Jewish Ethnicity and DNA

Diahan Southard

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“Jewish DNA” genetic signatures do show up in DNA test results for family history: in Y DNA, mtDNA and even autosomal tests.

Because Jewish people (as a whole) have been so good at obeying rather strict laws of family life, their DNA hasn’t been dispersed and diluted throughout the rest of the world, but instead has maintained a relatively distinctive signature throughout time. That means that their Y DNA (tracing a direct paternal line), their mtDNA (tracing a direct maternal line), and even their autosomal DNA (looking at both sides) looks just as Jewish as beautiful, braided Challah bread.

Jewish Y DNA and mtDNA

The unique Jewish Y DNA and mtDNA signature is most easily seen in haplogroup designations. A haplogroup is a deep ancestral group that usually provides you with a broad, general idea of where your ancestors lived tens of thousands of years ago. Now for genealogists, even dealing in ten generations is a lot, let alone hundreds! However, Jewish lineages fall within a very distinct set of haplogroups (for the most part), making it very easy to verify a direct paternal or a direct maternal line as Jewish.

Mitochondrial (mtDNA) haplogroup distributions of the Portuguese Sephardic Jews and non-Jewish population. Sectors in pie charts are proportional to haplogroup frequency. Number of total individuals (n) are in brackets for each population. Click on …

Mitochondrial (mtDNA) haplogroup distributions of the Portuguese Sephardic Jews and non-Jewish population. Sectors in pie charts are proportional to haplogroup frequency. Number of total individuals (n) are in brackets for each population. Click on image to see full citation and image source at Wikipedia.com.

The Y-DNA can even take that a step further. You see, Y DNA is reported to you as a list of values at defined locations along the Y chromosome. Every man has these same locations, what differs between men is their value at that location. When we take all of their values together the resulting Y DNA profile serves as a fingerprint of their specific paternal line. Researchers have identified a particular set of YDNA values can even be associated with the Cohen priestly line.

Y Chromosome haplogroup distributions of the Portuguese Sephardic Jews and non-Jewish population. Sectors in pie charts are proportional to haplogroup frequency. Number of total individuals (n) are in brackets for each population. Click on image to …

Y Chromosome haplogroup distributions of the Portuguese Sephardic Jews and non-Jewish population. Sectors in pie charts are proportional to haplogroup frequency. Number of total individuals (n) are in brackets for each population. Click on image to see full citation and image source at Wikipedia.com.

Autosomal DNA and Jewish research

However, autosomal DNA isn’t quite so simple. Because most Jewish pedigrees involve quite a bit of intermarriage, the autosomal DNA becomes very tricky to follow. Both FTDNA and AncestryDNA try to take this into consideration when they create your match lists, but it is a difficult process. The result is that matches for most people with Jewish heritage look more closely related than they really are. The system might say that your match is your 3rd cousin, meaning you share one of your 8 great great grandparent couples in common. However, for many individuals with Jewish heritage, that 3rd cousin doesn’t share one set of 2nd great grandparents, but multiple sets of 4th great grandparents.

This endogamy, as we call it, really throws off the DNA analysis. However, the DNA testing companies are getting better and better at both choosing the kinds of DNA markers that will be the most helpful, and then analyzing the results in a way that makes sense for these kinds of endogamous populations. So if you have Jewish heritage and you embark on an autosomal DNA test, just set your expectations appropriately.

Having said that, there is also much hope and discovery going on within the Jewish community, even with these limitations. Even if the DNA is not giving us a clear picture of a specific relationship, it is helping people find cousins and connections, no matter your ethnic heritage.

Learn More!

A great way to learn more about your Jewish roots is with YDNA testing. Learn more about your YDNA in our free Why the YDNA Mini-Course. Learn the many ways YDNA might help you answer your questions about your family history. The Mini-Course is an excerpt from our YDNA for Genealogy Course, which takes you deeper into understanding Y-haplogroups and using them in genealogy research (as well as other topics such as YDNA matching, surname project participation, and when to use Big Y).

