As one of the most colourful histories known to man, the Jewish heritage inspires a sense of pride in its members. Present during Biblical times, the Jewish people have seen their fair share of turmoil, struggle, and challenges, spanning centuries that shaped their unique culture and turned their population into the close-knit community that it is today.
Check out our guide on the Best DNA Test.
So if you’ve somehow discovered the possibility of Jewish ethnicity coursing through your veins, you might feel compelled to learn more about its roots. And that’s where DNA testing kits come into the picture. These days, direct-to-consumer DNA testing providers are especially popular and accessible, offering you the opportunity to learn more about where you came from and how you became you.
Those interested in unravelling their Jewish past can find valuable purpose in the tools and resources available through three pivotal DNA tests for Jewish ancestry. These include MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA, and iGenea, all of which provide a pool of knowledge that can expand your horizons and bring you closer to your Jewish roots.
|MyHeritage DNA||* Best Jewish Lineage related data.|
*Info on family tree, and maternal and paternal lines.
|*Subscription plans could be considered pricey.|
*Monthly subscription fees.
|*People seeking accurate information about their Jewish ancestry.|
*Best of ethnicity.
|Starting at $79 per kit.|
|FamilyTree DNA||*Affordable plans. |
*Focus on Jewish ancestry.
|*No personal health related information.|
*Additional tests can be expensive.
|Jewish people with Sephardic and Askhenazi family history.||Starts at $79 for family Finder.|
|iGenea||*Founded by a Jewish woman seeking answers to her Jewish ancestry.|
*Lifetime access to the database.
|*Finding relatives, especially of European descent.|
*Lifetime access to the database after once-off payment.
|Starts at $214 per kit.|
To see more comparisons on the best DNA testing kits of 2019, click here.
Comparing DNA Testing Kits
When choosing a kit that’s right for your needs, you’ll need to be clear on the outcome you’re looking for. We will now take a look at a few DNA testing kits and describe each of their strengths and weaknesses.
My Heritage DNA
This DNA Testing Kit has been heralded as one of the best out in the marketplace today. With over ten billion historical records and over a hundred and seven million users, MyHeritage holds a ton of relevant data.
Swab your cheek, place it in the vial and post it off to the MyHeritage labs. Your work is done in two minutes, and then it’s a matter of waiting three to four weeks for your results. The test is also available worldwide in all countries. Your DNA goes through a process where it’s checked against six hundred and ninety thousand markers, against a database of 1.5 million records.
The test includes 42 geographic regions in their reference groups. The test type is an autosomal, ideal for deep generational searches and finding those lost family members and your ethnic origins.
MyHeritage DNA contains recorded information for almost all types of Jewish ancestry. These include Ashkenazi, Mizrahi and Sephardi records. If you suspect that you have ancestors from any of these lines, this test is well worth your while.
The test also integrates your family tree, offer you an ancestral makeup report. You, however, need to pay additional fees for the amount of information that you’re after. You can choose from basic plans up to top tier plans that give you as much information as you desire.
Family Tree DNA
Founded by Bennet Greenspan, this DNA Testing kit holds a lot of authority. It’s also the chosen DNA testing company for The Jewish Voice.
The one reason that differentiates this testing kit is it’s reference populations. 2 of the 24 databases belong to the major Jewish heritages – Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jew. This gives the results a lot more credibility, especially since Greenspan and his team have gone into painstaking detail to collate data predominantly for people seeking links to their Jewish family history.
They offer three tests, the family tree builder, Y-DNA and mtDNA. The kit price is also affordable.
There’s a deeper level of accountability behind FamilyTree DNA’s approach, with Greenspan boldly stating that his passion is to help people discover their Jewish ancestry.
However, one of the downsides is that your information may be shared with the FBI. FamilyTreeDNA’s records are so valuable that they’ve shared information with the FBI in order to find answers to unsolved cases. If you don’t mind this, then this kit is of great value.
iGenea has a unique connection to Jewish heritage. Its founder, Joelle Apter, started the company because she was searching for her own Jewish and Polish lineage. This makes it one of the most relevant DNA testing kits out there for Jewish people.
Your DNA is checked against 710 thousand markers, against a database 500 thousand strong. iGenea has an unknown number of geographic regions but makes up for this in the detailed information it can provide.
It can test for both paternal and maternal lineages but doesn’t offer a family tree integration. It is available all over the world. The Premium DNA testing kits can draw up results from as far back as 100 thousand years. Talk about comprehensive.
The downsides to this DNA testing kit are that it’s rather pricey, coming in at double what you’d pay for other testing kits, but this saves you money in the long run with lifetime access to their database. The waiting time for results is also longer. Expect six to ten weeks before your results arrive.
Types of Jewish Ancestry
Jewish ancestry is some of the richest in terms of history. If you have a Jewish family that extends past five generations, the chances are good that your heritages can be traced back to a clear line.
Jewish migration over the centuries has played a big part in making the process of finding one’s heritage challenging. However, with the extensive academic databases, tracking your family line is now easier.
There are five groups of Jewish communities that you may find your ethnicity stemming from in your DNA Test. We briefly explore each of these below.
This cultural group comes stems back two thousand years, predominantly from European women. Traces of this group of Judaism have been traced back to the northern parts of the Mediterranean. To read more about Ashkenazi Jewish, click here.
Stretching back over 15 centuries, Ethiopian Jewish has a unique cultural standpoint of its own. Predominantly nomadic, these groups of Jewish people lived separate lives in small communities, without much leadership to unite them all under one banner. Most of their traditions were handed down orally. This makes records of this group somewhat challenging to discover. To read more about Ethiopian Jewish, click here.
