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Beginner’s Guide to DNA Testing: Ultimate Testing Strategy

Do you want to know how to get started with DNA testing?  There is a lot of conflicting information online about which company is best and how to go about doing a DNA test for ancestry, so if you are hesitating, it is understandable.

In this post, I’m going to share with my ultimate strategy for DNA testing.  It is going to save you money and time, and will help maximize what you are able to learn from your unique DNA.

Beginner's Guide to DNA Testing_ Ultimate Testing Strategy(1)

At the beginning if this post, I’ll explain a little bit about the differences between the DNA testing companies, and then towards the end I’ll reveal to you my ultimate DNA testing strategy that will help you get the most out of your DNA testing dollar.

Which DNA test should I take?

There are so many companies offering DNA testing – how do you choose one?  Which company is the best? 

Are they all trustworthy?  Will I get the same results no matter which one I choose? 

Which company offers the best value for the money?

The following DNA testing companies are reliable and have a proven track record.  If a company is not currently on this list, then I don’t feel confident about recommending them:

  • Ancestry DNA
  • 23 and Me
  • My Heritage DNA
  • Family Tree DNA
  • Living DNA

Even though all of those companies are trustworthy, offer a similar service and will provide you with similar results, there are other important aspects to take into consideration when deciding which DNA test to buy. 

After all, money doesn’t grow on trees and most of us can’t afford to purchase five DNA tests!

Which DNA testing company is the best?

If all of the top companies are similar, reputable, and offer their services at about the same price, how in the world are you supposed to choose which company to test with?  It all comes down to what exactly you are looking for.  Why are you taking a DNA test?

Are you looking for living relatives?  Health information? 

Basics about which part of the world your ancestors lived in?  Are you looking for a specific person? 

Trying to identify who your grandfather’s biological parents were?  Do you want access to advanced DNA information? 

How much do you really want to know about your ancestry?  Are most of your recent ancestors from overseas (not the US)?  

Do you have recent ancestors from the British Isles?  Do you want to know everything there is to know?

Obviously, there are hundreds of reasons why someone (i.e. you) might want to take a DNA test, but the above questions are a few of some of the most common reasons that I hear for DNA testing. 

In the chart below, I will give you my recommendation for some of these very common situations:

Recommendations for DNA testing in various situations

Don’t go anywhere yet – I still haven’t shared my ultimate DNA testing strategy with you.  It’s going to save you time and money, and you’ll also learn as much as you want to know about your DNA and heritage.

What’s the best DNA testing strategy?

Did you know that all of the major DNA testing companies, including Ancestry DNA, allow you to download your DNA information and upload it to other websites? 

This means that you can choose only one or two companies to test with, and upload your data to the rest of the companies for free or a nominal fee, as well as a few other sites, and have access to almost the exact information that you would have if you spent more than $600-700 on testing.

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Choose Ancestry DNA or 23 and Me to do your initial DNA test

The only two companies on the list that do not accept uploads under any circumstance are Ancestry DNA and 23 and Me, so this means that you should choose between these two companies for doing your DNA test. 

In order to choose between 23 and Me and Ancestry DNA (both great companies!), you’ll have to really understand what it is that you think you might want to get out of DNA testing.

If you are looking for biological family, a person (such as a half-sibling) that you think might be out there somewhere and might have done a DNA test, or are interested in doing a lot of family tree research, then Ancestry DNA is the best choice. 

Their database of more than 10 million DNA samples is the largest non-governmental DNA database in the country, and so if you are looking for someone, if they have tested, there is a good chance that they tested with Ancestry. 

Plus, the power of the DNA testing combined with millions of family trees on their site makes family tree building a breeze.

But what if you feel pretty good about your known family history, and you are more interested in seeing what you can learn about the health information contained within your DNA? 

Your DNA does contain health information, and 23 and Me’s Health + Ancestry test offers dozens of health, trait, and carrier reports.  23 and Me also offers all of the bells and whistles of DNA testing for ancestry, including a top-notch ancestry composition estimate and a DNA match list with matches from their sizeable database. 

The test is a little more expensive than the Ancestry DNA test, but if you are not looking for living relatives and prefer health information, it’s the best choice.  Plus, as a bonus, you also get your maternal and paternal (if you are a male) haplogroup which can help you trace your ancient ancestry (this only comes with the Health + Ancestry report).

Or, test with both Ancestry DNA and 23 and Me

If you can swing it, consider doing a DNA test with both Ancestry DNA and 23 and Me.  By testing with both companies, you’ll have access to the large Ancestry DNA database and family tree information, along with the 23 and Me database and health information. 

Additionally, this is the recommended strategy for people who are adopted or are searching for biological relatives.  We don’t know which company our relatives chose to do a DNA test with, and so it’s best to have our DNA in all of the databases.

Once you’ve made your choice, continue reading to learn what to do next.

Upload your DNA to as many sites as possible

Once you receive your 23 and Me or Ancestry DNA results, you can download your DNA data and upload it to the following sites belonging to companies that also offer DNA testing (meaning that you don’t necessarily have to do a test with them):

  • Family Tree DNA (free for DNA match list, $19 to unlock ethnicity estimate and full results)
  • My Heritage DNA (free until December 1, 2018, then nominal fee)
  • Living DNA (currently free, expected to begin charging nominal fee soon)

The following sites do not offer DNA testing, but allow people to upload their DNA to access some really cool tools for DNA analysis. 

Another benefit of uploading to these sites is that they accept uploads from several companies, so you can get DNA matches that you don’t have on your original testing company site (i.e. 23 and Me or Ancestry DNA):

  • Gedmatch (free)
  • Gedmatch Genesis (free)

If you test with either 23andMe or Ancestry DNA (or both) and then upload your DNA to the sites I listed above, you will have access to all of the tools, DNA databases and then upload to all of the sites mentioned above, you will only have to spend between about $100-319, but will have access to the same amount of information through DNA matches as if you had spent up to $700. 

Plus, you will learn a lot through the process

Ready to get your DNA test or tests?

I’m glad this post helped you decide which DNA test will work best for you, even if you decide that you don’t want to follow my “ultimate strategy” to the letter.

You can get your DNA tests using the links below.

The following links are sponsored links to companies that I highly recommend and have used personally:

Is there a difference between uploading DNA and testing with a company?

Sometimes my readers ask me whether or not it is best to just go ahead and do a test with a particular company or if it is the same to just upload your DNA information from a DNA test with a different company. 

I can say with confidence that uploading your DNA to all of the sites from an Ancestry DNA or 23 and Me test is “almost” the same as testing with all of the companies individually.


I hope that this post gave you a basic understanding of the best way to go about doing a DNA test and helped you decide which company you might like to test with. 

If you have any questions about something that you read here, or would like to share how you chose a company to test with, I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

Thanks for stopping by!

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How to Use Ancestry DNA Without Taking a Test - Who are You Made Of?

Thursday 12th of November 2020

[…] Choosing Your DNA Test […]

Bryan M Cox

Friday 4th of September 2020

Hello I think you should mention that you are talking about AtDNA (Autosomal DNA) as Ancestry do not do Y-DNA or mtDNA (mitochondrial dna). AtDNA is the General DNA upto 8 Generations back from all parents to grandparents, great grandparents etc.

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