Genetic testing as an aid for genealogical research – personal experience of Chaim Freedman

Lecture given by Chaim Freedman to the Jewish Family Research Association, Petah Tikvah, Israel, May 2008.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are based on a genealogical approach. The author claims no scientific expertise in Genetics.

In October 2006 I received the results of my genetic testing from Family Tree DNA. I had ordered a test of twelve markers on the Y chromosome, my paternal ancestry. (For technical explanations see Family Tree DNA site http://www.familytreedna.com/ ).

Initially I matched exactly with seven families who had tested with FTDNA. Over the course of the following year four more families tested and matched at the 12 marker level.

The families corresponded and exchanged information about their known ancestry in the male line with respect to the dates of their earliest known ancestors and their place of origin.

Subsequently most of the families updated their test to 25 markers and then 37 markers in order to establish more accurately possible common ancestry.

While 11 families matched my markers exactly on 12 markers, only 4 matched exactly on 25 markers while the other families differed on one or more markers. None of the families matched me exactly on 37 markers, but showed a variation of non-matching markers such that the probability of a common ancestor within a reasonable genealogical time frame lessened as a greater numbers of markers were tested.

The following is a list of the families, the date of birth of their earliest known ancestor and their place of origin.

(In the interests of privacy only the initial of the family surname is shown).

C; 1830; Dombroveni, Ukraine (Romania).
F; 1840; Rumania
H; 1850; Slavuta and Starakonstntinovka, Ukraine.
K; 1858; Starakonstantinovka, Ukraine.
L; 1875; Odessa, Ukraine.
Le; no response
Lo; Jugoslavia.
S; 1735; Orinin, Ukraine.
Sa; 1825; Alsace.
Si; 1825, Zinkov, Ukraine.
Z; 1860; Miastovka and Dombroveny, Ukraine.

Freedman; 1780, Zakroczym, Poland.


The Jewish Pale of Settlement in Russia, 1835-1917
from "The Jews of Russia, Their History in maps and photographs"
Martin Gilbert, 1976
Click to enlarge


Podolia, Volynia, Bessarabia, Ukraine - origins of the getetically matching families
Click to enlarge
It is possible for each of the matching families to calculate the number of generations, and thereby years, to the Most Recent Common Ancestor by using that facility on each family’s home pages. Next to each name (in the 37 marker section) is an icon which leads to this facility. It gives a chart showing the percentage probability to our MRCA. BUT we should carry out the second stage of this calculation, which is also provided, by entering the number of generations we know that we are not related. For example, my earliest known ancestor Yaakov Frydman was born about 1780. He was not the ancestor of any of this group. I am fifth generation after him. So I add a factor of five to the calculation. This pushes any MRCA further back. It is up to each of us to then decide what % probability we choose to consider significant for a relationship between us. I adjusted the calculation of the distance to our Most Recent Common Ancestor to 75% probability taking into account that we have no known common ancestor within 5 generations.

Family Tree DNA provides a statistical guide for Most Recent Common Ancestor for 12 identical markers:
7 generations, 50% probability
23 generations, 90% probability
29 generations, 95% probability.

For instance, my closest match is with Z and Si with a genetic difference of 2. That alone does not tell me how far back we may relate. Going to the FTDNA site and entering the above factors for each of Z and Si, I find that at a level of 75% probability our MRCA was 11 generations ago, or about 275 years. If I had not factored in the known non-relationship of 5 generations, I would have reached an incorrect level of relationship of about 9 generations or 225 years.We should also consider geographic proximity (which cannot be factored in mathematically) . For instance H and K both originate in the Slavuta area, Z and C have relatives in the same town Dombroven. This despite the level of DNA match.

In my opinion, based on our experience whereby the more markers we test, the further away from each other we move, for those who have not tested 37 markers the calculations are not worth doing.
Although my family lived in Zakroczym near Warsaw my DNA matches come from Volynia and Podolia.
My great-grandfather Jacob- Bendyt Frydman was born in 1852 in Zakroczym just northwest of Warsaw. His father Zyndel Frydman died there in 1855 and on his death record is written "parentage and birthplace not recorded" although he is called "Zyndel Jakubowicz".
One explanation for the missing information on Zyndel Frydman's death record, may be that he was abducted to serve in the army at an early age,from somewhere in the region of my DNA matches came from (Volynia/Podolia) . I am only surmising his military service, but since he was born in 1808 and had his apparently only son (plus two daughters) not until 1852, the military service may account for his absence. Of course we all know how Jewish young boys were kidnapped at a young age and served for 25 years in the army.
A Russian army fortress, Modlin, was constructed in 1823 near Zakroczym. The scenario I see is that Zyndel Frydman may have been released there about 1852 (when he was nearly aged 25), married a girl from a Zakroczym family (Chanah Gro) and settled there. Since he was kidnapped young, he may not have known anything about his origins, hence the lack of such information on his death.

