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Mariah's avatar

Do you have any suggestions for how to research my Jewish ancestry?

Asked by Mariah (25876points) January 4th, 2018

I think I’ve mentioned this on Fluther before, but I did 23andme awhile back and was surprised to find out I had about 30% Ashkenazi Jewish blood. My dad then did both 23andme and AncestryDNA’s tests and got 45%-50% Ashkenazi Jewish. Now our minds are totally blown because this pretty much means my dad had 2 full Jewish grandparents – possibly a full Jewish parent – without him ever hearing a thing about it.

I’ve begun researching my ancestry and have figured out the tree going a few generations back. But how can I find out if any of these people were Jewish? I haven’t seen any stereotypically Jewish names in my lineage or any records of folks being buried in Jewish cemeteries.

I have very few living relatives to interview. My dad’s mom is alive but quite senile. And she’s the only person from my dad’s side of the family I ever got a chance to meet. It was a small family where sadly many people died young, before I was born.

Any help appreciated, thanks.

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10 Answers

canidmajor's avatar

Just a shot in the dark, but maybe ask this question of a local rabbi? There might be some insight that they could come up with to help you. There was a lot of searching for any living relatives going on after the Holocaust, there may be devices in place to trace.

elbanditoroso's avatar

A couple of ideas

Jewish Genealogy website: link

Avotanyu (our fathers) – lots of resources: link

Anything you can find out—names, birthplaces, marriages, immigration info – will help

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

I am not sure about the details, but my brother and cousin are active on Ancestry.com and there is a way to link your family tree on the site to another when you find a common relative. That can quickly increase your reach.

Also, the Mormon church has maybe the most extensive genealogical records existing, to help Mormons baptize their deceased relatives.

They have site very similar to Ancestry.com calle Family Search. I think it’s free. I don’t find anything on the site about fees.

janbb's avatar

Try to look at records for Ellis Island if you have their names. If they were immigrants from Eastern Europe (Ashkenazi Jews), the would probably have come through Ellis Island in the late 19th/early 20th century and if so, their ethnicity should be listed.

If none of these avenues help, you can pm me. My SIL knows a lot about researching Jewish genealogy and I can reach out to her.

Mariah's avatar

Familysearch is what I’ve been using already, mainly. It’s very good. I did also know about JewishGen but I need to get the hang of using it. It’s been hard for me to find anything useful there.

Thanks for the hint towards Ellis Island, Jan, that seems like a great idea.

I’ll let you guys know if I end up figuring anything out!

si3tech's avatar

@Mariah Interesting you should ask. Just yesterday I sent for a kit from an ancestry site. Just looking at the sites, it seems you can go into this to various levels. For medical reasons, ethnicity, location of relatives, family. I hope you are able to find the information you are looking for.

Mariah's avatar

We’re pretty sure we’ve figured it out, and that it involves an affair several generations ago!

My dad has 50% Jewish blood, so he needs to have two Jewish grandparents. We had our eyes on his paternal grandmother, because she has a parent with a stereotypically Jewish last name. But even if his paternal grandmother were Jewish, that only explained half his Jewish blood. We’ve been focusing on trying to figure out the second half.

Well, 23andme has a feature where you can opt in to see other 23andme users who are related to you. My dad connected with a woman about his age named Dorie who is supposedly closely related – 23andme predicted first cousins. Dad was surprised because he has done a fair amount of genealogy research and had never heard of Dorie or any of her parents, siblings, etc. before. He’s talking with Dorie, and I’ve done research on Dorie’s family using familysearch. Dorie was born in Maryland, but I’ve found that Dorie’s dad was born in Chicago 5 years after my dad’s dad was born in Chicago. I also found that Dorie’s dad’s dad was buried in a Jewish cemetery.

I believe that my dad’s paternal grandmother had an affair with Dorie’s grandfather, who was Jewish, and that he is my dad’s biological paternal grandfather. This is crazy for my family if true, because it would mean we are not biologically members of the family whose surname we hold! Luckily my dad was not close with (the person he believed was) his paternal grandfather, so this revelation isn’t as painful as it could be.

We’re going to continue talking to Dorie and see what else we can figure out! This has been incredibly interesting to study.

Mariah's avatar

A further update: we talked to Dorie, and it turns out the research I did on Dorie using familysearch is null and void, because the man who raised her is not her bio dad. Her bio dad is a Jewish sperm donor from the Chicago area. And…..we are now learning that this man must also be my dad’s bio dad. Ancestry.com has indicated that my dad is closely related to 6 different people who are known to be children of this sperm donor.

What a wild weekend this has been for my family. My dad had NO IDEA that the man who raised him, Wayne, wasn’t his bio dad. But, it kind of makes sense. Wayne was very ill with diabetes and died when my dad was only 17. My dad was an only child, and his parents had him late in life. They must have tried for years to have children, and finally gotten a sperm donor after learning or positing that Wayne was infertile. I just can’t believe my dad was never told!

canidmajor's avatar

Back in those days (when your father was likely conceived) @Mariah, there was such a deep stigma surrounding male infertility and anonymous donation that it would have been highly unlikely that the secrets would ever be revealed, if it was possible to keep it under wraps.

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