Ancestry Discusses AncestryDNA and Jewish Genealogy posted an interesting article that points out the complexities involved with AncestryDNA for people who have Jewish ancestry. In the article, Janette Silverman, who specializes in Jewish research at AncestryProGenealogists describe how she and her team have used DNA to solve cases for clients.

AncestryDNA looks at autosomal DNA. One reason is because both men, and women, can take that type of DNA test and get results. There are DNA tests that focus on the Y chromosome (which cannot be taken by women). The autosomal DNA test looks at both maternal and paternal lines.

Autosomal DNA s a term used to describe DNA that is inherited from autosomal chromosomes. This includes the numbered chromosomes (and excludes the chromosomes that are sex chromosomes.) Autosomal DNA tests can be used to confirm relationships with a high level of accuracy for parent/child relationships and all relationships up to the second cousin level.

Janette Silverman points out that one challenge with DNA testing for people who have Jewish ancestry is due to the Jewish Diaspora, and that another complexity has to do with endogamy. This can lead to results that indicate that a person is first cousins with another person – when they really are second or third cousins.

Endogamy means marring solely within one’s community. Janette Silverman says that Jewish law allows cousins to marry, and that in some families, this occurred over many generations. She points out it is common for Jewish AncestryDNA users to have thousands of matches whose relationships may be difficult to determine.

Diaspora means “scattering”. The Jewish community has been scattered across the globe for more than 2,000 years. This group endured waves of expulsion that lasted into the 20th century. This result is that Jewish AncestryDNA users may be identified as part of a “community” that covers a huge territory. The Ancestry blog explains it this way:

“Due to the dispersion of the Jewish community, AncestryDNA’s “community” for European Jews generally covers a huge territory. Ashkenazi Jews are categorized as being from either “Central Europe” or the “Russian Empire.” To demonstrate how convoluted the relationships are, Jews from the Russian Empire are divided into three subgroups that inhabit the same geographic area: Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Poland. This was the area ceded to the Russian Empire during the partitions of Poland in the late eighteenth century, referred to as “the Pale of Settlement”. To confuse things even further, the Central European Jewish communities overlap, to some degree, with those of the Russian Empire in Poland and Ukraine.”

Now, this does not mean that a person with Jewish ancestry cannot, or should not, use AncestryDNA. It does mean that people with Jewish ancestry will have to do extra work in order to confirm relationships before they add people to their family tree.

Related Articles at

* The Irish Jewish Family History Database

* Jewish Genealogy Collection has More than 1 Million Entries

* MyHeritage Launches New Comprehensive DNA Ethnicity Analysis

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