The landscape of genetic research and genealogical discoveries has undergone a significant shift as DNA testing companies have made the decision to remove the feature allowing users to download DNA matches. This change has had a particularly profound impact on individuals with Jewish ancestry, making it more challenging to differentiate matches between paternal and maternal lines.
The ability to download DNA matches has long been a valuable resource for genetic researchers and genealogists, enabling advanced analysis such as triangulation. This method allows for the identification of common ancestors and the determination of relationships by comparing the genetic information of multiple matches to pinpoint shared segments of DNA. However, the removal of this feature has made it increasingly difficult to distinguish matches from the maternal and paternal sides of a person’s family tree.
For individuals with Jewish ancestry, this task becomes even more complex due to the unique genetic patterns and historical factors associated with Jewish populations. Jewish communities have historically practiced endogamous marriage, leading to a higher degree of genetic relatedness among individuals. Consequently, distinguishing between matches on the maternal and paternal sides is particularly challenging for those with Jewish heritage.
The decision by DNA testing companies to discontinue the ability to download DNA matches was reportedly driven by privacy concerns over unauthorized access to 23andme database. As a result, this change has sparked concerns and frustration within the genetic genealogy community, especially among those with Jewish ancestry. Not only does it limit the ability to perform advanced genetic analysis, but it also hinders the exploration of family histories and connections.
Moreover, by restricting access to downloadable DNA match data, individuals are left with limited options for independently analyzing their genetic information and may feel a loss of autonomy over their own genetic data.
This change not only impacts personal genealogy but also has broader implications for scientific research efforts, potentially impeding advancements in understanding genetic diseases, population genetics, and historical migrations.
As the genetic genealogy community continues to navigate these changes, it is crucial for DNA testing companies to engage in open communication with their users and consider the diverse needs of individuals with unique ancestral backgrounds. Collaborative efforts between researchers, genealogists, and DNA testing companies can help identify alternative methods and tools that uphold both privacy and the pursuit of knowledge.
If you’re interested in tracing your Jewish ancestry, DNA testing can be an incredibly valuable tool. With DNA testing, you can uncover information about your family history that might not be available through traditional genealogical research. In this article, we’ll explore how DNA testing can help you discover more about your Jewish heritage and what you need to know to get started.
The Challenges of Jewish Genealogy Research
Jewish genealogy research can be particularly challenging, thanks to a number of factors. For one, Jewish family histories are often complicated by migrations, language barriers, and the destruction of records during the Holocaust. Additionally, Jewish names and surnames have been subject to many changes over time, making it difficult to track down ancestors through traditional genealogical me
How DNA Testing Can Help
Despite these challenges, DNA testing can help fill in the gaps and provide valuable information for Jewish genealogy research. Here are some ways that DNA testing can help you uncover more about your Jewish ancestry:
Finding DNA Matches: DNA testing can help you find living relatives who share your DNA. This can be particularly useful for Jewish genealogy research, as it can help you connect with relatives who may have information about your family history.
Discovering Ethnicity Estimates: DNA testing can also provide you with ethnicity estimates, which can help you determine which regions of the world your ancestors came from. For Jewish genealogy research, this can be particularly helpful, as it can help you identify which branches of your family might have originated in specific parts of Eastern Europe, for example.
Confirming Relationships: DNA testing can also help you confirm relationships between family members. This can be particularly useful for Jewish genealogy research, as it can help you verify information that might not be available through traditional genealogical research.
Choosing the Right DNA Test
If you’re interested in using DNA testing for Jewish genealogy research, it’s important to choose the right test. Here are some options to consider:
Autosomal DNA Testing: Autosomal DNA testing looks at your DNA inherited from both your mother and father. This type of testing can provide you with the most comprehensive information about your ancestry.
Y-DNA Testing: Y-DNA testing looks specifically at the DNA passed down from fathers to sons. This type of testing can be particularly useful for tracing male-line ancestry.
Mitochondrial DNA Testing: Mitochondrial DNA testing looks at the DNA passed down from mothers to both sons and daughters. This type of testing can be particularly useful for tracing female-line ancestry.
Choosing a DNA Testing Company
Once you’ve decided which type of DNA test you want to take, it’s important to choose a reputable DNA testing company. Here are some factors to consider:
Price: DNA testing can range in price from around $100 to over $1,000. Consider your budget when choosing a testing company.
Database Size: The larger the database, the more likely you are to find DNA matches. Choose a company with a large database for the best results.
I had a very eventful day yesterday, I woke up to a message from a stranger saying that I might be managing a profile of her great grandfather in one of the trees on geni.com. After exchanging a few messages, we were almost sure that that profile belongs to her great grandfather. Few minutes later, I was listening to a conversation of second cousins that I connected on the phone sighing and wowing while speaking to each other first time in their lives. I was tremendously happy for both of them, but one thing mentioned by one of the cousins had me stumble … “we may need to discuss privacy, as I wasn’t sharing my tree with anyone”.