This group of Jewish people have a Middle Eastern heritage. Though they share many religious customs to the Sephardic Jews, Mizrahi Jews have active communities ties, dating back to Yemen, Babylonia and Persia. They didn’t speak one language, but rather a series of dialects that related to specific regions. To read more about the Mizrahi Jews, click here.
This is by far, the largest population of Jewish heritage. The Sephardic Jews were responsible for the Golden Age of Jewish culture in Spain. This occurred around the Middle Ages. However, in 1492, Spain’s royalty expelled Sephardic Jews from the country. They left Spain, opting for places like Amsterdam, North Africa and the Middle East. Unlike other Jewish communities, Sephardic Jews had a unifying language. It was called Ladino, and it was spoken throughout the Iberian Peninsula, borrowing words from Hebrew, Arabic and even Portuguese. To read more about Sephardic Jews, click here.
Coming from Yemen, the majority of this group of Jewish people reside in Israel today. Due to their strict adherence to the old religious ways, they have often been called the most Jewish of all Jewish People. To read more about Yemenite Jews, click here.
How DNA Testing Works
By swabbing your spit and sending it to a DNA service provider, they’re able to trace back your ancestry and tell you more about your genetic history. But how does the test work? And is the DNA test worth your time and money?
Every strand of our DNA is made of up two coils that wrap around each other. This is called a double helix. The molecules that make up our DNA hold phosphate and sugar groups, in a nitrogen base. The nitrogen base is responsible for our genetic code.
There are only four options within this nitrogen base. A, C, G and T. These are called SNIPS and create variations amongst us. The nitrogen base gives our DNA a small difference of 0.5%, but this tiny percentage is responsible for all the differences amongst humans. DNA tests examine this small percentage of snips within our DNA, looking for similarities with other people who have done DNA tests. The more they find commonalities in DNA snips, the more they’re able to establish a foundation of cultural heritage.
In its purest sense, DNA testing companies use ethnic data available to them to triangulate genetic origins, with more and more precision in each day. This data comes from reference populations. Each company has a specific number within their reference population, upwards of ten thousand people, with over 40 reference populations. Your results show up as different percentages of your ethnicity across the contents. This data reveals where your forebears may have lived.
The Challenge with Reference Populations
The problem with this is that the information is only as useful as the database or reference population. If people are not honest about the information that they give, then the reference could be inaccurate and ineffective.
Another factor is the disproportionate amount of Europeans within most databases versus Africans. This affects the precision of results and your percentages across the continental ethnicities.
However, more data is being collected every day, meaning that DNA testing becomes more accurate and worth exploring.
Jewish Heritage Factors in DNA Testing
There are a few factors to consider when sourcing a DNA Test. The first is to ask yourself, “What am I searching for?”
Q: I’m searching for my family
If you’re looking for family, then the autosomal DNA test is most relevant to you. This test can find information as far back as six generations, and in some cases, even further. This is the DNA test you often find in testimonials, where people report that they found long last family members or their biological parents.
This test uses the twenty pairs of autosomes, avoiding the x and y chromosomes responsible for gender. This is why both men and women can perform this test.
If you’re looking for accuracy, this test offers excellent results from parent-to-child relationships, all the way to your second cousin level of relationships. For best results, test your oldest living relatives first. By doing this, you’ll be able to tell which parts of your DNA you have inherited from your parents, grandparents, and other relatives.
It’s the ideal DNA test if you’re looking for information about your family.
I’m a man searching for my paternal heritage
The Y-DNA test is for men only. This is due to the y chromosome, only showing up in a man’s DNA.
The Y-DNA test is ideal if you’re looking for Jewish ancestry on a male’s side of the family. It’ll provide far more accurate results and zero in on the paternal side that you’re looking for when exploring for Jewish heritage. However, be warned, no female results feature.
I’m a man/woman searching for maternal ancestry
If you’re searching for history regarding your maternal family lineage, then the mtDNA test may work for you. Oftenly, it’s the mother’s line that carries the authenticity of Jewish Origin, making this test ideal for your needs. This test performs well with no interference from a male member in your ancestry.
Strengths, Limitations and Concerns
It’s important to stress that while finding your ancestors has become easier with DNA Testing Kits, the information may not always be accurate. It’s important to be rational with the information and remember that some of it may be based on a false premise or questionable sources. This is one reason it’s best to find professional advice when about your Jewish genealogy.
That said, you may be astounded by the amount of relevant information from your DNA test. Prepare for a world of Jewish family to open up to you.
Can I trust the results from my DNA Testing Kit?
To a degree, yes. However, as more and more people perform DNA tests, the more accurate the information becomes. Over time, these results become more refined, more relevant and eventually reach the place of being completely factual. Until such a time, be willing to find additional verification if the results don’t make sense to you.
What other factors play a part in confusing DNA results?
Surname changes and name changes confuse results and make the process of linking family trees challenging.
What are DNA haplogroups?
Haplogroups are small groups of haplotypes, genetic determinants that are found on a single chromosome. In Jewish lineages, for example, specific haplotypes relate to Ashkenazi Jews, but not to others. When haplogroups are applied to your searches, you can find detailed information about where your Jewish family came from. Sometimes, knowing information about your specific haplotypes will aid you in finding your lineage.
With the numerous DNA testing kits available today, it’s easier than ever to find out about your forgotten family line and the surnames and ethnicities that are a part of your history. The more Jewish research you’re willing to do, the more accurate the information you’re bound to find.
The process of discovering this information can be liberating, but never let it define you. You are more than the sum of your past and your forefathers. Take information from as many different sources as you can. This often gives you the highest chance of finding the most accurate facts.
Enjoy the journey into piecing your family tree together through exploring your DNA.