FamilyTreeDNA.com: New Family Finder test officially launched

As of today, FamilyTreeDNA.com’s new Family Finder test has been officially launched.

The new test connects family members across all ancestral lines, not only paternal or maternal. It represents a major advancement over earlier genetic genealogy tests. Everyone, regardless of gender, can now look for connections including grandparents, aunts and uncles, half siblings, and first, second, third and fourth cousins.

The company’s database numbers more than 290,000 individual records – the largest DNA database in genetic genealogy. This makes FamilyTreeDNA the prime source for anyone researching recent and distant family ties.

Importantly, for Tracing the Tribe readers, that database also includes the largest Jewish DNA database. This means that if you’re looking for genetic matches sharing your genetic heritage, you should test against the largest Jewish DNA database. The same holds true for everyone interested in genetic genealogy. One should to test against the largest database available for the best probability of finding matches.

According to today’s official press release:

The test utilizes Affymetrix’ recently launched Axiom™ genotyping technology and the GeneTitan® System to confidently match a wide range of family relationships within five generations.

Said FamilyTreeDNA founder/CEO Bennett Greenspan, in Houston, Texas:

“This is the most exciting genetic genealogy breakthrough since 2000, when FamilyTreeDNA launched its Y-DNA test to uncover relatives in the direct paternal line.” 

“The comprehensive, genome-wide coverage of Axiom Arrays enables us to offer consumers the most advanced genealogical test available at a price that is attractive to our customers. In addition, the automated GeneTitan System allows us to process hundreds of samples at a time with minimal hands-on time for maximum efficiency.”

Said Affymetrix president/CEO Kevin King, in Santa Clara, California:

“The Family Finder test represents a huge step forward for the direct-to-consumer genetic genealogy market and the application of microarray technology, Now anyone can utilize the power of the Axiom Genotyping Solution and the GeneTitan System to find and connect with a broader range of family members than ever before.”

How does it work?

The test analyzes the DNA of two individuals using Axiom Array Plates containing nearly 570,000 genetic markers, including many that are relevant to genealogy. Family Tree DNA then analyzes the resulting data with internally developed algorithms to determine the closeness of the relationship. The complete Axiom Genotyping Solution includes array plates, complete reagent kits, and an automated workflow that enables scientists to process more than 760 samples per week.

FamilyTreeDNA.com offers counseling services, tutorials and other helpful tools to assist in the genealogy and matching process. Importantly, it provides names and email addresses of matched individuals whenever possible for easy communication.

For more information about the new Family Finder test, click here; for Affymetrix, click here.

Food: Seasoning family history

Take a look at what our families eat at special occasions, holidays or lifecycle events.

We tend to recreate the “warm fuzzies” of our childhood customs and traditions which, in turn, were part of the everyday life of our immigrant ancestors.

In my grandmother’s Brooklyn kitchen was a knife that always looked primitive to my American eyes, its large blade needed constant sharpening and it had a worn wooden handle. There were cast-iron frying pans, a dual chopper (today called a mezzaluna), a scarred wooden bowl (used with the chopper).

The knife, frying pans, chopper and wooden bowl found their way to my mother’s kitchen and some of them wound up in my kitchen. The knife was made by my great-grandfather, and I heard other family stories about the provenance of other items. Lots of chopped liver was made in that wooden bowl with that mezzaluna. Blintzes came out of those blackened frying pans.

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s “Food tells a family story” demonstrates how traditions keep family history alive through the generations.

It details the 1891 trip of the author’s great-great-grandmother who arrived from Sweden with a suitcase and two children to join her husband in Missouri. In the suitcase were a knive and rolling pin.

The story quotes Dawn Orsak, a Texas food expert, on the importance of food history.

Almost 120 years later, the sturdy black-handled knife with razorlike teeth and the long, smooth rolling pin are still in use in my grandmother’s kitchen, less than 40 miles from where her grandmother first unpacked them after the long journey.

“You don’t see anything like it this day and age,” my grandmother said of the knife. “It’s never been sharpened. Doesn’t need it. Only thing I ever use it for is to cut angel food cake and bread, of course.” She went on to explain that her mother used the knife to cut coffeecake during Scandinavian club meetings she hosted in the 1930s.

My sister and I have old cookbooks with recipes and notes in our mother’s handwriting. Just reading them brings back the memories. Some recipes were successes and family favorites, while others not so successful. One recipe not recorded – thank heaven for small miracles – was developed when my mother got a new kitchen gadget (a blender) and decided to make tuna fish salad in it. Not a good idea.

I do remember Mom adding lots of matzo meal and making tuna patties instead. They were pretty good. But the “tuna fish salad soup” was never attempted again.

“Some people are after recipes, but I’m after stories,” says Orsak, who specializes in recording history through food traditions. From generation to generation, we pass down food traditions, habits, recipes, cookbooks, and even utensils that carry with them historical details as unique as our genetic code, but many of us don’t think to record that history.

Food is a great starting point for preserving family history because it’s so visceral, Orsak says. “Everybody likes talking about food, and it brings up memories you wouldn’t think of otherwise.”

My grandmother would visit us in the Bronx after a long subway ride from Brooklyn, laden with jars, boxes and shopping bags. I guess she thought we didn’t have food in the wilds of the Bronx. Knaidlach, soup, chopped liver, stuffed cabbage and more came out of those bundles.

