Ancestry DNA answers long pondered question...

So I did the Ancestry DNA thing when it was on sale in order to answer a question that has long perplexed genealogy fans in my extended family. I am 52 percent Finland/Northwest Russia. I knew that, as my father was a first generation to be born in America Finn. My mother’s side is very much mixed - or so I and my near and distant southern cousins always thought. Family lore had it that my mother’s great great grandfather came to America from Sweden and married a Cherokee woman in Georgia, and other distant grandparents on her side were Native American too. Well - as it turns out - my DNA has nary a drop of Native American. From my mother’s side I am 20% Irish, 15% English, 8% Italian/Greek, 3% Swedish, and less than 1% each Northern Africa and Iberian Peninsula.

Elizabeth Warren should take note. :slight_smile: Family lore often lacks facts.

It’s always Cherokee. Every time I see someone talking about the family myth of NA ancestry being busted, it’s always Cherokee :smiley:

There is something like a 1-in-8 chance that you have no inherited DNA from your 3x great grandmother. Here’s an article on the subject: Understanding Genetics

You skimmed your own link. Here’s what your cited site writes (with emphasis added);

Yeah, but what are the odds that this DNA contains markers specific to an ethnicity?

You’re right; I did. I was rushing a little and couldn’t find the article I read recently that talked about how far removed an ancestor it takes to potentially share no DNA (I couldn’t recall what degree they’d said).

Mea culpa. But naita makes a good point.

The key question is: How many markers does Ancestry test? They say they test “over 700,000 locations” which seems like a lot! If we interpret this as 700,0000 distinct markers it would imply that 87,000 are co-inherited with any 1st cousin, about 342 with any 5th-cousin, and so on. And indeed they report matches up to distant cousin (5th+)

I’d assume any marker would be correlated with ethnicity.

I had my DNA tested by Ancestry and also by 23 And Me. They disagreed considerably about where my ancestors came from. One said I’m mostly Scandinavian, but our genealogical research goes back many generations without any Scandinavian. The other says I have a small amount of Oceanian in me, perhaps from Papua New Guinea, about which we’ve never turned up the slightest hint. However, I have multiple relatives found through genealogical research who also turned up at each of these services, so it’s clear they are measuring real things about my ancestors.

I get the idea that the geographical origins part of consumer DNA testing is pretty flaky.

Which is very frustrating to my spouse’s family who actually ARE part Eastern Band Cherokee, ancestors listed in the Baker Rolls; have names, photographs, and other solid documentation of their pedigrees, and in his parents’ generation most knew some Cherokee language. Yet folks continually dismiss their claims because of how many other people have fantasies about an “Indian Princess” in the family tree. Then again, his family is pretty clear there was no such princess in their background, their Native ancestors were all ordinary people just trying to survive an invasion. Not much fantasy there, just real facts about real people.

“Cherokee” comes up so often because 1) they did intermarry a great deal in the early colonial period and 2) they’re a relatively numerous and well-known tribe and 3) I think years ago a lot of people of, shall we say, borderline unacceptably dark skin color “passed” as part Indian because that was better than being part African.

I’ve thought about trying this, but I know that my dad’s parents and my mom’s grandparents emigrated from Poland to the US in the early 1900s. I expect my DNA will weigh heavily as Eastern European, and I’m too frugal to find out any more.

Regarding the Cherokee, in my case it is a believable myth if your ancestors all were settled in Cherokee territory, as my mother’s were. The major thing my test got right was the half Finn, which was absolutely true. But I can’t source all of that Irish to any direct ancestors either. If I merely missed carrying on the Native American part, it would be interesting that the tiny Northern Africa part would still be there. Or the Iberian peninsula part. It was still interesting though. Especially since you can upload the raw data file from Ancestry to other websites for health info.

This site can delve a bit deeper into why you may actually have NA ancestors but it doesn’t show in your profile: Roots & Recombinant DNA: NATIVE AMERICAN DNA Is Just Not That Into You

I’ve thought about getting mine done.

I know my dad’s side came from Germany and that’s about it. They came over in the 1920s so I could be half Jewish for all I know. Or any other ethnicity that comes from Germany.

On my mother’s side is NA and French, French Canadian (First Nation and French) and English. I know the NA for sure it’s the other 3 I am unsure of. And since one can’t tell one tribe from another the French Canadian wouldn’t be distinguishable from French or the Band I belong to.

Undoubtedly there are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people with Native ancestry, and even specifically Cherokee ancestry, who are either unaware of that ethnicity in their family tree, or can not prove it. There are likewise many people who don’t have such ancestry but think they do.

Consider the historical relationship between peoples. I received a surprisingly large Irish percentage that doesn’t match well with my paper genealogy, but it matches better if you hypothesize that many of my Scottish ancestors were Highlanders, whose Gaelic-speaking civilization would have likely had more Irish ancestors than the more Anglo-Saxon and Viking Lowlands of Scotland.

Good point, Robert. That makes perfect sense.

I recently did mine with Ancestry:

96% European Jewish
2% Caucasus
2% Asia South (India)

The only surprise is that the 96% isn’t 100%.

And not a drop of Cherokee.

The ethnicity and ancestry (little a-) information is only as good as the reference data used. There are several methods to compute this, including principle components analysis and structure/admixture, but what is basically happening is that sections of your genotype are compared to sections of lots of other people’s genotypes. Then when matches are found, classifications can be made. So, for example, if 20% of your genome looks really similar to parts from other people who are Irish, then you’re 20% Irish.

There can be holes in the reference panel. 5% of your genome might not really be close to any group in the reference panel, but it is the closest match to Koreans, so the test will come back and say you’re 5% Korean, even though you have no reason to believe you have any Korean ancestors. It could be random chance (that 5% is going to be closest to something), or it could even be real.

Mine, for instance, says I’m 70% European, but then 30% something else. The service I used said North African, but when I did it myself using 1000 Genomes as the reference panel it came back with 5% Finish, 20% South Asian (India, etc.), and 5% miscellaneous (plus 70% European). The issue here is that I strongly suspect I have lots of Jewish Eastern European and Russian ancestry, but those groups are not represented in 1000 Genomes.

The bottom line is, that these things can be pretty good, but weird, low percentage results, are probably wrong.

Non-commercial commercial: A free method to do this is by using Genes for Good. It is an academic project based out of the University of Michigan, but it uses Facebook as the platform to collect information. Once you answer enough of the survey questions you will be sent a test kit. After returning your sample, you will be given access to various results, including ancestry and the raw data. Full disclosure: I work near people who work on this project, and work with them on other projects, but I don’t work on Genes for Good, though I am a participant. If you are interested search for it on Facebook (to join) or on Google for general information.

Those two could easily have reached you through Italy, England or Ireland. Or several of the above. And it’s not as if nobody has ever hopped the Straits of Gibraltar; many of the people who have done it historically were even using a decent ship.

One reason results may not always match up with family lore…affairs. Maybe great great grandma married a Cherokee but had an Italian on the side. I recall reading a story somewhere where a person used 23andme and got it for his parents. Ended up causing their divorce due to parentage issues.
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I uploaded my results to and they have several programs to run them for your enjoyment. This site says there is both south (brazil) and north american indian (Kennewick man) in small amounts, not to mention a little dash of greenland eskimo. I was a little disappointed I couldn’t find any Neanderthal.

Cool, thanks.