Best DNA Test for Asians

What to know about DNA testing for Asian ancestry
Marc McDermott

As the majority of DNA databases are brim-full of those who are of European descent, it is no surprise that those who have taken these tests from different ethnic backgrounds have not had the specific countries or ethnic groups listed in their ethnicity statements.

For most Asian consumers, their results are much broader. For example, in previous years, it would be entirely possible to be given results that say, “you’re one hundred percent East Asian” and, as map displays, the massive continent is covered from the North to the South, resulting in a geographical location twice, maybe even three times the size of Europe. So, where is the specificity that is so common among caucasian testers? Well, let’s discuss that and, furthermore, let’s discuss what DNA test is best for Asian ancestry.

23andMe

23andMe was, originally, among the websites who would throw a “one-hundred percent South Asian” at their consumers but, in recent years, they have finally broken that up into more specific reference groups such as “Bangladeshi and North East Indian,” “Central and Southern Indian,” “Northern Indian and Pakistani,” “Malayali,” etc. By breaking down the specific reference groups, it is apparent to see the progress going into these updates of consumer reports across Asia. See my complete review of 23andMe.

AncestryDNA

AncestryDNA has joined in with making their ethnic regions more granular as well. Recently updated regions now show Punjab, Dai, North India, South India, North Philippines, South Philippines, Mongolia, and Central Asia, Korea, Southern Japanese Islands, Asians in South Africa, and more. The updated subregions are also further broken down. For example, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, North and South Korea, Visayas, Mindanao, Central Luzon, Thai, and Cambodian, along with Sri Lankan. These precise groups are also being updated and worked on for further specificity. See my complete review of AncestryDNA.

MyHeritage

MyHeritage has taken a step at differentiating their Asian reports to display; Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Filipino, Mizrahi Jewish, Cambodian, Thais, Nepali, West Asian, South Asian, Malay, Iranian, Iraqi. See my complete review of MyHeritage.

FamilyTreeDNA

FamilyTreeDNA uploaded their website to display thirty-three subcategories to their previous six categories for Asian ethnic groups. This rolled out with their MyOrigins3 update, which tripled their ethnic categories.

If you have tested with Ancestry or 23andMe, you are able to upload your raw DNA from those websites over to FamilyTreeDNA or MyHeritage. You can also upload your data to GEDmatch. See my complete review of FamilyTreeDNA.

GEDmatch

GEDmatch offers incredible tools specifically for those who descend from Asian populations. These tools are within GEDmatch’s “Admixture” reports. Created by professionals, scholars, and widely renowned geneticists, the subcategories to their admixture reports are probably among the oldest. Unlike the mainstream companies, GEDmatch will display the estimated percent of Beringian and Oceanian DNA that many of its Asian users carry. This DNA links back to thousands of years of migration throughout human history rather than modern-day borders. However, there are tools for that, too!

GEDmatch is highly recommended to most families who adopt children from China. Since it is a public database, many of the facilities that work with reuniting adoptees with their biological family refer both biological and adopted persons to use GEDmatch.

Other sites to upload to are XCode Life and a newer website called WeGene. These two companies focus specifically on Chinese and East Asian ethnic groups.

23MoFang

23MoFang, established in 2015, is the first consumer DNA company to roll out in China. Unlike other companies, this website is specifically focused on Asian DNA and linking their consumers to their history through connecting them to political figures such as emperors and others of traditional Chinese legends. You can upload your DNA to 23MoFang from AncestryDNA and 23andMe, as well.

What’s your goal?

With all of the above options, it is important to figure out what exactly you are looking for in your results. 23andMe has been encouraged for years by those who have adopted children in Asia. This is because they have had health results much longer than AncestryDNA. So, If you’re an adoptee looking for biological family or health traits, 23andMe might be the best option.

If you’re looking for biological family in the United States, AncestryDNA is the largest database.

More accessible to the Middle Eastern region, MyHeritage might be the best place to locate family there. That also goes for European ancestry you might have as well (Ancestry and 23andMe are relatively new to Europe).

If you are looking for an ethnic breakdown just for fun, any company is recommendable. Personally, seeing the many sub-regions on AncestryDNA would definitely take me in that direction, and, of course, that can be transferred over to MyHeritage, GEDmatch, and FamilyTreeDNA.

Important to know that you cannot upload data from 23andMe to AncestryDNA and vice versa.

Notes on Asian ancestry

History taught in public, and private schools in North America focuses primarily on Western European history. What most fail to realize, that I find absolutely spectacular, is the history of Asia during the middle ages. We learn so little of this in school growing up, and it is tremendously sad. When Europe was dying off of the plague in the middle ages, China was quite modernized and socially and educationally forward-thinking. With this mindset of history (to North Americans) only pertaining to things, West of the Mediterannean is likely the same reason that DNA Companies (primarily North American based) have catered their data, in the past, much the same way.

Something amazing to recognize is that some of the longest recorded genealogies (male lines only) were kept in China for generations. Other recordings called jiaupu or zupu were, and still are, traditionally kept within a clan. In Japan, it is not uncommon to find a family living on land that has been in their family for hundreds of years. Their cremated ancestors enshrined and respected nearby. Though few written recordings have survived (as is the case with time and wars), typically, there are other gold mines that can be found throughout Asia. In India, there are ancient registries that are traditionally kept and updated by every generation. Rolled up in a dusty cupboard within a local or regional registry, these scrolls have been kept for hundreds of years. Genealogy is generally seen through a scope of state-mandated records, national census, or church book, the scope for Asian ancestry is just as vast!

No different than those who descend from European roots, the record trail, though slim, can still be incorrect and misleading. It is just as important for those of Asian descent to have genetic resources to further their ancestry.

Future updates

The last important note to make here is that, with time, all of these companies are going to be updating their results and creating further specific ethnic groupings. It has taken time but, with recent updates, it is clear to see that, across the board, increasing specificity for Asian consumers is an active pursuit.

Where culture is rich, and heritage often held to a high standard, of course, genealogy is approached with the same respect within Asian ancestry as it is anywhere else. Though it took large companies a while to work further into Asian ancestry, they are finally there. As sciences improve, these accuracies will grow more in-depth and, thus, more granular for the many ethnic groups scattered across all of Asia.

Final thoughts

Ethnic groups throughout Asia easily outnumber the ethnic groups in Europe. Throughout Asian history, there has been “mingling” of tradesmen and scholars on the silk road; there have been tight religious groups, intense invaders who overthrew empires, raped, and pillaged. All of these events, and the thousands more, are the sole reasons why, genetically, Asia is so diverse. If Europeans are distinguishable by the Germans who settled in Pennsylvania, the Protestants of early America, and the French who settled Louisiana, then, without a doubt, granularity and in-depth specificity can and will be found for those who have deep roots through Asian history.

About the Author