Of course, Tracing the Tribe is also guilty of the same thing.

When our daughter went off to Brown University, I visited her one weekend during her first year. My cross-country suitcases contained 10 pounds of frozen saffron-lemon-onion marinated broiled Persian jujeh kabob (breast meat chunks), a large container of frozen mosama bademjan (beef in an eggplant-tomato-cinnamon sauce), along with a large first-cut kosher brisket that I would cook that weekend in the Brown Hillel kitchen.

The airport porter asked if I had rocks in the suitcases. Well, yes, sort of.

What’s that, you’re saying? Providence, Rhode Island had food rationing? Well, there certainly wasn’t a Persian restaurant and home-style kosher brisket wasn’t anywhere I could see. She began eating the frozen kabob pieces from the bag and used a plastic spoon to scrape the tomato eggplant sauce, all while we were still in the taxi from the airport.

As a Jewish mother, I knew I had done the correct thing – my grandmother would have been proud.

Orsak says that if you are interested in your ethnic heritage, start with food as it is the longest-lasting cultural tradition. The favorite foods stay around long after a language or other traditions are lost.

She suggests that people prepare family cookbooks to distribute to relatives, including a favorite recipe and who used to prepare it. Bring family heritage to life by sharing important traditional dishes.

Who knows what will trigger an interest in genealogy and family history?

The link also provides a recipe for a nice coffeecake – so try it out.

Colorado: Memoir writing workshop, May 13

If you don’t write the history of your family, who will?

The Jewish Genealogy Society of Colorado, under the leadership of Ellen Shindelman Kowitt, is an active group offering several programs each month.

The next program is a “Memoir Writing Workshop for the Family Historian,” with Susan Jacobs, set for 6.30pm, Thursday, May 13, at Temple Emanuel, Denver.

Discover the joy of memoir writing in Jacobs’ stimulating and fun workshop for family historians, regardless of whether or not they’ve written anything previously.

Jacobs holds a BA in oral interpretation of literature (USC) and an interdiscplinary gerontology certificate (University of Denver). She has 30 years of teaching experience and 18 years teaching memoir writing at such venues as Regis University and the Denver Jewish Community Center.

In addition to monthly programs, the JGS of Colorado also offers a community genealogy education series for which it received some interesting grants which could be duplicated in other communities. For more information on the JGSCo’s programs, including resources and useful links, see the website above.

For more information, click here.

Kaifeng: Shi Lei’s US lecture tour begins

Shi Lei, a descendant of one of the original Kaifeng Jewish families, is now on a US speaking tour sponsored by Kulanu..

Tracing the Tribe encourages readers who live in or near the communities where he will speak to attend the program.

Wooden model, Kaifeng Synagogue
Beit Hatefutsot-Museum of the Jewish People, Tel Aviv

He’s already spoken in Maryland and he’ll also be in New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Texas, Ontario, California, Georgia and New Jersey.

In his talk, Shi Lei discusses the history of this unique community, presents a slideshow and information on his community’s origins, how they preserved their identity under near-impossible circumstances and centuries of isolation isolated from the mainstream Jewish world.

Above right is the wooden model of the ancient Kaifeng Synagogue at Beit Hatefutsoth-Museum of the Jewish People, Tel Aviv.

He discusses Jewish traditions preserved through the centuries. It’s not all about the past, as he talks about the young people of his community and their desire to learn more about their origins; 18 are now studying in Israel and several have made aliyah.

A graduate of China’s Henan University, Shi Lei studied Jewish history and religion at Israel’s Bar Ilan University (2001-2002) and spent two more years at Jerusalem’s Machon Meir Yeshiva. He now works as a national tour guide, providing private and group tours to Jewish sites in China. The New York Times Travel Section recently called him “licensed, charming and experienced.”

For more information, click here or here or view Kulanu’s slide show on the history of the Kaifeng Jews.

The remainder of Shi Lei’s tour includes:

Visit the links above for more information on Kulanu, its activities and to donate to the organization in support of those activities.

Monday, May 3, 7.30pm
Jewish Community Center of the North Shore, Marblehead, Massachusetts

Tuesday, May 4 8pm
Beth Hillel Cong. Bnai Emunah, Wilmette, Illinois

Wednesday,May 5, 7.30pm
Congregation Agudath Jacob, Waco, Texas

Friday, May 7, 6.15pm
Congregation B’nai Zion, El Paso, Texas

Monday, May 10, 7.30pm
JCC/Ansche Chesed, New York City

Wednesday, May 12, 7pm
Temple Isaiah, Lexington, Massachusetts

Thursday, May 13, afternoon
Taping, Israel Today TV interview, Toronto, Canada

Thursday, May 13, 7pm
Darchei Noam, Toronto, Canada

Monday, May 17, 7pm
Temple Adat Shalom, Poway, California

Tuesday, May 18, 3pm
Taping, Jewish Life TV interview, Encino, California

Tuesday, May 18, 8pm
Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, Pasadena, California

Wednesday, May 19, 6pm
Tustin, California

Friday, May 21, 7pm
Saturday, May 22, 10am
Mickve Israel, Savannah, Georgia

Sunday, May 23, 10.30am
Temple Beth Tikvah, Wayne, New Jersey