My Surprising DNA Results
(Marilyn Rae – Scottish, Sephardic, Cherokee Heritage)
Having researched family history for quite some time, I was happy when DNA tests became available through ancestry.com and I decided to have one done. It was something called autosomal testing, which could retrieve information from both your mother’s and your father’s side of your family, whether you were a man or a woman. Within a few weeks I received my results, which showed 87% Scandinavian, 11% Southern European, and 2 % uncertain. The Scandinavian I understood could be explained by Viking incursions into Northern Europe, and since our ancestry is mostly Scottish, English, Irish and Dutch that made sense. But the 11 % Southern European—Portugal, Spain or Italy was completely puzzling. One of my sisters then had the test with very similar results—the only difference being that she had some British Isles—ancient British stock—that I didn’t have. The Scandinavian and Southern European were there in her test also, just varying a few percentage points. My sister and I wondered if the spread of the Roman Empire had anything to do with it, but could never come to any conclusion. The important thing I learned from this test was that when you trace your genealogy, you have to follow the genes, not just the places. Surprises aren’t uncommon with DNA tests. My sister and I were a little disappointed that no Native American DNA showed up, since we knew that our mother’s grandmother was Cherokee, but we also knew that our line had intermarried with whites pretty far back, so it was understandable.
I continued to research our Cherokee background, and looked into the Cherokee DNA Project, hoping I could have a way to trace my roots with more certainty. Unfortunately, the tests used were either the YDNA or the mtDNA. The YDNA test follows the male line, and the mtDNA the female line—but our Cherokee line doesn’t go from mother to mother or father to father—It goes from my mother’s father to his mother, so I couldn’t take that test. Another disappointment.
Then, about a month ago, I came across some interesting articles by Richard Thornton concerning Cherokees and DNA testing, and I wrote to him with a few questions. He suggested I try DNA Consultants for a more detailed test—still an autosomal test, but one which, he assured me, would provide much more information. I took the test and over the next few weeks while I was waiting for the results, I read more of Richard Thornton’s articles and learned that he is Creek, that he is an architect and city planner, and researches Native American history. I also learned that the History Channel based its first show of its new series, America Unearthed, on Richard’s Book, Itsapa: The Itza Mayas in North America. I went back to one of Richard’s articles about finding Jewish markers among Native Americans, and was particularly interested to find that Sephardic Jews from Portugal and Spain had colonized North Carolina and Georgia in the 1600s. That was a surprise to me.
When I got my test results back the first thing I looked at was the 18 Marker Ethnic Panel. I was hoping it would reveal Native American, but it didn’t. When I looked carefully at the conclusions, however, I noted that I indeed had Native American markers. Apparently, there are numerous ways that markers can show up. Back to the Ethnic Panel—There were two Asian markers, which, in a non-Asian, translates, I’m told, as Native American. So far so good. But here’s the real surprise—I had two Jewish markers. The first one can indicate Eastern Europeans who married Ashkenazy Jews, but also, and more importantly, Portuguese and Spanish Jews, the Sephardim. The second Jewish marker indicated Middle Eastern roots. One more marker, a Sub-Saharan African II, can be a false positive for Ashkenazy Jewish background.
The DNA test I took finds world and European population matches—meaning that you share heritage with people living in those areas. Aside from expected Scottish, English/Welsh, Belgian(Netherlands) from my father’s and my mother’s mother’s lines, one of the most prominent matches was for Portugal and Spain. On a top 50 World population matches, 8 of them were from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal).
Another interesting match was for Estonia and Finland. The DNA Consultants’ website says that matches for those countries are usually false positives, indicating instead, Native American. The same is also true for matches I had for Russia.
I should add here that there is no known Spanish or Portuguese in my family. Our genealogy carries family members, outside of my Cherokee Great Grandmother, back to Scotland, England, Ireland, and the Netherlands—all of which are also present in this test.
So what this all points to is that, on my mother’s father’s side, my family is descended from Sephardic Jews who came to this country from Portugal and Spain.
Many seem to have been gold and silversmiths. Apparently, they thrived until their land was taken from them and they dispersed, some being assimilated into Native American tribes. In our case, they married into the Cherokees. This probably explains why our Native American markers don’t show up more strongly—there was a significant degree of Sephardic.
I subscribe to Richard Thornton’s articles, so when I saw a new article in my inbox entitled Do you have both Native American and Jewish Ancestry? I was pretty excited.
Apparently, the Genealogy site Access Genealogy and the Native American Research Alliance, People of One Fire, are bringing to light the real history of the Sephardim in this country. In the article is a call to share your family’s story. I wrote to Richard Thornton again, and he feels that my DNA results are classic for Sephardic. I will be sharing the results, or my story, on the People of One Fire Site, to help bring attention to these forgotten early settlers.
Note: Ms. Rae is a direct descendant of the last hereditary principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, Pathkiller.