA ancestry tests can be bought separately for $99. It provides raw DNA data and sends results in six to eight weeks.
|23andMe||Read 21 Reviews|
23andMe was the first company the FDA authorized to offer genetic testing directly to consumers in 2015. You can choose to receive reports on your genealogy, actionable health and carrier status information. Tests start at $99.
|African Ancestry||Read Expert Review|
African Ancestry helps people identify where in Africa their ancestors were from. It charges about $300 for DNA tests.
|Archives||Read Expert Review|
Archives offers access to databases for genealogical research. You can also create an online family tree and purchase AncestryDNA. Archives is part of the Ancestry.com family of companies. Access is $9.99 per month.
|Findmypast||Read Expert Review|
Findmypast is a genealogy search site with over two billion historical records, including the 1939 Register. It has a 14-day free trial, and annual membership starts around $35.
|Fold3||Read Expert Review|
Fold3 has digitized documents related to the military going back as far as the American Revolution. It’s part of Ancestry, and annual memberships are about $80.
|GenealogyBank||Read Expert Review|
GenealogyBank provides subscribers access to over 7,000 digitized newspapers, as well as other genealogy records and resources. An annual membership costs around $60.
|Genographic Project||Read Expert Review|
The Genographic Project provides individuals with information about their ancestry and helps archaeologists study human migration. DNA testing costs $200 but often goes on sale for $130.
|MyHeritage||Read Expert Review|
MyHeritage offers both genealogy research and DNA testing. Access for about $85 a year. DNA analysis costs $99.
|NewspaperARCHIVE||Read Expert Review|
NewspaperARCHIVE offers access to more than 8,000 digitized newspapers going back as far as the 1600s. A semi-annual subscription costs $60.
Common questions about ancestry websites and DNA testing
What can DNA testing tell you?
The type of information that you get from a DNA test depends on what kind of DNA test you pay for. Genetic ancestry tests can detect genetic markers that identify where your ancestors lived thousands of years ago, and health DNA testing can tell you about health problems you might develop or about traits you could pass on to your kids.
- Genetic ancestry: So, can a DNA test tell where you’re from? To a certain extent, yes. Genetic genealogy tests can tell you things about your ancestry that you can’t learn from your relatives or historical records, like where your ancestors lived 1,000 years ago. Some DNA analysis services focus primarily on giving you information about your relatives and ancient ancestors. They use your genetic information to determine where your ancestors came from, and they may even help you find lost relatives. However, these sites can’t usually provide any reports related to your health.
- Genetic health risks: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only recently approved direct-to-consumer DNA testing. Companies that offer this service send you data related to genetic health risks, such as whether or not you’re predisposed to develop particular diseases. They can also tell you your carrier status for some genes, meaning whether you carry a gene that could cause problems for any children you have. These websites may include information about your ancestry, but don’t always do so.
- Raw DNA data: Some companies give you all the raw data from your DNA test. You can upload this data onto other websites that will analyze it and give you additional information, like your genetic predisposition for certain diseases or how difficult it might be for your body to process certain medications. Scott M. Weissman, a Certified Genetic Counselor at Chicago Genetic Consultants, cautions that results from third-party analysis can often show false positives for genetic markers associated with serious medical conditions, like breast cancer. People should never make changes to their health management without first consulting a genetic counselor.
How accurate are DNA tests?
DNA analysis continues to evolve; currently, some of the information that DNA tests provide is more accurate than other information. For example, DNA tests predict your eye color with a great deal of accuracy. Tests can also determine where your ancestors lived thousands of years ago with a fair degree of accuracy.
Although certain tests provide additional health information, the accuracy of some results, like genetic health risks, is less certain. For specific, health-related information, you may want to talk to a genetic testing professional to understand fully the information that direct-to-consumer DNA tests can accurately provide.
- DNA genealogy testing sites: Is ancestry DNA testing accurate? In general, yes, and the more consumers who submit samples, the more accurate it becomes. DNA testing companies use their existing pool of DNA samples to provide each new customer with information. The more samples a company has, or the larger its customer base, the more accurate information it can provide. The diversity of the overall group also impacts accuracy, since a less diverse sample group will share more genetic traits. This is especially important for DNA testing for ethnicity. In other words, if the majority of a company’s customers have the same ethnic background, the company will be able to give the most accurate information to new customers with the same background.
- DNA health tests: Although DNA testing sites will provide you with reports about genetic health risks and your carrier status for certain genes, that information may not be accurate. You shouldn’t rely on the health information provided by these sites to make medical decisions. In fact, the sites’ fine print often stresses that the information on the report may not be completely accurate.
How much does a DNA test cost?
Direct-to-consumer DNA tests offered by companies like Ancestry and 23andMe range from about $99 to $300, depending on what kind of results you’re looking for. DNA tests with health info tend to be more expensive, and the more specific and in-depth information you’re seeking, the more the DNA test will probably cost.
- Type of test: In general, DNA tests to determine genetic ancestry are less expensive than ones related to your health. For example, 23andMe gives you results that simply show ancestry information for $99. If you’d like health information as well, the DNA test cost is $199.
- Future DNA tests: Some companies, like Helix, retain your DNA so you can pay for additional tests as they become available. DNA research is developing quickly, so it’s hard to predict what kind of tests might be options in the future. The price for additional tests will probably depend on how complex additional analysis would be.
Is DNA testing safe?
Before you submit your DNA sample, you’ll have to agree to a lot of terms and conditions, which are often buried behind links or in the fine print. Make sure to find and read the terms and conditions so that you know exactly what will happen to your DNA once you send it in. Whether the company that you use focuses on health information or details about your ancestors, the report will include medical information that should be kept private and secure.
- Privacy concerns: Many companies share your anonymized data with nonprofit groups doing DNA research to cure genetic diseases or sell it to for-profit companies for pharmaceutical research. If you’re concerned about DNA privacy, rest assured that companies anonymize your data before sharing DNA results. This means that your personally identifiable information is stored separately from your DNA test results, though, like with any online information, some hackers might still gain access to your info. Some companies get DNA ownership rights over your DNA sample and the analysis of it, meaning they can sell it to a pharmaceutical or medical company or share it with scientists. Some companies allow you to opt in or out of sharing your information in this way. That said, sharing your DNA can help researchers to get more data and reach their goals, leading to important scientific breakthroughs. For example, Orig3n is specifically interested in using DNA and blood samples to develop regenerative medicine.
- Emotional concerns: Depending on the services they offer and the reports they issue, DNA and ancestry companies can provide upsetting information to you. You could learn that you’re adopted, have a sibling who you never knew about or are likely to develop a serious illness. Geneticists in the healthcare field often require patients to go through counseling before receiving the results of genetic tests because of DNA testing risks. Make sure you’re prepared for any unsettling news before you have a DNA test done. If you’re only interested in learning about your ancient ancestors, consider a DNA test like that offered by the Genographic Project, which doesn’t include health information or a way to find living relatives.
What public records do you need to research your family tree?
You’ll have a better chance of finding information about your family on ancestry websites with extensive collections of historical documents. Different kinds of sources will be useful for different types of information, so think about what information you want before purchasing a genealogy website membership.The most common public records used by ancestry websites include:
- Census records: Records from the U.S. Census provide information about where your family lived, what industries they worked in, what level of education they received and more. These documents can provide a great amount of detail about your relatives’ lives.
- U.S. immigration records: If any of your relatives came to the United States from another country, you’ll want to choose an ancestry website like MyHeritage with databases that include U.S. immigration records and records from Ellis Island.
- Other government documents: Marriage, birth and death certificates provide a better picture of your family tree than your relatives might be capable of giving you. You can get many of these public records if the ancestry website you choose includes the Social Security Birth Index and the Social Security Death Index. Perhaps your grandmother was a widow when she met your grandfather. Or maybe you have a great aunt who passed away in childhood.
- 1939 Register: People with ancestors from England or Wales should choose an ancestry website like Findmypast that includes the 1939 Register. It has data similar to that from the U.S. Census but from England and Wales for the year 1939. These historical records could be helpful in finding distant cousins or other relatives even if your direct ancestors immigrated before 1939.
