Best DNA Test for Native American Ancestry

Who are you? That’s a question you can answer in any number of ways. But many have found that the best way to know who they are is to figure out where they came from. The history of our ancestors and their ancestors before them can shed light on how we came to be, and may even uncover new truths about our tendencies, characteristics, qualities, and predispositions – proving that who we are isn’t just some random accident.

Check out our guide on the Best DNA Test.

But more than that, there’s the pleasant surprise in learning things you didn’t know about yourself. For instance, 5 million modern-day Americans are surprised to learn that they have at least some Native American descent. And for many, that can be a startling discovery that just begs to be explored.

The FamilyTreeDNA group of tests can be a smart way to dive deep into the history of your family to unravel the facts behind your Native American history. With a range of tests, endless informational resources, and dedicated groups that help you connect with Native Americans on the database, FamilyTreeDNA makes it easy to explore that mysterious lineage.

 AUTOSOMALYDNAmtDNA
Sample SourceSalivaSalivaSaliva
Test Specimen22 autosomesY-chromosomeMitochondria
Test VarietiesFamily FinderY-37, Y-67, Y-111, Big Y-700mtDNA Plus, mtFull Sequence
Test CandidateAnyoneMales onlyAnyone
Reach6-8 generationsHaplogroupHaplogroup
CoverageEntire family treeMale patrilineal ancestryFemale matrilineal ancestry
Processing Time2-4 weeks3-6 weeks6-8 weeks
6-10 weeks (Big Y)
Best forFinding unknown living relativesHistorical ancestry researchHistorical ancestry research
PriceStarts at $79Starts at $169Starts at $89
See it hereSee it hereSee it here

A Look at the Available Direct-to-Consumer DNA Tests for Native American Ancestry

Not everyone has the luxury to spend thousands on a number of DNA tests from different providers. But choosing just one to expand your knowledge about your tribal roots can be a bit of a challenge – considering the fact that there are quite a number of providers out there.

To help you narrow down your options and settle on a choice that can truly meet your needs and purpose, it pays to know what each provider brings to the table. Comparing the available brands and their respective tests can shed light on what they can and can’t do for you to further your research.

FamilyTreeDNA

FamilyTreeDNA is the only major direct-to-consumer DNA test provider that offers autosomal, YDNA, and mtDNA testing. This makes it an obvious choice for those who really want to uncover the intricate details of their heritage. And what’s even more helpful is that the service also offers a range of choices for each type of test, allowing you to fine-tune your results depending on your needs.

Their tests are available as full-sequence tests or as more affordable limited sequence tests. The difference is that the full-sequence tests consider all of the segments or regions of your DNA, as opposed to the more budget-friendly tests that only consider two or more regions, depending on the type of test you choose.

Another thing that gives FamilyTreeDNA an edge over the other available tests on the market is that they have the American Indian Project. This group within the database is exclusive for individuals who have proven through their DNA test that they have significant Native American ancestry. As a member, you can connect with other Native Americans and collect information on potential relatives and tribal membership.

Ancestry DNA

As one of the most popular DNA testing providers, AncestryDNA is known for its expansive user database that spans 15 million registered DNA profiles. Offering only autosomal DNA tests, this provider is best for those who want to discover living relatives to assist in genealogical research.

It’s also worth knowing that of the 500+ regions registered in the AncestryDNA system, they have specific designations for Native American ancestry. If your DNA profile shows Native American heritage, then these resources will be made available to you to help you understand your family’s migration patterns for a clearer understanding of where you came from and how you got to where you are now.

One of the downsides of the AncestryDNA service is that their kits are limited. Without the YDNA and mtDNA testing kits, their service can’t provide you accurate information on maternal or paternal specific lineages. So if you’re trying to learn more about your Native American ancestry through a single line, AncestryDNA isn’t the best provider.

MyHeritage DNA

With 2.5 million people registered in its DNA database, MyHeritage DNA is yet another sizeable provider that can help you learn more about your Native American roots. The service offers autosomal DNA tests, but doesn’t provide options for YDNA nor mtDNA testing.

For the purpose of Native American heritage, the service provides quite a few resources to help you further understand your tribal roots. Keep in mind however that the database doesn’t offer quite as much information on Native American heritage as AncestryDNA, so it might not be the most helpful unless you’re in search of living relatives who might be able to shed light on your tribal ancestry.

23andMe DNA

Unlike other autosomal tests, the 23andMe DNA test takes information from all of your 22 autosomes as well as some data from your 23rd sex linked pair. Their database has some 10 million users, and their test is often considered the ideal choice if you’re interested in learning more about health predispositions.

For the purpose of Native American ancestry research, 23andMe can provide relatively more precise results of specific tribal locations. Their ethnicity breakdown provides a wealth of information on your lineage as well as the possible migratory patterns of the people in your family history.

It helps to remember that because the 23andMe test doesn’t specifically focus on the Y-chromosome or mitochondria, its results can be limited if you’re tracing a specific paternal or maternal line. And while it may be able to provide some information on your haplogroup, the test can only localize on a generalized area and not a specific haplogroup population.

Why Native American Ancestry Can Be Beneficial

While mere curiosity might be reason enough for many of us to want to explore our Native American roots, there are other benefits to proving your ancestry. For the most part, specific Native American tribes can provide financial, collegiate entry, and job acquisition assistance in case you’re proven to have enough Native blood to be considered a bonafied member. But it’s not always that easy to be welcomed into a specific Native American tribe.

Native American tribes are sovereign nations and just like any other nation, you can’t just become a member because a DNA tests says you’ve got some of those genes from a couple centuries back. Membership criteria changes from tribe to tribe, but for the most part, they will require:

  • At least 25-50% blood relation, depending on the tribe. Some tribes, like the Cherokee, require just 1/16 blood quantum to be considered a possible member.
  • Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood acquired from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This must be supported by a DNA test administered by an accredited testing facility.
  • Tribal residency
  • Sustained tribal contact spanning a designated number of years
  • A relationship with someone in the tribal base roll such as known, ancestral members of the tribe
  • A solid paper trail of legal documents including but not limited to marriage, birth, and death certificates of people linking your relation to members of the tribe

So as you might see, becoming a Native American tribal member isn’t something you can do simply by taking an at-home DNA test – but they can be of some assistance. By taking the right DNA test, you can determine which branch of your family tree relates closest to your Native American roots. Dialing in on the specific lineage that traces back towards your Native history can make it easier for you to determine which specific tribe you’re a part of, how much tribal blood quantum you have, and whether you’re related to a specific individual in the tribal base roll.

In knowing your purpose for discovering your native roots, it then becomes easier to choose the appropriate test for your needs. Which brings us to the next topic worth discussing – the kinds of direct-to-consumer DNA tests you might consider during your genealogical research.

Types of DNA Tests for Native American Lineage

At-home DNA testing kits are available in three major types. These include:

  • Autosomal DNA tests
  • Y-chromosome DNA tests
  • Mitochondrial DNA tests

These tests vary by way of the specific sample they use to come up with your results. And in that way, they also provide you different outcomes that focus on unique parts of your lineage. That said, choosing an appropriate test can make it easier for you to focus on the branches of your family tree that are most relevant to your Native American ancestry.

Autosomal DNA Tests

You get 23 pairs of chromosomes from your parents, and these are essentially genetic codes that predetermine the qualities and characteristics you’ll have. The first 22 pairs are called autosomes, and designate a range of traits – from your hair, to the sound of your voice.

The 23rd pair – called the sex-linked chromosomes – have one unique function, and that’s to determine your sex at birth. With that in mind, an autosomal DNA test takes information from just the first 22 pairs of your chromosomes. For that reason, anyone can take the test regardless of their sex.

Because your autosomes come from both mother and father, an autosomal DNA test will express ancestry as one generalized outcome. To help make things easier to understand, you can expect an autosomal DNA test to show you:

  • A generalized ancestral mix
  • Accurate ancestral lineage for up to 8 generations
  • DNA matches within your provider’s database from both your maternal and paternal lines

In that light, an autosomal DNA test will not be able to provide:

  • Specific information on where a particular ancestral heritage traces back to
  • Haplogroups
  • Reliable family matches beyond 6-8 generations

All of that considered, you might say that an autosomal test is ideal for Native American ancestry if you want to find out whether you have any living Native American relatives that exist in parallel branches. It might also help you determine your Native American tribal blood quantum. Basically, this tells you the degree of Native American ancestry in your DNA by designating a close estimate of the percentage of native blood in your profile.

Keep in mind that because an autosomal test takes information from your 22 autosomal pairs that are acquired from both parents in equal parts, there’s no way to tell which part of your family the findings stem from. Take Jonah’s case for example:

Jonah’s autosomal DNA test revealed that he was 28% Native American. Under most of the federally recognized Native American tribes, that tribal blood quantum might be more than enough to qualify for membership. But because Jonah used an autosomal DNA test, there was no way to determine:

  • Whether the lineage comes from his maternal or paternal line
  • Whether the blood quantum was completely from a single family line, or a combination of two different tribal lineages

It’s possible that the 28% Native American ancestry demonstrated by Jonah’s test is a combination of his Native American heritage from all branches of his family – and that can be problematic if you want tribal membership. Why? To be considered a viable tribal member, you have to manifest at least a 25-50% tribal blood quantum that links you to that specific tribe.

Autosomal DNA tests can show you a general idea of your tribal blood quantum, but not whether it comes from just one tribal lineage. Having a significant percentage of tribal blood might give you a sense of identity on a personal level, but if it comes from a combination of different tribes, then you’re unlikely to get approved for membership.

Y-Chromosome DNA Test

A Y-Chromosome DNA test can be slightly more ideal if you’re hoping to discover your ancestral roots for the purpose of tribal membership. The Y-chromosome is part of the 23rd pair of chromosomes, and is only present in males. With that, only male individuals can take the Y-Chromosome DNA test since females lack this specific genetic component.

Another important thing to remember is that because your mother, your grandmothers, your great-grandmothers and so forth do not have Y-chromosomes either, it would be impossible to learn more about their lineage by way of a Y-Chromosome DNA test. The Y-chromosome is passed only from the male parent down to the male offspring, so you will only be able to trace your father’s paternal line using the test.

If you suspect that your father’s lineage – particularly his male ancestors – have some Native American heritage, then the Y-Chromosome DNA test can be a major help. These tests can be especially accurate, reliable, and far-reaching, mainly because the Y-chromosome is not ‘reshuffled’ whenever passed down from generation to generation, so it remains mostly unchanged even after centuries of breeding.

With the right provider, your Y-chromosome test can show you results that reach as far back as your haplogroup – a genetic population that shares a single common ancestor. You can think of your haplogroup as one of the earliest populations to have existed in the world. Imagine one couple living in each continent, and the exponential growth of their respective families as time went by. These families are what we term haplogroups.

In some cases, certain factions of each of the populations may have migrated – whether in search of new opportunities and resources, or because there was a scarcity of food, water, and other needs in their area. Over time, your family line may have broken off from the original haplogroup, moving to new parts of the world and intermingling with members of other haplogroups.

This can explain why you might discover small percentages of unexpected ancestry in your blood line. And a Y-Chromosome DNA test might just be able to uncover that. Reaching as far back as your historical haplogroup, this test can be a vital tool in learning more about your Native American Ancestry tracing through your paternal line.

But what about women who want to learn more about their father’s male lineage? Because women don’t have a Y-chromosome, asking a male relative to take the test instead can work just the same way. Your full, biological brother, your biological father, or even your father’s full, biological brother can all be worthy candidates to discover more about your father’s paternal lineage.

Mitochondrial DNA Test

Inside each of your cells is what’s called the mitochondria. These powerhouses are what fuel cellular function, providing energy to the different organelles to essentially keep everything in working order. Each one of us obtains our mitochondria from our mothers, and using the genetic code registered in this powerhouse can help us trace back our maternal lineage.

Unlike the Y-chromosome that only exists in males and can only be passed down from father to son, the mitochondria is passed down from the mother to all of her children regardless of their sex at birth. So anyone can take the mitochondrial DNA test.

Just like the Y-chromosome however, your mitochondria can only be traced through a single parental line. That’s because your father had no contribution in the passing down of mitochondria. So what you’re essentially following back is the same, unshuffled mitochondria you acquired from your mother, which she acquired from her mother, and so forth.

Mitochondrial DNA tests can also lead you to your mother’s haplogroup which can be particularly helpful in the understanding of your Native American ancestry. So if you suspect that Native American blood runs deep through your mother’s maternal line, then using a mitochondrial DNA test can be a great way to find out.

Knowing Your Purpose

Now that you know the different types of tests available, it’s worth asking – which one will best suit your needs? That depends on your purpose. These tests can all offer incredible insight into your Native American lineage, but depending on the extent of knowledge you need, one might be better for you than the other.

If your purpose is simply to discover living, relevant relatives that you can reach out to, then the autosomal DNA test an be a suitable choice. This test explores all the branches of your family tree, and if you manage to find members of your lineage with stronger Native American roots, then tracing back their specific roots can help you uncover more about your own heritage.

If you’re interested in studying a specific part of your family tree where you suspect Native American heritage is the strongest, then either the Y-chromosome or the mitochondrial DNA test can be a viable choice. These tests focus specifically on your mother’s maternal or your father’s paternal line, reaching as far back as your historical haplogroup.

But what if you want to explore every angle of your ancestry to fully understand your Native American heritage? Then using a combination of tests might work in your favor. Here’s how to do it:

 Father’s Paternal LineFather’s Maternal LineMother’s Paternal LineMother’s Maternal Line
MALESTake a Y-Chromosome DNA testGet your father, his biological sibling, or your paternal grandmother to take a mitochondrial DNA test Get your mother’s brother or your maternal grandfather to take a Y-Chromosome testTake a mitochondrial DNA test
FEMALESGet your brother, your father, or his brother to take a Y-Chromosome testGet your father, his biological sibling, or your paternal grandmother to take a mitochondrial DNA testGet your mother’s brother or your maternal grandfather to take a Y-Chromosome testTake a mitochondrial DNA test

The Limitations of DNA Testing

It helps to manage your expectations before you undertake a DNA test of any sort. For the most part, any results you get express the probability relating to your ethnicity and ancestry. What does this mean? Essentially, a DNA test will not be able to confirm your ancestral background, your heritage, or the migratory patterns of your ancestors. These tests do not guarantee any of the information they provide, and none of the details provided at the end of the test should be treated as truth.

So what’s the point of taking the test if you can’t qualify the information as fact? The answer lies in the term ‘probability’. DNA tests show you a close estimate of what is most likely to be your ethnic background. By laying down the groundwork, these at-home DNA tests give set you off in the right direction, helping you fine-tune your exploration and research so you don’t end up straying down a path of inquiry that will ultimately lead you nowhere.

That said, it’s important that you maintain some level of dedication to your research. The results you receive after a direct-to-consumer DNA test should not be the end all be all, but rather the beginning of your personal exploration into your ethnicity. If you do find that the outcomes of your test point towards potential Native American tribal membership, then visiting an accredited facility to repeat the DNA test under legal guidelines should be your next step.

DNA Testing for Native American Ancestry FAQs

Will federally-recognized tribes accept an at-home DNA test as proof of my lineage?

No. Keep in mind that a direct-to-consumer DNA test can only be used to explore your ancestry on a personal level. These tests are not admissible in court and are neither viable supporting documents for any legal process.

