Ashkenazi and Me — Discovering Unknown Jewish Ancestry with 23andMe

Jennie Cole, c.1895

As the series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. begins its 10-week run on PBS, The Spittoon will feature posts from 23andMe’s Ancestry Ambassadors featuring their own stories about using DNA to dig into ancestry. By CeCe Moore I have always felt a special affinity for Jewish people and their heritage. Throughout my life I have had many Jewish friends. I have even been mistaken for a Jewish person despite having no known Jewish ancestors. As a result, I was especially intrigued when, after 23andMe’s Ancestry Finder launched in 2010, I found that a number of people with segments of DNA that matched mine were self-identified as Ashkenazi Jews. The Ancestry Finder lab seeks to graphically illustrate the country of origin for certain segments of your DNA by locating stretches that match those of people from specific geographic regions. Ancestry Finder also identifies matching segments for Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.

My Ancestry Finder chart showing matches with people who have three Ashkenazi grandparents

In particular, in my Ancestry Finder results I noticed a cluster on my seventh chromosome that appeared to contain a significant number of matches with self-declared Ashkenazi ancestry. When I examined the downloaded spreadsheet of Ancestry Finder matches, I discovered that on Chromosome 7 between the positions 51,500,000 and 146,700,000, I had no less than 47 matches with people who self-identify as, at least, partially Jewish. These matches all appeared to be rather small and concentrated on that one spot, but it did cause me to ponder the possibility that I could have distant Jewish ancestors. Investigating further, I found that my mother had no matches associated with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry on her Ancestry Finder lab. Since my father is deceased, I asked my paternal uncle to test in his place. When I received his results, there it was clear as day, that same Ashkenazi cluster on his seventh chromosome! In fact, his Jewish connection appeared to be even more substantial than mine, with 69 self-described “Ashkenazi” matches on Chromosome 7 between positions 39,400,000 and 103,400,000 found in the Ancestry Finder match download.

Paternal Uncle’s matches with people who have three Ashkenazi grandparents.

Notably, my paternal uncle’s results also included a number of Public Matches in 23andMe’s Relative Finder who list their ancestry as Jewish. Most of these are predicted as “Distant Cousins”, which probably explains why they don’t show up in my Relative Finder. In this case, testing just one generation further back in time revealed very useful information. While this Ashkenazi ancestry is fairly distant, it certainly appears to be authentic. With approximately 70% of my uncle’s chromosomes covered in Ancestry Finder, 3.6% – 7.8% is declared Ashkenazi. With this in mind, I would guess that he and my father have a 2nd great-grandparent of primarily Jewish descent or several ancestors with lesser amounts of Jewish ancestry.

Paternal Uncle’s matches with people who have one Ashkenazi grandparent.

Since the majority of the matches cluster in the same area, the most likely conclusion is that this DNA is inherited from a single ancestor. My paternal family tree is fairly complete and so far without an obvious suspect, but since my father’s great-grandmother Jennie Cole’s father is unknown, this scenario is certainly a viable possibility. In order to focus in on this prospect, I would need to test more of Jennie’s descendants to isolate her DNA and determine if there is evidence of Jewish ancestry in the portions of the DNA that each of them inherited from Jennie. Since the paternity of Jennie has long been an enigma to me, this is a very intriguing new avenue of exploration for my genealogy research. Before testing at 23andMe, I never would have imagined that I had Jewish ancestry. Now that I have discovered this tantalizing fact, I am on the hunt to learn more about this elusive ancestor! 23andMe provides genetic testing services for informational purposes; your results may or may not help you to search for or identify relatives or family members.

  CeCe Moore is a genetic genealogist specializing in the use of autosomal DNA for genealogy. She writes the popular blog Your Genetic Genealogist and works as a television producer with StudioINTV.   CeCe is the Southern California Regional Coordinator of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), serves on the Advisory Board of the Mixed Roots Foundation and is a member of Mensa.  Her favorite genetic experiment is her seven-year old son, Nicolas.      
  • Harley Koepf

    Nice blog

    • AlexUhthoff999


      I have a VERY strong interest in Jewish Haplogroups. I am part of Geographic and Family Tree DNA groups. I just joined 23andme. I am awaiting my kit to do a full run on my genetic traits and family.