It is interesting that over the last year since the original matching families have been in contact only three additional people has been discovered, even with a minimal twelve marker match. We await the details of these additional families.
The progress of our updating from 12 markers to 37 markers has demonstrated that it is not worth making assumptions about any possible relationships until at least 37 markers are tested. As we tested more markers, our original supposed exact match on 12 markers moved further and further away, such that none of us now match within a reasonable genealogical time period. But we can be encouraged that our data is within the FTDNA system and can only hope that their testing sample grows significantly.

Significance of ethnicity.

The above group of matching Jewish families are classified by their markers in one or other of the subgroups of I Haplogroup. According to the scientific research papers this haplogroup is not typically Jewish.

I sought a theoretical explanation for this phenomenon.

The statistical distribution of this haplogroup is predominantly Scandinavia, North Germany, France, Britain. A very small number of the recorded/tested families were Jewish.

Yet the common geographic origin of the matching Jewish families may be explained by the introduction of a non-Jewish primogenitor-father in the Ukraine. Given the marital ban on marriages between Jews and Christians, and the Church ban on Christians converting to Judaism, and given that the matching families above are all Jewish in the male line, it could be assumed that the non-Jewish Ukrainian primogenitor raped the female primogenitor during a pogrom in the Ukraine.

Events which may have provided the circumstances for rape:

Crusades in Germany and France 11th century – about 900 years/ 36 generations, which is much earlier than the probability for 12 exactly matching markers.

Pogrom in Kiev 1113 – unlikely source as above.

Black death massacres in Germany late 14th century. May have introduced haplogroup I close to its geographic origin.

Cossack massacres (Khemelnitsky) in the Ukraine 1648-1655. If the son of a Jewish woman raped by a Cossack was born about 1650, given an average family size of 12 children, of whom about 30% died in childhood, and if the survivors were 50% males, then the natural increase per generation was a factor of 4. The child of the rape union may have had 4 sons, 16 grandsons, 64 great-grandsons, 256 great-great-grandsons, and 1024 great-great-great-grandsons.
Ukraine - region of Cossack massacres 1648-1655
Click to enlarge

Given the large number of these hypothetical descendants of the Cossack/Jewish union, one should expect to find many more matches than the eleven families. The reason for such a small number of matches may be due to the small number of families who underwent DNA testing. A search for matches on the Ysearch site http://www.ysearch.org/ yields only a small number of families with the haplogroup I, few of which are Jewish. No Ukrainians appear in this list.
Conversly, no non-Jewish matches were found for the Jewish group. This may indicate that for some reason the group is unique.

It may be concluded that the sample size is too small or that Ukrainians were not tested, such that the above conclusion as to how the matching families are of I haplogroup may lack sufficient evidence.

Until a large sample of Ukrainians have been tested and only if they exhibit significantly I haplogroup, the Cossack rape cause cannot be judged.

Swedish War with Russia and Poland 1655-1658 although evidence (Dubnov) shows that the Swedes were not antagonistic towards the Jews, isolated incidents of rape may have occurred. This could explain the introduction of haplogroup I to a small group of families, perhaps a generation later than that proposed for a Cossack source. Furthermore, being of Scandinavian origin, such a source is in keeping with one of the most prevalent regions of haplogroup I origin.

Source: Simon Dubnov, “The Jews In Russia and Poland”, Philadelphia 1916
Dubnov describes the cruel treatment of the Jews in 1648 by the Cossacks in Podolia and Volynia in such places as Nemirov, Tulchin, Ostropol, Zaslav, Ostrog, Constantinov, Narol, Kreenetz, Bar and many others. The second wave of pogroms in 1655 moved further north into Belarus and Lithuania and Poland.

“The most terrible cruelty, however, was shown towards the Jews. They were destined to utter annihilation. The Cossacks, in conjunction with the local Russian inhabitants, fell upon the Jews and massacred them; the women and girls were violated. The young Jewish women were frequently allowed to live, the Cossacks and the peasants forcing them into baptism and taking them as wives.

