If you are on the hunt for your African ancestors, we are here to help you out. This article discusses DNA testing for African ancestry, and the best companies to use for black ancestry. We consider the cost, results, and benefits of each company to help you make the right decision!
Before you get started…You need to know some things before you dive head-first into DNA testing. First of all, the services offered by different companies can vary widely in price, mostly because they are measuring different things.
Autosomal DNA tests, offered by the large majority of DNA testing companies, measure the large majority of your DNA. Autosomal DNA is used by companies like MyHeritage and Ancestry to determine your relatively recent common ancestors. The DNA test will look at specific sites within your DNA, and see how they compare to a number of global reference populations that have lived in one area for a very long time.
Your autosomal DNA includes everything except your X or Y sex chromosomes and the DNA found within your mitochondria (mtDNA). Mitochondria are organelles within each cell that produce chemical energy, and they are only inherited from your mother. A Y-chromosome can only be inherited from father to son. Therefore, Y-DNA and mtDNA tests are much more accurate in determining your maternal and paternal lines. However, they will also cost you more on your journey to the black ancestry ancestry test.
If you want to know more about how DNA test work, go here, and if you want to read about our best DNA kits for ancestry (without a particular focus on African or Black ancestry). Now, let’s take a look at the top companies for African ancestry.
Best DNA kits for Black Ancestry
DNA Tested: Y-DNA and mtDNA
Cost: $299 per test
African Ancestry, Inc. is a company dedicated to helping black families reconnect with their African heritage. To do this the company uses a very expensive-but-effective technique. First, they measure your mtDNA or Y-DNA. This can trace your maternal and paternal lineages, respectively. Then, once they have analyzed the composition of your maternal or paternal lineage, they compare your results to hundreds of ethnic populations across Africa. Keep in mind that the Y-DNA test can only be completed on male DNA, but you can always test a male relative in the same paternal line to find your paternal results as a woman.
Using this technique, African Ancestry can suggest relationships to actual indigenous ethnic groups within Africa. African Ancestry has by far the largest number of African ethnicities because they have assembled the world’s largest genetic database of African communities. If you opt to get both the mtDNA and Y-DNA tests, you may even be able to find out which African tribes and groups each side of your family is likely related to.
While African Ancestry does provide very comprehensive results, they are by far the most expensive service for exploring your African ancestry. However, for those willing to go the extra mile, the company will also provide you the most specific results. One of the only downsides to African Ancestry is that none of the results are digital. Snail mail will deliver a package of your results.
The company is also 100% black-owned since 2003 and employs many geneticists and staff members of African descent who care about finding you quality answers. Plus, the company guarantees that your data will not be sold or transferred to any other company, which is a rare promise among DNA testing companies. Buying a DNA kit also gives you access to the African Ancestry Facebook group, where users discuss, compare, and analyze their results with staff members. There is nothing like this
This Map from African Ancestry breaks down all of the different regions and ethnicities they have in their database!
More considerations: Although African Ancestry may be in fact the best dna test kit for African ancestry, being so hyper-focused on a particular niche/race of DNA testing, it is not particularly well known in the same way companies like 23andMe do, and the costs are 6 times more expensive than with competitors, as detailed below. Hence, we think there may be better alternatives for anyone who wants to remain cost-effective.
DNA tested: Autosomal
Now, if you are not willing to spend upwards of $300 to find out your ethnicity, there are still plenty of great options. One of the best DNA ancestry sites for African Ethnicities is MyHeritage. While the company cannot provide you with super-specific details about where in Africa your family came from, they do cover all of the following regional ethnicities:
- Central African
- North African
- Sierra Leonean
- West African
Plus, with MyHeritage, you can build a digital family tree and use an online interface to explore your results. Interactive maps and online resources will tell you all about the history and possible migration routes your family was a part of.
