23andMe Helps Uncover Hidden Jewish Ancestry

When he was seven years old, Francisco Caravayo’s Puerto Rican grandmother told him a secret that he didn’t really grasp until decades later when he tested with 23andMe.

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity to finally have confirmation of my history,” Francisco said.Francisco Photo 1

When he tested with 23andMe, Francisco had wanted to contribute to research while exploring a little of his family’s Portuguese ancestry.

“My brother and I always felt as if there was a culture of secrets in our family,” said Francisco.  “When my grandmother said to all my cousins, ‘Never forget, you are of God’s chosen people,’ I knew what she meant, but didn’t understand why we couldn’t talk about it.”

In telling his story, Francisco goes back to his childhood, growing up in a Latino neighborhood. Most of his friends were Catholic, and although his family was  Lutheran and went to church regularly, something didn’t feel quite right to him.

“We went to church, but my father was always saying things like ‘Remember, Jesus was a Jew,’” Francisco said.

After Francisco went away to college, he had a discussion one day with a Portuguese professor about his last name.  She told him that his surname was taken by Portuguese Jews many of whom had been forced to convert to Catholicism by the Inquisition, and many of these Conversos fled to Latin America to escape persecution.Star of David

There were other clues.  His grandmother lit candles on Friday nights.  She taught the family that dairy and milk were not to be mixed and that shellfish was to be avoided.  Pork was eaten apologetically.  Christmas and Easter were not celebrated with joy, but with what can only be described as obligation, as if performing a chore.  And when Francisco’s father died, Francisco followed family tradition: no clergy were present at the funeral and no Christian iconography was put on the gravestone.

He began to explore his Portuguese roots and studying more about Judaism.  Shortly afterward, he saw an article in OUT Magazine about 23andMe’s research.  Francisco decided to get tested as a way to not just contribute to research, but also explore his own ancestry.

His results indicated Iberian ancestry, but also he saw that his paternal haplotype was shared by 20-to-30 percent of Sephardic Jews.

“That information was so grounding,” said Francisco. “I didn’t expect to find that I was 100 percent Jewish, because my ancestors tried to blend in and marry non-Jews, but I finally had evidence.”

He traced his haplogroup’s migration, and it matched up with the diaspora’s migratory patterns.  He was one of thousands of families whose ancestors had escaped persecution by hiding their religion.

“I was sitting at the computer crying,” said Francisco

Not only did Francisco find answers to his past, but he also found a community of people on the 23andMe message boards that shared the same haplotype.  Through the online community, he’s been able to meet others like him and trade stories and information.

Francisco has now completed his conversion process to Judaism.  While he was going through the conversion, he met his current partner, who is Jewish too.

“I finally felt whole,” he said.

  • gabi532

    Very cool! :)

  • Eric Uhden

    What a great story!!!

  • Karen Moody

    Hi there, Karen Moody here. I had been asked by several Jewish mothers who asked me if I was Jewish. I said no. They looked at me puzzled and are you sure? Well, we never attended anything Jewish before or celebrated in the Jewish manner. I asked my cousin, if we were Jewish. He said no. No one ever mentioned it that he could remember. The name Fraidenburg or Fraidenburgh or other spellings, no one knew where it originated from and I thought the Weiss or Wise were also Jewish but nothing was written about it. I was surprised to find out that I am Ashkenazi Jewish in my heritage. Not much but my DNA shows it. Not sure who is Jewish either. Like digging in Family Tree stuff and love to research whatever I can. I love history and if it is my history or my husband’s, it is not a chore but a real love.

    I know that people don’t share surnames so many disregard being related but the DNA says we are connected. Some how, some where and with some people, we are connected.

    Hello out there. Welcome to the Human Race and Welcome to our family. Enjoy!

    Karen Moody in Puyallup, Washington

  • Victor medina

    I just found out I’m Shepard in jew from my dad side. Is very interesting and ready to start becoming a real jew

  • http://www.kimskitchensink.com/ Kim’s Kitchen Sink

    Super cool!!

  • Harry Zhang

    I did a DNA test and concluded based on the results as well as family history and culture that I have Sephardic Jewish and Northwest Coast Native American ancestry.

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