Tell me more about the YDNA Mini-course!

 

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<a href="https://www.yourdnaguide.com/author/guideyourdnaguide-com" target="_self">Diahan Southard</a>

Diahan Southard

As founder and CEO of Your DNA Guide, Diahan Southard has been teaching people how to find family history answers in their DNA for several years, and she's been in the genetic genealogy field since its infancy. Diahan teaches internationally, writes for popular magazines, consults with leading testing companies, is author of Your DNA Guide–The Book, and producer of Your DNA Guide–the Academy, an online learning experience.

11 Comments

  1. carlos maclin

    bit of unsure, if my x handed to me from mom, HV0, is Turkic or USSR? Further, I am not sure if ydna marker is 8markers out of 67 for africa is complete since 7 markers are the cut off points for a possible match to an ancient male ancestor? If you can help please do>

    Reply
    • Diahan

      Remember not to confuse X and mtDNA. HV0 is mtDNA. HV0 is found all over the world, so it is tricky to nail down a specific place. As for the YDNA, I am not sure I fully understand your question, if you want to try again I can see if I can answer it.

      Reply
  2. carlos maclin

    the dna test taken was for ydna. this test looked at 67 markers for africa. it found that 8 out of 67 ydna markers are for africa. but, it did not say what the rest was. the reason i wanted to know more was because i was given lots of information about my mom’s side. like several thousand of years it left the caucaus near russia and turkey for the middle east and north and northeast africa. it evenually spread to southern europe. but, i am puzzled by the findings on my father’s side?

    Reply
    • Diahan

      Carlos, I am not sure what you mean by having 8 African DNA markers. FTDNA doesn’t break up it’s analysis that way. You may find my YDNA quick sheet helpful as it goes over all the YDNA results at FTNDA and how to use them. Here is a link to the digital download: https://www.yourdnaguide.com/quick-guides/ydna-digital

      Reply
  3. carlos maclin

    The ydna tested what african ancestry I might have. the test conducted for me was a 67 marker ydna result. out of that 67 number, the test could only find out of the 67 markers 8markers were for african. I read somewhere that 8 markers means this ancestor is outside the 0 to 7 marker range to be considered a match. I do not know why this is so. That means the other 49 markers must be something else. I have been told an autosomal dna test could see all I am mixed with? But, I wanted to find answers about this ydna puzzle.

    Reply
  4. carlos maclin

    Okay, at any given time, a geneticist may review 12, 37, 67, 111 dna markers or strs. I am sure are aware of this. So, I won’t belabor that point. But, the average to better dna test is the 67 dna tester. The test I took was specific. I wanted to know about any Africa heritage. I took this African test which was specified to my ydna only. This study looked at my ydna and only was able to locate from a 67 str or marker study, 8 strs or markers specific for Africa. But, I also found out that on a str or marker scale there, that to find a close relative five hundred years ago you can’t have no strs or marker over even. Thank you so much for your time.

    Reply
  5. Judy Hill

    A male born 1940’s tested at Ancestry and 23&me seeking his paternal lineage. Raw DNA has also been uploaded to My Heritage, FTDNA, & GEDmatch. All say approx 18-19% Ashkenazi or European Jew. Maternal 1/2 sister has tested and this is not from the maternal line. 23&me says Y haplogroup is J-L25. Any doubt that we are looking at an Ashkenazi paternal lineage? Thank you!!

    Reply
  6. roger dickson

    cri genetics said that i belong to same haplogroup with benijamin netanyahu.and am 56%german. is it possible that i have jewish ancestery

    Reply
    • Diahan

      Not everyone in that haplogroup is Jewish. So the answer would be "maybe." 😉

      Reply
  7. Rachel

    I had mt.DNA test. To find out if I got an askenazi connection. I was born in Russia, but heard that ancestors where Sephardie.
    Result was Haplogroup U2
    HVS2 haplotype 73 G
    HVS1 haplotype 160 93 C. 16129A
    16189C 16270T.
    What is meaning of that.?
    To Russia family come from Danzig

    Reply

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