Many Americans have been told by relatives that they have Native American ancestry and want to find out if the story is accurate. DNA testing has the capability to help people determine if they inherited any DNA from Native American ancestors.
At RootsTech 2020, I attended a class taught by DNA expert Roberta Estes entitled “Native American DNA: Confirming Those Stories.” I am sharing some of the helpful information from Roberta’s class and including links to her website, DNAeXplained, for more information. Her lecture was my favorite class from Rootstech 2020 because she has so much experience about this topic and I learned quite a bit.
If you take an autosomal DNA test and you have no Native American DNA in your ethnicity estimate, that does not mean you don’t have a Native ancestor. That just means you did not inherit DNA from them, due to the random recombination of autosomal DNA with each generation.
Roberta’s favorite tool for identifying Native segments is the 23andMe Ancestry Composition Chromosome Painter, which shows a representation of your chromosomes painted with up to 45 different ancestries or regions.
In case you were wondering, 23andMe calls their bio-geographical estimate “ancestry composition, ” while AncestryDNA and MyHeritage call it an “ethnicity estimate.”
Once you have identified that you have a Native segment using the 23andMe chromosome painting tool, you can then use segment triangulation with your matches to figure out which side of the family that segment came from. You can hypothesize which ancestor contributed that segment, and see if it matches the family story you have been told.
Learn more about how to use this 23andMe tool along with DNAPainter to identify Native American ancestors here:
Roberta Estes, “Native American & Minority Ancestors Identified Using DNAPainter Plus Ethnicity Segments,” 29 August 2019, DNAeXplained (https://dna-explained.com/2019/08/29/native-american-minority-ancestors-identified-using-dnapainter-plus-ethnicity-segments/ : accessed 18 April 2020).
From there, Roberta recommended using targeted testing to find a candidate who descends from the hypothesized Native ancestor to take either a Y-DNA test or a Mitochondrial DNA test. If the ancestor was a woman, you’ll need to find a matrilineal descendant to take a mitochondrial DNA test (test taker can be male or female, but his mother’s mother’s mother etc. must be the ancestor in question).
If the hypothesized Native ancestor was male, you’ll need to find a patrilineal descendant (son’s son’s son etc.) to take the Y-DNA test. Only males can take a Y-DNA test.
Both the mitochondrial DNA and Y-DNA tests report a haplogroup. Native haplogroups include Q and C for Y-DNA and A, B, C, D, and X for mitochondrial DNA.
Read more about Native American haplogroups at Roberta’s website here:
Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups at DNA-Explained.com
New Haplogroup C Native American Subgroups at DNA-Explained.com
Big Y DNA Results Divide and Unite Haplogroup Q Native Americans at DNA-Explained.com
After you test a descendant of the ancestor who you have hypothesized to be Native, you can see if their haplogroup is a Native one. If not you have evidence that they were not 100% Native American.
Roberta also suggested joining group projects to help you narrow down your Native ancestry. One she suggested is the American Indian Y-DNA Project at Family Tree DNA. This project is open to anyone who has Native American ancestry. The Cherokee project is another example. To join, you need to prove your ancestor back to a Cherokee person. The purpose of these projects is to create a library of Native American people’s DNA. To learn more, read about Native American DNA Projects here (Roberta’s website).
Ancestor DNA Pedigree Chart
Roberta showed us a beautiful pedigree chart she created with haplogroups for many of her ancestors. She said that she has tried to find a mitochondrial DNA or Y-DNA descendants of each ancestor to test so she can find their haplogroup. She uses family trees, Thurlines, Family Tree DNA matches, MyHeritage Theories of Relativity, and so forth to find cousins to take mt-DNA and Y-DNA tests. To view Roberta’s ancestor DNA pedigree chart, go to her article here and scroll down a little bit:
Roberta Estes, “Mitochondrial DNA Bulldozes Brick Wall,” 10 January 2019, DNAeXplained (https://dna-explained.com/2019/01/10/mitochondrial-dna-bulldozes-brick-wall/ : accessed 18 April 2020).
The final thought Roberta shared was that genetic genealogy research requires persistence. We need to create a plan and leave no leaf unturned! It was a fantastic session and I highly recommend Roberta’s website to learn more about genetic genealogy.
RootsTech Conference, sponsored by FamilySearch, is the largest family history conference in the world. Choose from many varied topics and instructors. Attend live in February, watch a selection of free videos, or the virtual pass. Learn more here: https://www.rootstech.org/
This is a just a short summary of what Roberta taught. To read more about this topic, see:
Roberta Estes, “Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA,” 18 December 2012, DNAeXplained (https://dna-explained.com/2012/12/18/proving-native-american-ancestry-using-dna/ : accessed 18 Apr 2020).