Taking a DNA test for heritage – what are my top choices?

Ever wonder where you came from? So do millions of fellow Americans – according to TIME magazine, genealogy (the study of families) is our country’s #2 hobby. In case you’re wondering, only gardening is more popular than tracking the history of our descendants. This nation is mostly composed of immigrants. Turn the clock back 500 years, and our continent was a vast wilderness, populated only by scattered First Nations tribes. As North America welcomed settlers from across the globe, people of different ethnic and national origins intermarried. As a result, your DNA is likely composed of a tapestry of different cultures. However, despite the best efforts of your genealogy-obsessed uncle, some answers are hard to come by. In the past decade, though, home DNA tests have filled that gap.

Should you apply for a kit? If so, which companies best fit your needs? We’ll answer both of those questions in today’s article.

Why are DNA tests so popular these days?

Some folks are curious about their family tree. Perhaps they wonder how Irish they really are, are puzzled about their weird surname, or yearn to find lost cousins. However, like any worthwhile pursuit, genealogy can get tough at times. Lost memories, tightly-kept family secrets, and gaps in public records can leave some family tree branches frustratingly blank. Genealogical research can get so labor-intensive that many people throw in the towel before they get far. Thankfully, the 2010s have made the pursuit of one’s roots much more manageable. Exponential advances in genomic sequencing technology has cratered prices. In 2010, it cost just under $10,000 to sequence a human genome. Today, some kits retail for under $100. This tectonic price shift has caused the popularity of DNA test kits to explode. It’s easy to understand why, when for the cost of an expensive dinner, you could swab your cheek and send it off to 23andMe.

DNA testing is bringing long-lost family members together

The rise of DNA testing has sparked a great deal of concern. From privacy implications (e.g., insurance companies using your genetic data to deny coverage) to shocking discoveries (e.g., your father is not actually your father), this new industry has attracted more than its share of controversy. However, DNA tests are also responsible for more than their share of heart-warming stories. The story of Betty McMurray and Gladys Craig offers a textbook example. More than 80 years ago, an impoverished couple in Prince Edward Island, Canada gave up their two children for adoption. Within months, their orphanage gave them away to two different families, beginning eight decades of separation.
As they grew up hundreds of miles apart, both sisters sensed that they didn’t belong. Even after discovering their adopted status, they spent their adult lives running into brick walls.
By the 2010s, both women were in their 80s when friends and family convinced both to send in a DNA sample. Betty McMurray went first – when her test revealed no relatives, she was disappointed but undeterred. There was no way she just materialized out of the ether, she thought.

Thankfully, she didn’t have to wait long. Soon after Gladys Craig submitted her sample, she found that Betty was her long-lost sister. At the age of 87 and 89, respectively, both have found true family in the twilight years of their lives.

I want to test my DNA – which company should I go with?

Have you sensed something is amiss with your family history? If you’ve hit nothing but one roadblock after another after hours of research, submitting a DNA sample can lead to a breakthrough. However, as we write this piece in July 2019, dozens of firms now offer DNA sequencing. Not all are legitimate operators. Back in 2018, NBC Chicago submitted a DNA sample from Bailey the Golden Retriever. All firms reported the sample was unreadable – except for one. Orig3n, a “lifestyle” DNA company, confidently recommended that Bailey take up basketball or boxing, as the pooch possessed optimal musculature for both sports.

Every time a new industry emerges, shady characters found companies that are only there to make a quick buck. To avoid them in the DNA space, look to industry leaders like 23andMe and AncestryDNA. Over 26 million people have submitted samples to these companies – most are pleased with the results they’ve gotten.

However, don’t just blindly pick a top company. Each firm has its own unique strengths. Want detailed health information to go along with your genealogical background? Choose 23AndMe. Are you serious about building your family tree? Go with AncestryDNA, as it allows you to link DNA results with genealogy research. Ancestry and My Heritage match up on family tree capabilities, but the latter service offers a cheaper price point, at $79 per DNA test. Remember – most leading DNA tests (except Nat Geo’s at almost $200) are competitively priced. Take the time to compare and contrast features before making a decision.

Unlock the secrets of your family’s past – and present

Your backstory isn’t as clear cut as you think it is. Unplanned pregnancies, affairs, misplaced records – you never know your family’s story… until you go looking for it. If you’ve ever expressed doubt about who you are, you owe it to yourself to find out the truth.

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