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How to Find Your Ethnicity

by Maya Austen

Ethnicity is defined as the social identification with a particular culture. Ethnic identification arises out of the way of life a person grows accustomed to, usually based on where they live. There are two ways to discover your ethnic roots. The simplest most direct way is through DNA testing. You DNA contains genetic footprints which allows you to pinpoint your ancestors’ different countries of origin. The other way is by engaging in genealogical research to trace your family heritage back to other countries.

DNA Test

Go to the 23andm3.com, ancestry.com, genebase.com, or rootsforreal.com website. These are genealogical DNA testing services.

Order a mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) testing kit to determine your ethnicity from your mother’s side of the family. Order a Y DNA testing kit to determine your ethnicity from your father’s side of the family. The Y chromosome is passed along from father to son exclusively; therefore women cannot take the Y DNA test. If you’re a woman you must recruit a male relative to take this test for you. Your grandfather (dad’s dad), your father, a brother who shares the same father, an uncle (father’s brother who shares the same dad as your father), or a male cousin (the son of your father’s brother) are all candidates that can take the test in your place. Genealogical DNA testing services generally charge anywhere from $100 to $300.

Follow the instructions which come with the contents of your DNA testing kit to take a sample of your DNA and return the sample to the testing service. Getting a sample of your DNA involves swabbing your inner cheek for saliva. The test result will tell your where ancestors came from.

Genealogical Research

Starting with yourself, construct a family tree which traces your family roots back as far as you can go on either your mother’s side or father’s side of the family. When performing genealogical research it’s best to concentrate on one side of the family at a time. It helps to focus your research.

Interview older family members to help you expand your family tree based on their general knowledge about your family history. In addition to the names of your ancestors, knowing a few things about their life’s stories can assist you in your research. For example, where and when were they born? Where did they live? Where did they attend school or church? Where and when did they get married? Profession? Military service? Where and when did they die? Family keepsakes such as a family Bible, old journals and letters, preserved financial records and scrap books can help you fill in these details.

Using the clues gathered from the construction of your family tree, try to locate public records and documents which can shed more light on the life of your earliest known ancestor. For example, look up old census records, birth and death records, marriage records, military records, property records, prison records, immigration records, and check old newspapers for obituaries. Many of these records can be found at the national and state archives, local libraries, and by using the research tools on genealogical websites such as ancestry.com.

Trace your family roots back to different countries of origin by continuing the genealogical detective work started in Step 3. Your research may lead you to uncover the name of an earlier ancestor whom you can investigate. Unless you’re a pure Native American, trace your family history back far enough and you will find ancestors who immigrated to America from other countries.

About the Author

Maya Austen began freelance writing in 2009. She has written for many online publications on a wide variety of topics ranging from physical fitness to amateur astronomy. She's also an author and e-book publisher. Austen has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from the New England Institute of Art and currently lives in Boston, Mass.

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