Every DNA class I have taken, every detailed DNA blog post I have read, all contain the same caveat – You need to be prepared for the unexpected if you are going to take a DNA test. For some reason, I never considered that this applied to me and my family. But there is a reason that every good genetic genealogist regularly issues this word of caution. No family is immune from secrets. Including mine.
For the past few years I have been learning about DNA tests and DNA testing companies trying to figure out who I wanted to test and which company I wanted to use. The big mystery I was hoping to solve was the mystery of my great grandfather’s family. John Costello is my elusive, tantalizingly-close-but-oh-so-out-of-reach, great grandfather. Earlier this year I selected my course of action and tested a handful of family members.
The first test I chose was a Y-DNA test for my uncle. He is the son of John Costello’s son. The results were a huge surprise. My Spanish-born, Spanish-Italian, Roman Catholic great grandfather was ethnically Jewish. You could have knocked me over with a feather that day I opened the long planned for and anxiously awaited results. I had been warned that DNA results can bring unexpected information to light. I was learning how true that statement was. But even that surprise could not prepare me for the series of surprises that awaited me.
Looking back, all of the clues were there. I could have at least seen an inkling of something. If those moments were a movie, and the audience had been introduced to all of the players – that instant I learned I was part Jewish, would also be the moment the audience knew what was coming before I did.
What was this clue? What was this foreshadowing of a surprising journey I would take a few months in my future?
My uncle had only one perfect Y-DNA match. This one perfect match had no data – no tree, no surnames listed, no places listed. He had only two items, his name and his email address. Let’s call him Bob*.
Aside from being shocked to learn my great grandfather was Jewish, the other thought I had was this – Bob can’t help me. He’s clearly not a genealogist. He is an adoptee looking for his family. He will not help me solve the John Costello mystery.
This thought was followed by a lot more shock and awe to learn I was part Jewish.
The clues were there. But I was so distracted by the ethnic surprise that I didn’t see the real surprise that was literally staring me in the face. The surprise that I correctly identified as soon as I saw it. Bob, my uncle’s only perfect Y-DNA match, was an adoptee looking for his family. A family he never knew.
to be continued…
*Names, dates, and places in this series of posts will be changed or omitted for privacy purposes.
42 thoughts on “My Unexpected DNA Discovery – Part One”
Wow! As the wife of an adoptee and the mother of an adopted son, I am intrigued. My husband and children are all on 23 and me in case a close family member shows up.
Oh wow! Several adoptees in one family. Hopefully my posts will be helpful for your loved ones. I’m trying to keep them short and pointed so tomorrow includes “Lesson 1”. Feel free to email me if you have questions on the steps I took. I would be happy to be a bit more detailed with you if any of your family want to be more direct in their searching.
I can’t wait to see what happens next! Hope you post soon! And now that the shock has worn off, what are you feeling about your Jewish roots? 🙂
Well you don’t have to wait long, next post will be up tomorrow. I have three written so far, I’m hoping to tell the story straight through M-F. It may take two weeks. I want to keep it bite-sized with some good directions on steps so that hopefully it will be helpful for others seeking lost family members. Adoptees, birth families, or recent genealogy mysteries.
I don’t know if the shock has totally worn off. I’m mostly English, Scottish, Danish, Welsh, and French. My great grandpa brought the most ethnic difference to my tree already when I believed he was Spanish and Italian. I still don’t totally have my mind around it. I think part of it is that I don’t know any of the what, why, and when. I have all of these new Jewish cousins who are, in some cases, fairly closely related but their own family history is so fractured they don’t go back far enough for us to find our common ancestors. I feel cheated that he wasn’t open about it all, that he didn’t leave any answers or even hints. I think it will feel less shocking when I am able to make my first bit of real progress. I embrace all of my ancestors as they were, but he is making it hard to understand what exactly I am embracing. If that makes any sense at all… I am totally rambling here. Let me see if I can summarize – I LOVE this new discovery that I am partly Jewish. I wish I understood it better – both independent of my family but especially in relation to my family. Who was the most recent family member to actively follow Judaic Law, what did they experience because of their faith, etc. I also feel a bit at a loss because I’ve always been a very sympathetic outside observer who does not tolerate persecution of any kind. I’ve read more Holocaust memoirs than I can count, but I still don’t really understand the religion, or even much of the vocab. I’m rambling again… I’ll get there. It’s a weird mental shift from thinking maybe one day I’d be connecting with a distant Italian cousin who might share an old family recipe for delicious marinara to not knowing at all what I might learn from a distant cousin. Does any of that make any sense at all…? Thank you for asking. I appreciate your interest and support. Again, I think once I make that first concrete step from John to his parents and siblings, I will start to feel like I’m finding my way. It’s a journey I’m anxious to take and happy to go wherever it leads. It’s all still just a bunch of questions for now.
