Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA

Every day, I receive e-mails very similar to this one.

“My family has always said that we were part Native American.  I want to prove this so that I can receive help with money for college.”

The reasons vary, and not everyone wants to prove their heritage in order to qualify for some type of assistance.  Some want to find their tribe and join to reclaim their lost heritage.  Some want to honor their persecuted and hidden ancestors, undoing some of the wickedness of the past, and some simply seek the truth.  Regardless of why, they are all searching for information lost to them.

I’d like to talk about three topics in proving Native Ancestry.  First, I’d like to do some myth-busting.  Second, I’d like to talk a little about conventional research and third, I’d like to discuss what DNA can, and can’t, do for you.

As you read this blog, please click on the links.  I’m not going to repeat something I’ve already covered elsewhere.


Myth 1 – Free College

There is no free college for Native Americans.  There are sometimes scholarships and grants available, mostly by the individual tribes themselves, for their official members.

Myth 2 – Joining a Tribe

Many people think that if they can only figure out which tribe their ancestor descends from, they can join.  This is untrue.  Each tribe is a sovereign nation, and they get to determine their criteria for membership.  Most tribes require a specific percentage of Native “blood,” called blood quantum, in addition to being able to document which tribal member you descend from.  Some tribes require as much as 25% Native heritage, and most require at least 1/16th Native heritage, which is one great-great grandparent.  If you don’t know who in your family was a tribal member it’s unlikely that you would be able to meet the blood quantum requirement.

Myth 3 – DNA Testing Will Reveal my Tribe

Generally, DNA testing does not provide us with the information needed to determine a tribe, although it can clearly tell, using y-line or mitochondrial DNA testing, whether your direct paternal or maternal line was or was not Native.  Sometimes you will be able to infer a tribe based on your matches and their documented history, but the definition of tribes, their names and locations have changed over time.  We are working on improving this ability, but the science simply isn’t there yet and the number of Native people who have tested remains small.

Simply put, most federally recognized tribes aren’t interested in more tribal members.  More members mean a smaller piece of the pie for existing members.  The pot of resources, whatever resources you’re discussing, is only so large and it must be shared by all tribal members.

What is a Tribe?

Tribes in the US fall into two categories.  When most people think about tribes they are talking about federally recognized tribes.  Those are tribes that have some continuity with the past, such as they have always been a tribe, or they still retain tribal lands, etc., and the federal government recognizes them as such.  These are the tribes that qualify for government programs and many own casinos.  As you might imagine, with the influx of casino money, the desire to join a tribe has increased significantly.

The second category is non-federally recognized tribes.  Some are state recognized and others, not at all.  State recognition does not in any way guarantee federal or state funding and there are no universal standards for state recognition.  In other words, your mileage may vary, widely.  Non-federally recognized tribes are often run as non-profit entities.  In many cases, these tribes will help people research and document their genealogy and may be more open to tribal membership for those connecting with their Native heritage.

Be aware that some “tribes” that fall into the non-federally funded category may be less than ethical.  Some tend to come and go.  In one case, to apply to join, one had to provide information such as social security numbers and a complete family pedigree including your children. In some cases, membership is very expensive, hundreds of dollars, but is available to almost anyone for the right price.  When evaluating tribes that are not federally recognized, if something sounds fishy, it probably is.  Caution is the watchword.

In general, the federally recognized tribes do not feel kindly towards the non-federally recognized tribes and view them as “fake,” interlopers trying to get part of that pie.  Of course, the non-federally recognized tribes feel differently; that they are reclaiming their heritage denied them.  Native American politics is nothing new and is fraught with landmines.

No federally recognized tribes, to the best of my knowledge, have considered DNA testing as a criteria for membership.  No federally recognized tribe has endorsed or participated in DNA testing that I’m aware of.  This does not mean that individuals have not privately tested.

Traditional Genealogy Research

Given the criteria for membership in federally recognized tribes, traditional genealogy is the only way to obtain the type of information required.  If your family history includes a tribal name, and east of the Mississippi, that most often is Cherokee, contact the various Cherokee tribes to inquire about membership criteria.  If the membership criteria is 25% blood quantum, and you must live on the reservation, you’re toast… need to continue that line of research if your goal is to join the tribe.

If your goal is simply to find your Native ancestor, that’s another matter entirely.  Begin by using the traditional research tools.

First, look at where your ancestor or that family line was located.  Did they migrate from elsewhere?  How were they listed in the census?  Was someone listed as other than white, indicating mixed race?  Check the records where they lived, tax records and others to see if there is any indication of non-European heritage.  Remember that your non-white ancestor would have retained their “darker” countenance for at least 2 generations after being admixed.  Many Native people were admixed very early.

So first, check the normal genealogy records and look for hints and traces of non-European ancestry.

Second, turn to Native resources that might reflect the Native people in the areas where your family is or was found.  The Access Genealogy site is absolutely wonderful and has an amazingly complete set of records including searchable tribal rolls.  In addition, I add information almost daily to the Native Heritage Project at, which is searchable.  There are many more resources including several collections at

Hopefully, these records will help narrow your focus in your family tree to a particular person or two, not just a general branch.  Family rumors like “Grandma was a Cherokee Princess” are particularly unuseful.  What they more likely mean is that there was indeed some Native ancestry someplace in her line.  Cherokee has become a generic word like Kleenex.  It may also have meant that Indian heritage was claimed to cover much less desirable African heritage.  Institutionalized discrimination existed against any people of color in pre-1967 America, but Indians generally retained some rights that people of African ancestry did not.  Laws varied by state and time.  Take a look at my blog about Anti-Miscegenation Laws and when they were overturned.

Now, let’s look at DNA testing to see what it can do for you.

DNA Testing to Prove Native Ancestry

There are three types of DNA testing that you can do to prove Native Ancestry.  Two are very focused on specific family lines, and one is much more general.

  • Mitochondrial for your direct maternal line.
  • Y-line for your direct paternal line – if you are a male. Sorry ladies.
  • Autosomal to test your ethnic mix and one direct marker test for Native ancestors.

On a pedigree chart, these genealogical lines look like this:

adopted pedigree

You can see the path that the blue Y chromosome takes down the paternal line to the brother and the path the red mitochondrial DNA takes down the maternal line to both the brother and the sister.  Autosomal tests the DNA of all of the 16 ancestral lines shown here, but in a different sort of way.

Let’s look at each type of testing separately.

Y-Line DNA – For Paternal Line Testing for Males

The Y-line testing tests the Y chromosome which is passed intact from father to son with no DNA from the mother. This is the blue square on the pedigree chart. In this way, it remains the same in each generation, allowing us to compare it to others with a similar surname to see if we are from the same “Smith” family, for example, or to others with different surnames, in the case of adoption or Native heritage.  Native American genetics isn’t terribly different than adoptees in this situation, because different English surnames were adopted by various family members, into the late 1800s and sometimes into the early 1900s, depending on the location.

Y-line DNA can tell you whether or not you descend from a common male genealogically when compared to another testing participant.  Small mutations do take place and accumulate over time, and we depend on those so that we don’t all “look alike” genetically.  It can also tell you by identifying your deep ancestral clan, called a haplogroup, whether or not you descend from early Native Americans who were here before contact with Europeans.  For that matter, it can also tell you if you descend from those of African, European or Asian ancestry.

Scientists know today that there are only two primary haplogroups indicating deep ancestry that are found among Native American males who were here prior to contact with Indo-Europeans, and those haplogroups are C and Q3.  It is not accurate to say that all C and Q3 individuals exist only in the American Native population, but the American Native population is part of the larger group worldwide that comprises C and Q3.  We find some haplogroup C and Q3 in Europe but none in African populations, although we do learn more every single day in this infant science.

This sometimes becomes confusing, because the single most common male haplogroup among current Cherokee tribal members who have tested is R1b.  How can this be, you ask?  Clearly, one of three possibilities exists:

  1. The Cherokee (or those tribes who were assimilated into the Cherokee) adopted a European male into the tribe or a European male fathered a child that was subsequently raised as Cherokee.
  2. The R1b ancestor was not adopted into the tribe, maintained their European/American identity but married a Cherokee individual woman and their descendants are recognized as Cherokee today.
  3. There is some level of R1b admixture in the Native population that preceded contact with Europeans that we have not yet identified.

Because of the unique haplogroups for Native Americans who preceded European contact, Y-line is the only way to positively confirm that a specific line is or is not of Native American descent.  This obviously applies to all of the individuals in the pedigree chart who directly descend from the oldest known ancestor in this paternal line.

Y-line testing does not indicate anything about the contributions of the other ancestors in this family tree.  In other words, you could be 3/4th Native, with only the direct paternal line being European, and this test would tell you nothing at all about those other three Native lines.

When ordering DNA tests at Family Tree DNA, which is where I recommend that you test, everyone is encouraged to join projects.  There are several types of projects, but to begin with, you should join your surname project.  Not only does this group you with others whom you are likely to match, but this also assures that you receive the project based discounts.  I blogged about how to find and join relevant projects.

You can test at 12, 25, 37, 67 or 111 marker “locations” on the Y chromosome. I generally recommend 37 or 67 to begin which gives you enough to work with but isn’t terribly expensive.  At Family Tree DNA, you can always upgrade later, but it’s less expensive in total to test more initially.  Right now, 37 markers cost $119 and 67 markers are $199, but a sale is currently underway.

After your results are returned, you can then upload or manually enter your results at (upload directly from your Family Tree DNA matches page), and You can then check for matches at these sites as well. Not all of these other sites test as many markers as Family Tree DNA, but the comparison is free and useful.  Even if your haplogroup is not Native American, you may match others with a similar heritage story for their paternal line.

Family Tree DNA also provides significant tools for Y-line DNA as well as Mitochondrial DNA. You can see both Family Tree and Ancestry Y-line results compared on this blog, which shows you how to use both companies’ tools. At Family Tree DNA, for all their tests, you are provided with the e-mail addresses of your matches. At Ancestry and 23andMe, you contact matches through their internal message system. My experience has been that direct e-mails have a better response rate.

The person looking for Native Heritage will be most interested in their haplogroup designation.  If your haplogroup is either Q or C, you’ll want to join your haplogroup project, minimally, as well as other relevant Native American projects, and work with the administrators for further testing.  Remember, neither haplogroup Q nor C are always Native, so deeper testing may be in order.  You may also match others with confirmed Native heritage, including a tribe.

If the haplogroup is not Native, then you’ll have to take a look at possible reasons why.

One can never interpret non-Native haplogroup results of any one line to answer the much broader questions of, “do I have Native heritage”, “how much” and “where?”  What you can do at that point is to continue to test other lines in order to discover the identity of your Native American ancestor.

Obviously, the Y-line test is only for males. Ladies, I feel your pain. However, these next tests are for both sexes.

Mitochondrial DNA – For Direct Maternal Line Testing for Both Sexes

Mitochondrial DNA is inherited by all children from their mother only, with no admixture from the father. Women obtain their mitochondrial DNA from their mother, who got it from their mother, on up the line into infinity. This is the red circle on the right hand side of the pedigree chart. Like Y-line DNA, mitochondrial DNA is passed intact from one generation to the next, except for an occasional mutation that allows us to identify family members and family lines.

Unfortunately, it does not follow any surname. In fact the surname changes with every generation when women marry. This makes it more challenging to work with genealogically, but certainly not impossible. Because of the surname changes in every generation, there are no “surname” projects for mitochondrial DNA, per se, but there are other types of projects.  For example, the Mothers of Acadia project is using mitochondrial DNA to reconstruct the Acadian families including those of Native American heritage.

There are three levels of testing you can take for mitochondrial DNA at Family Tree DNA, which is where I recommend that you test. The mtDNA, the mtDNAPlus and the Full Sequence. The mtDNA test is a starter test that will provide you with a base haplogroup, but will leave people searching for Native ancestry needing a more complete test for full haplogroup identification confirming Native ancestry. I strongly recommend the full sequence test, but if the budget just won’t allow that, then the mtDNAPlus will do until you can afford to upgrade. Family Tree DNA is the only major lab that tests the full sequence region, plus, they have the largest matching data base in the industry.

To put this in perspective for you, the mtDNA and the mtDNAPlus tests both test about 10% of your mitochondrial DNA and the full sequence test tests all of your 16,569 mitochondrial locations. You can then compare them with other people who have taken any of those 3 tests.  Pricing for the mtDNAPlus is currently $139 and the full sequence is $199.

MtDNA testing is not as popular as Y-line testing because it’s more difficult to use genealogically as last names change every generation.  When you look at your matches, you have no idea whatsoever if you might be related to these people in a genealogically relevant time frame by looking at their last names.  Those who have invested the effort to collaboratively work on their mtDNA matches, assuming a full sequence match and a shared geographical history as well, have been pleasantly surprised by what they’ve found.

A haplogroup assigning deep ancestry is provided through mitochondrial testing, so like the Y-line, depending on the haplogroup assigned, you will know if your ancestors were here before European contact.  Maternal haplogroups that indicate Native heritage include A, B, C, D and X.  Like Y-line DNA testing, none of these haplogroups are exclusive to Native Americans, so a full sequence level test will be required to confirm a Native American subgroup.

After you receive your results, you can enter the mtDNA and mtDNAPlus portions into public data bases. There are no public data bases for the full sequence segment because there may be medical implications in some of those mutations, so they are not displayed publicly although they are compared privately within the Family Tree DNA data base. You will want to enter your data and check for matches at (upload directly from your matches page at Family Tree DNA), and, although beware of Ancestry’s accuracy issues.

Testing the Y-line and mitochondrial DNA individually gives us a great deal of very specific information about 2 lines in your pedigree chart.  The best method of identifying Native American ancestors is indeed to test as many lines on your DNA pedigree chart using this methodology as possible.  Let’s take a minute to look at how to create a DNA pedigree chart.

DNA Pedigree Chart

If your Y-line and mitochondrial DNA have proven not to be Native, that doesn’t mean that the rest of your lines aren’t.

Let’s take a look at how to create a DNA pedigree chart so that you can focus your Y-line and mitochondrial DNA testing for other lines.

The purpose of a DNA pedigree chart is to provide guidance in terms of inheritance and also to provide a way of documenting your progress.  My chart is shown below, as an example.

DNA Pedigree

You can see the Y-line of my father and the mitochondrial line of my mother, on both ends of the pedigree chart.  At the top of each line, I have recorded the haplogroup information for each family.  Color coding each line helps in tracking descendants who would carry the DNA of the ancestor of that line.  For example, my mother’s father’s mother’s line is the yellow Miller line.  I need to find a daughter of my grandfather’s sisters, or their children, or their daughter’s children, to test for that mitochondrial DNA line.  Which reminds me, I need to call my cousin.  Family reunions, picnics and holidays are great for this type of thing.  Sadly, so are funerals.

I blogged about how to put together your own DNA pedigree chart.  You can get a free copy and instructions on my website too, at under the Publications tab.  If you’re Native and adopted, then refer to the adoptee blog instead, or in addition.

But sometimes, we can’t find the right people in order to test, so we move to autosomal testing to help us fill in the blanks.

Autosomal Testing – For Both Sexes – The Rest of the Story 

Autosomal DNA testing tests all of your 23 pairs of chromosomes that you inherit from both of your parents. You get half of each chromosome from each parent. You can see this pattern on the pedigree chart, represented by all of the 16 genealogical lines. Therefore, as you move up that tree, you should have inherited about 25% of your DNA from each grandparent, about 12.5% of your DNA from each great-grandparent, as have all of their other great-grandchildren.

Therefore beginning with your parents, you carry the following approximate amount of DNA from each of these ancestors. I say approximate, because while you do receive exactly 50% of your DNA from each parent, there is no guarantee that their parents DNA was admixed in your parents such that you receive exactly 25% from each grandparent, but it’s close.  You can see the percentages in the chart below.

Generation Relationship % of Their DNA You Carry






















Given this chart, if the Native percentage is back beyond 6 generations and drops below the 1% threshold, it’s extremely difficult to discern today.

Autosomal testing will pick up relationships reliably back to about the 6th or 7th generations, and sporadically beyond that.

Autosomal testing provides you minimally with two things.  First, with a list of “cousin matches” by percentage and estimated relationship.  Second, percentages of ethnicity.  It’s this second part that’s most important for the person seeking to prove Native American heritage.

Percentages of Ethnicity

As the field of genetic genealogy has moved forward, research has begun to indicate that certain autosomal markers are found in higher or lower frequencies in different ethnic populations.

For example, if someone has the Duffy Null allele, or genetic marker, we know they positively have African admixture.  We don’t know how much African admixture, or from which line, or when that individual with African admixture entered their family tree, but we know for sure they existed.

Attempting to determine the population frequency of varying markers and what that means relative to other populations is the key to this analysis.  Few markers are simply present or absent in populations, but are found in varying frequencies.  Some populations are widely studied in the research literature, and others are virtually untouched.  Thousands have only been recently discovered as part of the National Geographic, Genographic project.

The process of compiling this information in a meaningful manner so that it can be analyzed is a formidable task, as the information is often found in nearly inaccessible academic and forensic research publications.  It’s difficult to determine sometimes if the DNA analysis of 29 individuals in a small village in northern Italy is, for example, representative of that village as a whole, of northern Italy, or more broadly for all of Italy.  Is it representative of Italy today or Italy historically?  These and other similar questions have to be answered fully before the data from autosomal testing can be useful and reliable.

Having said this, the recent release of the National Geographic, Genographic Project version 2.0 holds great promise.  It’s one of 4 autosomal tests on the market today that provide next-generation chip based wide spectrum testing which replaces the older CODIS type testing.   The difference between the old and new technology is using 15 or 20 markers versus a half a million or so.  They aren’t even in the same ballpark.  If you want to see a comparison of the older type tests, read my paper titled Revealing American Indian and Minority Heritage Using Y-Line, Mitochondrial, Autosomal and X Chromosome Testing Data Combined with Pedigree Analysis.

Let’s take a look at all 4 of the contemporary autosomal tests and what they have to offer.

Genographic 2.0

Of the 4 tests, the Geno 2.0 is the newest and appears to reach back the deepest in time, meaning it may well be picking up anthropological results, not just genealogical results.  We don’t know exactly how the analysis is done, but we do know, in general, that if you evaluate segments, you will get results closer in time than if you evaluate individual ancestry informative markers (AIMS).

You can take a look at the results of a man with Native ancestry on both his paternal and maternal sides.  You can also take a look at the reference populations used by National Geographic in this overview of their test results.

If you want to order this test visit  The price is $199.  You also receive your Y-line and mtDNA haplogroups, but no marker values for comparison to others. However, the Y haplogroup testing is the most advanced in the world.  You can see why in the Geno 2.0 announcement here.

I have found the Geno 2.0 test to be somewhat more sensitive autosomally than others, but it’s still very new and I have not yet been able to do a complete comparison.  Results have only been coming back for a couple of weeks.

Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA sells the Family Finder test. Right now it is priced at $199 or bundled with attractive pricing with either the Y-line or mitochondrial DNA tests. I often like to use this tool in conjunction with the Y-line and mitochondrial DNA tests to see, if you match someone closely, whether you are actually related to them in a recent timeframe or if it is further back. Family Tree DNA is the only one of the autosomal testing companies that has the ability to do this type of advanced comparison.  Compared to 23andMe and Geno 2.0, they are the only ones to offer traditional Y-line and mitochondrial DNA testing which provides individual marker results and matches.

In addition to a list of autosomal matches, you will receive your breakdown of ethnicity, by percent.  The results below are for the same man with Native ancestry whose Geno 2.0 results are shown in the Geno 2.0 – First Peek blog.

native pop finder

You can read more about the Family Tree DNA autosomal product on their FAQ.


Another company that sells autosomal testing is In addition to a list of cousins, you also receive admixture percentages, and their specialty, health traits.  You also receive a paternal and maternal haplogroup, but with no markers for personal comparison.  These Y-line and mitochondrial results are not as accurate at the Geno 2.0 nor the Family Tree DNA Y-line and mitochondrial DNA full sequence tests.

Be aware that while people who test at Family Tree DNA are interested in genealogy, the typical person at 23andMe tested for the health portion, not the genealogy portion, and may not answer contact requests or may know very little about their family history.

Right now, their test is $99, and you can download your results and upload them to Family Tree DNA for an additional $89, making the total price similar to the Family Tree DNA test. However, you need to be somewhat technically savvy to complete the download/upload process.

23andMe recently released a new version of their software which added quite a bit of resolution after years of being woefully behind.  Native American wasn’t even a category previously.  You can take a look at the new format here.

Ancestry recently introduced an autosomal test.  You receive matches and ethnicity percentages.  However, their ethnicity percentages have significant issues and I would not recommend them at this time.  Their cousin matches come with no analysis tools.  So for now, just skip Ancestry and concentrate on the other resources.

One Last Autosomal Test

One marker value in particular, known as D9S919 is present in about 30% of the Native people.  The value of 9 at this marker is not known to be present in any other ethnic group, so this mutation occurred after the Native people migrated across Beringia into the Americas, but long enough ago to be present in many descendants.  You can test this marker individually at Family Tree DNA, which is the only lab that offers this test.  If you have the value of 9 at this marker, it confirms Native heritage, but if you don’t carry 9, it does NOT disprove Native heritage.  After all, many Native people don’t carry it.

To order this test, for existing Family Tree DNA clients, click on the “Order Upgrade” orange button on the right hand side of your personal page, then on “Advanced Test”, then enter “autosomal” in the drop down box, then you will see the list below. D9S919 is the last one and it costs $15.  There may be a $10 one time transfer fee as well if your DNA sample is not in the Houston lab.

native d9s919 order

Swimming in Many Pools

As you can see there are lots of tools available to you that can be used individually or in conjunction with each other.  Like anything else, the more work and effort you are willing to devote to the search, the more likely you are to be successful.

Most people test their Y-line and mitochondrial DNA, not just for Native ancestry, but to learn more about the lines they can test for themselves without reaching out to other family members.

Use your DNA pedigree chart to plan who to ask in your extended family to test for which lines.

Plan to test with multiple autosomal testing companies.  Autosomal testing in particular is still in its infancy. I like to use the results of multiple companies, especially when you are dealing with small amounts of admixture.  They use different markers, combinations, analysis tools and reference populations, so you can expect slightly different results.  One company may pick up slight minority admixture while another may not.  This has happened repeatedly with both my Native and African minority admixture.


After you obtain your results from either Family Tree DNA or 23andMe, you’ll want to download your raw data results and then upload the file to This is a privately run “donation” site, not associated with any of the testing companies, meaning there is no subscription or fee to use the tools, but they do appreciate and are funded by donations.

After uploading your results you can utilize several admixture tools to compare and contrast your results.

Getting Help

If you’re struggling with working through your family possibilities for who to test, I do offer a DNA Test Plan service.

If you would like a Personalized DNA Report for Y-line or mitochondrial results, those are available as well.

If you have what amounts to a quick question that I can answer in less than an hour, including prep, I offer the Quick Consult service.

For more extensive consulting, contact me.  You can see my services here.

In Summary

Finding our Native ancestors is a way to pay homage to their lives and to the culture that was stripped from their descendants, ironically, by using their own DNA that has been gifted from them to us.  Native people, after contact with Europeans were marginalized, and that’s the best that can be said.  Many were killed, either intentionally or by European diseases, or enslaved.  The results are that Native people left few if any individual records and those that might be available often can’t be identified or linked to them personally.  For those who cannot unearth their Native ancestry using conventional genealogical means, genetic testing is the last hope left.  Fortunately, the tools and our knowledge improve every day.  We’re making great strides with what we can do, enlarging what was a pinhole into a keyhole, allowing us to peer into the past.  So, click your heels, order your tests and let’s see where your DNA takes you.

176 thoughts on “Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA

  1. Hi Roberta,
    I went ahead and had the autosomal and mtDNA test done on my father through familytreeDNA, now I’m just waiting on the results. I had the autosomal test done on myself through Ancestry and then transferred the results to FamilytreeDNA like you suggested. I’m just a little confused with the two different findings. With Ancestry they just classified me as Native American but with Familytree they went further and classified me as Native American-Maya/Columbia. I guess my question is–How far back do these two different autosomal test go? I ask because when doing the paper trail on my father’s family I can go back to about the 1700s and all of his family lived in Taos Pueblo, Nambe, Santa Fe New Mexico area and never really moved around. Is there not a grouping for the South-Western Native Americans in the U.S.?

  2. Hi Roberta,
    I went ahead and had the autosomal and mtDNA test done on my father through familytreeDNA, now I’m just waiting on the results. I had the autosomal test done on myself through Ancestry and then transferred the results to FamilytreeDNA like you suggested. I’m just a little confused with the two different findings. With Ancestry they just classified me as Native American but with Familytree they went further and classified me as Native American-Maya/Columbia. I guess my question is–How far back do these two different autosomal test go? I ask because when doing the paper trail on my father’s family I can go back to about the 1700s and all of his family lived in Taos Pueblo, Nambe, Santa Fe New Mexico area and never really moved around. Is there not a grouping for the South-Western Native Americans in the U.S., such as Pueblo/Apache/Navajo?

  3. Haskell Indian University offers very low costing (almost free) college education for those who qualify. The total cost per semester for someone living on campus is 715 dollars. If living off campus, the cost is 240 dollars per semester. Only those with 25% or tribal members can attend.

    Of course, the above does not include the cost of books, supplies (e.g., paper/computer), transportation, personal items (e.g., toiletry items), and off campus room/board.

  4. I would like to know how to go about getting an DNA done for my mother-in-law. She recently found out that her mother had an affair and the father who she thought was her family may not have been her father. Both her parents have passed and she believes, that the father who might of been her biological was Indian. Is there some place we can find out what nationality she is? It is really bothering her and she has no idea who her father might have been. She does not look like anyone in her family. They are all blonde, blue eyed, tall and thin. She is short, dark hair, brown eyes and dark skin? Please let me know, I want to help her find out what nationality she is, so she can have some peace!

  5. Pingback: Finding Native American Ethnic Results in Germanic People | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  6. Hi Roberta,

    Thank you so much for your in-depth explanations here! I have scoured it all but am still confused. I am basically trying to find out my if I have any Native American ancestry. Supposedly, my great-grandfather on my mother’s side was. From the sound of it, there isn’t really a test available that would tell me anything. Is that correct?

    I appreciate your work in this area.



    • If you have a direct male descendant of the man, who would carry his surname, you can test the Y DNA of that person. You can also test yourself using the autosomal tests. If he was Native and was fully Native, you should carry enough Native heritage that it would show.

  7. Pingback: Native American DNA Projects | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  8. Pingback: Native American DNA Projects | Native Heritage Project

  9. Dear Robert:

    We foster/adopted twins 17 years ago. It has been suggested that we investigate the possibility of Native American descent as they transition to adulthood. At the time we fostered them, a comment was made to us by a social worker that their bio mom may have been Native American. All paperwork was sealed at the time of adoption. They identify as Hispanic, but we have told them there is a possibility of Native American ancestry. The identity of their bio father
    father is completely unknown. Do you have a suggestion on the type(s) of genetic testing we might
    begin with? I would appreciate your opinion

      • Dear Roberta:

        Do you have a lab that you feel is more reputable than any of the others? I have spoken with two so far and it seems like their main concern is to get me to spend as much money as possible.

        I have twins, and although they are not identical, I would need to pay to have only one tested in order to get the information we would like to have, correct?

        Also, I told the representative the two tests you recommended and she said there was no reason at all to have the Y test, to only get the mitochondrial and another called Native American DNA plus.

        I appreciate your time and your opinion.


        Julia Fournier

      • The only lab I would test with is Family Tree DNA. Period. The company you were talking to does not provide a comparison data base. You don’t say if both your twins are males. The only reason you wouldn’t want the Y is if you are ONLY looking for Native info and you know positively it’s not on that side.

  10. “Unfortunately, it does not follow any surname. In fact the surname changes with every generation when women marry.”

    In many places women’s surnames never change. You might want to say something like “The surname often changes when women marry.”

    • Thanks for the information. I do want to ask you because I tried to get some more information but it’s been difficult to retrieve information, but I want to ask you. My great grandfather was a True Blood native american indian and my grandfather was a True Blood native american indian who married a woman who was Indian and French to whom my father was born to. Her mother was also Indian and French who married a man who had some Scottish in him. What percentage of Indian would my daddy have and his son? Please reply back

      • If your grandfather was pure Native, his child would be 50% and his child would be 25% plus whatever you got from the other side. However, most people’s ancestor’s weren’t pure and were admixed.

  11. Maybe the “Big Y” next time. I am up to 67 loci at FTDNA and have almost no matches, the closest being ~4th cuz. Lots of Campbells and no Mitchell surnames (mine) at all. So I will probably be more careful before I spend several hundred $. HG R-P25.

    I know I am part Native American because my grandfather was hard to miss with his blue-black hair and nose like the man on the buffalo nickel, and his mom was high percentage NA. Ironic because my grandmother “did not care much” for Indians because she was supposed to be some kind of cousin to Cynthia Ann Parker, but maybe 2 generations behind, and she carried a grudge..Parker name DID show up as a dna match at the lower resolution levels but no genealogical link I could find.

  12. Hello, My Grandmother was adopted but knew and even had met her biological father and mother. My late biological Great Grandfather was on the rolls with his tribe and I would like to be able to be enrolled as well even though my mother and late grandmother are not, but with her being adopted I do not know how to go about proving my heritage. Do you have any advice or know which way I should turn. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks, Lisa

  13. Trying to see how much NA blood myself and my father have… I am the daughter and I lost my brother in 94 to a brain tumor so can’t text him. Lost my grandmother this past year and can’t test her either. Her and my grandfather had a great percentage of NA bkgrnd.. Please help me.. So need test for father and daughter.

    • You can both purchase the Family Finder. He can purchase the Y and mtdna. You can purchase the mtdna as well through Family Tree DNA. Their link is on the sidebar of my blog.

  14. Thanks so much for your help and willingness to respond to our questions. I am very new to this but always wanted to know about my heritage. I was always told my grandmother was all or part Native American, Cheyenne or Cherokee but not sure. She died in 1958 when I was 2 so I was too young to ask any questions and no one else seemed to know anything. I would like to know just to know, not for any other reason. I am not real computer literate and was wanting to know if the data will be easy for me to understand? I want to do the full testing for both sides of my family as I find this so interesting and would like to know before I go.

      • Roberta, we have been told all our lives that we are decendents of Cherokee Indians. We have found some documentation that states that my Great Grandfather was able to hunt and access indian reservation land in the early 30’s. This documentation refers to him as “Brother Paul Thompson” of the “Kinisaw” or “Kenisaw” tribe. It was goverment issued. Would this be concidered documentation to determand that we are decendents of American Indians?

      • I don’t know. I have never seen anything like that. I would contact the tribe in question. They may know more. I have never heard of the Kenisaw tribe.

  15. Hi Roberta! First I want say how much I love your site and all of the pages that go with it. You have been such a great help to me as I learn the ins and outs of DNA testing. This is actually the second post for me. I had an eloquently prepared post earlier tonight but when I went to post it, it wouldn’t and I lost it. Please forgive this less eloquent attempt. Now I have a question that I hope you can help me with. But first a little back story… I hope I don’t leave anything out. My dad has told me all my life that when he would ask my grandfather why they looked the way they did, my grandfather would laugh and say they were Portyghee or Gypsy. My dad has done almost all the DNA testing offered with FTDNA up through 2008 which was when he died. I have had my DNA tested (only Family Finder at this time). Thanks to DNA storage, I am doing a FF for my dad right now (no results yet.) I have read everything I can get my hands on about Melungeon ancestry and history. I know the difficulties of trying to use DNA testing to identify oneself as Melungeon, so it’s not likely I will find answers down that avenue. My FF results show 5% ME with the rest being European (including Southern Europe with Spain and Portugal). I’ve read about the possible ME ingredient in Melungeon ancestry and how that might tie in. As of right now, I don’t think I match any folks that are in the Core Melungeon group, although I have know Melungeon names dotted all through my family tree. I don’t think my dad does either. Almost all of my people in my family tree were in Greene Co., TN for nearly 200 years ranging from the late 1700s to the 1960s (at least with my line). That’s just next door to Hawkins. Maybe that could be a clue. The rest of my folks came from North Carolina and Virginia. My dad had the now obsolete DNA Print test way back when, and it showed him to have 30% Native American. I’m figuring those results are null and void now. Also, I read about a possible tie with the Saponi and Melungeon groups. I also read a brief bit about how the Saponi or Nansemond were sometimes referred to as Portuckee. That word looks and sounds a lot like Portyghee. Also, I read that Mitchell might have been a surname used by the Saponi, and Mitchell is my family line I’m researching. I know that some of the stuff I have read might not be completely accurate. That’s why I am coming to you. I guess my question is this: What is your opinion that Mitchells from that area in that time period be connected to Melungeons, Saponi, or any other Native American group? My dad searched for years for pieces to this puzzle and never got the answers he needed. No one would ever talk about it. I just want to know so I can know for my dad’s sake. So I can share it with my children. He wondered all his life why their family looked the way they did. And as far as I know all my people were marked W on all the censuses, but I don’t know how. Also, any advice you can give me for my search or any direction you can point me in will be wonderful! I have probably rambled on for too long now. I just don’t know where else to turn. Thank you for reading!

    • You’re going to have to do what the rest of us have done. Work through your matches, work through the ancestry, and map your chromosomes. I did an entire series on this entitled “The Autosomal Me” and it details how to go about this process if you are determined. There are no “easy answers” to these kinds of questions.

  16. Thank you so much for the advice. I will check out the chromosomal mapping. Sounds interesting. I can’t seem to find a match that is familiar with my particular line. I might have matching surname with someone, but when it comes down to the details part, they don’t match me there. Not many folks want to talk about finding the ME in the FF results. It has been very frustrating. I’m sure you know all about that. I am glad to have found this blog. You seem to be the resident expert in this field and are so accessible. I am glad to have found a helper! Thank you again.

  17. my name is bradley nulf and i no myb familiy has a very lot of native american in them and i was wondering were the closest place to sturgis mi i could be tested for native dna please contact me at thank u

  18. My grandfather on my fathers side was full blooded Native American. Me and my father would like to be able to prove this fact. The only thing is I don’t know witch test to do since I am a female and its fromy fathers side. Witch one should I do?!? Thank you,
    Amnesty Huggins

  19. My grandfather from my dads side was supposed to be full blood Choctaw Indian. My father and I would like to confirm if we do have native heritage in our DNA. Witch test would I do since I am a female but its from my fathers side?

  20. Roberta –
    My tests on every site (Ancestry, FTDNA, and Gedmatch) all indicated no less than 11% Native and 14% African. (I am Puerto Rican.) I have traced my ancestors on both sides back to the early 1800’s on the island but I cannot discern who was Native (Taino) or African. The Spanish records all list a person’s color and they all seem to have been light-skinned. Could it be that I happened to get a percentage that many of them carried? Everyone has Spanish names so I can’t pinpoint which side it came from nor if they were just carrying some DNA or were full blooded Native or African. Could small parts be passed down to me?

  21. I have just had my DNA test done on and am currently awaiting results, we have been told down the years that although we were born and are resident in the UK, we are descended from the Sac & Fox Nation, there are various photos I have seen that bear this out there is also a picture of my Grandfather on the Sac & Fox old Indian photo page on face book and I am immensely proud of all this. The reasoning behind this is that I/we need to have a sense of belonging and the older I/we get the pull towards this ancestry is getting very strong. This is not being done with any underlying motive, we do not seek want or crave financial gain or free college or any other benefits other than that myself & my siblings can finally come home as it were, we have lived all our lives feeling that there is something missing and now want closure.

  22. Thank you so much for compiling and explaining all of this information. My Grandfather’s mother was a full blooded Native American. He has died but he has never had a birth certificate. His mother died when he was less than a year old. He never even really knew his birthdate. He just celebrated in the day if his sister’s birthday. Also, he was called “Indian” and subject to a lot of discrimination in his life. He wouldn’t talk to us about all of this because he thought his kids and grandkids would suffer from discrimination. We do know his mother’s last name. Do you have any advice on where we can start or is there no hope with such little information? My children are very interested and would like to celebrate their heritage. We all have darker skin and eyes and would love to be able to identify with the correct tribe. Thank you so much!

    • There is always hope. I’d begin with the census and local records, and possibly find someone who carries her mtDNA line and have them DNA test. The tribe is very likely in close proximity to where they lived. Start there.

    • It tells you how to go about this in the article that this comment is attached to. You can test your Y, mtDNA and autosomal and that should give you a very good idea of the answer unless the Native ancestor was many generations ago.

      • I got a call from a lady doing my 2nd cousin’s genealogy a couple days ago. She asked if my great grandmother Georgia Ann was black. I was surprised and asked her what brought that question up. Apparently, her death certificate identifies her as black. I told her the family lore was she was close to full blood native american, and as close as I can figure it, probably Creek through Georgia’s family in Florida.

        Is it unusual that a person of NA origins could be identified as black? My grandfather looks like he came off an old nickel, but his skin was always sort of copper colored, not black per se.

        BTW, we are R-P25 and FTDNA a few years ago said I had some genes in common with siberians and south pacific islanders. My 111 panels are almost done, so maybe something more concrete will show up. Steve Mitchell

      • Depending on the place and time, in some cases, all people of color were considered black. And given that it’s his death certificate, not completed by him, he couldn’t argue. Autosomal testing for admixture should be interesting for you.

  23. I am helping my partner confirm his Native American heritage. I have read through the various dna tests offered by family tree dna and have decided to order both the y dna test and the mtdna test. He knows that his father’s mother was native american, but I am wondering if his dna will not reveal the connection to his grandmother because the y dna test strictly checks the paternal line with no influence from any females from that line? He is unaware of any other native relatives besides his father’s mother. If no other relatives are native american, would his dna not show any native heritage?

    • You may also want to do the Family Finder test because it provides percentages of ethnicity across all of your ancestral lines. You’re correct that the Y simply tests the direct paternal line and the mitochondrial DNA the direct matrilineal line.

      • Hi and thanks for your help. My partner did the Family Finder test and he showed no percentages of Native American ethnicity. His father’s mother was Native American, so we were a bit confused as to why his DNA didn’t confirm any native heritage. Do you think it would be worth testing for the D9S919 marker?

      • It wouldn’t hurt to test 919 and it’s inexpensive. Many people think their ancestors are Native, when in reality, they are only part Native and full Native person is back in time many generations. You can also download your results to and utilize their Admixture tools and get additional opinions.

  24. I want to know where I can get tested local. My grandmother claimed from my grandfather side we hace Blackfoot and cherokee. Not sure if it’s true but I am curious. My family is very mixed with European, indian, and central American. Can anyone advise me.

    • Because your mother gets her mtdna from her mother’s maternal line and she doesn’t carry a Y chromosome, the only test you can use to determine Native ancestry for her is the Family Finder test.

  25. I was left at the hospital at birth and then adopted. It’s believe that my father is native American full blooded. I don’t know ego my father or mother are at all. What would be the best tests to take to find out my heritage and what would the cost be too this.
    Thank you John

  26. Hi Roberta, I am so ready to do this! My mother’s mother said that her mother was working at the wild bill show and got pregnant. She was young and the father was Native american. I guess it was an embarrassment to be indian back then…her parent’s married her off to a white man before anyone knew.My grandmother was ashamed to be native american and refused to talk about it. I have no doubts of her being native but would like to know what tribe. I have a brother who also is interested, which test should we get? Thank you so much, Jamie

    • From what you said, if I understand correctly, the father’s Y chromosome was not passed on because female children were born. The mtDNA was not passed because men don’t pass it on, so you would need to take the autosomal DNA test to see what percentage Native you carry.

  27. I want to thank you for your very informative report on the DNA programs, meanings and prospects of who would be good and who might not be as good. I now have a clearer understanding of the different tests and what to expect from them.

  28. Hi,
    At the time you wrote this article you didn’t recommend My brother recently had a DNA test from Ancestry and to our dismay there was no indication of any American Indian ancestry. My question to you is should I take a DNA test? Wouldn’t my results be the same as my brother considering we are both from the same parents? If I should take a DNA test what kind of test would you recommend?

    • You and your brother both inherited different DNA from your parents. You and your brother will only share 50% of your DNA, so the other 50% is different DNA from your parents. Native ancestry may show up in your results. You can also transfer your results for free to Family Tree DNA (plus $39 to unlock all of the matches and ethnicity prediction) which is a lot less than retesting and you can download your results to for free and use their ethnicity tools.

