Genetic ancestry and indigenous heritage in a Native American descendant community in Bermuda

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2011 Nov;146(3):392-405. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21588. Epub 2011 Aug 24.


Discovered in the early 16th century by European colonists, Bermuda is an isolated set of islands located in the mid-Atlantic. Shortly after its discovery, Bermuda became the first English colony to forcibly import its labor by trafficking in enslaved Africans, white ethnic minorities, and indigenous Americans. Oral traditions circulating today among contemporary tribes from the northeastern United States recount these same events, while, in Bermuda, St. David's Islanders consider their histories to be linked to a complex Native American, European, and African past. To investigate the influence of historical events on biological ancestry and native cultural identity, we analyzed genetic variation in 111 members of Bermuda's self-proclaimed St. David's Island Native Community. Our results reveal that the majority of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y-chromosome haplotypes are of African and West Eurasian origin. However, unlike other English-speaking New World colonies, most African mtDNA haplotypes appear to derive from central and southeast Africa, reflecting the extent of maritime activities in the region. In light of genealogical and oral historical data from the St. David's community, the low frequency of Native American mtDNA and NRY lineages may reflect the influence of genetic drift, the demographic impact of European colonization, and historical admixture with persons of non-native backgrounds, which began with the settlement of the islands. By comparing the genetic data with genealogical and historical information, we are able to reconstruct the complex history of this Bermudian community, which is unique among New World populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • African Continental Ancestry Group / genetics*
  • Bermuda
  • Chromosomes, Human, Y
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / genetics*
  • Genetic Drift
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Haplotypes
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American / genetics*
  • Male
  • Microsatellite Repeats
  • Phylogeny


  • DNA, Mitochondrial