How to Trace Your Roots

Tracing Your Roots: We kick off our genealogy column with tips for finding Native American ancestry.

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Still, the fact that your family identified the Creek specifically — who actually had some history in the state of Tennessee — is a good sign that there may be some validity to the story that you’ve been told. You might want to take a DNA test as well. DNA testing companies such as 23andMe.com, FamilyTreeDNA.com and Ancestry.com, among others, offer a test that measures one’s admixture. This test will reveal the percentage of your genome that you have inherited over the past 500 years from European, Sub-Saharan African and Native American ancestors. If you have a significant percentage of Native American ancestry, according to this test, then it is likely that the story that you have heard bears some truth, although the ancestor for whom you are searching may be a great- or a great-great grandfather, someone located more distantly on your family tree. Good luck in your quest, and please write to me each week with a progress report.

I look forward to more of your questions!

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. He is also the editor-in-chief of The Root.

This answer was provided in consultation with researchers from New England Historic Genealogical Society. Founded in 1845, NEHGS is the country’s leading nonprofit resource for family history research. Their website, AmericanAncestors.org, contains more than 300 million searchable records for research in New England, New York and beyond. With the leading experts in the field, NEHGS staff can provide assistance and guidance for questions in most research areas. They can also be hired to conduct research on your family. Learn more today.

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