DNA testing is an unparalleled genealogical resource, yet 15 years after the inception of genetic genealogy many genealogists and family historians remain unclear about its use. As a result, DNA testing is underutilized and potential knowledge goes unrealized.
To remedy this situation, the Avotaynu Foundation has announced the formation of the Avotaynu DNA Project, a collaboration of experienced Jewish DNA project administrators, historians and geneticists worldwide to develop an online knowledge base that will enable genealogists to discovery the history of their own families and at the same time allow historians and demographers to illuminate the history of the Jewish People.
By now, most people know that each human being carries in the genetic material of every one of his cells, information about his ancestors— all of them. Scientists are continually learning more about DNA and what information may be gleaned from it. The use of DNA testing for genealogists is described everywhere—at conferences, on television, on the Web and in books. Perhaps the enormous variety of sources is a prime reason why current and prospective users of DNA testing have so many questions. Lost in all the articles, books and lectures are answers to simple questions such as:
- Why is it important that I take a DNA test?
- What am I trying to demonstrate?
- Who in my family should take the test?
- What specific test should they take?
- What may I reasonably expect the results to show?
- How do I interpret the results?
- What haplogroup or regional projects offer assistance?
- How do I usefully communicate with genetic matches?
- Should I do further testing?
That so many genealogists still ask these basic questions after 15 years of articles, lectures and books, comes in part from the fact that the field is evolving so rapidly, but also because the Jewish genealogical community does not yet have a focal point for answering questions and keeping members abreast of important advances in the use of DNA testing for genealogical research.
Avotaynu aims to meet these needs and its recent expansion into online publishing at www.avotaynuonline. com will help greatly. New tests, new projects and new resources all can be reported online more rapidly and more broadly than ever before. Partnerships with Jewish genealogical organizations, Jewish DNA project sites, genetic experts and social networking outlets will enable Avotaynu to create an online address where reliable current information on users’ most urgent questions—such as those above—may be addressed clearly, accurately and quickly. The goal is not to create a new layer of bureaucracy, but rather to bring together and maximize the talent and energy of existing DNA projects and their managers.
Genetic Census of the Jewish People
An impetus for the Avotaynu Project was the recent Avotaynu Online article written by Bennett Greenspan (“A Call for the Genetic Census of the Jewish People,” Spring 2015) in which he implored the Jewish community to undertake a massive autosomal genetic census of the Jewish people before the size and clarity of our genetic inheritance is lost.
What is clear, however, is that interested members of the genealogical community alone cannot provide the critical mass needed to provide a meaningful sample of the Jewish population. To accomplish this task, genetic testing must become “social-networking-friendly,” easily comprehensible and fun for ordinary (i.e., non-genealogist) Jews to understand and use. Genetic testing must become as simple and rewarding as ordering a book on Amazon.
Increased testing and reporting of DNA results will help individual genealogists by revealing connections that could not be discovered by conventional means. Avotaynu has larger goals as well.
Three Larger Goals
Avotaynu Online, utilizing all of its component resources, has three major goals for DNA testing:
The first goal is to provide sufficient DNA sampling to enable Jews all over the world to discover their genealogical connection to one another. In a theoretical sense, Y chromosome and mitochondria testing has already proven this for specific lineages, but if sufficient numbers of Jews participate in these as well as autosomal DNA testing, the evolution of technology in the years ahead will give evidence of actual connections to one another.
The second goal is to foster projects that will illuminate major questions of Jewish history, such as the current interest among claimed descendants of the b’nei anusim, the remnants of crypto-Jewish families who converted under duress in Spain and Portugal. While the size of this apparent Diaspora is not yet known, the 21st century may yet witness the restoration of a sense of Jewish ancestral identity among these descendants, perhaps an important moment in Jewish history.
The third goal is to enhance the quality of DNA research undertaken both by individual genealogists and by organized DNA projects and to help them present their results in a scientifically credible and publishable form.
