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Hebrew DNA Research

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About us

The Hebrew DNA Research Project is designed to identify common allele patterns among individuals who, based upon family tradition or otherwise, have reason to believe that they may have had Hebrew ancestors. The term Hebrew refers to individuals or descendants of individuals claiming descent from Abraham, Isaac and/or Jacob.  

See this extract from   http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/jewish-world-news/.premium-1.626156

Where did the Jews originate?

For Bennett Greenspan, the founder and president of Family Tree DNA, there’s little doubt, and it can all be proven with a swab of cheek cells. 
The overwhelming majority of Jews living today should be able to trace their roots back to the Middle East with a little DNA testing, he maintains, and all those who claim otherwise, as far as he’s concerned, have their history wrong.
“We’re not interlopers who came here from Eastern Europe, and we’re not Serbs or Kazars,” says Greenspan. “You can use whatever polemic you want to discredit the Jews or discredit the nation, but saying that we weren’t here is a lie.”

Greenspan was referring to the controversial book written by Tel Aviv University historian Shlomo Sand, which asserts that the Jews of today did not originate in this part of the world and that a “nation-race” of Jews never existed. Most of today’s Jews, he argues in “The Invention of the Jewish People” (2008), are the descendants of people who lived elsewhere in the world and were converted to Judaism. However, a major study published two years later by Harry Ostrer, a medical geneticist from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, claims that many contemporary Jews do, indeed, have a distinctive genetic signature and can trace their ancestry back to the Middle East.

Greenspan delivered a guest lecture in Israel on Wednesday at the Netanya Academic College on the DNA of the Jews. Nothing more than a bit of saliva, insists the entrepreneur and genealogy enthusiast, is required to prove the similarities in the genetic make-up of most Jewish men and women, and that’s because their ancestors once lived the same place. In response to a question from Haaretz, Greenspan said he estimates that “No less than 75 percent of Ashekanzi, Sephardi or Mizrahi Jews, their ancestors came from what we call the general Middle East” – an assessment which he says is based on his company’s database.

Family Tree DNA, a U.S.-based company with distributors in Europe and the United Arab Emirates and which Greenspan founded in 2000 while he was semi-retired, was the first company in the world to offer commercial DNA test kits. Today, about a half dozen other such companies exist. “I had sold my photographic supply business and was puttering around the house, getting in my wife’s way,” he recounts. “Finally, she said you should either pick up golf or go back to genealogy, at which point I started researching the only line of my eight great-grandparents’ lineages that I had never worked on.”

When he was eventually able to establish through DNA testing his blood relationship to someone in Argentina from that branch of family, Greenspan decided it was time to turn his life-long hobby into a business. To date, Family Tree DNA has tested more than one million people and has more than 700,000 records in its database. Among its more famous clients is the National Geographic Society. Altogether, says Greenspan, Jews comprise only about 3-4 percent of his clientele – much bigger than their share in the U.S. population, but just a fraction of his business.

One of his major discoveries through DNA testing in the United States, says Greenspan, was that Ashkenazi Jews bear genetic similarities to Hispanic Catholics living in New Mexico and Colorado. “In fact, there was evidence of Hispanic women in those places coming down with similar types of breast cancer as Ashkenazi Jews,” he says. “What it means to me is that these Hispanics were actually the descendants of Anusim, or forced converts.”

Arabs are no less curious about their genealogy than Jews, says Greenspan, who counts many resident of the Gulf States among his clients. And just as Jewish Cohanim, or priests, have been increasingly making use of DNA testing to try and prove that they are direct descendants of Moses’s brother Aaron, so too have those Muslims who believe themselves to be descendants of the prophet Mohammed. “That is considered a very big deal for them,” he says.

Not long after he landed in Israel the other night, recalls Greenspan, he received a phone call from a client in Riyadh, who had suspected he might have some Jewish ancestry and was interested in finding out whether his test results were available yet. A test by Family Tree DNA determined that this Arab from Saudi Arabia was 7 percent Jewish, meaning 7 percent of his ancestors were determined to be Jewish. “I told him the difference between him and me is that he’s a Muslim Arab and I’m a Jewish Arab. Period. Just like there are Christian Arabs. But the majority of us men, whether we’re Saudi, Palestinian, Syrian or Jews – the majority of us came from the Middle East a long, long time ago. Some of us left. Some of us didn’t. DNA shows that.”

This arrived in a recent  FINDMYPAST newsletter (my date 5 May 2016)
                          Getting started with Jewish family history
by Alex Cox
26 January 2015
Like any family history research, tracing Jewish roots can be a complex but highly rewarding undertaking. Those who do explore their Jewish heritage are likely to uncover a rich tapestry of history and culture along the way.
Start building your own family tree

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Spanning more than 8,000 years, Jewish history is one of the oldest in the world and the ethnic group's origins can be traced all the way back to early biblical times – although we'll be highly impressed if you manage to get your tree back that far! We've put together a few hints and tips to help you find out more about Jewish ancestry in Britain and get the most out of our records.

