DNA Testing for Beginners
Haven’t taken a DNA test yet? Let us answer your questions.
Why take a DNA test?
DNA testing can reveal all kinds of things about you. Here at Your DNA Guide, we focus on helping people use their DNA to explore their heritage and learn about their family history.
How can I use DNA in my family history?
Your test results come with two kinds of results: your ethnicity background and a list of DNA matches, (other people who have tested at that same company who are genetically related to you). With this information, you can:
- connect with relatives, including unknown birth relatives;
- build your family tree: identify unknown ancestors and add new branches to your tree;
- use your ethnicity results to better understand your ancestors’ origins and migrations.
Want a handy-dandy PDF to walk you through choosing a testing company? Just fill out this form and the guide is yours!
Which kind of DNA test should I take?
Start your DNA testing journey with an autosomal DNA test. It looks at both sides of your family tree, about 4-6 generations back. It will give you an estimate of your ethnicity and connect you to cousins from all your recent ancestors. (If you’re specifically exploring your paternal side of the family, you’ll eventually want to look into YDNA testing. For your maternal line, mtDNA testing has limited usefulness.)
Which autosomal DNA testing company should I choose?
You’d think that all DNA testing companies would provide pretty similar results. After all, you are giving them the same DNA. But no, your experience will vary between companies. Features to consider include: sample collection method; ethnicity estimates; how many other people have tested there; and the genealogy and genetic genealogy research tools available with each testing experience.
Click on the images below to read more about each testing company, or click the button to compare them all at once. (And thanks for using our links to make a purchase! We’ll get a small affiliate commission that doesn’t change your price—but it supports more free DNA education like this article.)
How can creating a DNA testing plan help me?
Creating a DNA testing plan means choosing a specific question to explore and the right testing path for that question. Some tests might give you a better ethnicity breakdown for different parts of the world. Your genetic relatives may be more likely to be found with certain companies, depending on where they live. A DNA testing plan can save you time and money, increase your chances of successfully answering your questions, and minimize disappointment or frustration. Learn about creating a DNA testing plan.
If you’re just curious and don’t have any real questions, consider testing with AncestryDNA, as they have the largest testing pool and a variety of excellent tools for interpreting your results. (You can later transfer your AncestryDNA results to other testing companies, if you choose, but you can’t upload your results from other companies to AncestryDNA.)
Any reason I should avoid DNA testing for family history?
Before participating in a DNA test, be sure you are emotionally prepared for whatever your test results might be. You might find genetic connections to people you didn’t know about—or you may learn that you are not genetically connected to someone you thought you were. The science behind your ethnicity results is still evolving, so be prepared to take that with a grain of salt—and also that you might discover unknown ethnic heritage.
Some people have concerns about privacy and DNA testing. The major DNA testing companies all have privacy policies. You should read them, along with their terms of service, before you test. Learn where each company stands on law enforcement use so you can choose according to your preferences.
Take us with you on your DNA testing journey
As you start down the path of DNA discovery, you’ll want an expert friend you guide you through your questions and next steps. That’s us. Take our free guide with you: