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!


Sources

  1. Judy Russell, “Admixture: not soup yet,” blog post, The Legal Genealogist (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2014/05/18/admixture-not-soup-yet/ : accessed 27 June 2014). Hat tip to Jennifer Zinck who pointed out on Facebook that Judy wrote about this related topic on her blog.
About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink is a professional genealogist in the Netherlands. She has been doing genealogy for 20 years. Her expertise is helping people from across the world find their ancestors in the Netherlands. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.

Comments

  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 http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2014/06/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-june-27-2014.html

    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.

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