      On my Ydna I was found to be E1b1b1c M123 and on my Mtdna was found haplogroup K. I wish to ask if you seen this combination and is it strong in Jewish/Hebrew linage’s?

      I know of my family history and found to be Jewish as far back as 8th century. But there is a mystery I wish to unveil which I will not state here I want it to pop out though others studies. With 23andME I see that there is a percentage you can find out how much of this or that you have in you, So I am more interested in phenotypes which is down my line of my questions I need to adress.

      Thank you for your time if you can help me with the question I asked you.

      Alexander Uhthoff

      • Derek Halpern

        I am ashkenazi jewISH m123…e1b1b1c1a…E1b1b1c1a is most likely not Semitic,,,we were an ancient cannanite tribe that was conquered during the judean/hebrew conquests..

  • Andrea Kraay

    Dear CeCe –

    Thank you for sharing your story. I found it particularly interesting because I had a very similar experience after testing with 23andMe. Coincidentally most of my self-described “Ashkenazi” matches are on Chromosome 7, too. I’m still gathering information about the Eastern European branches of my paternal grandmother’s family tree and, while I haven’t clearly identified a Jewish ancestor, I’ve narrowed it to a select few 2nd or 3rd great grandparents.

    Unfortunately many records relating to Eastern European Jewish families have been destroyed or lost and none of my genetic cousins and I can’t trace our families back far enough to connect our trees. Do you have any tips for researching these illusive mid-19th century ancestors?

    And, maybe it’s in my genes…I married a Jewish person!

    Andrea Kraay-Goldsztein
    Mountain View, CA

    • Janine O’Flaherty

      Yes, immigrant ancestors create a brick wall for most American Jews… immigration and population records from England, Scandinavia, etc. are well-kept, and I’ve tracked some of the non-AJ branches of my family tree back to the 1400s, but my Russian Jew immigrant grandfather’s tree stops at his parents. There are zero leads to track his family history in Russia. It’s very frustrating.

      If you had gobs of money, it might be possible to actually travel to whatever Eastern European country your AJ family hailed from, and pore through records if they still exist.

      When I really want a sense of my Jewish ancestry, I take comfort in the fact that the AJ community is mostly descended from a genetic bottleneck of about 330 Jews back in the 14th century. That’ll suffice as a family tree for now. We’re all cousins.

  • Kevin Carter

    Hello CeCe.

    Thank you for writing this blog and this post. Like Andrea and yourself, I tested on 23andme and found that I had definite Ashkenazic Jewish ancestry. I have 670 Relative Finder cousins, and at least 1/3 of them have Ashkenazic Eastern European roots. Most of them are among the more distant cousins in RF.

    The twist is that I am of very substantial African ancestry and had no clue of exactly where any European or, for that matter, non-African ancestors may have came from. So while it is surprising to me that there are definite Ashkenazic origins, it is also disturbing that I have no way of figuring out where in my family tree these ancestors may reside. I don’t know if the Jewish ancestor(s) are on my mother’s or father’s side (though my mom’s side is more mixed, so it seems it might be her side). My self-described Ashkenazic matches are on Chromosomes 6, 12 and 13. Another poster on RF Community said that I look like 1/16th AJ (one great-great grandparent).

    People often talk about roadblocks and brick walls. I’ve got a bunker here.

