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 recognized 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.

Family Tree DNA provides significant tools for Y-line DNA as well as Mitochondrial DNA. 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.

Update: As of 2019, mitosearch and SMGF no longer exist and Ancestry no longer sells Y and mitochondrial DNA tests, having destroyed their database.

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. 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.

Let’s take a look at all 3 of the contemporary autosomal tests and what they have to offer.

Note: as of 2019, MyHeritage is also a major player in the autosomal DNA testing space.

Family Tree DNA

Family Tree DNA sells the Family Finder test. Right now it is priced at $79 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.

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.



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924 thoughts on “Proving Native American Ancestry Using DNA

  1. My husband’s grandfather Francisco Martinez Cruz was born in Mexico, but came to the U.S. at 18. His American relative he came to live with was his cousin Clements Cruz. Clement and his mother Ysabel are both on the Indian Rolls for the Islets Tribe of New Mexico. There are a lot of other Cruz surnames on the same roll. My husband did his DNA through Ancestry, and it showed 26% Native American. My son shows as 16% Native American. My husband’s father died when he was only 9, and his mother broke off contact with his paternal side after his death. We really want to reconnect with his paternal side. Also we want to find the Mexico/American connection for his grandfather. What test would you recommend for confirming the Isleta tribe connection, and finding the Mexico side of the family?

    • You can find matches through autosomal DNA tests, but mostly, you’re dealing with paper genealogy research to find those family members. The two approaches can work together. You might also contact the tribe.

      • I have a question. My mother’s generation was the last to receive their Indian benefits, so I know for sure my Mother’s side of the family is Native American. Now here’s the kicker, I had a DNA testing done by Ancestry and there wasn’t any indication of Native American at all. Can you explain that to me? I’m really baffled about it. Just seems odd. This was the results:
        Africa 1%
        Low Confidence Region
        Europe 98%
        Great Britain 42%
        Europe West 19%
        Ireland 17%
        Iberian Peninsula 12%
        Scandinavia 6%
        Low Confidence Region
        West Asia

        • I would suggest transferring your result to both Family Tree DNA and GedMatch and seeing what they have to say. Your mother’s ancestors may have been very admixed from long ago. Ethnicity estimates are just that, estimates.

  2. i don’t believe you trace my family at all. I am 50% indian. also black dutch. their was
    nothing about my family blood line.i know nothing more before I paid my money for your

    • You’re confused Annette. I don’t do DNA testing. I’m not a testing company. I write articles on this blog about DNA testing. So you’re unhappy with the wrong person.

      • I have a question because i did a DNA test on to find my mother father’s children and my DNA shows that am only 28% African American 8% European Jewish and 30% Native American the other % is Polynesian and country we never been how can i trace my Native American roots.

  3. Interesting blog. I just received the results from my DNA test done on in February, 2017. I am 36% Native American, though I am not sure which tribe and if this entitles me to any type of benefits.
    Thank you for your time,


  4. DNA Ancestry returned with 47% Native Aerican Indian, what does that really mean?
    Does any Native American Indian result count?
    Are North and South American Native the same?

  5. Pingback: Native American Y Haplogroup C-P39 Sprouts Branches! | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  6. Pingback: Native Male Y DNA Haplogroup C-P39 Branches | Native Heritage Project

  7. This article by Roberta Estes, which I just read in its entirety, provides a detailed, extremely informative overview on how to use Y-DNA (only if you have in your paternal line a direct male ancestor believed to be full blood Native American or an admix) to prove positively Native American ancestry. I believe my dad ( of very dark skin) had a great grandmother (Rebecca Smith McDaniel) who was probably 50% Native American. Tradition says that as an infant she was left on the doorstep of a family, presumably last name Smith. However, this possible Native American ancestor is in my dad’s maternal line, not paternal, so the Y test for his Native ancestry would not work. Mitochondrial DNA passes all down the maternal line. My great grandmother Martha Ellen (Harbert) Brown is as physiologically Native American as one could possibly imagine. Her mother, Savannah (Tinney) Harbert, also bears undeniable Native American features. Therefore, my mother would be part Native American, as would my sister, who completed a full sequence mitochondrial DNA test. It has been years ago that she tested, and now I just hope her test was the “full sequence.” If not, I will purchase an upgrade. I may consider paying Roberta Estes to analyze and clarify my sister’s results. I just ordered a mitochondrial.DNA test for my wife Peggy. She took samples of her DNA, which I will mail tomorrow to Family Tree DNA. P.S. Roberta, I posted your article on my FB site for all my friends. I have tested at 111
    markers for Y-DNA on the Bryan/O’Brien Surname project, with fabulous administrators, Dennis O’Brien and Dennis Wright. I completed the terminal SNP-L226 (Irish type 3) test, administrators were virtually positive I would be L-226. Instead, I have a different result (sorry, can’t recall right now, will have to check). I have very close matches with L-226 at 67 and 111 markers. I will contact you about helping to fully analyze my sister’s mitochondrial test. I assume that if our mother carried Native American DNA that a mitochondrial test for me would yield the same results as for my sister. Correct? I don’t think I did family finder test. That sounds like a good idea because we believe recent ancestors (mother, grandmother, great grma, and gr gr grandma) were all Chicksaw. Have pics of all of them. Would want to share with you. Loved your article about your mother. Every parent and child should read it.

    • Roberta, I would like feedback or input regarding comment and questions I submitted two or three days ago. Thanks. I would like to know what you charge for a consultation and overview of my sister’s mtDNA test. I hope she took full sequence. I will check. She took test a few years ago. Our mother and maternal line is believed to be Native American.

      • Hi David. Your mitochondrial DNA and your sisters will both be reflective of your mother’s, of course. When you or your sister complete the full sequence test, you can see if you match known Native American haplogroups. I would also be glad to do a Quick Consult for you, or a Mitochondrial Report which you could share with your other family members as an heirloom. You can purchase either at, depending on what you would like.

      • PS – If your sister did not take the full sequence test, you can upgrade her test results and should before either the consult or report so I have more to work with.

  8. Hi, my mother is extremely interested in tracing her Native American ancestry to determine particular tribe(s). i am so confused by the method in which to use to accomplish this. I wanted to get her this testing for Mother’s Day but I see that it is not at all straight forward. Can anyone be good enough to guide me as to what specifically to purchase for her ? She has no prior ancestry testing of any kind. Thank you.

    • There are only two tests females can take. The mitochondrial test shows only the direct matrilineal line – her mother – her mother – her mother. If you know that the Native ancestors was NOT on this line, then you don’t need that test. If you don’t know, and the Native ancestor could be from that direct line, then take the full sequence test. This test reaches infinitely back in time. The haplogroup will tell you. The second test is the Family Finder test which shows ethnicity percentages, but it can only reach back 5 or 6 generations in time reliably. But it does that on all of the lines. So, you might want to order both tests for her, depending on what you do or don’t know about your family heritage. By the way, you can’t track to specific tribes.

  9. My husbands maternal grandparents were Native American but apparently there are not any birth records from their family proving this to be true. Would DNA testing help in proving that my husband is part Native American and would it help in seeking out benefits for our children?

    • I’m going to answer this question for you. No it will not get any benefits for your children, to receive any type of benefits you have to be a member of a specific tribe and each tribe have different qualifications to be a member and the government is not easy to give out benefits for anything, I noticed a lot of people are asking this question lately, I have a small amount of Native American, I’m just happy for that.

  10. Thank you for your interesting blog. I have had my DNA done through Ancestry. My DNA did not come back with any Native American DNA, African American, but not Native American. I was always told by my father’s side of the family that we have Native American ancestry. I was not aware that my mother’s side had Native American and was pleasantly surprised to find a Native American Grandmother about 10 generations back (Mohawk). In your writing you had commented that Ancestry DNA really isn’t the best source to find your Native American ancestry. I am very interested in being able to connect and pay my respects to my Native American Ancestry. What would you suggest to find out more through DNA? Thank you!

  11. Can i find someone to help me find out what tribe and names great grandmother s mother was taken by indians when she was young she had two children while she was there. The calvery came to mississippi and said you may leave she said no but take my children so they did the girl was about 4 her name was dolly elizabeth whitten her father was indian of this tribe

  12. Hi, I was a part of a gene program Through U of Michigan called Gene’s for Good. I got my results back saying I’m 17% Native American, but I’d like to know what tribe. Is there a way I can upload those results in order to possibly find out?

