07 My Jewish mom? DNA?


AncestryDNA offers this disclaimer:

“Your DNA doesn’t change, but the science we use to analyze it does. Your results may change over time as the science improves.”

When I originally signed up for Ancestry some years ago, this was my DNA locator map with the customers that had submitted their DNA up to then:

ancestry dna gdb

Compare to the new map below. Note the Scandinavian-Nordic Regions and the Near and Middle Eastern regions above have disappeared, with other regions being somewhat redistricted and sub-divided, shrunk or enlarged in the more recent re-region-ing, with a massive southern Russia region. Re-region-ing is as constant as updates to the databases.

DNA revision

  • I can see the removal of the Scandinavian-Nordic regions, as those came in at less than 1%.
  • I gotta wonder about the removal of all that which is Middle-Eastern, as that clocked in between 4% to even 8%.

If you want to know what 8% means, see this incredible article: Ancestral DNA Percentages – How Much of Them is in You? by Roberta Estes. Hint: 8% is a lot.

I think what’s happening here is an across the board walkaway by Ancestry in its claims for autosomal testing, which is what they chose to do from the beginning. But as more is discovered about DNA testing, Autosomal isn’t great.

She a massive disclaimer here: Drawbacks section of the Wikipedia article on Genealogical DNA Test. That includes disclaimers of Ancestry autosomal testing. Apparently, the autosomal testing is good maybe only for present day 1st and perhaps second cousins. Period. If you’re any times removed, well, who knows. Direct lines may be good a few back… As time goes on… So, instead of the autosomal, there’s testing on just the Y or just the X, with those indicating even vastly different things, at least historically, if not today. For Ancestry to call themselves Ancestry seems a bit of a misnomer. It’s more like the original FaceBook, just connecting you with your actual classmates in College. That’s changed. Anywho, I haven’t done the Y-only or X-only tests. Any ideas on the best companies to do those with?

I once conjectured that I must have had a bit of Iranian Jewish in me. Conjectures, conjectures! Good for entertainment. But, if so, that 4% to 8% mentioned above would most likely be the enclave of Iranian Jews in the Caucasian Mountains, now in the Southern Russia region, that is, just north of Georgia and Azerbaijan, the southern most part of “Russia” mapped out most recently for my DNA profile by Ancestry.

Ancestry makes a big deal of groupings of indicators of DNA, but people move around. It can’t be used much for land disputes as it all becomes a game of what came first, the chicken or the egg. Having said that, some generalities of the status quo might be noticed. Thus, generally, people from remote tundras of Irkutsk will be different from those in the back mountains of Peru. At least until new-agers arrived relatively recently…

Cultural phenomena are even more difficult to trace out, things like religion. That’s not to be found in DNA. But religion can bring about behaviors regarding “mixed marriages,” for the Jews not to intermarry, for Islam to do so on purpose. Yet, for the Askenazi, the men seemed to take lots of Gentile women for brides. Let the arguments and controversies begin! I jest. But the debate really is intense.

Ancestry has ventured into this debate. I’m guessing they’re regretting it. That’s really unwise for autosomal testing, which they do. The legitimacy of religion by way of any kind of DNA testing has been raging in Israel for very many years now. I asked a rather ultra famous Rabbi about it a few years back and he outright dismissed DNA as having any relevance whatsoever. He spoke of the incisiveness of the controversy. This would, of course, involve lots of Jews, one way or the other, who died in large numbers in the Holocaust, who may be Askenazi or not, who may be part of the vast majority of Jews as far as DNA is concerned…. or not. Are those who are remote from Askenazi to be junked – thrown into the ovens all over again – because of various types of testing which at any rate does not, cannot point to religion? So, I don’t want to go anywhere near it. If you want to go near that hornets nest, Judy Siegel-Itzkovich published this article at the National Library of Medicine for the National Institutes of Health: Gene tests show that two fifths of Ashkenazi Jews are descended from four women. Those four women, just to say, lived merely 1000 years ago, when world Jewry was already world-wide. But that starts to become irrelevant to the discussion. For a broad overview – Yikes! – the Wikipedia article on Genetic Studies on Jews is stunning. Then, if you really want to mix things up and begin to see where this could start to become controversial, see the article on Jewish Ethnic Division (incorporating a discussion on DNA). Also stunning. That will introduce you to bibliography that will keep you busy for multiple lifetimes, as it were. And don’t forget the “ten lost tribes” of the dispersion. And don’t forget huge movements of populations in the Levant back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. There’s the descendants of Abraham, those of Isaac and those of his half-brother Ishmael. For that matter, Noah was the father of Shem (=Shemites=Semites), from whom eventually – nine generations later – comes Abraham. Sorry.

What’s the relevance of DNA? Well, DNA can bring you face to face with relatives, with Ancestry pointing out people – today – as having almost identical DNA. That at least indicates a family connection… today. I’ll go along with that.

Negatively, I can say that I don’t have much of anything African or Native American or Polynesian in me. There seems to be plenty from the Baltics, Germany, Eastern Europe, Russia (Southern Russia!), and then a smidge of something British (though I still carry my dad’s old English name coming from the border of Scotland and England), and a smidge of something French. But putting names on countries is also fraught with difficulty. There are wildly changing borders. Germany is… is… what exactly? Back in the day Germany spread into half of Poland. What of Prussia, smashing the boarders in the other direction? And so on. Something to investigate to say the least. It helps to know history and the history of wars and historical mapping and geography and historical demographics. Daunting.

But right now, let’s see about any real time family relationships going on with other participants of Ancestry right now, meaning any indications of almost identical DNA. Of all the regions of my profile, Ancestry “Very Likely Connections” today from only three areas at the moment (considering only present customers).

Here’s Lesser Poland with Lublin in the North and Krakow to the Southwest:

DNA lesser poland

And then there’s this almost entirely overlapping detail of another smaller “region”. This is Maolpolska and Swietokrzyskie, with Krakow in the middle to the West:

DNA Malopolska - Swietokryzyskie

Just above both of those DNA “regions”, this time in central Poland, we have the “region” of Mazovia and Łódź, with Warsaw-Mazovia in the middle and Łódź to the South and West:

DNA Mazovia - Łódź

“Very Likely Connections” means something not really further away than first or second cousins. That would be interesting to follow up on, discovering who and where they are. But that’s way in the future. It is interesting, however, that of all participants, the only ones to show up for a connection right now are from central and southern Poland.

Just as the Askenazim can’t claim to be the be-all and end-all of Jewish religion – so that it would be absurd to say that mom was Jewish or not just based on generalized DNA of Askenazim, this opens some doors to uncover more about mom. So, I’ll keep up the investigation.

1 Comment

Filed under My Jewish Mom

One response to “07 My Jewish mom? DNA?

  1. Aussie Mum

    I have traced my family tree back four or five generations (early to mid 1800s) because of my father and grandparents passing on names and stories from their younger days. One of my sons want us to have DNA testing through Ancestry’s genealogy business in order to know more but I have concerns about this. Apparently China is gathering DNA records from all over the world making it possible to create bio weapons to target certain races and not others.

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