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 passed 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).
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 TLC.com. Watch full episodes of the show on TLCgo.com. Discover more celebrities uncovering their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays 10|9c on TLC.
- 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.