Ancestry Testing Reviews for Living DNA

£79.00 £99.00

At a Glance

Editor's Rating:
4.5 out of 5 stars
Customer Service:
5 out of 5 stars
Clarity of Results:
5 out of 5 stars
References Cited:
4 out of 5 stars
Value for Money:
4.5 out of 5 stars

Summary

I found the Living DNA test to be absolutely marvellous. The results helped me confirm some of the things I already knew about my family, and uncovered a few mysteries that I was keen to pursue. The information was beautifully laid out, the explanations were clear and engaging, and the customer service was exemplary.

Overall, Living DNA is fantastic value for money and even though they’re still working on a few of the features, their test has the potential to be the best on the market (although please note that it does not offer a 'Family Finder' feature).

Full Review

In 2016, the founders of DNA Worldwide launched a new company, Living DNA, which focusses on genetic ancestry testing. DNA Worldwide have sold several types of genetic ancestry test in recent years: those they’ve developed themselves, those developed with Family Tree DNA, and those developed with Scotlands DNA. Few organisations have worked so hard to reinvent and improve their tests, so I had high hopes for Living DNA!

Product Expectations

The Living DNA site offers just one test, which keeps it nice and simple. Living DNA state that they believe theirs is the first truly global DNA test, attributing your ancestry to up to 80 worldwide regions. They’re also able to attribute your ancestry to up to 21 regions of the British Isles, meeting the needs of those who want more detail about their British heritage specifically.

The ability to attribute your ancestry to this many specific regions seemed absolutely amazing. Most of the tests on the market will only attribute your ancestry to broader, and sometimes overlapping regions; e.g. the British Isles, Ireland, Western Europe. It was also great to see that all 80 worldwide regions and all 21 British Isles regions had been listed on the site – very few genetic ancestry companies provide this information up front.

The site went on to say that the test would report on my ‘Family Ancestry’ (by analysing my autosomal DNA), my ‘Motherline’ ancestry (by analysing my mitochondrial DNA) and my ‘Fatherline’ ancestry (by analysing my Y chromosome). Although there wasn’t a single pack of example results on the site, examples of the interactive maps and charts that I could expect were shown on various pages. The formats appeared pretty standard, and I was keen to see the level of interaction that would be possible.

I read that the results would contain charts and maps showing the ethnic groups who’ve contributed to my DNA, and the location of those who share my maternal and paternal lineage. I’d also be provided with maps that show the migratory paths of my ancestors after they left Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago, and I’d receive ‘Phylogenetic Trees’ that show how my lineage is connected to the lineage of all other humans.

In terms of privacy, there was a “Privacy & Security” page on the Living DNA website, containing six sub-pages titled “You’re in charge of your DNA”, “Considerations of testing”, “Consent to research”, “Privacy policy”, “Cookie policy” and “Terms & Conditions”. Here, I could choose to participate anonymously in the Living DNA Global Research Project. Details about how my raw data would be used and by whom could be found on the “Consent to research” page.

Ordering Experience

The ordering experience was seamless. There was an option to order a hard copy of the results for another £39 (which would have been perfect had I been buying the test for a parent or grandparent), but I decided to stick with the online results only. I was delighted to see that shipping was free!

Upon reading the Terms and Conditions I noticed that Living DNA stated they “shall not transfer your personal information outside the European Economic Area without your written consent”. This seemed a bit odd and I wondered which European countries my data might be going to and why...

The Terms and Conditions went on to say that I should read their ‘Privacy Statement’ to learn about what would happen to my biological sample once the test was complete. Although I was unable to find a Privacy Statement, I did find a ‘Privacy Policy’, and it told me that I’d have to inform Living DNA if I wanted my biological sample or digital information destroyed. The Privacy Policy also stated “If we were to sell our business, your information could be transferred to the purchaser as part of that sale” which was a little disturbing.

Although the Terms and Conditions (and the five other policies I found on the site) were simple to understand and well laid out, I have to say, I would have preferred that everything I needed to know had been contained in one document.

After completing the order, I received an order confirmation email and the testing kit arrived in the post a few days later. The kit was easy to use and it was a simple matter to set up my online account before returning the sample to the lab - I was grateful that a pre-addressed envelope had been included in the kit, postage paid! The site stated that I’d receive my results 10-12 weeks after returning my sample and sure enough, 12 weeks later I received an email to say that my results had been uploaded to my account.

The Results

The results were divided into four main sections: ‘Ancestry’, ‘Research’, ‘Share Results’ and ‘Test Details’. I went straight to the Ancestry section which had been broken into three sub-sections: ‘Family Ancestry’, ‘Motherline’ and ‘Fatherline’. The opening page of the Ancestry section explained which parts of my DNA had been used to produce each of the three sub-sections. There was also a summary showing that my Family Ancestry was 100% British Isles, that my Motherline was Haplogroup ‘I’, Subclade ‘I2a’, and that my Fatherline was Haplogroup ‘I-L22’, Subclade ‘I-CTS11603’.

Results Section: Family Ancestry

It was interesting that Living DNA were referring to their analysis of my autosomal DNA as my ‘Family Ancestry’, as none of the other reports I’ve purchased have used this term. Generally, an autosomal analysis produces your ‘ethnic mix’ or ‘ethnic breakdown’, so I was curious to understand why Living DNA are using different terminology. I read that the Family Ancestry section would provide a picture of the past ten generations of my family, and that it would reveal the geographic origin of my ancestors who’d contributed to my autosomal DNA.

After going through the introduction, I scrolled down to my ‘Family Ancestry Map’, which showed the parts of the British Isles where my ancestors had contributed to my autosomal DNA: mainly Ireland, Southern Scotland and Southern England. At first, I was frustrated that the map didn’t show the discrete regions that made up this shaded area. But upon contacting customer service, I learned that this feature was accessible in another section of the account. By clicking the ‘+’ button next to the word ‘Regional’ in this second section, I could see a ‘Sub Regional’ view where my ancestors were shown by discrete region (see below).

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My Family Ancestry Map showing Sub Regions.

My Family Ancestry Map showing Sub Regions.

I was really impressed by the Sub Regional view and was amazed to see how many different British Isles regions my recent ancestors had originated from. I know that three generations ago my ancestors lived in London, the Republic of Ireland, Leeds and Scotland, so it was gratifying to have my autosomal results confirm this. I was also glad to see that the largest proportion of my autosomal DNA (20.8%) is associated to Southern Scotland and Northern Ireland - I have a Scottish name so it’s nice to know I have a decent number of Scottish genes too!

Other autosomal tests I’ve taken, such as AncestryDNA, have revealed that a small proportion of my autosomal DNA (around 7%) can be attributed to Scandinavian ancestors. And I know from having my Y chromosome sequenced that a number of my paternal ancestors lived in Finland between 1550 to 1850. It was a shame that Living DNA’s analysis of my autosomal DNA didn’t corroborate this. However, they did say that their Family Ancestry Map would give me a picture of the past 4-5 generations of my family (I presume the reference to the past six generations in the Family Ancestry introduction was a typo), and as there’s roughly 20 years per generation, perhaps these results indicate that my Scandinavian ancestors came to the British Isles between 1850 and 1900?

Living DNA provided a couple of other ways to view the Sub Regional groups that had contributed to my autosomal DNA. In addition to the map, I could view these groups as proportions of a human-shaped image, or divided in a doughnut chart.

The Family Ancestry section also contained a ‘Through History’ sub-section, which was astounding! The Through History map let me see the spread of my ancestors at different points in history. The map came with a ‘Play’ feature that let me see the spread change as I went back through time, from 1,000 years ago (when my ancestors lived exclusively in the British Isles) to approximately 80,000 years ago (when everyone on the planet was my ancestor!). I could also choose to view the map at three different levels: ‘World’, ‘Europe’ or ‘British Isles’. Here’s the Through History map showing the spread of my ancestors at the European level in the Iron Age, approximately 2,800 years ago:

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The Through History map showing the spread of my ancestors at the European level in the Iron Age, approximately 2,800 years ago.

The Through History map showing the spread of my ancestors at the European level in the Iron Age, approximately 2,800 years ago.

It wasn’t made clear what the green dots represented and what the shading in the various regions meant, but I presume the green dots are the population groups with whom I share segments of my autosomal DNA, and that the darker the shading in a region, the more autosomal DNA I share with individuals in that region at that time.

It was also wonderful to see that for every stage in history (there were approximately 10 stages for each of the three levels), Living DNA had provided interesting notes and engaging pictures that allowed me to get a feel for the era and what life was like at that time. Here’s an excerpt of the notes that were provided for the Iron Age, approximately 2,800 years ago:

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An excerpt of the notes that were provided for the Iron Age, approximately 2,800 years ago.

An excerpt of the notes that were provided for the Iron Age, approximately 2,800 years ago.

This Through History section was definitely the best feature of the Living DNA results as far as I’m concerned. Once I’d wrapped my head around it, I went back through history at all three levels, and even showed the maps to my dad, who loved them. Although there’s a short explanation of this section at the top, a tutorial or video explanation for these interactive maps would have been useful, as I found several aspects to be counterintuitive.

I found it odd that the maps only allowed you to go back in time, and not forward. What also appeared strange was that the spread of my ancestors became greater the further back I went, even though the human population became sparser. The result was that the map finally ended up fully shaded, as if the whole world had been fully populated some 80,000 years ago. But I doubt this is what Living DNA had in mind!

