Wednesday, October 7, 2015

DNA Testing Results

At the end of summer, my family took advantage of the reduced pricing on DNA testing from Family Tree DNA to get some more individuals tested. As Judy Russell of the Legal Genealogist Blog says "Test. Test as broadly and as deeply in your family as you can afford to test."

Both of my daughters now have been tested and two of my seven siblings also have been tested.

And it has been fascinating to see what the tests have revealed as well as what they haven't revealed.

I first became interested in DNA testing to help with a particular brick wall I have. Family lore tells us that my Great Great Grandmother, Emeline (ARTIS) SWAIN was three-quarters Cherokee. When I first starting researching my family history I interviewed relatives who knew Emily before she died and they all swore she was 3/4 Cherokee. And everyone pointed to my siblings with straight dark hair, brown eyes and darker complexions as evidence.

But no matter how much I searched, I couldn't find any written records that would corroborate  the story.

Emily Artis, on right, with her husband
 Otha Swain. Circa 1890's.

Emily's parents were Stephen ARTIS and Mary WALKER. The couple married in Montgomery County Maryland in 1829 and Stephen was in a militia unit for Washington DC in the War of 1812.  They have not been located in the 1830 census. Sometime around 1830-1835 they moved to Ohio, where Emily was born. Stephen reputedly died in 1837, but of course no death record exists for him. Mary is found in the 1840 and 1850 census with minor children. Searching in probate, land records and the DAWES Rolls for Cherokee connections have failed to turn anything up.

So, DNA testing to the rescue, right?? Maybe, maybe not. If Emeline was 3/4 Cherokee, as her Great, great granddaughter, I would be 3/64 Cherokee or slightly less than 5% Cherokee. That IS enough to show up on most DNA tests.


If everyone got exactly half of their DNA equally distributed from each of their parents. But DNA is much more interesting and tricky than that. You do get half of your DNA from each of your parents, but what half you get is pretty much up to nature.

And I apparently didn't get any of the Cherokee DNA from Emeline. My DNA results came back 100% European. Which wasn't too surprising, as I am fair complected and have blue eyes, like my mother's side of the family. But what about my brown eyed, brown haired siblings??

My first sibling to be tested was my oldest brother. He has the dark hair and dark eyes associated with our "Cherokee" ancestry. But his DNA results came back 100% European also. Puzzling...

One positive outcome was that we found out from his Y-DNA testing that our paternal JOHNSON's came from northwestern Ireland! We had no idea the Johnson line was Irish! Needless to say, we have not yet traced them back to the Emerald Isle. (Our farthest back Johnson was born in Kentucky in 1792.

My other sibling tested was a younger sister. She has hazel eyes and dark auburn hair. She seems to be a thorough mix of our parents - dark eyed, dark haired Dad and fair haired and green eyed Mother. Surely, with such a clear mixture of our parents, that Cherokee DNA would show up!?!


She came back 100% European too!

So that is where we stand right now. No DNA evidence of Cherokee or Native American ancestry.

Does that mean the family lore is wrong?  Not necessarily. Remember that it is pure chance which of your ancestral DNA you inherit. We could get all of my siblings tested and none of them show up with Native American ancestry and it still wouldn't mean the family story is wrong.


Not all DNA testing companies test the same chromosomes when they run their tests. And not all DNA testing companies use the same reference DNA to compare your DNA to. What do I mean by reference DNA?

That is their core DNA samples from around the world that they use to compare their users DNA. Because of the expense involved, they tend to focus their DNA samples on the presumed demographic of the people they think will buy their tests. So it is heavily weighted towards western European DNA. And not so much less numerous peoples.

Also, the test results are estimates based on what a formula each company has. And it can only compare DNA results with people living today. They are NOT comparing our DNA to people who lived a hundred or two hundred years ago. You know... our ancestors.

Judy Russell of the Legal Genealogist blog explains in much better in her September 2013 post here:
DNA Disappointment.

Next week I will talk about what the DNA tests did reveal...


Wendy said...

Fascinating! I can't wait to hear what you found out next week. said...

I also have relatives (on both sides) that were Native Americans. And I'm pretty sure about at least one of them. But when I had my DNA done, I also showed no American Indian DNA. And another friend shared a similar story. I'm brown-haired with dark brown eyes (and a big nose), if that makes any difference. But even though I don't think my test was 100% accurate, it did come quite close to the truth, showing a lot of British Isles/Ireland and Western Europe DNA with a dash of some other odds and ends.