What is Southeast Asia DNA Ethnicity on Ancestry?

The results of our AncestryDNA tests may sometimes be what we expect or on occasion may be a big surprise. Either way, often we need a little more information regarding some of the regions that arise in our ethnicity estimates.

One region that is not at all uncommon is the Southeast Asia DNA region. Those who still live in this region already understand all about its history and culture. There are others, however, who may never have even visited or in fact been aware that they have ancestors from that area.

In this post, we will go into more detail with regard to the history, geography, and culture of the Southeast Asia region. We will also discuss what it means to be from this region and how easy or difficult it might be to trace our roots in the Southeast Asia Region.

What Is the Southeast Asia DNA Region?

The Southeast Asia DNA region as the name suggests covers a region in Southeast Asia that pertains to several Island nations and an area of mainland Asia. The countries involved in this region are:

  • Laos
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam
  • Cambodia
  • Malaysia
  • Singapore
  • Brunei
  • Indonesia
  • Timor – Leste
  • Western Papua New Guinea

Southeast Asia DNA Region Subregions

There are two main subregions of the Southeast Asia DNA region that create areas that may be able to pinpoint which Island nation your ancestors may have originated from most recently.

Thailand & Cambodia

The Thailand and Cambodia subregion of Southeast Asia focuses on the mainland nations of Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam. In Thailand, it is found in the southeastern region of the country. When it comes to Vietnam it is found in a small area in the southwest.

There is also a small population in the southernmost tip of Laos which exhibits notable amounts of DNA from this subregion. In addition, it is found in northern Malaysia.

Western Indonesia & Peninsular Malaysia

Western Indonesia & Peninsular Malaysia is the larger of the two subregions and is located among several island nations in Southeast Asia. In the northernmost region it is found in the south of the mainland nation of Malaysia. The other nations within this subregion are the Island of Singapore and an area of western Brunei.

Southeast Asia Region History

Southeast Asia Prehistory

Archaeology suggests that the Southeast Asia region was home to Homo erectus around 1,500,000 years ago. More recently however it is thought the first modern-day humans arrived in the area from East Asia somewhere between 70,000 – 50,000 BC. There was also an interesting population of smaller humanoids known as Homo floresiensis who were native to Indonesia 50,000 years ago.

Early humans in the region were hunter-gatherers who exhibited a lineage from Papua Indonesia and East Asia via the mainland. Later however Austronesians from modern-day Taiwan expanded throughout Southeast Asia. The descendants of these peoples make up the modern-day populations of Brunei, Indonesia, Timor Malaysia, and the nearby Philippines.


The Austronesians were a prolific group among the islands of Asia and accordingly, they were a seafaring group who spread well beyond the Southeast Asia DNA region. Their expansion in the region began around 2,200 BC.

As the Austronesians spread out they took with them their language and some notable cultural traditions. These include tattooing, stilt houses, jade carving, wetland farming and rock art.

Indian Influences

Around the 1st century AD contact with the Indian subcontinent through trade started to bring Hinduism and Buddhism to the region. This would begin to replace the native animist beliefs that focused on ancestor, nature, and spirit worship. It was Indian Brahmins and traders who brought with them these new religions.

The rapid spread of these new religions would push those who wished to hold onto their traditional beliefs into more remote Island regions of Southeast Asia. These would include the Maluka Islands as well as New Guinea.

Contact with India ultimately led to various Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms arising in the region over the ensuing centuries.

Spread of Islam

Around the 8th century, Islam started to make inroads into the Southeast Asia region. This happened through the Umayyads, a group that at one time spanned North Africa, Arabia, and East Asia. The trade routes established by them reached southeast Asia taking with them their religion.

Other Outside Influences

As the centuries progressed influences and migration into the region occurred from many nations outside of Southeast Asia. These included the Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and the Japanese

How Did You Get Southeast Asia Region DNA?

If you already know that you had family who came from Southeast Asia or any of the bordering Asian states then you know why you have Southeast Asia region DNA. If this result came as a surprise you may not know how exactly you came by DNA from this region.

If you have a sizable percentage of DNA from this region then it is likely you have an ancestor who was born in or close to the country of Southeast Asia.

Is the Result Accurate?

When it comes to ethnicity estimates the higher the percentage you have from a certain region the more likely it is to be accurate. If your percentage is low, however, then it is harder to pinpoint exactly where your most recent ancestors came from.

A low result could mean a distant ancestor from that region. It is best to focus on your highest-rated region's matches to determine where your ancestors came from more recently. A low percentage can often be hard to locate because the ancestor in question could be many generations back in your tree.

How to Research My Ancestry from These Regions

The results of a DNA ethnicity test are of course a great place to start especially if there is an unexpected result found in the report. As always of course the DNA cannot tell the whole story and we need to actually do the research work.

A percentage on an ethnicity estimate means very little unless you follow through and start building up your family tree. The relevant ancestors may be several generations back and it may take a lot of research to discover who they were.

If you have specific regions mentioned in your report then you have a good idea of where your ancestor may have originated from. Ancestry DNA even has migratory information from some of these regions through to the final settlement places in the United States or elsewhere in the world.

Using Ancestry you may be able to determine not only who your ancestors were from the British Isles but perhaps the reason they decided to move.

Southeast Asia Migration


The earliest migrants from Indonesia to the US were Dutch Indonesians who would come to settle in Southern California during the 1950s to escape the Indonesian National Revolution. During the mid-1960s even more Indonesians fled the country to escape the violence caused by transitioning to the New Order in Indonesia.


During the mid-1970s when the Khmer Rouge took control in Cambodia things in the nation were brutal and restrictive. This meant that few Cambodians had the option to leave the nation. However, when the Khmer Rouge fell in 1979 large waves of Cambodian refugees fled to the US with some 158,000 being admitted between 1975 – 1994.


There are roughly 2.2 million people of Vietnamese descent living in the US. Many of these would have arrived or be descended from individuals that arrived from South Vietnam following the Vietnam War. Many of these people would have been boat people who were loyal to the now defunct South Vietnam. To avoid backlash and political persecution they were forced to flee.


The 1930 US census recorded only 18 Siamese Americans (Siam being the former name of Thailand). It was not until after the Vietnam War that significant migration from Thailand into the US began. Thailand was an ally of the US and South Vietnam during the conflict. Between 1960 – 1970 some 5000 Thai nationals emigrated to the US.

Final Thoughts

The Southeast Asia region is one that has seen a lot of change over thousands of years. Its earliest peoples arrived south from mainland Asia and north from Papua. Later around 2,200 BC, the Austronesians became the dominant group originating from Taiwan.

As the centuries passed influences from India, China, and Europe also impacted the unique DNA of this region. In modern times the genetic diversity of the region has found its way out into the world at large due to internal power struggles in nations such as Cambodia and Vietnam.

Neil Edwards

Neil Edwards

Genealogist and family-tree research specialist

Neil was born in Shropshire, England surrounded by centuries of living history. His interest in the past has been a lifelong passion leading to undergraduate degrees in both Economic History & Geography and History & Politics.

This interest in history quickly translated to family history when he moved to the U.S. in 2010. It was here that he began working on his own family tree as well as that of his American wife. That research allowed him to gain a wealth of experience working with both U.S. and European genealogical documents and studying their best uses in researching family history.

Following 9 years of honing his genealogical research skills, Neil was proud to have earned a certificate in Genealogical Research from Boston University in late 2019. Neil also took part in the research process for a Duke University study into the families of 19th Century UK Members of Parliament.

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