- Newspapers: Digitized newspapers include stories of community events and local news, so they can help you discover a lot about your relatives’ daily lives, like that your great aunt Sally won the pie making contest at the Fourth of July picnic in 1945 or that your first cousin twice removed got a big send-off from the town when he went to Harvard in 1923.
How do ancestry DNA tests work?
Genetic DNA tests can tell you about your ancient ancestors and more recent relatives. They do this by tracing your mitochondrial DNA (passed down from your mother), your Y chromosome (if you’re male) or your autosomal DNA (all the chromosomes besides the X and Y ones). Because DNA is inherited from your parents, looking at DNA can tell you about the people you’re related to.
When you order a home DNA test, the company you choose will send you a test kit with a swab or tube for submitting a saliva sample. You mail back the kit, and then the company analyzes it to trace your lineage and find genetic patterns.
- Trace lineage: Mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosomes can trace your maternal and paternal lineage. These types of DNA don’t alter much between generations. Analyzing one or both of these types of chromosomes, geneticists can see the DNA from your grandparent, great-grandparent, great-great-grandparent, and so on. When traced back far enough, this DNA indicates where your ancestors lived based on genetic patterns.
- Trace genetic patterns: The chromosomes that differ from person to person are how geneticists can use DNA to identify someone. Some differences are passed down through generations. By looking at patterns of differences, geneticists can tell you whether you’re related to other people and determine where your ancestors migrated from.
How much do websites with family records cost?
Subscriptions to genealogy websites range from $10 to $20 a month. Some ancestry websites, like Fold3, offer a free membership that gives you a limited set of records. Most free genealogy websites allow you to access more databases when you pay for a subscription.
- Free trial: Many genealogy research and family tree building websites have free trials, including Archives, Findmypast and MyHeritage. Use a free trial to determine whether you like a website before making a purchase.
- Annual subscription benefits: You can save money over time by purchasing a semi-annual or annual subscription. For example, Ancestry costs $19.99 a month, but if you sign up for a six-month membership, you’ll pay $99, which saves you about $20 if you keep a month-to-month membership for six months. Note, you’ll usually be billed for the entire membership at once.
- Automatic renewal: The fine print on membership agreements typically states that they will continue renewing your membership and charging you for it until you cancel. Make sure you read the terms and conditions to learn how to properly cancel your membership, so you don’t get billed after you’ve stopped using the ancestry website.
Types of DNA testing
Y DNA test
A Y chromosome DNA test shows variations in the Y chromosome, which is passed from father to son. It’s good for tracing your specific lineage because only slight variations occur in each new generation. Only males can learn about their ancestry through Y chromosome testing. Women interested in learning more about their male lineage can ask a male relative to submit a DNA sample. 23andMe and the Genographic Project do Y DNA testing when you send them a sample.
Mitochondrial DNA testing
Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mothers to their children without too many changes in each generation. Mitochondrial DNA testing is good for tracing your maternal lineage. Both men and women can learn about their ancestors from mitochondrial DNA testing. 23andMe and the Genographic Project do mitochondrial DNA testing, also known as mtDNA testing, when you buy a kit from them.
Autosomal DNA test
Autosomal DNA, also known as atDNA, is made up of the 22 chromosomes that don’t impact your gender and is inherited from both your parents. It includes thousands of individual genes–the first chromosome alone contains 2,800 genes. Autosomal DNA testing can show where your ancient ancestors lived and help you with more modern genealogy through cousin matching. AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage DNA and 23andMe all offer autosomal DNA testing. The Genographic Project also does autosomal DNA testing, but it doesn’t give you the cousin-matching information, so it may not be the best choice if you want to find living relatives.
X chromosome DNA testing
X chromosome DNA testing looks at the X chromosome. Females inherit one of these from each parent, while males inherit an X chromosome only from their mother. This means a woman could learn about her paternal grandmother, and her paternal grandmother’s paternal grandmother, and so on, based on their shared X chromosomes. Having X chromosome data can be useful for tracing maternal ancestors on your father’s side of the family. 23andMe provides X chromosome information when you use their service.
