Soon I’ll learn my ancestry: is there any Irish in there?

February 25, 2022 • 10:15 am

Well, I’ll learn it at least insofar as the 23andMe tests are accurate. I guess they did get usable DNA out of my second sample, and so the genetic analysis will be coming very shortly, probably when I’m in Antarctica. (I opted out of the genetic health information as I’m neurotic.)

My prediction:  96% Ashkenazi Jew, 4% Neanderthal. The big question is whether there’s any Irish at all in my genome given that one or more of my distant ancestors may be Irish.

Here’s a diagram of what I know of the ancestry on my father’s side (on my mother’s it’s Jewish all the way down.) Below the diagram is what I wrote four years ago after showing my paternal family tree (“Floyd Coyne” was my dad), with information provided by my cousin Jeffrey. Jeffrey was the son of my dad’s half brother Jack. My dad’s birth mother, whom I believe was named “Rose Bloom”, died shortly after he was born, during the influenza epidemic in 1918. His father Joseph remarried.

My father was apparently badly treated by his stepmother and never spoke of her. And he was estranged from his half brother Jack until they reconciled in Sacramento when my folks visited me as a postdoc in Davis, California (early 80s).

What I knew four years ago (slightly revised:

As the diagram at the top shows, Pauline Zoffer (my father’s grandmother) married Peter Coyne, born in New York in 1862. There used to be an announcement online of my paternal great-grandparents’ wedding in Brooklyn, and it was a small piece titled “Jewish wedding”, announcing that Peter and Pauline were married at a synagogue.  (Sadly, that announcement is no longer there, but I remember it.) That comports with Pauline’s religion (after all, her own dad was “Isadore Zoffer”), but what about Peter’s?  [My cousin] Jeff tells me that their marriage “caused a rift within the Zoffer family” because Pauline married a gentile, and that would mean that my name wasn’t Jewish—wasn’t changed from “Cohen” or “Coyne”.  It would also mean that my paternal grandfather Joseph, whom I never met, was Jewish by Jewish law, for his mother was Jewish. But he would have carried a gentile Y chromosome from his non-Jewish father Peter.

But if that’s the case, why do I have a Y chromosome showing Eastern European Jewish ancestry? For that would mean that Peter himself was not of complete gentile ancestry, but that his Y was Eastern European Jewish. (I have his Y.)

It is a mystery. Peter’s parents were Patrick and Catherine Coyne, with Patrick born in 1823 and Catherine in 1831, both in IRELAND. And Patrick’s parents were John and Ann Coyne, both Irish, too, with John born in 1803 in Galway and Ann born in 1805 in Ireland (no city specified). My name, and my Y chromosome, goes straight back to John W. Coyne.

Already, then, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the name “Coyne” was still “Coyne”, and perhaps it was never “Cohan” or a variant therefore. All this time I’ve been telling people that my name was changed from something like “Cohan,” which was simply a guess.

While there is a small Jewish community in Ireland around Galway, there are also plenty of pure Irish Coynes. So I have no idea if my name was changed from something else, was always “Coyne”, and whether “Coyne” was even a Jewish name. Was the wedding in Brooklyn a “mixed” one? Why do I have a Jewish Y chromosome if my paternal great-grandfather was a gentile?

But of course when I had my Y chromosome tested way back in 2007, it was a Y characteristic of Jews. and thus I had Peter Coyne’s Y, which was also Patrick Coyne’s Y and John Coyne’s Y.

We’ll find out something soon, I guess. One thing is for sure: eating corned beef won’t violate either a Jewish or Irish heritage.

Stay tuned, and if you have your own predictions for me, let me know.

25 thoughts on “Soon I’ll learn my ancestry: is there any Irish in there?

  1. Family history can be very interesting. My father went into our genealogy on both sides. You have to be careful of family stories, though. My grandmother used to say that her great-uncle (her grandfather’s brother) died in Andersonville during the Civil War. I had a chance to actually look at the records, and it turned out that he died of Typhus in Kentucky, well before Andersonville was established, and was not a prisoner of war.

    1. Hey, there’s more than one Jew in Dublin. After all, Robert Briscoe was the city’s mayor in the Fifties.

      Imagine, a Jew as Lord Mayor of Dublin. As Yogi Berra said, only in America.

  2. The explanation is that our ancestors were all a bunch of liars and confabulists. 🙂

    Which is not really a moral judgement on them as much as it is a judgment on the bigotry of past society. Two non-Jerry illustrative examples: when Scottish gets you a job and lets you feed your family but Irish doesn’t, you are now Scottish. And when some USian’s DNA shows some African genes but no black ancestors in their family tree, it’s easy to guess why.

