Can you find out if you have Indian ancestry?

For many, Indian ancestry is doubtless in their family. For others who are part of the Indian diaspora, they may suspect they have origins on the South Asian subcontinent, but don’t know much more than that.

The land of the Taj Mahal, spices, Hinduism, yoga, tigers, and much more. Who wouldn’t want to know that their ancestors came from the biggest democracy in the world, the home of cricket, and the region with the highest number of spoken languages? India is a rich and vast land, home to a predicted 1.35 billion people.

Can you find out if you have Indian ancestry?

Yes! DNA testing kits like ours open up a whole new world of ancestral data for those looking to unlock the doors to the past, open chests full of mysteries, and make more sense of family legends that have passed from generation to generation.

Starting with a simple swab in the cheek

You will be given a report that details your:

- Recent ancestry - up to 500 years

- Sub-regional ancestry - geo-data showing where your ancestors lived (our data is the most accurate in this competitive industry)

- Extended ancestry - go tens of thousands of years back and witness your ancestors’ pre-civilisation journeys

- DNA matches - you might have relatives in our data bank!

What does ‘Indian Ancestry’ mean?

Researchers believe that most Indians are genetically similar, which is tough to chew for those who abide by the strict and complicated caste system and social hierarchy. Most Indians contain a mixture of two completely distinct DNA types from two peoples that united and mixed thousands of years ago.

Did you know: This is similar to the majority of South American people, who use the term mestizo to confirm that they are some combination of European and indigenous genes, but are unsure of the percentages.

Now, we use the term ‘most Indians’, because India is a huge and diverse land that has many villages and settlements where the people have not mixed, integrated, and welcomed outsider genetics in the same way. These tribal genes are some of the rarest found in the entire world. Whilst Europe is divided by rivers and mountains, the US by states, and most of Asia and Latin America by mountain ranges and jungles, India is divided by the caste system. That system is still in effect today because many small tribes are so genetically distinct. A negative effect of this is that recessive diseases that are passed on from generation to generation typically affect large swathes of a tribe. This does make it easier for researchers to connect the dots between lineage and disease, however.

Limited intermarriage and isolated ethnic groups on a huge expanse of land allowed what was originally a tiny population to explode into the biggest in the world. The caste system was once thought to have been introduced by British colonialism, but DNA data now proves otherwise.

The two peoples who combined to begin what we consider the start of Indian ancestry could not have been more different. One of the groups (known as “Ancient North Indians”) is genetically close to Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and European, likely to be lighter skinned, used to living nomadically on vast plains, and subsiding on a mixture of herding, hunting, and foraging. Hindi is believed to have originated from their root Indo-European language. The second group (​​known as “Ancient South Indians”) are not closely related to groups outside of India and might have originated in the Andaman Islands and other remote archipelagos, with darker skin and reliance on fishing and fruit-bearing trees for sustenance. While ancestry from both groups is found all over the country (in both northern and southern India) in varying proportions, Ancient North Indian ancestry ranges from 39-71% in India, and is higher in traditionally upper caste and Indo-European speakers.

Although, as stated above, the genetic similarities between groups in India are high, their differences are larger than in Europe, which is a reflection of strong founder effects whose genetic signatures have been maintained for thousands of years due to endogamy.

Who were the early Indian people?

After these two groups were formed to create the ‘Indian people’ at least 10,000 years ago, India has experienced many invasions. These invasions not only upset the balance of Indian society at the time, but they continue to cause massive debate among historians, scholars, and religious voices. Whilst most will agree that the DNA evidence suggests the theory that the early Indian was formed around 10,000 years ago, there are disagreements surrounding what genetic mixing has been done since.

Military invasions

- Around 4,000 years ago, a large band of Central-Asian Sanskrit-speaking white people arrived, known as the Aryans. They brought language and DNA to India, with some coming from as far away as Siberia!

- 1,300 years ago, Hajjaj of Iraq sent an army led by his nephew and son-in-law to attack India, however, they had only a few victories and then retreated, leaving some DNA behind.

- Mahmud of Ghazni was a powerful warrior from Afghanistan who raised 17 armies to invade India 17 times about 1,000 years ago, annexing territories and introducing many new people and ideas to the lands.

- In the past 1,000 years, India has suffered major military invasions from the Turkish, the British, the Mongols, the Pakistanis, and more. In fact, in the past millennia, no outside influence has been as strong on Indian DNA as the Mongols, who came and went several times, leaving a lot of DNA but not a lot of other traces.

Not all migrations were violent military operations, in fact, many people came in peace due to persecutions in their homelands. The Siddis, for example, are an ethnic group from Ethiopia who migrated to India. Many Persians moved to India to practice science, poetry, and read sacred texts. Iranians came to escape persecution, and 2,000 years ago, just after the death of Jesus Christ, many Jews from Europe and Iraq came to India to seek peaceful lives in relative safety.

What about internal migration?

Within India, the first region to be widely populated was the north, due to its close proximity to other nations and kingdoms, as well as the Silk Route. Over time, the population spread slowly south, especially along the coast. As of 2022, the northeast of India (Kolkata, New Delhi) remains the most densely populated, with the southwest of the sub-continent the second-most populated area (Mumbai, Goa, Kerala).

What genetic markers is an ancestry test looking for?

Due to an enormous population and a large number of invasions that have changed the ancestral DNA of different parts of India in dramatic ways, it’s very difficult to pinpoint information for Indians and South Asians. Some Indians will share DNA with aboriginal people from the Pacific, whilst others will have Steppe DNA from Mongolia. That’s how complicated it is.

Rather than looking for particular genetic markers, the tests are performed and it’s typically the non-Indian DNA that helps to tell the story since most Indian DNA appears quite similar aside from this. By knowing the language which is spoken, where their non-Indian roots came from, and what region they live in, scientists are able to extrapolate vast amounts of information and build a clear picture of the ancestral past. You can read more here.

What does DNA testing say about modern-day Indian people?

To find that out, you’ll need to take our ancestry dna test and get a report for yourself! You won’t be disappointed by the incredible results that a simple cheek swab can reveal.