Central/Eastern European Jewish Genetics

From time to time, I see an extraordinary situation where a man will have dozens of genealogically relevant matches with men of different surnames.  I still recall the first extreme situation I stumbled across several years ago, where a man had about 50 matches at 37 markers with about 45 different surnames.  When I searched for an explanation, I learned that this was not uncommon for Eastern European Jewish families.  

Yesterday, I spotted a posting on the Genealogy-DNA List that did a great job of explaining a similar situation.  It's well written and directly to the point.  I received permission from the author, Brooke Schreier Ganz, to share this.


This is the question Brooke was replying to:  "... Now the questions: 67 marker test - one is it normal to have multiple pages of 7 and below matches? he has eight pages. Is it normal to have multple 0 step value matches? multiple 1 step value matches, multiple 2 step value  matches, and so on... through all 8 pages?  I thought 67 markers were supposed to break down the matches to branches with in a family (surname) groupings. None of these matches are surnames in common with this gentleman.  ...  I have never seen the like... and was wondering if anyone here was doing Jewish genetic genealogy. ..."


Brooke's answer:  "That's a little bit extreme, but not totally uncommon, especially if he is in a very popular very "Jewish" sub-haplogroup!  Welcome to the world of genetic bottlenecks -- small founder populations (especially the male lines), plus periodic massacres or forced migrations to wipe out a lot of the potential diversity, leads to a lot of close relatedness, even in the modern day!  History written on the genes.

Or, to put it another way, this is why my brother in G2c currently has 116 matches at 67 markers -- although none are exact matches except for my grandfather.  The closest people are 2 away.  Our clade network diagrams look like balls of yarn.  *sigh*

I am presuming that your testee is Ashkenazic (Central and Eastern European) Jewish?  Most Jews in the US are.  If so, there's a very good reason for the number of matches from totally different surnames -- the vast majority of Ashkenazic Jews did not have fixed surnames until about 225-250 years ago, when they were forced to adopt them instead of carrying on the tradition of "so-and-so, son of so-and-so"  (i.e. "Yitzhak ben Avraham").  Like some Dutch people who were forced to pick up surnames around the same time, we can thank Napoleon's desire for accurate tax collection for enforcing the changeover in many areas.  :-)

A few prominent merchant families or famous rabbinic families, especially ones that lived in Germany or Bohemia in the sixteenth century, did have surnames very early on.  But they were definitely the exception and not the rule. See also this good Wikipedia article on the subject: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_surname#Ashkenazic_Jewry

So, for example, the y-chromosome attached to my maiden name Schreier -- which is in haplogroup G2c -- very closely matches a wide variety of surnames, none of them sounding much like mine.  They were all probably picked at random or for their characteristic qualities, and since my paternal line lived in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now Ukraine, they were probably chosen in the 1780's.  I can therefore assume that given the German (and Yiddish) meaning of the word Schreier, my not-too-distant ancestors were noisy people.  :-)

On the one hand, this makes doing genetic genealogy for me a lot harder, because without coming from an  esteemed lineage (and I do not) surnames just stop being useful tools past a certain point.  On the other hand, finding the *location* of my close genetic matches' earliest-known-ancestors becomes much much more important.  Plotted on a map, I found out that my extremely close paternal line matches were all living within a 100-200 mile radius of Lviv, Ukraine in the eighteenth century, and my slightly less close matches were from all over the old Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, running north to south. But oddly enough, there were almost no matches from Germany whatsoever.  So that points to an immigration pattern into the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth for the G2c haplogroup that is rather different from the normal Eastern European Jewish history of the last 1000 years.  Add that to the handful of Sicilian (!) genetic matches and we start to get interesting hypotheses of why the heck such a large Jewish haplogroup (~7% of Ashkenazi Jews, as per Behar, 2004) was barely found west of Warsaw.  Wikipedia has more details, and data:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haplogroup_G2c_%28Y-DNA%29

Also, just FYI, most Sephardic Jews (Spanish, Portuguese, Sicilian, and North African) have had traceable surnames for many hundreds of years, many times going back to the thirteenth century!  The Spanish archives apparently have great information in them...and, alas, the Inquisition records do too. My husband's uncle is Sephardic and his DNA does not share the same pattern of "fifty random Jewish guys" genetic matches.  You are probably more likely to find a match with an American Latino (or a Latin American) who didn't know his ancient paternal family had Sephardic roots.  But Sephardic Jews are a small minority in the US, and so a small minority in the genetic genealogy databases."


