My Native American DNA. Say what?

Always eager to try technological advances, I took an autosomal DNA test to see what that would tell me. One of the tools that you can use on Gedmatch tells you your admixture: the regions where your ancestors originally came from who contributed to your DNA. The methods to calculate this are still very much under development, but I find it fascinating. Many people put a lot of trust in the results and think they will point to a country of origin. But sometimes they are just plain wrong.

My DNA results: 1.15% Native American

Using the Eurogenes K 13 algorithm, which I have read is appropriate to use when you’re of Western European descent like me, I checked my admixture. And there it was. I’m 1.15% Native American. My calculated percentage of “Amerindian” (as it is called by Eurogenes) is as high as 7.1% on chromosome 5 and 5.6% on chromosome 8.

Breakdown of admixture per chromosome

Breakdown of admixture per chromosome

Had I been an American genealogist, I would have been jumping for joy since this confirmed the family story that my great grand-mother was a Native American princess.

But I’m not from the US and there is no family legend. I am from the Netherlands and none of my ancestors ever set foot in the Americas until after I was born.

I’m 99% Dutch, with all of my great-great-great-grandparents born in the Netherlands. My other DNA results proved that there were no non-paternal events in the last couple of generations. I have been able to trace most of my ancestors 10 generations back on the male and female lines and they are all Dutch, with the exception of two German branches and some French Huguenots going back to the 1500s and 1600s, plus a noble bastard line in the 1200s that traces to royalty throughout Europe, long before Columbus ever set foot on a ship. In other words: there is no way that I actually have Native American ancestors.

The ‘Chromosome painting’ shows where these segments of so-called Amerindian DNA can be found (the blue segments in the picture). It quickly becomes clear that most of these segments are in ‘noisy’ areas with a lot of different ethnicities showing. I suspect that the algorithm doesn’t know what this DNA is and makes different guesses for adjacent sections, leading to the false Amerindian result.

Chromosome painting showing my admixture

Chromosome painting showing my admixture

Still an art, not a science

My mother also took a DNA test and her admixture results show 0% Amerindian, so these ‘false positives’ must come from my father’s side. My father came from a very isolated community, where almost nobody ever moved in since around the year 1000. I have been able to trace all of his ancestors ten generations back, and they all come from within 10 miles from where he was born.

It’s possible that that side of my DNA has some characteristics that are not found in the rest of Europe. Many of the algorithms for determining admixture use very small reference populations, which probably did not include anyone from my father’s village. Since their isolated community may have preserved or introduced mutations that do not occur elsewhere, that might explain why the algorithm could not make sense of the DNA. Admixture analysis is evolving rapidly, but as Judy Russell put it: “it’s not soup yet”.1

Lesson learned: don’t put too much trust in admixture results

I hope that sharing my experiences with admixture tools has shown you that a little suspicion goes a long way. If your paper trail says one thing, and your admixture results say something else, check the chromosome painting to see how solid the blocks are on closer inspection. DNA doesn’t lie, but our interpretations sure can be incorrect!


  1. Judy Russell, “Admixture: not soup yet,” blog post, The Legal Genealogist ( : accessed 27 June 2014). Hat tip to Jennifer Zinck who pointed out on Facebook that Judy wrote about this related topic on her blog.

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About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink is a professional genealogist in the Netherlands. She has been doing genealogy for almost 25 years. Her expertise is helping people from across the world find their ancestors in the Netherlands. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.


  1. Kathy Lisowski says:

    I know in your case it probably is the isolation that occurred in your father’s village. My husband on the other hand, was surprised to find that he has Asian blood. His background is Polish. Both maternal and paternal grand parents were straight from the old country of Poland. Come to find out, the Mongolians invaded Poland several times and spread their DNA around. It is fascinating stuff. It is amazing how humans get around!

  2. Dave Simmer says:

    Yvette, I found your latest DNA results article very interesting. I am certainly no DNA expert, especially for what time period your results could cover. That being said, it must be remembered that between 25,000 and 10,000 years ago migrations took place from northeastern Asia to America and also during this period there were migrations back from America to Asia. We also know that the Vikings came to America around 500 years before Columbus however, it is believed that the Vikings did not mix with American Indians. There are also some who believe that a small number of Europeans may have come to the east coast of America during that 25,000 to 10,000 years ago period by following animals along the ice cap. This is believed by a very small number of archeologists and has not been proven. They believe this because of similar tools, spear points, mound constructions, and facial features of some eastern coast American Indians. It would be interesting if it could be found out that this small percentage of American Indian could be from one of the back migrations to northeastern Asia or possibly an ancestor that followed the ice cap thousands of years ago.

    • Great observations. It would be amazing if chunks of DNA that old got preserved in that isolated village. The area is still called the “Achterhoek” [Back Corner] today.

  3. Yvette,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  4. Yvette,
    This is so interesting to me! I have done admixture DNA tests, too, though my results have made sense to me. But I have a friend who continues to be disgusted with the illogic of his results and I think your experience may reassure him that he’s not mistaking things.

    I have a different friend, though, who is enjoying her own interpretation of her Native American genes. While she and her parents have obviously lived their whole lives in North America, all four of her grandparents were from Finland, so the Native American percentage in her admixture is baffling. She has decided that perhaps Native Americans are distantly connected to the Saami in Finland, so she likes thinking she is part Saami. I won’t show her your blog post. :-)

  5. I wondered if you had Finnish ancestors distant also. Heh. Aren’t the admixture results supposed to be unreliable if they are below something like 2%? Either because of randomness, or because whatever caused the results are remnants from many thousands of years ago?

    • I do not have any Finnish ancestors that I know of. I have some Swedish and Norse ancestors in the 10th century, through a noble bastard line, so there may be a Finnish connection that I am unaware of. Fascinating.

  6. Alex Cummings says:

    I have been told since I was a child of our American Indian Ancestry ( Algonquin )

    Wasn’t I surprised then at 23 and me only a tiny bit showed up but also Finnish ,

    Never heard any talk of Finnish in the Family

  7. Christine says:

    Yvette, I am so glad you posted this! My dad has consistent Amerindian DNA in every single DNA test he takes (0.85%-1.33%–I have roughly 1/2 that amount in my tests, very small but there). I originally had him do the DNA test and then uploaded to GEDmatch.

    I have no explanation for this. He is mostly English/Norwegian/Swedish/Dutch/German/Irish. We’re American but have zero stories on Native American ancestors. I am an American so of course I’d love to have my Cherokee or whatever ancestry lol, but I don’t think that is what is happening. Whenever I can refine the Amerindian further on GEDmatch it is always Arctic (and about equal amounts Siberian). Almost zero North Amerindian (0.09%) and no MesoAmerican/South Amerindian. I’m thinking he either has a Saami ancestor somewhere or this is just a reflection of a deep Arctic common ancestry between Native Americans(Arctic), Saami/Scandinavians, and Siberians??

  8. Rodrigo Castel says:

    Hello Yvette,
    I really love your website, thank you so much for share these things. I’m Brazilian, but my maternal ancestors are, in majority, Dutch.

    This post made me very astonished. I loved your final phrase: “DNA doesn’t lie, but our interpretations sure can be incorrect!”

    Just for curiosity: Do you have any Jewish ancestry in your family? Any possibility for that?
    It’s because I’ve been reading some things about some connections between Hebrews and Native Americans. For example: There is a DVD entitled “Lost Civilizations of North America”, this production claims that DNA testings have shown a positive match between certain Native Americans and inhabitants of Holy Land from over 2000 years ago (There is an article about it called “Native American Jews? A Fulfillment of Prophecy?” By HaRav Ariel Bar Tzadok)

    I think all this is very interesting, and I guess the definition of the Native American DNA stays a mystery.

    • No, I do not have any Jewish ancestry that I know of, either in the documents or in my DNA matches. I have several Dutch matches but also many matches with early American colonial roots, which makes sense because of the Dutch presence there.

  9. Yvette, did all of your other GEDmatch ethnicity admixture runs reveal about the same amount of Native American, or was it just on the K13? Thanks!

  10. Lynn Gillikin says:

    I am descended from the extinct USA East Coast Lenni Lenape tribe.
    Zero trace of Native American in my test.
    I was surprised to find instead….FINLAND !
    Could the connection be that Scandinavian explorers contributed their DNA
    to my indigenous peoples, long since decimated by European invasion.
    Small numbers of Native Americans survived a forced migration to the Western United States
    from which the Native American DNA samples were drawn. My tribe is extinct,
    unavailable for DNA sampling, so I am “related” only to the Finn-fathers !

  11. Dianne Foster says:

    May I propose an explanation? While it may be true that you can account for everyone on your family tree for ten generations back (although it seems you cannot exactly – not by what you said) – I know that being Dutch, you may have had some sea-faring ancestors like some of my own. I am American. My father came from some of the founding families of New York. My mother’s Irish ancestors arrived in the 19th century. But I just found out I had enough Native American ancestry to have had a full-blooded Indian 7th great grandparent around 1700. My father’s family was on Long Island in the 1630′s (and all over the rest of New England). But there are some ancestors where the female does not have a surname available. No family trees supply one, in a time when American females were proud of their founding fathers and went by their names in the records for the most part. There is an “Abigail” in a community with not that many English or Dutch women, at the end of Long Island in what is today the Hamptons and also the reservation of the Shinnecock tribe, co-existing. Could she be the source of the Indian genes?

