Follow along as I post results and interpretations of various DNA tests conducted on my Palestinian Christian family members. For a condensed version, read the Summary page for key findings. For more in-depth review, the other pages & blog posts will offer detailed and specific information. Use the labels to find posts relating to the Pages above or family surnames. Feel free to contact me at holylanddna@gmail.com. 


Similar to the Y-DNA tests on males, the Mitochondrial DNA test traces the direct maternal ancestor (mother's mother's mother, etc).  Both males & females can take this test to trace the direct maternal line, but only the female passes this line down to her children.

We had mtDNA testing done on my great-uncle (grandmother's brother) and my grandfather through FTDNA.  The Geno 2.0 test gave further descriptions of the maternal haplogroup for my father, which is the same line as my great-uncle.  And, at 23andme, maternal haplogroups were assigned to my grandfather, grandmother (and father, which is the same line).

There is a much greater variance in maternal haplogroups in Palestinian Christians, as compared to paternal haplogroups.  We know that throughout history women moved around a lot more than men did- whether through marriage, slavery (wars), etc.  I will also share the other maternal haplogroups of other Palestinian Christians for comparison.  The ones that appear very native to the Levant are T1 and X2, among others. Interestingly, both my grandparents' maternal lines seem to come from Europe.

Results for my Grandfather (direct maternal line as far back as we know is Abuaita): J2b1

  1. FTDNA Results for HVR1 & HVR2 mtDNA Test
  • Matches- A total of 5 at the HVR2 level: 3 Italian, 1 Swiss, 1 Jordan.
  • Haplogroup frequency map for J haplogroup - For Middle East J is 11.22%, for Europe it is 9.34%, Central Asia is 11.11%, North Asia is 8.85%.  It is the 4th most frequent haplogroup in the Middle East (J as a whole, not J2b1 specifically).  The map states here that J is most frequent in Western & Central European populations.

     2.   23andme Results for Maternal Line Test

  • Right now, we only have about 4 (including my grandfather) exact J2b1 haplogroup matches for people of Middle Eastern descent.  It appears to be on the rare side among our matches.
 3.   Commentary and Feedback on these results
  • I initially read this about J2b1: J2 seems to be coming from Phonecians. J1 is about 7% of MT in Jews. Latest resource includes Canaanites and Phonecians as J2.  Both were assimilated into the Jewish Tribes during the entering of Canaan.  30% Jews have J2. 
  • I inquired to the J Maternal Haplogroup message boards and received the following responses: In general J2b is Near Eastern but J2b1 is mainly European. I checked the Lebanon-Syria-Palestine-Jordan Project (mainly Muslim) and the Assyrian (Christian) Heritage Project. Neither Project listed J2b1.
  • They mentioned an article by Pala et al., 'Mitochondrial Signals Of Late Global Recolonization Of Europe From Near East Refugia', American Journal Of Human Genetics (2012). It is probably the best survey out there, but like any empirical study new findings can change the picture. According to Pala, J2a and J2a2 are Near Eastern but J2a1 is European. J2b and J2b2 are Near Eastern but J2b1 is European. J1d and its subclades are Near Eastern.
  • The mention of J2b1 being in the Near East was in an old version of Wikipedia written before the Pala research. The article was outdated in another respect----it mentioned J1a which was reclassified as J2a a few years ago.  The Wikipedia article was also written before the Arabian study by Abu Amero which found little J2 of any type although Arabia now has the highest concentration of J.
  • The conclusion that the subclade is not found in Europe is taken directly from an early Master's thesis by Serk who only found J2b1 in Moroccans. Compared to the recent comprehensive research of Pala, Serk's sample was small and unrepresentative. Pala did conclude that there was a branch of J2b1 in the Near East although the subclade is more common in Europe. Behar found a significant percent of J2b1 among Caucasian Jews. The origin was attributed to the Diaspora from Israel rather than from the Caucasus where the rate is low (I found one J2b1 from Turkey in the Armenian Project) 
  • I only mentioned the Diaspora to explain J2b1 in Caucasian Jews. I favor Palas' explanation of a European origin. The old statement in Wikipedia (and many other sites) about J2b1 being non-European is incorrect. The subclade probably migrated from the Black Sea area along the European Mediterranean to the Atlantic coast and eventually to the British Isles. I don't think it was brought by Jews into Europe and happened thousands of years before the Jews. The presence of J2b1 in the Near East might be the result of back migration from Europe---this would not be unusual for Levantine Christians and could also explain ancient Israeli lines. (At the risk of causing more confusion there is the less likely possibility that J2b1 began in the Near East and spread to Europe long before there were Jews in that region) We simply need more research to clear up the picture.
  • I did not mean to imply that J2b1 was an Ashkenazi line. Now I am sorry that I brought it up, but there are Jews in  the Caucasus mountains who are J2b1 with probable origins in ancient Israel. The vast majority of European J2b1s are not of Jewish ancestry and there are Near Eastern J2b1 lines that are not Jewish.
  • Final Thoughts on J2b1- Right now we don't really know for sure, but it does look likely that this line was Mediterranean or Southern European in origin and ended up in the Levant due to back migration.  This is a unique haplogroup for Palestinian Christians, and I think it is an example of ancient diversity in the Middle East.

