The best DNA test kits to trace your roots

DNA testing used to be an extreme measure reserved for police investigations and laboratories. But at-home tests have opened the doors to inexpensive testing and accuracy that provides insights into who you are and where you come from. The best DNA test kits examine as many genetic markers as possible and go through labs that use precision and care in their results. Some may even use several types of DNA and run tests several times to confirm results. 

© Provided by Popular Science The best DNA test kits to trace your roots
© 23andMe 23andMe provides in-depth results that let you explore both your origins and health on an easily navigated dashboard.

DNA test kits vary in how samples are collected, and the results are usually focused on a specific area. For example, some kits trace genetic markers to learn more about ancestry while others compare two people’s genetic markers to determine their relationship. There are even DNA test kits to determine your dog’s breed and potential health issues. Whether you’re investigating your ancestry or confirming paternity, there’s a home DNA test kit waiting for you.

© MyHeritage DNA This budget-friendly test kit provides a wide range of genealogical and health data, including advice and guidance to help interpret results.

Best overall: 23andMe Health + AncestryBest value: MyHeritage DNA Test KitBest for ethnicity: AncestryDNABest at-home paternity test: DNA Direct Paternity Test KitBest for dogs: Embark Breed + Health Dog DNA Test


The best DNA tests give you a glimpse into who you are from the inside out.  When deciding on the best kits, we considered the number of genetic markers they analyze, lab policies and practices, ease of sample collection, and presentation of the results.

Genetic markers: The more genetic markers analyzed in a DNA test, the higher the accuracy of the results.Lab policies and practices: Some labs are more effective and efficient than others. While we couldn’t always find specific policies, we looked for tests that use different kinds of DNA or ran multiple tests on the sample for better accuracy.Sample collection: if it’s an at-home test, it should be easy to collect a sample. That includes providing instructions that are easy to follow.Presentation of the results: All the information in the world doesn’t help if it’s not easy to understand. Result presentation can help you determine how and what to do with your results.

© Provided by Popular Science AncestryDNA is all about your family connections with the millions of its users.

Why It Made The Cut: 23andMe offers a wide range of insights from maternal and paternal heritage to recessive genes and potential health conditions that make it one of the best and most comprehensive tests available. 


Time to results: 2-3 weeksSubscription fees: NoGenealogy software: No

© DNA Direct Solutions A simple cheek swab gives accurate results and puts to rest any lingering doubts about paternity.

Pros:Cons:Breadth of insightsLimited genealogy resourcesAnalyzes three types of DNAIntuitive interface and dashboard

As the best home DNA test, 23andMe offers two tests: an ancestry only or an ancestry plus health. Both are on the pricey side, but the ancestry plus health test gives you a broad look at your family’s past and checks for certain genetic health risks and carrier status. It also factors in and reports on genetic traits like hair loss and weight. 

This 23andMe test examines both your maternal and paternal lines. You get to see how many of your ancestors evolved from Neanderthals, as well as connect with relatives through the 23andMe interface. You control your information and whether or not you make it public. 

The actual testing process isn’t hard, but the amount of saliva required means it can take longer than simpler swab collection tests. Users have to register the test before sending it in. There’s a unique identifier on the kit, and it has to be registered to the name of the user before it arrives at the lab. The test kit price includes the return postage.

© Embark Compare your dog’s DNA with 350 dog breeds to get a good look at his ancestry.

While this test provides a broad look at your genealogy, it doesn’t provide genealogy software for you to get a better look and understanding of your family tree. If you’re looking specifically for genealogical information, a test designed for that purpose would provide more information. 

Why It Made The Cut: Many DNA kits provide health information, but MyHeritage puts that information into perspective to help you interpret and understand what it means and how to use it—all at an affordable price. 


Time to results: 3 to 4 weeksSubscription fees: For some servicesGenealogy software: Yes

Pros:Cons:Ethnicity percentage estimateAccess to certain information requires a subscriptionIncludes access to expansive genealogy softwareTakes a long time to receive resultsIdentifies health risks but puts them into context

The MyHeritage DNA Test Kit is the best DNA test for health that provides ample insight into your ancestral background and countries of origin and a good price. It uses a cheek swab to determine an ethnicity estimate, DNA matches, and premium DNA-related information for an additional subscription. However, the context that MyHeritage provides with its health information makes it a great option if you’re jumping into genetic testing.

The test analyzes DNA and genetic markers, looking for risks for various illnesses like certain cancers, Alzheimer’s, and Crohn’s disease. There’s also information on inherited genetic conditions, and you can opt out of some information if you wish.  What we especially appreciate about MyHeritage is the perspective and insight that come with the health results.

There are explanations for results that say “average” or “increased risk,” so you’re not left in the dark with upsetting information. For example, it may tell you that you’re predisposed to diabetes, but the results come with information that explains that being predisposed doesn’t necessarily mean you will develop the disease. 

The downside to this particular test is that certain information can only be accessed with a subscription. The MyHeritage test results also take three to four weeks to arrive, which is a couple of weeks longer than most of the other tests.

Why It Made The Cut: AncestryDNA lets you expand the branches, twigs, and leaves of your family tree more than most of the other tests, making it an easy pick for identifying your ethnicity. 


