Saturday, September 26, 2009

23andMe and Finding Native Ancestry

By Roberta Estes

The most common question I've received about the new test is if it will detect Native ancestry.

Ironically, I've spend the past 10 years trying to get people to understand about paternal dna lines (yline testing) and maternal dna lines (mitochondrial dna testing).    And everyone has done a great job of learning that, so now folks are having trouble shifting gears.

The answer is yes, it will help you determine if you have Native heritage AND IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MALE OR FEMALE LINES OR IF MALES OR FEMALES TAKE THE TEST.

This test tests over half a million locations of your DNA.    Compare that to the various yline tests which test 12, 25, 37, 67, etc. or the mtdna test which tests between 1000 and 16,000 locations, depending on the test your order.    This is a different kind of test entirely and does not replace those kinds of tests.

In this test, you will receive your percent of ethnicity divided between European, African and Asian.    In our case in the US, Asian would [usually] equate to Native heritage.    So if your Native ancestor is far back in your pedigree chart, you can expect to see a few percent of Asian heritage.    This answers the question of "if", but not the answer of "who" the ancestor is who contributed that Native heritage.    For that answer, you'll need to revert to the traditional yline and mtdna testing which, if you find enough people to test in your tree, will eventually show which of your ancestors was indeed the Native heritage contributor.    Unfortunately for many of us, it will be one of those women whose first name we have and nothing more, or perhaps someone yet unidentified in our charts, making tracking people descended through a female only line impossible.    For us, just knowing positively that we do, or don't, have Native heritage may be the best information we will ever be able to glean.    On the other hand, if we do have Native heritage, we can use the Relative Finder feature to locate cousins and then we can ask them if they too have Native heritage, so we can probably eliminate some lines in that fashion.    We can also arrange for others to test who are in our pedigree chart to see if they too have native heritage, although one has to be careful with drawing conclusions from others tests because Native heritage might have entered their lines from another source.    The best bet would be to have have our parents test so we can see where it came from.    If parents aren't available, full siblings of the parent would be the next best bet.

So, the answer to this question is yes, this tool can be useful in determining whether you have Native ancestry or not.


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