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Best DNA Test for Native American Ancestry

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Ancestry is a vital part of any nation’s identity and a testimony to their perseverance and struggle as a people. On a personal level, knowing our family tree helps us to understand the journey of our forefathers and gives us an insight into the world they lived in.
Native American Ancestry image

Ethnicity distribution of a person with Native American Ancestry

Therefore, a large number of people get DNA tests done to find out about their origins. Besides knowing their ancestral roots, these people get a chance to associate themselves with other people who have a common history.

Similarly, a number of people claim to be of Native American descent in North America. These people find prestige in the struggle of their ancestors and also want to connect with other people whom they have shared ancestry with.

In the old days, paper records were rare, and even when they were present, they are impossible to track down. As a result, several people have turned to DNA tests to verify their ancestry with the Native American peoples of North America.

Of course, DNA tests are the most reliable way to verify one’s ancestry. Your ancestry is permanently saved in your genetic code, and it can never be faked or lost in time. In this article, we’re going to discuss which DNA test is the best to get accurate results about your Native American ancestry.

Why Do You Want To Have A DNA Test?

There are a number of things that determine which DNA test is the most suitable for you. On most occasions, one of the most influential factors on your choice of DNA test is what you want to achieve through that DNA test.

A DNA test can give you insight into a number of things about your ancestry. First of all, the DNA test will help you establish your direct paternal or maternal lineage. Aside from that, you can know for certain that which portion of your ancestral DNA is Native American.

Moreover, you can connect with a family member you never knew existed. If you haven’t seen your immediate family or distant relatives, you have a chance to meet with these people and expand your research about your ancestry.

Therefore, if you want to discover your ethnicity and find out about the ancestral lineage of your family members, then a DNA is the perfect option for you.

However, if the goal is to join or get recognized as a member of an ancient tribe in North America, a DNA is not going to be sufficient on its own. The thing about DNA tests is that they only give a general estimate of your ethnicity.

For instance, the subcontinent (India and adjacent countries in South Asia) has been an ancient cradle of civilization and contains many distinct ethnicities and nations. These ethnicities can number from dozens of geographical classifications to hundreds of ethnic groups.

Throughout the centuries, the subcontinent has been the focal point of various invasions and migrations. This makes South Asia a melting pot of several ethnicities and cultures. Therefore, a person of South Asian descent may not get an accurate description of the specific ethnicity he or she belongs to. The test results might simply say that they are South Asian and nothing more about their ethnicity.

Similarly, most DNA tests usually don’t give an accurate description about which tribe a person of Native American lineage belongs to. Even if the test results indicate a high percentage of Native American ancestry, it cannot pinpoint a certain tribe or combination of tribes.

To verify your genetic affiliation with a specific tribe, you still need to do solid research and utilize documentation available to you. However, your DNA test results can give you a good idea about what’s the best place to start your research.

List of some of Native American Tribes in the Americas

Native American Tribes image

In the end, any person of Native American descent will need to gather documentation about their direct lineage to a certain Native Indian tribe. Your DNA tests will guide you where you should for finding relevant documents about your ancestry.

Types Of DNA Tests

Usually, DNA Tests are done using three different techniques. Each of these DNA tests uses a different method to evaluate different segments of your genetic makeup.  Moreover, each one of these DNA tests can give different insights into your genealogy and ancestry.

Autosomal DNA Test

Autosomal DNA testing is a new form of DNA testing and has been established after new breakthroughs in DNA testing with respect to genealogy. The Autosomal test analyzes the autosomal chromosomes in your DNA. These chromosomes number up to 22 pairs and are different than gender-based X & Y chromosomes.

Other than finding genealogical matches in your DNA, this test will also provide a fair estimate of the overall admixture of your ethnicity. At the time, it is the most popular testing method among DNA testing platforms, and you may even have seen it DNA testing ads.

Opposed to Y-DNA tests, the Autosomal test isn’t restricted to a specific gender. People belonging to different genders can attempt these tests. These chromosomes are passed down to from your ancestors to different branches of your family tree, so every human has them.