  • Barbara Ellison

    I also have felt a connection to Jewish people since I was a very young child, and found myself drawn to people I didn’t even know were Jewish til later in the friendships.. I always wondered why I was so intensely interested in Jewish history..Never had a clue that I had Jewish ancestry until the DNA test..I am fortunate in that it is my maternal line that shows it because I can track my maternal line back several generations..and it all makes sense..Including the fact that the Jewishness was hidden on purpose..Yet at least a couple of Jewish traditions did pass down the generations to me, though we never knew it was Jewish..til I researched it.. Sure makes the world seem more coherent..And speaks volumes on the notion of genetic and/or “soul” memory…

  • This article was very interesting. I also have found many people questioning me when their dna shows up with Ashkenazi written by their results, and they had not known of any Jewish roots. I have 1020 matches, , but only my father’s side of the family were Jewish. My mother had converted when she married my father. I believe all of these matches are on my paternal side. I haven’t been able to put them on the tree as they go back too far for me and my tree hasn’t been able to go back that far. My father’s family came from Lithuanian and Polish Jewish families. # 7 chromosome has been pretty sparse, but #1, 2, 3, 8, and 10 have been very popular.

  • Leila Paul

    Judaism is an appealing religion because it claims that those who adopt the Jewish faith become unique among a solitary God. Reports of mass conversion to Judaism are plentiful. Before it became unpopular, many would have converted to Judaism and usually when one finds a religion appealing, their relatives and/or friends will be persuaded by the same ideas.

    We also know that if the “out of Africa” theory is correct, then most of the peoples of the world passed through the Near East at some time or other. That they would have adopted Judaism is not surprising. But to suggest that Jewishness is found in genes is so irrational that it’s self-defeating. The whole purpose of finding one’s roots is already negated if one is going to use religious ideology as the basis for feeling contented with one’s chosen-ness.

    The fact that we’re all related to some degree is affirmed by 23andMe. Yet, here we have an identity of people who revel in being able to claim some connection to Ashkenazi Jews. Repeat the word Ashkenazi. it is European groups who were Jewish either through migration or conversion. That there is some degree of connection to someone who was Jewish by faith at some point is not surprising.

    What this also confirms is that there is only a tenuous connection with the place of origin of the ideas that gave rise to the Jewish ideology. It arose from the cultures of ancient Mesopotamia from the time of the Sumerians and later Judaism’s ideology was borrowed from Ugarit – both these civilizations left behind tablets in cuneiform and alphabet cuneiform that reveal the myths of Sumer and Ugarit were borrowed.

    Further, rabbinic literature contends that Jebusites and the Anatolian Hittites were the same people. Jerusalem was the stronghold of the Jebusites who named Jerusalem Jebus. Assyrians, who were transferred into that land under the Assyrian empire to displace the expelled inhabitants, likely renamed it Ur Shalem, the city of peace. Samaritans were the descendants of the Sumerians transferred to the region which explains the animosity of Judeans and Samaritans.

    Mount Zion was the Jebusite fortress near Jerusalem that could not be defeated until the man known as David was able to finally seize Mount Zion – and thus even the name of the modern Zionist movement was founded on a Jebusite name – Mount Zion. If David ancestor was a Moabite and his son Solomon’s mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uria the Hittite, then Solomon was descended of both Hittites and a Moabite. How “Jewish” is that?

    So let’s dispense with what appears to be equating an ideology – Judaism – that was synthesized (if not plagiarized) from ancient non-Jewish cultures and trying to make that ethnic roots or genetic identities.

    Europeans who identified as Ashkenazim may have had much genetic origin from the Near or Middle East. But that only proves that the region was the source of a few religious ideologies. Their ethnicities remain highly heterogeneous except for the small pockets of groups who practiced endogamy into recent times.

  • Jerry Sexton

    I’ve always suspected that I had to have some Jewish bloodlines .. then 23andMe found them for me. I found plenty of matches with declared Ashkenazi Jews.

    There is, however, one seriously big problem associated with this …. my sisters are already difficult enough to deal with without adding ‘Jewish Princess’ to their resumes.

  • Wow, I am pleased to see so many great comments! I’m sorry that I didn’t check in before. I will try to address them now.

    @Harley – Thanks Cousin! (Harley and I just discovered that we are 3rd cousins through a match at 23andMe. We share an ancestral line that would be the alternate possibility for the origin of the AJ ancestry described above.)

