UPDATE (Jan 2011)  The information at this site is under revision due to new developments in autosomal testing, known as Family Finder at FTDNA.  We are exploring ways to include participants in this project who have Hawaiian ancestry matches from this new test. 

~Limitations of DNA~

DNA testing as a tool for genealogists has become popular but there are limitations to what DNA can tell you. If you are only interested in testing to establish your ancient Hawaiian ancestry, it is important to understand that while there is some information about the haplogroups (deep ancestry going back thousands of years) of ancient Polynesian DNA, there is NO known DNA that is specifically or exclusively Hawaiian.


For a traditional genealogist constructing family trees:
1. Y-DNA is the most useful (only males have it)
2. mtDNA is sometimes helpful (both sexes have it)
3. Autosomal DNA (at-DNA) and X-DNA. There is now a DNA test that everyone – males and females – can use in their genealogical research. This test looks at close relationships along all ancestral lines and is not restricted to only the paternal (Y-DNA) or maternal (mtDNA) lines. Anyone, regardless of their gender, will be able to match to male and female cousins from any of their family lines in the past five generations. Linked blocks of DNA across the 22 autosomal chromosomes are matched between two people. As with our Y-DNA and mtDNA projects, the database for this test will need to grow. In the beginning you may not have any/many matches. Hopefully many of our Y-DNA and mtDNA participant pioneers will be able to invest in this test and enhance the database. FTDNA's test is called FAMILY FINDER.

Below is a short description of the structure of cells followed by the types of DNA with explanations of their usefulness from the point of view of a traditional genealogist.


Each of your cells contains 23 pairs of chromosomes - a total of 46 chromosomes. All contain DNA. One chromosome of each pair comes from your mother and the other from your father. The first 22 pairs are usually referred to as autosomal DNA (at-DNA); the 23rd pair is referred to as the Sex Chromosomes (or Y-DNA and X-DNA). All of these chromosomes are in the nucleus of the cell and are sometimes referred to as chromosomal DNA or nuclear DNA. The region outside the nucleus of the cell contains structures called mitochondria with a different kind of DNA known as mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). mtDNA is necessary for the energy conversion process in the cell. All of your mtDNA is from your mother.


Autosomal DNA (at-DNA).
Autosomal DNA is MOST of your DNA. It consists of 22 pairs of chromosomes - all the chromosomes except the sex chromosomes (discussed below). Half of your autosomal DNA is from each of your parents. This DNA is "all mixed up" (recombined). Autosomal DNA is the DNA that (1) can uniquely identify a specific individual, (2) contains almost all of your health/medical information, (3) is used in maternity/paternity tests, and (4) is used for forensic/crime purposes (the CODIS test). Now this DNA can also be used by genetic genealogists (FTDNA's FAMILY FINDER test).

Sex Chromosomes (X-DNA & Y-DNA).
The 23rd pair of chromosomes is referred to as the Sex Chromosomes because they determine the sex of the child. The mother always contributes an X and the father contributes either an X or a Y. If the father contributes an X, the pair is XX, and the child is a female. If the father contributes a Y, the pair is XY and the child is a male.

X Chromosome DNA (X-DNA). Males have one X; females have two. The X chromosome recombines and until recently could not be traced back for genealogical information but now (2009) there are some limited possible uses being explored.

Y Chromosome (Y-DNA). Only males have the Y chromosome; this is the chromosome that makes a male a male. Most of the Y-DNA does not recombine and is referred to NRY-DNA (non recombinant Y-DNA). This DNA rarely changes (it mutates slowly) as it is passed down to sons from their father's direct paternal/male line – from their father's father's father's father's father . . . .

Because of this, Y-DNA is useful to genealogists, especially in the cultures in which the surname of the male passes down each generation along with the Y-DNA information. This allows for connections to be made with others who share a common male ancestor. Female family researchers often obtain DNA from a male relative with the family surname (and Y chromosome) in order to further their genealogical research.

The Y-DNA test can NOT uniquely identify a specific individual. The Y-DNA test used by genealogists is NOT a paternity or forensic/crime test nor does it reveal any health/medical information.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)
Both males and females have mtDNA. mtDNA passes down from the mother's direct maternal/female line. In other words, it traces back through the mother's mother's mother's mother . . . .
mtDNA is more useful for deep ancestry information (anthrogenealogy) than for genealogy. Sometimes useful genealogical connections are made using mtDNA, but this is the exception rather than the rule, because (1) mtDNA mutates very, very slowly, and
(2) in many cultures, the surname of the mtDNA line is not passed on to each generation because females acquire a new surname when they marry.

The basic mtDNA test used by genealogists does NOT uniquely identify a specific individual. This test is not used for maternity tests, nor does it reveal any health/medical information. (The full sequence mtDNA could contain health/medical information.)

~ Project Requirement ~

The project requirement is based on the limitations of DNA testing, as known today, and should NOT be considered a definition of Hawaiian ancestry.

To participant in this project, it is necessary that at least one of your Native Hawaiian lines is your direct paternal line or direct maternal line - as explained below:

(1) You are a male and your father's paternal line is Native Hawaiian. This means that you have an unbroken line of Hawaiian paternal grandfathers - that your father's father's father's father was Hawaiian - going back before the arrival of Captain Cook (about eleven generations). If so, you carry the Y-DNA of that line going back to ancestral Polynesia. Only males have Y-DNA, passed on by their father.

- - - - - OR - - - - -

(2) You are a male or female and your mother's maternal line is Native Hawaiian. This means that you have an unbroken line of Hawaiian maternal grandmothers - that your mother's mother's mother's mother, was Hawaiian - going back before the arrival of Captain Cook (about eleven generations). If so, you carry the mtDNA of that line going back to ancestral Polynesia. Both males and females have mtDNA, passed on by their mother.

It is NOT required that you be 100% Native Hawaiian or that both your maternal and paternal lines be Native Hawaiian. Either the direct maternal or direct paternal line meets the requirement.

IMPORTANT. Before testing, please be prepared for the possibility that although your family tradition indicates direct paternal or maternal Hawaiian ancestry, DNA results could indicate that your maternal or paternal ancestral line is not known to be associated with Polynesia. This would happen if you had an unknown ancestor in your Y-DNA or mtDNA line who was from another part of the world. If so, it would have occurred in one or more generations since the arrival of Captain Cook in 1778.

For over 200 years now, ethnic groups in Hawaii have mixed extensively. If you have Native Hawaiian ancestry that is not directly paternal or maternal, or if you belong to one of the many other ethnic groups with roots in the Hawaiian Islands ("full-blooded" or "mixed") you are welcome to join the HAWAIIAN project at FTDNA. That project is for all ethnic groups with connections in the Hawaiian Islands. The volunteer administrators of both projects work together. In some cases, the administrator may refer you to one or more other Y-DNA surname or regional projects. Administrators of all FTDNA group projects are volunteers and receive no compensation of any kind from FTDNA. If you are unsure if your background qualifies for this project, contact the project administrator for further details. You can do this by clicking on the REQUEST TO JOIN THIS GROUP link in the left hand column of this page.