You do sound a bit overwhelmed. When and where was John born, and when and where did he die? You’ve probably said, but I’ve forgotten. Welcome to the maze of Jewish genealogy. It is tough with Jewish genealogy because of the lack of surnames and the absence of church records. And if you are interested at some point in learning more about Judaism, let me know. 🙂
John was born in Barcelona, Spain on 14 February 1893 and died in Spokane, Washington in the 1960s. I can’t find any records that pre-date his marriage. Sorry to sound so overwhelmed. I think it’s more a reflection of the many years I have spent trying to make progress, turning over every stone, thinking I just needed to get across the pond and then this discovery making it obvious that getting across the pond is really the least of my worries. As you said, lack of records, lack of surnames, etc. I would like to learn more about Judaism, but I think I need one step first, any step, something concrete. I don’t know if that makes any sense. 😉 Thank you for your support. I really appreciate you!
Oy, one step. Something concrete. That’s tough with religion because nothing is concrete. I assume you are familiar with all the Bible stories (your Old Testament), so you do have that background. Maybe start with Passover or Yom Kippur—the two holidays even the least religious Jews tend to celebrate. Maybe this book would help: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=5N8YxExdxi4C&source=productsearch&utm_source=HA_Desktop_US&utm_medium=SEM&utm_campaign=PLA&pcampaignid=MKTAD0930BO1&gclid=Cj0KEQjw7pHLBRDqs-X8hZ3Mgp0BEiQAXIo9roDRrk99DdM5wMSe7GB3v5ljyn_Yrz-hMorKAo8fsiQaApIq8P8HAQ&gclsrc=aw.ds&dclid=CLiMjJ7jgdUCFWm_swodeIgBdg
What great suggestions, thank you Amy! And yes, I have read the Old Testament, so I do have some background in that regard. Have you read this book? I’m just curious if your book recommendation is based on something specific. Thank you!
No, I haven’t—I guess I didn’t need to! But it sounded legit and was written by a rabbi. I am sure there are others. I can check more carefully.
No need, I was just wondering if you had additional reasons to recommend it. 🙂 It seems like a great choice though. Once school starts back up I will have a bit more time for reading and this seems like a good one to add to my fall reading list. Of course, my youngest will still only be in Kindergarten, so it’s not a lot more time. 😉
Also, if John was born in Spain, it is quite likely that he was a Sephardic Jew and a converso—are you familiar with that term? During the Inquisition in Spain, many Jews were forced to convert or converted to avoid death. Your great-grandfather could be descended from a converso and may not himself known he had Jewish ancestry.
Oh… that is is an interesting thought too. As far as our DNA goes, we match only to Ashkenazi Jews and we are lumped into the group – European Jewish. I’m not sure how accurate those results are though. Do you know? Would our DNA results be as clear as they seem but matching to Sephardic Jews if he was descended from a converso? And no, I have never heard that term before. His father was born in Italy and his mother in Spain (supposedly). It is possible that they were just slowly moving away from central Europe to avoid persecution I suppose. Sooooo many questions!
I wish I knew the answers. Are you on Facebook? I could connect you there with someone who really is an expert.
I am! I’m super easy to find – look for Amberly Peterson Beck. I’m the only Amberly Beck in the US so you shouldn’t get a lot of nonsense in your returns, but if I don’t pop to the top, add Utah.
OK, will do. 🙂
Ah, I see you already are in Tracing the Tribe and already have been in touch with Schelly–the person I was thinking of! That’s good—she’s amazing.
Hmmm, who is Schelly?
Ah, yes, Schelly. Thank you Amy!
Amberly, I hope you realize we are hanging on the edge here! Such suspense. I can’t wait for you to set up the second reel of film for your movie. 😉
Well, you don’t have to wait long Cathy. Post two will be up tomorrow. 🙂 I’m so happy that “Bob” is okay with me telling the story and he’s excited for how it might help others. That is cool.
Looking forward to reading the next part.
Thank you Cathy, I’ll try to keep it moving right along. 🙂
I can’t wait to find out the rest of the story. Please post soon. 🙂
Tomorrow! I’ll try to zip right through, a bit each day. 🙂 Thank you Su.
Yay!! I am so invested in this story.
Thank you Su, it is quite the story!
I am very interested to hear more of this story. Genealogy can lead in any direction.
Thank you Colleen, more tomorrow. And yes, it really can. My mind has been going bananas the last month with this, and several other family connections bringing very unexpected stories to the genealogy party. 🙂
I’m fascinated by this story as I am an adoptee looking for my family and recently did a DNA test. Interesting how this is handled on the other side.
Have you gotten your results back?! I hope you find some answers. 🙂
I have a few 1st-2nd cousin matches, most are 3rd cousins or further relations. I have been in touch with one that we think if we’re related it’s through an unknown grandfather of hers. I’ve reached out to the closest match with no response. Original birth certificate will be ordered within the week. Hoping the names haven’t been redacted! Fingers crossed! 🙂
Very best of luck to you!!