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Ashkenazi vs Sephardic

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  • Ashkenazi vs Sephardic

    My mother was north German Lutheran. My father was German Jewish. He told me his ancestors were expelled from Iberia in 1492, travelled through the Mediterranean to what is now south Germany and settled in the Furth/Nuremberg area. He said they were of Sephardic origin. I had my DNA tested with 23andMe, and the results came back 50.1% Ashkenazi. Does this mean my father's story was incorrect? Or is the DNA of the two groups similar enough that they are indistinguishable?
    Tom S.

  • #2
    The estimates that all these companies give for admixture (aka bioethnicity, aka ethnicity) change with each update. They are based upon the reference populations and the algorithms that each company uses. Thus far, the reference populations are all based on living people, who are supposed to have long roots in a particular region, back many generations.

    From what I see of their reference populations, 23andMe does not have a population for Sephardic Jewish, so that is probably why it is not labeled as such in your estimate. They only have one Jewish reference population, and that is Ashkenazi.

    If you download your 23andMe raw data file and transfer it to FTDNA (or do a new test at FTDNA), you may well get some percentage of Sephardic, since FTDNA's myOrigins 3.0 does have a Sephardic Jewish population cluster, under "Middle East" in the Middle East Continental Region (as well as clusters for Ashkenazi, under "European Jewish" in the European region; and Mizrahi Jewish under "Middle East Jewish" in the Middle East Continental Region).

    Looking at two other companies, Ancestry and MyHeritage:
    • MyHeritage has a Sephardic group, under their "North Africa" category
    • Ancestry does not seem to show a category for Sephardic Jewish.
    NOTE: You are best served by checking your match list to see if you have matches who indicate Sephardic ancestors, rather than depending on an admixture estimate which may change with the next update.


    • #3
      They used to have Sephardic, before the recent upgrade. They had me as 14% Sephardic and both of my parents as zero. That was some amazing math! I don't know what they're doing now. I took one look and the results were even worse than before (though I'm no longer Sephardic apparently!). I probably won't bother looking again. Over the past 20 years, I've very carefully traced most branches of my tree back to the 1600s and I know my ethnicities. I have a couple of brick wall lines, but even there, I can make some intelligent guesses, based on Y-DNA testing and on autosomal matches and on where my known ancestors lived.