Elizabeth Warren’s Native American DNA Results: What They Mean

Elizabeth Warren has released DNA testing results after being publicly challenged and derided as “Pochahontas” as a result of her claims of a family story indicating that her ancestors were Native America. If you’d like to read the specifics of the broo-haha, this Washington Post Article provides a good summary, along with additional links.

I personally find name-calling of any type unacceptable behavior, especially in a public forum, and while Elizabeth’s DNA test was taken, I presume, in an effort to settle the question and end the name-calling, what it has done is to put the science of genetic testing smack dab in the middle of the headlines.

This article is NOT about politics, it’s about science and DNA testing. I will tell you right up front that any comments that are political or hateful in nature will not be allowed to post, regardless of whether I agree with them or not. Unfortunately, these results are being interpreted in a variety of ways by different individuals, in some cases to support a particular political position. I’m presenting the science, without the politics.

This is the first of a series of two articles.

I’m dividing this first article into four sections, and I’d ask you to read all four, especially before commenting. A second article, Possibilities – Wringing the Most Out of Your DNA Ethnicity Test will follow shortly about how to get the most out of an ethnicity test when hunting for Native American (or other minority, for you) ethnicity.

Understanding how the science evolved and works is an important factor of comprehending the results and what they actually mean, especially since Elizabeth’s are presented in a different format than we are used to seeing. What a wonderful teaching opportunity.

  • Family History and DNA Science – How this works.
  • Elizabeth Warren’s Genealogy
  • Elizabeth Warren’s DNA Results
  • Questions and Answers – These are the questions I’m seeing, and my science-based answers.

My second article, Possibilities – Wringing the Most Out of Your DNA Ethnicity Test will include:

  • Potential – This isn’t all that can be done with ethnicity results. What more can you do to identify that Native ancestor?
  • Resources with Step by Step Instructions

Now, let’s look at Elizabeth’s results and how we got to this point.

Family Stories and DNA

Every person that grows up in their biological family hears family stories. We have no reason NOT to believe them until we learn something that potentially conflicts with the facts as represented in the story.

In terms of stories handed down for generations, all we have to go on, initially, are the stories themselves and our confidence in the person relating the story to us. The day that we begin to suspect that something might be amiss, we start digging, and for some people, that digging begins with a DNA test for ethnicity.

My family had that same Cherokee story. My great-grandmother on my father’s side who died in 1918 was reportedly “full blooded Cherokee” 60 years later when I discovered she had existed. Her brothers reportedly went to Oklahoma to claim headrights land. There were surely nuggets of truth in that narrative. Family members did indeed to go Oklahoma. One did own Cherokee land, BUT, he purchased that land from a tribal member who received an allotment. I discovered that tidbit later.

What wasn’t true? My great-grandmother was not 100% Cherokee. To the best of my knowledge now, a century after her death, she wasn’t Cherokee at all. She probably wasn’t Native at all. Why, then, did that story trickle down to my generation?

I surely don’t know. I can speculate that it might have been because various people were claiming Native ancestry in order to claim land when the government paid tribal members for land as reservations were dissolved between 1893 and 1914. You can read more about that in this article at the National Archives about the Dawes Rolls, compiled for the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole for that purpose.

I can also speculate that someone in the family was confused about the brother’s land ownership, especially since it was Cherokee land.

I could also speculate that the confusion might have resulted because her husband’s father actually did move to Oklahoma and lived on Choctaw land.

But here is what I do know. I believed that story because there wasn’t any reason NOT to believe it, and the entire family shared the same story. We all believed it…until we discovered evidence through DNA testing that contradicted the story.

Before we discuss Elizabeth Warren’s actual results, let’s take a brief look at the underlying science.

Enter DNA Testing

DNA testing for ethnicity was first introduced in a very rudimentary form in 2002 (not a typo) and has progressed exponentially since. The major vendors who offer tests that provide their customers with ethnicity estimates (please note the word estimates) have all refined their customer’s results several times. The reference populations improve, the vendor’s internal software algorithms improve and population genetics as a science moves forward with new discoveries.

Note that major vendors in this context mean Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, the Genographic Project and Ancestry. Two newer vendors include MyHeritage and LivingDNA although LivingDNA is focused on England and MyHeritage, who utilizes imputation is not yet quite up to snuff on their ethnicity estimates. Another entity, GedMatch isn’t a testing vendor, but does provide multiple ethnicity tools if you upload your results from the other vendors. To get an idea of how widely the results vary, you can see the results of my tests at the different vendors here and here.

My initial DNA ethnicity test, in 2002, reported that I was 25% Native American, but I’m clearly not. It’s evident to me now, but it wasn’t then. That early ethnicity test was the dinosaur ages in genetic genealogy, but it did send me on a quest through genealogical records to prove that my family member was indeed Native. My father clearly believed this, as did the rest of the family. One of my early memories when I was about four years old was attending a (then illegal) powwow with my Dad.

In order to prove that Elizabeth Vannoy, that great-grandmother, was Native I asked a cousin who descends from her matrilineally to take a mitochondrial DNA test that would unquestionably provide the ethnicity of her matrilineal line – that of her mother’s mother’s mother’s direct line. If she was Native, her haplogroup would be a derivative either A, B, C, D or X. Her mitochondrial DNA was European, haplogroup J, clearly not Native, so Elizabeth Vannoy was not Native on that line of her family. Ok, maybe through her dad’s line then. I was able to find a Vanoy male descendant of her father, Joel Vannoy, to test his Y DNA and he was not Native either. Rats!

Tracking Elizabeth Vannoy’s genealogy back in time provided no paper-trail link to any Native ancestors, but there were and are still females whose surnames and heritage we don’t know. Were they Native or part Native? Possibly. Nothing precludes it, but nothing (yet) confirms it either.

Unexpected Results

DNA testing is notorious for unveiling unexpected results. Adoptions, unknown parents, unexpected ethnicities, previously unknown siblings and half-siblings and more.

Ethnicity is often surprising and sometimes disappointing. People who expect Native American heritage in their DNA sometimes don’t find it. Why?

  • There is no Native ancestor
  • The Native DNA has “washed out” over the generations, but they did have a Native ancestor
  • We haven’t yet learned to recognize all of the segments that are Native
  • The testing company did not test the area that is Native

Not all vendors test the same areas of our DNA. Each major company tests about 700,000 locations, roughly, but not the same 700,000. If you’re interested in specifics, you can read more about that here.

50-50 Chance

Everyone receives half of their autosomal DNA from each parent.

That means that each parent contributes only HALF OF THEIR DNA to a child. The other half of their DNA is never passed on, at least not to that child.

Therefore, ancestral DNA passed on is literally cut in half in each generation. If your parent has a Native American DNA segment, there is a 50-50 chance you’ll inherit it too. You could inherit the entire segment, a portion of the segment, or none of the segment at all.

That means that if you have a Native ancestor 6 generations back in your tree, you share 1.56% of their DNA, on average. I wrote the article, Ancestral DNA Percentages – How Much of Them is in You? to explain how this works.

These calculations are estimates and use averages. Why? Because they tell us what to expect, on average. Every person’s results will vary. It’s entirely possible to carry a Native (or other ethnic) segment from 7 or 8 or 9 generations ago, or to have none in 5 generations. Of course, these calculations also presume that the “Native” ancestor we find in our tree was fully Native. If the Native ancestor was already admixed, then the percentages of Native DNA that you could inherit drop further.

