Can you find out if you have Dominican ancestry?

This island offers an interesting fusion of histories and cultures, many of which may be part of your own personal ancestry, as we are going to show you...

Once ruled by the Spanish, the Dominican Republic is a Caribbean nation that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Their main exports are coffee and sugar, and they boast a healthy tourism sector, with travellers from around the world coming to experience the blend of Latin and Afro-Caribbean culture and heritage.

The first language is Spanish, the President is of Lebanese background, and the original settlers are Arawak native Americans called the Taíno.

Can you really find out if you have Dominican ancestry?

Yes! Thanks to DNA testing kits and a wealth of genealogy information available, companies like ours are able to digest all of your biological data to discover where your ancestors were from, lived, and who they reproduced with. The mysteries of your past are simply a swab away, and for those who are curious about their possible Dominican ancestry, this is no exception.

What is Dominican and where does this name come from?

Those who know the Caribbean geography will be aware that there is both the Dominican Republic and the island of Dominica. In this article, we are talking about the Dominican Republic, a much larger nation, which is pronounced by stressing the ‘mee’ sound, as in Do-MEE-ni-can. Alternatively, Dominica is said as Do-mi-NEE-can, putting the emphasis on the ‘NEE’ syllable.

What is now known as the island of Hispaniola (Española), or ‘Little Spain’, was once known as the island of Haiti, Quisqueya, or Bohio, depending on the indigenous language being used. Haiti means ‘high ground’, and it was split into five kingdoms, with the majority of the population living in coastal plains and valleys.

On Christmas day 1492, Christopher Columbus’ flagship, the Santa Maria, ran aground on the north coast of Haiti. The crew dismantled the boat to build the Natividad (Christmas) settlement. This is when Columbus gave the island its post-contact name of Hispaniola, with the eastern part of the island being called Santo Domingo (now the capital). Those who lived there were called Domingoes. So, when the island gained independence in 1844, the Dominican Republic was born.

Out of interest, the much-smaller Dominica was also named by Christopher Columbus, who spotted the island from his ship on November 3rd, 1493. As it was a Sunday, he named the island after the Latin phrase ‘Dies Dominica’, meaning ‘The Lord’s Day’.

What were the major migrations for this island?

We’ve already mentioned the original Taíno inhabitants, and the Spanish colonists, but of course that is just scratching the surface of Hispaniola’s diversity. In 1697, employing mercenaries and pirates to help them, the French took the western third of the island and named it St. Domingue. By 1795 France had taken the whole island (Treaty of Ryswick). This was the case until 1804 when Haiti declared independence from France, and between 1806-1808 Hispaniola was formally severed into two nations. It wasn’t until 1825, and after having to pay 150 million Francs in compensation (later reduced to 60m, more than 4x the national budget), did France finally relinquish Haiti. This debt was finally repaid in 1947, with the weight of this debt attributed to much of Haiti’s impoverishment.

When the island split, the eastern side (Santo Domingo) returned to Spanish rule (briefly), however, the resurgent Haitians conquered and occupied it until 1844 when the Dominican Republic was established.

While all of the politics above played out, there was another, more harrowing story unfolding. In 1501, a few African slaves began to arrive in the port of Santo Domingo, the first Spanish colony in the ‘New World’, but with the island’s ownership lacking stability due to the fighting between the Spanish and French, it wasn’t until around 1700 that the slave trade began to import huge numbers of stolen Africans.

Tobacco plantations in the northern valleys, and sugar and cattle farming on the rest of the island saw the colonists bring over hundreds of thousands of slaves to the island in the 18th century. By 1777, more than 50% of the island’s population would be first, second, or third-generation Africans.

In the next section we will talk more about African migrations, but first, here are some of the lesser-known Dominican ancestries:

- Sephardic Jews, once exiled from Spain in the late 1400s, now number around 3,000 people in the Dominican Republic

- Lebanese, Syrians, and Palestinians fleeing conflicts arrived en masse and are believed to number over 80,000

- Waves of Chinese and Japanese immigrants arrived between 1916 and 1924, in the 1940s, and in the 1990s, with over 60,000 Chinese-ethnicity people in the country now. 3,600 of these were born in China, suggesting another recent wave of immigration

- Dominican and Puerto Rican researchers have found that a small number of Dominicans have ‘Guanche’ DNA, belonging to the aboriginal people of the Canary Islands

- The largest immigrant population is, as expected, from neighbouring Haiti

Which African ancestries are most commonly found in Dominican genes?

Recent ancestry reports on a large group of Dominicans found that around 37-40% of them have African roots. These roots were then broken down into which African nations the DNA data suggested their ancestors were from, with Senegal having a disproportionately high presence. Roots from Nigeria, Cameroon, the Congo, Benin, Togo, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, and Mali are commonly found in the DNA of Dominicans too.

In the Domincan Republic’s 2014 population survey, 70.4% self-identified as mixed (mestizo/indio 58%, mulatto 12.4%), 15.8% black, 13.5% as white, and 0.3% as "other".

How can you find out more about Dominican ancestry?

Here are some links to help you on your journey:

History of the Dominican Republic

Dominican Genealogical Institute

National Archive (Archivo General de la Nacion)

National Library (Biblioteca Nacional)

Brown University Library

What can you learn from using a Living DNA kit?

Discover more about your Dominican ancestry, with our DNA testing kit reports exploring:

- Recent ancestry up to 500 years

- Sub-regional ancestry information about where your ancestors lived and migrated to

- Extended ancestry casting a lens back tens of thousands of years into the past

- DNA matching to see if you have any relatives in our data bank