How to find your ancestors
Talk to your relatives
The best way to start your family history research is to talk to your relatives. They may have done some research on your family tree already, and they might be able to give you information that will help you choose the best ancestry website for your situation.
Choose an ancestry website
Choose an ancestry website for genealogy research based on what you know about your family history. For example, if one of your relatives served in the military, you might want to use Fold3 because it focuses on military records. It’s also among one of the free genealogy website options, though you may have to pay to access all the records included in their database.
Decide if you want to find relatives
If you’re hoping to find living relatives who can fill in holes in your family tree, look for an ancestry website that has both genealogy records and DNA testing, like Ancestry.com. If you find your family through one of these ancestry websites, they may be willing to share their own genealogy research with you and expand your knowledge of your ancestors. Keep in mind, DNA testing to find relatives can sometimes expose unsettling information, like finding a sibling you didn’t know you had.
Expert reviews about DNA testing and ancestry websites
Ancestry launched Ancestry.com in 1997 and started doing DNA tests in 2002. Now, it offers subscriptions to a database of genealogy records and DNA testing for a genetic ancestry information. Subscriptions start at $19.99 per month, and DNA testing costs $99.
In 2015, 23andMe became the first company to receive authorization from the FDA to sell genetic testing directly to consumers. Get a DNA test with information about your ancestry for $99. Get the ancestry report and information about genetic factors related to your health for $199.
Archives started in 2009 and became a part of Ancestry in 2012. Now, Archives offers many services that overlap with Ancestry. Use the website to research your family history, create and share a family tree, and get DNA testing for genealogy purposes.
- Historical records: Your membership includes access to over 400 different collections with over four billion records. The more documents you have access to, the more likely it is that you’ll find records related to your family.
- Free trial: Archives will give you a free 14-day trial before you sign up. You have to enter your credit card information, and your subscription will automatically start if you don’t cancel before the free trial ends.
- DNA testing: Archives offers DNA analysis through AncestryDNA. You’ll receive information about your genetic ethnicity from this service.
- United Kingdom records: Archives has records from both the United Kingdom and the United States. If your family came to America from England, Scotland or Ireland, there’s a good chance you’ll find records for them from Archives. Some databases go back to the 1700s.
- PayPal: You can pay for your membership using PayPal. This is an ideal option for those who prefer to limit the number of websites that store their credit card information.
- Best for: historians; people researching their genealogy; and people looking for genetic information about their ancestry.
Findmypast is a British-owned genealogy search site that lets you search historical documents to research your family history. Membership starts at about $35 per year. The company started in 1965 as Title Research and became Findmypast in 2006.
- Historical records: Findmypast memberships give you access to over two billion historical records from around the world, with a high number of records from the United Kingdom and the United States. It has documents from the British Newspaper Archive, U.S. military records and more.
- Free trial: Findmypast offers a 14-day free trial. You have to enter your payment information when you sign up, and you’ll automatically be billed for the plan you select once your trial is over. Cancel before the trial period ends, and you won’t be charged anything.
- Plan options: Depending on which package you choose, the price ranges between $9.95 and $19.95 for a monthly membership, and $34.95 and $239.50 for an annual membership.
- Irish records: Findmypast advertises that they have more digitized records from Ireland than any other genealogy search site. You’ll have access to records from Ireland going back to the early 19th century.
- 1939 Register: Annual premium memberships include the 1939 Register. It contains all the records collected in the National Register created at the start of World War I. If you have family that lived in Great Britain during that time, this collection may have useful records.
- Best for: historians and people researching their genealogy, especially those with recent ancestors from Great Britain.
Fold3 started as iArchives, Inc. in 1999 and became a part of Ancestry in 2010. It now focuses on military records, photos and stories. Membership costs about $80 per year.
- Historical records: Fold3 gives members access to photos and records involving U.S. and foreign members of the military and military actions. It has records dating back to the American Revolution.
- Free accounts: Fold3 offers some of its records and images for free. Once you sign up for a free account, you’ll be able to search those documents and images added by other members. Try a full account for a free, seven-day trial before committing to a membership.
