Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Instructions for Doing a DNA Test

If you are not sure which DNA test is best for you, you should read this first.

When ordering the standard Y-DNA-37 test from FTDNA, always join a project first in order to avail of the $20 discount (the $169 cost gets reduced to $149). This could either be a surname project or a geographic project. For example, go to the Silvermines DNA Project and click on JOIN in the photo and follow the instructions to buy the test. If you have an additional Coupon Code, enter this in the "Enter Coupon Code" box (& hit Apply) before you click on the green Proceed to Checkout button.

When you get your FTDNA test kit, make sure you fill out all the forms correctly. The white registration form is fairly straightforward but it is easy to leave something out. Be sure to check you have done the following:
  1. Put in your full name (maiden name is preferable for women, for genealogical reasons)
  2. Write your email twice - in upper case and lower case letters. This helps the lab staff read it correctly and helps minimise the risk of their emails to you going to the wrong address or bouncing.
  3. Be sure that you have put in the 5 pieces of information about your credit card, namely: the long number (16 digits), the short number on the back (3 digits), the expiry date, your name, your address. People often forget one or more of these! Alternatively you can pay by PayPal.
  4. Take a photo of the form or make a note to your kit number and the test you ordered and the date you ordered it.
  5. Sign the green (or white) consent form - you won't get the full benefit of your results otherwise.

Below is Brad Larkin's excellent video on how to swab (this does not apply to the 23andMe test or the AncestryDNA test as these require saliva samples rather than cheek swabs). The most important considerations are to fast for 1-2 hours before doing the swabbing (so we don't get any food in the sample) and to swab the inside of the cheek for 45-60 seconds (to ensure we get enough cheek cells on the cotton head of the swab). Repeat this procedure for the second sample (for example, using one cheek first for the first sample, and the other one for the second).

Dislodging the head of the swab into the test tube can be a bit tricky so take your time, do it slowly, and apply constant but gentle pressure. Take your time with this.

You should have a pre-addressed orange reply envelope with your DNA kit but if not you can buy a padded envelope to post the kit back to the lab - you can easily pick one up at the post office. Get one with bubble wrap on the inside to ensure the plastic test tubes are safe.

The address for posting back to the FTDNA Lab in Houston, Texas is at the bottom of the white registration form. It is as follows:
FamilyTreeDNA, 1445 North Loop West, Suite 820 Houston, Texas 77008, USA

Postage is a few pounds/euro/dollars. There is no need for a customs form, but if the Post Office insists, be sure to put down "Genealogy kit" and not "DNA kit" (these are not considered biological samples) as this will delay it unnecessarily through Customs in the US.

Here is an alternative video about swabbing ... with music! This video is about the Geno 2.0 test kit from National Genographic (but the same principles apply to the test kits from FamilyTreeDNA and LivingDNA).

Maurice Gleeson
Nov 2016


  1. Your articles are amazing thank you for all that you do in this field.

    What lab can I go to in the US to get the fastest results for ethnicity and lineage testing, also for a medical / Wellness test?

    Thank you so much! Kristine, Florida

    1. All three major companies are US-based. Ancestry is best for ethnicity, but 23andme are the only one that do medical risk assessment.

  2. I recently came across a site called africanancestry.com that claims to be geared specifically towards those of African lineage and can identify specific countries, not just regions. Have you heard anything about this service, either positive or negative? Thanks for all of the insightful and useful information!

    1. I haven't tested with AfricanAncestry and there is not enough information on their website to compare the quality of their product with those of other companies. However, they have a leading scientist behind their test (Rick Kittles) and a lot of people are very happy with the results. Of the three major companies, currently Ancestry has the best ethnic makeup analysis, but this might be overtaken by 23andme in the future (we are still waiting for them to incorporate their African DNA data into their ethnicity estimates).