At the risk of alienating my friends at some of these esteemed companies, as well, as discouraging my relatives from participating—in what I believe to be an important part of our family history research—I decided it's time to share with my readers the progress I've made in the world of DNA testing and report on whether it lives up to all the hipe.
So far, My Mitochondria is Not Doing Much for Me! Don't get me wrong. I AM NOT WRITING OFF DNA TESTING. I am still a firm believer and plan to do further testing myself. But before I recommend to my family and readers to shell out hundreds of dollars and get tested, I need to clarify things in the hopes of dispelling misinformation and preventing disappointments.
Back in February—when I ordered my famous mtDNA test and an autosomal test called Family Finder—I set out clear goals. First, find out if I had any sephardic roots, and second, search for clues to propel me past some brick walls in my family research. In today's post, I will tackel only the first of my two aims: Did my great-grandmother's family migrate from Spain to Belarus?
When I shared with my family that Minnie believed her ancestors were Sephardic, I received the following note from Ruthie, a cousin of my grandmother's, who is a concert pianist. Ruthie seemed to feel the Sephardic genes flowing through her veins:
Before confirming Sephardiness, the DNA test needed to confirm Jewishness. Here is what my Family Finder test says about my Jewishness:"I am very excited about the information that our family may be connected to the Sephardic Jews that left Spain in 1492. For many years, I have been seeking out and performing Sephardic songs in the Ladino language with several singers. All my life I wanted to go to Spain, and during the past decade, I was there twice performing the Sephardic song repertoire in Toledo and Alcala de Henares. During one of these trips, I visited Barcelona and had terrible nightmares several nights in a row. I jokingly told my colleagues that in a former lifetime, I must have been a Jew at the time of the terrible Barcelona pogrom in 1391 (but I was only half joking.)"
Another way FamilyTreeDNA attempts to respond to my question, is by looking at the origins of the families my mtDNA linked up with. Less than 3% of them were Sephardic. I mostly linked to self reported Ashkenazi families. This means that I'm still Ashkenazi, but the possibility that our ancestors have migrated from Spain has not been ruled out. Since I didn't purchase the highest level mtDNA test (I bought the combo pack), nothing has been ruled out. My great-grandmother's nephew Herb, took the Y-DNA tested for Minnie's paternal line (Kranowitz) and had similar non-conclusive results.
It took me a while to figure out what to do next until I join a few Sephardic projects, within FamilyTreeDNA. The projects are created to further study DNA of people who believe they share a certain origin. I was accepted into the Sephardic Heritage Project and here is what the head of the project wrote to me: "Your mtDNA is not surprising: 40% of today's Ashkenazi men are descendants from four Sephardi women who migrated to Eastern Europe from Rome". To FamilyTreeDNA.com's credit, even the president of the company weighed in on my mtDNA. Here is what he said: "I have now looked at your mtDNA. You are in a Semitic Haplogroup, N1b, that came form Judea!, however since it's in both Ashkenazim and Sephardim I do not think that at this time we can say with any confidence that it was originally Sephardic."
The is all very confusing, but the science is intense and in rapidly advancing. The on-line team is impressively responsive and helpful, so hang in there, and ask them questions if you feel lost. As far as my DNA, if forty percent of Ashkenazi Jews are of Sephardic origin, I have a 40/60 chance. I love my mitochondria, but so far, it's not sharing it's secrets with me, Ruthie or the world. The good news is: I am contributing to the study of genealogy DNA by participating in these projects!
Those of you out there who know more about this subject than me, do share! If your thinking about getting tested, DO IT! Just remember, you've been warned. Don't expect concrete answers any time soon.
To be continued: More about my DNA testing experience and breaking brick walls.