    @Andrea – I am certainly no expert on Eastern European genealogy, but I can provide a few good links to point you in the right direction: (JewishGen’s Eastern European FAQs) (Series on Eastern European research by Stephen Danko) (’s list of Eastern European resources by Lisa Alzo – many favorites here)

    @Kevin – You didn’t say if you have any older relatives to test. Can you test your parents or aunts/uncles? If not, how about cousins? If you were able to systematically test your known relatives, you could identify which branch the AJ ancestry is on. I’m working on that now for myself. Eventually, I am confident that we will be able to solve puzzles like this one.

    @Barbara – That is fascinating! In my research, I have come across many instances that seem to support the idea of genetic memory.

    @Nadene – It seems that many of us are discovering unknown ancestry! Thanks for helping. You most likely have more matches than 1020 and have hit the “cap”. I don’t know if you are aware that 23andMe currently limits the number of matches for each person to around 1000. As a person with half AJ ancestry, you likely have thousands of matches in the system, but due to the homogenous nature of the Ashkenazi gene pool, most would be too far back to be able to trace anyway.

    Thank you all for the wonderful comments! I’m so glad that you enjoyed my post.

  • Leila Paul

    So are most Askenazi Jews the Khazars who converted to Judaism as identified in this research?

    If so, then is Khazari an ethnicity or is Jewishness an ethnicity and are today’s Askenazi Jews mostly Khazars and/or other Europeans?

    If so, does that make Israel the new Khazaria? This is becoming confusing.

    Is being Jewish two ethnicities as is indicated in the discussion of Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews? Or is Jewishness a religion to which east Europeans converted?

    One has to assume that since there are some middle east genetic links among European Jews would these be from some migrants whom came from the middle east who were already of the Jewish faith?

    Would someone at 23andMe and please clarify what is religion and what is ethnicity?

  • Leila Paul

    So, if I’m descended of many generations of Christian Palestinians on both sides of my family, and I was born in Bethlehem Palestine and we left because of the invasion by Zionist Ashkenazi Jews – here are some of the ironies.

    We likely converted WILLINGLY to Christianity and were NOT forced to convert to Islam.

    But we were forced out by Jewish Ashkenazim in 1947, descended of Khazari converts, who caused us to leave – we who are likely the original Judeans. And the Judeans were a collection of many tribes – not just the self-appointed chosen people.

    And yes my genetic similarity is close to Jews and also to Turks.

    So where’s the moral justification for pushing out, or encouraging to leave, the original residents of Palestine in order to rename it Judea and make it a European state in the middle of an Arab region?

    I must also add I find it most un-attractive that people are so eager – gloating, in fact – to find some link to what they call Khazari “royalty”. What – is their DNA proven to be superior? Is there blue DNA like blue blood?

    So who are the racial supremacists now? And all this occurs amid efforts to belittle or dehumanize Palestinians. Any proof yet that Jewish Khazari DNA is superior to Palestinian DNA that might have been the original Jews?

    Even those 12 tribes of ancient biblical times who claimed to be superior were plagiarizing the ideologies of all the other cultures in the region including, as I noted above, the Ugarit, Sumerian, Jebusite and other cultural legends and myths.

    • gary

      Leila – the Khazar connection has already been dismissed by process of elimination by DNA testing. The latest DNA results show that the closest relatives to Palestinians are……………Ashkenazi Jews. Go figure, a family affair 🙂

  • Mike

    I have searched this website for the keywords Palestine and Palestinian but came short on any useful genetic information. A paper published in 2000 by geneticists Harry Ostrer, a professor of genetics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and University of Arizona geneticist Michael Hammer showed Jews share common Y-DNA haplotypes that are also found among many Arabs from Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. So when my Palestinian friend submitted her sample for testing, when the results came back there was no mention of any possible Palestinian, Lebanese, or Syrian roots but somehow she had an Ashkanazi link. This is science in the service of ideology.