After the cessation of the pogroms “Those of them who, at the point of death, had embraced the Greek Orthodox faith, were permitted by King John Casimir to return to their old creed. The Jewish women who had been forcibly baptized fled in large numbers from their Cossack husbands and returned to their families. The losses during the decade 1648-1658 varies between 100,000 and 500,000.”

Further records of the social effect of the pogroms is found in writings of Rabbi Avraham Horowitz, Natan Hannover and the will of Rabbi Sheftel Horowitz “Yesh Nokhlin, 5461/1701: “In all the places where killings were carried out hundreds of small youths, were annihilated, and small babies who were converted were taken by force by the Jews from the Gentiles, and for each was written an amulet from which family he was, by investigation. These amulets were hung on their necks. There was a great mixture and what the wise men of that generation could correct they did, and that which was not possible, remained in the mixture, and it is feared that in the course of years people will cast doubts on their holiness. Therefore it is worthwhile that everyone who was at that time should make a “Seder Yukhsin” (family tree) for his seed and his seed’s seed as a sign and safekeeping”

Reservations about the significance of testing to date:

Of a database of about 134,000 tests done by FTDNA, only 54,000 have been transfered to YSearch . Of these about 4,200 are I haplogroup. Of these only about 170 were tested in Eastern Europe, where most of our families originate. (Figures for YSearch taken in early 2008).Theories as to the significance of ethnic origins of I haplogroup, are, in my opinion, premature.
The significance of Haplogroup to ethnic origins is very controversial.I personally am not impressed with much of what has been published regarding the meaning of Haplogroups to Jewish origins since I do not believe that the samples of Jews are large enough. For instance a sample of about 1400 Jews was taken for a particular experiment. The scope and makeup of the sample was restricted to people from synagogues in the USA.
I feel that there are 5.5 million Jews living in Israel from whom a sample of several hundred thousand could be taken. The problem is the cost. I invested about $500 for my and my wife's tests. I don't think many people are prepared to do that.
There are many opinions there which you can all study and come to your own conclusions. Some have vested interests, religious, political, etc.

Female ancestry

My wife and I tested for our maternal genetic matches. The results, based on Mitochondrial DNA are far less accurate than paternal Y chromosome testing and do not give a clear statistical estimate of the number of generations to a common ancestor. Neverthless, geographic proximaty of matching families does indicate some relationship.

My tests resulted in 132 matches at Low Resolution and only five at High Resolution. Of these five one refused to share their results but two share with me geographic origins in Lithuania.

My wife received 53 Low Resolution matches and 5 High Resolution. Some of her matches originated, like her female ancestry in the Vitebsk area of Belarus.

Scientific papers and Internet sites:

See “Frequently Asked Questions” provided by Family Tree DNA http://www.familytreedna.com/faq.html

Behar, Doron. Skorecki, Karl and others, Contrasting patterns of Y chromosome variation in Ashkenazi Jewish and host non-Jewish European population Human Genetics (2004) 114: 354-365.
http://www.familytreedna.com/pdf/Behar_contrasting.pdf

In the later paper haplogroup diversity of Ashkenazi Jews from various regions was compared with non-Jews. 55 Ukrainian Jews appear in the sample, yet no Ukrainian non-Jews were included.

Behar, Doron. Skorecki, Karl and others “Multiple Origins of Ashkenazi Levites: Y Chromosome Evidence for Both Near Eastern and European Ancestries. American Journal of Human Genetics 73:768-779, 2003.
http://www.ucl.ac.uk/tcga/tcgapdf/Behar-AJHG-03.pdf

Nordtvelt, Ken Population Varities within Y-Haplogroup I and their extended Modal Haplogroups.
http://www.northwestanalysis.net/

Coffman-Levy, Ellen “A Mosaic of People: the Jewish Story and a Reassessment of the DNA Evidence” Journal of Genetic Genealogy 1:12-13, 2005.
http://www.jogg.info/11/coffman.htm
http://majorityrights.com/index.php/weblog/comments/the_mystery_of_ashkenazic_origins/

http://www.familytreedna.com/pdf/43026_doron.pdf
http://forums.familytreedna.com/showthread.php?t=2864
http://www.khazaria.com/genetics/abstracts.html
http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/links3.shtml
http://www.isogg.org/tree/index.html
http://majorityrights.com/index.php/weblog/comments/the_mystery_of_ashkenazic_origins/

A useful layman’s source for the understanding of Jewish genetic testing is “Jacob’s Legacy, A Genetic View of Jewish History”, David B. Goldstein, Yale University Press, 2008.

A Google search for Jewish Genetics will yield a vast number of sources.

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