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What is the Best DNA Test for Native American Ancestry?

Are you interested in learning which DNA company is the best for detecting Native American ancestry?  With all of the DNA news of late, it’s no wonder that this has become a popular topic. 

In this post, I’ll tell you which two companies offer the best test for finding Native American roots – and I’ll even tell you why I think they are the best, and what type of information you can learn from your results.

What is the Best DNA Test for Native American Ancestry_

There are many reasons why people are interested in learning whether or not they have roots in indigenous America.  Whether you grew up with family stories about a lost Native American past, or if you are just curious to see what a DNA test would show, DNA testing is a great way to start your journey.

Before we begin, however, it is important to note that we don’t share DNA with all of our ancestors, which means that it is possible to have a distant Native American ancestor and have inherited no DNA from that particular person. 

If your Native American ancestry is recent, however, there is a strong possibility that it will show up on a DNA from a reputable company.

Top tests for finding Native American DNA

My two favorite tests for finding and identifying Native American DNA:

  • Ancestry DNA
  • 23 and Me

Each company has a slightly different offering when it comes to Native American ancestry and exploring family history.  Below, you can explore the differences between both 23 and Me and Ancestry DNA and decide which test is best for your individual needs. 

Plus, you can find links directly to the websites to go ahead and get started on your DNA testing journey.

Pro tip:  If you can swing it, do both the Ancestry DNA and the 23 and Me tests.  You’ll get the best of both worlds and everything that both companies have to offer.

Why Ancestry DNA is best for Native American DNA

The Ancestry DNA test is among the most accurate tests for ethnicity estimates, since the company invests continues to invest substantial time and resources in developing the ethnicity estimate technology and improving reference populations used to determine ethnicity regions. 

Additionally, as improvements are developed, your DNA results will automatically be updated for free – how cool is that?

There are many benefits available to those who choose Ancestry DNA for Native American roots

Ancestry DNA is an industry leader in attempting to define sub-regions among the Native American category, and currently offers 42 sub-regions within this region.  These sub-regions can provide accurate information about where your Native American ancestors may have lived on the North and South American continents over the past few hundred years.

One of the best ways to research your family tree is by using DNA matches, and Ancestry DNA has the largest commercial DNA database (more than 10 million users!).  This is great for people who are looking for living relatives, or for people who are interested in using information from DNA matches to build their family tree.

If you do decide to build a family tree, you can attach your family tree to your Ancestry DNA results and leverage the power of Ancestry’s software which will analyze your tree and compare it to those of your DNA matches to help you figure out how you are connected and learn more about your family tree.

Note:  It is important to note that not everyone with detectable Native American ancestry will get assigned a sub-region, however.  If you don’t have DNA that matches any of the current sub-regions, you’ll still receive a more general “Native American” result on your ethnicity estimate.

Why 23 and Me is best for Native American DNA

23 and Me has a lot to offer when it comes to researching Native American DNA, and ancestry in general.  It’s one of the most reputable companies in the commercial DNA testing for ancestry industry, and has a DNA user database that has at least ten million DNA samples.

Their ancestry composition report, which is their term for “ethnicity estimate”, is heralded across the industry as being one of the most accurate available.

23 and Me results for Native American ancestry are grouped by country, and currently include 22 Latin American countries.  The United States and Canada are not included on the list of countries under the Native American heading, though someone with indigenous roots from these countries will still show up under the “Broadly Native American” category on the ancestry composition report.

There are great benefits of testing with 23 and Me for researching Native American roots, as well as family tree research:

23 and Me allows you to view your ethnicity estimate, and adjust the confidence levels to see how your results would change if you adjust the confidence levels up or down.  Ethnicity estimates are only estimates, and understanding that there is a certain level of uncertainty in your results (and the ability to adjust the certainty level up or down depending on what you are looking for) is a great way to spot something important in your ancestry.

23 and Me gives you access to your ethnicity results at the chromosome level, which means that you can identify the exact DNA segments that correspond with your Native American ancestry, if desired.  In addition, you can even download this information for more advanced analysis, if you are the type of person that would like to get really involved with learning about your DNA.

You will also be provided with DNA matches, and you can see detailed information about how you match your match by using the chromosome browser (an advanced tool for analyzing and comparing DNA)

Is there a DNA test that can identify which tribe your ancestors belonged to?

As you might have noticed in the previous sections, the Ancestry DNA and 23 and Me tests don’t tell you which tribe your ancestors belonged to.  Instead, they only give you a geographic region or country where your ancestors might have lived.

This leads many people to ask the question:  Is there a reliable DNA test that can tell you which tribe your ancestors belonged to?

My answer is clear:  NO.  As of 2020, there is no reliable DNA test that can tell you which tribe your ancestors were part of.  Any DNA testing company that tells you that they can do this should be avoided.  Ethnicity estimates, including those done to detect indigenous heritage, are only estimates and should be viewed as a general indication of Native American ancestry.

In addition, even if your DNA test does identify Native American ancestry, most tribes do not accept this type of evidence for claims of citizenship. Traditional genealogy research and evidence is generally required in order to pursue membership to a particular tribe.

Does having Native American DNA mean you can join a federally recognized tribe?

Showing Native American DNA on an Ancestry DNA or 23 and Me test doesn’t someone Native American.  In fact, no federally recognized US tribe accepts a DNA test as proof of Native American ancestry in order to gain citizenship. 

US tribes are sovereign nations that govern their own rules and laws about who can become a member/citizen.  Additionally, if someone didn’t grow up in a Native American culture, it would be disingenuous to claim to “be” Native American simply because of a DNA test.

Even so, I don’t think it is completely fair to criticize or make fun of people who are very interested in learning about whether they have Native American heritage.  Our country has a complicated history where racist ideas reigned, and in many families, people with mixed indigenous or African ancestry were encouraged to hide their true heritage. 

People were discouraged from speaking their native languages, or practicing their old religious and cultural beliefs.

The end result of this tragic history are family stories and legends about a distant Native American great-great-great grandmother.  Over generations, these stories usually morph and often become grandiose – but many times they are based on a grain of truth. 

DNA testing and family tree research can be the key to unlocking your actual family history, be it what it may.


I hope that this post helped you figure out which DNA test works best for you in searching for your Native American ancestry.  If you have any questions about something that you read in this post, or if you would like to share your own experience trying to trace your Native American roots, I would love to hear from you in the discussion below.

Thanks for stopping by today!

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