Results Section: Motherline

The Motherline section reported on my maternal heritage according to my mitochondrial DNA, and Living DNA said that it would cover as much as 200,000 years of my maternal lineage. The first Motherline sub-section was ‘History’ and it contained information about my maternal haplogroup ‘I’, subclade ‘I2a’.

I read that I likely share my maternal ancestry with those who first colonised Europe, and that this ancestral line arose 19,000 to 26,000 years ago. I was fascinated to learn that my Motherline is believed to have ‘back-migrated’ to Africa, as evidenced by the presence of my maternal haplogroup in Kenya! Living DNA went on to speculate about the lives that my ancient maternal ancestors lived, before touching on the science behind their analysis.

The next sub-section was the ‘Coverage Map’ which showed how prevalent my maternal haplogroup is around the world today. I was astonished to see that the two largest population groups with whom I share my maternal lineage are individuals in El Molo in Kenya (23%) and individuals in Rendilles in Kenya (18%)! The report went on to say that I share my maternal lineage with only 4% of individuals in the UK which seems absolutely crazy! I would love to have known more about this aspect of my ancestry, especially since Living DNA’s autosomal analysis indicated that the last 4-5 generations of my family are Scottish, Irish and English!

The next sub-section was the ‘Migration Map’ which showed the migratory path of my maternal ancestors after they left Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago (shown below).

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My Motherline Migration map.

My Motherline Migration map.

As you can see, the Migration Map seems to indicate that that my recent maternal ancestors were Russian, which seems to conflict with my autosomal results and the Motherline Coverage Map discussed above. I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for these conflicts, but the disparate results began to seem a bit unsettling. I also felt it was a bit of a shame that you couldn’t interact with this map to see more information about the ‘N1’, ‘N’ or ‘L3’ haplogroups – it would have been interesting to see when these became distinct groups, and if they still existed.

The last sub-section showed the ‘Phylogenetic Tree’ for my Motherline which depicted my maternal haplogroup and subclade, and how they’re connected to all the other maternal haplogroups going back to the very first humans. Although I liked that this Tree had been included in the report, I didn’t find it particularly meaningful. Had I wanted to research my maternal ancestry further and wished to seek out others in my maternal haplogroup and subclade, I suspect I’d have found this sub-section more useful.

Results Section: Fatherline

The Fatherline section reported on my paternal heritage according to my Y chromosome, and Living DNA said that it would cover as much as 180,000 years of my paternal lineage. The first Fatherline sub-section contained information about my paternal haplogroup ‘I-L22’, subclade ‘I-CTS11603’. The ‘History’ sub-section informed me that my paternal haplogroup is most common in Scandinavia, and I was pleased to note that it corroborated the Scandinavian heritage that’d been reported on by other companies. I was also interested to read that my paternal haplogroup is almost entirely absent south of the Baltic Sea and North Sea, and that it’s rare in Britain and Ireland! My ancestry seemed to be getting stranger all the time and I must admit that I enjoyed learning about how unusual my family is.

Just like for the Motherline section, there was a Coverage Map which that showed where those who shared my paternal lineage were most prevalent. I learned that only 4% of individuals in England share my paternal lineage, compared to 25% of Norwegians, 20% of Danes, 20% of Swedes and 17% of Finns! The Migration Map supported this by showing how my paternal ancestors had left Africa and passed through Saudi Arabia, before eventually settling in Turkey, the Balkans, Central and Western Europe, and Scandinavia. The last sub-section of the Fatherline section was the ‘Phylogenetic Tree’ (excerpt shown below).

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Part of my Fatherline Phylogenetic Tree showing my paternal haplogroup and subclade.

Part of my Fatherline Phylogenetic Tree showing my paternal haplogroup and subclade.

Just like for the Phylogenetic Tree in the Motherline section, I was glad that Living DNA had produced this for me, but I wasn’t sure how I would use it. One thing worth mentioning is that several genetic ancestry companies produce these trees, but Living DNA’s is the best I’ve seen; my paternal haplogroup and subclade are clearly shown on the tree, the interactive features are easy to use, and it’s simple to navigate.

Results Section: Research

Clicking on the “Research” tab, I was given the option to opt in to share my results with Living DNA Global Research. Details about how this research would be used to improve how genetic ancestry is mapped were included here, as well as on the “Research consent” page in the “Privacy & Security” section. It was reassuring both that I was not automatically included in this study, and that the agreement stated that if I were to participate then my genetic data would not be linked to my name, and I could opt out at any time.

Summary

I found the Living DNA test to be absolutely marvellous. The results helped me confirm some of the things I already knew about my family, and uncovered a few mysteries that I was keen to pursue. The information was beautifully laid out, the explanations were clear and engaging, and the customer service was exemplary.

Overall, Living DNA is fantastic value for money and even though they’re still working on a few of the features, their test has the potential to be the best on the market (although please note that it does not offer a 'Family Finder' feature).

See a description of this DNA test from Living DNA >