Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Native American DNA? A Norwegian example

Many Americans go out of their way to try to prove ancestral connections to Native American tribes. Often, people will bolster their arguments by referring to admixture results on GEDmatch where they show a trace of "Amerindian" or something similar.

In this blog post, I will share some of my mother's admixture results (fully anonymized, of course) from various GEDmatch calculators.* My mother is from Eastern Norway, and most of her ancestry is from the same region, mainly inland areas. Unlike my father (whose uncle's Native American DNA shows up in testing company results and is probably real), my mother has absolutely no known or likely ancestral connection to the Americas, and no Native American in her testing company results. She does, however, have known ancestors from Eastern Finland - ethnic Savonians, Karelians, and probably Eastern Sámi too - who would all probably have had some Siberian admixture. It is also likely that my mother has ancient Southern Sámi connections through her ancestors from Østerdalen.

Native Americans came to the Americas from Siberia. Modern-day Native Americans share a genetic origin, and even linguistic heritage, with modern-day Siberians.

Should you, or should you not, take GEDmatch calculators literally when they report trace amounts of Native American (especially when NA does not show up in the original testing company results)? Is it necessarily real Native American DNA, or could it perhaps represent ancient Siberian DNA inherited via Scandinavian (or other European or Asian) family lines?

Look at my mother's pie charts and judge for yourself.

I know what I think: Research, research, research! Just as you shouldn't dismiss trace results out of hand, neither should you accept them without question. Admixture results should always be interpreted in context.

How to provide context? Aside from traditional "paper" genealogy, my best tip is to look at your matches. Do you share your Native American segments with people of known Native American descent? If yes, the segments might be real NA (even if your recent/known ancestors lived outside the Americas). If no, then chances are they might be ancient Siberian segments (even if your recent/known ancestors lived in the Americas).

Always keep in mind that if you have a family story of Native American ancestors, their DNA might not have been passed down to you. Having no NA autosomal admixture does not mean you have no NA ancestors. This also means (somewhat paradoxically) that that trace amount of "Native American" at GEDmatch might have nothing to do with your actual, existing NA ancestry.

If you do find out that your "Native American" admixture is in fact Siberian, there is no reason to be disappointed. Read up on native Siberians, and you will find that having Siberian heritage is no less interesting than having Native American heritage (many Siberian peoples have beautiful musical traditions, for instance). And even if Native Americans might not be your direct ancestors, they are your distant cousins!

* I deliberately cherry-picked calculators that give my mother a high enough Native American percentage (more than 1%) to show up on the coloured pie chart - in other words, results that look rather significant at first glance, especially to a beginner.

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