  29. Roberta,
    My paternal grandfather, was adopted and we have tried searching his sealed adoption records through the Mormon church. Some info was given through the years, first that we were ancestors of the Black Foot Indian Tribe my Great Great Great Grandfather a Chief of the Tribe. Later, many years after my Grandfathers passing we found that it was not Black Foot, but Cherokee. GGG Grandfather still Chief of the Tribe. With what you stated about the Cherokee being thrown around and the wrong info given by the church; which by the way is not official still. I am curious how can we still prove DNA with the males in my family if the last name is technically adopted?

    • You need to test your father or brother who carries your paternal grandfather’s Y chromosome and see which surnames he matches the most closely. That may or may not be his direct Native line, but it’s a place to start.

  30. Roberta, have you ever tested with AncestrybyDna? I tested with them a long time ago and I received very minimal results. Recently, a coworker of mine tested with them. Since I tested with them, they’ve appeared to have totally updated their services and website. I was curious to know if you or anyone you know has recently tested with them, as I was considering testing with them again.

  31. When we talk about small amounts of admixture (in this case Native American, but for any admixture) what exactly does testing noise/error look like? How does it show up in the calculators at Gedmatch? Does it look just like what small amounts of admixture would actually look like? If, say, you have a small amount of admixture – you can easily say that the amount is too small to be able to conclusively say that it is real, but what happens when you see that same small amount, give or take a tiny bit, appear in all or almost all of the calculators? Does testing noise consistently show up looking pretty much the same no matter what calculator you run it through? I would like to understand this so I know what I am looking at. I feel like I don’t understand this as well as I’d like. If this has been covered on the blog already, please indicate the link so I don’t repeat a discussion that already has covered this.

      • Ah! I was looking and looking for that series and for some reason I couldn’t find it. Thank you so much for that link!

      • I’m printing the PDF out now – thank you to the person who put that together. To research Native American admixture, are you supposed to run your results through all of the Gedmatch calculators or only some? Some of the calculators have obvious clues that they have referenced Native American populations but then others say something like “East Asian” and you have to figure out what constitutes Native American in those. Eurogenes K9b is one and I think MDLP World 22 is another – but do you need to use all of the calculators or only some? I’m asking this before I have had a chance to read through the entire series of articles so maybe my answer is already in there. I’ll make sure I read the whole thing through and through.

  32. I appreciate your information.
    I was hoping to find my father whom I was told is a full blooded Blackfoot. I was only hoping to find more of my blood family or possibly more medical history through DNA. Unfortunately I do not know his name&my mother&brother took it to they’re graves.
    Thank you for your information&I hope you get all outta life possible.

    Sincerely,Ruth Ann Morris

  33. HI I have a very different problem then most I know that my grandfather was cheerkee indian but he was taken from his family at 9 yr and had 2 sisters be adopted by white families to be tought how to read and write he was adopted by a family named Morris in Brizil Indiana he died right before I was born in 1951 him and my father brother and one sister all have the blue black hair and we all have blue eyes. mom was slovok so 3 middle girls have blue eyes and blonde hair the problem id the court house burnt down and there are no records of where he came from my father also dead use to talk about his grandfather or great grandfather was in theTrail of Tears and was a chief and my grandfather had the full headdress to the floor and breast plate witch disappeared . I have tried to prove my heritage of my grandfather but can’t find anything .
    I would love to meet and learn more of the trible customs and things to pass on to my children and grandchildren to let them know about their heritage and the suffering they went to to stay togather if you know of any way I can get more proof please let me know I have a picture of my grandfather and everyone says that he was indian thank you with any help you can give Jean Wise (Morris)


    • You should be able to take the Family Finder test at Family Tree DNA and the myOrigins ethnicity should reflect your Native heritage. They also match you with cousins, so you might be able to find some of your cousins who share the same lines.

  34. My Father was adopted as a child, and the only thing we know is that his mother was 14, when she had my dad. His birth certificate said she was Native American and Irish, but of what percentage we do not know. We also know where he was born, and right by this place there is an Indian Reservation. We also know her name, and then there are two other names written after her’s. We figured these could be her middle and last name, or while one is hers, the other could be the name of my Dad’s father. What step should I take to find my ethnicity, and possibly even my lost family? Would a DNA test help me find the percentage of each of my ethnicities, and if so, which ones? Please help. Thank you for taking your time to read this! :)

    • Yes, autosomal DNA tests will show you your ethnicity. I recommend Family Tree DNA if you’re selecting only one vendor to test with. If you want to test with more, then Ancestry and 23andMe. You will receive an estimate of your ethnicity breakdown and cousin matches to contact.

  35. I believe I have Indian in my blood due to my skin tone. Unfortunately their are no males living on my mother’s side and all the males for five generations but I do have grandson’s.
    On my father’s side he’s where the red skin tone came from but I only have a half brother that served in Iraq. I need finding out this information. Please help me!

    • The article explains who in your family can test for which kind of DNA and how that tells you about your ancestry. You can take an autosomal test yourself. If your brother is your half brother on your father’s side, he can test his Y to represent your father’s paternal line.

  36. Do you know of a DNA testing company that can get us in to the ballpark of my wife’s Native America ancestor so we can narrow the search to cretin tribes instead of everyone of the tribes in Oklahoma. We know this will not int ital us to tribal benefits but give her the knowledge of her roots and heritage.

  37. Dear,
    I’m from the Netherlands and last year i did a full mtdna test. It shows im hoplogroup u2e with 95% european and 5% middle east. But now i see at at the subgroup: ancestor origins: france, luxumbourg, england, but also: hvr1 hvr2 several times: united states (native american). Does this means i got a far native american ancestor? Im a woman so has to be from mothers side. She is olive skin, brown eyes, black hair. We all are olive skined.

    Hope to hear from you, cause the familytreedna website says a lot but also nothing. To much information.


    • Ancestor origins is what people enter about that line. People get very confused. They make think their “mother’s line” has Native, without regard to which of the mother’s ancestors and enter that, even though the website has explicit instructions.

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