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Indian DNA Test Options
in Native American Genealogy
By itself, no Indian DNA test will grant you admission to a particular tribe. Depending on your situation, however, DNA testing may be just what you need to define your family’s biological relationship to Native Americans.
There are many alternatives for an Indian DNA test. Knowing or suspecting that a specific ancestor was Native American can suggest one type of test.
On the other hand, trying to detect Native American ancestry based physical features or non-specific family lore may suggest a different test. That's why it's important to read this entire page before you choose the correct test for your needs.
Each bold subhead describes a particular situation. If that situation does not apply to you, move on to the next one.
You think a particular MALE ancestor may have been a Native American
Since the ancestor in question was male, you can use a Y-DNA test of a male in that man’s direct paternal line, i.e. any son, or any sons of those sons, or any of their sons etc. You want to know the paternal haplogroup.
If the haplogroup is C or Q, then it’s highly likely that this ancestor is descended from Native Americans who were here before European contact. If the haplogroup subgroup is C3b or Q1a3a, then you have absolute confirmation.
I recommend Family Tree DNA for Y-DNA testing. To see why, read my FTDNA Review. Although a 12-marker test is sufficient to detect the Native American haplogroups, I recommend at least 37 markers if you want to identify and correspond with your biological cousins. They also offer deep clade testing that can refine your haplogroup to the deepest subclade possible.
NOTE: If your haplogroup is not C or Q, this does not rule out Native American ancestry in another line. For example, many men of eastern U.S. tribes, such as Cherokee, have a European haplogroup like R1b. That’s because there was a lot of intermingling with the early settlers from Europe. So your Indian ancestor with a European haplogroup could be culturally Indian and genetically Indian through a female line.
You think a particular FEMALE ancestor may have been a Native American
Since the ancestor in question was female, she did not have a Y chromosome to pass on. She did pass on her mitochondrial DNA. So you need an mtDNA test of a man or woman in that ancestor’s direct maternal line, i.e. any child of hers, or any child of her daughters, or any child of her daughter’s daughters etc. You want to know the maternal haplogroup.
Maternal haplogroups that indicate Native American heritage are A, B, C, D, and sometimes X. Unlike the paternal line, there is no subgroup that can provide absolute proof of Indian heritage. But if that ancestor’s family did not immigrate from elsewhere, you can be quite sure of the findings.
You can determine the base haplogroup through the mtDNA Plus test at Family Tree DNA. You don't need the more expensive full mitochondrial sequence test for this.
You think you’re part Native American but can’t identify a specific ancestor
In this case, your first choice for an Indian DNA test would be one of the new DNA tests that check nearly a million autosomal markers.
These tests look at DNA inherited from ALL your ancestors. They are much broader tests, because they are not limited to paternal or maternal lines.
The two tests are 23andMe, which is primarily a medical test, and the Family Finder product at Family Tree DNA.
Both tests report your relative admixtures from all your ancestors.
When you take the Family Finder test the admixture report is called Population Finder.
The 23andMe admixture report is called Ancestry Composition.
NOTE: You may have heard about a new test from Ancestry.com called AncestryDNA. While this test is similar in concept to Family Finder and the 23andMe test, various problems have been observed, particularly with some strange admixture results. Until these issues are resolved I do not recommend this test.
You are part Native American and want to expand your family tree
If you are male with one of the Native American paternal haplogroups, I recommend you get a 37-marker or 67-marker Y-DNA test at Family Tree DNA.
You will be able to identify and contact men with whom you share a common ancestor on the paternal line. One or more of these matches may have the genealogical information you need.
Males and females with one of the Native American maternal haplogroups may want to upgrade their testing to the mtDNA Full Sequence test from Family Tree DNA. This may lead you to people who share a common female ancestor and know more about that line.
NOTE: With mtDNA testing other than Full Sequence the time frame of common ancestors may be too far back to provide useful genealogical information.
You should also join one or more of the Native American or relevant geographic group projects at Family Tree DNA.
If you took the 23andMe test, be sure to check their Relative Finder feature to see your biological relatives in their database. Relative Finder will estimate the degree of relationship with your matches and allow you to request contact with them.
The Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA will also introduce you to biological cousins. Your matches will be easier to contact, because that test does not need the extreme privacy required to protect 23andMe's medical data.
Since customers of Family Tree DNA are more likely to be genealogists, any contacts you make through Family Finder will probably be more productive than those from 23andMe.
Still, if you're interested in health testing or just want to cover all your bases, the 23andMe test is a worthwhile investment. This is especially true since the price of this test was slashed to generate a huge increase in participants.
Follow this link to 23andMe to see the current price.
To learn from my ongoing experience with these two products I suggest you scroll back up this page and subscribe to my web site updates using the buttons at the left.
You are part Native American and well off financially
If you search online, you may discover the following two tests. I have yet to find an independent expert who thinks either one is a valid Indian DNA test. But if you have lots of money to spend, either one might provide some entertainment value.
The Ancestry by DNA test only looks at 350 autosomal markers. They call those "Ancestry Informative Markers" where the frequency of the marker values (alleles) varies in different populations.
Their admixture report attempts to separate “Asian” ancestry into Indigenous American and East Asian components. But the population data is from relatively small samples. So the accuracy can be severely limited by statistical noise.
NOTE: Those who have been around DNA testing for awhile will recognize this as the old DNA Print test licensed to a different company.
Another possibility for an Indian DNA test is DNA Tribes. They use a set of 21 autosomal markers, including the CODIS markers used by police in forensic investigations. But instead of looking for differences that can uniquely define one individual, they look for similarities. They compare your DNA to a global database of more than 1,000 ethnic populations.
This Indian DNA test may report more specific tribes like Apache and Navaho. But as with the prior test, it is currently impossible to get DNA data on large numbers of ethically pure individuals. The statistical confidence is extremely low and independent experts consider the test a waste of money.
Your Best Source for Extra Help
I recommend Roberta Estes as an expert on Native American history and Indian DNA Testing. Read her excellent paper. Through her web site, DNA Explain, she can devise a customized Indian DNA test plan to best achieve your goals. Once you get your results, she offers various analysis packages to help you get the most information from your data.
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The author, Richard Hill, is not engaged in rendering medical or legal advice.
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