DNA testing for race and ancestry-Zoe

A few months ago, we had a DNA test done to determine Colin’s ancestry. We did the test through DNA Tribes. His birth mother was Caucasian, and she said that his birth father was African-American.  Later, she told us that it was also possible that his birth father was Hispanic. The test determined that Colin was Hispanic, and that his father was probably of Mexican and/or Brazilian heritage.

The whole thing got us really interested, so we decided to have the test done for Zoe, Christian, and me (we can figure out Noah’s ancestry from mine and Christian’s).

Many Vietnamese people tell us that Zoe is not “all” Vietnamese because her eyes are too big, so we thought it was conceivable that she could have had an American grandparent (a soldier stationed there during the war). Additionally, she could have French ancestry as Vietnam was under French colonial rule from the 1850s to the 1950s. It’s also possible that she has Chinese ancestry, since her province is in northern Vietnam, near the Chinese border. In any case, since we do not know anything about Zoe’s birth family, we felt like this is at least some little piece of information we can offer to her about her heritage.

We got Zoe’s results back last night, and

Zoe is 100% East Asian.


Statistically, Zoe’s DNA is most similar to the DNA of the people in these population samples, in order of highest to lowest:

  1. Chinese (Malaysia)
  2. Taiwanese
  3. Sichuan, China
  4. Vietnam
  5. Taiwanese (Taiwan)
  6. Asian (Canada)
  7. Chinese (Chengdu, China)
  8. Chinese (Hong Kong)
  9. Northern Thailand
  10. Vietnamese (Hanoi, Vietnam)
  11. Asian (Queensland, Australia)
  12. Asian (Australia)
  13. Chinese (Hong Kong)
  14. Han (Qinghai, China)
  15. Thailand
  16. Beijing, China
  17. Han (Guangzhou, China)
  18. Chinese (Singapore)
  19. Tokyo, Japan
  20. Northern Thailand

(The categories listed here are from DNA Tribes, not from us. For example, I have no idea what the difference between “8. Chinese (Hong Kong)” and  “13. Chinese (Hong Kong)”.)

I was not surprised to see the Chinese ancestry, since Zoe was from a northern province in Vietnam. I wasn’t surprised to see Taiwan, Thailand, etc., since populations mix, especially over time. I was a little surprised that there was no European ancestry at all, just because so many Vietnamese people had told us she was part Caucasian and because there has been such a heavy European presence in Vietnam (especially French). Although I only showed matches 1-20 here, the test gives matches for 871 population groups, in order from most similar to least. The first European country on Zoe’s results is Austria, and it doesn’t appear until position 143 and the statistical probability is very small (she is almost 3600 times more likely to have Chinese ancestry as she is to have Austrian ancestry).

I guess this just goes to show how much variation exists within one population. There are 50 or so ethnic groups in Vietnam, and it would be wonderful to learn which of those ethnic groups Zoe belongs to, but I don’t think there are any tests sophisticated enough for that yet. They would have to collect samples from each of those groups to be able to compare DNA.

Again, I need to stress that we don’t care what Zoe’s ancestry is. I probably don’t need to say this, but I don’t want to leave any room for misinterpretation. I was in no way hoping that Zoe had Caucasian ancestry, just surprised that there was none. We didn’t do the test because we wanted her to be anything other than Vietnamese. We don’t have any information about her birth family, though, so we just thought this would be an additional piece of information we could give her about her identity.

My results came today, and they were very surprising to me. I’ll post them tomorrow. We should also have Christian’s by the end of the week!


20 thoughts on “DNA testing for race and ancestry-Zoe

  1. VERY interesting!! We have been told what ethnic minority our baby is and we should meet a member of his birthfamily. What a great connection for Zoe!!

  2. This is so cool I want our family to do it, too. I’d love to see what my own says.
    I have to say I’m not actually all that surprised about Zoe’s results. To me, she looks like a lot of other Southeast Asian people I know. (Eye shape is what I mean mostly) I think there’s just a lot of variation just like any other population. Can’t wait to hear yours tomorrow!

  3. I don’t think this test rules out the possibility of a european-american ancestor. There has been sufficient time for 2 generations since the vietnam war and more if you believe the French were involved. If Zoe’s euro admixture came at the great grandparent level, with one of the grandfathers being european and the other 7 great grandparents east asian, she may only exhibit slight features of europeans and the DNA Tribes test may not pick up on it because the euro admixture is too diluted. It is a cool test but I am not sure how good the resolution is for answering your question.

  4. Oh I can’t wait to hear your results! I had no idea something like this existed and now I can’t wait to do it too!! I’d love to see what it says for my boys whose father is Vietnamese but HIS father is Chinese (or has chinese ancestry).

    You know it’s funny but there are lots of little Vietnamese kids – particularly girls – that look half Caucasian! I have had family ask me if I thought Addy was half Caucasian many times. But when we were up visiting my ex, his family all gushed over how Addy looks JUST like my SIL (and they are from HCMC). Funny!!!

  5. Zoe looks very similar to the other children from the same area of China that Sofia is from–it’s very far south–on the bottom of the Leizhou Peninsula. Most of the children from that area have the same facial structures and big round eyes. I’ve noticed that a lot of children from the provinces that our agency worked in Vietnam look very similar to Zoe. There is a Chinese minority in that area. I’m no expert but judging from Zoe’s looks and my own research about my eldest daughter, she definitely looks like the Zhuang minority that populates the southern Guangdong province and Guangxi province of China.

