ashkenazi founder event

The Matrilineal Ancestry of Ashkenazi Jewry: Portrait of a Recent Founder Event
Behar, D. M.; Metspalu, E.; Kivisild, T.; Achilli, A.; Hadid, Y.; Tzur, S.; Pereira, L.; Amorim, A.; Quintana-Murci, L.; Majamaa, K.


Both the extent and location of the maternal ancestral deme from which the Ashkenazi Jewry arose remain obscure. Here, using complete sequences of the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), we show that close to one-half of Ashkenazi Jews, estimated at 8,000,000 people, can be traced back to only 4 women carrying distinct mtDNAs that are virtually absent in other populations, with the important exception of low frequencies among non-Ashkenazi Jews. We conclude that four founding mtDNAs, likely of Near Eastern ancestry, underwent major expansion(s) in Europe within the past millennium.


12 thoughts on “ashkenazi founder event”

  1. Hi,

    I am not Jewish but for some reason I have one of the 4 maternal lineages that the Ashkenazi Jewish people have. It is N1. What does this mean, I am actually Muslim.

    • Me too. I was born into a Roman Catholic family, but when I had my DNA done, I found out I was a descendent of one of the four founding women of the Ashkenazi Jews (the N1 group, which has Israeli origins).

      Sarah (what an interestingly Jewish name for a Muslim), you can choose to believe whatever you feel is best for you.

      One perspective is that Jewish law says if your mother is a Jew, you are a Jew no matter what you believe in. If you are an N1, you come from an unbroken line of daughters who were Jewish. At some point, somewhere, one of those women converted to Islam and the story of your Jewish ancestors was lost. In my family it was the Catholics instead.

      But Islam also has a claim on you as well because you were raised as a Muslim and believe in Islam. Similarly, Catholicism has a claim on me because I was baptized in the Catholic Church (two times if you can believe that!).

      Because I had been moving away from Catholicism for many years, and always felt very Jewish, my choice was to self-identify as a Jew but to embrace various parts of both religions because both have a lot to offer me.

      You can choose to remain as a Muslim, or reconnect with being a Jew, or embrace both parts of your heritage, or even decide to be something else altogether. It’s completely your decision. Whatever makes you into a happy and good human being is beautiful in the sight of G-d (Allah).

      I think it is a good idea to let your relatives and children know about your Judaic ancestry, if only to give them all a greater appreciation of your genetically rich heritage. I also believe that learning these things about ourselves promotes greater understanding of and appreciation for diversity. It helps use respect sincere religious beliefs, while choosing what we feel most at home with.

      My husband has Arabic roots in Persia although he is known as Irish, English, and Swiss German and Catholic.

      We are thrilled that a Jew (me) and a Persian (him) got together. He probably has distant relations who are Muslims. And maybe others who were Buddhists since he found he has got Central Asian in him too. What a wonderfully diverse combo we are!

      It’s lovely to meet another person who got a nice surprise like I did. From what I have read, the Jews, Christians, and Muslims are People of the Book so I hope you are enjoying your surprise while continuing to live according to your chosen faith.

  2. Hi Sarah,

    How do you know you have N1? Presumably whoever did that analysis explained what the results meant, but very generally, it just means that at some point in your ancestry there was a woman whose own ancestry traces to that Ashkenazi population. However you define yourself culturally/religiously is a separate issue.

  3. Hi Sarah,

    The four maternal lineages in the Behar paper are associated with the Middle East, but were found to be common among eastern European Jews. What this indicates is that much of the aastern European Jewish population is descended from a small number of ancestors who likely migrated to the region. It was already known that this was true of paternal ancestry.

    This indicates that you share a maternal ancestor with people who today are Jewish, but it is not necessarily the case that you have Jewish maternal ancestry. Throughout ancient times there were many people who converted to Judaism.

    You can believe what you like about the account in Genesis, as to what aspects are historical. The 12 sons of Jacob already had as many as four different maternal haplotypes (which they couldn’t pass on because they were male), and they in turn took wives from the surrounding peoples. Moses is said to have had a second Nubian wife, according to Jewish oral tradition, and Ruth the maternal great grandmother of King David was a Moabite who converted to Judaism.

    I give these only as examples.Whether your source is scripture or genetics, the ancient people of Judea had a diverse pool of maternal haplotypes.

  4. Hi,
    I am an African American and I recieved my results from the National Geographic Genographic study and found that I am in Heplagroup “W” but descended from N1 (a subgroup of N). My results state that this is significant because N1 members constitute one of the four major Ashkenazi Jewish lineages. Can you tell more about this group. I have read that Ashkenazi Jews have a predisposition to certain diseases(Ta Sacs, Ovarian Cancer, etc). My mother died of cervical cancer at 34yrs of age. I will be 50 this year and I have had fibroid tumors but not cancerous.
    What does Jewish Founder event mean as opposed to just Jewish???
    My results state that N1 is seldom found in populations of non Ashkenazi Jews and that while it is virtually absent in Europeans, it appears in frequencies of roughly 3% or higher in those from Levant, Arabia, and Egypt which indicates a strong genetic role in the Ashkenazi founder event, which likely occured in the Near East.
    Can you tell me in laymans terms what this means?? 🙂
    If this helps my ancestral line is L1/L0>L2>L3>N>N1>W
    Thank You “Penny”

    • Hey Penelope:

      We are related somehow or other since I am a W too–same deep lineage. I’m Polish, Sicilian, Germanic, and French on my mother’s side. And I found out that I am also Ashkenazi, N1 Jew.

      Ashkenazi is a very, very old word for German. An Ashkenazi Jew is a German Jew. We tend to be light haired and light-eyed, so this could indicate that you have some white ancestors on your mother’s side.

