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

    • musings2

      My stepmother’s maiden name was Dreyfus (she said they came from France). She grew up in Alabama, raised by the housekeeper, because her mother died when she was only two. My husband comes from a family of Jewish atheists/ Holocaust survivors and not only did he never have a bar mitzvah (he spent his earlier childhood in communist Hungary), but he thought he was Lutheran because the family wanted to emigrate and the Lutherans were doing a good job getting that done. You could see from his circumstances why he would not have had a Jewish upbringing – the antisemitism in Hungary, and Austria where they temporarily emigrated was too much a reminder for them. So when our son came along, he did not make a point of Jewish studies (our grown son is only now seeking them out). I, being a Christian, did not think I should initiate the process without my husband’s enthusiastic support. It was my stepmother who expressed her disenchantment — she was looking forward to the bar mitzvah she assumed would occur. Until I researched her name, I did not get it. She was always quiet about this and so far as I knew she practiced no religion.

  • 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

    • Cynthia Lee Watkins

      Good for you. A former coworker of mine was born to a mother who is a Sephardic Jew and whose father was Italian-American. She embraces her Jewish heritage and it is a wonderful thing to behold.

  • 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.

  • Rohsar

    My late grandma would sometimes talk about her Bukhara Jewish mother and the places that she visited, all the way to her final destination, the country now known as Tajikistan. This is where she learnt Farsi and Bukhori. However, now no one likes to mention the word “Jew” anymore. Since my family changed their religion.

  • Eunice Vega

    I don’t understand. I was told that their is no id for Sephardic jews in dna. Can you guys tell me what it is. I know the Ashkenazi gene shows but what is the Sephardic jew dna?

    • 23blog

      We don’t have a report that is specific to Sephardic jewish ancestry, but certain haplogroups are associated with Sephardic ancestry. Combing that with other known family history or ancestry information can help individuals identify their possible Sephardic ancestry, which is what I believe Francisco did.

      • Eunice Vega

        What are the haplo groups associated with Sephardic jews?

        • 23blog

          There are several, for instance J1, J2, R1a, E-M78. But haplogroup assignments and the naming conventions are continuously being changed and update. 23andMe has not updated our haplotree recently but will be doing so in the near future. It’s also important to note that while there are several haplogroups that are associated with Sephardic ancestry, having one of those haplogroup assignments does not necessarily mean that you have Sephardic ancestry.

    • Caetano Sebastiani

      It used to be that you could tell through countries of ancestry because you would have Sefardi matches from Morocco, Turkey, Greece and Syria. A Puerto Rican friend of mine actually had a 5th to distant predicted cousin in relative finder who was an Israeli whose parents were both from Morocco. Now that tool is gone, so your can look at you ancestry composition. Sefardis who have tested at 23 and me show a mix of Ashkenazi, MENA and Southern European split mostly between broadly southern European and Italian.

  • nn55nn

    tears and crying ?

    good grief,
    you do realize your comments will be there for years !

    • ksun1

      What’s wrong with others knowing you cry? I recently watched a whole lot of tough guys cry over the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series; and they weren’t the least bit ashamed to have this broadcast repeatedly on national TV. It was a great release of pent-up emotions–mainly unbridled joy!

  • disqus_O7PBLhCYJL

    This is actually why I am afraid to use 23 and me. Because it is not anonymous, and lists of people according to ethnicity or race in the past have resulted in atrocity. I want to get it done, but the results should be private, to me only and not stored in a way that could be connected with me.

    • 23blog

      At 23andMe, the privacy and security of your information is one of our highest priorities. We give our customers control of their information. If they wish to participate in research they can. If they want to opt out, they can do that too. They can remain anonymous within our database, and are under no obligation to share their data with anyone. There are no lists of people according to their ethnicity. As a customer of 23andMe, you have several opportunities to make informed choices about how your information is stored, used, shared, and disclosed. If you’d like to know more about our privacy and security you can read about it here: https://www.23andme.com/about/privacy/

  • 23blog

    That’s a good question. So I’m assuming that you’re seeing only your maternal haplogroup, which is one that is common among Native Americans. What might be helpful is if you can find your paternal haplogroup. If you have a male relative tested on your paternal line – for example, a brother, your father, or his father, or one of his brothers or one of his brother’s sons. That may help you identify your paternal haplogroup, which in turn may help.