Do I Really Have African and Native American Ancestry?

Tracing Your Roots: Analysis of a white reader’s DNA reveals results that may warrant scientific study.

Luisa Gomez
Luisa Gomez Family photo

Dear Professor Gates:

According to the 23andMe DNA-testing service, I have 0.1 percent West African DNA from my mother. I also have approximately 5-6 percent Native American from my mother, who is now deceased.

I have a studio portrait of my great-grandmother Luisa Gomez taken on the Plaza in Santa Fe, N.M., about 1881-1883, and she looks (about 16 to 20 years old) to have Native American and European blood, though I know looks can be deceiving.

I have paper-traced my maternal great-great-grandmother, Carlota Gomez, and third great-grandmother Trinidad Gomez to Santa Fe. In the U.S. census records for 1850 and 1860, both women report being born in Mexico.

My mitochondrial DNA result is L1c2b1, according to the report I received, which further said, “Haplogroup L1c has been largely restricted to central Africa since originating in its equatorial forests about 60,000 years ago. It is extremely common among western pygmy populations such as the Biaka and Bakola, where it appears to be universal. It is also found among African-Americans.”

So my question is, with the addition of the African haplogroup test result, does that make the 0.1 West African DNA more likely to be real? If so, with the addition of Native American ancestry, could my great-grandmothers have had an Afro-mestizo maternal ancestor? —Ellen

That’s an interesting question, with an even more interesting answer. I consulted with genetic genealogist CeCe Moore about your DNA results and have included her response below. As you will see, your hunch that the mitochondrial DNA result bolsters the likelihood that you have sub-Saharan African ancestry was a good one.

Because Moore further indicated that your DNA may be unique enough to warrant scientific study, I have opted to present her response as received, without editing out any technical terminology in favor of laymen’s terms that may be less precise.

For those following along, a short primer on the terminology:

Autosomal DNA is the type of DNA we inherit from all of our ancestral lines, but not from all of our ancestors after about six generations.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is inherited from direct maternal ancestors.

A haplogroup is a genetic population group of people sharing a common ancestor on their direct maternal or paternal lines.

A subclade, in this context, is a subgroup of a haplogroup.

Mthap refers to mtDNA haplogroup analysis.

With all that being said, here is Cece Moore’s reply: