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Using DNA matches to find Jewish ancestors #dna


Jesse Springer
 

Hoping someone with experience finding elusive Jewish ancestors based on DNA matches can help...

My dad didn't know he had Jewish ancestry until taking a MyHeritage DNA test and receiving his report that estimates he is ~19% Ashkenazi and ~11.5% West Asian (the remaining ethnicity percentages are English & Irish/Scottish, which we anticipated but expected to total nearly 100% combined).

Anyways...the West Asian DNA is also assumed to be from a Jewish ancestor because when we filter his genetic matches to show only those with West Asian results, the first match is named Avi Cohen, and the name of another is written in Hebrew and lives in Israel.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but these percentages seem to suggests that at least 1 of his grandparents was of nearly 100% Jewish ancestry. This is a complete mystery to us, as for several generations his family identified as Irish, English & Scottish (his report attested that this is indeed the case, just not to the extend he anticipated), and we have the documents that show the births of his known ancestors in Ireland and England, as well as their immigration to the USA.

Using MorleyDNA and YFull software, my father's haplogroup is predicted to be Q-M378. From what I've researched, the majority of Irish males belong to the R haplogroup (his paternal line all identified as Irish, while his maternal line was mostly English & some Scottish). My dad's surname is HALLORAN (originally O'HALLORAN when his paternal great-grandfather lived in Ireland; he changed it to Halloran upon immigration to USA). There's a Y-DNA haplogroup project at FTDNA for males with surname Halloran/O'Halloran, and sure enough, the ones so far who have contributed to the project consistently test as R haplogroup, which is not surprising considering that's the haplogroup of most Irish men.

From what I've read, haplogroup Q-M378 is fairly common in Ashkenazi and also West Asian males. So in light of this, we've concluded that his Ashkenazi/West Asian ancestry was on his paternal side. This certainly helps narrow things down, but still leaves us scratching our heads because of the Halloran surname and several generations of Irish Catholic idenity without a hint of Jewish ancestry. We know my dad wasn't adopted, as he looks just like his father, and although his brother doesn't look much him, his brother's son looks almost like he and my dad could be twins. We are fairly certain his father wasn't adopted because he closely resembles his 9 siblings (I don't have a picture of his parents to compare but I'm assuming there's just no way they adopted 9 children who all looked alike). One possibility is that my grandfather's dad was adopted. But this also seems unlikely since we have his birth certificate and nothing hints at adoption, so it leaves me wondering if an extramarital affair took place and that's why his paternal haplogroup deviates from the typical R haplogroup of Irish/Halloran males. If this is what happened, it seems unlikely to ever find out who the real father was... but I am hoping that one day the truth can be found and my father can know more about his genetic ancestors.

Thanks so much in advance for your time and helpful suggestions! I apologize for such a long post! ūü§≠


Kenneth Ryesky
 

Many Jews in Spain and Portugal assimilated into the population following the Inquisition and expulsion.  I have seen estimates that one-fourth of the Spanish population has Jewish ancestry.
 
Approximately a century following the expulsion from Spain, the Spanish Armada had its (mis)adventures in Ireland.
 
Through such dynamics, there no doubt is Jewish DNA to be found amongst today's Irish population.
 
-- Ken Ryesky
Petach Tikva, ISRAEL
 

--
Ken Ryesky,  Petach Tikva, Israel     kenneth.ryesky@...


Jesse Springer
 

Ken, thanks for sharing your insight.  This is certainly a plausible theory as to the origin of his Jewish DNA. One thing I know is that his family tradition held that his ancestors in Ireland were called the "Black Irish", which is a term I have found mentioned in commentary on Sephardic Jews of Ireland, though not exclusively. The surname O'Halloran in Gaelic means "stranger from across the sea." However, it is known that O'Hallorans established their clan in Ireland before the Inquisition, and I have not found any evidence that they were of Jewish ancestry. Also, the common Y-DNA haplogroup among Irish males, including ones with O'Halloran/Halloran surname, is the R haplogroup, which doesn't add up with his predicted Q-M378 haplogroup, using MorleyDNA and YFull software at least (I ordered a LivingDNA Y-DNA and mtDNA kit to get a better picture and I'll update this post when I get those results in several weeks). I do think his ~11.5% West Asian DNA (and I should add that although it's not a significant percentage, his report estimated 1.2% Iberian) does hint at Sephardic ancestry in combination with his Ashkenazi ancestry, I'm just doubtful it comes from the O'Hallorans in his family tree considering all the above that's known about Irish O'Hallorans. I think there are 3 plausible theories: a) his grandfather was Jewish and adopted by Irish O'Halloran family, b) his grandfather's mother had an extramarital affair with a Jewish man, or c) all the O'Hallorans and women who married them were Jews who changed their names to be common Irish names and assimilated into Irish Catholicism (they adhered to Catholicism for several generations in his family tree). Gonna keep searching for answers though. Thanks again for your feedback! 

