Coolest Ways to Use Your DNA Test Results | Brad's Deals
Commercial DNA tests are everywhere these days, and while it's really cool to finally know whether or not that old family legend about Native American ancestry is actually true, or how Irish you are within 1/10 of a percent, there's a lot more you can do with your DNA than what your testing company gives in your report.
Which DNA testing kit should you choose?
I became interested in getting my DNA tested a few years ago as a way to fill in some of the gaps in my family history. I didn't have a real connection to my ancestry when I was growing up, and when asked, I would simply say that I am Chicagoan. No matter where my ancestors were from, all roads led to Chicago – and more or less stopped there for various reasons.
There were various family mysteries and legends to sort out also. On one side of the family, we knew plenty about my great grandmother, a first generation German American who bestowed us with our family name. However, we knew next to nothing about my great grandfather who wasn't in my grandfather's life. My grandmother was adopted, with a vague notion that she was probably Irish. On the other side of my family, there was a persistent story that we were part Blackfoot, but my grandfather was a notorious storyteller with nothing in our family tree to back it up. Maybe a DNA test, especially one with the ability to identify previously unknown relatives, could clear some things up.
So far, we've struck out on finding secret relatives, but I turned up as roughly a quarter British and Irish – right about what I would expect. And that Native American story? Probably just a story (as I expected) since the trace amount of East Asian in my profile that's common to Native American ancestry came from the other side of the family (which I did not expect!)
There are a whole slew of commercial DNA tests out there. If you'd like to get really deep into a detailed comparison, Jennifer Mendelsohn's article So You Want to Take a DNA Test gives a test-by-test breakdown from the view of a professional genealogist, and the DNA Testing Comparison Chart at Family History Daily is excellent as well.
For my own testing, I first tried 23andMe and am currently waiting on results from AncestryDNA. I've covered these two below since I have experience with them and can speak to my own reasons for choosing them – primarily to see if I could solve a family mystery by finding some secret relatives. Whatever test you choose, be sure it includes an option to download your raw data.
Best for Entertainment Value and Health Info: 23andMe
One of the most popular kits on the market, 23andMe, provides ancestry estimates for $99 or $199 if you also want genetics-based health info. The service is growing by leaps and bounds – they recently got approval from the FDA to test for BRCA, a gene that's associated with breast cancer. Their customer pool is now large enough to identify more than 150 ancestry regions.
Previously, the service couldn't necessarily differentiate well between some regions. For example, when I got my own results last year, 23andMe told me that I am 26.6% "British & Irish" and 22.3% "French & German." Now it's a little more discerning, dialing in on my Irish and German ancestry – albeit without any further parsing of the percentages. When I click in to look at all tested populations, I see that I also tested highly for British, and both Irish and British are represented as a single dot. That's it. So while I expected a mix, it's really not as illuminating as I'd hoped it would be, though it did correctly zero in on Germany.
The kits are frequently discounted, making them a good option for anyone who is casually interested in getting a sense of how Irish they are. 23andMe will also connect you to DNA relatives, though their database is smaller than AncestryDNA. When it came to that family mystery I mentioned above, 23andMe didn't turn up anything useful – though it was good to see my rumored Irish ancestry somewhat confirmed.
Best for Genealogists: AncestryDNA
This is probably the best choice for those who are interested in not just learning how Irish they are. Since it's part of Ancestry.com, you can connect your data to your family tree to discover and connect with DNA relatives. Because Ancestry.com is such a popular genealogy service, the database is bigger and a bit more precise with estimates. More potential matches also means you're more likely to solve a family mystery here than at 23andMe. I don't have my results back yet on this one, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
I'm currently waiting on results from AncestryDNA. One of the reasons I chose it was for the Genetic Communities feature, which uses DNA and family tree patterns to extrapolate migration patterns of certain populations. When my results are in, I might see a hit on "Early Settlers of Massachusetts" or "Germans from Saxony in Iowa & Illinois." Here's a screenshot from AncestryDNA's website. You can see how it gets pretty specific.
An AncestryDNA kit costs $99 at full price but is frequently marked down to $79. It does not include health info.
P.S. Don't ever pay full price for a DNA test!
