There’s nothing quite as fascinating as delving deep into your family history, particularly if you know very little about it. DNA home testing kits are a convenient and fun way to do this and allow you to discover where your ancestors came from, all from the comfort of your own home.
Home DNA tests have blown up in recent years, exploding in popularity: with 80% of Brits considering it important to know their family history. But where to start? The options for home testing kits are endless, and it can be difficult to know which names to trust.
One of the best-known and longest-standing kits available is the AncestryDNA test, which we’re going to take an in-depth look at today. We’ll run you through everything you need to know before you commit to purchasing your test; giving you the lowdown on the company itself, what you can expect from Ancestry, how the test works, and how it compares to others on the market.
First, let’s have a look at where DNA testing all began…
The roots of DNA testing
DNA home testing kits are a relatively new phenomenon, and it all began in the late 1990s with the company GeneTree - which later became AncestryDNA. These genealogical tests were pretty basic, as they only traced back one generation, however, they triggered a new-found interest in family history and opened up new ideas for home-testing.
However, the first dedicated direct-to-customer testing kit came from FamilyTreeDNA, which, back in 2000, partnered with the University of Arizona to offer Y-DNA and mtDNA tests to track paternal lineages. Again, these were basic in comparison to what is on offer today, but at the time, were unlike anything ever seen before.
The first company to use autosomal testing - the chromosomes used to trace your ancestry - was 23andMe back in 2007. This at-home, saliva-based test was particularly revolutionary and paved the way for autosomal testing - which is today the norm for DNA home testing kits.
DNA testing today
DNA home testing kits have evolved dramatically since their birth in the late 20th century. Today, there are more names competing with these three major players and all kinds of DNA niches have sprung up, from pet DNA kits, to DNA tests for food allergies and health conditions. As knowledge in the industry continues to grow, the accuracy of DNA home testing kits continues to improve, too.
Who are Ancestry.co.uk?
Ancestry calls themselves “the UK’s favourite family history website”, and claims to offer its members access to 1 billion searchable UK family history records.
Their website was launched back in 2002, and utilises a range of resources to gather historical records, including censuses, the fully indexed birth, marriage, and death records, passenger lists, the British phone books, and military and parish records.
They’re also part of the Ancestry.com global network of family history websites, which aims to weave together family histories from the world over. Ancestry.com also operates a range of online family history brands including Archives.com, Fold3.com, and Newspapers.com, which aim to equip people with the resources they need to discover their family history.
It is also home to the world’s largest collection of family trees, boasting more than 5 billion profiles from over 100 countries in 50 million member trees.
As mentioned above, Ancestry is one of the better-known DNA testing kits, and it’s probably the most popular one available. The AncestryDNA kit is the perfect starting point if you’re looking to trace your heritage and then conduct further research into your roots.
If you’re looking for more specific information, for example, on hereditary health concerns, then it’s probably not the best option.
However, for anyone looking to exercise their general curiosity, this kit is the perfect starting point. It’s also affordable and makes an ideal gift.
How it works
The AncestryDNA test is a home testing service claiming to offer ‘cutting edge’ autosomal technology to open up a revolutionary system for combing through your family history.
By combining advanced DNA science with the world’s largest resource for researching family history, the test will predict your genetic ethnicity and will even link you to new family connections through their online system.
The test will also provide you with DNA matches that could help identify relatives all over the world.
Your ethnicity will be traced back through the generations and you’ll be provided with specific regions that your DNA can be linked to, and the likelihood of you stemming from a particular heritage.
Taking the test
Taking an AncestryDNA test is extremely simple and can be done from the comfort of your home. After ordering, your test will be posted to you containing full instructions, a saliva collection tube, and a prepaid return mailer so you can easily post your test back to the lab.
After dropping your test in your local postbox, the DNA is processed by professionals and once it has been analyzed, you’ll receive an email notifying you that your results are ready and available to be explored on the AncestryDNA website.
What to expect
With DNA tests it’s important to understand exactly what you’re getting from the test. With the AncestryDNA test, you can expect your results to contain information such as your geographical origin across 1000+ regions worldwide, potential relatives indicated by others who have taken the test, and matches, if any, to your DNA.
The test won’t provide you with every single little detail about your ethnic heritage, however, it’s a great springboard for researching further family history, and could generate leads you would otherwise never know of.
DNA tests do have a bit of a reputation for being unreliable. However, AncestryDNA uses microarray-based autosomal DNA testing which takes into account a person’s entire genome at over 700,000 locations.
The new online interface is also an added advantage, as it integrates state-of-the-art tools for you to utilise your results and delve deeper into your family history.
Any DNA matches you receive will also have a confidence percentage ranging from 0-100% to indicate the matches that are more likely to be reliable. The higher the confidence percentage, the more likely it is that these matches are more closely related to you.
Confidence levels are determined by the amount of common DNA shared by yourself and another tester, and Ancestry are at an advantage here due to their extensive database and testing system, which measures over 700,000 markers in the DNA to analyze the number and length of continuous strands that align.
Over time, accuracy and reliability of these types of DNA tests will go from strength to strength as more knowledge is gathered on different populations and countries.
Family Tree Linking
Once you have received your DNA results, you may decide to start building a family tree to trace your relatives - past and present - from around the world. Ancestry.co.uk allows you to link your DNA results to other family trees you have created.
Any potential DNA matches who are also Ancestry subscribers will then be able to view your tree unless you choose to keep your tree private.
If you and your DNA match both have family trees linked to DNA results, you will have access to a "Map and Locations" page that may contain different coloured pins.