Why Call Ethnicity an Estimate?

You’ve probably figured out by now that due to the way that DNA is inherited, your ethnicity as reported by the major testing companies isn’t an exact science. I discussed the methodology behind ethnicity results in the article, Ethnicity Testing – A Conundrum.

It is, however, a specialized science known as Population Genetics. The quality of the results that are returned to you varies based on several factors:

  • World Region – Ethnicity estimates are quite accurate at the continental level, plus Jewish – meaning African, Indo-European, Asian, Native American and Jewish. These regions are more different than alike and better able to be separated.
  • Reference Population – The size of the population your results are being compared to is important. The larger the reference population, the more likely your results are to be accurate.
  • Vendor Algorithm – None of the vendors provide the exact nature of their internal algorithms that they use to determine your ethnicity percentages. Suffice it to say that each vendor’s staff includes population geneticists and they all have years of experience. These internal differences are why the estimates vary when compared to each other.
  • Size of the Segment – As with all genetic genealogy, bigger is better because larger segments stand a better chance of being accurate.
  • Academic Phasing – A methodology academics and vendors use in which segments of DNA that are known to travel together during inheritance are grouped together in your results. This methodology is not infallible, but in general, it helps to group your mother’s DNA together and your father’s DNA together, especially when parents are not available for testing.
  • Parental Phasing – If your parents test and they too have the same segment identified as Native, you know that the identification of that segment as Native is NOT a factor of chance, where the DNA of each of your parents just happens to fall together in a manner as to mimic a Native segment. Parental phasing is the ability to divide your DNA into two parts based on your parent’s DNA test(s).
  • Two Chromosomes – You have two chromosomes, one from your mother and one from your father. DNA testing can’t easily separate those chromosomes, so the exact same “address” on your mother’s and father’s chromosomes that you inherited may carry two different ethnicities. Unless your parents are both from the same ethnic population, of course.

All of these factors, together, create a confidence score. Consumers never see these scores as such, but the vendors return the highest confidence results to their customers. Some vendors include the capability, one way or another, to view or omit lower confidence results.

Parental Phasing – Identical by Descent

If you’re lucky enough to have your parents, or even one parent available to test, you can determine whether that segment thought to be Native came from one of your parents, or if the combination of both of your parent’s DNA just happened to combine to “look” Native.

Here’s an example where the “letters” (nucleotides) of Native DNA for an example segment are shown at left. If you received the As from one of your parents, your DNA is said to be phased to that parent’s DNA. That means that you in fact inherited that piece of your DNA from your mother, in the case shown below.

That’s known as Identical by Descent (IBD). The other possibility is what your DNA from both of your parents intermixed to mimic a Native segment, shown below.

This is known as Identical by Chance (IBC).

You don’t need to understand the underpinnings of this phenomenon, just remember that it can happen, and the smaller the segment, the more likely that a chance combination can randomly happen.

Elizabeth Warren’s Genealogy

Elizabeth Warren’s genealogy, is reported to the 5th generation by WikiTree.

Elizabeth’s mother, Pauline Herring’s line is shown, at WikiTree, as follows:

Notice that of Elizabeth Warren’s 16 great-great-great grandparents on her mother’s side, 9 are missing.

Paper trail being unfruitful, Elizabeth Warren, like so many, sought to validate her family story through DNA testing.

Elizabeth Warren’s DNA Results

Elizabeth Warren didn’t test with one of the major vendors. Instead, she went directly to a specialist. That’s the equivalent of skipping the family practice doctor and going to the Mayo Clinic.

Elizabeth Warren had test results interpreted by Dr. Carlos Bustamante at Stanford University. You can read the actual report here and I encourage you to do so.

From the report, here are Dr. Bustamante’s credentials:

Dr. Carlos D. Bustamante is an internationally recognized leader in the application of data science and genomics technology to problems in medicine, agriculture, and biology. He received his Ph.D. in Biology and MS in Statistics from Harvard University (2001), was on the faculty at Cornell University (2002-9), and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2010. He is currently Professor of Biomedical Data Science, Genetics, and (by courtesy) Biology at Stanford University. Dr. Bustamante has a passion for building new academic units, non-profits, and companies to solve pressing scientific challenges. He is Founding Director of the Stanford Center for Computational, Evolutionary, and Human Genomics (CEHG) and Inaugural Chair of the Department of Biomedical Data Science. He is the Owner and President of CDB Consulting, LTD. and also a Director at Eden Roc Biotech, founder of Arc-Bio (formerly IdentifyGenomics and BigData Bio), and an SAB member of Imprimed, Etalon DX, and Digitalis Ventures among others.

He’s no lightweight in the study of Native American DNA. This 2012 paper, published in PLOS Genetics, Development of a Panel of Genome-Wide Ancestry Informative Markers to Study Admixture Throughout the Americas focused on teasing out Native American markers in admixed individuals.

From that paper:

Ancestry Informative Markers (AIMs) are commonly used to estimate overall admixture proportions efficiently and inexpensively. AIMs are polymorphisms that exhibit large allele frequency differences between populations and can be used to infer individuals’ geographic origins.

And:

Using a panel of AIMs distributed throughout the genome, it is possible to estimate the relative ancestral proportions in admixed individuals such as African Americans and Latin Americans, as well as to infer the time since the admixture process.

The methodology produced results of the type that we are used to seeing in terms of continental admixture, shown in the graphic below from the paper.

Matching test takers against the genetic locations that can be identified as either Native or African or European informs us that our own ancestors carried the DNA associated with that ethnicity.

Of course, the Native samples from this paper were focused south of the United States, but the process is the same regardless. The original Native American population of a few individuals arrived thousands of years ago in one or more groups from Asia and their descendants spread throughout both North and South America.

Elizabeth’s request, from the report:

To analyze genetic data from an individual of European descent and determine if there is reliable evidence of Native American and/or African ancestry. The identity of the sample donor, Elizabeth Warren, was not known to the analyst during the time the work was performed.

Elizabeth’s test included 764,958 genetic locations, of which 660,173 overlapped with locations used in ancestry analysis.

The Results section says after stating that Elizabeth’s DNA is primarily (95% or greater) European:

The analysis also identified 5 genetic segments as Native American in origin at high confidence, defined at the 99% posterior probability value. We performed several additional analyses to confirm the presence of Native American ancestry and to estimate the position of the ancestor in the individual’s pedigree.

The largest segment identified as having Native American ancestry is on chromosome 10. This segment is 13.4 centiMorgans in genetic length, and spans approximately 4,700,000 DNA bases. Based on a principal components analysis (Novembre et al., 2008), this segment is clearly distinct from segments of European ancestry (nominal p-value 7.4 x 10-7, corrected p-value of 2.6 x 10-4) and is strongly associated with Native American ancestry.

The total length of the 5 genetic segments identified as having Native American ancestry is 25.6 centiMorgans, and they span approximately 12,300,000 DNA bases. The average segment length is 5.8 centiMorgans. The total and average segment size suggest (via the method of moments) an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the pedigree at approximately 8 generations before the sample, although the actual number could be somewhat lower or higher (Gravel, 2012 and Huff et al., 2011).

Dr. Bustamante’s Conclusion:

While the vast majority of the individual’s ancestry is European, the results strongly support the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the individual’s pedigree, likely in the range of 6-10 generations ago.

