More on my ancestry: Is my name really Irish? Were my ancestors gentiles? Is my genome kosher?

Today will be a bit solipsistic; so be it.

Yesterday, after I posted a picture of my dad that I’d never seen before, some kind readers went into and retrieved more information about the Coyne genealogy, most of which was new to me. I’m not going to bore you with all the details, but the most interesting one is that my last name came from Ireland, and has been “Coyne” at least since the beginning of the nineteenth century. The big mystery is whether the Irish Coynes were Jewish or not. Some of this info came from, other bits from my cousin Jeff.

A bit of background: when I wrote WEIT, I had my Y chromosome tested to see if it was from the Kohanim tribe, the priestly “caste” of Jews. I was absolutely sure that, sometime in the last century and a half, my ancestors were named Cohan or Cohen—a Jewish name—and changed it at Ellis Island to sound less Jewish.

Well, the DNA from the Y chromosome turned out not to be the characteristic Y of the Kohanim. This priestly duty is passed from father to son, and there is a characteristic kohanim Y chromosome that identifies them. Like surnames, Y chromosomes are passed from father to son, and so if I was one of the high-class Kohanim, a genetic test would tell me. (Curiously, I don’t believe in any of that religious stuff, but I wanted to find out as a way to get into evolution as the genealogy of ALL LIFE. That would be the intro to my first book, but I ditched it.) Well, it turned out I was a fake Cohen: all Kohanim are named Cohen or Cohan or Cohane, but not all Cohens and the like are Kohanim. That’s because many Jews took the name Cohen to pretend they were of that caste.  But my Y did show that I was Eastern European Jewish, which comported with what I knew of my ancestry. And it also meant that every one of my patrilineal ancestors named Coyne must also have been Jewish, because they had the Jewish Y that was passed on to me.

Here is the strange part, though: the genealogy that one of my relatives put on

More background, some of which comes from my second cousin Jeffrey Coyne: my father, and his late sister Madeline, were the products of the marriage of Joseph Coyne (who ran an auto parts store in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, and was fairly well off) and a woman named Florence Bloom.  Shortly after my father was born, his mother got the Spanish flu from the great epidemic in 1918, and died. (My father never knew his mother.) His father later remarried a much younger woman, Rose Keanan, and they had a son, Jack—my father’s half brother. My father was apparently poorly treated by Rose, and he and his sister were raised largely by their grandmother Pauline.  Joseph then lost every cent he had in the 1929 stock market crash, and, after he converted to Christian Science, he and Rose moved to Miami in the early 1930s, where Joseph died of a heart attack at 57 or 58. Rose remarried five or six times, and apparently remained a “hard drinking and bitter woman.” My father and his sister stayed in Pennsylvania.

Apparently because of the abusive way his step-mother treated him, and issues around the probate process when Joseph died, my father and Jack didn’t speak for decades—until they met again when I was a postdoc in Davis, California. (Jack lived nearby in Sacramento.) About 15 years ago I was contacted by Jack’s son Jeffrey, who taught law at Duke and also did private legal work, and he furnished me with some of the family history. (I believe all the information an came from him.)

My paternal grandfather Joseph was Jewish, for his mother was Jewish: Pauline Zoffer, born in 1856 in Germany. Here’s the manifest of the ship Schiller when she came to the US in 1858, arriving with her mother and brothers Solomon and Heinrich (her age is given as five, so I’m not sure about the disparity; also, I was told by Jeffrey that Pauline’s father Isadore was also on the ship , though the manifest doesn’t show that).


Here’s the 1920 census showing my dad’s family at that time. Pauline Zoffer, his grandmother, is listed as residing at the home, including Joseph, his son Floyd (my dad), and my aunt Madeline (my dad’s sister). Apparently Joseph hadn’t yet remarried two years after his wife died in 1918:

As the diagram at the top shows, Pauline 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, but what about Peter’s?  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”. 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?

Although I’m an atheist, according to Jewish law I’m considered Jewish since my mother (the other side of the family) was 100% Jewish: the daughter of David and Sadie Frank, Jewish immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe respectively.  But the source of my name, and of my Y chromosome, remains a mystery. Was “Peter Coyne” really Jewish and pretending to be a gentile, explaining why the “mixed” marriage really wasn’t mixed, even though it’s said to have angered my great-grandmother’s relatives?

Who knows? I’ll do some more digging when I have time. And maybe I’ll take a full DNA test (only Ys and mtDNA were available ten years ago).



