DNA privacy dilemma #dna

Steve Stein

High on my Ancestry DNA match list, there is a young man who I do not know and cannot identify, and has not yet responded to me. Here is what I know about him.

  • He matches me at 234cM total, with 10 matching segments, high enough not to be significantly influenced by endogamy
  • On my sorted list, he is nestled comfortably among my known full-blooded 2nd cousins, above 3 of them (ranging from 170cM to 266cM total)
  • He is listed as 31% European Jewish
  • We share matches with 3 known cousins on my paternal grandmother's family tree
  • He has an Unlinked tree online with only himself in it
  • I have tried to contact him twice, he has not responded

When he did not respond, I tried to construct his ancestor tree using public resources as well as Ancestry.com. If I have done this correctly,  I have identified all 8 of his great-grandparents, and they all appear to be not Jewish, and none from the New York area where my family was located. This leads to two possibilities, in my mind.

  • I made a mistake in his genealogy. Possible but the names are pretty uncommon
  • He is a descendant of a non-paternity event. If my research is correct, he already knows that by virtue of his ethnic analysis at the very least.

I know of only one person on my paternal grandmother's branch who migrated to the state where he grew up in an early enough timeframe to have that event or one of his sons had it. All of my grandmother's nephews and nieces stayed in the New York area except for that one. The subject's history appears to be mostly on the west coast.

I am tempted to drop the matter, as there doesn't appear that there is much to be gained by potentially revealing the suspected event if i am correct. I am interested if anyone has any alternate strategies. TIA.

Steve Stein
Highland Park, NJ USA

Sally Bruckheimer <sallybruc@...>

"He matches me at 234cM total, with 10 matching segments, high enough not to be significantly influenced by endogamy"

I have a match, 450+ cM, who is no way we can determine related to me. Her ancestors didn't even live near any of mine, and I have a huge tree with all sorts of countries. Since your match doesn't answer you, don't suffer; endogamy rules us all.

Sally Bruckheimer
Princeton, NJ


I am in a similar situation where I found a match with over 500 cMs and none of the names match. I have been at this for almost a year and also constructed a separate tree to do my research. Thankfully most people are picking up the phone when I call. A group of these cousins have agreed to take a DNA test. I am fairly certain my 83 year old dad is not related to the man who raised him. I am too stubborn to just let it go. 

Rhonda Post
Silver Spring, MD

Jeffrey Herrmann

You describe him as a young man, so perhaps his parents are alive?  He appears to be 1/4 European Jewish, which means either his mother or his father is 1/2 European Jewish.  Perhaps his half-Jewish parent knows the family history? Most probably, one of your relatives was his biological paternal or maternal grandparent.  Why not present your analysis to him in full and invite him once more to respond? It might be provocative enough to get a response, and what have you got to lose?

Adam Turner

I'm currently working on no fewer than three such mysteries in my own DNA results. One is definitely an adoptee (the person mentioned the circumstances of his adoption in his AncestryDNA profile); the other two appear very strongly to be descended from extramarital affairs.

(Aside: if the 450+ cM match Sally is talking about is on AncestryDNA, I have an extremely hard time believing that is purely the endogamy rather than, as Steve diplomatically put it, a "non-paternity event." Maybe something weird could happen with 450 cM in FamilytTreeDNA or MyHeritageDNA, but people in the 400-500 cM range on Ancestry have been genuine close cousins in every case I've seen.)

It's worth at least double-checking that the person has actually logged into Ancestry over the time period you've been contacting him. I suspect that lots of people take a peek at their ethnicity results, and then never log in again. If you think that it's likely that he's deliberately ignoring you, I'm not sure what to tell you, but here's how my similar situation shook out:

I noticed my match to "K" right away when I got my AncestryDNA results back in October 2019. I poked around his Ancestry tree and noted the following:

  • he was my highest "4th-cousin" match, and the ethnicity analysis gave him as 50% Jewish.
  • zero of the people on his tree appeared to be Jewish.
  • K matched pretty much every cousin who had tested on my great-grandmother's side.
  • He was born in the same state as my great-grandmother's family lived in.
  • I also had significant matches to two other people who, after checking their own trees and doing a little research, I figured out were K's daughter and granddaughter.
I sent K a message around December 2019 that simply said that I thought he and I likely had a connection, and he sent me a one-sentence reply that he looked forward to hearing more from me and figuring out how we were connected. So I wrote him back, dropped a very delicately worded hint or two about my Jewish family and his Jewish ethnicity results, and asked if there were a phone number or email address where I could contact him. And then he never replied! But as I later discovered, the likely reason he didn't reply was that he is in his mid-80s and probably isn't super computer-savvy, not that he thought my whole inquiry was off-putting.