Autosomal DNA Inheritance

Autosomal DNA Inheritance image

Moreover, the test gives you the option to trace connections outside the direct lineages of your mother and father. The test can find DNA matches in any of the branches in your family tree. Despite that, experts suggest that the chances of finding matches become shallow after third-cousin-relations.

However, the autosomal has some limitations and can only trace accurately up to a certain number of generations. The maximum number of generations these tests go up to is five to seven generations. But in most cases, this time span is enough to ascertain your affiliation with your ancestral Native American tribe.

mtDNA

mtDNA or Mitochondrial DNA is another potent technique for DNA testing. Mitochondria are structures within your cells that are responsible for converting energy into a usable form. A single cell has thousands of mitochondria. These cellular components are present in the fluid surrounding the nucleus (cytoplasm) of the cell.

Although the majority of your DNA is packed inside chromosomes within your cellular nucleus, mitochondria also contain a trace of separate DNA. This genetic component is called mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA.

Humans have an estimated 16,500 DNA base pairs of mitochondrial DNA, which are a small fraction of the total DNA present in their cells. These building blocks of your DNA get passed down to children through their mothers. The mtDNA DNA testing technique is also applicable to both males and females.

Digital Representation of a DNA Strand

mtDNA

The mtDNA in your genes gets passed down nearly unchanged from mothers. It can trace the maternal line of your family to up to fifty generations in your family tree. In short, it makes a chain of your maternal lineage starting from your mother to her mother (your grandmother), and then her mother (your great grandmother). This goes on up to fifty generations in your maternal line.

The only downside of this testing method is that it only traces matches that are present in your maternal line. As a result, you will miss any matches that are outside your maternal side. However, if your Native American lineage is from your mother’s side, then you will face no problems finding it.

YDNA

The Y-chromosome is one of two sex chromosomes present in human DNA. The chromosome is also present in all mammals and also in many other animals. The Y-chromosome plays an integral part in determining the gender of any creature.

The presence of the Y chromosome in the reproduction process results in a male offspring, whereas the absence of this specific chromosome results in a female offspring. This happens because Y-chromosome contains the gene SRY, which is responsible for triggering male development.

In DNA testing, experts use it to trace your ancestry because it passes almost unchanged from a father to his son. Regardless of how long your ancestral line is, your male ancestors carry will carry their Y-DNA line despite migrations to different regions.

DNA testing through the Y-chromosome allows experts to trace your paternal ancestry through the Y haplogroup inside the chromosome. By using the Y chromosome in your DNA, you can trace your paternal line up to 24 to 36 generations.

Similar to the mtDNA, the YDNA testing method traces the DNA from your father to his father (your grandfather), to his father (your great grandfather) and so on. However, it is also restricted to the paternal line of your family tree and can’t locate matches on other branches of your family tree.

Moreover, this test can only be done on males. Females who are willing to get the trace of their paternal lineage will have to ask a male paternal in her paternal line to go through the test for them. Only male relatives related who are related by blood can give the test in their place (such as her father, brother, grandfather, paternal cousin or nephew).

What Type Of Test Can Help Determine Native American Ancestry?

As we have mentioned before, each test has its own benefits and uses in genealogy. All three of these tests can help you connect with lost family members.

Autosomal DNA Test

The Autosomal DNA test is more adept for ruling out the possibility of Native American ancestry rather than proving that you have Native Indian ancestry. You should remember that Autosomal DNA takes input from a broad spectrum of ancestors. It gets mixed with external DNA of ancestors other your parents’ lineage.

In short, it means that it will show results from half of your father’s DNA and half of your mother’s DNA. This trend will continue to your parents, grandparents, and every preceding generation, and their DNA will get influenced by one-half of DNA of each of their parents.

As a result, by the time go you cross four generations; you only get about 6% or 1/16, of your total DNA from each of your ancestors. Most Native Indian tribes recognized by the United States government only allow people with at least 1/16th ancestry to be registered members.

