Genetic Musings .... A Jewish Connection?

Awhile back I decided to subject my saliva to an ancestry DNA evaluation for two principal reasons: First, I hoped that perhaps it could determine more conclusively whether my Craton ancestors came from Scotland or from Ireland; and Second, I hoped perhaps it would turn up something unexpected, such as some Native American, Romani, or other ethnic line that would lead me on a new quest to establish an identity with a group I had heretofore been unaware lurked in my family history.

As for the first objective, I learned that it is very difficult to separate specifically Scottish ancestry from “Great Britain” as a whole. And while it does indeed show both ancestry from Great Britain and Ireland (results by percentage are shown below), it really does little to help confirm the actual home from which my Craton ancestors hailed. (As an aside, I later learned that another Craton relative had a more involved YDNA test conducted, and his results more or less went along with exactly what my earlier hypothesis had been: that our family’s homeland originally was around the Midlothian area of Scotland many centuries ago.)

Regarding the second objective, I was a little disappointed to find no hint of Native American or Romani ancestry. Instead I found that my DNA is about as boringly white as can be imagined. I had suspected that since our family had been in the southeastern North America since around 1730, we would find some hint of Native American DNA, despite the fact that there are no hints of intermarriage in our ancestry charts. But as the chart below reveals, almost all of my various lines — paternal and maternal — stem from Ireland, Great Britain, or Western Europe (from previous research, Western Europe would be almost exclusively Holland). I suspect that the small percentage of Scandinavian DNA would stem from the time of the Viking invasions of Great Britain and Ireland when intermarriages did occur.

The one question mark I did find is the rather significant 15% of Iberian DNA. This came as a total surprise as there is not a single surname in any of my ancestor charts that hint of a Spanish or Portuguese lineage. Likewise, there are no family legends that say anything about an Iberian connection. Initially I assumed perhaps some of my ancient Irish or British ancestors had originally migrated from Iberia, but if so I would think the percentage of DNA represented would be minuscule. Instead we find a very significant 15%. What might be its origin?

One possibility presented itself in an article I came upon almost by accident (linked here). While there are no family legends of Cherokee ancestry in my line, and certainly no evidence to suggest it from the DNA analysis, I decided to read the article merely out of curiosity. In summary, what I learned was that many of the presumed Cherokee ancestors in so many Southeastern family lines actually were Sephardic Jews from Iberia who came to the New World to escape the Inquisition. Once here, some even assumed Cherokee identity themselves, possibly out of fear of persecution. For whatever reasons, the point was that many of the presumed Cherokees in Southeren ancestry were in fact Sephardic Jews.

Could the 15% Iberian DNA in my ancestry in fact be Sephardic? The test does delineate “European Jewish” DNA, but I suspect that would more likely represent Ashkenazic heritage rather than Sephardic. I will have to check with the test administrators to find out for certain whether that is the case. If it is true that there is no specific delineation for Sephardic Jews, then it would be entirely possible for my Iberian DNA to represent Sephardic ancestry.

But where would that have come in, since there are neither surnames nor family legends to suggest either a Jewish or Cherokee connection? One possibility I can see (not factoring in the always-possible case of extramarital activity) is that the Iberian link entered through one of my maternal lines, and, given the percentage, one not too many generations removed. On my mother’s side, I have information on nearly all lines that extend back several generations; but on my father’s side, there are three reasonably recent maternal lines about which I have almost no information whatever. Of one grandmother, Ethel Arbella Atkins, I know only the name of her parents: Thomas Jefferson Atkins and Emma Wright. To date I have been unable to find anything about their heritages.

Then there is my great-grandmother Phereba (“Sister”) Adair. Her line I actually have been able to trace back in part to the immigrant ancestor (William Adair). What is interesting here is that William goes back to the same time period as another, more famous Adair named James who authored a book called The History of the American Indians (first published in 1775). James Adair was said to have been born in Ireland ca. 1710, but no record of his having been born or immigrated from there has ever been found. James was a true scholar and is said to have known both biblical and medieval Hebrew ... not something that would be expected of an Irish immigrant who made his living trading with American Indians in the southeastern part of North America in the 18th century. Some have speculated that James actually was a Sephardic Jew who fled persecution.

Another — admittedly tenuous — connection we may have with James Adair is the occurence of common surnames in maternal lines. In the 18th and 19th centuries, groups of families lived near one another and often intermarried, so that it is not unusual at all to find the same maiden names coming up in various family trees. The wife of one Bozeman Adair (my g-g-grandfather) is believed to have been named Sarah Scott. A son of James Adair, Edward, married an Elizabeth Scott. (And a point of interest is that Elizabeth’s mother’s name was Go-Sa-Du-I-Sga, a supposed Cherokee.) Though obviously no direct lineage can be found here, there appears some kind of familial connection between the two Adair lines, the Scotts, and their relationship with the “Cherokees.”

Much work remains to be done, but tentatively I can hypothesize that the 15% Iberian DNA in my family may in fact be Sephardic Jewish ancestry. Whether this can ever be proved one way or the other remains to be seen.

Update: Subsequent to posting this report I have had three other DNA tests done, none of which showed any Iberian DNA at all. Instead they all confirm basically what has been learned in our paper trail, that the vast majority of my ancestry traces back to Ireland, Scotland, and The Netherlands (i.e., Irish, British, and Western Europe DNA). Other blood relatives who have had DNA testing done show similar results. I can only conclude, therefore, that the 15% Iberian DNA that showed up on the one test was simply an artifact and should be discounted as irrelevant.

Ancestry DNA Results
Ireland			31%
Western Europe		27%
Great Britain		16%
Iberian Peninsula	15%
Scandinavia		 6%
Finland/NW Russia	 2%
Italy/Greece		 1%
Eastern Europe		 1%
European Jewish		 0%
Other (Trace)		<1%

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