These pins indicate the birth locations of the ancestors in your tree (up to about 10 generations of direct line ancestors), the birth locations of the ancestors in your DNA match's tree, and overlapping birth locations that appear in both family trees.
If a pin has a number on it, this indicates that there is more than one person at that location.
Things to consider
Due to the nature of the highly digitised world we live in today, many of us are understandably concerned about our data and how it is used, particularly when the internet is involved.
DNA testing and privacy has been discussed in the past and can be a pretty controversial subject. Generally speaking, when you hand your DNA sample over to a company, you are permitting it to be used in further research and trials. However, if it is used in further study at all, it will be anonymised beforehand.
The controversy around DNA testing and privacy was sparked by the fact that some companies have policies in place that allow your DNA to be accessed by law enforcement if they have a legitimate reason to do so. Some people believe this is an invasion of privacy - even if it is for the greater legal good - as in 2018, police caught a wanted serial killer after distant relatives submitted DNA samples through the open-source genealogy website GEDmatch.
As mentioned previously, private policies differ slightly between companies so it’s best to verify this through the website of the DNA test you opt for. With AncestryDNA, standard security practices are in place to store your DNA sample and results, and these are both recorded without identifying information such as your name.
According to Ancestry.co.uk “you own your DNA data” and can choose to download the raw version of it and have Ancestry delete your results from their database at any time. In addition, they will also destroy your physical DNA saliva sample should you request them to. The company insists it does not share your name or identifying information which is linked to your genetic data, with third parties, except “as legally required or with your explicit consent.”
Generally, well-known DNA testing sites such as Ancestry are safe and secure to use.
There’s still a lot of dispute over how reliable DNA home testing kits are. For example, previously the BBC tested three different ancestry kits on their presenter and received three different sets of results.
The BBC found out that these discrepancies were due to the fact that DNA results rely on the company comparing your DNA with that of others within their records, and therefore the results will differ depending on how many peoples’ DNA results are recorded in a database and where they are situated in the world.
While DNA home testing kits shouldn’t be taken at face value, a Genetic Genealogist told the BBC that the percentages given by these companies are usually accurate on a continental level, but are less so at a national level. That said, they did suggest that DNA testing can be useful when done alongside historical, family tree research, which is basically what AncestryDNA offers. Another point to consider is that Ancestry has some of the largest and most complex DNA databases available, making it potentially more reliable than tests from lesser-known companies.
The main thing to recognise is that any home DNA kit should be taken with a pinch of salt and isn’t the be-all and end-all of your entire genetic heritage!
Value for money
At a reasonable £89.00 AncestryDNA is at the middle price point when it comes to DNA home kits. Home testing kits can actually go into the hundreds, particularly the ones claiming to be more complex, so this kit is perfect for anyone who wants to dip their toes into their gene pool and find out a little bit more about their family history.
It also makes an ideal gift; simply order a kit online, create your Ancestry account to track your order, and have the kit shipped to either you or the person you are giving it to.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can women take the test?
Yes, both men and women can take the AncestryDNA test, unlike some tests that only analyse the Y-chromosome - so must be done by a male, and only looks at the paternal side of their heritage, or mitochondrial DNA - which can be taken by a male or female but only looks at your direct maternal lineage.
AncestryDNA kits analyse a person's entire genome at over 700,000 locations worldwide.
What is the best autosomal DNA test?
This is a pretty subjective question, as it largely depends on what you want to find out.
Reviews differ slightly between websites, however, several common names crop up time after time.
While AncestryDNA is usually highly rated for those who want to discover their ancestral lineage, 23andMe also covers the health traits that you are likely to possess based on your ethnic and ancestral background, while you can also get tests that are more specific in their nature; ie Living DNA which is particularly good for African and British heritage, drawing on DNA from 72 African subgroups and 21 British Isles subgroups.
However, AncestryDNA has a few things going for it in our opinion. Firstly, it’s a highly trusted and well-known company that’s been around since the birth of home testing kits and has evolved during this time; secondly, it’s affordable; and lastly, it gives you access to a whole database of family trees and other DNA testers, making it a perfect starting point for somebody who hopes to gain more insight into their family lineage.
Why is my genetic ethnicity different to what I expected?
Genetics is extremely complex and on occasion, people receive DNA test results that are different from what they expected. For example, their results may feature a country they never knew they were linked to. Ancestry DNA claims to reach back hundreds or even thousands of years, and may reveal things “that aren’t in historical records.”
While much of your results depend on ethnicity algorithms and prediction models, these are constantly evolving and improving. However, there may be several reasons as to why your results are different from what you were expecting:
For example, your genetic ethnicity may go back further than your family tree and therefore display links that you never knew existed; your ancestors may have lived in a certain country but could have had genetic influence from other places; and finally, you don't necessarily share common DNA with all of your ancestors and relatives.
DNA home testing kits is a market that continues to evolve as more people join DNA databases, and genetic research is furthered. While no DNA kit can promise infallible results that are one hundred percent perfect, these kits are also the closest thing - other than family documents or knowledge - to giving us some insight into our ancestors and their past.
The AncestryDNA testing kit is easy to use, affordable, and is a well-known name, so you know what you’re getting when you order it. This kit is the perfect starting point for anybody looking for an overview of their ethnic make-up and ancestry lineage, and, while it should be taken with a pinch of salt (like any home testing kit), it is also the perfect test to use as a catalyst for more extensive research, which can further supplement your DNA results and allow you to enter a whole new world of family tree building, which could see you reunited with relatives you never knew existed.