Monthly Archives: May 2012

Linda Chavez Discovers Her Converso Roots

For those interested in genealogy, the past few years has been great for a number of reasons. The large genealogy sites like Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org have grown by leaps and bounds. Ancestry.com just recently announced passing 10 Billion records on their site. FamilySearch volunteers index millions of new names every month, in many languages and from many countries across the globe. Many smaller niche sites have also popped up, and the Internet as a whole as connected people across the globe in way never before possible.

The 1940 Census, released less than two months ago is now over 40% indexed and whereas earlier censuses took years to complete and were usually available first on for-pay sites, the 1940 Census will be finished in a few short months and will be available for free from the start. Sites working on the 1940 census, as mentioned in my earlier post on the subject, including the 1940 Census Community Project, FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com.

In the US, there have been three seasons of the genealogy-focused TV show Who Do You Think You Are? on NBC, and PBS also has a series called Finding Your Roots (with Henry Louis Gates Jr.). In the UK Who Do You Think You Are? is already in its eigth series, and the show has other versions around the globe, including in Israel (Mi Ata Hoshev She’ata).

Linda Chavez

Last night an episode of Finding Your Roots aired featuring Linda Chavez. Chavez is probably most famous as almost being the first Hispanic woman to serve as US Labor Secretary under George W. Bush, before she withdrew her nomination. More recently she’s a syndicated columnist and the Chairman of Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank that deals with issues of race and ethnicity in the public arena.

Linda Chavez’s family has lived in the New Mexico area for hundreds of years, and was always Catholic as far as she knew. A simple question she asked about a funny habit her grandmother had where she turned a statue towards the wall led her to discovering her family included conversos, or Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism in 15th and 16th century Spain. Many conversos fled to the new world, ending up in Mexico and the nearby US states, including New Mexico. Albuquerque, the capital of New Mexico, even has a page on the city’s web site explaining conversos and their history in the city.

There is even evidence that Chistopher Columbus himself, who sailed on behalf of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, the same monarchs that forced Jews to convert, and in the same year that the inquisition began, was from a Jewish family that secretly converted. See this CNN article, Was Christopher Columbus secretly a Jew?, written by Charles Garcia.

The topic of conversos living in the American Southwest was also covered in detail in Jeff Wheelright’s recent book The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess: Race, Religion, and DNA. The book discusses, among other topics, how families in isolated communities in Colorado and New Mexico discovered their likely Jewish ancestry through the inheritance of a cancer gene that is most common among Jews.

As I’ve been writing this post, the full show was just posted on PBS’ website, and I’ve embedded it below if you’re interested in watching the show.

In addition, for those interested, Linda Chavez also wrote about her experience in researching her family history as part of the show in a Boston Herald article titled Nourishing our ‘Roots’.

Ancestry.com Launches Autosomal DNA Test

Today Ancestry.com officially launched their autosomal DNA test, which they call simply: AncestryDNA

AncestryDNA user interface

Frankly, I think the name is a bit confusing considering they have other tests for Y-DNA and mtDNA, but that’s a minor point. This new test now competes with FamilyTreeDNA’s Family Finder test and 23andMe’s Relative Finder test. So how does it compare?

The answer, unfortunately, is that I don’t know yet. The only people who have received results so far, considering it just launched today, are those who participated in the beta test, where Ancestry.com sent out tests to various groups of people that were already customers of Ancestry.com. In fact I was one of the people who received a free (not including shipping) kit, but unfortunately there were problems in getting the kit for a long time due to mail problems, so while I have submitted a kit, I haven’t received my results yet.

What I can tell you is what looks good even before I have a chance to look at the DNA results.

For one, I was very grateful they handle something that the other companies haven’t done yet – you can manage the DNA of other people. With 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA, you essentially set up an account for each person whose DNA is submitted. This doesn’t always make sense. If you’re submitting the DNA of your grandfather who doesn’t use a computer, then you don’t want to have to deal with a separate account, remembering the password, etc. Ancestry.com handles this much better by allowing you to attach DNA kits from multiple people to your existing account.

Another place where Ancestry.com seems to have put in some thought, is connecting tests to people in your family trees. Of course, Ancestry.com has a major advantage here, as they have very sophisticated family trees, that already integrate with other features of their web site such as finding records. The other companies that pioneered autosomal DNA tests do not have family trees of anywhere near the sophistication of what Ancestry.com offers, and thus Ancestry.com holds a clear advantage in this area. You can attach a test, whether the AncestryDNA autosomal test, or one of the existing Y-DNA and mtDNA tests, to a person in your family tree, and presumably Ancestry.com uses that information to try to figure out connections between people who match DNA. How well that works remains to be seen, but it looks promising.

It’s not clear yet whether or not you’ll be able to upload data from another company, or whether you’ll be able to download your data either. Ancestry.com does allow you to download your Y-DNA and mtDNA results, so it makes sense they would allow this for their autosomal test as well, but this test is still in beta and there is no way to download the data as far as I know.

The test is supposed to be priced at $99 with a membership to Ancestry.com. What does that mean? I’m not sure. Is that a price you get once? or if you want to order more tests do you get that price on all tests? What if you’re not an Ancestry.com member? If you only get one kit at $99, does that renew every year when you renew your membership? I’m sure the pricing will be explained better soon.

Anyone else reading this take part in the beta? Did you receive your results? What did you think?