- Membership options: Fold3 offers monthly and annual memberships. The monthly price is $7.95 per month, and the annual one is $79.95. The site regularly has sales on annual memberships, so wait for a sale to save some money. It also offers special discounts to veterans.
- User education: Fold3 includes videos and articles that teach you how to use the website. If you’re new to genealogy research, these resources can help you learn the ropes more quickly.
- Memorials: Whether you’re a paying member or you just have a free account, you can use the documents and photos you find on Fold3 and upload your own content to create an online memorial for a service member you knew.
- Best for: historians and people doing genealogy research involving former members of the military.
MyHeritage was founded in 2003 and now has more than 90 million users around the world. It offers members access to billions of records to research their family history, as well as DNA testing services to help people to learn about their ancestors. Memberships for accessing genealogy records start at $85 per year, and DNA analysis costs $99.
- Historical documents: MyHeritage lets you search over 6,000 collections of historical documents, which include more than eight billion records. These collections date back to the 1500s and come from around the world, with the highest concentration from the United States and Europe.
- DNA analysis: The company’s DNA analysis service is called MyHeritage DNA. You order a kit, use a cheek swab to send in a DNA sample and get results in about a month. You’ll receive information about where your ancestors lived and what their ethnicity was. If any relatives have taken a MyHeritage DNA test, you can connect with them. The DNA test costs $99.
- Family Tree Builder: You can download MyHeritage’s Family Tree Builder program from the site. The program helps you build your family tree and make attractive lineage charts to share with friends and family members.
- Free trial: MyHeritage offers a 14-day free trial for new subscribers. You enter your credit card information when you start the trial. Simply cancel before the end of the trial, and you won’t be charged.
- Plan options: MyHeritage has four plan options, so you only pay for the features and collections that you’re most likely to use. Prices range from about $85 to $175 for an annual subscription. Signing up for a two- or five-year membership can save you money.
- Best for: people researching their genealogy and those who want genetic information about their ancestry.
GenealogyBank provides access to digitized newspapers for about $60 a year. It is owned by NewsBank, which archives newspapers for libraries, schools and other large organizations.
- Historical documents: GenealogyBank provides members access to obituaries, out-of-print genealogy books, the Social Security Death Index and more than 7,000 newspapers. The company advertises that 95 percent of the newspapers in its collections can only be found on GeneaologyBank’s website.
- Free eBook: Download a free eBook about genealogy titled Tearing Down Your Brick Walls when you visit the GenealogyBank website. You’ll need to give the company your first name and your email address to download the eBook.
- Search by state: Narrow the number of results you receive by only searching newspapers in a particular state. This feature can make it much easier to find stories about your relatives.
- Membership options: GenealogyBank only offers annual memberships. Those cost about $60, but the company sometimes has sales. Membership automatically renews. However, a gift membership won’t automatically renew.
- User education: The Learning Center on the GenealogyBank website provides webinars, videos and articles to help you learn how to use the site and how to do genealogy research.
- Best for: historians and people who want to access newspapers to research their family.
NewspaperARCHIVE is a search site for digitized newspapers. The website is owned by Heritage Archives, a document preservation company, and six-month subscriptions cost about $50.
- Historical records: NewspaperARCHIVE gives you access to over 8,000 newspapers that span 400 years of history and contain more than 22 billion articles. The collection includes papers from the United States and 22 other countries.
- Membership options: NewspaperARCHIVE memberships last for six months and cost $49.95. Your membership will automatically renew every six months unless you cancel.
- Free trial: If you’re not sure whether a NewspaperARCHIVE membership would help your research, sign up for a seven-day trial. The trial costs $6.95. If you don’t cancel before the trial ends, you’ll be automatically enrolled in a six-month subscription.
- Search features: You can search the NewspaperARCHIVE records by names, historical events, political figures, sporting events, date, publication and more. The search options make it easy to find what you’re looking for.
- Live chat: When you visit the NewspaperARCHIVE website, you’ll automatically have the chance to chat with a customer service representative. This chat feature makes it easy to ask questions before you commit to a membership.