    • Another problematic aspect is that “Jewish” and “Askenazi” are being conflated — when in reality, there are other ethnic Jewish groups such as Sephardim and Mizrahim. The lack to self report as any other ethnic Jew is hurtful, and ties into your comment since Jews and many other ethno-religious groups have always lived in that area.

    • Neb-Maat-Re

      If your friend is female she doesn’t have any y-DNA so her test was autosomal. The timeframes between sharing autosomal DNA (a couple of hundred years) and y-DNA (potentially thousands of years() are significantly different. The other question is whether there is actually a sizable database of Palestinian, Lebanese, or Syrian to report against – you can’t compare what hasn’t been sampled. rather than ideology the issue would be the sophistication of testing.

  • samadamsthedog

    Hey, CeCe,

    I’m only a dog, but I think your Ashkenazic ancestor might be elusive, but is unlikely to be “illusive”.

    • ScottH

      Thanks for sniffing that out.

  • folsom1

    The closest cousins of Jews are Kurds and Armenians, DNA doesn’t lie!

  • Jeffrey Hall

    I just received my 23andme results back this weekend and found out that I am 45% Ashkenazi. I was floored. I was adopted at birth and I never knew this fact until now. I am now learning to understand this new aspect about my life.

    • Christian Lepley

      Hi Jeffrey. The same thing just happened to me. How certain can we be of this information in terms of describing our ancestry to others going forward?

      • Janine O’Flaherty

        If it registers you as having a large quantity of AJ, like what happened to you and me and Jeffrey, then you can take that to the bank. 1% AJ might be just a glitch in the matrix, but once you get into the double digits, that’s no accident. It can’t be chalked up to neighboring Slavic genes being conflated with Ashkenazi ones.

        What I do nowadays when someone asks me my ancestry is I tell them i’m 100% European (I am). If they ask me specific ancestries, I tell them my main ones – 3/4 Northern European and 1/4 Ashkenazi. It’s really that simple.

        If I lived in the South or Midwest where many people are antisemitic, admitting AJ ancestry might be a problem, but here in Miami no one really cares except some Hispanics, and I find it fun to shock them with the information and challenge their preconceptions.

        • txtea

          What gives you the idea that there are many antisemites in the south and midwest?? I have lived in both places and can assure you it is not the case.

    • Janine O’Flaherty

      45% means you have one full AJ parent, as most full AJs do not test 100% AJ but in the 90%’s, with other scattered influences making up the rest.

      Have you checked if your MtDNA is one of the haplotypes associated with Ashkenazim? If your mother and her mother (and so on) were Jewish, then you qualify for Israel’s Law of Return and are considered a legitimate Jew by Orthodox standards.

      I too was adopted at birth, and my 23andme results floored me as well when I found out that I’m a quarter AJ. However, it turned out to be from my grandfather on my mom’s side, who was a Russian Jew immigrant to the US. His wife, my grandmother, was a typical whitebread Euro-American (shiksa, lol). Consequently I don’t count as Jewish and so I can’t get the associated perks… Bummer…

      • Eliezer BenYosef

        You are wrong. Yes, Orthodox Jews consider only children born of Jewish mother’s to be Jewish, However, you are wrong about Israel’s Law of Return. To be eligible for the Law of Return you only need one Jewish grandparent ( and it can be one of father’s parents).

        • Janine O’Flaherty

          How sure are you about that?? That’s not what I’ve been told. I will be thrilled if that is true. Please post a link.

  • Tolga Yetis

    Hi Cece, I’ve no known Jewish ancestry but my grandparents are from places which have strong ties with Jewish populations (like Salonika, Antioch, Jerusalem, Cairo etc.). Different calculators and McDonald’s analysis(shows 89-90% all Jewish) point out that my autosomal DNA is most similar to that of Sephardic Jews. I have recently sent my 23andme kit back for the testing. I’m very curious whether 23andme will be able to detect any jewish ancestry. Is 23andme planning to add Sephardic Jews as reference population?

