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Why Native American DNA Doesn’t Show Up in DNA

Have you heard from others that Native American doesn’t show up in DNA?  I get this question frequently, and I’ve seen people suggest that Native American DNA doesn’t show up on DNA tests in online forums. 

In this post, we’ll dispel this myth, and address some reasons that could explain why Native American doesn’t show up in results as expected.

When I use the term “Native American”, I am referring to the indigenous peoples of North and South America, who all share common genetic origins despite superimposed geopolitical boundaries and constraints.  Modern descendants of these original inhabitants live in communities large and small all over both continents. 

Some have retained a cohesive tribal identity, and others descend from people who “admixed” with newcomers from Europe, Africa, and Asia.

If you inherited Native American DNA from your ancestors, then it will probably show up on DNA tests

If you have Native American ancestors and you inherited DNA from them, then there is a good chance that Native American DNA will show up in your results.  I have seen Native American ancestry represented correctly on Ancestry DNA, My Heritage DNA, Family Tree DNA, and even on third-party tools like Gedmatch.

The important fact to note is that we didn’t inherit DNA from all of our ancestors, but we did inherit DNA from many of them.  There is no known rhyme or reason to the way that autosomal DNA is inherited, other than the fact that each child inherits 50% of their DNA from each parent.  

Even though you inherited half of your DNA from each of your parents, there is no way to know which 50% you inherited, and what information was contained within the 50% of each parents’ DNA that you did not inherit.

From the DNA that you inherited from your mother, for example, you will share DNA with the ancestors from whom she inherited those segments of DNA.  Contained within the DNA that she didn’t pass down to you are segments that she inherited from other ancestors. 

We inherit many segments from recent ancestors, and fewer segments from distant ancestors, but there is always a chance that segments from each 50% of DNA (the part you did inherit and the part you didn’t inherit) could match any particular given ancestor.

This means that you may very well have Native American ancestors in your family tree, but because of the limited size of the human genome and probability, you didn’t inherit any DNA from those particular ancestors.

Note:  To clarify, we do share very, very small amounts of DNA with more distant ancestors than would appear as significant on autosomal DNA test in the form of larger segments (made up of these much smaller segments) that we inherited from our more recent ancestors.

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How many generations does it take for Native American DNA to disappear?

In a nutshell, there is about a 18% chance that you would share no traceable DNA with any given 6th great-grandfather.  Going back even just one more generation (to 7th great-grandparents) increases these odds to 37% of having no shared DNA in common. 

The topic is tricky, however, so be sure to stick around for a more detailed explanation below.

I should also mention that Native American DNA does not have any special qualities that make it easier or more difficult to inherit than any other DNA ethnicity.  The following discussion would be applicable to any DNA ethnicity that you were expecting to see in your results.

How Native American DNA (and other ethnicities) are inherited

As you already know, each child inherits 50% of their DNA with from each parent.  The effect of this is that, with each passing generation, the descendants will share less and less DNA with any given ancestor. 

You will absolutely share DNA with your parents, and you are practically guaranteed to share DNA with your grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, and your great-great-great grandparents

By the time you get to the 5th great-grandparent level, however, there is about a 5% chance that you inherited no DNA from any given 5th great-grandparent. When you get to a distance of an 8th great-grandparent, there is about a 58% chance that you would share no DNA with the great-grandparent in question.

To make matters more complicated, even if you still did inherit DNA from a relatively recent ancestor, there is a good chance that you didn’t inherit the Native American DNA that they did have. Remember, 50% of their DNA was not passed down to their children. 

People of European and African descent have been living on the North and South American continents for about 500 years, and so we should keep in mind that a Native American ancestor might not have been “100%” Native American.

In this sense, it’s possible to have inherited DNA from a Native American ancestor without showing any Native American DNA.

Basic reasons that no Native American showed up in your results

To summarize, assuming your great-great-great grandmother was 100% Native American, meaning that her ancestors never admixed with people of European and/or African descent at any point, then it would be extremely unlikely for no Native American to show up in your DNA results. 

If your Native American great-great-great-grandmother was 60% Native American, however, there would be a good chance that even though you would inherit DNA from her, you might not inherit segments of her DNA that would indicate Native American ancestry.

For those of us who have Native American ancestors further back, we should keep in mind that there is only about a 42% chance that we would have inherited any measurable DNA from a Native American 8th great-grandmother, for example.  If we are lucky enough to share a detectable amount of DNA with an 8th great-grandmother, it would be a very, very small quantity.

Maybe there is no Native American ancestry in your family

Finally, it’s important to remember that not all of the stories that we hear growing up are true, and it is important to consider that the reason that no Native American DNA showed up in your results is because you don’t have any Native American ancestors. 

This is especially likely to be the case if you have already researched your family tree and have found absolutely no valid genealogical evidence to corroborate what you were told about a Native American ancestor as a child.

I didn’t want to start out with this paragraph, since this can be a very sensitive subject for many people.  I always give people the benefit of the doubt, and assume that if they have been told that they have Native American ancestry, then they do. 

This world is tough enough without us trying to discourage each other, and it shouldn’t bother us that people are curious about their family tree – no matter who they think might be on it.

How can I know for sure whether I have Native American ancestors?

Don’t be discouraged if you were expecting to find Native American in your DNA results, and you didn’t.  Depending on how far back your Native American ancestor might be, you may or may not be able to document your family line back to that point. 

I would still encourage you to start building your family tree, or if you already have one, building it further out.  Document each generation carefully, learning as much as you can and paying attention to every detail.  You may stumble upon a clue that can verify your Native American roots.

