10 February 2008

Florida: Talking about Jewish DNA

I thought I had all my Google alerts set to immediately inform me of any and all Jewish genealogy stories. Tom Kemp of GenealogyBank must have a better arrangement, as he just let me know personally about this story in today's South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Thanks, Tom!

It is a good story about aspects of Jewish DNA in a large daily paper.

There were things you just didn't talk about in Harvey Brown's family, and the past was one of them.

His immigrant father spoke many languages — Russian, French, German, Polish and English — but he never said which was his mother's tongue. Brown wasn't even sure of his own last name, which he suspected had been changed when his family arrived in the United States.

Today, Brown has answers, thanks in part to a simple DNA test. In South Florida, many Jewish Americans like him are using such tests to restore family knowledge blurred by time or destroyed by the Holocaust.

"I never knew anything about my history. My family was very quiet about it. Not a word. It was too painful," said Brown, 71, a Wellington resident who lost more than 80 relatives to the Holocaust. "I had to find out."

Brown's DNA test revealed potential relatives in other states.

The story goes on to discuss how the tests can disclose ancient origins or to see if contemporary families have a common ancestor.

Members of Jewish genealogical groups in Broward and Palm Beach counties are quoted in the story as they turn to forensic DNA technology to bridge the gap of missing documents and brick walls, to verify or disprove family ties or to confirm oral history.

Family Tree DNA's Bennett Greenspan is mentioned throughout the article. Some 2,000 customers of the company live in Florida and about 30% are Jewish.

It describes the test, covers Y-DNA (male) and mitDNA (female), and much more.

One testee used the Y-DNA test to confirm that a family branch lives in Argentina, and he and his wife have already visited their new cousin in Buenos Aires.

The article also made the point about how the future of genetic genealogy will enable people to look at their family histories, and understand genetic dispositions for certain diseases.

There are a few comments by readers posted to the story, but they aren't very pleasant.

UPDATE: A reader mentioned she couldn't find the comments, so I went back and checked. It seems the paper has removed the 13 comments that appeared on Sunday, most probably because of their offensive nature.

Read more here.

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