  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 30, 2018 at 9:12 am | Permalink


    By the way – tangentially to the origin of the name Coyne

    I just read how the German name Seuss is supposed to be pronounced to rhyme with Joyce, and closer to “soyce” or “zoyce”


    “Wild Things : The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult”
    Bruce Handy
    Simon and Schuster

    • Posted January 30, 2018 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      That’s correct. Say “resilient”, and note the soft s. Then say “soys” with that soft s and you pretty much have it. However, if Coyne was contructed like that, phonetically, he would be “Keun”. Never heard of the name, but apparently it exists, for there is one author named Irmgard Keun

      Irmgard Keun (6 February 1905 – 5 May 1982) was a German author of novels. She is noted for her portrayals of the life of women during the Weimar Republic and the early years of Nazi Germany with characters portraying the flapper new woman and written in a style associated with New Objectivity. Her books were banned by Nazi authorities but gained recognition during the final years of her life.

      While we are at, Berthold Brecht wrote parable “Stories of Mr. Keuner”.

      Bertolt Brecht’s Stories of Mr. Keuner is a collection of fables, aphorisms, and comments on politics, everyday life, and exile. From 1930 til his death in 1956, Brecht penned these ironic portraits of his times as he was “changing countries more often than shoes.” An ardent antifascist, Brecht roamed across Europe just ahead of Hitler’s armies—only to wind up poolside in Los Angeles and then interrogated by Senator Joe McCarthy’s infamous committee.

  2. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 30, 2018 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Shortly after my father died, his mother got the Spanish flu from the great epidemic in 1918, and died.

    Do you mean shortly after your father was born his mother got the flu and died?

  3. GBJames
    Posted January 30, 2018 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Very interesting. Genealogy has a way of making personal the patterns of history.

  4. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 30, 2018 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    I can understand why many have this desire to look back at the ancestry of their family but I have never had the interest. The biologist in the room would probably see much more to it than I but to go back beyond your own grandparents is not likely to tell you that much about yourself. Even my own grandparents lived in such a different environment from my own, just knowing the differences in that time and the current is most interesting to me.

    • GBJames
      Posted January 30, 2018 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      The value, to me, is that it leads one (me) to learn history that otherwise would likely be missed.

      I grew up knowing nothing about my family history other than my grandparents’ names. Once we had kids I started exploring and learned that I had a Civil War soldier in the tree (turns out there were three of them). That led me to find out where he was from and to study the war in general. Using his regiment as a point of reference was invaluable in gaining a better understanding of that hugely important conflict.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted January 30, 2018 at 11:37 am | Permalink

        I can certainly understand that. When one does not know or never knew the parents or maybe grandparents there would be that desire. I knew my grandparents very well when I was growing up, particularly those on the Schenck side but to a lessor extent on the McFarland side. People automatically think, oh, you are German, but really, with mom a McFarland? And what is McFarland, Irish or more likely Scottish. My grandfather schenck was married to an Anderson. Whatever German there is must be so diluted by now, who cares.

        I do have an interest in history, particularly American history so study of the civil war is something I do anyway.

        • GBJames
          Posted January 30, 2018 at 11:44 am | Permalink

          Nobody’s coercing you to have an interest in your ancestry. But there’s a story in the early German migrations to the New World (assuming that’s what your ancestor’s story involves) that is tied up with the American Revolution, or the failed Revolution of 1848 in Germany, or some such events. Following the tree leads you to unexpected places.

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted January 30, 2018 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

            I am sure you are correct but would it be of more interest than mother’s side, the McFarland. It might go further back in this country than the other side and would that give them preference. We are a combination of mixed breeds from many directions and the directions it all comes from is simply not that important to me. My cats are the same way.

          • Posted January 30, 2018 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

            I viewed genealogy as a more personal form of history that led me to research areas I might otherwise not have looked into. My great grandfather and his three brothers from Missouri fought on the Union side and were in the same military unit. All four came home alive. My great grandfather on the other side of my family, was also a Union soldier, a scout, who was killed on a scouting mission in southwestern Missouri and his body was never recovered. I have a photo of him in uniform with his weapons, whereas the photo I have of my great grandmother was of her as an old woman. That always seemed sad to me.

            • GBJames
              Posted January 30, 2018 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

              Sad, indeed. I have photos of one of my three GGGrandfathers who was on the Union side. Two in uniform and two from pre-war days, with my GGGrandmother and their children. He was captured by the enemy after the Battle of Chickamauga and died in Scott warehouse prison in Richmond.

              I now know things about Civil War prisons that I did not know before following the genealogy. And I’ve learned about the reburial program that happened after the war. (And much about the Battle of Chickamauga!)

        • nicky
          Posted January 30, 2018 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

          Probably McPherson was kinda Gaelic/Celtic, but is Anderson? Is Anders not more Germanic, I guess even North Germanic (Scandinavian) name? I gather that the Anglo-Saxons were West Germanic tribes. I also heard a lot of Jutes migrated to Britain, they would be Frisian(?).