The site also has a massive historical records database, accessible through a subscription package. However, these records may be more reflective of European records and may not have very detailed records from African countries. Regardless, MyHeritage is a great choice for any family of African descent looking for cheap and reliable answers to the question of their family history, we believe it is the best dna test for black ancestry overall.
DNA Tested: Autosomal
The DNA ancestry testing company with the most users is #1 for a reason. Compared to the 2.5 million+ users of MyHeritage DNA kits, Ancestry.com has tested DNA kits from over 14 million people. As a by-product of their userbase, they have, by far, the largest number of reference populations to compare your DNA to. Within Africa, Ancestry has the following reference populations:
- Northern Africa
- Ivory Coast/Ghana
- Cameroon, Congo and Southern Bantu Peoples
- Eastern Africa
- Africa South-Central Hunter-Gatherers
In addition, Ancestry also covers a number of Caribbean islands and many African American populations within the United States. Ancestry also provides an interactive online platform and the largest user base in the industry, which greatly increases your chances of finding living relatives with the DNA family finder. These can help you paint a better picture of your family history, using the historical descriptions provided and any newfound family connections.
With a subscription, you can access a historical records database focused on family records, military records, and many other government documents. The subscription plans are not cheap, though. The best plans that include all records, documents, and support are upwards of $400 per year.
Ancestry does excel in a number of areas, but it falls short when it comes to your privacy. Unlike the other two suggested companies in this article, Ancestry’s use of your data is less clear. While it is unclear exactly how dangerous it is to share your DNA, for some people this may be a deal-breaker. The company essentially warns users that their data will end up in the hands of other companies, and be used for other purposes.
But, in terms of African ethnicities, Ancestry does have some very specific regional ethnicities that it can compare with your DNA. While it is not as specific as African Ancestry, it does have a much better interface. Ancestry does have quite a few more African and African-American ethnic populations compared to MyHeritage. Hence, it is a solid choice for black ancestry testing but isn’t our best DNA kit for African ancestry.
Picking the right choice for your African Ancestry test
The three companies above are likely the best when it comes to African ancestry DNA testing. But, different people will find more value in different companies.
If you want specifics, and to separate out your mother and father lines, African Ancestry is a great choice. There are other DNA testing companies that will test your mtDNA and Y-DNA, but only African Ancestry will connect those results with African reference populations. Further, they are the only company that covers the entire African continent with any real specificity.
MyHeritage is best for any casual users who simply want to explore their African ancestry for cheap, with meaningful and effective results. You can start a simple family tree for free, which can be a fun project for families to build their story. If you simply want to see what parts of the world your genes come from, MyHeritage can do that most effectively.
What you need to keep in mind is that knowledge is power and hence, it is well-worthy to engage in additional research of the best companies for black ancestry before making a decision.
Some Quick Tips to Help You Choose…
Many DNA testing companies allow you the ability to download your raw DNA data after using one of their DNA testing services. With this file, you can upload your data to other sites to find even more DNA matches. Sites like Ancestry and MyHeritage allow you to upload your data for free but may try to up-sale you in order to connect to matches. You can also try GEDmatch.com, a free resource for finding DNA matches.
DNA testing is based on very complex sciences. While the results are likely accurate in terms of the DNA sequences measured, they may not paint a full picture of your family history. As companies update their reference populations and models, your ethnicity estimate may change. If you are planning an Ancestry trip or other adventure to find your historical roots, you may want to check with your DNA testing company for any updates before you make your plans.
Genealogy and genetic analysis can offer some brutal truths, especially for people of African descent. For some, it can be shocking to find that they have far more than African DNA in their genes. The web of human relationships is vast and complex for many reasons, some nefarious and dark. With this in mind, many users still find that DNA testing is informative and helps them connect to their family history in a new way.
Good luck finding the best black ancestry test for you! We are looking forward to hear the results of your African ancestry DNA testing. Comment below if you have completed such a test and what were the results (as well as how long it took and how did you find the customer service, please).