As competition and popularity collide, DNA testing services are so frequently discounted that there is no reason you should ever be paying full price. To find the best deal on DNA testing services, set up a "DNA" Deal Alert, and we'll drop you a line when we find a deal worth jumping on. To save even more, consider paying with a cash back credit card.
I have my DNA results, now what?
Did you get your ancestry breakdown and think that was the end of the line? Oh, but no! Download the raw data from whatever service you used, and you can upload it to a whole slew of free and paid services to dive even deeper into your gene pool. These are a few of our favorite finds.
Free DNA Analysis
Works with: 23andMe, Ancestry.com, FTDNA, WeGene, MyHeritage
Imagine the nerdiest possible intersection of genetics and genealogy, and it will probably look something like GEDmatch. Here you can upload your DNA profile from nearly any source and dive into all of the autosomal matches and chromosome lengths you like. You can get it to predict your eye color (it got mine wrong, genetics are tricky!) You can also compare specific DNA profiles in a chromosome browser, get your predicted admixture from any number of databases and models, and find relatives who were also nerdy enough about genetics and genealogy to upload their own DNA profiles.
Works with: 23andMe
How much of a mutant are you? Genetic Genie will attempt to tell you. The info you get back is not easy for the layperson to parse. My understanding is that the tool contends that certain genetic mutations place certain people at higher risk of things like miscarriages, memory problems, and mood disorders. After sifting through all of my mutant genes, it basically told me to take a B12 vitamin.
Works with: 23andMe, FTDNA, AncestryDNA, MyHeritage
Basically, yet another free database where you can upload your DNA data to find ancestry estimates, trait predictions, and distant relatives that also thought this might be a good idea. It's run by scientists at the New York Genome Center and Columbia University, and it partners with the National Breast Cancer Coalition on genetic breast cancer research. (Aha, now we know why they want to amass a database of DNA - for science!)
Works with: FTDNA, 23andMe, AncestryDNA, MyHeritage
Cost: Free to $19
Although FTDNA will happily sell you their own DNA testing kits starting from $79, they also let users upload profiles from all of the most popular testing services for free. They'll find your family matches for free. But, if you actually want to use any of their tools, which include ancestry origins and a chromosome browser, you'll need to pony up a $19 fee.
Works with: Ancestry, FTDNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage
MyHeritage sells their own DNA testing kits for $99 (often discounted to $75.) You can also upload raw DNA files from other services to get ethnicity estimates, view your DNA in a chromosome browser, and find other DNA matches in MyHeritage's database. You can also build a family tree for free.
Paid DNA Analysis and Custom Giftables
Works with: 23andMe, AncestryDNA, FamilyTreeDNA, Genos
If your test didn't include any health info, you can upload your raw data to Promethease and get a ton of raw health data back. It's not free, but $10 is a lot cheaper than upgrading your 23andMe results. The information you get back is not as neatly packaged as the 23andMe health report, however, it comes free of all context and interpretation. I found that one note would often contradict another; a good reminder that human beings are composed of bits and pieces of many different histories.
This can all be very confusing to parse, so it's good to keep in mind that having a genetic marker for a 'thing' does not mean you have the 'thing.' A good example from my own profile was Promethease noted several genes that correlated with gluten intolerance and celiac disease, and I definitely do not have any notable sensitivities on that front. The bottom line is that you absolutely should not diagnose yourself based on a $5 internet test. If anything in your report worries you, it's best to talk through it with your doctor.
Works With: 23andMe
Genetrainer analyzes your DNA profile and fitness goals to create highly personalized training plans. All of this advice doesn't come cheap, of course, but what do you expect from an app that integrates your DNA, Fitbit, RunKeeper, and Withings scale into a single dashboard app?
Works With: 23andMe, Helix
Cost: $49 to $199
If you've ever looked at your chromosomes and thought, "You know, I think I'd like a scarf that looks like my DNA," then Dot One is the place to go. Upload your DNA from 23andMe or Helix and choose from colorful personalized merchandise including tartans, scarves, art prints, tees, and socks.
Have you tried a DNA testing service? How was your experience? Tell us in the comments!