  13. I would like what tribe I belong to. I found out my native indian american is 13 percent
    Where can I write and what test I should have

  14. So if the native american ancestor I am trying to match with is a female that is roughly 4 generations up from me on my father’s side (my father’s mother’s great grandmother), it sounds like I will not be able to match this up with the Y-DNA test because the native ancestor I know of was female and would not have passed any Y-DNA to her children (males or females). Is this correct?

    So the only chance I have is to have my father take the mtDNA test, since it is his mother’s line that meets up with the female ancestor, but even then it will only match if every ancestor above her up to the female ancestor I am trying to match are female? (because a male would break the mtDNA chain and not pass any of his inherited mtDNA down to his children) – Correct?

  15. This is a very straight forwardly written article. I have just “cruised” through it but see enough to tell me what is NOT understood by a population hung up on DNA. The complexity I have discerned from reading several sources, says to me that to have a Real, Professional test done could not be inexpensive. I have cautioned people about wasting money on DNA tests to “find” out their heritage from anywhere. And particularly American Indian. I recall reading where Professor Louis Henry Gates sent away his physical material to three DNA testing Companies . Not one identified him as being of African descent/heritage. Which is his heritage.

    I have read an article from a Lady, as I recall, if memory serves is an American Indian and in one of her explanations gives this scenario:

    You could have eight grand mothers with seven American Indian , Full Blood[ a white term by the way} and one of those grand mothers white, which would block any American Indian heritage from showing up.

    Any way. I am going to read the other article you referenced and print off this article in order to spend the time reading it and get a decent grasp of the data you provide.
    I am a member of a Tribe and became a member because we have a genealogist who has spent the better part of his life studying our Tribe, the history and its movements. Said genealogist and his studies are the only criteria you can use to become a member. Plus, the State placed a stipulation that anyone to become a member had to have not just the lineage but Ancestors on the 1860 census in our County and specifically a small geographical area where historically the Tribe was known to live. We are State recognized only and have no desire to be federally recognized- our purpose is to honor our Ancestors and their and our struggles to survive. We are the only Tribe in our State and on of a handful that has classes and works towards recovering our dialect of the Algonquian language.

    Your explanations , here , provide me with useful knowledge.

  16. i’m a card-carrying mohawk of the iroquois nation. my mother’s parents and grandparents, great grandparents and beyond were also six nations iroquois. we had to go way back in the family trees to find a white ancestor. that said, i did my dna through ancestry to find out what my father contributed, as i was pretty certain that i’d be hovering somewhere near the 50% mark on my mother’s native contribution. imagine my surprise when my test results showed 29% native american! according to gedmatch i also have small amounts of east and west asian, siberian, and other such areas that would seem to connect to my native heritage. this, according to my research, could not have come from my father’s side, and since early arrivals to the americas came from these places, i’m guessing this has to be connected to my mother. adding those numbers to the 29%, that brings my amerindian count up to 47%, which is about what i would guess given my genealogy research. am i right to be adding those numbers to my 29% test result?

    • You can add all these groups except the West Asian that’s really the Middle East. Congratulations for the high percentage for an eastern tribe.

  17. WOW!!! Thanks for such an informative article. I am in the beginning stages of researching my Native American heritage. I wish I would have asked more questions as a child. Thank you for answering some questions and for showing me where to go next.

  18. Yes my name is Joanna Lopez and I’m wanting more information about how much percentage I have

  19. Iam trying to fine what indain could of indain blood i have i a houma indain i have 10% indain blood but it does not say what could of indain. Can you help me

  20. I need help finding someone to help me with my DNA testing and finding my ancestry and my native family

  21. Supposedly my father was Choctaw on his mother’s side. My daughters and I would like to find out if we really do have any Native American blood, I’m their mom. What test should I proceed with?

    • The only test you can take is the autosomal test which gives you an estimate of ethnicity. The Family Finder test is for sale through the end of August and the link is on the sidebar if the blog.

    • Both traditional genealogy and DNA testing are the keys. There is a link to Family Tree DNA on the sidebar of the blog, and right now, all of their tests are on sale until the end of the month. Start with the Family Finder test.

    • Order your test or tests from Family Tree DNA by clicking on the link on the sidebar of this blog. Start with Family Finder and then see if your Y or mtDNA would be applicable, per the article.

  22. Am Cherokee I need to find what prence I am my greategrand mother was a full blooded Cherokee indian

    • The Family Finder ethnicity test is on sale through the end of August. The link to Family Tree DNA, who sells that test is on the sidebar. That test provides you with an estimate of your various kinds of ethnicity, including Native American.

  23. I am a female who has definite Native American heritage on my dad’s side. Both his mother & father had it in their bloodlines. I also possibly have it on my mother and her mother’s line. What is the best test i should take to prove this. Thank you.

    • The Family Finder test provides you with estimates of the percentage you carry. You can test your mtDNA to rule in or out your direct maternal line. If you have a brother, he can test his Y to rule in or out your direct paternal line. Other than that, you will have to rely on traditional genealogy and/or find other relatives to test their Y and mtDNA that are also descended from the appropriate lines for those tests to be relevant to you through your common ancestor.

  24. Hi my sister just got her DNA tested and it came back 63% Native American but it stated that we are from a tribe in Alaska or Canada even from Washington not sure I guess she has to go deeper in the search with hair and blood to find out what tribe I want to know if males would come out with a stronger percentage then females.

  25. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. I just received my Ancestry results, which indicate I am 60% Native American with 2 Geonetic Communities.
    Came across your article when browsing for ways to find out what tribe I may belong to. If I am understanding this correctly, this % is from my Mother’s side?
    I was born in Las Vegas and always identified as Mexican, speak Spanish, etc. This is very interesting. Don’t think any family members were ever registered either. Most of my family came from Mexico.
    I live in California. Any suggestions how I can find my family tribe? My 2 brothers will be testing soon as well. When they do, do I consider their Native American % with mine, and vice versa, for our paternal line?
    Thank you!

  26. If my family wasn’t registered with a reservation will the DNA be helpful in finding my ancestors based on a tribal platform? What is the difference in North American Indian tribe DNA? Do Sioux register any different than another plains tribe? Is the 9 marker a marker to just identify you are NA? Or, is it something that can be broken down from there? It’s not like a tribe can be identified by one father. It would be nice to know the percentage of my Native American blood. Is this possible? Do tribal counsels recognize this?

    • No, tribal councils don’t recognize DNA tests. Every tribe has their own rules as to membership. Generally, you have to prove that you are descended from an enrolled tribal member. You’ll have to contact the tribe or tribes in question. No test can differentiate between tribes, but your results can lead you in the right direction in terms of where to search.

  27. My now-deceased mother told me she was 1/16th Cherokee. In my research I’ve been unable to substantiate this. I believe if it’s true, that it must come from her father’s side and records are few. I have no brother to test Y-DNA. Would it be definitive if my mother’s brother was tested? Also am I correct that I need to do the Family Finder and mitochondrial DNA testing? Do I also need autosomal DNA test? Thanks very much.

    • Your brother’s Y DNA comes from his father. Your mother’s brother’s Y DNA comes from her father, which is good. Your mother’s brother’s mtDNA comes from your mother’s mother’s line. If I were in your shoes, I would have him tested for the Family Finder test, for Y DNA and mtDNA. Those last two tests will let you either rule in or rule out his direct paternal and direct maternal lines.

      • Thanks Roberta! I wasn’t clear in asking “Also am I correct that I need to do the Family Finder and mitochondrial DNA testing? Do I also need autosomal DNA test?” I meant do I need to do these particular tests for myself. I’m trying to decided exactly which tests to order for me while they’re on sale.

        • Family Finder is the autosomal test. If you have your mother’s brother’s Y DNA and his autosomal DNA, that’s a good start. You can also test your own autosomal. Your mother and her brother would have inherited some of the same DNA from their parents, and some different, so you would only need to take the Family Finder. There is an affiliate link on the sidebar. If you click on that, I get credit for the sale and earn a small percentage and it doesn’t cost you any more.

  28. Hi there! I have been engrossed by your writings since finding this page! My search has basically taken over my life 😉
    I wonder if you can point me in the right direction. There was a clip of your ‘by Haplogroup – Master and Summary table’ can you tell me where to find it? I am C1c an would love to check it out! Thank you ♡

  29. My husband passed in October 28, 2016. Is there any way to test for DNA from his hairbrush, false teeth, toothbrush. His grandmother was supposed to be a full blood Indian. We have the most beautiful grand daughter that is 20 years old. She has been told all her life that she has to have Indian blood because of dark skin, hair ,& lean tall build.we would just like to know the truth.

    • Call Family Tree DNA and ask. Not normally, although I know they have made exceptions in the past. It’s rather expensive if they can do it, on top of the testing. You can have your child test which may suffice to answer the question.

  30. Roberta, your blog is the first clearly written, helpful DNA testing info that I have found. My family hid their Native American lineage out of both fear and shame, and the only known location of family roll numbers was destroyed in a fire. I may never find my tribe, or if I do, I may never be allowed to join. But you have shown me some pathways of inquiry that may lead to relatives who are just as interested in connecting with family as I am. Thank you for that.

  31. Alot of. Information my results came back with 45% Native American and they were spot on with where my grandparents on my father’s side came from so does mean I favor my father’s side.

  32. My daughter is native American. Her father is not listed on her birth certificate.i have gone the rout of filing for child support so that I may at least be able to aquire Indian benefits for her. It’s been 2 years since I filed with no success because he ignores anything he has been sent. He lives in Oklahoma and we live in Iowa. I’m sure you can imagine what a struggle this has been. My question is… Is it possible to persue this for her without him? I’m at a loss, because I really just don’t know what I can do or where to start.

      • I’m honestly not worried about child support. My question was probably not worded very well I’d like to know if or how I could persue indian benefits for her without having him on her birth certificate. Is thay possible? I’ve been searching online with this question, I just can’t seem to find any answer.

  33. I just recently discovered that my grandmother’s father’s Y-DNA line was included in a couple of Native American DNA studies over at Family Tree DNA where I found a gg grandfather’s name listed as Native American. The Haplogroup is Q-L53. I have distant Native American in my DNA as well as my sister and brother, and I had determined that most of it was coming from this particular line even before I knew that it was connected to a potential Native American Haplogroup. Is Q-L53 the same as Q1a3a? I’m confused on this. As of now is Q-L53 a definitive Native American Haplogroup? Any insight would be greatly appreciated!

      • Apparently, a male from my grandmother’s father’s family line joined the American Indian Q1a3a1: the Q-M3 Haplogroup Project over at Family Tree a while back. Should I just give you my gg grandfather’s name that is officially listed over there, so you can take a look? I could send it privately. I don’t know the name of the actual relative who submitted his Y-DNA to be included in the study. Thanks Roberta!

        • Well, that’s a gift to find your ancestor’s haplogroup listed. I’m the admin of the American Indian project, but not the Hap Q project. Admins can’t tell you who tested, due to privacy, but we can forward a message from you to that person. I would need a kit number which is displayed on the project page.

  34. Yes, it is a gift! I saw the Haplogroup confirmation over at 23andMe (Q-L53) with a relatively close male cousin on that side of the family. The kit number at the Hap Q project is 161936. Thanks again, Roberta!

  35. Hello,
    My question is my ancestry showed that I was 75% Native American. 19%italian/Greece. The rest middle East. My blood type is haplogroup B. I have been reasearching based on my type of blood Asians are prodimanantley the ones that carry type B blood. My confusion how can I have blood type B and have no asian ancestry? Is my high native lineage from my mother or father?Is there a difference if I was a male will results differ a lot?

  36. Aloha Roberta,

    Thank you for another wonderful and insightful article. I wonder if you might have some ideas for me? I am adopted and looking for my history. I have been blacklisted by the agency… I have tested with 23andMe, uploaded to FTDNA, GEDmatch, WeGene, Geni, Geneplaza… I have shown up as 1/5 – 1/4 NA (depending on the admix on Gedmatch). I realize that my genetics can elude to First Nations, Central or South America. I have been unable to make contact with any *matches* of significance. – all 3-4th cousins 1-3 times removed. The few that have responded have no knowledge of any adoptions. The closest matches being of European/Caucasian males and have since stopped communications. (must be Paternal side). My Haplogroup is C1c – do you have any suggestions as to what or where I should start? The TX vitals let me know my records are “owned” by the agency and cannot help me, even if I try to claim rights under ICWA. Thank you for your time! ♥

  37. Hi I have an important question, I’ve been hearing from a different people that if your amercan indian and proof of indian and how much, CPS has no right to take your kids away or if they already have taken them can get them back, and where i go to get tested for being American indian.