On Mon, Jul 27, 2020, 1:47 PM Kenneth Ryesky <kenneth.ryesky@...> wrote:
Many Jews in Spain and Portugal assimilated into the population following the Inquisition and expulsion.  I have seen estimates that one-fourth of the Spanish population has Jewish ancestry.
 
Approximately a century following the expulsion from Spain, the Spanish Armada had its (mis)adventures in Ireland.
 
Through such dynamics, there no doubt is Jewish DNA to be found amongst today's Irish population.
 
-- Ken Ryesky
Petach Tikva, ISRAEL
 

--
Ken Ryesky,  Petach Tikva, Israel     kenneth.ryesky@...


Adam Turner
 

I am not familiar with MorleyDNA, and so I can't comment on how it is predicting your father's haplogroup based on his autosomal data. But I would be very wary about taking MyHeritageDNA's ethnicity analysis at face value, even with a couple of non-randomly-selected Jewish DNA matches as "corroboration."

My ethnicity as MHDNA estimates it is 88% Ashkenazi Jewish, 7% Finnish, and 5% "West Asian - Mizrahi Jewish." The same data run through AncestryDNA, which has a much larger user base to draw on for its reference samples, comes out as 100% "European Jewish."

My late grandfather's DNA test has even bigger discrepancies: per AncestryDNA, he is 99% European Jewish and 1% non-Jewish Eastern European. per MHDNA, he is...75% Ashkenazi, 15% "Italian", 1% Baltic, and 8% Sephardic Jewish. It makes very little sense to me how my grandfather could supposedly have 23% Southern European ancestry, yet my own DNA actually ended up with zero of whatever markers are supposedly typical of these ethnic groups. Much more likely to me is that MHDNA's ethnicity analysis isn't worth the pixels it's printed on, and whatever reference samples they are using to power this feature of the product are probably small enough that lots of customers' results end up with quite a bit of nonsense.


Jill Whitehead
 

Suggest you contact the Jewish Genealogical Society of Ireland - Stuart Rosenblatt is they key contact. Quite a few Ashkenazi Jews lived in Belfast and Dublin, and one of my family married a Belfast Jewish family that had previously lived in Northern England. They went from England to Ireland for business purposes. 

You may also find info at the Northern Ireland Record office - PRONI - and its equivalent in Eire 

I don't buy the Sephardic explanation at all. One of the UK "Who  do you think you are?" programmes on the BBC a few years ago featured the Irish actress Dervla Kirwan, who found she had an unexpected Ashkenazi Jewish Great Grandfather who had changed his name, to hide his Jewishness. 

Jill Whitehead, Surrey, UK


2gag4u@...
 

This may not be of any direct assistance but I wanted to offer a parallel example of Jew's melding into Irish Catholic society. While working in San Francisco I was introduced to a woman whose name is Yvonne O'Connor. She had 12 siblings and fell right in the middle by age. After a number of years of close friendship she told me a story about her last trip home to Dublin. To her great surprise she found an old photo in the coal shed of her grandfather. He was known as "Altman the Salt man". After some cajoling with her extended family some things became clearer to her. There were certain burial traditions that the extended family followed that clearly were not Catholic. There was one older member of thee family that would not eat pork. A member or two would not travel on the sabbath.

Eventually she was reconciled to the fact that she was Jewish. Please keep in mind that this was a Catholic girl that had to dig deep into Irish history and eventually found family names in Synagogue records. She imparted to me that "Altman the Salt man" was a character in one of James Joyce's novel "Ulysses". She is now the director of the Jewish Museum in Dublin. She speaks many languages, is well traveled and knows much about Jewish history on the "Isle". If you are inclined she might have something to offer.

There is a significant Jewish world in Scotland and it is not uncommon for people to adopt culture and unintentionally lose some family history. Good Luck!


C Chaykin
 

A note about DNA results... Two Jewish great grandparents may yield results similar to one Jewish grandparent, in terms of percentages of Jewish ancestry. (Ditto for four great great grandparents, etc.)


Paul Chirlin
 

Do all descendants of your great-grandfather all have similar Jewish DNA markers?  If they are only seen in one of his children's line it suggests differing parentage.   Is your father not DNA related to a known descendant?  
Paul


Jerry Scherer
 

Your regions of ancestral origins are statistical estimates, based on the company’s database. Your Ethnicity Estimates are updated by the ancestry company, as more people get tested. Ancestry has a database of approximately 15 million, MyHeritage 4 million. My first estimates, with Ancestry.com, showed that I was 95% European Jewish, next 99%.  The last update, shows that I’m 100% European Jewish. According to MyHeritage, I'm 94% Ashkenazi Jewish and 6% Sephardic Jewish. 


JPmiaou@...
 

Keep in mind that all admixture reports from all companies are still at the level of "for entertainment value only" -- and MyHeritage is the absolute clown of the bunch. They predict ancestry that is ridiculously false for basically everyone. (For me, it's Swedish; for my cousin, it's British Isles. Both of us actually have all of our ancestors squarely in the Carpathian Basin.)

Ashkenazi genetics is endogamous enough that it's pretty confidently identifiable, even by MyHeritage, but the percentages they report can be wildly different from other companies. When it comes to something like "West Asian", all bets are off: neither the reference populations nor the customer base have even remotely enough representatives from this area to come to any definitive conclusions.

What it comes down to is that despite what all the DNA companies would have you believe, geography is not genetic.

Julia
./\ /\
.>*.*<


Jesse Springer
 

Wow, that's incredible! Thank you so much for sharing that story--it inspires me to keep searching. Is there a way to contact the Jewish Museum in Dublin to see if they could offer any insight? 


On Tue, Jul 28, 2020, 10:44 AM <2gag4u@...> wrote:
This may not be of any direct assistance but I wanted to offer a parallel example of Jew's melding into Irish Catholic society. While working in San Francisco I was introduced to a woman whose name is Yvonne O'Connor. She had 12 siblings and fell right in the middle by age. After a number of years of close friendship she told me a story about her last trip home to Dublin. To her great surprise she found an old photo in the coal shed of her grandfather. He was known as "Altman the Salt man". After some cajoling with her extended family some things became clearer to her. There were certain burial traditions that the extended family followed that clearly were not Catholic. There was one older member of thee family that would not eat pork. A member or two would not travel on the sabbath.

Eventually she was reconciled to the fact that she was Jewish. Please keep in mind that this was a Catholic girl that had to dig deep into Irish history and eventually found family names in Synagogue records. She imparted to me that "Altman the Salt man" was a character in one of James Joyce's novel "Ulysses". She is now the director of the Jewish Museum in Dublin. She speaks many languages, is well traveled and knows much about Jewish history on the "Isle". If you are inclined she might have something to offer.

There is a significant Jewish world in Scotland and it is not uncommon for people to adopt culture and unintentionally lose some family history. Good Luck!


Jesse Springer
 

Interesting! Certainly helpful to know. Thanks! 


On Tue, Jul 28, 2020, 10:53 AM C Chaykin <cchaykin@...> wrote:
A note about DNA results... Two Jewish great grandparents may yield results similar to one Jewish grandparent, in terms of percentages of Jewish ancestry. (Ditto for four great great grandparents, etc.)


Sally Bruckheimer
 

Do all descendants of your great-grandfather all have similar Jewish DNA markers?  If they are only seen in one of his children's line it suggests differing parentage.

Every child inherits 50% of DNA from each parent, but each is a random assortment of the parent's DNA. So you and a sibling only share 25%. That is why organ transplant Dr. look at parents or children first for a good match.

So all descendants of a great-grandparent will not have the same Jewish DNA markers. There are a lot of markers checked, so DNA testing will probably find some, but not all the same.

Sally Bruckheimer
Molecular Biologist who knew this in high school
Princeton, NJ


Jesse Springer
 

"Keep in mind that all admixture reports from all companies are still at the level of "for entertainment value only" -- and MyHeritage is the absolute clown of the bunch. They predict ancestry that is ridiculously false for basically everyone. (For me, it's Swedish; for my cousin, it's British Isles. Both of us actually have all of our ancestors squarely in the Carpathian Basin.)

