There are many potential steps involved in researching your genealogy, especially if you’re starting from scratch. Before you do anything else, it’s of course, best to start with your living family members – gather information from your oral history, and search through their old records and photographs. You may be surprised at how much you can learn this way!
But you might not get all the answers you’re looking for. Especially for those of us with Indian ancestry, it can be tough tracking down information through written records. The census only dates back so far, and some archives are simply not as well-maintained as others. Thankfully, though, there are other routes you can take for learning about your genealogy, such as DNA testing.
DNA Testing for Ancestry Research
By testing your DNA – the 23 pairs of chromosomes you received from your biological parents – researchers can find out information about your personal ancestry. After taking a non-invasive sample of your DNA, such as from a cheek swab, the DNA testing organization will compare your results with the results of others from the same lineage. The comparisons are made with DNA samples from both current and historic individuals.
What You Can Learn from DNA Testing
Genetic markers are examined during DNA testing, which will tell the tester how likely you are to have specific characteristics. They can also help point you in the direction of your paternal line origins, and potentially even show your paternal ancestors’ migration routes. For maternal ancestry, the same can be done by examining mitochondrial markers.
There are over 200 historical human populations, and through genetic testing, you can find out which you are most genetically similar too – meaning which you are most likely to be descended from. Many people use DNA testing to determine what percentage of their ancestry came from Europe or Africa, for example.
For Native Americans or those with Indian ancestry, it can be a little more difficult to pin down results. Ancestry.com, one of the most popular and well-known genealogy sites, offers DNA testing services; while you can find out if you are partially Native American through their services, they cannot currently provide your specific tribal affiliation. This review of their DNA testing services will give you a good idea of what it entails and what to expect.
What You Won’t Get from DNA Testing
There are other consumer genetics testing services. You may have heard of some running into trouble with the FDA previously – that’s because consumers were using their services as diagnostic of potential health issues. It’s important to note that no genetic testing service will provide you with a diagnosis of a condition.
You will also not find out tribal affiliation. You can find out what percentage of your genetic makeup is Native American, but you won't know if it is from Cherokee, Sioux or other. In addition, DNA testing is not a substitute for documentation needed for tribal enrollment.
Find New Connections Through DNA Testing
If you decide that you wish to go through with DNA testing to learn more about your ancestry, it’s important to remember that you won’t learn everything. Genetics test results can’t be exact, but they instead simply provide a prediction for your ethnic makeup. However, with more and more individuals getting DNA testing, and therefore broadening the database of DNA samples to compare, we can bet that genetic testing research is becoming more precise every day!
Ancestry.com is the world’s largest internet-based family history resource, and that combined with their DNA testing services is very promising for leading you in the direction of understanding your heritage. Thanks to their list of DNA matches, they can potentially help you identify unknown familial relationships. Currently, over three million individuals have taken the Ancestry.com DNA test.
How DNA Testing Works
DNA testing can be pricey, with at-home kits starting from at least $99. However, if you are serious and curious about your ancestry, it may just be a worthwhile investment.
Consumer genetic testing kits are very simple. Generally, the organization will ship a kit to your home. All you have to do is follow the instructions – generally, fill up a testing tube with a sample of your saliva – and send the kit back in the mail. It will usually take several weeks or a few months to receive your results back; Ancestry.com sends them back to you via email.
Ultimately, the decision to undergo DNA testing in order to find out more about where you come from is up to you. First, we do recommend building out your family tree and going from there. The DNA tests will not give you any certain or specific results, but they may give you a good idea of your heritage or place of origin. For many of us, simply knowing that information is enough.