To achieve these goals, the Avotaynu DNA Project will help organize existing resources to undertake the following initiatives:
- The project will use its website at http://www.avotaynuonline.com/avotaynu-foundation-dna-project/ to serve as a clearinghouse for providing the best available recommendations and links to DNA resources of all kinds—Facebook groups, websites, Family Tree DNA projects pertaining to a specific surname, Y chromosome haplogroups or ancestral location.
- In collaboration with expert DNA project administrators, the Project will provide online guidance to genealogists on how to identify genealogically suitable individuals to test within one’s own family, to determine the appropriate tests to take, and to help understand the results.
- For people looking to run high-quality DNA projects, the Project will work with geneticists to develop and publish in our pages descriptions of the sophisticated tools and best practices for taking the essential steps in any scientific endeavor, including hypotheses, scientific design, recruitment of test subjects, funding, implementation, tools for data analysis, publication of conclusions.
- The Project will endeavor to work with Jewish genealogy conference organizers to foster special programming such as a “DNA Day” to encourage more concentrated conversation on DNA topics among participants who may not be able to devote an entire week to the topic.
- The Avotaynu Foundation, a non-profit public foundation, will serve as a U.S. tax-exempt vehicle for individuals that wish to sponsor testing within the community.
- To simulate genetic testing, the Project will continue to publish in Avotaynu Online genealogical success stories that have relied on DNA testing. The project will support genetic studies of public interest, such the presently ongoing the “Boy on the Train” project, a collaborative effort to find the family of a three-year-old boy left on a train near Warsaw in 1943, who was adopted by a Catholic family during the war and grew up to become an Israeli army colonel.
- To stimulate Sephardic genetic research and illuminate both the Sephardi component of the contemporary Ashkenazi population and any remnants of the crypto-Jewish population, Avotaynu will partner with the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy and with Sephardi institutions.
- Goals likely will evolve over time, and will not be achievable immediately. The vision laid out here is intended to stimulate a conversation with readers and thereby begin a collaborative process that will serve the disparate needs of the Jewish genealogical community. Take the opportunity to engage now by sending your thoughts to AvotaynuOnline.DNA@gmail.com.
HOW MIGHT YOU PARTICIPATE?
Heare are the Paths to Joining the Avotaynu DNA Project!
If you have already been tested by Family Tree DNA, visit JewishDNAProject.org and choose Option A. Once you have joined, we will help direct you to haplogroup and geographical DNA projects where experts can help you interpret your results and perhaps recommend further testing that will enable you to learn more. We will give you advice on adding information to your DNA website profile that will increase your chances of being noticed by a genealogical match. If you have close matches, we will offer advice on how to “break the ice” when communicating with them;
If you have not yet tested, but would like to plow right in and purchase a kit, visit JewishDNAProject.org and choose Option B;
If you previously had your Y chromosome tested with another company and have your results, visit https://www.familytreedna.com/landing/ydna-transfer.aspx. After the transfer, join the Avotaynu Project by visiting JewishDNAProject.org.
If you previously had autosomal testing from 23andMe©(V3) or AncestryDNA™, then visit https://www.familytreedna.com/AutosomalTransfer. After the transfer, join the Avotaynu Project by visiting JewishDNAProject.org.
If you would like to learn more about Jewish genetic genealogy in general, visit our Project web page at Avotaynu Online DNA Project Home Page. Based on what you are trying to learn about your ancestry, we recommend tests to start with, and give you pointers on how to identify whom in your family should be tested; and lastly,
To receive the latest news on developments in Jewish genetic genealogy no matter what your level of expertise, sign up for a free digital subscription to Avotaynu Online at http://tinyurl.com/oygl3dr. Additional features on DNA subjects also regularly appear in our quarterly print edition, which can be subscribed to by mail or at http://www.Avotaynu.com/journal.htm
IF IN DOUBT, feel free to contact us at AvotaynuDNA@gmail.com or reply directly to this post.