          • Tim Harris
            Posted January 31, 2018 at 4:40 am | Permalink

            The Jutes were from, Jutland… and they mostly settled in Kent.

          • Tim Harris
            Posted January 31, 2018 at 6:07 am | Permalink

            And the Angles were from southern Denmark, living in Angeln, between the Jutes and the Saxons. They are North Germanic tribes, but the language(s) they spoke are now classified as West Germanic, as opposed to the North Germanic languages, viz., the Nordic or Scandinavian languages. But Old Norse and Old English seem to have been mutually intelligible with a certain amount of difficulty and effort.

        • nicky
          Posted January 30, 2018 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

          Note that Schenk (pronounced with a ‘hard G’) is not an uncommon name in Holland too, It means to give (a gift) or pour (a drink).
          There was a Dutch speed-skater Ard (Adriaan) Schenk, who is still considered as one of the greatest ever.

          • Jenny Haniver
            Posted January 30, 2018 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

            Who said “what’s in a name”? I thought the name was related to ham — schenk, schink. There was once a Muslim man with the name Amadou Hampate Ba; a name I liked but thought that having “ham pate” in his name rather unfortunate for a Muslim.

            • nicky
              Posted January 31, 2018 at 1:16 am | Permalink


        • Posted January 30, 2018 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

          If you were to go back far enough in Scottish history, you might find that your “Scottish” relatives were Irish, because many Scots were originally from Ireland.

    • Posted January 30, 2018 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      The related Schenk is listed as family name in Germany and Netherlands, and it’s also a noble line:

  5. Posted January 30, 2018 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Could Peter Coyne have been a Jewish child adopted by Irish parents?

    One hears from these sorts of stories, so I suppose its possible, that both Catherine and Patrick Coyne were Irish and didn’t adopt any children but that Catherine’s “personal trainer” was Jewish.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 30, 2018 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      It would be pretty unheard of as back then everyone was so weirdly systemically bigoted that children weren’t adopted out to families of different religions. My dad, who was a butter box baby that was lucky to live, was adopted to a Protestant family because heaven forfend a Catholic should get a hold of him!

      • Tim Harris
        Posted January 31, 2018 at 5:50 am | Permalink

        ‘Butter box baby’ – I went to the link; oh, dear.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 31, 2018 at 8:48 am | Permalink

          Yes it was really awful. My dad was lucky to not have ended up in one of those butter boxes.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted January 31, 2018 at 4:44 am | Permalink

      John, Ann, Patrick and Catherine sound rather more Irish in their provenance to me than Jewish…

      • Tim Harris
        Posted January 31, 2018 at 5:07 am | Permalink

        That is to say, they are all ‘Christian’ names – and all of them saints!

        • Tim Harris
          Posted January 31, 2018 at 5:22 am | Permalink

          We were brought up supposing that on my mother’s side the family was originally Danish – refugees to England as a result of the Prussian annexation of Schleswig-Holstein. It all turned out be false, though my grandmother and mother firmly believed it. It had always puzzled me, because dates didn’t seem to fit. We discovered after their deaths that the family was in fact German – a rather widely spread family of mostly traders who traded in Russia, the Balkans, and became involved in the cotton trade in Manchester and in New Orleans (so there are apparently American cousins); all descended from a master-dyer in Bremen in the 16th century. I think my German great-grandfather, who was an engineer and ended up in South Africa, and Scottish great-grandmother got my grandmother and her brother and sisters to believe that they were Danish because of the intense anti-German prejudice that grew up before the First World War. The name was Frerichs, so that if there any American cousins reading this…

          • GBJames
            Posted January 31, 2018 at 7:25 am | Permalink

            The anti-German sentiment that surrounded WWI had profound consequences. Milwaukee (where I live) was an very German city with a thriving German language theater scene, German newspapers, beer halls galore, etc. What with he war (and Prohibition), nearly all of that was lost. You have to look hard to find a German themed restaurant in this town now.

  6. Paul Coyne
    Posted January 30, 2018 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    I am a Coyne (evidently) and we trace our name back to Mayo, although the records for my (personal, not figurative) ancestors are sketchy. However I have read that at least some Irish Coynes are, in fact, Cohens; possibly having changed as a means of assimilation. So you could be right on both counts. Which might make me sort-of jewish myself, though it would come through the paternal line only. Unless Hanlon is also Jewish!

    • John Conoboy
      Posted January 30, 2018 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      Family records in parts of Mayo and Galway can be difficult to find. Interesting that you have heard the same story that some in my family had heard about Jewish Coynes/Cohens. Sounds iffy. My great grandfather and his wife are buried in a cemetery between Maam Cross and Leenane which is close to Mayo. Lots of other Coyne gravesites in the area but none are relatives as far as we know.

