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With so much competition between DNA testing companies, it’s hard to know how to differentiate. Below is a guide to the questions you should be asking when comparing DNA testing kits, with some tips on what to expect from some of the leading companies.

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What is the size of the company's database?

The size of a company database can vary quite a lot, starting at a few hundred thousand customers for some of the smaller databases and reaching up to 7 million for the industry leader AncestryDNA. More people than ever are signing up to genealogical services these days, meaning the leading DNA companies are continuously expanding their databases and making it easier than at any other time in history to find your long-lost relatives. For example, AncestryDNA has a database of samples from 7 million people that have taken its DNA tests, and the company’s records now include more than 20 billion historical records.

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Which countries does the company sell to?

This is obviously one of the first bits of information to look for, as there’s no good signing up to a DNA service that doesn’t ship to your country. The good news is that DNA services are expanding around the globe. For example, Ancestry’s DNA testing kit (sold under the brand name AncestryDNA) is now available in the 29 countries including the United States, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and most European countries. MyHeritage offers its DNA kits under the brand name MyHeritageDNA to customers in almost every country (excluding a couple of countries where there are legal challenges around DNA testing).

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What other products does the company offer?

Many of the top DNA testing companies, such as MyHeritage and Ancestry, started off as online genealogy platforms before branching out into DNA testing. They still offer other genealogy-related services, such as software that enables users to build family trees and locate relatives around the world. Some DNA testing companies offer add-ons as part of their service: for example, LivingDNA offers a personalized ancestry book for an additional $69 when ordering a DNA kit. If you’ve already taken a DNA test and want to find out more about your genealogy, some companies allow you to upload third-party data; for example, MyHeritageDNA can analyse data from AncestryDNA.

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What level of customer support is provided?

Whether you’re opening a new bank account, buying a gym membership, or ordering a DNA testing kit – you want to be sure your provider can be relied on to deliver good customer support. All the leading DNA testing companies listed here offer support centres with dozens of FAQs and educational resources. Their methods of direct contact vary: some offer live chat and phone, while others are best to deal with by email.

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How safe is your data?

First things first, it should be easy to locate a DNA testing company’s privacy and security policies on its website. If you can’t find it easily, this should be a red flag. As an example of the basic steps a company should take to protect your DNA data, here is AncestryDNA’s 5-step policy:
  • Your results are stored in a secured database, and access to the database is strictly limited to a small number of authorized employees.
  • DNA samples are tested in a secure third-party testing lab in the United States. The lab processing your DNA doesn't have access to your name, address and other contact information.
  • Your DNA sample is securely stored in a temperature-controlled, secure facility with 24-hour monitoring and limited access.
  • AncestryDNA complies with the US Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA), which makes it illegal for health insurance companies, group health plans, and most employers to discriminate against you based on your genetic information.
  • Most importantly, you have the choice to delete your DNA test results at any time. However, be aware that once the results are deleted, there is no way to recover them.

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What are the company’s scientific credentials of the company?

Your chosen DNA company should send the tests to an accredited testing lab, where they conduct a test that explores around 700,000 regions – or single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), tiny mutations in our DNA which make us all unique – of your genome. The results are then sent back to the DNA testing company where they are able to compare your SNPs to the SNPs of all the other records in its database in order to extract accurate information about your genealogy.

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Does the company offer the facility to store samples?

As mentioned above, your DNA sample should be stored in a temperature-controlled, secure facility with round-the-clock security and strictly limited access to only authorized employees.

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Does the company allow you access to your raw data? Does the company allow you access to your raw data?

Your provider should allow you access to your raw data in a .zip file or other format that can only be accessed by you. As the customer, one of the benefits of having the raw data is that you can show it to another company in order to get information from their database. For example, if you took a DNA test years ago and you still have the records, you can upload your file to Ancestry to compare against their billions of historical records. Remember, this data is yours, and in no circumstances should a DNA company prevent you from having access to it.

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Do you have to maintain a subscription to access all the features and services?

The general answer to this is yes, although it depends which features you wish to access. When you complete a DNA test, the results are made available to you to download and store away in a secure place of your choosing. However, most companies charge a subscription fee to have ongoing access to their archives, and once you stop paying – you stop being a customer and have no further access to the subscription-only material.

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What are the shipping costs?

The shipping costs vary from place to place, and therefore you will need to enter your exact location to find out what your chosen provider charges to send you a DNA kit. As a general rule, a company should only charge you once for shipping: once you’ve paid, the service should cover both the cost of the company sending you the DNA kit and the cost of you sending it back to the company.

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With so much competition between DNA testing companies, it’s hard to know how to differentiate. Below is a guide to the questions you should be asking when comparing DNA testing kits, with some tips on what to expect from some of the leading companies.

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