  • Apeliotes

    I think you have to be somewhat wary of the ashkenazi results on 23 and me. My test showed that I had less than 0.1% ashkenazi genes (they also said I was 0.1% East Asian which is an absolute impossibility) – even with the low number, I was somewhat surprised as I know my family are from rural Scotland and have been for centuries. Then I researched further into how 23 and me allocate genetic backgrounds. I noticed firstly that your results come in three separate version – conservative, standard and speculative. The ashkenazi link did not appear at in the “conservative” version. That led me to investigate how 23 and me calculate these results, and it seemed that their methodology is somewhat flawed.

    I noticed for the ashkenazi link on my results, 23 and me had said they had to speculate that my result was ashkenazi, based on results from other customers who had self identified as Jewish. However, my mother’s haplogroup is K, a group which is shared by many ashkenazi Jews because of intermarriage with a European woman with the k haplogroup (I. E. There’s nothing inherently Jewish about haplogroup k, it’s a European haplogroup that a lot of Jews happen to have).

    Researching further, I find out that 23 and me was particularly popular with ashkenazi Jews, looking for information on genetic health problems (which I believe can be an issue in that community). The results therefore are very likely to be skewed – a disproportionate amount of Ashkenazi users has meant that 23 and me’s data is skewed. They’re identifying broadly European genes as ashkenazi when it’s very probable that they’re not.

    I think that 23 and me is doing its customers a potential disservice here – in particular because they show your genetic make up in “speculative” mode by default. I also noticed something of an explanation on the website – they said that it was likely that the definition of your ancestry would change as more users joined the service and the data set became larger. So for all of you out there who are rushing to define yourself as being of one origin or another, I’d take your results with a pinch of salt.

    • scotts191

      Actually, there IS something very Jewish about Haplogroup K, given that only about 6 percent of Europeans have this Haplogroup (one of the small percentages, and certainly the smallest in Antiquity) and yet it’s found in 1/3 of Ashkenazi. Also, K1c2 for example (as found in Dr. Behar’s study) are found in very small amounts in Scotland, Ireland and…N. Africa (Jews btw), and other gene testing shows the mtDNA HVR1 patterns of K1s to be found all over Scotland, Ireland and….SPAIN and PORTUGAL, and Central France…places that Jews from the Iberian peninsula fled to.
      Katie Couric (K1c2) is Jewish on her mom’s side, and almost all K1s in Scotland and Ireland (specifically Celtic Lands) are Jewish, or can trace to recognizable converts to Christianity from “questionable” ancestry not found in English/Celtic families. Just sayin’

  • JamesPaulHiroda

    If someone could advance a reason why so many people seem to have a trace of Ashkenazi on 23 and me then that might be useful to know. For example, prior to 1930 most European women had 10 babies. I suppose that a lot of affairs went unreported and babies born because of lack of contraception. When that happened perhaps it was socially unacceptable for Jews and gentiles to get together and so the birth was disguised? I do not know why I appear to have 7.8 percent of these genes when the rest of my ancestry (about 80%) is British, Scandinavian (1.5%) and North Western European very concentrated regionally (for example I know the ancestors came from central Ireland and from the north of England). I cannot find any great great grandparents with any Jewish connection.

  • Sudoku

    Weird question, but the women in my family mostly have blood type O rh-negative (myself, my mother, her mother, etc). I have no idea what my genealogy is, as my dad’s family could only be traced back a few generations to London and France and my mother’s mother to Ireland and her father to somewhere in the middle east (again, no records any further back). However, a few people have jokingly pointed to our blood type as being either Jewish or Basque. I’m not sure if there is any truth in this, as type O seems to be very common in all the studies I could find and the rhesus part seems to be just a secondary thing and not important to genealogy. I’ve ordered one of the 23andme testing kits out of curiosity, so should get some sort of answer in the near future. I was just curious if there is any link to blood types?