Fun with genealogy

By Jeremy Meltingtallow

A few months ago, my husband and I took one of those DNA tests (aka “spit kit”). We were just curious. We already knew quite a bit about our families’ backgrounds, but we thought it would be fun to see if there were any surprises.

There were.

My husband, who we presumed was full-on Ashkenazi Jew (descended from Eastern Europe)…well, he was. Minus 7% Irish.


His mother was skeptical that some wayward Irish lad or lassie had once honed in on their pure-blood Eastern European lineage. But we found out her brother had taken the test and it also came back with the Irish gene.

Well, that explains my husband’s red hair (back when he had it).*

As for me, I already knew I was a mutt. My dad was full-fledged Ashkenazi Jew, his parents having emigrated from Minsk in Belarus early last century. I don’t know much more than that — he and his immediate family died before I became curious enough to ask — except that it was a fairly straightforward lineage, unlike that of my Celtic husband’s.

I know much, much more about my mom’s side, partly because she’s so open about it, and because it’s seemingly more exotic and complicated, which fascinates me. Her family is Sephardic, descended from Jews who were booted from Spain and Portugal during the Spanish Inquisition. They settled in Turkey and formed deep roots there. In fact, most of my mom’s relatives still live in Turkey. My mother was born in Ankara and raised in Istanbul. As an aside, my husband and I traveled there for two weeks early in our marriage. I took to it so much, it honestly felt like home away from home.

I joke that my parents had a mixed marriage with their unique customs and traditions. Luckily, my siblings and I turned out okay, despite our confusion as to whether or not we should eat rice during Passover.

Anyway, back to this genealogy thing.

So my results came in and I checked them out online. Here’s a screenshot. 

The surprises? Less Turkish, Middle Eastern, and Spanish (Iberian) DNA than expected (about 13% total). Also, more Eastern European DNA than expected (64%). But the biggest surprise?

19% Italy/Greece.

What the what?!

As far as I knew, there was NO ONE in our ancestry that was either Italian or Greek. So I dug a little deeper, and here’s what I found on the website:

Over the last thousand years, there have been times when some groups of people were isolated from neighboring populations. Isolation gives populations a chance to develop a unique genetic signature.

When individuals from two or more previously separated populations begin intermarrying, the previously distinct populations become more difficult to distinguish. This combination of multiple genetic lineages is called admixture. Regions that border each other are often admixed — sometimes to a great degree.

For example: we find that most of the people on our reference panel in Spain have about 13% of their DNA that matches to the Europe South region. This could be due to relatively few cultural and trade barriers between the two regions, as well as conflicts between the regions over the last thousand years.

Okay, that makes sense. Chalk it up to war, trade routes, and fuzzy borders. I also concluded (without checking any science to back it up) that my mom had some Ashkenazi DNA in her as well. Because I doubt that my dad was more than 100% Ashkenazi (I’m no math whiz, but I can add that much). Also, Turkish Jews tended to marry other Jews, not native Turks, so I was fairly certain there would be more Iberian DNA than Turkish.

Curious, I convinced my mom to take a test, too. Here’s her result:

I was partially right. She definitely has a good dose of Ashkenazi that she passed down to me (25%). She also has 34% Italy/Greece (or Spanish??). Then there’s 36% Middle East/Caucasus…which is more than I expected, considering her Jewish background. Makes me wonder if that’s “cultural osmosis” or if any of my ancestors married or bred with those who were native to the Middle East. 

Since I don’t claim to be a genetics expert, feel free to clue me in if you happen to be one.

Ultimately, I found the whole thing fascinating. But I have another confession for that test…

Many of my husband’s ancestors were also from Minsk. I used to joke that maybe we’re distantly related. And no, we still have no idea. But it did lead me to create this storyline.

I must tell you, my husband was NOT amused when he first read these strips. It actually creeped him out. But I thought it was such an amusing premise that I did it anyway.

So here’s to spit and all the wonders that it can produce (who knew). If you’d like to take a DNA test, these are links to two popular ones:



Enjoy, Happy Thanksgiving, and happy hunting!


*I was kidding.The red hair presumably comes from his Hungarian background.