    Now imagine, as in your case, the family decided to go back to Europe. Some of them did in my family, returning to Europe but leaving a few offspring behind, maybe the eldest son. Suppose a man brought his younger children back home, he had an inheritance to claim (could be small, middle class, but still). Others did this and brought back children from India and the Caribbean. It happened. In fact Robert Ballard, the submarine explorer who discovered the Titanic, discovered that through his New York Dutch ancestors he had inherited genes from New Guinea – Indonesia. Kind of a shock for him, but he accepted the science and then tried to find out the pathway. That is how I feel about being part Native American. I imagine that men are men wherever they go, and if they do not bring back wives, their children sometimes turn up. Somehow, I am more likely than not to be from a group of people who spoke Algonquin and were smart enough to pass on their genes through the dominant families of the time and place where they had most likely lived for thousands of years. This is probably not just a false “blip” but maybe an explanation for some notable gap in the record.

    • Dianne Foster says:

      Oh, and one more thing about the name “Abigail” that I have found in my family record on that side twice, and without a surname attached in either case: the word itself is a stereotypical name for a servant girl, in the English language at that time The first known use of it as such is recorded in 1671, according to the online Merriam Webster dictionary.

      So a native woman can have been in the household originally as a servant and been “christened” with such a name although she really was called something else by her own people. That’s my clue for now. I have no idea if it will explain my Native American genes.

      • Dianne Foster says:

        Actually, Merriam Webster is conservative in the use of “Abigail” for a servant girl dating only from 1671 – maybe that’s more about widespread use. It also cites a play by the Restoration playwrights Beaumont and Fletcher who may have introduced this stereotype Abigail character = servant girl. They wrote in the first part of the 17th century.

        I do not mean to say this is the actual source of the Christian name for an Indian girl who married or lived with a white man (under common law marriage she could become legal at some point). There may not yet have been anti-miscegenation laws, and in any case, American traditions seem to privilege unions with Native Americans so that people express pride in them. To me this indicates that some higher status whites had Native American ancestry in the early period. I am sure there are whole academic papers on the subject. In my case, it comes down to genetic evidence and gaps in an otherwise very well-documented genealogical record which might be supplied by who the near neighbors and hunting/trapping/fishing partners were in what was then a frontier. The Hamptons, that is!

    • I’ve been able to trace most of my ancestors ten generations, not all, because I have some mystery lines on my mom’s side. But my mom has 0% Amerindian on the same test (Eurogenes K 13), so any Amerindian must have come from my dad’s side. I have been able to track all of my paternal ancestors back ten generations and most of them back further to the early 1600s. They all came from the same area, in a circle of ten miles around the house where he was born in Winterswijk on the Dutch/German border. They were farmers, the nearest port was a day’s travel away and most of them never even left the village in their lives. From studying the history and archaeology of the place, I know that the farms in these areas have been worked since at least the 8th century and I would not be at all surprised if my family descends from these early farmers. I have no reason to believe that anyone from the Americas, or a descendant of theirs, would have come to that village between 1492 and the early 1600s.
      I would love to find out that I had such exotic DNA, but in my case, I simply don’t see how that could be.

  12. Dianne Foster says:

    I am pretty sure I have Dutch ancestry, as my family were early settlers in New York (17th century), and although Long Island was divided into English Long Island (where the Foster family settled) and Brooklyn (which was Dutch), early in the process the intermarriage of these Protestants began once the English acquired New York from the Dutch.

    In a recent test at 23andme, it appears that I have a lot of British ancestry but some ambiguous Western European, with relatives in Belgium and the Netherlands as well as Germany. I am pretty sure this comes from a German immigrant grandmother’s family, but it could also come partly from earlier Dutch ancestors (given some first names for boys in the family like “Van Wyck” and other clues, I’d put money on it).

    Now here is the connection to your article: it appears that I may have had a Native American ancestor about six or seven generations back, which appears on a long part of one chromosome.

    Let us imagine Dutch people who left New York after having been there for a few generations. Perhaps they were not pleased with the English take-over. This could be historically evaluated. They could even have gone to the Dutch Caribbean for a time, before wending their way back home. At this point they could have acquired mixed race ancestry. They might have returned to some village and who knows, the parents could have lost the thread of the story — sent their children off somewhere as apprentices or whatever. It’s so easy to lose family history, if you think about it. So it isn’t necessarily true that someone’s father from a remote village has no Native American ancestors, given that his country was one of the key settlers of the Atlantic coast and that in the very early days, Indian squaw women (at least for some of the English) might have meant the difference between survival and death. It may be that Dutch settlement was more controlled and paternalistic, but somewhere, especially with intermarriage with the English, other genes have a possibility of having gotten in.

    In my case, I realize that family tree and genealogy are two different things. Sometimes they are in a neat parallel, sometimes there are gaps. You can fill in almost every blank if you are descended from early settlers in America, but there will be lots of women, for instance, who appear on scene with no surname, have a few children, and then are heard from no more. I think we all must allow for the unknown factors, and not discard information which does not seem to fit our preconceived ideas of our orderly ancestors (which they weren’t any more than we are).

    • Dianne Foster says:

      Gosh, sorry, I can see up above that I already wrote you about this. Must be that it’s Halloween and all the little trick or treaters here have me jumping up and down from my laptop (still Oct 31 here).

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