    • Hi,
      This is very interesting. I would love to have this testing done on my daughter whom I adopted in Nepal. I have no information on her birth family and how nice it would be to have some ancestry information from DNA.
      Can you tell me how you went about doing the test and how much it cost??

  6. That is very interesting, and surprising to me! I would have guessed that she had some French or Australian in her.

    Knowing that she has quite a bit of Chinese in her might make it easier to narrow down if she was from an ethnic minority group in Vietnam–there are some of them that involved migration from China. I know the one they think Jocelyn is has a Thai derivative (Muong), and Jocelyn & Zoe were from a very similar location….

  7. Actually China conquered Vietnam for 1000+ years, so of course many Viets do gots da Chinese DNA. As for French, they colonized for 100 years, and there are some Eurasians from that but they are pretty discriminated against.

    Also, Zoe looks asian, some people here think Asians all have flat faces and slitty eyes, but you don’t know how diverse Asia is 🙂

    Cool, I’ll do one

  8. Hi, interesting post!!
    When the tests states Vietnam, it’s still quite ambiguous, because there are over 50 ethnic groups in Vietnam, and the Kinh/Vietnamese (majority) make up 86% of the population…And I would have to say in the Kinh group, there are variations of Chinese,Vietnamese or Austronesian blood.

    I’m Vietnamese (genetically) and I can vouch for the fact that Vietnamese features are far from homogenous.The Vietnamese have been known to look Caucasian or slightly Caucasian more than other Asian groups-even though they’re not mixed…

    My grandparents (now deceased) and maternal uncles, paternal aunts were/are very tall, had very pale white skin and Caucasian features (ie large eyes, caucasian face shape, nose…).They were sometimes mistaken as Americans during the American occupation..
    Vietnamese people keep detailed family trees and it would show if someone had a Caucasian parent, which in my case never did!
    My parent’s have also had comments by Caucasian people that they don’t look Asian. I’m also in that category, because I don’t look typically Vietnamese/Chinese/etc (facial features,pale skin,height,and my hair is naturally dark brown-weird huh?)

    I have to stress that very few people were mixed with the French b/c it was frowned upon, and few people who were, now reside in France…If you go to Vietnam today, you would rarely ever meet anyone who has mixed ancestry from the past…
    The French never officially ruled Vietnam for ‘100 years’..they slowly made their mark for only a few decades (mostly from 1910-1950 period..)

    Anyway, the results are fascinating & I don’t think you should doubt science 😛
    I myself would like to try it…

    Best regards to you & your family.

  9. How cool! I had no idea anything like this existed. I am from what I know Vietnamese too, but my family history has been sketchy.

    Could you tell me which marker kit and add on did you order through DNA tribes? I was interested in ordering a kit too. I saw they had a central asian rather than east asian add on. Is this the one you used?

    • Gretchen-
      It’s been about a year. I think we did the “Extended Match” instead of either of the Asian add-on panels because there was some question about whether or not Zoe had Caucasian ancestry. The guy at DNA tribes was very helpful though. Just e-mail him and tell him your situation, and he will tell you which add-on panel would be best!

  10. Ancestry genetic testing will not tell you the percentage of what people in any case. The testing does the Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA to know your parental and maternal ancestors, but that only refer to the “straight-line” ancestors (your father’s father’s father’s.., not your father’s mother, for example). Any ancetors between these two straight lines can not be read. Our company do have better understand of Asians’ genetics, I am happy to provide more information, if somebody is interested.

  11. It’s funny when you said many Vietnamese believed she might not be full Vietnamese since her eyes are “too big”. It’s a very misguided notion that Asian eyes are small…Well many are but not all. It depends on which group that you are staring at. People in South East Asia tend to have bigger eyes than people in East Asia. Southern Vietnamese and Thai tend to have bigger eyes than Northern Vietnamese, who tend to resemble the Chinese more. Case in point: I’m Vietnamese and one of my key method of distinguishing (not all time accurate) between Chinese and Vietnamese is based on the size of the eyes, and when I first saw the mathematician Tao, I thought he was Vietnamese since his eyes are “bigger” (I was wrong).
    If the middle girl is Zoe, yes she looks very much Vietnamese. Double eyelids are also common in South East Asians. In fact, if you want to tell a Vietnamese from a Eurasian Vietnamese, probably a better way to see is to look at the nose instead. If the nose is high and starts out high, its owner might be a Eurasian. It’s quite rare to have a high nose in South East Asia unless you’re mixed with Europeans or Indians. I have a relatively high nose because I’m 25% French. That girl’s nose is not high.

  12. I’m stumbled on your site while on my search of my own Vietnamese-French heritage. I had the same comments as ghostaddress did while reading your blog. It’s a misconception that Asians should all have slanty small eyes. The majority of Southeast Asians (Vietnamese, Thai, Laotian, Cambodian) have rounder and biggger eyes with double eye lids when compared to the East Asians (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) who have smaller eyes with single eye lids and lighter skin. It’s common for many Vietnamese to have Chinese heritage due to the thousand-year domination by the Chinese. On the other hand, only a very small percentage of Vietnamese would have French heritage due to the 80-100 years French colonization.

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