I am sure as you started putting information on the web about
your family, you started asking yourself if this could do any damage to you or
your relatives. When friend of mine saw my activities and posts on the Facebook
and decided to join the genealogy crew, that was his first question: how about
privacy? It took me a few minutes to collect information about him and his
family, addresses, work places, resumes, phone numbers, relative names, etc. by
just googling his name. The more technology comes into our lives the less private
our information becomes. You don’t even
need a tree with names to be built in order for someone to learn details about
So back to the newly found connection and her privacy concerns: had I or the person whose tree I manage and who allowed me to publish the tree at geni.com had the same concerns, this phone conversation would have never happened, and these two close family members would have never learnt about each other’s existence. I guess everyone decides for themselves what is more important: the false sense of privacy or meeting a close family member. While I do respect everyone’s right and acknowledge the privacy issues and concerns, I also want to remind you that the websites like geni.com and ancestry.com make living people profiles private by default. You can certainly change the settings to set profiles for deceased people as private as well, but consider leaving at least their last names visible that would allow your potential relative to find you and reach out to you with “I think I found my relative in your tree”…
Some time ago I wrote about a recent moment where I had the opportunity to help two relatives reunite. The grandmother of one of them wrote a letter to her brother in the USA telling how much she’s missing him and how she’s waiting for his letters impatiently. Little did she know when she sent this letter from Moscow that almost 100 years later this letter would be the thread leading her grandson to meeting his second cousin, the grandson of her brother. Her brother kept this letter all his life in a drawer of his nightstand and never told anyone that he had a sister. His son discovered this letter after his death and passed it to his son. This exact letter was what started my research.
I started with address books, then various databases and websites and one thread after another led me to a person who lived in Russia and who took some time to respond to my multiple messages because he had just come back from a trip to the USA. Jetlagged upon his return from New York, he opened one of my messages and responded that the woman I was looking for was his grandmother, but told me that she didn’t have any brothers in the USA. We talked and talked; I showed him the letter and he recalled that he had her autobiography. He pulled out several pages covered with her handwriting, and there was something that attracted our attention: she had a unique way of writing one of the letters and we could clearly see this letter written the same way in both the autobiography and the letter to her brother! No DNA test was needed at that point. We knew right away that this is the same person!
Five months later, I find myself in one of the city’s restaurants sharing the reunion excitement with the two newly found relatives. They ask questions; they share information; they are excitedly speaking about family ties. The Russian relative tells us about a tradition he has with one of his cousins, in which they enjoy a tea drinking ceremony every time they meet. His newly found cousin orders a cup of tea, and happily joins the tradition.
The most frequent question I get from researchers who are relatively new to genealogy but have already heard about DNA testing is what DNA company do I test with or what is the best DNA company? The last thing I would want to do is to go into a prolonged lecture about the importance of the paper trail as this is rather obvious, but I do want to say a few words about necessity of doing your homework before getting yourself into DNA testing world.
DNA testing has become so overwhelmingly popular, that everyone gets tested without giving a second thought to it or asking themselves what they actually need this for. As genealogists, we are concerned that some users will take these tests for entertainment without a basic understanding of what tests have to offer or a particular goal in mind. They will never come back to the results they once glanced upon and, moreover, would never respond to the desperate inquires of their DNA matches trying to figure out the relationship. Although, we cannot do much about this type of users, we do hope that the rest of users would want to obtain some understanding of what the test results can offer and how to use them.
First of all, please establish for yourself why you think you want to do a DNA test: are you unsure what your ancestry is? Do you expect a few surprises or do you want to confirm the family lore that your great-grandmother ran away with a handsome Cossack? Did you hit a brick wall while working on your family tree and hope that by working with your DNA matches you can break through the block? Or maybe you need to confirm a speculative relationship and have your potential cousin and yourself tested for it… ?
I have to warn you and ask to please be
reasonable in your expectations. I hear very frequently
complains that the test results are too vague and do not provide specific countries
and towns where the ancestors lived (did you expect to see the house number and
street name on this report as well?). Our ancestors were moving so frequently
from one place to another in search for a better life for their families and
they were marrying within such a tight community that I highly doubt it would
be possible one day to narrow down the places where our ancestors lived. There
is a lot of information not only on the testing companies’ websites, but in
genealogy blogs as well, where one can see what level of detail these reports
contain. Please do yourself a favor and check these examples so you have proper
Once you know what you want from the test, you would need to look into a list of companies to choose one that you want to get tested with. I am a member of multiple genealogical groups and I can see this question pops up, if not every day, then rather frequently: what DNA testing company is the best? I can see how many of experienced researchers grind their teeth every time they see this question, but let’s be honest: it’s not an easy one. Although, there are not that many DNA testing companies out there, the answers to this question could vary as there are different considerations that one has to keep in mind while choosing the right company that fits your budget and/or your goals. Given that most researcher never dealt with this side of genealogy, it can become overwhelming to say the least.
