Tag Archive | Ashkenazi

Looking for Ashkenazi DNA Success Stories

A week from Sunday I am doing a presentation on the value of DNA testing for Jewish genealogists at a local group, the San Diego Jewish Genealogical Society. I have a nice talk planned, but it is missing a key ingredient, some success stories from my own research.

SDJGSsiteSmllThanks to some of my friends and fellow genetic genealogists I have a few good stories to share but if any of my readers have a success to contribute, please use my contact form to send it along!

While I have found over 30 new cousins on my Norwegian side with DNA so far, I have no confirmed cousins on my German and half Jewish side. It seems that genetic testing is not very popular in Germany. As my mother’s family came here in 1935, that is where most of my non-Jewish matches would be.

The problem with the Jewish side is that Ashkenazim share so much genetic material from past cousin marriages and population bottlenecks, that we tend to look like 4th and 5th cousins to each other in our DNA. Even though I am only 25% jewish (actually 28% at 23andme), I share some DNA with my Galician Ashkenazi husband with whom I doubt I have any common ancestors for many hundreds of years. I have blogged about these issues before, just click the tag Ashkenazi to read a few of those posts.

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Using Ashkenazi Jewish DNA to Find Family

Reading about this holocaust survivor’s discovery of missing family via DNA had me crying –
http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4589762,00.html – but it also got me thinking about how few jewish DNA success stories there are. Perhaps that is changing now that more people are testing.
A7734 on facebook
The screenshot at the left is from facebook page A7734 about Menachem’s search. It shows him and the genealogist who helped him, looking at the first picture of his parents he had ever seen.

Frankly, success stories with jewish DNA are rare.  I have none to report from my family. I emailed all my Ashkenazi researching friends to see if anyone had a good success story. Not very many are out there. If you have one, please send it along.

The endogamous nature of jewish DNA is part of the problem. Everyone looks like a close relative in the DNA matching. Another part of the problem is that so few Ashkenazim know their ancestors past their great-grandparents. Too many records were destroyed in WWII, among other problems researching.

In my experience, if an Ashkenazi Jewish (AJ) DNA match is not showing as a 2nd cousin or better it is unlikely that you will find the relationship. An experienced Israeli researcher told me to ignore anyone without at least one long segment match of 23 cM.

Below are a few tips from search angel Gaye Tannenbaum who frequently works with AJ DNA.

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Ashkenazi DNA: we are all descended from 350 people in medieval times

Most of my DNA explorations have centered around my Dad’s Norwegian DNA because so many Norwegians have tested and the populations of those ancestors are only mildly endogamous; so it is easy to find new cousins and fun to work with those results.

My grandfather and me 1955

My grandfather and me, summer 1955

My mother’s father was a German Jew. The number of DNA matches this gives me, my brother, and my two maternal aunts is astronomical. Frequently I will match someone from Eastern Europe for five or six large segments who cannot share an ancestor with us for the last 200-300 years and is even listed as a “distant cousin.”  If they were Norwegian, that amount of shared DNA would make them my 2nd cousin.

This has been so frustrating that I just about stopped working on my Jewish DNA. A fellow Jewish researcher told me to ignore matches who did not have at least one 23cM shared segment!

Today there were dozens of news articles about the European Jewish founder effect suggesting that all Ashkenazim are descended from about 350 people who lived in about 1300 A.D. or so. This, combined with a fair amount of endogamy, would explain the large amount of shared DNA among European Jews.
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IAJGS conference and talking with Greenspan

If this were a financial blog you would assume a different Greenspan than Bennett and in fact they may be related, but since Alan won’t do the DNA test, we may never know. Today at the annual IAJGS conference I spent some time chatting with Bennett in the Exhibition Hall.  I asked him if they could implement a triangulation feature where when two people match me on a specific segment I can check if they match each other on that spot. He said yes but gave me no time frame …

Selfie with Bennett Greenspan

Bennett Greenspan and Kitty Cooper

Bennett Greenspan is the founder of Family Tree DNA, one of the big three in personal DNA testing. This came about because a newly retired Bennett wanted to prove that the possible Argentinian relatives he had found were related when there was no paper trail showing this. He had read about Dr. Michael Hammer’s work with DNA and the cohanim Y chromosome marker and wondered why that sort of test could not be used for his case. Dr. Hammer laughed at him and said something like “If you knew how many crazy genealogists have been calling me … someone really ought to start a company.” The rest, as we say, is history.

Tomorrow at 1:45 Elise Freeman is going to speak about  “Understanding Your DNA Results in the Context of Ashkenazi Ancestry.” I can’t wait to hear her.

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My Double 3rd cousin versus my brother and my Aunts as shown with my segment mapper

The results came in for my other maternal Aunt so now there are four of us to compare to my double third cousin and still no match on the X! In order to show the comparisons I used my new nifty chromosome segment mapping tool and also added in a bunch of known 5th and 7th cousins to the diagram.

Dbl3rdCOusin

Click on the diagram to go to the full size html page made from the segment mapper. Note that Shipley Munson is my brother.

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