If you've found your way here, you've most likely are wondering things like:
- What's the best test to uncover African American genealogy?
- How do I trace African American genealogy and ancestors?
- How can I learn more information about African American genetic ancestry?
Stay tuned, this guide will provide a detailed breakdown of the current options fo
First things first, 99% of the human genome is the same across all peoples no
DNA testing is a great way to discover more about yourself and learn more about your family’s distant and more recent ancestral origins.
At kinkofa, what we enjoy most about consumer DNA testing is that it allows us to reconnect with family members who we might not know due to centuries of forced separation, migrations, and life circumstances. This helps us gain better context on our family history and take our genealogy research further than paper records and oral stories can at times.
In the guide below, we compare DNA testing options in order to help you determine which test best suits your needs, desires, and goals.
The current options for Black Americans looking to learn more about their ancestry are:
- AfroRoots DNA
- African Ancestry
So which is the best DNA test for African Americans to take? That depends on your research goal(s) and what you hope to discover.
Goal: Family Matching + Descendant Research
If you'd like to connect with living relatives, find biological family members, grow your family tree or potentially connect with living African DNA-tested cousins, the tests below offer the ability to connect with others who share DNA with you:
- MyHeritageDNA ($99) is headquartered in Israel and primarily focused on European countries. Not only do they offer a DNA test kit, they allow you to upload your (autosomal) DNA file from other testing services. It also allows family tree comparison with DNA matches to identify common ancestors and has a Chromosome Browser along with other advanced DNA analysis tools.
- AncestryDNA ($99) offers the largest pool of cousins to match with and contact. It allows family tree comparison with DNA matches to identify common ancestors and the ability to search historical record collections.
However, it does not have a Chromosome Browser which can make it harder for African Americans to determine specific shared ancestry with their DNA matches.
- 23andMe ($99) offers the second largest pool of cousins you can match with and contact. However, it does not have a robust family tree feature and does not allow you to search for historical records. Has a limited Chromosome Browser.
Additionally, family matching is just a feature of the company's product. Their main focus is health insights, precision medicine, and working with pharmaceutical companies to develop medicines and other therapeutic drugs based on DNA.
- FamilyTreeDNA ($79 - $199) offers three types of DNA tests: Family Ancestry (autosomal), mtDNA (traces maternal lineage), and y-DNA (traces paternal lineage). You may also upload your autosomal DNA file from other companies for free. However,
Allows family tree comparison with DNA matches to identify common ancestors, however it does not provide access to historical records .
- LivingDNA ($99) provides DNA testing. Its user base tends to skew heavily European. That said, if you DNA test elsewhere, LivingDNA will allow you to bring over your (autosomal) DNA files from other testing companies for free. This may reveal distant cousins living outside the Americas.
If your primary goal is to grow your family tree and discover unknown familial lineages and ancestry, we suggest taking AncestryDNA's test as it has the largest database of potential DNA matches (18+ million).
While they’re FAR from perfect and lacking many advanced tools and features, AncestryDNA provides the most value, especially when coupled with a family tree.
Tip: AncestryDNA kits go on sale several times a year at $59-69 USD. Check around holiday seasons (St. Patrick’s Day, Mother’s/Father’s Day, Labor Day, December).
Goal: Learn about your connections to a specific African peoples/tribe/ethnicity
If you’re most interested in determining *present day* peoples/tribes/ethnic groups you may share DNA with, the companies listed below currently provide the most specific breakdowns. Present Day here acknowledges that African peoples/tribes existed prior to the formation of the African continent's present-day borders and country names.
- AfroRoots DNA ($180) is a Black-owned company that analyzes your DNA from most recent ~5-6 generations (autosomal DNA) to identify specific African peoples and tribes you may share DNA with. However, AfroRoots DNA does not connect you to your living African and African Diaspora relatives.
As of June 2022, we’re not sure if the company is still providing services.
- African Ancestry ($359) is a Black-owned DNA company founded by Dr. Rick Kittles and Gina Paige. Over the last 25 years, they've focused on building the largest database of African DNA samples. This allows them to provide African Americans with insights into the origins of our potential African Ancestry.
African Ancestry's tests use mtDNA and y-DNA to identify ONE specific peoples/tribe/ethnicity you may share DNA with on your paternal or maternal side. The MatriClan (mtDNA) test traces your mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and even further back while the PatriClan (y-DNA) test does the same on the paternal line.