You can always get a free trial on Ancestry by clicking on this link (I’ll get a small commission if you end up keeping your membership at the end of your free trial, at no extra cost to you at all!) Ancestry Free Trial

Conclusion

I hope that this post has helped you understand just a little bit more about how Native American ancestry is passed down from generation to generation, and why you might not have inherited the ethnicity that you were expecting to see in your results. 

If you have any questions about something that you read here, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Thanks for stopping by!

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Harriett Jones

Wednesday 8th of June 2022

I had been told by my grandmother that her grandmother was Native Americn, but the family did not talk about it in the late 1800's in the South. She realized she should be proud of her heritage when she became an adult. My brother's DNA shows 6% Native American Heritage. I am female. No Native American Heritage is shown on my Ancestry DNA results, My research also shows the possibility of Native ancestry further back in our geneology.

Mercedes

Friday 10th of June 2022

Hi Harriett, Thank you so much for your comment and for sharing your family's story. Since your brother shows 6% Native American on his DNA results, you can be assured that your family's story is accurate. Since DNA is passed down in a somewhat random fashion, you simply must not have inherited any DNA from your parent that was passed down from your Native American ancestor through your grandmother. It is not related to you being female, however. The good news is that since your research has shown you where you might look to learn more about your indigenous ancestry, you are already well on the right track. Best of luck to you in your search. Sincerely, Mercedes

Lori

Thursday 21st of April 2022

I grew up with stories we were part Native American. Have had people ask me if I am Native. (My sister and a cousin also, and just this month one of my daughters was assumed to be of Native heritage). My maternal great aunt (who passed away at age 93 two and a half years ago) did a dna test for me and she came back with 8% Native. Okay, this proves what we were told. I came back only 1% Native and then the company took this away as being unknown heritage when they reconfigured their estimations. I guess I just did not inherit the dna. My full brother came back as 1.5% Native. I have traced my ancestry back to a person who is listed as Native in 1760, though it seems spurious to me as it goes back to a Choctaw woman in Louisiana and I do not have family from that area and so it seems a stretch, though I did have an ancestor who lived in NC around the same time. My maternal grandpa always said we were Mingo (we live in Ohio and many ancestors on his side came from PA). My mom's brother, my uncle, was given work by the Native American Center in Athens, Ohio in the 1980's during "Affirmative Action" when minorities were being hired and given preference. He just walked in and applied as Native and was accepted based on looks. He was happy for this as he lived in one of the poorest counties in Ohio at the time and needed the work. He was raised he was part Native and so he was not trying to scam anyone. My brother is always asked if he is "Indian" or "Mexican". My cousin on my dad's side has always looked Asian/Native (either one) and many people ask her is she is "Eskimo" or "Korean". My paternal uncle (her dad) was often asked if he was Native. There is talk in our family that my paternal great grandmother was "Blackfoot" (Saponi) as she always claimed this- and she was born in 1879. It was not popular to claim Native in her time (she died in 1966). I have been unable to prove a Saponi connection, though many of my ancestors on her side came from the region where the Saponi lived. Yet my brother and I both come back with such small amounts of Native, though we have family stories on both sides of our family trees. It just seems odd.

Kymber

Sunday 20th of March 2022

I know that my grandfather is /was 50% native. I’m having trouble proving it because of something that happened 100 years ago. Do You know if I do show in a dna test to have 1/8th native dna in me… is it provable at that point?

Bluekimchi

Monday 31st of January 2022

Hi Mercedes. Thank you for this information, it was very helpful. I was raised with Native traditions and some language, was always told we are Abenaki. Trying to find if that is true. I have done two DNA tests, one with another company and waiting on Ancestry results still. This other company says I am 3% North African and 2.9% Nigerian. Is it even possible that the Native American DNA, of any still exists, would show that way?...

Rebecca B

Saturday 8th of May 2021

My Mother donated her blood in 2007 to five research facilities as with just a little research we found out she was a rainbow child she held the blood of every nation. since they have made strides in diseases that have plagued mankind. renal cancer Scandinavian genes, fibrosis Cherokee gene really cool how the science is coming about, but if you test Neanderthal which my son did 36 percent that means from the earth you are Indigenous made of the clay literally. He tested 3 percent Northern Indigenous, that's funny cause his Abenaki heritage is about 15 give er take a few generations back to 1235 but his Shawnee/Cherokee heritage, he's better than 65 percent if you follow his Dad's side and Mine just on record but its 51% if you add the two, but this literally shows America is a giant melting pot. But some how the Welch was the most predominate, that is cause the Scottish settled where the mountains were, and where some Cherokee nations just didn't know a stranger. That southern hospitality and the Cherokee charm go hand in hand. My hubby is a Walker descendant many of them wouldn't even qualify based on quantum. The reason they qualify is their parent was on the last rolls of the 1940's. Goes back to when Hatfields and Johnsons had to prove their land rights. interesting to find out my Indigenous ancestor wasn't full blooded himself given the last of the Mohican story I looked farther back to Abenaki and later due to migration, but there was five generations passed before he came to be. then his descendants married Germanic founding families like Vogle, Campbell and Blanchard(I was honored to help this line for they had been sent west to reservations one of them were still lost from it generational, I told her nothing holds her on the reservation, go home, Blanchard last name tells you who your people were go home the Millers are there they never left they ran the heritage center when my grandma was a kid Margaret had the quilt my Mom mended it and had it for a while I was to fascinated with it at 9 she didn't want me ruining it so it went there, so, I know where you belong the Blanchard Valley Shawnee community go home, she did and is at peace finally, I swear its our rivers that call us). history always written by the victor hence census every 10 you're either black or white 1930 census there was no indigenous to check, so if you wasn't enumerated on the reservation you wasn't indigenous(hidden in plain sight) many Indigenous became "gypsies" to hide in plain sight.

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