Ashkenazi genetics is endogamous enough that it's pretty confidently identifiable, even by MyHeritage, but the percentages they report can be wildly different from other companies. When it comes to something like "West Asian", all bets are off: neither the reference populations nor the customer base have even remotely enough representatives from this area to come to any definitive conclusions.

What it comes down to is that despite what all the DNA companies would have you believe, geography is not genetic.

Julia"

Julia, thanks for your input! That's very  insightful. As far as confidence in the Ashkenazi DNA goes, it might help to know that my brother took an AncestryDNA test and it reported an estimated 16% Ashkenazi, while my two sisters took 23andMe and it reported 16% Ashkenazi for one sister, and 8% for the other. I'm not sure how accurate the percentages go, but that many people in my family all getting similar Ashkenazi results does seem to indicate there was an Ashkenazi ancestor. 

I took a MyHeritage test and my Ashkenazi estimate was 6.6%. It also reported an estimated 9% North African & 2.9% West Asian.... 

When I filter DNA matches to show people in the database whose results include "North African," one of the closest matches based on segment length is a man named Avi Cohen, and there is another with a name written in Hebrew. These are the same individuals that are matched to my father's account when using the "West Asian" filter, so I chalked up my "North African" to be the same as the "West Asian" category that they estimated in my father's report. And since the names of the DNA segment matches are Avi Cohen and another in Hebrew, we assume it's from a common Jewish ancestor. 

Anyways... you're right, though. These tests are not always accurate so it's hard to conclude anything with certainty.  

On Tue, Jul 28, 2020, 11:53 AM JPmiaou via groups.jewishgen.org <JPmiaou=yahoo.com@...> wrote:
Keep in mind that all admixture reports from all companies are still at the level of "for entertainment value only" -- and MyHeritage is the absolute clown of the bunch. They predict ancestry that is ridiculously false for basically everyone. (For me, it's Swedish; for my cousin, it's British Isles. Both of us actually have all of our ancestors squarely in the Carpathian Basin.)

Ashkenazi genetics is endogamous enough that it's pretty confidently identifiable, even by MyHeritage, but the percentages they report can be wildly different from other companies. When it comes to something like "West Asian", all bets are off: neither the reference populations nor the customer base have even remotely enough representatives from this area to come to any definitive conclusions.

What it comes down to is that despite what all the DNA companies would have you believe, geography is not genetic.

Julia
./\ /\
.>*.*<


Jesse Springer
 

Thanks Adam! I appreciate you sharing your experience and insight with me. My brother took an AncestryDNA and it reported ~16% Ashkenazi. Two sister took 23andMe and it reported ~16% for one and ~8% for the other. So we are still fairly confident there was an Ashkenazi ancestor based on these reports. As far as how long ago this was or how accurate these percentage guesses are, we'll never be quite certain unless we find out who was Ashkenazi in our family tree. 


On Tue, Jul 28, 2020, 9:29 AM Adam Turner <adam.d.turner@...> wrote:
I am not familiar with MorleyDNA, and so I can't comment on how it is predicting your father's haplogroup based on his autosomal data. But I would be very wary about taking MyHeritageDNA's ethnicity analysis at face value, even with a couple of non-randomly-selected Jewish DNA matches as "corroboration."

My ethnicity as MHDNA estimates it is 88% Ashkenazi Jewish, 7% Finnish, and 5% "West Asian - Mizrahi Jewish." The same data run through AncestryDNA, which has a much larger user base to draw on for its reference samples, comes out as 100% "European Jewish."

My late grandfather's DNA test has even bigger discrepancies: per AncestryDNA, he is 99% European Jewish and 1% non-Jewish Eastern European. per MHDNA, he is...75% Ashkenazi, 15% "Italian", 1% Baltic, and 8% Sephardic Jewish. It makes very little sense to me how my grandfather could supposedly have 23% Southern European ancestry, yet my own DNA actually ended up with zero of whatever markers are supposedly typical of these ethnic groups. Much more likely to me is that MHDNA's ethnicity analysis isn't worth the pixels it's printed on, and whatever reference samples they are using to power this feature of the product are probably small enough that lots of customers' results end up with quite a bit of nonsense.