I was very pleased to see that Dr. Bustamante had included the PCA (Principal Component Analysis) for Elizabeth’s sample as well.

PCA analysis is the scientific methodology utilized to group individuals to and within populations.

Figure one shows the section of chromosome 10 that showed the largest Native American haplotype, meaning DNA block, as compared to other populations.

Remember that since Elizabeth received a chromosome from BOTH parents, that she has two strands of DNA in that location.

Here’s our example again.

Given that Mom’s DNA is Native, and Dad’s is European in this example, the expected results when comparing this segment of DNA to other populations is that it would look half Native (Mom’s strand) and half European (Dad’s strand.)

The second graphic shows Elizabeth’s sample and where it falls in the comparison of First Nations (Canada) and Indigenous Mexican individuals. Given that Elizabeth’s Native ancestor would have been from the United States, her sample falls where expected, inbetween.

Let’s take a look at some of the questions being asked.

Questions and Answers

I’ve seen a lot of misconceptions and questions regarding these results. Let’s take them one by one:

Question – Can these results prove that Elizabeth is Cherokee?

Answer – No, there is no test, anyplace, from any lab or vendor, that can prove what tribe your ancestors were from. I wrote an article titled Finding Your American Indian Tribe Using DNA, but that process involves working with your matches, Y and mitochondrial DNA testing, and genealogy.

Q – Are these results absolutely positive?

A – The words “absolutely positive” are a difficult quantifier. Given the size of the largest segment, 13.4 cM, and that there are 5 Native segments totaling 25.6 cM, and that Dr. Bustamante’s lab performed the analysis – I’d say this is as close to “absolutely positive” as you can get without genealogical confirmation.

A 13.4 cM segment is a valid segment that phases to parents 98% of the time, according to Philip Gammon’s work, here, and 99% of the time in my own analysis here. That indicates that a 13.4 cM segment is very likely a legitimately ancestral segment, not a match by chance. The additional 4 segments simply increase the likelihood of a Native ancestor. In other words, for there NOT to be a Native ancestor, all 5 segments, including the large 13.4 cM segment would have to be misidentified by one of the premier scientists in the field.

Q – What did Dr. Bustamante mean by “evidence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor?”

A – Unadmixed means that the Native person was fully Native, meaning not admixed with European, Asian or African DNA. Admixture, in this context, means that the individual is a mixture of multiple ethnic groups. This is an important concept, because if you discover that your ancestor 4 generations ago was a Cherokee tribal member, but the reality was that they were only 25% Native, that means that the DNA was already in the process of being divided. If your 4th generation ancestor was fully Native, you would receive about 6.25% of their DNA which would be all Native. If they were only 25% Native, that means that while you will still receive about 6.25% of their DNA but only one fourth of that 6.25% is possibly Native – so 1.56%. You could also receive NONE of their Native DNA.

Q – Is this the same test that the major companies use?

A – Yes and no. The test itself was probably performed on the same Illumina chip platform, because the chips available cover the markers that Bustamante needed for analysis.

The major companies use the same reference data bases, plus their own internal or private data bases in addition. They do not create PCA models for each tester. They do use the same methodology described by Dr. Bustamante in terms of AIMs, along with proprietary algorithms to further define the results. Vendors may also use additional internal tools.

Q – Did Dr. Bustamante use more than one methodology in his analysis? What if one was wrong?

A – Yes, he utilized two different methodologies whose results agreed. The global ancestry method evaluates each location independently of any surrounding genetic locations, ignoring any correlation or relationship to neighboring DNA. The second methodology, known as the local ancestry method looks at each location in combination with its neighbors, given that DNA pieces are known to travel together. This second methodology allows comparisons to entire segments in reference populations and is what allows the identification of complete ancestral segments that are identified as Native or any other population.

Q – If Elizabeth’s DNA results hadn’t shown Native heritage, would that have proven that she didn’t have Native ancestry?

A – No, not definitively, although that is a possible reason for ethnicity results not showing Native admixture. It would have meant that either she didn’t have a Native ancestor, the DNA washed out, or we cannot yet detect those segments.

Q – Does this qualify Elizabeth to join a tribe?

A – No. Every tribe defines their own criteria for membership. Some tribes embrace DNA testing for paternity issues, but none, to the best of my knowledge, accept or rely entirely on DNA results for membership. DNA results alone cannot identify a specific tribe. Tribes are societal constructs and Native people genetically are more alike than different, especially in areas where tribes lived nearby, fought and captured other tribe’s members.

Q – Why does Dr. Bustamante use words like “strong probability” instead of absolutes, such as the percentages shown by commercial DNA testing companies?

A – Dr. Bustamante’s comments accurately reflect the state of our knowledge today. The vendors attempt to make the results understandable and attractive for the general population. Most vendors, if you read their statements closely and look at your various options indicate that ethnicity is only an estimate, and some provide the ability to view your ethnicity estimate results at high, medium and low confidence levels.

Q – Can we tell, precisely, when Elizabeth had a Native ancestor?

A – No, that’s why Dr. Bustamante states that Elizabeth’s ancestor was approximately 8 generations ago, and in the range of 6-10 generations ago. This analysis is a result of combined factors, including the total centiMorgans of Native DNA, the number of separate reasonably large segments, the size of the longest segment, and the confidence score for each segment. Those factors together predict most likely when a fully Native ancestor was present in the tree. Keep in mind that if Elizabeth had more than one Native ancestor, that too could affect the time prediction.

Q – Does Dr. Bustamante provide this type of analysis or tools for the general public?

A – Unfortunately, no. Dr. Bustamante’s lab is a research facility only.

Roberta’s Summary of the Analysis

I find no omissions or questionable methods and I agree with Dr. Bustamante’s analysis. In other words, yes, I believe, based on these results, that Elizabeth had a Native ancestor further back in her tree.

I would love for every tester to be able to receive PCA results like this.

However, an ethnicity confirmation isn’t all that can be done with Elizabeth’s results. Additional tools and opportunities are available outside of an academic setting, at the vendors where we test, using matching and other tools we have access to as the consuming public.

We will look at those possibilities in a second article, because Elizabeth’s results are really just a beginning and scratch the surface. There’s more available, much more. It won’t change Elizabeth’s ethnicity results, but it could lead to positively identifying the Native ancestor, or at least the ancestral Native line.

Join me in my next article for Possibilities, Wringing the Most Out of Your DNA Ethnicity Test.

In the mean time, you might want to read my article, Native American DNA Resources.

166 thoughts on “Elizabeth Warren’s Native American DNA Results: What They Mean

  1. Thank you Roberta for writing about this. Each time I read your writings I learn more about what we can learn from DNA testing
    Pat Wiltfong, one of your Speake cousins

  2. Roberta, Thanks – very well done.

    On Mon, Oct 15, 2018 at 7:45 PM DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy wrote:

    > Roberta Estes posted: “Elizabeth Warren has released DNA testing results > after being publicly challenged and derided as “Pochahontas” as a result of > her claims of a family story indicating that her ancestors were Native > America. If you’d like to read the specifics of the broo-h” >

    • Nice, Lois! Since you know about these lines, maybe you should contribute to Elizabeth’s Warren Wikitree building. She is surely not responsible for that page. The genealogy of celebrities is usually researched by volunteers who find it fun.

