Many people have stories handed down from relatives telling them about their Gypsy or Rom heritage. Unfortunately, there aren’t always historical records or genetic studies to accompany these stories. So, how can people know if they truly have Gypsy blood and where exactly their places of origin are? It’s true, according to historians, that Gypsies traveled from the Indian subcontinent and into Europe around the year 1500. Although many Gypsy people preferred to intermarry with other Gypsy groups exclusively, it often happened that Gypsies mixed with local populations.
Today, the result is often a genetic mix of origins with many people having traces of Gypsy ancestry. Do you have any Gypsy ancestors? Fortunately, it’s now easier than ever to find out.
Companies like Sequencing.com offer convenient DNA testing kits that can tell you exactly what ethnicities you are whether you’re Hungarian Gypsy, European Roma or English Gypsy. Today’s tests are incredibly precise and can denote specific locations regarding places of origin, such as Eastern Europe or Western Europe. Here, we’ll discuss how to determine if you have Gypsy ancestry in detail.
Being of Rom descent is more difficult for testing sites to list than someone who is say Irish from the Kerry region. Why is that? Gypsies have long been shrouded in mystery, but even as DNA helps unravel their places of origin and the routes they’ve traveled, there isn’t exactly a listing for someone who is Gypsy. In fact, if a person has Gypsy blood, many of the DNA tests will indicate South Asian ancestry as well as Middle Eastern ancestry and then, perhaps, European ancestry such as Hungarian, Bulgaria, Swedish, or Portuguese, but it might be any mix.
In such cases, the individual may need to do a bit more genetic testing to determine if that mix of ethnicities represents their Rom ancestry, which it so often does.
As the Romany people left the lands of India, they moved into the Middle East. Often facing persecution, they continued moving Westward. Many Roma people settled in the Balkans, continuing their way of life. Others traveled as far west as the UK or as far north as Russia, Poland, and Baltic nations like Sweden and Norway.
Gypsies traveled, taking the DNA and genetic history that they picked up along the way with them. Consequently, it’s not uncommon for a Gypsy individual to get DNA results that reflect a mix that includes South Asian DNA, Middle Eastern DNA, and one or even several European ethnicities. If your report indicates a likely origin of Northwestern India, for example, as well as European ancestry, there’s a strong possibility of Gypsy ancestry.
In Europe, for instance, genetic DNA testing has revealed a surprisingly few prototypical lines coming from that Northwestern area of India. Many of the Roma in Europe share many similar genetic markers or genetic structure even if they have different European ancestry reflected in their profiles. These links are strong genetic markers that are indicative of Romany ancestry.
Gypsy Ancestry Tracing: A Work in Progress
Some families are lucky enough to have plenty of recorded information about their ancestors. In some cases — such as royal and noble families around the world — they have extensive archives that detail the lives of each and every family member, making it easy to determine who is related to who, and where everyone comes from. Imagine what the Queen of England’s family tree looks like!
Unfortunately, most of us don’t have access to such detailed records about our ancestors. For most of recorded history, it was impossible to simply take a genetic test and discover your exact genealogy and ethnicity, and going through archives and historical records was a time-consuming process that wasn’t available to everyone.
Thanks to the development of modern genomics, you can now take a swab sample from the comfort of your own home, and simply wait a few weeks to receive your test results and discover exactly who your ancestors were.
When genetic testing first became commercially available, it was an incredibly expensive endeavor that was simply out of reach for most people. Thankfully, genetic testing has become far more affordable in recent years — in fact, you can have your entire genome sequenced for just a few hundred dollars nowadays. As a result, genealogical research has evolved to take genetic testing results in mind, which has allowed genealogy to become much more specialized and accurate.
When a sample of your DNA is analyzed for genealogy purposes, the aim of the test is to find other samples that share genetic similarities with you. These similarities can be used to ascertain likely familial relationships, along with establishing the geographic location from where this DNA originated. Because gypsies or Romani populations are among those groups who are still underrepresented in DNA testing, it might be harder to track down your gypsy ancestry, but luckily since DNA tests are more readily available, we will be able to fine tune our results and broaden our research.
Overall, all types of genealogy DNA tests look for similarities between your DNA and the DNA that is contained in current genetic databases to establish who you may be related to. However, the function of these tests varies depending on the types of DNA that they examine.
How Accurate are DNA Tests for Genealogy?
The answer is… it depends. The testing processes themselves are highly accurate — however, the thoroughness of your individual results can depend on other factors. Like we previously mentioned, genealogy genetic testing works by comparing DNA samples to pre-existing genetic databases. Since different testing companies can have different databases or use different matching algorithms, your ethnicity estimates could vary depending on the provider you use.
It’s also important to note that the reliability of your results will largely depend on the depth of the reference database that the company uses. For individuals who belong to a small ethnic group (Romanian, Slovakia, South Asia, Indian) with a smaller range of genetic variants in the DNA, it can be difficult to determine an exact family tree.
Certain ethnicities are also easier to determine since they’re more highly represented in reference databases.
The biggest thing to remember is that your results are only going to get better with time and research and continue to monitor and track your genealogy to give you the answers you want.
Going Back Further in Time
You need to be a bit of a genealogical detective and do some research. In Europe, a person today could have South Asian and Middle Eastern ancestry and not be related to Romany people. While those ethnicities coupled with European descent provide a big hint, it’s still not definitive. So, what else can you do to determine if you have Gyspy ancestry?
You can take tests that include more ancient paternal and maternal findings. This will provide a more comprehensive picture of your ancestry, taking you back further than six generations. Also, when you take a test with a company like Sequencing.com, which has the largest ancestry report database, you can determine if your genes match those in groups that have strong Gypsy markers. For instance, statistical analysis of haplogroup and haplotype diversities can shed light on your ancestry. They can also help determine pooling populations and migrating populations. The Gypsy population, of course, are famous for their migrations; analysis demonstrates where specific Gypsy markers in the genome actually migrated to places throughout Europe.
Therefore, with a more robust genetic report, you can have an easier time tracing Gypsy ancestry if you happen to have any markers that suggest a link. Of course, when one speaks of Gypsies, one has to remember that there is genetic ancestry but also cultural heritage. Many people throughout the centuries have embraced the traveling way of life in spite of being of a different ethnicity—100% Irish or German or what have you. Naturally, genetic analysis will not pick up those cases, of which there are many, but when coupled with family stories, DNA does help to paint a fascinating picture.