  3. You start posting links to “Danny Boy,” I suppose we’ll have our answer.

    Just in time for St. Paddy’s Day, too.

  4. Dia dhuit Jerry! My paternal ancestry traces back to an Italian Jew named Galantuomo, and descendants of his who migrated to the Kingdom of Poland. My maternal ancestry goes back to fardeicheltJews of the Hapsburg monarchy. But years ago, I received an Email from an Irish individual, name something like O’Houlihan, who claimed to be a cousin. Éirinn go Brách!

  5. My father and aunt were born and raised in Cork City, County Cork, Ireland. My paternal grandmother emigrated from Riga and my paternal grandfather emigrated from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to avoid being drafted into the army. My dad had a brogue all his life. What a hoot listening to Yiddish spoken with an Irish brogue.

  6. I will be very interested to find out your results. Here is a link to some information about the Irish name Coyne. I couldn’t figure out how the name Coyne turned into Barnacle, until a recent post in an Irish geneology Facebook page noted that there is a Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) that breeds in western Ireland and the Irish name means goose. Our family had a rumor that our Coyne side of the family was originally Cohen and that we had an ancestor who moved to Ireland from Germany, but there is no indication in my cousin John Coyne, who carries the Coyne Y chromosome of that. If you would like, I can ask on the Irish geneology FB page about your ancestors.

    1. Maybe Jerry is related to the Irish writer Máirtín Ó Cadhain, author of Graveyard Clay (or ‘The Dirty Dust’ in another translation). The entire novel takes place in a graveyard in a small village west of Galway (a region I know well), and all the characters are dead. Not for everyone, but I enjoyed it.

  7. Another prediction: 98.7% chimpanzee. My thesis adviser used to say it was a wise primate indeed who could be certain of his/her/their ancestry. That was before DNA sequencing.

  8. > My prediction: 96% Ashkenazi Jew, 4% Neanderthal

    Is that even possible? Wouldn’t that mean that Ashkenazi were breeding directly with pure-blooded Neanderthals?

    I’m always a bit confused when I see numbers adding to 100 taken from populations in vastly different eras; it’s like saying ‘I am 50% from my father’s genes, and 50% from my mother’s grandfather’s mother’s genes. If there was a standard definition of ‘human tribes in the year 1 CE’ or ‘in 1500 CE’ or something, that would make more sense to me. It’s like the question of “How far back constitutes ‘indigenous’?” Are Anglo-Normans indigenously British? How about Anglo-Saxons? The Picts? The neanderthals?

  9. I haven’t trusted 23andMe ever since they “corrected” my initial result of 1/1024 native American and tried to claim I’m just plain, vanilla, northwest European, thereby revoking my minority status.

  10. Transcribed:
    27 January 1879
    The wedding of Miss Pauline ZOFFER and Mr. Peter COYNE took place at the
    Jewish Synagogue, at Boerum and State streets, at 3:30 P. M., yesterday,
    and was celebrated by a reception at Nilsson Hall, Fulton street and
    Gallatin place, at 5 o’clock. A large number of friends of the two
    families were present in response to cards of invitation from the
    parents of the bride and groom, and the occasion was one of agreeable

  11. The SNP testing and grouping should perhaps be best seen as vanity games.

    Haplogroups are interesting to observe migrations but are unreliable on an individual basis. C.f. how archaic mitochondrial genomes have given erroneous pictures of groups, which now “whole” genome studies uncover.

    I’m not sure if these tests are much good as medical advisory either due to false positives and the statistical nature of groupings. But they will uncover some existing or potential problems so maybe they do more good than bad – personally I would have doctors proscribing them. (And increasingly such tests are done on newborn – but not by the vanity companies.)

    [Disclaimer: I haven’t worked with SNP typing of humans on sufficient scale to know the ins and outs of it.

    And I am lucky to live in a nation where we usually can track ancestry many generations back (and the percentage of mistaken ancestry has been found small). So that interests me more regarding ancestry.]

    1. I’ll add that of course a whole genome sequencing – which I won’t get from the SNP bead technologies used here – would be interesting! To study one’s own genome could be a fun pastime.

    2. Well said. These tests must use modern populations rather than ancient DNA from wherever – say eastern Europe for Jewish emigres. No one will be digging up bones & testing. Treat with caution – & if you must, get tests from several companies so one can compare.

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