  3. Very interesting and useful. My DNA tests show a very small bit of NA ethnicity. If correct, this would be from my Grt-Grandmother who reportedly was half Cherokee. I doubt that this will ever be provable but at least I have two photos of the lady, one as a middle aged woman and one as an elderly woman. She does seem to resemble some of the Cherokee I have met in Appalachia. Grandma also had an origin story that has been passed down, “A buzzard laid me on a stump and the sun hatched me out.” None of this proves much if anything but maybe as testing improves, I might find some more definitive results one day. I very much look forward to the next article!

  4. Can of worms, Roberta! That’s why the ISOGG Facebook group cut off comments.

    A couple of thoughts:

    1. Ms Warren, for who I have a lot of respect but of whom I remain wary politically, paid for the analysis. I dealt with “expert witnesses” for much of my career and long ago learned that qualified and respected professionals have a tendency to find the results that their benefactor wants to find. I sincerely hope that Bustamonte’s analysis holds up against the onslaught that will surely occur.

    2. Would it not be useful to also test the three older brothers of Ms Warren? Having additional support would be – politically – advantageous. Of course their results, just as well, could be problematic.

    3. Obviously Y or mt DNA tests might be beneficial provided the appropriate individuals could be found and agreed to test.

    4. No matter what the results show, there will be controversy. Sigh . . .

    Thanks for your post – I look forward to the follow-up!

      • How did you come to the conclusion that Bustamante did not know the identity of the sample? His report states: “The identity of the sample donor, Elizabeth Warren, was not known TO THE ANALYST during the time the work was performed” and “An expert in genetic ancestry analysis carried out the computational work described below UNDER DR. BUSTAMANTE’S SUPERVISION.” (Emphasis added.) As you previously stated, Bustamante does not provide this analysis to the general public. Therefore, he must have known there was something very unique and special about this sample when he agreed to analyze it.

        • The point is that the person doing the analysis did not know it was for Elizabeth Warren. There is absolutely no reason for Dr. Bustamante to risk his reputation for anything like this.

          • Another great article, Roberta.

            I have a curious question I’m sure others might like to know the answer to…

            What is a “ball-park” estimate of how much one of these experts like Dr. Bustamante charges for one of these “custom” autosomal DNA tests?

          • As Wallace Fullerton pointed out, expert witnesses always find the results that the benefactor wants to find. His point is valid and should be considered.

          • Dr Busatamante’s credentials and curriculum vitae are clearly more valuable than a public figure who may be here here today and gone tomorrow in our world of rapidly changing faces. Both he and Sen Warren have far too much to lose- these stakes are extremely high. I wonder if she had an earlier test privately/anonymously to “test the waters,” or in this case to “test the DNA” so she had a clue what to expect. I think the bigger question for Sen Warren is, why no chain of custody to rule out the next round of attacks will ask, “How do the American people know it was HER DNA?” I suspect the ugly spectacle will find its way to this and other relatively reasonable questions.

    • They’ll be controversial because one GGGG-grandparent out of 64 is pretty slim pickings, and it might be one out of 1024. (BTW, I’m mtDNA L2a1m1a and apparently 1/64 West African, and it would be an insult to African-Americans for me to claim to be African-American.)

      • That is your perspective and you are welcome to it. We all get to make the choice of how we identify. We are not exclusively one thing, or at least I’m not. I am European, Native and African. I grew up in the first two cultures and discovered the third as an adult. I’m not enrolled, but I am still Native and my Nativeness doesn’t insult anyone. I don’t take any resources from anyone and ask nothing except to be treated respectfully. What I am is all 3 ethnicities, in different degrees.

        • Roberta, thanks so much for standing up for our right to recognize the ethnic heritage we were born with and to be proud of our roots. I take umbrage with those who want people to deny their Native American heritage because they are not part of a recognized tribal group.
          I have no interest in sharing in their financial gain, but my heritage is part of me. Thdy can’t take that away!

  5. likely in the range of 6-10 generations ago.

    My maternal GGGG-grandmother was apparently a slave in the D.R. (mtDNA L2a1m1a, and is apparently why I tan so well), but that doesn’t mean I get to call myself African-American.

  6. Why not? Ancestry recently moved me from No native american ancestry to 1% native american-ANDEAN. Now I can go back far enough with paper to be fairly certain that this is at best unlikely.
    But maybe somebody jumped on a Boston whaler or something.You know like QueeQueg. All of this ethnicity stuff is kind of hard to take seriously. Heck, I was like 80% Scandanavian in the first Ancestry ethnicity report, and not I am down to like 3%!! Come on.

  7. I’m a slooooow reader.
    So I skimmed your deep article.
    I want to comment anyway, just because maybe I read it well enough and maybe I’m not being rude and unnecessarily ignorant :

    “Native American” – I akways thought that to be Native American was to belong with a tribe, and that from history the Native American tribes were not racist and welcomed new members. More members meant more security by number.
    For example, the Wyandotte/Wendat Nation. Originally from Lake Huron and now joined in Confederacy with 4 other wide-spread sister/brother tribes (scattered unwillingly as a result of the Long March/Trail of Tears in US and Canada) . The Wendats were 11? or so tribes who merged. They also became friends with the French Jesuits. And traces of Basque tools were found in their community that pre-date previously known European landing in North America. A Canadian geneticist found Basque origins/roots in the Wendat tribe’s DNA. There’s still a small Basque fishing village on the coast in Canada, nearby Lake Huron.

    On ancestry.com the DNA samples to determine the roots for Native American ancestry, I’ve read, were picked from people living in Central and South America.
    But, what about the Far North US and Canada tribes? Some of my ancestors were Asian (I’m 5% Asian) then they traveled to Russia and Siberia (I’m 2% Siberian) and through Sandinavia (I’m 6% Norwegian and 1% Finnish) and then I’m also 1% Berringian) .

    *Do the Middle and Southern Americas define the Asian % of American Nativity properly? *

    The thing is.
    Genetics are genetics, and honestly most of my US family mainstreamed. But when one belongs to a community of people yet is not “old stock” and so is not considered reeeaaaaalllllyyy to be really a community member , it seems a bit cruel to me.
    Many of my more recent ancestors are also from Persia and Mediterranean. Some family was dark-skinned and so joined into the local tribes on this continent easily. That’s a whole other story.
    It confuses me – the “Native” vs “Tribal” .
    Cherokee is Cherokee is not Cherokee .?
    I think that the “Civilized” tribes , the tribes who had slaves, the Dawes tribes, Cherokee included, did not want their freed Black African slaves to become tribal members after the civil war, and that’s when all the blood tests for tribe citizenship started.
    So maybe Elizabeth Warren’s family WERE tribal members, but not genetically so, hence her genetic discrepancy.

    Thank you for this awesome article, which I’m going to read again after a little break ,
    -Irene.

    • What I was trying to say is that I think people often confuse “tribal membership” (Cherokee, Wendat, Iroquois) with ancestral genetic deep roots.
      My close family has always mainstreamed, but cousins have belonged to tribes, mostly in Oklahoma. The Wendat long march to the end of the trail … also ended in Oklahoma. I was taught that I’m Wendat/Wyandotte because we do not recognize slavery in my immediate family, although family tribal memberships were also in other tribes.

      Mostly – who cares 🙂 .
      I like to be a part of where I am wanted 🙂 .
      I think most people do.