Time to results: 2 to 3 weeksSubscription fees: YesGenealogy software: Yes

Pros:Cons:Expansive genealogy software and database with millions of usersRequires a subscription for full benefitsInteractive map with ancestral locationsDoesn’t offer health dataLets you expand and build your family tree and connect with other users

The AncestryDNA test kit focuses on genealogy information and family history. Because of its popularity as the best DNA for ethnicity, it has an extensive database where you can connect with members from all over the world. You get estimates to show how much of your genetics stems from different ethnicities. AncestryDNA also provides interactive maps that show where your family is from and offers more information about countries of origin.

When you provide your sample, you have to register the ID number on the test kit with an AncestryDNA account so the test can be identified with you. We like that AncestryDNA updates your results over time as new technology and tools evolve and improve.

However, to fully build your family tree and connect with other users, you have to pay a subscription fee. The fee goes up the more information you want to access. And if you want health data, this is not the kit for you. It’s definitely targeted to genealogy work.

Why It Made The Cut: This test uses 22 genetic markers to estimate the likelihood of paternity and returns results in under two weeks in most cases. 


Time to results: Approximately 7 to 14 daysSubscription fees: NoGenealogy software: No

Pros:Cons:Quick test resultsCharges extra fees to retest after inconclusive resultsEasy to swab and return resultsHigh genetic marker count

Paternity conflicts can get ugly. As the best at home paternity test, the DNA Direct Paternity Test Kit can put a rest to arguments and accusations. This easy test requires a cheek swab, includes all of the return packaging and lab fees, and provides results in less than two weeks.

It works by comparing 22 genetic markers from the suspected father and the child. While the test results aren’t admissible in court, they’re accurate as long as the sample is taken correctly. Available paternity tests can compare anywhere from 16 to 24 genetic markers. This test balances a high genetic marker count with a relatively affordable price.

On the downside, if there’s a problem with the sample, the company charges an extra fee to rerun the test with a new sample.

Why It Made The Cut: Embark provides excellent instructions and a large database with which to compare results for a more accurate look at who your dog is.


Time to results: 2 to 4 weeksSubscription fees: NoGenealogy software: No

Pros:Cons:Excellent depth of the preliminary resultsComplicated results take time to understandPrintable and exportable resultsProvides a family tree with the breed of parents

Who knew there was so much to learn about your dog’s family tree? The best dog DNA test kit, Embark Breed + Health Dog DNA Test dives into the genetics driving your dog’s behaviors and idiosyncrasies. 

The most useful piece of information it offers is a breed breakdown that estimates the dog’s breed percentages. You can even look at a family tree that suggests the breeds of your dog’s ancestors.

Like humans, dogs can be susceptible to certain diseases and illnesses. The Embark test looks for genetic deviations and susceptibilities. The information can help you make informed health decisions for your pet.

There’s so much information included with this test that it can feel a little daunting to sift through it all. You receive an initial email loaded with information, but you can also log into the Embark website for added information and exportable PDFs. There’s so much information included with this dog DNA test that it can feel a little daunting to sift through it all.

Learning about your roots can be a fascinating experience, but the process can also yield unexpected findings. Here are some factors to think about when purchasing the best DNA test kit for you.

The reasons behind your testing can make a difference in what test you choose. If you want to expand your family tree, a test that includes access to a large genealogy database and the ability to connect with potential relatives makes sense. For those who want to learn more about their health, a test that looks into degenerative disease markers offers the right kind of information. It’s all about what you’re looking for and what you want to do with the results.

Some tests only offer preliminary results unless you’re willing to pay a subscription fee. Others provide full access through the initial testing fee. These tests often cost more upfront but may save you money in the end. However, if you want to continually expand your family tree, a test that includes up-to-date genealogy information can be valuable.

DNA test kits usually require a cheek swab or saliva for testing. Some are easier than others to do, but most include instructions to help you through the process. You do have to follow the directions carefully. Any deviation from the provided instructions can result in an inconclusive or inaccurate test.

You also need to register your test kit before sending in your sample. Most kits have some kind of identifying information that you must register on the company’s website. If you send in the kit without registering it, your results won’t correspond with an account, and you won’t receive your results.

Q: How do home DNA tests work? Home DNA tests use genetic material collected from your cheek or saliva to compare your genetic markers and information with the company’s database. Depending on what kind of test you’re doing, the lab may check for specific genes or genetic sequences that predispose you to certain health conditions. They can also use this information to trace your family line to different countries. Q: What’s the difference between a paternity test and a DNA test? A paternity test compares two sets of DNA to one another, looking for similarities in their genetic markers. DNA tests go through more extensive testing, identifying genes or markers that predispose you to certain health problems or comparing your DNA to a genealogy database. Q: Are home DNA test kits accurate? These tests are not  infallible. They tend to be more useful for identifying relatives and learning about your ancestry than making a diagnosis of a health problem. In fact, many manufacturers recommend not taking an at-home DNA test without professional support to understand the results. If you take an at-home DNA test and discover you could be predisposed to a difficult illness, talk to your doctor about further testing to verify that information. Sometimes the information learned from one of these tests can be misleading. Just because you’re predisposed to diabetes does not mean you will definitely develop the disease.

The 23andMe Health + Ancestry DNA test kit provides a deep look into your family tree with useful health information. It’s the best of both worlds. If you’re strictly interested in genealogy, the Ancestry DNA section of the test gives you access to a huge genealogical library of users to expand your knowledge of your family tree.

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