- Best for: historians and people who want to access newspapers to research their family histories.
The Genographic Project started in 2005 to study the way humans had migrated around the world and to help people learn about their ancestry. Over 800,000 people have participated in it since then. The newest test, the Geno 2.0 Next Generation, costs about $200, but often goes on sale for about $130. Kits are available online from National Geographic and Helix.
- Indigenous samples: Researchers for this project collect DNA samples from indigenous people to better understand human migration. These samples help the Genographic Project provide information about your ancestors when you submit your DNA sample.
- Helix test kit: The current Geno 2.0 Next Generation test is provided by Helix, another DNA analysis company. Once Helix has your DNA on file, you can buy a wide variety of other genetic reports from them. Current reports let you learn about your carrier status, metabolism, ideal diet and much more. You’ll be able to buy new reports as they become available.
- The National Geographic Society: Part of the fees for these tests fund the National Geographic Society, a nonprofit organization that supports conservation and scientific research, as well as education around those topics.
- Interesting facts: The Geno 2.0 Next Generation report will tell you if you have any genes associated with Neanderthals and whether you may be related to famous historical figures like Benjamin Franklin and Nikola Tesla.
- Gift the kit: Helix sells Genographic Project DNA kit from Helix as gifts. If the recipient is interested, he or she can choose to order additional reports later.
- Best for: those who want genetic information about their ancient ancestors.
African Ancestry specializes in helping people find out about their roots in Africa. The results from its DNA tests—which cost about $300—are more limited than those provided by other companies, but they may be more specific. African Ancestry has provided results to more than 150,000 customers, including many celebrities.
- African lineage database: African Ancestry advertises that they have the largest database of African lineage, including 30,000 samples from indigenous Africans. This allows them to offer more accurate, specific DNA analyses for people with ancestors from Africa.
- Test for maternal or paternal lineage: African Ancestry has two tests, the PatriClan test and the MatriClan test. If you’re a man, you can choose whether you want to trace your African lineage through your mother or your father. If you’re a woman, you can only do the MatriClan test. Each test costs $299.00.
- African embassy partners: African Ancestry partners with embassies in Africa to help you visit the country that your ancestors are from or to access relevant historical documents.
- Specific country: African Ancestry’s DNA reports will tell you the area of Africa where your ancestors lived based on modern-day maps. In other words, instead of just seeing that you have African ancestors, you could learn that your ancestors lived in the area that is now known as Ghana.
- Analyze previous tests: African Ancestry may be able to analyze DNA results from another company to tell you more about your African heritage. Visit the company’s website to see whether they can analyze your existing results.
- Best for: those who believe they have African ancestors and want genetic information about their ancestry.
Orig3n offers DNA analysis specifically meant to help people understand how their genes affect their health. The company wants to empower people to make healthier decisions and to contribute to the development of personalized medicine.
- Report options: Orig3n sells specific reports, so you only pay to learn the genetic information you want. Choose from a variety of reports, such as fitness, nutrition and skin care, among others. Visit the site to see all available options. Prices start at $99.
- Additional reports: Orig3n keeps your DNA profile in their records. Order additional reports whenever you like. You won’t have to send in another sample.
- Privacy: When you send in your sample, you’re automatically opted out of all research, meaning that Orig3n won’t share your genetic information with any other companies. When research opportunities arise, Orig3n will contact you to ask if you want to opt in. Additionally, the company does DNA analysis at their own lab, so no third party will handle your results.
- Regenerative medicine: Orig3n collects induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells from blood donations, which they hope can be used in the future to test drugs and create new treatments. Your DNA sample is not connected to this project.
- Family discounts: If multiple family members want to get tests from Orig3n, email the company to ask for a family discount. Learn more on the company’s FAQ page.
- Best for: people who want to learn about their health from a genetic perspective.
Information in this guide is general in nature and is intended for informational purposes only; it is not legal, health, investment or tax advice. ConsumerAffairs.com makes no representation as to the accuracy of the information provided and assumes no liability for any damages or loss arising from its use.