A curious mtDNA question #dna

Jody Gorran

I understand that surnames mean very little when interpreting mtDNA matches because we are referring to mothers and the matrilineal line. I have read and have been told that mtDNA matches seem generally to trace back 1000s of years, well beyond recorded history in most cases. However, what I am going to relate may simply be coincidental and nothing more. I’ve always had an interest in finding evidence that might show a familial connection to Spain as I am Jewish and considered Ashkenazi and have a close Y match whose family may have left Spain after the expulsion. I have had extensive DNA testing with Family Tree DNA beginning in 2007.

I have never paid much attention to my mtDNA haplogroup which is K1a4a until very recently when I noticed that of my 44 matches, 12 or slightly more than 25% seemed to have Spanish sounding surnames. What a coincidence. They include Reyes Cairo, Moncayo, Gonzalez, Silva, Cardozo, Ricardo, Ramos, Benator, Pavellas, Hinojosa, Gonzales, Avila. I wrote to them and received responses from several who actually said they had a Spanish connection. Obviously, those connections could have nothing to do with the mother’s side.

So my question is, while not quantifiable, given such a “coincidence” of Spanish sounding surnames, could “birds of a feather flock together” and perhaps the haplogroup K1a4a might actually exhibit a matrilineal line with Spanish connections?

Thank you for any thoughts.


It may reflect a propensity for the descendants of conversos to marry other descendants of conversos, even after leaving Spain.  That would result in an even higher degree of endogamy than is often the case for Jews in general.

Barbara L. Kornblau

This is a good question for Genie Milgrom.... If anyone knows the answer to your question, she does.

Mashiach L. Bjorklund

mtDNA does not reflect very recent ancestry very well. So perhaps deep in your family roots you had a Sephardic maternal ancestor. In other words a common ancestor who's descendants are now both Ashkenazi and Sephardic. It's also possible that deep in your family roots a maternal female sibling or cousin married into a Sephardic family. Those Sephardic descendants would also have similar mtDNA to yours even though collectively you share a common Ashkenazi ancestor with them.

In any case, intermarriage was not that uncommon between both groups, even hundreds of years ago. Ultimately all Jews descend from the same group of common ancestors as well. The Netherlands has had an active Sephardic community since the 1400's. They literally lived next door to their Ashkenazi neighbors for hundreds of years and I am sure there are plenty of examples of intermarriage from that. Many other places (like Greece and Italy) have had both groups living side by side for longer than that.

BTW, my wife's grandmother was Sephardic from the Azores and her grandfather was Ashkenazi. So my daughter has Sephardic mtDNA but she was raised in the Ashkenazi culture as were her parents (us). But it was traditional genealogy and oral family history that explained her DNA results to us.

So while your DNA discovery is interesting, any real answer will probably still have to come from traditional genealogy. In the mean time, try a few Sephardic dishes for dinner. See if the taste has a familiar ring to it.