      • Posted January 30, 2018 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

        Kind of like the vast number of people in the U.S. who were told they’re Native American; usually Cherokee.

        • GBJames
          Posted January 30, 2018 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

          Heh! This one was handed down in my family, too. It was nice of DNA to come along and pour water on that myth.

      • gscott
        Posted January 30, 2018 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

        Between Maam Cross and Leenane? That’s Joyce country, as the signs like to remind you (not to say there aren’t Coynes there too). I used to ride my bicycle along that road when I lived in Galway.

  7. Posted January 30, 2018 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I went through a period of maybe 10 years or so when I looked up my family’s genealogy, based on info inherited from my father and grandmother. As you say, it opens you up to different periods in history, in my case, the history of Friends (Quakers) in Ireland and England. It can be quite fascinating — at least for a while. So I understand your enthusiasm.

    It is quite a mystery you found. Good luck with it! (And keep us informed.)

  8. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 30, 2018 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    A full DNA test should help. I want my dad to do a test since I will have a more complete picture.

    My dad, who was adopted, did his own digging with what he could find in online archives that are open (birth, marriage & death certificates) as the records for his adoption are sealed by the state. He was able to find out his birth name and the names of his parents. His father was Irish and his mother was English and they met in Canada.

    My mom’s side is all over the place. There was mingling of Jews with gentiles there too but my genetics show no Ashkenazi Jew though I do have a small amount of Middle Eastern and North African DNA. My only conclusion is the German Jews in my family were indistinguishable from the rest of the German population. They went to NZ after WWI which might have been lucky anyway.

  9. cnocspeireag
    Posted January 30, 2018 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    I remember being told that many US Cohens were given the name at Ellis island, rather than deliberately claiming it. Groups of Jewish immigrants, functionally illiterate in the Latin alphabet, were unable to provide a US decipherable spelling of their names and exasperated officials would name all of the group after its spokesman, who was often a Cohen.The Jewish gentleman who told me this was quite convinced of its truth. Has anyone else heard the same?

    • DaveP
      Posted January 30, 2018 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      Interesting. Somewhere my wife’s family wound up with a last name that translates as “luggage” or “baggage”. I’ve wondered if that was an Ellis Island artifact. Remember the scene in The Godfather series where Vito winds up with the last name Corleone? There’s enough stories out there that there’s almost bound to be some truth in the official renaming of new immigrants. Not to mention the ones that changed their names to sound less foreign/ethnic; the Irish side of my family dropped the “Mc” at some point.

      • Posted January 30, 2018 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

        Or chose a new name to avoid “complications” on the other side of the Atlantic. I think there was plenty of that as well.

    • denise
      Posted January 30, 2018 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      Don’t think that’s true. They arrived at Ellis Island with entries in English in the passenger manifests. Not exactly sure who translated the names on their tickets into the Latin alphabet, but it happened before they arrived in New York.

  10. John Conoboy
    Posted January 30, 2018 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Very interesting. As I mentioned, my grandmother was a Coyne. She was born a bit north of the town of Galway in a place called Maam. Perhaps we are distant cousins. Did not know about the Y chromosome–may have to get tested. My mother’s parents were Jews from what is now Ukraine.

  11. John Hamill
    Posted January 30, 2018 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    We’re claiming Jerry and the rest of the world can’t have him back! Famous Irish scientists …

    Robert Boyle
    Lord Kelvin
    Ernest Walton
    George Boole
    Jerry Coyne

  12. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted January 30, 2018 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    I was under the impression – quite possibly mistaken – that while western family names generally descend patrilineally, the Jewish tradition is that one’s Jewishness (whatever that means) descends matrilineally. You’re a Jew if your Mum was a Jew. (This would comport with the recognition that maternal identity is far harder to hide than paternal identity.)
    So there isn’t actually any “identity” issue if your Jewish descent, Kohenhim or not, acquired the Irish “Coyne” name somewhere down the line.
    It could so easily have lead to an alternative universe populated with Conan The Evolutionary Biologist.

  13. Posted January 30, 2018 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Fascinating. You are lucky to know so much about your ancestry. Thanks for sharing this.

    On my Dad’s side, most of the information dead-ends in Norway at my great-grandparents’ (or great-great grandparents’) generation with only a city or region noted as their place of origin.

    On my Mom’s side, they mostly came from the UK in 1600s and are well-traced (waaaay back in the UK).

  14. Erik
    Posted January 30, 2018 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    I’ve had my DNA tested twice by the program offered by the National Geographic. The first time they would only do mtDNA or Y chromosome. Now, they do mtDNA, Y chromosome and somatic markers. I use the results in class when discussing human variation. I’m not that interested in personal ancestry, but it was interesting to find out that I have a mtDNA haplotype with only limited distribution. This is not an “ad”, but right now National Geographic is having a sale on their kits..$69.95 per kit for two or more. It’s less than I paid a couple of years for one kit. Just search for Geno 2.0.

  15. Posted January 30, 2018 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Have you considered enlisting Bryan Sykes’ assistance?

  16. Paul S
    Posted January 30, 2018 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    I had little interest in my family history because we seemed quite dull. No stories of great accomplishments, famous relatives or daring escapes from war torn countries.

    Turns out, you never know until you research.

    My sister looked up our grandfather’s WWI draft card and discovered his race is negro, that was news. We also discovered he was a blacksmith for the US cavalry at Argonne.
    1927, he left his home in Milledgeville GA shortly after his cousin was shot there by “three unidentified white youths”

    I find it fascinating to piece together someones life you thought you knew, but were completely wrong.

    Thinking about a DNA test, but I’m not clear what it can tell you about your ancestry.

    • GBJames
      Posted January 30, 2018 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      DNA can help connect you to people with related genealogical information allowing you to solve some puzzles, ancestry-wise. That’s how I learned that my “James” line leads back to Pembrokeshire, Wales.

      Along the way, however, you find your relatives aren’t always sensible people… I got connected to Trump supporters. Sigh.

      • Paul S
        Posted January 30, 2018 at 10:22 am | Permalink

        Dumb question I’m sure, how can DNA tell you where your ancestors lived?

        • GBJames
          Posted January 30, 2018 at 10:37 am | Permalink

          I have a “dead end” in my “James” lineage about the time of the Revolutionary War. (I suspect it is due to loyalist tendencies they might have had.) Using FTDNA I was able to connect with two other James guys who had better records, tracing back to Wales. (This is all Y chromosome stuff.) General historical records describe the groups who migrated to the colonies from Wales in the approximate time frame that the genealogy points towards.

          Other guys who show up as moderately closely related tend to concentrate in and around Wales. Often times the names are “Lewis” and “Davis”.. which puzzles people until they learn how Welsh patronymics worked until the 19th Century.

          • Posted January 30, 2018 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

            “how Welsh patronymics worked until the 19th Century”

            Would you be willing to explain this? I don’t have Welsh heritage (as far as we know anyway); but I’m very interested.

            And I loved Wales when I was there.


            • GBJames
              Posted January 30, 2018 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

              A son’s last name was his father’s first name. So Lewis James could have a son James Lewis who’s son could be Lewis James… So you can’t just follow the Jameses back. (Over simplified, but…)

              More here.

              • Posted January 30, 2018 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

                Cool! Thanks!

              • Posted January 30, 2018 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

                This is similar to the Norse patronymic system.

                You go back just a few generations, and people were Gunnarsdattar or Gunnarsson and, as you describe for Welsh names, they flipped every generation. (I remember when people I knew would make cracks about former Sec. Gen. of the UN: Boutros Boutros-Ghali. I said: How is that any different from John Johnson, or Don Donaldson?)

                I imagine this was common throughout the world when a person’s circle of acquaintances was only as large as a village and those sorts of patronymics were specific enough to do the job.

              • Posted January 30, 2018 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

                My (married) last name is Berglund which apparently is a Swedish army name. When Sweden, like other countries, actually began totry to keep track of who they were conscripting they found that they could not keep track at all since every fourth person had the same name-so they just began making up and assigning there are Berglunds and Lundbergs etc.

            • GBJames
              Posted January 30, 2018 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

              My wife and I first traveled to Wales in the mid-eighties, before we had kids. We loved it so much that we gave our kids Welsh last names. Only later did I learn that the Jameses came from Wales! Must be some genetic inclination to appreciate sheep or something.

              • Posted January 30, 2018 at 1:27 pm | Permalink


              • Tim Harris
                Posted January 31, 2018 at 6:44 am | Permalink

                If you are interested in Wales, I recommend listening to the CD that is available of the great Welsh-American baritone Thomas L. Thomas, and particularly of his singing of ‘Dafydd y Garreg Wen’ (David of the White Rock, which is one of the most beautiful melodies in the world). Thomas emigrated to the States as a young man.

                Sheep! In my mis-spent youth, I actually worked as an under-shepherd on a hill in South Wales. We used to go to sheep-fairs in the Brecon Beacons where all the talk was in Welsh.

                Surely, you mean you gave your children Welsh FIRST names, the last being ‘James’.

                Y Ddraig Goch Ddyry Cychwyn!

              • GBJames
                Posted January 31, 2018 at 7:31 am | Permalink

                Heh… We actually gave them Welsh middle names to go along with the Welsh surname. (Rhys and Elen)

          • Posted January 30, 2018 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

            I find names and family history fascinating, in general.

            I very often ask people about their names (first names and family names). Sometimes they take offense; but not often.

            These days, finding something interesting from a first name is less and less likely, as kids seem to get named whatever is popular or whatever is anti-popular, or just plain singular.

            One of my son’s friends has a strange name and so do his siblings. And there’s a story to each one, which is fun. (They are not family names; but rather mark certain events/experiences the family has had.)

        • mikeyc
          Posted January 30, 2018 at 10:47 am | Permalink

          Different genetic groups -called haplotypes- are found more concentrated in one region than another, that is, their distribution is permuted geographically.

          It’s a bit fuzzy and sometimes the probabilistic nature of it is missed, but it is still useful in a general sense; while DNA testing can’t tell you if your ancestors came from a particular city in a country, it can tell you if any of them came from the region. More or less. As I mentioned, its a geographic distribution that is based on probability -some estimates have higher confidences than others.

          • Paul S
            Posted January 30, 2018 at 11:02 am | Permalink

            Do you have one or many haplotypes?

            Thank you for the response, it’s a bit confusing.

            • Posted January 30, 2018 at 11:51 am | Permalink

              My apologies. Yes, you can have different haplotypes.

              Haplotypes are just groupings of similar genetic sequences. In most cases these days they are determined using SNPs, or Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms. SNPs are single base changes in our DNA that differ among people. We have learned that certain groupings of these SNPs are tightly associated (more or less) with people from a specific geographic region and that these can be used to distinguish them.

              When people share groups of these SNPs we say they share a haplotype. Since we know how humans reproduce, these haplotypes indicate relatedness even in absence of any socially constructed genealogies (birth certificates, etc); if you share them with someone else, you’re more closely related to them than you are to those who differs in their SNPs.

              I hope I haven’t muddled things further.

              • Paul S
                Posted January 30, 2018 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

                Thank you, that was quite helpful.

  17. Heather Hastie
    Posted January 30, 2018 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    All very interesting. It would be good to find out more too.

    I’ve looked into my own family tree quite a bit and have my ancestry going back several centuries on both sides. There are some interesting and even famous people there. However, my research also found that a particular person my grandmother always claimed as a direct ancestor, wasn’t. He may have been a distant relative, but I couldn’t find anything confirming or denying that.

    My grandmother never forgave me. She barely acknowledged me, let alone spoke to me, for the rest of her life.

    • GBJames
      Posted January 30, 2018 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      Jeeze. That’s kind of harsh.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted January 30, 2018 at 10:18 am | Permalink

        She was a good Christian woman.

        • GBJames
          Posted January 30, 2018 at 10:23 am | Permalink

          Yesterday I found out that my grandmother and her siblings refused to allow the oldest one among them (Anna) to attend their father’s will-reading… Anna was only a half-sister, illegitimate daughter of some Bohemian nobleman. That pregnancy had been “handled” by causing her mom (my GGGrandmother) to marry the nobleman’s “goose boy”. That marriage produced a slew of Catholic children who, it seems, never really accepted their elder half-sister.

          Humans make this all so much harder than it should be.

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted January 30, 2018 at 10:30 am | Permalink

            I never understood this thing of blaming kids for their parentage. It’s so incredibly cruel. Even if it was a “fault” in them, how were they ever supposed to do anything about it?

          • mikeyc
            Posted January 30, 2018 at 10:56 am | Permalink

            One branch of my family got very upset with my Great Uncle who did an exhaustive genealogy and discovered some very unpleasant people in our family tree. I simply couldn’t understand as these people were long dead (most of the complaints seemed to stem from people dead since the 18th century!), but poor Uncle Nathan still got cold shoulders from some of those weirdos.

            I just didn’t get it. I loved reading about my family history – even the occasional criminal, ne’er-do-well, scoundrel or fool.

            • GBJames
              Posted January 30, 2018 at 10:58 am | Permalink

              The ne’er-do-wells are the best part!

              • Posted January 30, 2018 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

                A former colleague found out that her family name came from an Immigrant to the USA who changed it “at Ellis Island” to avoid criminal prosecution in Europe.

                She thought it was charming. I do too!

    • Posted February 5, 2018 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      You have taken away the joy of her life ;-).

  18. cyan
    Posted January 30, 2018 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    If Catharine, Peter’s mother, was not Jewish, then Peter would not have been considered Jewish, would he?

  19. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 30, 2018 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    And a Happy early St. Paddy’s day to you, lad!

  20. Hempenstein
    Posted January 30, 2018 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Maybe for now just say you’re Ambiguously Irish.

  21. Posted January 30, 2018 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    I think it was Oscar Wilde (him again) who is reputed to have said that if you look far enough back in your family tree, you will find an ancestor hanging from it — either by his tail or by his neck.

    Seems appropriate for this site.

    • nicky
      Posted January 31, 2018 at 1:32 am | Permalink

      What a great quote!

  22. Jenny Haniver
    Posted January 30, 2018 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    I’m going to tell my Irish friend, who thought you were Irish when I told him about your book, that you are Irish (and Jewish). I still wonder about the McMoyles.

    Can you please let readers know what genealogical testing service you used, will you use the same one again, and will you get tested for Neanderthal genes? I’ve read that there are great disparities between the various services, and that certain tests are worse than useless. What to say about that?

  23. Posted January 30, 2018 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    That is very interesting. Might have to do find more about my own ancestors sometime.

    Of course, we are all Africans or as my shamefully diseased president says: we are all from the same shithole.

    • nicky
      Posted January 30, 2018 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      Even the Neanderthals ultimately came from Africa.

  24. Posted January 30, 2018 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Jerry, Thanks, and good luck on figuring it all out. I was surprised to find out a couple weeks ago that my paternal family name in the old country was Jankielewski, and that my great-grandfather changed the name to Cohan upon entering the US (presumably because they were Cohanim). We’ll see–I’m doing the Y chromosome test soon. There must be a lot of fake Cohanim out there!

    • Posted January 31, 2018 at 5:37 am | Permalink

      Any relation to George M Cohan? That would make you a Yankee Doodle Dandy!

      • Posted January 31, 2018 at 8:53 am | Permalink

        Well, I guess I’m a “Jankie” Doodle Dandy! Thanks for that.
        I’ve actually always connected with that song, partly because it was written by a convergent Cohan, but also because I share George M.’s exuberance for America. In my case, I’m grateful that America has taken such good care of my family and Jews in general. I would love to understand how my ancestors somehow had the prescience to know that what was really bad for Jews at the turn of the 20th in Eastern Europe would become monstrously worse in their lifetimes. Of course, I’m saddened now that a significant fringe in America is now “celebrating like it’s 1933.”

  25. Posted January 30, 2018 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    I just knew PCC had some mick in him.

  26. Posted January 30, 2018 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    I wonder about “sound-alike” changes, too. Could some “Cohen” have made it to Ireland adopted “Coyne” as a sound-a-like?

    I know of several cases of Chinese adopting sound-alike *given* names when arriving in Canada (a “Tong Hoi” was given “Tony” by his mother, for example, IIRC).

  27. jhs
    Posted January 30, 2018 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Interesting. Jewrish for now?

    Thank you for sharing.

  28. Posted January 30, 2018 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Well, maybe you are a descendant of one of the ten lost tribes of Israel(???) who left the middle east and joined up with theinnumerable peoples beginning to make their way across Europe several thousand years BC. Landing up in N. Spain for a while and then travelling up the west atlantic coast and landing in Ireland.Don’t know enough about Y chromosomegenetics but there must be more than one in Ireland. There are records of all sorts of people arriving in Ireland-Fir bolgs, Fomorians, danaan over the several thousand years and then the vikings later.
    My only claim to genetic notoriety, as far asI know is the possession of a couple of mutations in the
    Mitochondrial genome which as things stand currently , seem to indicate that my maternal lineage traces backto the original hunter gatherer population which movedback across Europe and North from several refugia as soon as the ice melted around 11,000years ago. That population was pretty much wipedout by subsequent migrationsfrom the middle east as population numbers grew due-to the growth of agriculture.

    • Posted January 30, 2018 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      “Don’t know enough about Y chromosomegenetics but there must be more than one in Ireland. ”

      There are four major Y-haplogroups in Ireland; R1b (which makes up ~80% of the population) and with the rest split almost equally between I1, I2a & R1a and a trace number of a few others.


      • Posted January 30, 2018 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

        Thanks,good to have information. Just in case any body took my suggestion as serious there was an element of tongue in cheek. The suggestion, for sure, is conceptually feasible however improbable.Who knows? Not every lineage in Ireland has been tested nor likely to be.

  29. Posted January 30, 2018 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    I find a preoccupation with ancestry silly, although curiosity is normal. One beneficial result is that people often discover just how mixed up genetically we are.

    • Posted January 30, 2018 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      And sometimes people run into big problems in their families when they discover a difference in their genetics and the family tree, especially when the person they thought of as their parent is not their biological parent. Some studies have shown that as much as 15% of people (depending on the cohort*) are wrong about who they think their father is.

      This is where many of the kind of family tree goes haywire – those trees are constructed by social records, not genetics.

      *I think the population average is far lower, but it is not close to 0.

      • GBJames
        Posted January 30, 2018 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

        FWIW… also has a DNA analysis component.