If you're wondering why African Ancestry test are more expensive than the other options, we highly suggest catching the 'Skinfolk, Kinfolk' episode of 'In Those Genes' by award-winning geneticist Dr. Janina Jeff. The episode provides an in-depth look at both African Ancestry and AfroRoots and even has interviews with their founders.
- 23andMe analyzes your DNA from both the most recent 5-6 generations and up to 25 generations to identify your paternal (male testers only) or maternal haplogroup. Haplogroups provide information about genetic populations your ancestors belonged to. 23andMe connects you to living relatives.
In January 2022, 23&Me updated its platform to provide "new ancestral connections to 25 African ethnolinguistic groups, or groups of people who share a common language and culture." This update is only available to some customers.
- LivingDNA offers a DNA test focused on African origins that analyzes your DNA from most recent ~5-6 generations (autosomal DNA) to identify specific ethnic groups you share DNA with. With a cheek swab, they claim to be able to provide tests 5x more details than other services. Their report provides sub-regional breakdowns to specific peoples in Africa where you have ancestral lineage descends from as well as connects you to living relatives.
Wanting to learn which African tribe(s) your ancestor(s) were taken from? Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that, if you’re looking for accuracy. Unfortunately, there's no company or test that can truly tell you which specific African peoples and tribes you descend from. In the future, we do believe this will become possible.
Goal: Learn about direct Paternal (y-DNA) or Maternal (mtDNA) Lines
- FamilyTreeDNA provides ancestral region/ethnicity for direct maternal or paternal line only. Connects you to living DNA matches who have also tested. Allows y-dna and mtDNA upload from another company for a transfer fee.
- 23andMe (haplogroup only) does not provide y-DNA or mtDNA testing or analysis. Provides maternal and/or paternal (males only) haplogroup. Connects you to living DNA matches who have also tested.
- African Ancestry provides ancestral ethnic/tribal group (or region if non-African) for direct maternal or paternal line only. Does not connect you to any relatives. Allows y-dna and mtDNA upload from another company for a transfer fee.
A y-DNA test can only be taken by a person assigned male at birth because this test analyzes the y-chromosome. The y-chromosome is passed down from father-to-son and a patrilineal test traces the ancestry of your ancestor on your father’s father’s father’s father’s father’s…..line (going back THOUSANDS of years).
Before deciding to take an African Ancestry DNA test, here are a few things that aren’t clearly stated on their site that might keep you from making an informed decision....
1. A y-DNA or mtDNA test only gives you information about ONE ancestral line - your direct paternal line or direct maternal line.2. A y-DNA or mtDNA test uses genetic information (or DNA) from thousands of years ago which you’ve inherited. African Ancestry compares that DNA to the DNA of living people. Many of our African ancestors were separated from their homelands only a few hundred years ago. The ethnic group of the ancestor who was separated and enslaved may be different than the ethnic group of the living relatives which African Ancestry bases its analysis/decision.
Customers frequently complain about only receiving one ethnic group matching, but that’s because you’re only testing one line! That's less than 1% of your ancestors. However, as shown in the chart above, you have thousands of ancestral lines.
3. What African Ancestry provides is a certificate which will state that you share DNA with people living today who are part of a particular ethnic or tribal group such as the Akan people living in Ghana. But that's only if your paternal and maternal lines trace back to African origin and not European or Asian.4. African Ancestry does not provide information about any relatives who share DNA with you or allow you to build a family tree. They do however provide their customer base a Facebook group to connect with others who have taken one of their tests. And, they occasionally hosts trips to the African continent.
You may be related to people in that group or region, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your ancestors were part of or identified as that particular ethnic/tribal group.
If your goal is to connect with living African relatives, an autosomal DNA test such as AncestryDNA, 23andMe, or LivingDNA might be a better option.
*** Ethnicity Estimates for all tests should be taken as a grain of salt and used only as a research lead. The may change (drastically) over time as a result of growing databases as more people tests over the years.
So you're still wondering which test to take?
If you’re considering your very first DNA test, AncestryDNA is recommended because hopefully, you’re interested in discovering your family’s history and the actual names of your ancestors (that is why you’re here, right?). It also provides a way to find living relatives all over the world, some of which might be your distant yet living African cousins who've also taken the test.
But, if you’re only interested in learning which specific, present-day peoples, ethnolinguistic groups, or tribes you share DNA with, we recommend AfroRoots DNA and LivingDNA because these tests use your “more recent” DNA to provide you with results that reflect our often varied, complicated histories.
In the Fall of 2022, kinkofa will begin offering DNA analysis and testing services with the specific focus on reconnecting Black Americans to their living relatives all over the world. Join our waitlist to be notify of the launch.