The Year in Review: 2023


2023 was a tipping point for truth telling.

College students use chatbots to crib term papers. Lawyers stick citations to nonexistent court cases into legal briefs. Companies insert dubious data into medical research studies to favor detailing strategies in the healthcare marketplace. 2023 was in many respects the year of robots and AI. European Union scientists made a start to regulating the field. Everyone is grappling with how to use it responsibly. What about developments in DNA testing?

Several years ago, most DNA testing companies, against the advice of Martin Richards and the other founders of the science of genetic genealogy, began trimming data for haplotype definitions and using “fuzzy” notational designations instead of exact mutational sets. Though the intent was to seed customer databases with broad matches and promote DNA testing, the consequence was devastating for research into mtDNA lineages and their migrations around the world. Major publications of ours show that Cherokee descendants have anomalous maternal haplotypes, some from across the Atlantic, others from Oceania and South and Central America. Cherokee DNA Studies I & II (2014, 2017) were possibly part of the last generation of genetic genealogy research that respected exact haplotypes. A question mark must necessarily hang over haplotype studies today because of the abandonment of standards.

Forensic ancestry was a method started by DNA Tribes and DNA Consultants in 2006. It has steadily grown in acceptance, though both its imitators and detractors have been wrong about it in many aspects. Detractors continue to regard STR frequency computations as voodoo science, while competitors don’t always use peer-reviewed data, often comparing apples and oranges and telling customers what they want to hear rather than the strict truth. After DNA Tribes ceased operations in 2019, DNA Consultants has remained the sole company committed to the transparency, accuracy and responsible use of forensic ancestry.

2023 marked the 20th anniversary of DNA Consultants. Our first product cost $39.95 and was an analysis of a customer’s Y chromosome STR’s. A typical publication from the early days was “DNA Haplotyping and Diversity: An Anthropogenealogical Method for Researching Lineages and Family Ethnicity,” International Journal of the Humanities 2 (2006), pp. 2043-55. Today’s flagship product is the Basic American Indian DNA Test, priced at $179.00. Introduced in 2019, it gives customers significant matches to up to nearly 80 living populations or tribes in North and South America.

We have heard that DNA Consultants has the only tests admissible in certain contexts to federal, state and tribal courts and agencies, as well as non-governmental Indian associations. Though results alone and in themselves cannot be used to claim enrollment or prove descent, they are valid in a forensic sense in the eyes of scientists and authorities. In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in McGirt v. Oklahoma that the country had not “sunsetted” a large body of Indian policy, including land reserved for Indians in reservations, and so, many rights and privileges still theoretically inured to Indians and their descendants.

In January of 2023, the company quietly added a forensic population called U.S./Canada – Abenaki Indians (n=19). It was the company’s 65th successful Native American group to be documented with a genetic snapshot available to posterity. This project was administered by Timothy Williams, an Abenaki himself, and followed the same procedures employed by J. Ng et al, “Native American Population Data Based on the Globalfiler Autosomal STR Loci,Forensic Science International: Genetics 24 (Sept. 2016), a landmark study that offered, for instance, the first public data for Cherokee, Creek and California Indians.

In April, we posted the last in a series on Matriarchy vs. Patriarchy, “Toward a New Story of the Mound Builders.” We continue to focus on matriarchal societies in Old Europe and the New World, especially the work of Marija Gimbutas, Heide Göttner-Abendroth and Antonio Arnaiz-Vellena.

In May, we opened a similar project like the Abenaki one to descendants of nine tribal groups recognized as prominent in Alabama, including bands of Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw and Shawnee. This study is totally voluntary and free, like the others, and is expected to last several years before the sample is closed. Many Alabamans even today are guarded about claiming Native American descent, just as in Georgia, Tennessee and other southeastern states. As much as possible, they have assimilated into the white populace and claimed to be Black Dutch or some other type of European to explain their appearance and customs. No Indian nation in the state is federally recognized, but now there is a way for descendants to validate their identity and help preserve a benchmark for future generations.

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In the same month, our audiobook of Cherokee DNA Studies II: More Real People Who Proved the Geneticists Wrong, narrated by Pete Ferrand, was released and became available from our own DNA bookstore as well as Audible and other sellers.

In September, we announced expansion to the Mexican market with development of our first Spanish product and appointment of Rolando Acevedo Gomez as general manager in Cuernavaca, Mexico. “AI will be used to a very limited extent in translation, always subject to human control, but never in our science,” said Gomez, a professional medical and legal interpreter.

November brought the addition of eleven Oaxaca indigenous tribes to our database, plus the first research on private alleles and rare haplotypes in southern Mexico. This suggested ancient gene flow of a minor degree from India, Egypt and the prehistoric Sea Peoples, as well as from Sub-Saharan Africa. The Isthmus of Tehuantepec seemed to absorb seaborne migration on both the Pacific side and Gulf of Mexico side.

From various different quarters, a new genetic paradigm of history seemed to be emerging this year. There were other avenues than the Bering Strait Strait for the peopling of the Americas. Yes, diffusionists like Stephen Jett were right about Pacific Islanders making landfall in South America. But as Heide Göttner-Abendroth first pointed out, this was not a one-off event as conceded by a few broad-minded Americanists but the effect of thousands of years of trans-Pacific migration. The Pacific was conquered by waves of seafarers over and over again. The New World was settled from the bottom up. [1] And the impetus was consistently clan-led (in other words matriarchal), as in The Cherokee Origin NarrativeThe star in this new version of prehistory was Haplogroup B. See On the Trail of Spider Woman and Hopi Pottery and the Cosmos.

The cap to an eventful year came with the media’s denunciation of the folksinger Buffy Sainte-Marie as an alleged “pretendian.” Comments on our website prove there is more to this cause celèbre than meets the eye. The issue of identity and genetics is likely to be with us for a long time. The denouncers are, if nothing else, intransigent and reactionary.

At the base of the controversy is the question of “misappropriating” Indian culture, identity and even spirituality. Can any intangible quality be stolen? Can English culture be stolen? We think that if culture is adopted in any way, that is probably a good thing. It is very hard to call the appropriation of anything immaterial larceny anyway.

Sir Kazuo Ishiguro is a British author of Japanese origin and Nobel Laureate in Literature (2017). He wrote a quintessentially English novel, The Remains of the Day, but no one has accused him of being a fake Briton or misappropriating a literary style.

For the year ahead in 2024, we can look for more populations for our DNA Fingerprint family of products, an updated database, atDNA 11, new maps in our reports, and more satisfied customers. Our newest associate, Dr. Douglas Schar, will kick off a continuing series of blog posts based on his eye-opening website “Hidden Jewish Ancestry.

We wish you all a happy, prosperous New Year full of exciting discoveries and amazing experiences.

[1] See “Pacific Island Cultures,” “Matriarchal Cultures in South America,” and “North America: Matriarchal Immigrants from the South,” in Matriarchal Societies: Studies on Indigenous Cultures across the Globe, trans. Karen Smith (New York: Peter Lang, 2012, 2013).

See also

More Dirty Little Secrets of DNA Testing (Learning Curve blog post, Sept. 6, 2020)

Don’t Take Any Wooden Nickels (blog post, Dec. 22, 2023)

McGirt v. Oklahoma Unsettles Indian Affairs (news, May 25, 2021)

Populations in DNA Consultants Database (list with links)