23andMe review: It lives up to the hype of DNA testing

Of all the companies that offer DNA testing, 23andMe is one of the most famous. According to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy, 23andMe has tested the DNA of more than 5 million people, making it the second-most popular test after AncestryDNA.

This popularity provides an advantage over DNA tests from smaller services: The more people in the system, the more accurate the ethnicity estimates. 23andMe also regularly releases new reports evaluating your DNA.

Note: This review is part of our best DNA test kit roundup. Go there for details about competing products and how we tested them.

At a $99 MSRP (and often cheaper thanks to occasional discounts), you’ll get just the ancestry reports, which outline your recent ethnic heritage and the ancient forebears on your mother’s and father’s side. It also has a robust relative-matchmaking system, thanks to its large database of users.

Speaking of which, in early October 2019, 23andMe announced a major product update. For starters, it’s expanding its total region count to include new populations in South Asia, Western Asia and North Africa, bringing its total region coverage to more than 1,500 regions worldwide. For example, the population that was once referred to as broadly “South Asian” will be identified as, say, Sri Lankan for users in that subgroup.

There’s also a new Family Tree feature, that automatically builds an illustrated relationship portrait of your “DNA Relatives,” based on your connections. Finally, all users with the Ancestry kit will eventually receive 30 Trait reports (explained later in this review ) at no additional cost.

Oh, and one more thing: Through October 15, 2019, there’s a sale on the two most affordable test packages at 23andme.com. Now let’s get into how all this stuff works.

There are various different types of DNA found in the cells of your body, but three types are of particular interest to genetic genealogy: autosomes, yDNA, and mtDNA. Autosomes are 22 pairs of non-sex chromosomes which are a mix of DNA from members on both sides of your family. On the other hand, yDNA comes from your father and mtDNA from your mother. However, only men inherit both yDNA and mtDNA, so women can just test their motherline. (Though, they could have their brother or father take the test.) 23andMe tests all three types of DNA to give you a full picture of your heritage.

23andme open kit23andMe

23andMe’s kit is very neatly put together.

Most tests, such as AncestryDNA and MyHeritage, just examine your autosomes to determine your recent ethnic ancestry. Geneticists say that autosomal tests can identify relatives 10 generations back, providing up to 95 percent accuracy when used to match recent relatives, but losing accuracy as the relation grows more distant.