Jewish history – a brief overview

The Jewish people endured a turbulent history. They were taken into captivity by the Babylonians in the 6th century, lived under Roman occupation from 630 BCE to 324 CE, endured the Crusades and survived the unsettled Mamluk period.

From the 1880s through the early part of the 20th century, massive pogroms and harsh laws in Eastern Europe, once home to around 30% of the world's Jews, caused millions to flee to the United States and Britain. Then, during the middle of the 20th century, Adolph Hitler set out to systematically annihilate the ethnic Jews of Europe, triggering a horrific series of events that would dramatically impact the Jewish population as well as the rest of the world.

Massive pogroms and harsh laws in Eastern Europe, once home to around 30% of the world's Jews, caused millions to flee to the United States and Britain
Despite this troubled and sometimes tragic history, Jewish people who made Britain their home have had a hugely positive influence in the fields of science, culture and economy. Those searching for their Jewish roots are likely to discover that there are many bright moment in Jewish history that have left a lasting mark on British society.

We've put together five useful points to get you started with your Jewish family history research.

1. Get talking

The best way to start investigating your families Jewish origins is to find out as much as you can from living relatives. Family members may know far more than you realise and it is significantly easier to find documents by confirming and building on known facts than it is to start from scratch. Keep talking to older relatives during the course of your research and keep them informed of any new discoveries you make, as these could trigger valuable memories and unearth forgotten details.

2. Searching census records

Censuses in England and Wales have been taken every ten years and, from 1841 to 1911, are available to search online. They are particularly useful as they identify all members of the household and specify the relationship of each household member to the head of household.

If you have information about someone who was alive in the UK at the time of the 1911 census, you should be able to find their parents, siblings, children, and maybe even grandparents. Census records not only provide you with names and relationships, they can also provide ages, places of birth, occupations, year of immigrations. Information is only as accurate as the knowledge of the person interviewed and the person's ability to communicate with the census taker, but if you get several years of census records, a consensus will develop.

If you have information about someone who was alive in the UK at the time of the 1911 census, you should be able to find their parents, siblings, children, and maybe even grandparents
Census records are also particularly useful as they cover a period of significant Jewish Immigration into the UK. Between 1880 and 1914, an estimated 120,000 Ashkenazi Jews (from Central and Eastern Europe) arrived in the UK having fled persecution in Russia and Poland. If you are able to find your Jewish ancestors in the 1911 census, it is likely that you will be able to trace the family's movements right back to their arrival in the UK.

3. Occupations

Jewish people carried out a wide variety of occupations in late nineteenth century and early twentieth century Britain, but they were especially strongly represented in the garment trade. Large numbers of British Jews also worked as tobacconists, cabinet makers, shopkeepers and merchants in international trade and export.

As census records list occupation, they can provide further clues as to your family's Jewish heritage. If your ancestors were working in one of these professions and were based in an area of heavy Jewish settlement, it is fair to assume that they were members of the Jewish community. Examining the census returns of their neighbours may also provide further clues. It is also important to note that Jews were often listed as 'journeymen' in census records to indicate their migrant status.

4. Tracing names

Historically, many British Jews felt under pressure to assimilate and did so at the cost of their cultural identity. To ease assimilation and avoid the widespread “Germanophobia" of the early 20th century, many British Jews chose to Anglicize their family names. It may be possible to make an educated guess as to your family's original Jewish name, as most immigrants chose surnames that either alluded to their tribal identities, sounded similar to original spellings, or were simply shortened down versions so keep a close eye on how names appear across the various censuses.

To ease assimilation and avoid the widespread "Germanophobia" of the early 20th century, many British Jews chose to Anglicize their family names
As most immigrants had their names changed upon arrival in UK, finding original name spellings can be difficult. Searching immigration records is a good place to start but, as most immigrants had their names changed upon arrival in UK, naturalisation records are perhaps the best way to confirm the origins of your family's name. Naturalisation records allow you to ascertain when or if a person obtained British citizenship or the lesser status of denizen. If your Jewish ancestor settled in Manchester, try searching our Manchester Naturalisation Society 1896-1909 records.

5. Where did the Jewish population settle?

By 1919, the Jewish population had increased from 46,000 in 1880 to about 250,000, who lived primarily in the large industrial cities, especially London, Manchester and Leeds.

In London, Jews lived primarily in the Spitalfields and Whitechapel areas, close to the docks, and hence the East End became known as a Jewish neighbourhood. Manchester, and neighbouring Salford, were also areas of heavy Jewish settlement, particularly the Strangeways, Cheetham and Broughton districts.Unlike much of the Jewish community in Poland, the Jewish community in England generally embraced assimilation into wider English culture. They started Yiddish and Hebrew newspapers and youth movements such as the Jewish Lads' Brigade. Immigration was eventually restricted by the Aliens Act 1905, following pressure from groups such as the British Brothers League. The 1905 legislation was followed by the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act 1919.

You can find out much more about the Jewish population in Britain in our records. Why not look through our census records, our Manchester naturalisation records, or our collection of historic British Newspapers and see what you can discover about your Jewish ancestry?