Results for my Grandmother/Great-Uncle (direct maternal line as far back as we know is Romman from Beit Jala): H1

1. FTDNA Results for HVR1 & HVR2 mtDNA Test

  • Matches- A total of 150 at the HVR2 Level: 21 England, 15 Germany, 12 Italy.  By population % - highest is Croatia, Slovakia, Denmark.  For those listed as H1 (proven haplogroup for my grandmother through 23andme test), they come from: England, Ireland, Italy, Northern Ireland, Poland, Spain, Ukraine.
  • Haplogroup Frequency Map for H haplogroup- 


Anonymous said...

Your lines may not be so ancient. You may simply be the descendants of the Crusaders. Crusader lineages are being posted on Geni (as many as are known). Many of course will never be known as many were 2nd or third sons, and died in the Levant. I am MtDna J2a2 and have over 30 crusaders verified in my lineage, and Richard III is J1c2c, yet we both descend from his mother. I would keep investigating more information about Norman lineages as they become available.

Holy Land DNA said...

Thank you! This is very interesting. Were there also Crusader women? If on the maternal line line, it must be passed from the mother. I'm very curious about this because many Palestinian Christians have European maternal haplogroups. Can you send me a link where I can found out more?

Anonymous said...

Yes, there were many Crusader women. I too, am of French Norman descent and have approximately the same number of Crusaders in my lines. I am also related through multiple lines to the Plantagenet family.

One of the first crusades was a "People's Crusade", which was composed mostly of non military people, women, men and children. There was also just a Children's Crusade. Many of these people were killed or enslaved because they did not have adequate protection and therefore the nature of the Crusades became more military later in time, but initially it was not. Women captured during this time may be the mtdna source. Some of my ancestors were from the royal house of southern Wales, and J2a2 has been discovered there as well. I am J2a2. There are many books written about the initial Crusades and their participants. Very interesting thread!

Anonymous said...

Also, I forgot to mention that there is a family in Lebanon that is supposedly descended directly from one of the leading Crusader generals. These men all definitely married into the local populations so there would definitely be Northern European DNA all through the Levant. Many people have written regarding the blue eyed, blond children that are born in villages that are adjacent to old Crusader castles.

HolyLandDNA said...

Fascinating! I have also heard stories of blue-eyed villages in Lebanon. My grandfather has green eyes and this is very strong on his paternal and they were from Lebanon (at least at one point in time). Some of the men in this family look very European with lighter hair and the green/blue eyes. It's quite striking.

I will definitely have to read more about the early Crusades. That was always a source of contention for me, but definitely makes sense if women were involved in the Crusades. This could be a very good explanation of the large amount of European mtDNA in the Levant today. My grandmother's is definitely Northern European - H1 with all of her matches coming from northwestern Europe or the US. My grandfather's J2b1 is appears to be more Southern European and showing up in Spanish/Italian matches. I wasn't sure how much of an impact the Crusades made on the genetics of the indigenous population, but apparently it is much more than I assumed. Gedmatch brings up Euro genes in most Palestinians, which you don't see on 23andme (only going back 500 years). Do you feel the large amounts of Italian is also coming from Crusaders? Or do you think it's further back from Roman times? My father gets a whopping 20% Italian on FTDNA and it shows up in all Palestinians. This is way outside the margin of error, so is definitely evident in the genes.

You brought up the Crusaders castles and I know my ancestors did live in these cities during that time. I was wondering how separated they were, do you know if intermarriage was common?

Please email me at holylanddna@gmail.com. I would love to discuss this further!

Anonymous said...

Yes, there was intermarriage, as the Crusaders, although in theory very endogamous group, married with local chieftains and landowners to form alliances with locals to defend the conquered territories, as they were always chronically short of manpower because of the wars in Europe. These men and women lived lifetimes in the Levant so of course they would have relationships with the local people. Depending on winning or losing battles, they could also be taken prisoner. The Europeans definitely married into the Armenian Christian community, and probably any Christian community they came across while there. They also would marry anyone who would convert.
There are strong ties with Italy, but this is more complicated. The first group carrying this DNA may have been Romans stationed north. But the kings and princes of medieval Italy and Sicily were descendants of Norman crusader families, who initially invaded Italy and then went on to the Levant. While conquering Italy, they married into the pre existing rulers of Italy, the Lombards.
After the fall of the Levant 1291 the Norman Crusaders evacuated and became rulers of Tripoli, Cyprus, Rhodes and Malta.
So Norman and Lombard family bloodlines would be expected to show up in Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Cyprus, Malta, Armenia ,Italy, Sicily, Syria, Greece and Turkey. The Crusader armies went both overland and by ship out of ports like Messina. A great study would be DNA from areas adjacent to crusader castles in the Levant. I think it would fill in a lot of blanks in history. It is said they adapted very well to the local culture, to the point that after a hundred years, when European "new comers" would visit, they would object to the fact that the old families had become very much a part of their middle eastern culture and had forgotten their roots in Europe.

HolyLandDNA said...

Very insightful! I have found the traces of NW Euro very interesting in the Middle Eastern population and it's even evident in Muslim Palestinians, although I assume many of them were originally Christian that later became Muslim or had at least one Christian ancestor.

The Italian component, which is very large- do you believe this could at all be Greco-Roman from very ancient times, the time of Christ? We know there were many Romans in the Levant at that time and many were early converts to Christianity. One might suspect they were a large part of the early Christian communities and that is why there is such a large amount of "Italian" DNA. Thoughts on this? Or do you think it is more from Crusader times?

Have you read my blog post on the Dabdoub family? This is one example of Italians in the mix. There are others out there.

I know my ancestors were living in a Crusader citadel area and took refuge there. Very possible intermarriage at that time for sure and maybe with Italians in that area near Petra (Wadi Musa). I may have underestimated the scale to which this could have occurred. And it may very well be the source of the varied phenotypes you see in the Levant as compared to the Arabian countries in the Gulf. Fascinating study, please keep me updated as you discover more!

pamelaj said...

Regarding the Italian contribution, i couldnt, of course, say whether its Crusader or another migrating group. There seem to have been waves for a long time of Phoenicians coming from southern Italy far preceding the Crusades. However, depending on their haplogroup, Crusader migrations of more Frankish or Germanic DNA would have left significant signatures as they adapted and stayed living in a different culture there for several hundred years. Perhaps too, this culture became endagamous. They married with Christian Armenians, Christian Syriacs, Phoenicians etc. The Phoenicians were everywhere. Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Austria and North Africa. So its hard to know who is who yet. DNA will sort that out.

HolyLandDNA said...

Because Phoenicians are such an ancient group of people, I would imagine it's hard to determine a concrete DNA signature for them. And hard to separate the Phoenician from the other groups they intermarried with. Originally, I believe Phoenicians were from Lebanon and yes ended up in the coastal areas of Italy & Britain. I'm sure my family and other Palestinians have some Phoenician DNA, but more likely not from Italy, but the source - Lebanon. The Italians genes must be within the last 1000 years because they show up on the autosomal tests. This could be Crusader or very strong Roman genes that just regenerated each generation. Not sure. There are Northern Euro genes that show up to a lesser extent, and these again are on the autosomal and sometimes maternal dna, but rarely paternal.

Anonymous said...

I am J2b1 and am from the Balkans. My mother's family is from Dalmatia and her maternal grandmother came from a village in the mountains above the coast. I always assumed it was the remains of the original Illyrians.

HolyLandDNA said...

Anon- Thanks for sharing! Have you found other J2b1 in your region? If it is a high concentration, then I would guess this is a very likely scenario with the Illyrians. So far, J2b1 is quite rare in Palestinian Christians- so I assume it came from some other place. And Southern Europe seems to be the general consensus at this point. The Mediterranean is just a big lake and crossing from the Balkans to the Levant was probably common. Other mtdna matches come from Spain and Italy. It's so interesting to trace our ancestors footsteps.