Tracing genealogy through DNA

    Bennett Greenspan figured he knew his basic ancestry – in his case, Eastern European Jewish, a.k.a. Ashkenazi – but a simple DNA test revealed a surprise never uncovered in his many hours spent drawing up his family tree the usual pen-and-paper way. Never did he have any idea that his ancestry might be Spanish, too.  Going back 1,000 or 1,500 years, according to the DNA test, he shares a common ancestor with a Spanish Jew (a.k.a. Sephardic Jew) from Bulgaria.

   What became more interesting: When he looked a few more markers out to try to find more people who might be in the same position as the guy in Bulgaria, he found three more matches or mismatches – and those folks are Catholics living in New Mexico.

   What this means, to Greenspan’s surprise, is this: It’s evidence that on his father’s father side, Greenspan says, “we were Spanish Jews who left Spain in probably 1492 with most of the rest of the Jewish community and moved east. And we may very well have moved east and ended up in Bulgaria, at which point the family may have split, and some stayed there and some moved north into where the Ashkenazi Jews lived. And we started practicing or thinking of ourselves as Ashkenazi Jews or no one knew the difference—after a few generations, you’re not going to know the difference. So we may actually be a Spanish Jewish line.

   “I thought my ancestry was Eastern European Jewish. I never had an idea that it might be Spanish–I mean, none whatsoever,” Greenspan, founder and CEO of Family Tree DNA, said in a phone interview before his speech tonight in Mercer Island at the Jewish Genealogical Society of Washington State’s program on tracing genealogy with DNA.

  “I still have a hard time believing it. But when I look at the data, it’s hard not to infer that. Certainly that is a possibility. It’s gone from being where I never would’ve believed it to the facts tell me, they dictate, that I can’t forget it. I can’t ignore it.”

  Greenspan’s talk continues until 9 p.m. tonight at the auditorium of the Stroum Jewish Community Center, 3801 East Mercer Way, Mercer Island. Fee is $5. Find info about FamilyTree DNA test kits at

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