Jesse Springer
 

Unfortunately we don't have that information from my dad's cousins on paternal side. My dad's cousin on maternal side tested and report no Ashkenazi results, so we concluded it had to be his father's side. Certainly would be helpful if we could obtain testing from paternal cousins though! My dad closely resembles his father and his paternal uncles, and so it seems highly unlikely that either my father or my grandfather were adopted. Also my father's nephew looks very much like my dad (more so than my dad's brother who is the father) and also resembles my grandmother in many ways, so that adds even more doubt to an adoption theory. 


On Tue, Jul 28, 2020, 10:54 AM Paul Chirlin <pjchirlin@...> wrote:
Do all descendants of your great-grandfather all have similar Jewish DNA markers?  If they are only seen in one of his children's line it suggests differing parentage.   Is your father not DNA related to a known descendant?  
Paul


Jesse Springer
 

Very interesting! Thanks for sharing that. My brother took an AncestryDNA test and reported 16% Ashkenazi, and my sisters took 23andMe and one's report estimated 16% Ashkenazi and the other's report estimated 8% Ashkenazi. So it seems likely that there was indeed an Ashkenazi ancestor. 


On Tue, Jul 28, 2020, 11:52 AM Jerry Scherer <jerry.scherer@...> wrote:

Your regions of ancestral origins are statistical estimates, based on the company’s database. Your Ethnicity Estimates are updated by the ancestry company, as more people get tested. Ancestry has a database of approximately 15 million, MyHeritage 4 million. My first estimates, with Ancestry.com, showed that I was 95% European Jewish, next 99%.  The last update, shows that I’m 100% European Jewish. According to MyHeritage, I'm 94% Ashkenazi Jewish and 6% Sephardic Jewish. 


Jesse Springer
 

Fascinsting! Thanks for adding your knowledge here. 


On Tue, Jul 28, 2020, 12:51 PM Sally Bruckheimer via groups.jewishgen.org <sallybruc=yahoo.com@...> wrote:
Do all descendants of your great-grandfather all have similar Jewish DNA markers?  If they are only seen in one of his children's line it suggests differing parentage.

Every child inherits 50% of DNA from each parent, but each is a random assortment of the parent's DNA. So you and a sibling only share 25%. That is why organ transplant Dr. look at parents or children first for a good match.

So all descendants of a great-grandparent will not have the same Jewish DNA markers. There are a lot of markers checked, so DNA testing will probably find some, but not all the same.

Sally Bruckheimer
Molecular Biologist who knew this in high school
Princeton, NJ


valfeatherstone53@...
 

Hi,  I am in a similar position to your father. I found out that I am 26% Jewish earlier this year. My grandmother named a Jewish father on a Salvation Army Home for unmarried mothers document (not on my father s birth certificate though).  My dad is dead so I haven t any DNA data from him. I have found a second cousin in a family with, I believe,  8 potential grandfathers (brothers) in it  but, my father obviously being the result of an extra marital affair, I am finding it fiendishly difficult to find out who my paternal grandfather was.  One of the brothers' grandsons of this family kindly did a DNA test for me and, he turns out to be another second cousin. I am not asking anyone in the family to test  because I do not want to intrude on their privacy, so I guess I too will never know who my grandfather was unless a first cousin pops up. Which is sad because it would make my life make so much more sense.

I think i will look at the DNA more closely now this Winter after I have read your analysis, this may help me sift out potential grandfathers more.
Best wishes with your search. 

Val Featherstone


Mashiach L. Bjorklund
 

I wouldn't trust any DNA companies ethnicity estimates. I have tested with 3 different companies and guess what? I have 3 different ethnicity results. That said, your real answers will probably come from traditional genealogical research. Something to keep in mind, Jews have been living (and intermarrying) in Ireland as far back as at least 1079. That's the date of the earliest known written record of Jews in Ireland. But my guess is they go much further back. FYI, the second in command of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish rebellion was a Jew. A Jewish lawyer defended the leaders of the rebellion in a British court. Jews have been protected and have had full legal status in Ireland for hundreds of years. One of the oldest continuously operating synagogues in Europe is a couple of blocks from Dublin Castle. Do you get where I am going with this? Having an Irish Jew as an ancestor is just, well, curious, but not completely out of the ordinary. So the next time your in a pub, lift up your pint of Guinness, but instead of saying " sl√°inte" just say "l'chaim".

Mashiach Bjorklund

Links:
Jewish Museum of Ireland
Irish Jewish Genealogical Society
The Knowles Collection - Jews of the British Isles on Family Search