This means that you will not be registered into these tribes even if one of your ancestors had 100% Native American five or six generations ago. Native American ancestry five to six generations ago will only have 3% to 1.5% contribution to your total DNA. This is the reason why Autosomal DNA tests aren’t all great once you cross the three-generation mark.

Does 6% of Native American ancestry automatically make you eligible for registered tribal membership?

Well, the short answer is ‘No’. Since autosomal tests give a percentage of your total ancestry, your total North American ancestry can be a result of links with different Native American tribes.

Native American Indian image

For instance, it’s possible that one of your ancestors belonged to the Cherokee tribe, while another ancestor was from the Cheyenne tribe. This might take you total Native American DNA ancestry estimates past 6% but it will hard for you to claim affiliation with a single tribe based on these results.

Moreover, these statistics are only estimates. Despite additional science and research, it’s possible for these tests to get false positives. Therefore, it’s usually used to give you the right direction to look for further research.

mtDNA Test

As the mtDNA extends directly from your mother’s line, it has a greater chance of tracing a Native American ancestry in your maternal bloodline.

We know that mtDNA changes extremely slowly. As a result, your own DNA retains the characteristics from ancestors that are dozens of generations away from you.

So, if your DNA test results have a haplogroup that’s found in Native Americans, it means that you are on the right track. A Native Indian haplogroup in your maternal lineage means that you have Native American ancestry through your mother’s side.

YDNA Test

Similar to mtDNA, YDNA changes extremely slowly over time. Therefore, it’s ideal for searching deep into your paternal line. There are separate types of YDNA tests available online. These tests examine specific genetic markers present in your DNA.

For instance, a genetic testing company can analyze Y-12, Y-37, or Y-67 in their testing process. The most popular genetic marker in this process is often the Y-37 genetic marker. As a general rule, considering a greater number of genetic markers will result in a more accurate result.

As mentioned before, YDNA is quite similar to mtDNA. The only differences are that they both follow different genetic lines and that females can’t take YDNA.  However, like mtDNA, the YDNA test will determine your haplogroup.

As a general rule, Autosomal DNA tests are only going to give you a rough estimation of the percentage of your DNA that belongs to Native American ancestry. However, it doesn’t do much besides giving an estimate of the extent of Native American genes you have. YDNA and mtDNA, on the other hand, give a more specific result and you should favor them.

Also, people should use common sense when they are selecting which DNA test is best for them. If their mother’s side ha Native American heritage, then trying a YNDA test will always be fruitless since the test will only search your paternal line. Similarly, testing mtDNA in spite of paternal links to Native Americans will be worthless.

What Is A Haplogroup?

Throughout the history of the human race, humans have always migrated from one place to another. The reasons for these migrations were distinct for each ethnic group. Some were displaced because of violence; some traveled in search of conquest while others moved to find better places to raise their offspring.

Whatever, the reason might have been, these migrations caused people to move to geographically diverse places. All these groups developed unique mutations relevant to the place they lived and became transformed into even more distinct ethnic groups.

A haplogroup is a set of different genetic mutations an ethnicity has. Experts utilize the samples of these mutations to trace where our ancestors lived, migrated to or settled. YNDA and mtDNA give us a map of different haplogroups present in our DNA.

mtDNA Haplogroup Distribution Across the World Map

mtDNA haplogroup distribution image

After studying history, we can conclude that the Americas were always somewhat isolated from the rest of the world. Settlers in both North and South America came here thousands of years ago. There was little chance that they were able to intermix with any foreign ethnicity before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492.

Because of the region’s history of isolation, Native Indians have distinct haplogroups compared to the other regions of the world. If your DNA has a portion of a haplogroup common in Native Americans, then it’s almost certain that you had a Native American ancestor.

How Can GEDMatch Help Find Native American Ancestry?​

GEDMatch is a free online tool to find people that match your genetic make-up. The tool is helpful for people who want to discover matches beyond their own DNA testing platform. The problem with traditional DNA testing platforms is that they don’t share their DNA database with other platforms.

This causes problems for people who want inter-platform DNA searches to trace their ancestry with accurately. Since the whole matching system works by using the data of people who have taken DNA tests, all platforms need large swathes of DNA data to match DNA samples precisely.

However, GEDMatch has a diverse collection of records that span across every DNA testing platform. As a result, GEDMatch has a huge database that has different DNA samples belonging to every community.

By using the GEDMatch tool; you can find people with matching DNA ancestry even if they have tested their DNA through different testing forums. That’s not all; people can use the GEDMatch platform to match individual chromosomes in their DNA profile and see which other people have them.

As we discussed before, all DNA tests mentioned above provide you with a good starting point to prove your ethnicity but are insufficient to help you become a registered member of a certain tribe, as you need proper documentation to back that claim.

GEDMatch helps you find relatives belonging to your ethnic group. Moreover, the tool also has email addresses attached to each matching DNA sample, which people can use to communicate with other people belonging to the same family tree.

Therefore, if you have a relative with Native American DNA, GEDMatch will help you locate that relative. After that, you can begin proper documentation you need to become a registered member of a Native American tribe.

GEDMatch Logo

GEDMatch logo image

How Does GEDMatch Work?

The GEDMatch tool allows people to use an array of different tools to get further insight into their genealogy. The tool allows people to see further information about their X-DNA present in your DNA test results.

In essence, the GEDMatch platform is not a DNA testing platform itself. Instead, the platform is more adept at using raw data created by other DNA testing facilities to gain a deeper understanding of your ancestry.

Your DNA information is represented by a unique kit number. Every DNA testing company assigns you with a kit number whenever they take a DNA sample from you.  After uploading relevant raw data on the GEDMatch platform, you can use the kit number as a reference to perform further testing on your raw DNA data.

Usually, GEDMatch utilizes Autosomal DNA records to find related members. This happens not because the GEDMatch platform is limited to the Autosomal test nit because most people use this popular method of testing.

You see, GEDMatch depends on the raw data you provide to test your genetic affiliation. So, if your raw data is limited to Autosomal, then there’s nothing GEDMatch can do to find people with matching mtDNA or YDNA.

However, if your initial DNA test was comprehensive and has information about your YNDA or mtDNA, it can also trace down people who have those matches.

How To Start Using GEDMatch

People have to go through initial DNA testing in order to gain insight into their DNA. Therefore, these people must submit DNA samples to a credible DNA testing forum and allow them to test their DNA. This needs to be done before starting out on GEDMatch.

There are several renowned DNA testing services online, and anyone service will do. However, if you are looking for a DNA test to assist you in finding a common Native American ancestry, you should look for DNA testing platforms that offer all Autosomal, mtDNA, and YNDA DNA tests in a single package.

Since mtDNA and YDNA tests give more solid evidence of your Native American heritage, you should prioritize DNA tests that have information about those aspects of your DNA. However, you should remember only to give mtDNA test if you have Native American heritage from your mother’s side and vice versa for YNDA.

The following DNA testing forums give you the option to get your DNA tested from different aspects:

1) Initial DNA Testing

Any of the above DNA testing platforms are sufficient for getting crucial raw data, visit their websites to get started. We’re using 23and Me to help you through initial DNA testing. However, if you already have taken a DNA test, you can proceed to the uploading raw DNA data on GEDMatch.

23and Me Website

23and Me image

First of all, you have to create an account on 23and Me. You can choose to only test for your ancestry and only pay $99, or you can get extra features by opting the complete DNA test report.

Once you’re eligible for a DNA sampling test, order a testing kit to submit your saliva sample. The 23and Me website provides a detailed guideline on how their DNA testing process works.

23and Me sample detail website screenshot

23and Me sample detail image

1. Download Your Raw DNA Data from the Testing Platform

After you’re done with initial DNA testing, you can submit your raw data on GEDMatch for further genetic analysis. However, you must download raw data before proceeding with further analysis.

