Why Doesn’t my DNA Show Native???

Lots of people have the oral history that “grandma was a full blooded Indian” in their family.  Or maybe it’s grandpa, or great or great-great-grandma or grandpa. 

They take the appropriate DNA test, the Y-line test for the paternal line, or the mitochondrial test for the maternal line…and they anxiously wait for results.  The results come back, and are not at all what was expected.  Why?  Well, to begin with, the ancestor must be descended either directly paternally, or maternally, for these tests to pick up the Native lines.

But, for this conversation, let’s say that is the case – that your ancestor is directly descended either paternally or maternally – so the Native heritage should be reflected in the haplogroup results.  Let’s take a look at this example from the book Shawnee Heritage I by Don Greene to see why the DNA might not show up exactly as expected.

Hannah LaForce aka Hannah Fisher – born in 1748.  A mulatto adopted into the Shawnee Tribe.  Hannah was the daughter of Betty LaForce and a white man, likely Rene LaForce.  Betty was a former LaForce slave captured in 1780 at Martin’s Station and subsequently given to Fredrick Fisher, another adopted white  She was freed by Fisher but never left the Indians.  She was a wife  first to a Native man.  Her second husband was Fredrick Fisher, the white man who had freed her.  Her children with the Native man took the LaForce surname and it’s unknown if she had any children with Fredrick Fisher.

Whew….let’s sort this out.  Before we start, let’s say, for the record, that Hannah LaForce was indeed Native, by adoption, regardless of her genetic genesis or heritage.  But genetically, let’s see what we can expect.

Hannah’s mother was a slave, and presumed of African heritage.  So Hannah’s mitochondrial DNA would likely be African.  She doesn’t carry a Y chromosome, but if she were a male, her Y chromosome would have been European.  Yet, she was an Indian and that’s the only snippet of history that her descendants 200+ years later would receive. 

Hannah’s first husband was Native.  The children of this marriage, according to this document, carried the LaForce surname, which was hers.  This wasn’t terribly foreign as maternal naming was common, especially in situations where the father was Native and the mother was mixed or non-Native and had a surname.  So with the first husband, her male children would carry presumably Native Y-line DNA but a European surname.  Both her male and female children carried her African mitochondrial DNA.

Her children, if she had any, from her second marriage, would carry her mitochondrial DNA, which is African, and the European DNA of their white father, even though he too was an Indian, a tribal member, by adoption. 

In the next generation, her male children would not pass on her mitochondrial DNA.  Her sons’ children would have their wives mtdna.  But they would pass on either the European or Native Y chromosome, depending on which father they had.  Hannah’s female children passed on  Hannah’s African mitochondrial DNA.

Fast forward some several generations, like 7 or 8 maybe, to the year 2010.  Hannah’s descendants had continued to marry both within and outside of the tribe.  Mostly, they intermarried with white people hoping to escape the rampant prejudice against people of “color.”  The specifics of their heritage are entirely erased, but there is a persistent rumor that someone was an Indian.

Of course, if anyone except someone linearly descended from all daughters DNA tests, they won’t find Hannah’s DNA.  If they do test someone linearly descended from Hannah through all females, intentionally or simply by the luck of the draw, they will discover Hannah’s African DNA.  They will likely interpret this to mean that Hannah was not Native, when in essence she was, by adoption, and her children moreso. 

All of Hannah’s descendants not descended through all females mitochondrially will have to depend on a Family Finder or Population Finder test, because there is no other way to discover Native heritage genetically if the Y-line and mtdna tests don’t apply.  Given that Hannah herself is about 10 generations back, her DNA is less than 1% of her descendants today, her African may not show up at all, nor may subsequent generations of her children by a Native man.  If these families intermarried within the tribal group or descendants for some time, the Native or African may show up, but it’s really a roll of the dice at this time.

So, was Hannah an Indian?  What are her descendants considered to be today?  African? Indian?  White?  All three?  I don’t have that answer, but there are surely a lot of people asking that question and finding their own answers.

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About robertajestes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in DNA. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Why Doesn’t my DNA Show Native???

  1. stevie says:

    would love to know more about the man. Know any good books on him?

  2. Barbara says:

    Very interesting. I descend from Rene’ and Agnes Moseby LaForce.

    • Art Thomas says:

      Barbara, this story infers that Betty’s children, Hannah, Scippio, Jane, Stephen, Ishmael, Joseph & Kijah were fathered by Rene LaForce. If so, then perhaps we are autosomal DNA cousins as I am a descendant of Betty, Hannah and her child, Candis ………. Do we “match” on 23andme?

  3. Art Thomas says:

    Yes, very interesting….. My direct line of descent from Betty LaForce.
    Descendant Lineage LaForce-Reno-Adams-Thomas
    1 Betty “Bess” (LaFORCE) 1730 – 1780
    …….. 2 Hannah (LaFORCE) 1745 – Unknown
    ………………. 3 Candis (LaFORCE) 1760 – Unknown
    ……………………….. 4 Rachel MAGEE/McKEE 1781 – 1864
    …………………………….. +Francis “Frank” RENO 1780 – 1833
    …………………………………. 5 Susannah Melinda RIED 1800 – 1861
    ………………………………………. +Lewis ADAMS 1785 – 1864
    ………………………………………….. 6 William Francis ADAMS 1818 – 1871
    ……………………………………………….. +Lydia Ann EDWARDS 1817 – 1881
    ……………………………………………………. 7 William F. ADAMS 1853 – Unknown
    …………………………………………………………. +Lovina “Vina” ALLEN 1857 – 1928
    ……………………………………………………………… 8 Edna “Etna” ADAMS 1877 – 1936
    …………………………………………………………………… +William Henry LEE 1860 – 1937
    ………………………………………………………………………. 9 [2] Josephine Leona LEE 1895 – 1984
    ……………………………………………………………………………. +[1] Harold McKinley “Mac” ADAMS 1894 – 1978
    ………………………………………………………………………………… 10 [3] Vera Edwina ADAMS 1915 – 1961
    ……………………………………………………………………………………… +[4] Walter William “Preach” THOMAS 1894 – 1945
    …………………………………………………………………………………………. 11 [5] Arthur Lee THOMAS 1934 –
    ……………………………………………………. 7 Isaac L. ADAMS 1854 – 1936
    …………………………………………………………. +Emma BRIDGES 1853 – 1931
    ……………………………………………………………… 8 [1] Harold McKinley “Mac” ADAMS 1894 – 1978
    …………………………………………………………………… +[2] Josephine Leona LEE 1895 – 1984
    ………………………………………………………………………. 9 [3] Vera Edwina ADAMS 1915 – 1961
    ……………………………………………………………………………. +[4] Walter William “Preach” THOMAS 1894 – 1945
    ………………………………………………………………………………… 10 [5] Arthur Lee THOMAS 1934 -

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