Genetic testing for genealogy has really revolutionized how researchers can back up documentation with hard science. The two really go hand in hand as a DNA test can only tell a person a limited amount of relationships and records can provide a more rounded family narrative that DNA cannot. But sometimes testing can reveal things that are very surprising! Any hint in tracing ancestry is a bonus and surprises can be the most helpful of all.
Recently, I had my husband's mitochondrial DNA tested to see if it would reveal the Native American ancestry that was always claimed. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA for short) is passed down through the maternal line from mother to offspring so while women continuously give their mtDNA to sons and daughters, only daughters can then give the mtDNA to their children. How helpful to have a tracking device recorded in each of us to trace particular lines.
Family Tree DNA
We chose Family Tree DNA located in Houston, Texas as the lab to test with. This was due to the quality of the lab and the amount of information that is provided along with some great customer service by support staff. It also happens to have one of the largest databases of DNA testers that allow for others to contact them if there is a match. This proved extremely helpful when the results of my husband's DNA test were revealed.
The test we chose was the mtFull Sequence so we could find out the most about the mtDNA. This test can define relationships with others within 16 generations
Kramer Family Lore
My husbands maternal great grandmother died very young and not much was discussed by the family. In fact, this side of the family was rarely mentioned. There are a few remaining pictures of Dora Ellen Noel. What we had been told was that there was Native American on that side of the family, but could not prove it through paper. Little did we know that her mtDNA left a lasting legacy that remained hidden for about 80 years.
Dora Ellen Noel
Wow! Once the results of the DNA test were back, there were two exact matches of the full sequence of mitochondrial DNA. Along with the results was a list of matches by country and SURPRISE! Also with the matches by country were notes of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews. These are two Jewish groups that my husband's mtDNA matches. Our first thought was WHAT? And then, this is really cool! Then we thought that the Jewish ancestors must have been a long time ago since no one in my huband's family knew about it.
We contacted one of the exact matches for the full sequence. The most recent common ancestor was 5 generations ago, so we did not think we would be able to find out much more. One of the questions we asked is if he had any more details about the Jewish background. Yes he did! His grandmother was Jewish, but hid it all her life and he did not know until she passed away. After her death, he was going through her things and found Jewish tablecloths, jewelry, and shawls. His grandmother died in the 1960s, so this places the Jewish ancestry within the past 3 generations. 80 years of a secret revealed!
My husbands mtDNA haplogroup is haplogroup H. This is the oldest mtDNA haplogroup, so I really can call him the old man! Countries with significant matches to his DNA are Poland, Morocco, France, Croatia, Czech Republic, Bohemia, and Iraq. What an interesting mix! And why Morocco or Iraq? Remember, in the middle ages the centers of the Muslim worlds were also the centers of the Jewish worlds. Not only can DNA testing help with lineage and migration, but it can also give an important history lesson to put it all in context.
On to the next....
Finding out the details of your genetics can be quite helpful and surprising. While my husbands DNA test revealed previously unknown Jewish ancestry, we have not looked into any records to verify it yet. However, that is the next step!