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Elderly Relative DNA Test Failed: What to do?

What should you do if your elderly relative’s DNA test fails?  Are there any options?  This post will give you some ideas about what to do if it happens during your DNA journey.

Have you received the dreaded “New DNA Sample Required” e-mail from Ancestry DNA?  It is wonderful when our elderly relatives agree to do autosomal DNA tests to help us with our research, and very disappointing when their tests “fail”. 

Elderly Relative DNA Test Failed_ What to do_

I should mention that many, many older individuals do DNA tests and they go through without any issues.  My grandmother and her brother, both in their 80’s, were able to send in their DNA kits and get their results just fine. 

With that said, I learned first-hand about why tests can sometimes fail when the elderly send in their samples.  My grandfather’s brother, the last surviving child in his family, generously agreed to take a DNA test to help me with family history research a few years ago.

He submitted his sample, and it failed.  He tested again, and it failed once more.  My great-uncle, who has now passed away, turned 90 the year we tried to test his DNA, and was living in an assisted living facility.

Moving around was very challenging for him. For example, he needed help to get in and out of his wheelchair. 

To make matters more complicated, it would have taken me about 20 hours to drive to where he lives. I was very interested in DNA testing, but that’s a long way to drive!

Plus, I didn’t want to have him spend any more effort on this project than necessary, and I already felt bad that he had done the test twice with no results.

Why do DNA tests for the elderly sometimes fail?

There are two main reasons that the “saliva in a tube” tests sometimes don’t work well for our older family members:

 As we age, we sometimes begin to produce less saliva, and our cells which contain the DNA needed for the test are floating around in our saliva.  No saliva, no cells, which means no DNA for the test to extract.

Another common side effect of aging is gradually decreasing health, which often is accompanied by the need to take more medications.  These medications can sometimes interfere with saliva production, which can then mean that we don’t have enough DNA in the saliva that we do produce to get extracted by the laboratory to analyze.

So what should you do if a DNA test fails for an older relative?

I’ll start with my favorite recommendation:  test with a different company.

I absolutely love Ancestry DNA – it’s true.  I love every step of the DNA testing process, and I especially enjoy their very large database for finding family matches. 

Ancestry DNA has millions of family trees on the site, too, which can be a great source of information.  There are other great DNA testing companies, however, and there is one very reputable company that offers a cheek swab instead of a saliva test.

You can get it at Family Tree DNA, and it’s usually a little cheaper than the Ancestry DNA test.  It’s called the “Family Finder” test.  You’ll get an ethnicity estimate and DNA matches, and there are some definite advantages to testing with this company – starting with the ability to more reliably get a DNA sample from someone who has failed multiple Ancestry DNA tests.

With this test, you’ll get an ethnicity estimate as well as family matches.  Many people on Family Tree DNA also have family trees attached, and you can still download your raw DNA to upload to Gedmatch just like you can with Ancestry.

The test comes with two swabs – possibly to make sure they get a good sample? When my great-uncle did the test, it came back perfectly. 

It was great!  He got to see his DNA results, and I got to start using them to break through some of my brick walls on my grandfather’s German line.

Ancestry DNA will send you a replacement kit if you want to try to take the test again. In the case of my great-uncle, I ended up just using that kit to test another relative. 

It was already paid for, so why not?

Click here to buy the Understand Your DNA Results Ebook

Are there any ways to get Ancestry DNA to work for my elderly relative?

There are some people out there that swear that you should brush your cheeks lightly with a brand-new toothbrush to loosen up your skin cells from your cheeks before you spit.  I have never tried it, and can’t personally recommend it. 

I’ve also seen some people who have said that their test still failed even after they tried this method.

Here’s a little checklist to go through to make sure you have the best chance to get a good sample:

  • Don’t eat or drink anything for at least an hour prior to giving the saliva sample.
  • If you wear dentures, if you can take them out a few hours prior, brush your teeth, and then wait a few hours to give the sample, it might help.
  • Make sure you are filling the test up to the line

There are stories of people who have done the Ancestry DNA test seven or eight times and still don’t have good results.  If you’ve tried it a few times and are doing everything you can think to do, you might consider trying the cheek swab test from Family Tree DNA.


I hope that this article helped you get some insight to why the tests for our older family members fail, and some alternative strategies to help you get a DNA sample and preserve it for the future and your research.

Have you had any issues with failing DNA tests?  What did you decide to do?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Thanks for stopping by!

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Vicki Taylor

Thursday 2nd of September 2021

I’ve lost count maybe 5th failed attempt age 55. Will try a toothbrush trick . If this doesn’t work asking my daughter to get a refund. It was a Birthday gift 2 years ago. Yes this has been going on for 2 years 😑

Susan Chapman

Thursday 5th of August 2021

I have just had my second failed test with Ancestry it is so frustrating as each time it takes about 10 weeks. This time I followed the tracking system and it went right through each section telling me my results would be ready on 08 Aug 21 then on 05 Aug they informed me it had failed again 😱

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