What you can do with your DNA results is use them as a starting guide. If you find that you do have Native American blood in your lineage, then you can further your research by reaching out to tribal members, undertaking another DNA test through an acknowledged testing facility, or approaching the Bureau of Indian Affairs to gain more information on the tribal membership process.

What if my test results reflect that I have roots in two or more different Native American tribes?

It’s not impossible for a person to demonstrate a DNA profile that reflects roots in more than a single Native American tribe. On the surface, this might reflect as quite a large percentage of your total ethnicity especially if you’ve taken an autosomal DNA test. But that doesn’t always mean guaranteed tribal enrollment.

For instance, if a test result comes back showing that you’re 35% Native American, the totality of that ethnic makeup might not be from a single tribe. When broken down, you might find that the Native American ethnicity can be further broken down into Cherokee, Apache, Navajo, Cheyenne, Sioux, and a number of other known, acknowledged tribes.

While the requirements vary from tribe to tribe, it’s important to note that your DNA must demonstrate at least 25% tribal blood quantum from the specific tribe you’re trying to gain membership to. Tribal leaders will see no value in a significant Native American ethnicity percentage unless it reflects on their tribe. If there are traces of other tribes in your DNA profile, that won’t be an issue so long as you meet the basic blood quantum for your tribe of interest.

What happens after I get my DNA results?

If you’re interested in learning more about your Native American ancestry for the purpose of tribal enrollment, your DNA test should be your first step. Once you discover that you meet the basic tribal blood quantum and once you pinpoint the potential Native American tribe you can potentially be a member of, you can start the process of enrollment.

Do note that every tribe has different requirements, so there isn’t any uniform criteria for membership. Aside from your blood quantum, you should be able to provide a solid paper trail that connects you with a known member of the tribe. Documentation such as – but not limited to – marriage, birth, and death certificates that delineate how you’re related to a specific tribal member can be beneficial in your plight for enrollment.

To make sure you’re on the right track, it helps to reach out to the tribal council in charge of your tribe. Maintaining constant contact with key members of the tribe could increase your chances of enrollment, and may be a suitable source of reliable information to help you on your way through the membership process, since each tribe instills its own unique protocol.

Conclusion

Discovering that you might have Native American ancestry isn’t only an interesting take on your identity, but is also a potential benefit that might lead you closer to a tribal family that can support you through many of the challenges of life. If you suspect that you have Native American ancestry and you want to learn the extent of your ethnicity, then taking an at-home DNA test should lead you towards the right direction towards self-discovery.

There are lots of direct-to-consumer DNA tests on the market, but none are quite as effective for Native American ancestry as FamilyTreeDNA. Offering a range of DNA test types – from YDNA, mtDNA, and autosomal DNA – the FamilyTreeDNA service can give you a holistic image of your ancestry, providing you all the details and leads you need to trace your family all the way back to your Native American ancestral roots.

So, who are you? That’s a question that can be answered in any number of ways, and your DNA might hold the key to complete self-discovery.

Resources:

  1. Trace Indian Ancestry. Taken from https://www.doi.gov/tribes/trace-ancestry on October 24, 2019
  2. What is Autosomal DNA and What Can Yours Tell You? Taken from https://www.healthline.com/health/autosomal on October 24, 2019
  3. Y-Chromosome. Taken from https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/chromosome/Y on October 24, 2019
  4. Why mitochondrial DNA is inherited from our mothers only in contrast with nuclear DNA which is inherited from both parents. Taken from https://www.researchgate.net/post/Why_mitochondrial_DNA_is_inherited_from_mother_only_in_contrast_with_nuclear_DNA_which_inherited_from_both_of_parents_dad_and_mom on October 24, 2019
  5. What do the results of genetic tests means? Taken from https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/testing/interpretingresults on October 24, 2019
  6. What is an Indian? Blood Quantum. Taken from blog.nativepartnership.org/what-is-an-indian-blood-quantum/ on October 24, 2019