Posted by Ancestry Team on April 13, 2017 in Who Do You Think You Are?

Every family has a story, and often those stories are passed down from generation to generation. But what happens when a family’s story is not JBpassed down? This proved to be the case with Jessica Biel, who recently uncovered a missing element to her Biel line’s story. Jessica grew up without knowing much about her Biel line. She had been told that the family was German, but no further details were passed down to her. What she found proved to be pretty astonishing.

When Jessica began her journey, she started the way genealogists often do, with census records. From the 1910 U.S. census, she learned that her great-great-grandfather Morris Biel worked as a cloak cutter, was born in Austria, and spoke Hungarian. Not only did this show that her Biel family might not be German, it also hinted at a possible Jewish background: Morris is a common Jewish given name, and cloak cutting was a very common profession for Jewish immigrants at that time.


When something like this crops up in your family tree, one of the best places to turn can be one of the least expected: a DNA test. Jessica took a DNA test through AncestryDNA, which calculated that her ethnic breakdown included 8% European Jewish DNA. While this DNA test doesn’t indicate which line her Jewish ancestry came from, it indicated that it was a part of her background, and continued research into the Biel family revealed that they were Austro-Hungarian Jews that lived in the town of Zsolna (in modern-day Slovakia).JB2

DNA tests can tell us some pretty unexpected things about our heritage. One of the best things to do with your DNA results is use them in conjunction with available records to build out your family’s story.

Learn more about Jessica’s journey or see videos about other celebrities’ ancestries on Watch full episodes of the show on Discover more celebrities uncovering their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays 10|9c on TLC.

Tips from AncestryProGenealogists:

  • Start with what you do know. If you find an unexpected ethnicity in your DNA results, look for lines in your family tree that could be the most likely source for that ethnicity.
  • Make sure that you are looking at your DNA matches often. With more and more people taking the AncestryDNA test, new people are added to the match pool daily, and one of them could be the key to unlocking your own surprising family story.
  • Keep in mind that DNA inheritance is random. If you have a family tradition of having a certain ethnicity but it is not showing up in your ethnic breakdown, it does not necessarily mean that you do not have that ethnicity. You just might not have inherited that part from your ancestors.
  • Have as many members of your family test as possible, especially older generations.
  • Certain ethnicities, such as Jewish and Native American, are very distinctive and are very easy to identify. However, ethnicities such as Scandinavian and Great Britain can be difficult to differentiate because historically, these populations mixed. Keep in mind that your DNA ethnicity estimate is a guide and should be used in conjunction with available records.




  1. Paul Werbos

    DNA ethnicity is even less reliable. When I see the commercial about a guy giving up his lederhosen, I am glad that that guy moved elsewhere, but I remember when my DNA (standard used by all these services) showed zero German, but I crosschecked and found that was totally spurious. These types of DNA tests are much better for identifying relatives than for ethnicity or origin, and relative tests and Ellis Island substantiated 100% the family German story.

  2. Dolores

    Remember, Paul Werhos, that you simply may not have inherited DNA from your German line, thus the test probably is not spurious.

  3. Wilma

    I have been looking for the last 40 years for my 3rd great grandfather. His name was Bowman Webb b.1762 Nether Providence, Delaware co, PA. I strongly suspect that his people came with the Quakers. They may have been indentured. I was told that their name could not be mentioned until their debt was paid but it seems that they should be mentioned in the passenger list.

  4. Denise

    Jessica was to interested in learning if she was Jewish and about all the family stories that turned out to be mostly untrue. I don’t think she enjoyed the experience as she should have.
    So far the best celebrity to enjoy the full experience and used to the best of his ability was Smokey Robinson. I loved his whole story and how he went will the flow of his family story. Great Job Smokey! Loved how he learned to use the census records!

  5. Shon McColm

    Is it pointless to expect your sister to have any differing DNA?
    She is definitely my sister but I’ve been told we would just give up identical relations through our DNA. What about my children is it the same with them as far as my family is concerned, I realise they will also have their dads DNA but I’m interested in expanding my own tree.

  6. Ev Hartmann

    Hi Can you tell me how long for results once you start the lab process. I can see people have been waiting a while and I just got an email saying that the process hasn’t started on mine. Thank you Irish and German

  7. It was really disappointing to see it portrayed that the lack of any Native American DNA somehow indicates that Jessica had no Native Americans in her family tree. This is completely the wrong sort of impression that should be given to those who don’t know any better. Anyone halfway familiar with Autosomal DNA knows that it could be perfectly plausible that a person could have Native ancestry and have no DNA ethnicity be reported by a test. Extremely irresponsible, and I see that aspect of the show has conveniently been glossed over by the blog post.

    I’m sure the professional genealogists did their due diligence to try and find any Native American ancestors, and it just didn’t come up (or else I’m sure *that* would have been mentioned in the show), but to not explain that in the show in conjunction with the limitations of the DNA test is just irresponsible.

  8. Member Services Social Support Team

    @Ev: The normal processing time is 6-8 weeks but we are however working on reducing wait times and we have opened an additional lab to expand our capacity to process DNA samples so it may very well only be 2-4 weeks before you receive your results once the lab starts processing the test.

  9. Member Services Social Support Team

    @Kathleen: We’re sorry for the delay. What is the current status if you log in to your account and click on the DNA tab? We are working on reducing wait times and we have opened an additional lab to expand our capacity to process DNA samples and if the lab has started processing the sample it can be much quicker than the normal 6-8 weeks.

  10. Member Services Social Support Team

    @Shon: The DNA we inherit from each parent is completely random, so unless you’re an identical twin, your DNA profile won’t be exactly the same as a sibling’s. This means that at that point some of our ancestors would not have contributed to our current DNA, as there are more ancestors than genes. This would have explained why two siblings could have different ancestral DNA. Although they have the same parents and thus the same ancestors, each sibling could have picked up genetic information from different ancestors in the gene pool in the distant past. We’ve attached a link to an article here that we hope will be helpful: 

  11. Jessica Marie Nelson

    Hello I’m interested in meeting up with someone who can help me and also figure out family members and friends

  12. Judith

    Jessica’s show was the first I’d seen. When hearing she was being sent to Miller Co, Missouri, it got my attention as that is where my parents were raised. I was wondering if she would be going to Historical Society bldg where had taken my late mother in about 2004 to get some of her records. The volunteer helping recognized the name & said she knew people by that name & named parents & siblings. Turns out it was my mom’s friend from their teens whom had not seen in many years & did not recognize each other. From the friend we learned that the cabin on grounds was built by my great-great-grandfather. Their family picture, minus my great-grandmother who had left home already, was hanging in the cabin. A totally unexpected find. I’ve just started some geneology searches & will be doing the DNA test.

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