Exploring Potential Native American Ancestry Using 23andMe

As the series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. begins its 10-week run on PBS, The Spittoon will feature posts from 23andMe’s Ancestry Ambassadors featuring their own stories about using DNA to dig into ancestry.

By Tim Janzen, M.D.

Many American families have a family legend that they have a Native American ancestor in their family tree. My family is no different.
We have two such stories, one from my mother’s father’s side of the family and one from my mother’s mother’s side.

The account of our American Indian ancestry on my grandfather Paul Youngman’s side is the best documented. The story from my grandmother Maude (McIntire) Youngman’s side is less well documented. Both stories are of interest and can potentially be established as being true using 23andMe’s Ancestry Painting tools as well as the Native American Ancestry Finder.

First I would like to provide some background about the family stories. Good genealogical records trace my grandfather’s ancestry back to Tarhe, a Wyandot Indian chief who was born about 1742, likely near Detroit, Michigan. Chief Tarhe was a relatively well-known Indian chief during that time period. He was the holder of the Treaty of Greenville that was signed in 1795 after General “Mad” Anthony Wayne defeated a large force of Indians in the Battle of Fallen Timbers.

Chief Tarhe married Ronyouquaines, who is said to have been the daughter of Chevalier La Durante, a French Canadian who lived on Mackinac Island just off the northern tip of Michigan. Ronyouquaines was captured by the Wyandot Indians and was adopted into their tribe. Their daughter, Myeerah, married Isaac Zane, who was also captured by Indians at the age of 8 in 1762 and was adopted into the Wyandot Indian tribe. Their daughter Sarah Zane married a third captive, Robert Armstrong, who was taken by Indians near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as a young boy around 1783. Robert Armstrong’s son John M. Armstrong (b. 1813) married Lucy Bigelow and they moved to Kansas in 1843 with the rest of the Wyandot Indian tribe after the Wyandots were forced to give up their land in Ohio. My grandfather, Paul Youngman, documented much of this history in a book that he wrote in 1975 titled Heritage of the Wyandots.

My maternal grandmother, Maude (McIntire) Youngman, said that her mother Harriet (Lawrence) McIntire also had Native American ancestry. In 1963 my grandmother’s cousin wrote a letter to my grandmother stating that their great-grandmother Margaret Perry (b. 1816) was a Choctaw Indian. The Chocktaw are a Native American people originally from the Southeastern United States. My grandmother believed this information to be true when I discussed it with her in the 1970s. Harriet Lawrence’s brother David Lawrence also told his grandchildren that his mother Mary McCleary (b. 1850) had American Indian ancestry.

Mary McCleary was the daughter of Moses McCleary and Margaret Perry. I have been somewhat skeptical about Margaret Perry’s reputed Native American ancestry over the years, particularly after I discovered that the 1880 U. S. Census indicates that Margaret Perry’s parents were born in Virginia. Research in recent years has indicated that Margaret Perry’s parents were Levi Perry (b. ca 1790 in Wales) and Elizabeth ____ (b. ca 1793 in Vermont).

When I received my 23andMe results three years ago one of the first things I wanted to do was to review my Ancestry Painting profile. I was not surprised when I found I have a segment on chromosome 6 that is Asian in origin, suggesting that I have Native American ancestry. When the results for my parents came back from 23andMe, the Ancestry Painting profile for my mother revealed that she has two Asian segments and that my father has no Asian segments. My mother’s two brothers also have Asian segments. One has six Asian segments and the other has five.

Additional relatives of my grandfather Paul Youngman have been tested by 23andMe including two first cousins and two second cousins. These cousins also descend from John M. Armstrong and their DNA results indicate that they each have between four and six Asian segments. My mother, her first cousins, and her second cousins on the Armstrong side have approximately 1% Asian ancestry as per their Ancestry Painting profiles. Since my mother is a great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Chief Tarhe one would expect that approximately 1/128 of her autosomal DNA came from him. The DNA evidence suggests that my mother does indeed have Native American ancestry and it seems highly probable that her only Native American ancestor within the past seven generations is Chief Tarhe.

So what about my grandmother’s story that her great-grandmother Margaret Perry was a Choctaw Indian? Interestingly, there is no evidence from the DNA results that would confirm this story. Two descendents of Moses McCleary and Margaret Perry who are second cousins of my mother have been tested by 23andMe and neither has any Asian segments in their Ancestry Painting profile and the 23andMe Native American Ancestry Finder tool indicates they have no Asian DNA. If Margaret Perry was truly a Choctaw Indian then we would expect that any great-great-grandchildren of hers would be 1/16 Native American. Thus we would expect that approximately 6% of their DNA would be Asian in origin in 23andMe’s Ancestry Painting and in Native American Ancestry Finder and that at least some Native American segments would appear in their DNA. However, the lack of any Asian segments in these two cousins’ 23andMe results coupled with the fact that my mother and her two brothers have only about 1% of their DNA being of Asian origin would strongly suggest that the family lore that Margaret Perry was a Choctaw Indian is incorrect.

Autosomal DNA has the potential to reveal much about our ancestral origins. In my case 23andMe’s Ancestry Painting feature and the Native American Ancestry Finder tool have helped confirm my Native American ancestry on the Armstrong side of my family, but have disproved any Native American ancestry on the Lawrence side. I would encourage others who have been tested by 23andMe to review their results using these tools. You might be surprised with what you find!

23andMe provides genetic testing services for informational purposes; your results may or may not help you to search for or identify relatives or family members.


Tim Janzen is a family practice doctor at South Tabor Family Physicians in Portland, Oregon. His interest in genealogical research goes back 35 years and he has particularly focused on Mennonite genealogy for the past 15 years.  He has a web site that summarizes many different sources available for Mennonite genealogical research found at www.timjanzen.com and has given many presentations about Mennonite genealogy in the United States and Canada.  He is the co-administrator of the Mennonite DNA project at www.mennonitedna.com. He also serves on the ISOGG Y-DNA Haplogroup Tree Committee.  Tim is married to Rachel Janzen and they have four children.