      A founder event is something that happens when a population of people get isolated and tend to develop in the same way. When a genetic mutation occurs, that mutation shows up among the gene pool of that population and spreads throughout that population. In our case, they were able to trace it back to one of four founding women with this mutation–the N1 lady. The mutation shows up in our DNA so it’s considered a marker.

      For example, this happened in Brazil. An isolated population starting having many, many twins and geneticists found out that there was a mutation in an early ancestor. The mutation caused the birth of twins. That mutation spread throughout that village and till today, the population there has a phenomenal rate of twinning.

      Back to us–the N1 woman that we are descended from is the woman who had Israeli roots. I read that elsewhere.

      All of us may indeed stem from a convert Jew in the Rhineland (an area situated in Germany), but my understanding of Jewish law is that if your mother is a Jew, you are supposed to be considered a Jew. However, there are a number of points of view to about this.

      The Levant is an area which consists of Lebanon, Israel, and other Middle Eastern countries. You can find that on Wikipedia. There’s a nice map that shows the countries.

      If you do not have Jewish ancestry on both sides, the likelihood of your developing the diseases is lesser. We don’t have any of them in our family, but it would not hurt to get tested if you suspect that whomever converted out of Judaism in your family did so more recently in your family’s history.

      Wow, after reading about you and Sarah, I feel at home here! As I told Sarah, I was raised Roman Catholic but felt Jewish and was thrilled when I learned it came from my maternal DNA.

      The Ashkenazi Jews are the most-studied genetic group because we are so distinct. We also tend to have the highest IQs of any genetic group.

      But this has got me thinking: If there are a couple of us, there must be others.

      I know when I started thinking back about some things in my family, I saw how Jewish they were. I hadn’t realized it because I grew up in a very Jewish area (which in itself is quite interesting).

      Read about crypto-Judaism. You may find customs in your family that are Jewish or partially Jewish. It’s fascinating.

      I love that National Genographic study. It changed my life.

      And maybe we are both related to Sarah too 🙂

  5. I also participated in the NG study. My ancestral line is L1/L0>L2>L3>N>R>K. My haplogroup is K subclade K. My HVR sequence is 16129A 16224C 16311C 16519C.

    The literature that was sent to me indicates that I’m of Jewish descent.

    Am I understanding this correctly?

  6. I have much in common with Sarah. I took part in the National Geographic genographic project, and my maternal line also went through N1 to W – making my maternal line from one of the 4 Ashkenazi jew founders, and I am also from a sect of Shia Muslims (Ismaili) who are similar/related to the Druze in Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East. “Jewish” descent has a couple of different meanings because, unlike most other religions, “Jewish” refers to both an ethnic group and a religion. One can be genetically related to the ethnic group that is defined as “Jewish” and not be a follower of Judaism – and vice versa.

  7. Sarah, Penelope, Avicenna (are you named after the Greek physician?) and Laura–welcome to the tribe as all my Jewish friends say to me when I tell them my story.

    Fiona and Dror, nice to hear some additional perspectives on the “Jewishness” or “non-Jewishness of people who have found a relationship to the Ashkenazi Jews.

    Have any of you read any of the books about crypto-Jews? Most are written about Sephardic Jews who fled or hid from the Crusades and the Inquisition. Interestingly enough, while the genetic studies have been done on we Ashkenazim, a lot of the sociologic studies have been done on the Sephardim.

    I would like to gather a group of stories of people who were unaware of their Ashkenazic Jewish background and found out about it through the National Genographic Project or some other genetic study. I think this would make a fascinating book about who we are and what our reactions were to the discovery of this deep ancestry.

    I’ll bookmark this site and if any of you are interested let me know. I’ll come back and check. Maybe the moderator of this site can tell us how to exchange e-mail addresses privately so we can get our stories together without making our e-mail addresses public.

    MODERATOR–can we do this if we wish to correspond?

  8. All Ws–this is WEIRD! Here all of us were scratching our heads thinking we had Askenazi Jewish genetic roots and NOW there is new information on our W group. It seems there was some change in how they are classifying the Ws. We no longer have the N1 classification anymore. Now we have roots in Egypt, Turkey, the Middle East, Pakistan, India, Central Asia, or Siberia. Go back and check your results. The section on the N1 group was pulled out and replaced with a general N group, leading to W.

    It seems someone unearthed more information and wrote to the Genographic Project and the Project incorporated this into their information on us.

    Now I’m scratching MY head wondering about all those weird Jewish customs in my Catholic family. Now it looks like we are more Arabic early on and then ended up in Siberia.

    So, for the Muslim gals on here, perhaps this may be less confusing. But for me, I’m totally mixed up. I still FEEL Jewish and always have….

    I guess it’s back to the old reincarnation/Righteous Gentile identity for me.

    So, I’m not sure if we belong on here with regard to the Ashkenazi founder event anymore if we are Ws.

    If anybody here is an N1b, however, those folks still belong.

    Shalom anyway.


  9. So interesting to hear all your stories about finding the N1 group in your results.

    My maternal line, as I’ve always known it, is totally Polish and until I was born, pretty firmly Catholic. I’d never really ruled out the possibility of potentially Jewish ancestry given that the region had been home to a significant Jewish population for hundreds of years but I definitely not expecting to find it engrained in me genetically.

    So interesting that most of you come from W. I’m in group I and when I click on it and run my cursor back over the map it’s labeled both I and W. And I’m not having really any luck finding out the difference between them except that perhaps I went west and W went east.

    However my map still maintains the N1 designation, intriguing description and all.

    And with regards to any concern about genetic diseases associated with N1, my mother just returned from a nursing conference where she attending a genomics seminar. She mentioned that we had found the Ashkenazic gene in our test and the instructor said that if we didn’t know we had the designation, then it’s probably so diluted its effects are likely negligible.


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