To download your raw DNA data from your 23and Me account, follow the guideline on downloading raw data available on the 23and Me customer care page. If you have a different DNA testing platform, you can follow Abundant Genealogy to learn about downloading raw data from different DNA testing forums.

23and Me Raw DNA Data Download Site

23and Me raw DNA data download image

2. Uploading Raw Data on GEDMatch

Your raw data will be in a .zip file format. Follow the steps below to upload data on the GEDMatch platform.

Step #1

First of all, create an account on the GEDMatch website. Enter your name, email, password, and alias o create an account on GEDMatch. Registering on the website won’t take much time and can follow this link to get started.

GEDMatch Registration

GEDMatch Registration image

Step #2

Search the bottom-right side of your browser window to seek “Upload DNA files”. This is where you have to upload your raw DNA data. Click “Generic Uploads ” to upload your raw DNA .zip file.

GEDMatch Upload Raw Data

GEDMatch Upload Raw Data image

Step #3

After uploading initial DNA testing results on GEDMatch, the website will ask for further information about the person whose raw data has been uploaded.

GEDMatch Upload File Form-1

GEDMatch Upload File Form image

Moreover, users must clarify what they mean when they’re referring to raw data. Here users give permissions related to the privacy of their genetic information, so be careful about which option you select.

GEDMatch Upload File Form-2

GEDMatch Upload File Form 2 image

After selecting all necessary options, select the .zip file which contains your raw DNA data and press “Upload” to get the file uploaded.

Step #4

After the last step, your file will go through a computing process known as bashing, where the website will unpack all the data packed in your raw data .zip file. You will have to wait a few

hours to start using various tools available on GEDMatch.

GEDMatch Registered User Profile

GEDMatch Icon Legend image

You should remember to note down your kit number for future use. However, you can view your kit number at the “Your DNA Resources” section of your homepage.

Run the One-to-Many Comparison Tool

To best way to find people who have similar Native American DNA is by using the One-to-Many comparison tool on the GEDMatch. The One-to-Many tool allows users to match specific characteristics of their DNA with that of other users on GEDMatch.

To start off, just enter your own kit number in the text input area and select “Display results” to see which DNA profiles have matching Native American DNA.

GEDMatch One-to-Many Comparison

GEDMatch One-to-Many Comparison image

After starting the tool, a list of all matching DNA profiles will get displayed on your screen. The list contains email addresses of all the people who have similar DNA profiles. You can see which haplogroups are in common with the person displayed in that list.

These attributes present evidence of your Native American ancestry based on your paternal or maternal haplogroup assignment

Usually, maternal haplogroups in unbroken Native American maternal lineages have branches of the following haplogroups

  • A2
  • B2
  • C1
  • C4
  • D1
  • X2a

On the other hand, paternal haplogroups originating from unbroken Native American paternal lineage are only limited to distinct branches of the haplogroups C and Q.

GEDMatch One-to-Many Comparison

GEDMatch One-to-Many Comparison image

The “Gen” column will dictate users about their relationship with that specific person. If a user has a column value of 1.0, it means that person is an extremely close relative (i.e., your twin sibling or parent). A value around 1.5 shows that the person is your uncle, aunt, or grandparent. If you have any missing first cousins, the Gen value will be in the proximity of 2.0.

So, if you’re able to find a relative with relevant haplogroups, it’s almost certain that you will locate the relative that has strong Native American ancestry. Moreover, Gen value gives further insight into your relationship with the person with Native American ancestry.

After locating the person, you can contact him/her through the email ID mentioned in the list. Consequently, you can extract necessary documentation you need to eligible for registration in a Native Indian tribe.

Summary

For a person who wants to become a registered member of a federally recognized Native Indian tribe, a DNA test will be insufficient on its own. Doing so requires proper documentation to back up your claims, and you also need further research. However, GEDMatch can help you utilize your initial test results for locating relatives with Native American lineage and help you prove your ancestral claim.

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