      It just seems cruel to me, to deny people a cultural and community heritage/membership memory because of race.
      But maybe Elizabeth Warren’s situation was different. It’s confusing to understand.
      I’m looking forward to your next articles coming up about all of this 🙂 !

      Thank you,
      -Irene.

  8. My husband and I were having this Elizabeth Warren discussion 1 hour ago, and here comes Roberta to the rescue. Thank you.

    I believe she should also have her mtDna full sequence done. That could further support her claim.

  9. Thank you for the thorough and bloodlessly objective report. The talking heads on CNN didn’t help. And I found the Cherokee rep offensive in that he couldn’t see beyond the end of his nose. Native American vs. having NA ancestry was not the issue.

    And I spent 8 years of my life with HUD building housing on NA reservations.

    My family records show a 7th GGM of Micmac lineage. Then again, some Acadians intermarried, as written in many books. 23andMe has me with a slight amount of NA; the ther two don’t, but I figured that far back it would have washed anyhow.bart O’Toole

    • Bart – I too tested at all three major companies, with FTDNA and Ancestry.com showing 0 Native American, but 23andMe showing 1/12 of 1%. One reason is because FTDNA and Ancestry do not show results below a percentage. But I knew it was not by chance; I had analyzed the results on GEDMatch and identified the 10 cM segement in Chromo 14 where it clearly matched up on the various ethnicity tools. A few months ago I finally discovered through Genealogy Quebec’s marriage records my 8th-great grandmother, Marie-Olivier Sylvestre-Manitouabeouich, married to Martin Prévost, in 1644, the first marriage record of an indigenous Canadian with a Frenchman. So persevere ! Paper trails can lead to that hidden Native ancestor. Maybe Mrs. Warren may one day find hers, at about the same degree of genetic distance !

  10. I wish all of her siblings would test. It will prove that siblings inherit RANDOM DNA from their parents. The Ethnicity estimate is called an ESTIMATE for a reason.

    I wish people would focus on the DNA matches to discover relatives and extend their family tree and pay little attention to the estimates offered by the various testing companies.

    As the science of DNA testing advances, perhaps you can use the ethnicity estimate to focus your research on specific locations or regions and help solve family tree mysteries.

  11. Excellent blog – one comment for constructive feedback is the first chart – it only goes to 7 gen, whilst the article says 6 to 10 gen. If my calculations are correct 3580/[2^10] = approx 3.5 cM – a relatively small number and well below the default threshold of 7 cM in gedmatch – however my recent analysis of micro hir fir segments sometimes convert exclusively to blue bar matches inbetween 1 and 3 cM – they may be a key to finding regional origins, and 10 gen only represents 250 years – relatively small in the big picture when you consider Y dna.
    Can you update the % chart to go 3 generations further back in time and include cM as well.
    Look forward to the next articles.

  12. Elizabeth Warren’s 4th great grandmother was apparently Margaret “Peggy” (“Puggy” “Piggy”) Smith, mother of Neoma “Oma” “O.C.” Sarah Smith Crawford. Peggy is with husband Wyatt Smith in Bledsoe County, TN in 1840, and is 80 years old in the 1850 census in Overton County, TN. In that census, her place of birth is listed as “unknown”. This is very strong indication (but not proof) that Margaret “Peggy” Smith was the most recent fullblooded Native American ancestor of Elizabeth Warren. This would make Senator Warren about 1.5% Native American by ancestry (not necessarily by DNA). My own 4th great grandmother who was Lenape-Delaware also lived in Overton County TN, and in the 1860 census after moving to MO, her place of birth was also listed as “unknown”, though we now know it to have been in what is now Ohio. Both my ancestor and Senator Warren’s would not have known which “state” they were born in because there were no states at the time of their birth presumably in a Native American village, and their tribes were being pushed westward at that time. I have read several articles about Senator Warren’s Native American ancestry and DNA, but have not seen this important clue mentioned at all.

    • I think you are reading too much into a single entry of a census record.
      ” In that census, her place of birth is listed as “unknown”. This is very strong indication (but not proof) that Margaret “Peggy” Smith was the most recent fullblooded Native American ancestor of Elizabeth Warren.”
      While the unknown may indicate a Native American heritage, there are plenty of other valid explanations. The person reporting to the census taker didn’t know, Peggy didn’t know because her family had told her conflicting reports of where she was born. The census taker misunderstood what was said. For “unknown” to be a strong indicator of Native American heritage, you would need more information that disproves some of the other explanations or information that shows this is what was typically written for people with known Native American heritage.

  13. This is a terrific article. This test has been the subject of many conversations today, online and IRL.
    I took a leap of faith and interpreted the test in my own amateur genetic genealogy fashion. I shared the article with my DNA group and gave them my opinion of what the results meant. I also gave the caveat that this was my thought only, and that the opinions of experts such as yourself might be very different. ( I am the moderator of the DNA interest group of my local genealogy society.)
    Although you phrase things are far more eloquently than I do, I am happy to say that I was pretty much on point. Unfortunately, things have a tendency to become politicized in this current environment.
    I look forward to reading your next article.

  14. Excellent summary and analysis – much deeper than I’ve seen so far. Thank you.

    A nit: You have 2.12% rather than 3.12% in your table of grandparents.

    The 25.6 cM is about 0.36% so it’s in the 6th to 7th great-grandparent range.

    Would AncestryDNA or FamilyTreeDNA or 23andMe come up with anything different? It appears to me that at least some of the five segments are below 5 cM so they wouldn’t be counted by Ancestry or 23andMe, but would be by FTDNA.

    I have about 1% “Native American” according to 23andMe and 0.6% on FamilyTreeDNA. So my 0.8% average is perhaps a 5th great-grandparent. I have a French Canadian 3rd great-grandmother ancestor born around 1800 and think that the 0.8% is through her (mainly process of elimination!), but I have no paper trail for her ancestry and haven’t looked yet on the chromosome for other potential testers.

    • Hi Randy. Definitely not a nit – and thank you. Fixed now. As for the 5cM, they don’t count them for matching, but we don’t know how they count segments relative to ethnicity estimates. I would think that since he vendors are considering both AIMs and segments, they would have to include segments below 5cM for the ethnicity portion. Your percentage sounds like a good project for you for one of you articles:)

    • I am French Canadian, Randy, and it’s quite likely that your 3rd great-grandmother ancestor had some NA native ancestry. Most of us do. I have 3 native ancestors. If you can positively identify her in the French records, you can build you tree quickly and effectively all the way to the first immigrants. We have some of the best record-keeping and genealogical research in the world.

      I’ll even lure you with a tasty treat: 99% of French Canadians have at least one gateway ancestor. There are additional potential gateway ancestors to be researched in France. It’s just expensive to do.

      Check out the sites https://www.prdh-igd.com/en/accueil ($), https://www.genealogiequebec.com/en/ ($) and https://www.nosorigines.qc.ca/genealogie.aspx?lng=en (free).

      Marie

    • “I have no paper trail for her ancestry”
      The paper trail exists. You just didn’t find it yet. One of the problems Americans encounter is the transformation of people’s names when they cross the border. It can create “walls”, because the original French name’s spelling can be surprising compared to what it became after it became anglicized in the immigrant’s new environment. I am working on a similar case myself, except that it’s a captive taken to New France. His name was gallicized, which makes a positive identification in the American records difficult. What’s your blog? You never know, if you help me out, I could help you out.