      • Posted February 1, 2018 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        When I took General Biology I in CEGEP the instructor had the lab tech do simple blood typing for everyone who wanted it. He would do this for his “bio of sex” general education class as well, and he said with those two together (years of each) he got about 10% of students discovering their parents aren’t who they think they were.

  30. nicky
    Posted January 30, 2018 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    About Jewish ancestry: when working in Antwerp, quite a few of my Chassidic patients, those learned scribes in particular, contended that my (quite rare) surname was Jewish. I never believed that -and still don’t, although my father and grandfather were notorious ‘semitophiles’ (which became very clear during WW II).

  31. Posted January 30, 2018 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Just because your great-grandmother *married* a gentile, that’s no indication that she reproduced with one. There are in fact three generations of women who could have cheated with someone Jewish. Without wishing to cast aspersions on the morality of your female ancestors, that does seem more likely than your great-grandmother happening to marry an Irish Gentile who had an Irish name but had patrilineal breakfast ancestry.

  32. Nancy
    Posted January 30, 2018 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    My Mother is a Coyne (parents Michael and Bridget, nee Mannion). I was obsessed w/ researching my Irish heritage via 20 years ago. I was unable to get very far w/ my Irish lineage because so many records were unavailable at that time, as my ancestors were baptized in small churches and those records were not available via Ancestry website.

    Grandparents came over from Galway in the early 1900s. They ended up here in Chicago, but both died in their 60’s and I don’t remember them although I have many pictures of them.

    I have many Coyne relatives here in Chicago, but it’s highly unlikely we are related to your people. We’re more of the drinking Coynes than the thinking Coynes (myself excluded, as I am a teatotaler).

  33. James Walker
    Posted January 30, 2018 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    I had my DNA analysed by 23andme a couple of years ago (after seeing an interview with a representative of the company on TVOntario’s The Agenda). Mostly unsurprising: 75% British Isles, the rest Northern European (French, Scandinavian). But there was 0.1% Ashkenazi Jewish from Eastern Europe. Now I don’t know which side of the family that came from (there are no family stories about Jewish ancestors and no evidence in the genealogies we’ve done back into the early 19th century), but my great-great-grandfather on my mother’s side was from Galway in Ireland. Is there an Irish-Jewish connection?

  34. Gayle
    Posted January 30, 2018 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    Since the Y chromosome is passed down from father to son I guess that all is required for you to have a Jewish Y is that one patrilineal ancestor in the past was Jewish. So if it was not Patrick Coyne, it could have been someone earlier. He might not have even known of his own Jewish ancestry if his mother was not Jewish. As someone said previously, Ireland has a more diverse gene pool than you might think. Still, it would require a Jewish man of Eastern European origin to get to Ireland. I know that the Spanish used to use Ireland as a stop point on the way to somewhere. Don’t know about Eastern Europeans.

    • Gayle
      Posted January 30, 2018 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      How soon after Pauline and Peter’s marriage date was Joseph born? Maybe she got knocked up by some Jewish scoundrel and Peter stepped up to marry her!

  35. Posted January 30, 2018 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Fascinating post, Dr. C. I’ve often wondered if you were related to Leonard Cohen, as there is more than a passing resemblance.

  36. Posted January 30, 2018 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing this information with those of us fascinated by genealogy and history, as well as those fascinated by you. Please share if/when you learn more.

  37. Posted January 30, 2018 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    I meant to share this unimportant family tidbit. My husband was eligible for membership in the American and Canadian (British) Revolutionary War organizations as he had a relative who fought on both sides.
    Tracing his life and those of his family we found fascinating.

  38. Michael Barton
    Posted January 30, 2018 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    I’m not knowledgeable about cultural Jewish traditions, but it seems to me that there is an easy explanation. Peter was gentile probably means that his mother was gentile, that’s what determines Jewishness, right? His father could certainly have been Jewish. The cultural inheritance of Jewishness and the genetic inheritance of the Y-chromosome Jewish trait are only related by happenstance.

    P.S. It is an urban myth that names were changed at Ellis Island. Names were taken directly from the ship manifests. There were often errors on these manifests, especially when someone departed from a port in another country or because of phonetic attempts at name spelling.

    • Posted February 1, 2018 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      From what I understand people sometimes changed their name *for the manifest*.

  39. bric
    Posted January 31, 2018 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    ‘Bloom’ is an interesting name in the field of Irish Jews.

  40. Posted February 15, 2018 at 2:57 am | Permalink

    “…but not all Cohens and the like are Kohanim. That’s because many Jews took the name Cohen to pretend they were of that caste.”

    Not all children were the offspring of the Konahim husband owing to the subjugation of Jews in many places in Europe and Asia and the violation of Jewish women by oppressors.

    The Khazar conversion may explain some at least of some non-Konahim Y-chromosomes into what are claimed to be Konahim lineages.

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