Even though there is no single answer to all
situations, I usually recommend starting with the DNA companies’ comparison chart presented
by ISOGG .
The fields that one would want to consider at first would be
the number of people in the database,
upload of raw data file allowed from other companies,
method of collecting DNA sample, and then the rest of the fields depending on one’s specific goals.
Ancestry DNA has been leading for years when it comes to the number of users of the DNA feature – 9,000,000 users, 23andme follows with 5,000,000, 1.200,000 in MyHeritage DNA bank, 850,000 in Family Tree DNA (according to ISOGG data as of 7.5.2018). Although, I keep hearing here and there that Family Tree DNA is the best company for Jewish research because it has the largest Jewish DNA pool, I am being skeptical here as there is no official statistics confirming this statement and the fact that its DNA bank is less than 1/10th of that of ancestry makes me doubt this statement even more.
Once you made your choice and got tested, the next step would be to upload your raw results (as soon as they are available) to as many places as possible. As an example, say ancestry is your choice, you got the results of your DNA test, uploaded them to Family Tree DNA, Gedmatch and Genesis Gedmatch, MyHeritage, geni.com – FREE, etc.
Your bottom line spend would be: $79 (discounted from $99) and you gain the access to 9,000,000 + 1,200,000 + 850,000 + both Gedmatch DNA pools. As a comparison, had you decided to go with Family Tree DNA, you would have spent $69 to gain access to Family Tree DNA database 850k +1.2Mln MyHeritage+ two Gedmatch DNA Pools. The difference is obvious…
In addition to your desire to get exposed to as many DNA tested users as possible, you probably would want to get your ancestry break out as accurate as possible. The larger the company DNA pool is, the more accurate your ancestry picture should be. According to the ISOGG, on a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 is the most accurate and sophisticated bio-geographical ancestry analysis and 1 is poor, 23andme is rated 7, while the rest of the companies are rated within 2.5 to 4 range. I understand that these are just dry numbers, so to illustrate what I am talking about, here is an example of someone’s ancestral composition reports from 3 DNA companies.
If you look at the percentage of Italian
ancestry presented by these three companies, you will see that it ranges
between 12% and 0.4 and 0. Quite a difference! So, if your budget is $79-99 and
you are interested to get an accurate report on your ancestry composition,
MyHeritage DNA probably may not be your first choice, at least not yet.
I mentioned above that one of the factors you
want to consider among the first ones is what method of DNA collection the
company uses. When it comes to Jewish genealogy, it is recommended to test the
eldest people in the familyto
reduce endogamy impact (as if that was possible!). Unfortunately, you may run
into this kind of issue with the tests requiring saliva collection when you try
to test elderly ancestor or relative:
XXX,Our laboratory received your second saliva sample, but could not
successfully analyze it for the same reason that produced the first analysis
failure, the concentration of DNA in the saliva sample was insufficient. The
laboratory made multiple attempts to obtain sufficient DNA for analysis but was
unable to do so.
is the second low DNA failure, we are unable to send you another sample kit.
There are no known additional steps that would increase the chance of success
with a third sample. A full refund, less shipping and handling, is available to
your refund now  Sincerely, The 23andMe Team
If you get the above message, you know you
need to go with the cheek swab test.
If you are residing
outside of the United States, you may need to do some
research about what countries allow DNA testing and what countries require
special processing, not to mention that the shipping charges vary significantly
from one DNA testing company to another. Here is some information you may want
to read to make an informed decision.
FTDNA Shipping DNA tests worldwide https://www.familytreedna.com/learn/ftdna/shipping-dna-tests-to-international-destinations/
AncestryDNA kits currently cannot be purchased in one country and shipped to another. Shipping the DNA test back in extremely hot or cold temperatures should be fine, but if your test fails at the lab for any reason, we will provide a free replacement test. https://support.ancestry.com/s/article/AncestryDNA-Availability
Once again, please do your homework and
research what all these companies have to offer. Keep in mind that there is no
perfect answer to the question “what company to test with?” as you would never
guess what company your potential close cousin will choose to test with. What
you can do is to get your DNA into as many databases as possible to increase
your chances of finding this close match.
If you survived reading all these tips, you
are ready to take a DNA test! We shall discuss what to do with test results in
the next article.
Please note that Find Your Cousins is not affiliated with any of the companies mentioned above.