    • As for finding your French Canadian 3rd great-grandmother through DNA testing, I am not even sure that this tactic would help you in any way because French Canada has a founder effect. It basically mean that we are all cousins. You will SURELY find thousands of cousins in French Canada through a DNA database. However, since you’re looking for an ancestor beyond 6 generations ago, these cousins could be cousins through any branch of that grandmothers’ tree, with any surname. I think that you would still be looking for a needle in a haystack.

      So… Buckle up, cousin! You are going to need that paper trail. LOL!!!!!!

      • I’m kinda late to this chain, so I’ll copy what I sent Bart above,

        “Bart – I too tested at all three major companies, with FTDNA and Ancestry.com showing 0 Native American, but 23andMe showing 1/12 of 1%. One reason is because FTDNA and Ancestry do not show results below a percentage. But I knew it was not by chance; I had analyzed the results on GEDMatch and identified the 10 cM segement in Chromo 14 where it clearly matched up on the various ethnicity tools. A few months ago I finally discovered through Genealogy Quebec’s marriage records my 8th-great grandmother, Marie-Olivier Sylvestre-Manitouabeouich, married to Martin Prévost, in 1644, the first marriage record of an indigenous Canadian with a Frenchman. So persevere ! Paper trails can lead to that hidden Native ancestor. Maybe Mrs. Warren may one day find hers, at about the same degree of genetic distance !”

        My birth-father was French Canadian and I have spent over 8 months tracking his lines back. Marie’s comments are right on point. I have found over 300, yes three hundred, ancestors who migrated to Québec, most all in the 1600s. And over a dozen Acadians too. Yes, I believe all French Canadians are cousins. My suggestions – subscribe to Genealogy Quebec; it’s about $75 for a year’s subscription and well worth the small price. A great free site after you find the immigrant ancestors is Le Fichier Origine; it’s in French but can be readily understood. It will take you back to France in most cases, to the 1500s. And most Acadian lines have Native in them also – Micmacs who remained close allies of the French there for many years. And join the projects at FTDNA that relate – the French Heritage DNA project and the Quebec ADNy project; Good luck !

        • If you only found 300, you are not done with your tree yet… Assuming that your dad is almost “purely” French, as I am… I am sure that we share more than Marie-Olivier as an ancestor, too! I am glad that you are enjoying your discoveries. I am helping Randy by email. His line is from Ontario, so the search presents some extra difficulties since not all Ontario records are entered in the databases you mention.

          Well, when I say “purely”: there is no such thing as a pure Frenchman, even in the 1600s. French Canadian DNA tests reveal everything from Scandinavian DNA to Spanish and Italian DNA and sometimes regions even further East than that. It shouldn’t be surprising, but a big chunk of our DNA registers as British, but for most of us, I don’t think that it’s because we have lots of English Canadian branches. It must be because France and England were always as tight as they were competitors! We took them over, they took us over, we traded, etc. Stuff will happen. LOL!

          • Marie, and I always thought the French were re-cycled Vikings. LOL
            As in, Rollo Ragsvaldson the Great Viking who invaded Normandy, et al.
            William the Conqueror is descended from Rollo. I know my husband is a re-cycled Viking. He has duypretrens.

          • It’s not purely French, as two lines end at the marriages of a Scott and another a Miller who married local Québecoise after the conquest. And with those two lines the trail above ends, as I’ve not yet found their immigration records. Their families remained in Québec so it was French Canadian down the lines from there. And of course, as you point out there were those who while emmigrating from France were by heritage of other nationalities, such as my 9th-great-grandfather (and probably yours as well) Abraham Martin, l’ Écossais.

            The next time I visit Québec, I’ll greet everyone there as cousin !

          • Caith: fortunately, I don’t have Duypretrens, but I know that I descend from William the Conqueror and Rollo thanks to my family tree. 🙂 Over 20% of our French ancestors came from Normandy. Normans are the biggest group of immigrants, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that some of us register as 30% Scandinavian/generally North European in DNA tests. Most of our ancestors came from the coast of France, so those areas probably had a lot of boat traffic for centuries, from England and the coast of the Meditarreanean, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Italian, Greek and even Turkish DNA shows up in some of us. We are also often about 30% Spanish and 30% British, with very little “French” DNA (based on the DNA of modern Frenchmen). That’s pretty mind-boggling.

            Mark Deutsch: Abraham Martin is one of our ancestors who has the biggest descendance, so it’s not surprise that we share this ancestor as well. Unfortunately, the nickname “the Scot” doesn’t mean that he is from Scotland. It was a nickname for someone who behaves improperly on a regular basis. Yes, we can literally say that we are one big family… For better and for worse!!! LOL

            About the Scott and Miller surnames: that’s one of the problems we encounter doing genealogy in Canada. If someone is protestant AND they don’t convert, there are no ecclasiastical records until a certain date. That makes these lines hard to document. Catholic records are far superior in Canada, and probably elsewhere as well. In those cases, you have to rely on other documents: censuses, contracts, land ownership, government documents (e.g. loyalists may show up as refugees in gov. records, which constitutes your immigration document). I don’t personally have those: my American ancestors are captives who converted, so that’s a whole different issue. They are often children who were abducted and moved to a far-away land, losing contact with their family, so it can be a challenge (1) to find the **right** parents and (2) to **prove** that it’s the right match with absolute certainty.

    • Randy, did I see that you have an Eldridge or Richardson maybe out of Connecticut or Massachusetts? I have a vague memory of seeing something sometime. If so, we might be related. Wouldn’t that be fun!

  15. I came across this site while surfing for an explanation of whether anything had been found about descendants of the Roanoke colony using DNA. I understand you were researching this in 2012 (see article url). I’ve always been curious about the fate of the Roanoke Colony and I’m wondering if you turned up anything.

  16. Although Dr Bustamante, may be the “brain surgeon” of DNA, YOU are the Guru!

    What an awesome analysis. Your story of your own disappointments concerning you oral family history left me aching for you. You really DO have a wonderful NA heritage. After all, isn’t that what a heritage is? Something given to us in childhood, that we carry in our pocket, take it out and show to our best pals like a giant shiny marble, Grandad’s pocket knife, or Granny’s Mayflower collector plate. If our stories are not our treasures, we are hopelessly lost and wandering in unfamiliar places. I loved the part about the uncle who bought the NA land- Priceless!

    As for Sen Warren, she has a amazing career as a Professor of Law, United States Senator, and who knows, maybe a President. However, it is difficult to connect her to this,”Native American heritage that is part of who she is.” Heritage is so much more than a claim of something distant in our past.

    When I saw the chart of her tree on WIKI, I was so disappointed for her- where are the good traditional genealogy experts in Washington, DC? Only knowing of 7 out of our 16 essential maternal pairs does not bode well for her ever discovering who this unknown, centuries old NA ancestor might possibly be.

    And if I understand DNA correctly, the likelihood of triangulating with her 5th-8th cousin DNA matches will likely never produce results, as 5th cousins share little more than 3.3 cM, considered segments too short to be reliable. Somebody should hook the Senator up with a GOOD traditional genealogist who knows how to build a proper tree, so she can have some hope, maybe one day of identifying her NA ancestor- or at minimum, a little bit of who he or she might have been. At least something so she will have stories to tell her grandchildren and great grandchildren, that they will embrace as part of their lifelong heritage.

