New Family Finder test officially launched

As of today,’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. 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.

Tex-Mex: Jewish food traditions

If one really wants to learn about how Jewish customs are manifested in a still-secret community, take a look at food traditions in southern Texas and northern Mexico.

In this article from the Harlingen News in Texas, read about how these customs – in food, oral traditions, culture and secret religious customs – are still part of the folklore, habits and practices of the early settlers’ descendants in this geographical area.

In northern Mexico and what today is Texas, the Jews of Nuevo Leon and its capital, Monterrey, Mexico, lived without fear of harrasment from the Holy Office of the 1640’s and beyond.

Many of the leading non Jewish families today of that area are descended from secret Jewish ancestors, according to scholar, Richard G. Santos.

Santos states there are hundreds, if not thousands of descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews living today in San Antonio, Texas, USA and throughout South Texas. Not all are aware of their Jewish heritage.

Santos is a renowned San Antonio, Texas scholar in ethnic studies of South Texas secret Spanish Jewry.

Back in 1973, when few people knew anything about this, he presented a paper to the Interfaith Institute at the Chapman Graduate Center of Trinity University on secret Sephardic Jewish customs in the same region.

Historically, most scholars accept that the founding families of Monterrey and the Mexican border area of Nuevo Reno de Leon are of Sephardic origin. The Diccionario Porrua de Historia Geografia y Biografia states that Luis de Carvajal y de a Cueva brought a shipload of Jews to settle his Mexican colony – with some Jews being converts to Catholicism from Judaism and others “openly addicted to their (Jewish) doctrine.”

The late Seymour Liebman, a specialist on colonial Mexico’s secret Jews, explained in his book (“Jews in New Spain”) that Jews settled in areas far from Mexico City to escape the 16th century Inquisition.

Conversos colonized the Mexican states of Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, Tamualipas and into what would become the stateof Texas, in the 1640s-1680s and later. Most of Texas’s Spanish-speaking immigrants came from Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, and Coahuila (the old Neuvo Reyno de Leon) from the 1680s.

Those who settled in today’s southern Texas in the 17th century brought Jewish food customs, such as pan de semita or Semitic bread eaten around Passover and Lent.

According to Santos, the memories of delicious Jewish pastries eaten around the world in today’s Sephardic Jewish communities today still live in Tex-Mex pastries, such as pan dulce, pan de semita, trenzas, cuernos, pan de hero and pan de los protestantes (Protestant’s bread).

Pan de semita is considered a 17th century recipe for unleavened matzoh, and it is never made with lard, forbidden by Jewish law. The article offered a quick recipe of 2 cups of flour, 1/2-2/3 cup water, a few tablespoons of butter or olive oil. Mix it together and bake it.

Today, according to the article, all Mexicans (regardless of religion) eat it in the geographical area detailed above.

Santos himself descends from colonial-era Conversos and he details a special kind of pan de semita – including raisins, pecans and vegetable oil – made only in Texas and along the border. This is another sign of Jewish dietary rules. According to Jewish dietary laws, pan de semita with butter couldn’t be eaten with meat, but made with vegetable or olive oil, it could.

Santos’ recipe: 2 cups flour, scant cup water, a handful (Note: Tracing the Tribe is not sure how to measure a handful of oil) olive oil, mixed with 1/2-2/3 cup each of raisins and pecans. Knead and bake at 350 until lightly browned and easy to chew.

In Guadalajara, semita de trigo substitutes milk for water. In Texas and in Guadalajara, there is semita de aniz (anise), but neither of these include raisins and pecans. Only olive oil or butter is used.

The article also covers the special method of chicken slaughter used today and in the 1640s.

Another Passover/Lent custom is eating cactus and egg omelets (nopalitos lampreados). The only bread eaten is the unleavened pan de semita.

In Texas, Mexican Americans throw a piece of bread dough into the fire before making tortillas or bread; a very Jewish custom. Some do not eat pork on Fridays or after sundown on Friday.

Capirotada is another food eaten around Lent and Passover. It is wheat bread with raw sugar, cinnamon, cheese, butter, pecans, peanuts and raisins.

The Inquisition preserved these ingredients and even recipes in its archives, so we know Conversos in the 1640s used them. (NOTE: In the old days, lard was the preferred fat to use in cooking and baking; olive oil and other vegetable oils were not as common. Only those people who needed to use these oils for religious dietary reasons would go out of their way to acquire them, when lard was all around. Anyone not using lard would be suspect!)

Mexican Americans eat meat on Fridays, even before the Catholic church relaxed the rule about not eating meat. Older women cover their hands while praying, a custom that may come from Jewish women covering their heads.

The Inquisition, according to the article, never was established in what is today’s Texas, which encouraged settlement by Converso families.

Some 16 families from the Canary Island arrived in 1731 and founded San Fernando de Bexar township – today’s San Antonio. Many Canary Islanders were Conversos.They married with families from Nuevo Reyno de Leon, many of whom were Spanish and Portuguese secret Jews who moved there because the Inquistion wasn’t there.

Although not all Mexican Americans are of Sephardic origin, many continue to transmit oral Sephardic traditions.

Read the complete story at the link above.

Texas: A Sephardic New Year

In Texas, the Sephardic and Hispanic Jewish families celebrate the New Year with a Latin flavor.

The Houston Chronicle story focuses on families from Mexico, Cuba or South America as customs from their communities of origin are still celebrated.

Martin and Denise Yudovich have raised a brood of proud Texans who all speak perfect English, yet they remember their childhoods in Mexico by singing songs and saying prayers in English, Spanish, Hebrew and Yiddish at holiday celebrations.

“Yiddish was the language used by our parents and grandparents,” Denise Yudovich explains. “Back then prayers were said in Yiddish and Hebrew, and we kids all spoke Spanish.”

Of the 45,000 Jews in the Houston area, Lee Wunsch, executive director of the Jewish Federation, estimates Hispanic Jews make up as much as 2 percent of the population. In 1984, an influx of Jews from Mexico and South and Central American countries self-organized into a social network called Hebraica, which had a membership of 250 families at one time.

Among former Cubans are the Esquenazi and Halfon extended families.

When Fidel Castro came to power in 1960, Sara Esquenazi’s parents, both physicians, left behind a good life to come to Houston. Esquenazi was 13 then, but she remembers much of her life in Cuba. She celebrates with her brother and sister-in-law Leon and Rebeca Halfon and cousins.

“When our great-great-grandparents were expelled from Spain, or our parents had to leave Cuba, it showed us that they would give up all their worldly possessions so they could keep their religion, because that was more important,” Esquenazi said.

Esquenazi keeps a worn set of papers with the instructions for the Sephardic seder for Rosh Hashanah, which few American Ashkenazim know anything about.

Every item on their table represents something significant as a wish for the coming year. The fish head reminds them that they “should always be a leader, and not a follower.” A pomegranate apple with its many seeds symbolizes abundance. Spinach is served to ward off evil. A lively discussion of the foods and prayers in Spanish commences when they sit at their holiday table.

Sylvia Fleischer and her sister Dori Yudelevich are from Santiago, Chile and came to Houston in 1973. They prepare the special foods and the ceremony is conducted in English and Spanish.

“We cook our vegetables and apples until they are soft and sweet for a sweet year,” Fleischer said. We eat dates for abundance and cook special tortillas with leeks to keep the bad away.”

Fleischer said the work of preparing all the special symbols is much like the work Jewish cooks do in preparing a Passover Seder.

“For us, this is not like a regular meal, and that gives our Rosh Hashana celebrations special meaning,” Fleischer said. “It’s a lot of work, but we want to continue the traditions passed down from our grandparents to our parents, and from our parents to us.”

Among Sephardim of all origins (including Persians, Syrians, Iraqis, and others), some of these Rosh Hashanah traditions include:

– Fish head: Reminds them to be leaders (the head), not followers (the tail).
– Pomegranate: Its many seeds represent abundance.
– Spinach: Wards off evil.
– Dates: Represent abundance.
– Tortillas with leeks: Keep the “bad” away.

Read the complete article at the link above.

Honoring Inquisition victims, returnees

Not so long ago Tracing the Tribe wrote that, along with Holocaust Remembrance Day, there should be a day on which we honor the Inquisition’s victims. Many people agreed with this concept.

We have learned that Rabbi Stephen Leon (El Paso, Texas) will introduce a resolution honoring the Inquisition’s victims on Tisha B’Av at December’s biennial convention of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

It will also honor those forcibly converted to Catholicism in Iberia and elsewhere so long ago who have now returned to open Judaism.

This is music to Tracing the Tribe’s ears, if a blog can have such physical attributes. We also recommend that readers who are members of Conservative and other congregations should talk to their rabbis about the importance of this resolution and to the positive message it will send to millions of Converso/Bnai Anousim descendants who feel that mainstream Judaism ignores them.

Karen Primack also wrote the news in the Summer 2009 Kulanu Newsletter (Summer 2009).

This is the resolution’s text:

Resolution on the observance of Tisha B’av to be a day to commemorate the Spanish Inquistion and the return of the Anousim to Judaism

Whereas the holiday of Tisha B’av recalls the very day that the expulsion of the Jews from Spain took place in the year 1492; and

Whereas many Jews were forcibly converted to Christianity publicly, but continued to practice Judaism in secret; and Whereas many of the descendants of these Jews who are called B’nei Anousim have returned formally to Judaism today, and many are in the same process,

Now, therefore be it resolved that the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism calls upon all of its affiliated congregations to formally observe Tisha B’av on an annual basis as an occasion to educate its members about the history and events of the Spanish Inquisition regarding the Jewish people, and to inform its members of the return of the B’nei Anousim to Judaism today; and Be it further resolved that the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism helps to provide programs, speakers, films, and other appropriate materials for such Spanish Inquisition and B’nai Anousim commemorations on Tisha B’av.

Rabbi Leon, who is actively involved in assisting conversos/bnai anousim in many ways, is spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Zion, which will also receive an award at the convention for its annual Converso/Bnai Anousim conferences held for the past nine years, always held around Tisha B’Av.

Conferences have featured such speakers as Yaffa DaCosta, Sonya Loya, Art Benvenisti, Richard Santos, Rabbi Juan Meji, and Trudy Alexy z’’l (author, The Mezuzah in the Madonna’s Foot), and viewed films such as “The Longing” by Gloria Bohm, and about Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn’s work with Anousim in Latin America.

According to Rabbi Leon, “Tisha B’Av is the perfect time to mourn the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and to celebrate the return of their descendants, the Bnai Anousim of today.”

Tracing the Tribe supports this move and believes that the surrounding publicity in regard to this resolution and the award will raise awareness in Conservative congregations and among Conservative Judaism’s clergy and lay leaders around the world and spur more welcoming outreach to our friends.

Thank you, Rabbi Leon.