    My Location is
    Olivehurst, California 95961
    Yuba County

    Is there anybody that could possibly help me.
    My name is

  38. I was so shocked to receive my DNA test back that I don’t even know how to feel 🙁
    My DNA said I was 47% west European but I am not even sure what that means? my father passed away and he was receiving indian benefits my whole life and my sister and I receive the his benefits now?????

  39. I was adopted as a child and only recently my biological family on my mother’s side found me (I’m in my early 40s and they found me ~ 5 yrs ago). My great grandmother (M for reference) is currently living and her husband’s mother (my great great grandmother, or K for reference) was according to M and other family, a “tribal” native American. Although K is long since deceased, I’ve seen pictures of K and heard stories of her, and the pictures I’ve seen and stories I’ve heard of K are extraordinarily consistent with K having very deep tribal roots.

    M is most fortunately very lucid even in her 90s and a gatekeeper to the family history, and there are enough living relatives to confirm the stories, including the detail that English was a second language to K. What I don’t know are what specific tribal ancestry K has, as those details guessed at but not specifically known to any great detail within our living family.

    This sounds really strange, but allow me to continue. I’ve been an avid aviation enthusiast since I was old enough to make a paper airplane and eventually joined the Air Force, and currently fly airplanes recreationally. My post-secondary education is in engineering. I’ve also had recurring dreams my entire life of drum circles, fires, chanting, images and languages foreign to me though I became aware enough to eventually identify them as somewhat resembling native American.

    When my biological family made contact with me, in addition to learning that I have native American roots I also learned that I came from multiple generations of aviators, service members and engineers. I am living proof that the “nature vs nurture” debate is yet unsettled.

    I am interested in learning more about my native history/background, and if I am eligible I am curious what it would mean to become a tribal member and what I could pass down to my daughters about their heritage. I can research that on my own, but the reason I’m keying on the native aspects are because they seem to be more easily identifiable and coordinated than my Hispanic/Euro-Anglo histories.

    Here is my question: I can get any DNA test out there, but what specific hurdles might I encounter coming from an orphan-adopted situation as it relates to establishing heritage (if any, who knows what I might find out!), and what would you recommend I do to overcome that if I am otherwise eligible to apply for tribal membership (I acknowledge this is a very generic question)?

    FYI I have very little info on paternal side and that is my other incentive to go through some DNA testing.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this and (hopefully) respond.


  40. I often get asked by full blood Indians what Tribe I belong to..I would like to find out if I have Indian blood in me..would like some help to find out…

  41. My Ancestry results revealed 13% Native American and 19% Iberian Peninsula, both being surprises. I believe these could’ve been through my deceased father. How do I investigate the Native American portion further, being female and unable to get the Y-DNA results to confirm my suspicions?

  42. I just test through Ancestry DNA and I’m 41 percent Native American. Primarily located in: North America, Central America, South America.
    I’m also 35 percent Iberian Peninsula primarily located in Spain and Portugal. I very surprised about being 41 percent Native American. I had no clue what so ever. How can I find out if I’m really 41 percent Native American? Should I retest and if so what would u recommend?

    • You can do two things. You can transfer to Family Tree DNA for free and unlock your ethnicity results and all of the tools for $19, and you can transfer to GedMatch for free. I would do both and look at a number of different results.

    • Kenneth Morici I was found to have 20% mixed , from big family all interested in our family history, found out my great grandfather was a cigar maker from Nova Scotia, but I also found out the Indian side was surprisingly my grandmother Mable Martel side . Only after my cousin on my grandfather side test negative for Native American Canada cousin are part Indian from there father. Interesting enough I only found out about this at 57 year of age . And no I don’t needed assistance I have a great job with retirement. But I would like to be apart of a tribe even if it just visiting and learning family history

  43. My wife and me have 46% native Americans we have three kids and there 46% we are like night and day I m light and she dark we don’t know what kind of native blood we have it would nice to know

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