Over time, I hope to share other interesting and relatively unusual stories.  I hope you gained something from this one.  (Thanks, Brooke)

Happy Chanukah (Hanukkah)!  It's December 20-28, 2011 

Jewish gen and DNA

I know that given the political climate today it is not popular, but leave us not forget that there were more Muslims in Andalus than Jews, they intermarried and mixed from Iraq right across North Africa and into Spain, Portugal etc. They have the SAME DNA. None of them had surnames not so long ago. In Turkey there were no surnames until 1923. I grew up with the surname of Land, quite commonly Jewish, but my DNAis 36% Middle East, 21% SE European (Greek or Turkish) and 3% SSA. I grew up as Christian as they come, and my famalies were in America from the 1600s. My dad has R1b12c but his mother's dad was J2.We all look Turkish or Macedonian. Thessalonika was the largest Jewish settlement in the world for some 5or600 years and ruled by the Ottomans for 800. they were always welcomed by the Ottomans and given places to live and work, often in high government positions. Jews, Christians and Muslims have been mixing in the Mediterranean for hundreds of years so how about a more open minded discussion?
I personaly converted to Islam 55 years ago but I raised my daughter in the Christian church. My grandfather, hunter on a wagon train from Tenn to MO in 1880 was a healer...he did it the way it says in the Koran, but he was a Baptist. His eldest daughter was an evangelist preacher, ordained in 1896. Of course that was when freedom of religion meant something in America. I'm sure I am mixed and I have issues with Germany still, but I also think that turning a blind eye to what one's ancestry really might be is self deceptive and sad.

GIST family connecion

Who is your family that came to America in the 1600? I am a GIST and work with the GIST family genealogy and am interested in finding out more on this. I know that the shepardic jews came across as you mentioned and we see this is the R1b haplogroups also as we are R1b1a2. I have a test being run on the GUISE family descendent in England from Elmore Court, so we will see how he fits. I don't see a YDNA match between the GIST families tested and your project at this point.

Lost e-mail from Stern surname project

The last e-mail I got before I changed Internet Service Providers (from MSN to AT&T)was alarming.
I had opened the discussion of why my Ashkenazi Y chromosome was typical for origin in the Pyrennes between Spain and France and not a Middle Eastern haplogroup (typical of Sephardic Jews).
As the old e-mails went to my MSN address, I can not retrieve them and read them.
But in the discussion, I wondered if my European Y haplogroup, as FTDNA contended, showed that my Jewish ancestors had converted in the first millenium of the CE.
I have done more research recently and found some dissenters who claim that this European haplogroup (R1b1c) was found among Sephardic Jews from Spain.
But, this was not what was alarming. The group administrator at the time asked why my name was Mark Donald Ryan Stern. I explained that my mother was Scots-Irish and his response was that the Stern surname project was not open to converts.
That was the last e-mail I received from the Stern surname project until I found the 2007 e-mails from this site when my e-mail ISP changed.
But, it seems that who ever was moderator, upon finding that my mother was not Jewish, dropped me from the database.
I know this because it has taken several e-mail exchanges between myself and this site to restore my original membership in the Stern surname group.
I share this for two reasons.
I am concerned that there may be some self righteous members who are deleting members that they consider to be non-Jewish. But, King David's great grandmother was not Jewish; Rachel was not Jewish; and Sarah was not Jewish: they were all converts.
But more importantly, I am by patriarchal descent a Jew having been born a Stern. Whether my mother was born and raised Jewish should be of no interest or consideration.
I wish I had printed out that e-mail saying that the Stern surname project was "not for converts" so I would know who it was who said it and who appears to have removed me from the Stern surname project.
But, I am reinstated and the moderator for my patriarch is my cousin. So, it is academic.
But I think that we should all be sensitive to the fact that not all Stern males are born of Jewish mothers and many Stern men are no longer practicing Jews.
I joined in hopes of reconciling my European haplogroup to the recognized Jewish haplogroups. But, I encountered hostility when the moderator at the time unilaterally decided that a Jewish man with a non-Jewish mother should be removed from the group.
Let us be sensitive to the diversity of the 20th-21st century of the Jewish community with increasing intermarriage and the reality that many have left the faith of our ancestors.
Anyone with the last name Stern should be considered equally in the Stern surname project. It may help us to understand the diversity of our Y haplogroups.

Yates Jewish DNA

I just read where Don Panther-Yates says the Dan River "Yates" family has French Jewish Ancestry found through DNA testing. Since the haplo is R1b1, a haplo that is very common in Europe, how did the DNA determine there was French Jewish ancestry there? Is it determined by certain markers on the DNA that match men with known French Jewish ancestry? Is it determined like the Atlantic Modal Hapylotype (Bryan Sykes) was by certain number of repeats on certain markers? I descent from the Dan River "Yates" family and would love to have an explanation.

Thanks so much,


Genealogy is an amazing

Genealogy is an amazing thing! I knew a lot about my ancestors but when i created a tree with a family tree maker i realized that most of them were... polish! I used to think that most of them were french. Thank you for the article !