Ethnic Ancestry:
Discover Your Roots with DNA

Most people are curious about their ethnic ancestry. Yet few of us have any real facts about the ethnic makeup of our ancestors.

Even if we know the ethnic background of one or two recent ancestors, we don't know our true proportions. What about our four grandparents? Our eight great-grandparents? And so on.

DNA testing can provide enlightening answers for us and our children. And in some cases that information can be used for financial gain.

Proving minority status can be helpful in race-based college admissions and job applications.

Members of certain ethnic groups may qualify for financial aid that’s not available to the general population of college students.

Others are seeking to prove their American Indian ancestry in order to share in the growing wealth of tribe casinos.

As a result of this demand, businesses have sprung up to offer DNA tests of ethnicity. Prices for some of the newest, most powerful tests have now dropped below $100.

My site offers advice on choosing the right test and properly interpreting the results.

For a detailed introduction applicable to everyone see Ethnic DNA Testing.

Family Finder Test Measures Ethnic Ancestry

The first test to consider is Family Finder by Family Tree DNA. That's because the test includes a fascinating report that was originally called Population Finder. The report is now called myOrigins.

The company compares your DNA with over 60 reference populations from around the world. This is a biogeographical analysis of the DNA you received from ALL of your ancestors.

This test can detect both Native American and Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry. It is the most scientifically conservative ethnic DNA report available today.

NOTE: For this test and the next two described below, your ethnicity reports may be revised (automatically) as new population studies are completed and the company refines the process of defining ethnicity.

The 23andMe DNA Test

The 23andMe DNA test includes genealogical matching features similar to Family Finder. It also includes an ethnic ancestry report called Ancestry Composition

This report uses fewer population studies than Family Finder, but it cleverly incorporates some customer data to obtain a more detailed breakdown of ethnicity, primarily in Europe.

Instead of a regional designation like Northern European, for example, it can reveal percentages of English & Irish or French & German. 

My own Ancestry Composition report is quite consistent with the European ancestors in my family tree.

It can also spot Native American and Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.

Note that the 23andMe test includes many genetic health reports approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. As the result, the price is higher that the tests that do not include health reports.


Similar to the two tests described above, AncestryDNA is a DNA test offered by the genealogy records company 

Overall, I am less impressed with the ethnicity estimates of this  test than the first two.

At the time of this writing, however, AncestryDNA provides the most detailed breakdown of African ancestry.

This can be of huge importance to African-Americans trying to narrow down their ethnic ancestry.

African American Collection

African DNA Testing

I discuss DNA testing for African Americans and others of African heritage on my African DNA Test page. In addition to showing the specific African populations checked by Family Finder and AncestryDNA, I describe many other DNA tests that a person of such ancestry might consider for ethnic testing or genealogy purposes.

Native American Ancestry

People with known or suspected Native American ancestry are another group that I discuss in detail on this site.

I explain several possible scenarios and describe how DNA testing can help.

See my page called Indian DNA Test.

Jewish Ancestry

If you want to confirm Jewish ancestry, read this article by the founder of Family Tree DNA. 

Ancient Ancestry

The Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA tests can reach farther back in time to tell us where our direct paternal line and material line ancestors lived thousands of years ago.

To learn more about this, be sue to read my Ancient Ancestry page.

There's also a classic book about the ancient ancestry of the maternal line. Read my summary of The Seven Daughters of Eve.

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If you already have results from another autosomal DNA test, you may be able to transfer into Family Finder for free.