Ethnic Ancestry Dna Testing

Contained in each of our cells is a unique genetic profile, or fingerprint. This genetic information reveals more than just our individuality; it can tell the story of our ancestral history and provide clues about our ethnic origins. As DNA tests have become more accessible and affordable, they are now a popular method to explore ethnic ancestry.

Genetic information is passed from parents to children virtually unchanged. Over the generations, small genetic changes, or mutations, occur. These mutations are called markers. While some of these markers are dangerous and can cause serious medical problems, most are harmless. Genetic markers are used to help trace ancestry, migration patterns and ethnic origin. This is accomplished by comparing DNA samples taken from an individual with those stored in DNA databases.

Types of Ethnic Ancestry Tests

A basic ancestry test looks at 175 genetic markers to determine the percentage of DNA an individual has in each of the four main genetic ethnic groups:

  • African
  • East Asian
  • Indo-European
  • Native American.

Within these four groups are many narrower subgroups, such as Chinese, Irish, Jewish and individual African and Native American nations. Those who want to learn more about their ethnic sub-groups can take specialized DNA tests to uncover information about more specific ethnic roots.

Reasons for Exploring Ethnic Origins

There are many reasons people use DNA tests to learn about their ethnic origins. Here are just a few:

  • Certain ethnic groups qualify for government entitlements or preferred college admissions.
  • African ancestry DNA testing can help people reclaim an ethnic history and identity, which were robbed during times of slavery.
  • Individuals who are adopted can sometimes gain a sense of peace by finding an ethnic identity.
  • Many people have a general curiosity about their ethnic origins.
  • Some medical conditions are common in certain ethnic populations.

Native American DNA Ancestry

Many people wonder if they are part of the proud Native American history. A Native American ancestry DNA test is now available to detect small or “hidden” Native American DNA. 14 short tandem repeat markers are analyzed and compared with samples from DNA databases.

For those who already know they are of Native American descent, but would like to learn about their clan or nation, a Native American Matrilineal Ancestry Report (HVR1 plus HVR2) could provide the answers. This mitochondrial DNA test traces maternal genetic origins.

Learning About Western European Origins

Those who think they have ethnic origins in western Europe may be able to find out if they belong to genetic haplogroup R1b, the most frequent Y-chromosome haplogroup in that region. The frequency of R1b is over 90 percent in:

  • France
  • Ireland
  • parts of northern and western England
  • Portugal
  • Scotland
  • Spain
  • Wales.

Since the R1b marker appears on the Y-chromosome, only men can test to see if they belong to this haplogroup.

Jewish DNA Ancestry

While Judaism is a religion rather than an ethnic group, DNA testing can still help you discover if you have origins in largely Jewish world populations. Both matrilineal and patrilineal tests are available, as well as tests for specific Ashkenazi and Sephardic regions.

Over the course of history, during times of persecution, many Jewish families hid their religious identity and raised their children as Christians to keep them safe. These children and their children may be surprised to discover a Jewish genetic history.

Discovering a Jewish history can both enrich cultural identity and help prevent the occurrence of certain medical conditions. Tay Sachs, a fatal genetic condition common in Ashkenazim populations, can be prevented through genetic testing and counseling. Since testing for Tay Sachs began over 35 years ago, the number of babies born with this tragic condition has dropped by 90 percent.


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