    Great job Madame Guru! You did real good in taking me from preschool to, oh, about 4th grade. Keep up the great work! I need to graduate from DNA High School…some day. 🙂

  17. Thank you so much for an excellent explanation of the science. I wish the talking heads in the media would use science instead of politics to inform the American people.

  18. Thanks you for such a complete explanation. HOWEVER … I would be ashamed to claim “bragging rights” on such a miniscule bit of DNA which science has found to be a ” probability “.

  19. I think in terms of the DNA results Senator Warren is in the same position as many of us who had family ‘legends’ or stories of native ancestry. Then the DNA is either minimal or not showing. Can’t find the answer as everyone on census is “white” and the surnames all European. The problem for her was that it was claimed as an ethnicity legally. Don’t understand why Harvard as an institution didn’t require something and I think she would have found out the paper trail was weak and she might be, but not enough to claim a status for scholarships.

    I always even prior to DNA would say I am white/caucasian legally in all forms for student aid, etc. despite thinking I might be 3-6% Native American based on family history approximate maybe 2nd great grandmother Native. But a third cousin from where my mom grew up was out there saying our 2nd Great grandfather is probably White Horse brother of Geronimo. ???? …5 minutes on ancestry proved he was born white in Indiana. Another 4th cousin same legends of Native blood in same family line … Genetically it is looking more like I am 2-5% Turkish or Iranian. A mystery. I feel for her on that. Senator Warren can’t help what she was told growing up, there might have been errors or even exaggeration.

    I have also found in this genetic world it appears mostly white people marrying mostly white people become more white over time. 🙂 Likely true for her and we’ll see if the paper trail can flesh out for her.

    • I intentionally did not address what Elizabeth did or did not do with her family story at Harvard. But you might want to check because I do not believe she received any scholarships or money as a result of listing Native.

      • You are correct, I must have been mixing my thoughts and the situation as I know it… my only excuse I was doing this as I literally had to get out and scrape frosty stuff off the windshield to get to work. Mea culpa.

  20. Thank you, Roberta, for your expertise and explanation of this process. As usual, you provide a clear path for each of us to evaluate the information you present and come to our own conclusions – which are exactly that. While science is not perfect, it does do a very good job providing the answers we seek, one way or the other. There will always be people at either end of an outcome and typically these people will be very vocal, particularly in this situation as it is in the political arena! I believe that Elizabeth’s testing has proven that she has NA ancestry, and I hope that it gives Elizabeth some peace knowing that she has done as much as she can to prove to the public what she was told by her family was true. This may be the only “peace” she will experience on this subject in the end!

  21. Roberta – Since we cannot see the rest of the report – would it be possible that she had German lineage and that is popping as NA just as you wrote in an article once? I have .1% Melanesian (am otherwise Euro) on 23andme and as far as I am concerned I am attributing it to my heavy German (and some Hungarian).

  22. Thank you! Very interesting! I have tested with FTDNA and Ancestry DNA and uploaded to GedMatch. Is Dodecad World9 considered accurate?

  23. Roberta , Great article ! So, is there any possibility of the results of her test being able to be converted into format that would be acceptable by GEDMATCH ? If so, her kit could be compared to the kits of the ancient Native American bones kits of Clovis Anzik, Kennewick Man, and Paleo Eskimo. This would revel all the segments that match on each chromosome. It would help to have others in her family test and see the overlapping segments to these Native kits also. Then the much needed paper trail could be narrowed using the family results. As we all know, GEDMATCH has so many more tools for admixture. (Following your advise since 2012, I have used these tools to prove a couple distant Native lines). Cherokee DNA testing has also proven within tribal members (the limited testing done), to have many admixed results. With many other traditionally European haplogroups often coming up as the mtDNA. So, the question, especially in this tribe, can often come down to culture and tradition within the tribe as a family marker for identity .

    • I don’t have the answer to that question. I think it would boil down to whether she is interested in doing things like that. I hope she teams with a really good genealogist.

  24. I, too, have a grandmother who was born in Oklahoma. Both she and her father believed and told the family her mother had been either full blooded or half blooded Native American Indian. It is the stories, we as grandchildren were told as well. Based on what he was told, my uncle, in the late 60’s and 70’s was often tempted to apply as a 1/4 Native American. We had no reason to believe it wasn’t true. I completely understand where Elizabeth Warren is coming from. It is our story, too.
    Unfortunately, I have not been able to trace my great-grandmother before her first marriage in the 1890’s in Northeast Texas. And neither my male first cousin or I have shown any indication of Native American in our DNA. We do have multiple other stories in both sides of these grandparents of someone being Native American or being thought of as Native American. It is very frustrating and very interesting.

    • Lyndie – Is Blevins your maiden name? If so, then Native family lore has existed for quite some time. I have a line of Blevins, and there are several books and other resources on the Blevins. One Blevins was a “longhunter” in the 1760s associated with Daniel Boone, but I have not found the link myself back from post-Revolutionary War North Carolina.

      Roberta – is sharing email addresses okay on the blog? I may have information on Lyndie’s Blevins family in Texas.

  25. Hurry! Hurry! We am waiting with baited breath for the next article. I posted this at the FTDNA Forum last night and 50 people have already accessed it. When they see the name, Roberta Estes, they rally to read. Your generosity in sharing this information is greatly appreciated!

  26. In your explanation you seem to make the assumption that there was one small group of people from Asia who populated the Americas thousands of years ago. I believe current thinking is there were almost certainly multiple migrations to the Americas, as far as we can tell all from Asia, who populated the Americas at different times. This enormously complicated the genetic analysis, and this is only the current thinking, I lot may have happened that we just don’t know about yet.

  27. Roberta,

    I’ve watched the attention surrounding Senator Warren’s results with fascination and dismay. Its unfortunate how much others want to ridicule how she self-identifies. It seems to me that almost everyone gets into genealogy with an acute interest in who their ancestors were. Where they lived. Their ethnic groups. And so forth. Its part of discovering more about your identity. Within my own family, there are four separate branches, 5 generations apart that converge on the same set of 3x great grandparents with the various stories about NA ancestry. I have a cousin who recently tested at about 5.5% NA ancestry. We’ve researched all the lines we share in common or don’t share and we know where the NA ancestry *cannot* come from. We converge on the same single family about 150 years ago. Of course, the trail goes cold and we’re still trying to find clues.

    GEDMatch has a fascinating chromosome browser that shows admixture by location on each chromosome. I think it’s called Admixture Proportions by Chromosome and it shows the % of each reference group by chromosome. Its fairly consistent regarding large groups with the other admixture models I’ve seen elsewhere. I have questions about its accuracy at smaller percentages. How accurate is it when it shows say 3% or 5% of a certain group on a certain chromosome? It seems that a matches on smaller choromosome’s get washed out easier, when averaged into the overall %’s of the total chromosome, it can drop to like .5 or .2 % and disappear as noise. My observation or question is that, if a smaller chromosome is 5% or 6% something, it had to come from somewhere, and has been getting halved every generation or so. Once upon a time, that chromosome was pretty 50 or 80% of its origin group. That’s a bit of an oversimplification, but what are your thoughts.

    Thanks for posting on this so quickly. We really appreciate reading our thoughts and analysis!!!

    -John

  28. Having read this analysis I am left wondering how Senator Warren could have been so emphatic about her belonging to the Cherokee and Delaware nations and claim that her mother was discriminated against by her husband’s family because of her NA pedigree. It seems extremely unlikely that they could have ever picked any ethnic traits from someone so far removed from any NA ancestor to have evoked such a strident reaction from them. She claims her father was forbidden to marry her mother because she is part Cherokee and part Delaware.
    https://twitter.com/twitter/statuses/1051884076439879680
    This seems decidedly implausible given what this DNA test reveals.

    • As a child, I went to school and told the teacher that I was part Indian. She called my mother and told her I had to stop talking about that. Those were the days of segregation and the sign in front of our house on the street said “colored people not allowed.” I know that many families would have forbidden marriage at that time. Remember the “one drop rule.” I can’t speak to Elizabeth’s personal situation, but I lived in those times and remember that mind-set very well.

      • Similar stories on my mother’s side of the family because her dad had an olive complexion and my grandmothers parents were worried about his “origin”. Without listing any groups of people, my grandmothers parents were worried what people would think if their daughter married someone less than white and it was along the one drop rule. And also similar stories on my dad’s side. People would wonder why after 3 blonde or red head children (with a red head father) there could suddenly be a child with brown black hair). There was a real fear someone might mark your house or burn a cross in the front yard so people would know you weren’t “pure” white.

        If you are from Virginia and haven’t read about Dr Walter Plecker and his support for the racial integrity act of 1924 you should research it. A tremendous amount of damage was done to vital records and people with Native American ancestry. Also google the Walter Plecker list.

        I was born in 1970 but was told do not let people think you are anything other than European Scottish English descent!

        – John

    • Harry:
      Interestingly, phenotype characteristics can remain visible for centuries, well after the DNA percentage becomes undetectable with a DNA test. It was discussed in a British documentary about African heritage among the White population of Britain. Some families looked really White, for instance, but had a distinctively frizzy hair.

      My own native ancestry is about 10-12 generations old (it varies depending on the branch). In total, I could expect to have about 1.5% show up on DNA test IF (and only if) I inherited the markers.

      And yet, I look mixed. I used to look at myself in the mirror, as a child, and once, I told my mom: “Mom! I look like an Indian!” Babes speak the truth. She just laughed, so I forgot about the whole thing. As an adult, it happened several times than American Indians or Inuits either came straight to me to talk to me or made a comment about how I had a certain look. They would know. In Europe, I have been asked for years questions like: “What are you?” That was before I got my family tree, and I was wondering why they couldn’t tell that I was simply White. Well, I guess I’m not!

      Other people were less rude and asked if I was Russian and commented on my high cheekbones. In my case, it’s not a racial stereotype. My cheekbones are super high, almost up to my eye balls. That’s probably the phenotype expressing itself, and opposed to being random. I have other characteristics, too.

      So, believe me: there are still racists in this day and age who can’t get over exotic features and will be asses about it. True racists don’t care about how small the percentage is. They will be jerks.

      Marie

      • Marie, because I am a genetic genealogy hobbyist everyday, all day long, perhaps you need to set me straight. I sometimes ask about one’s ethnicity because I find it intriguing, Am I being offensive? How do I ask so as not to be offensive? Or, should I not ask at all? Are you saying only the census takers should ask? But, why? One should be proud to stand tall and acknowledge their ethnicity. I sincerely do not understand all this.

        Please do set this 75 year old woman straight. I want to live my life doing the right thing. Thank you, sincerely.

        • Well, Danes are incredibly ignorant, generally speaking! I can tell when someone is asking innocently… or not. It’s often in the tone of the voice, or in a smurk.

          Sometimes, it’s entirely innocent. In Canada, I look normal. I am not the only French Canadian of my kind, so nobody comments on it. I have come to realize how much it appears in Europe, because over there, they are spotting that something is different, without putting their finger on it. For instance, people have assumed several times that I was Russian, which may make sense since they do have Asians in Russia, and a number of Russians may have a similar ethnic mix. Once, a Russian woman came up to me in the street and spoke to me in Russian. She was visibly shocked when I asked her to speak English. 🙂 That’s not offensive.

          If you think that you might have committed “faux pas”, you might want to watch YouTube videos about the subject. Some of them are sketches portraying how White people speak to minorities. Since I am (mostly) White, I am also perceived as White by visible minorities, and I can tell you that if you say something that racists tend to say, even if you say it innocently, you will not get the benefit of the doubt. Your skin color creates a presumption of guilt… and for good reason. There are a lot of obnoxious biggots out there, and the frequency of ignorant comments gets tiring.

          • Okay, I understand. Presentation and tone are important in asking about one’s ethnicity. May I give you an example in support of my asking about one’s ethnicity. Sitting in an airport recently, I told the young man next to me that I was a Genetic Genealogy Hobbyist and as such, would he tell me his ethnicity. He hesitated, and said he was from Bangladesh. Well, I have been abroad 25 times, but was not sure where Bangladesh was. LOL So, he ended up telling me about his country and culture for 30 minutes. Had I not asked about his ethnicity, I would not have had a such a glorious dissertation about his country.

            And in support of you, may I say, birth place in the US can bring out bigotry. While traveling in Monocco, I actually had a man from the US ask me how did a girl from a small town in the South end up in Monocco. What? Was he saying that a small town girl from the South did not deserve to leave the small town?? I was literally sick to my stomach and still cringe when I think about what he said.

          • Ha, ha! I come from a small town in Canada, so I can relate. Since I am French Canadian, I can tell you that the French sometimes come up with some ignorant comments about their cousins. There is a line that we want to research in Normandy, and we think that it’s a noble line. If that’s even brought up, some Frenchmen will immediately protest by saying something like: “Oh, no! They were lumberjacks.” As you probably know, the lumberjack stereotype is one that has been used for Canadians in cartoons, etc. So… I am still going to look into that Norman ancestry when I get to it.

            The family line actually isn’t a lumberjack line. They were landowners (not “farmers” per se, but they worked the land) since the feodal regime, and the first immigrant gave great gifts to the Church, which I was told in Europe is a custom of high nobelty (not low nobelty or commoners). I can’t wait to prove those Frenchmen wrong. LOL

  29. Seeing the science behind Elizabeth Warren’s DNA is very exciting. We all have those strange stories in our families that as a child we have no reason to question. As we get older, we start questioning and genealogy and DNA have really helped in unraveling these tales. In my case, I found a bio grandfather and a gr grandmother from England never mentioned during my mother’s life. Congratulations to Sen. Warren for her persistence in uncovering her ancestral story.

  30. I test at .3% Native. The only Native I can find is my 12th gr grandmother. I also have a 3rd cousin…by estimates…that is a Scot. That is impossible on paper, but shows I got a lot of those genes. So the fact that I am the only one in my family to show the Native percentage is within reason.
    There were tales of another 3rd gr grandmother being Native. My gr grandmother tried to enroll in Dawes, but was rejected. DNA has proven the rejection was right. And yet another tale on another side of my family, so when I had my Aunt do mt test….she turned out to be a U, totally disproving that story because the woman in question was a direct female ancestor.

  31. Who researched the lineage? Warren’s tree has more ancestors in it, including many that you left off that tree.

    • WikiTree is a collaborative tree. I chose WikiTree since so many who have done research have done so with an agenda one way or another, and really did not want to inadvertently present biased research.

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