Undeterred, a couple of weeks later, I messaged his daughter. I checked her profile every few weeks and realized that probably, she wasn't deliberately ignoring me, she just never logs in to Ancestry.
So finally, after waiting several months, I also messaged his granddaughter. Five or six weeks passed, and finally, she replied! After a couple of messages dancing around my main point, I finally blurted it out: "has your grandfather ever mentioned that he might be adopted, or that there are other unusual circumstances around his birth, like one or both of the parents who raised him not being his biological parent?" And I explained why I was wondering - the lack of obvious Jewish people in his tree, as well as a clear pattern of matches to people in my family. 

She called me 15 minutes later.

The story of what had happened went something like this:

K's daughter was actually the one in the family who tested first on AncestryDNA, three or four years ago. She was startled to see her ethnicity come back as 25% Jewish, and confronted her father about it, who swore up and down that he had no Jewish heritage and that he had no idea how such a thing could be possible. Unsatisfied by this explanation, she insisted that K test also, to see which parent might have contributed the Jewish piece of her ethnicity. So K tests (his wife had died a few years before, and so couldn't be tested herself) and sure enough, his own test came back 50% Jewish. But K's family are not genealogists, and it didn't occur to them to dig deeper to figure out why AncestryDNA thought K was half Jewish. To them, it was just an odd little curiosity.

After I spoke on the phone with K's granddaughter, she shared his matches with me, and it could not be more obvious 1) that K is definitely a close-ish relative - he has crazily strong matches to EVERYONE in my family who has tested (virtually all of the 20+ cousins I've turned up so far on that service); 2) that K's biological father is not the man who raised him: he is the biological child of his mother, and a man in my family. And his daughter and granddaughter are now obsessed with cracking the mystery! (They are worried enough about dropping this bombshell on K that they are keeping all of this a secret from him unless I can produce a conclusive identification of his biological father in my family. Right now I am in the process of contacting the children of my 3-4 prime suspects and seeing if they are willing to test to figure out if K is their half-brother. K is most likely my second cousin twice removed.)

So if you want to try to solve your mystery without intruding on your match's privacy, there are a couple of things to check first:

-First, if you haven't already, contact the three of your cousins who have tested on AncestryDNA and ask them to share their results with you. That way, you might be able to confirm that this mystery person is definitely a relative, and maybe the additional data from those matches will be enough to confirm that you've likely identified the exact link to your family.
-Second, go through your shared matches with the mystery person to see if you can turn up anyone else who's also likely to be in their family. Maybe they're not interested in talking to you, but perhaps one of their siblings or cousins will be!

Adam Turner
San Francisco, CA

Bob Silverstein

Steve, even if you drop the matter, it will come back every so often to haunt you. 

How do you know the contact information is current and correct?  Did you find him in more than one place and did those places have the same email address?  I had a similar problem contacting my subject's half-brother.  When I start getting desperate, I look for public mentions of the target and contact them.  I even contact the local genealogical society.  When that fails, I turn to mailing a post card to the target and anyone else who could help.  My library has Reference USA which has white pages.  My hand-written message is simple.  I am a genealogist researching the family tree of so-and-so.  Please contact me.  Why a post card?  The target is more likely to see the message than if has to open an envelope.  The disadvantages are the post office will not return it if undeliverable or forward it.  In another search, I had to wait two months to get the target to call me back but he did.  Very happy ending.

Next suggestion.  The white pages may not work.  In the first instance above, I called my lawyer to get the name of his skip tracer.  He very nicely checked his Lexis database and called me back an hour later with the phone number I needed.  Got my guy.  A very happy ending.

Finally, have you used GEDmatch?  I prefer this tool but its database is much small than that of Ancestry.  However, you get a better idea of the genetics.  

Good luck Steve and keep us posted.

Max Heffler

I have found 200 cM to be a pretty good demarcation for connecting. Anything above is trickly if not common names and/or locations. Anything above is relatively easy. Since I manage over 35 tests there is enough data to make this easier.


Web sites I manage - Personal home page, Greater Houston Jewish Genealogical Society, Woodside Civic Club, Skala, Ukraine KehilalLink, Joniskelis, Lithuania KehilaLink, and pet volunteer project - Yizkor book project: www.texsys.com/websites.html

Max Heffler

I meant anything _BELOW_ a total of 200 cM is tricky…


From: main@... [mailto:main@...] On Behalf Of Max Heffler via groups.jewishgen.org
Sent: Wednesday, August 12, 2020 8:36 AM
To: main@...
Subject: Re: [JewishGen.org] DNA privacy dilemma #dna


I have found 200 cM to be a pretty good demarcation for connecting. Anything above is trickly if not common names and/or locations. Anything above is relatively easy. Since I manage over 35 tests there is enough data to make this easier.