THE BRISS/SKAIST GENETIC PROJECT
|Joyce Rowland||Chaia Ita Bris, née Maas||K||223T, 224C, 234T, 311C|
|Susan Oliver||Sheine Esther Bris||J1||069T, 126C, 261T, 274A, 355T|
OUR FAMILY'S Y-DNA STUDY
The Skaists of the Briss Family:
Avram Notte Briss was one of Yisrael and Sheine Esther Briss' sons. He owned a wool-cleaning machine and also had a farm in Ukmerge on which he raised cattle for kosher consumption. His wife's name was Feige Kusner. They had seven children.
At some point, Avram Notte changed his surname and his children's surnames from Briss to Skaist. We don't know when or why the family name was changed, or why he chose the name Skaist, but it is assumed he changed the name to avoid conscription into the Russian army.
"Skaist" is a Lithuanian root word meaning "light" or "bright," as in the words "skaistybe," "skaistumas," and "skaistus," all of which have to do with brightness and lucidity. "Skaists" is a Lettish (Latvian) word meaning "lovely," "beautiful," and "angelic." There is also a town named Skaistkalne, just over the Latvian border from Lithuania, and it lies on a route which connects Birzai to Riga.
The project begins:
In September 2006, the Briss Family launched a genetic genealogy project, the first of its kind for our family.
We intended to discover whether there is a connection between the Skaists of the Bris family (descended from Yisrael Bris) and other Skaist families originating in the same area of Lithuania (descended from Mordechai Izrel Brin), and also, if possible, to identify any families descended from Yisrael Bris's brothers or cousins.
We learn our own origins:
Using the science of genetic genealogy, we discovered the unique genetic signature of the descendants of Yisrael Bris. We learned that we are of Y-DNA haplogroup J2, a genetic ancestry that originated in the Neolithic peoples of northern Mesopotamia or Anatolia 18,500 years ago, and traveled westward by a coastal or maritime route around the Mediterranean Sea. J2 may have traveled through ancient Phoenician sailors and traders, or through the founders of early cities in Greece. In October 2008, a study proving J2 is heavily represented among the modern descendants of the ancient Phoenicians was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.
J2 is found frequently in Greece and Italy, in Lebanon, in Turkey, and in the Caucasus region. 25% of Turkish people are J2. J2 is also found in Jews, Arabs, Kurds, and other Middle Eastern peoples. Although J2 is found in only 6% of Europeans generally, about 29% of Sephardic Jews are J2, and about 20% of Ashkenazic Jews are J2.
The long-awaited answer:
In June 2008, we finally got the answer to our mystery:
There is no genetic connection between the patriarchs of our family and the other Skaist family.
However, any initial disappointment was quickly eclipsed by astonishment at the genetic heritage of the other Skaist family!
An unexpected discovery:
The other Skaist family, of Y-DNA haplogroup R1b1b2, is descended from the people who lived in Europe 30,000 years ago. Their ancestors were the cave painters: the first documented human artists of the Aurignacian culture. As the Ice Age forced them progressively south, they weathered it out in small communities clustered along the southern edge of Spain and Portugal. After the glaciers began receding around 12,000 BCE, the survivors re-colonized Western Europe from the Iberian Peninsula to Scandinavia.
Their genetic signature is overwhelmingly dominant along the western coast of Europe, and in fact is known as the Atlantic Modal Haplotype. In the Iberian Peninsula and Great Britain, over 90% of all men are of this haplotype.
Mysteriously, 10% of Ashkenazi Jewish men are also of this haplotype.
A enduring bond:
Although we now know that the Bris-Skaists and Brin-Skaists do not share a common male ancestor, their histories are still inextricably linked.
As neighbors in Birzai, the two families knew each other, sent their children to the same school, worshipped in the same temple, and buried their beloved dead in the same holy ground. Under circumstances we may never know for certain, they came to adopt the same surname.
We may not share ancestry, but we certainly share history, and all the members of the Skaist, Skeist, and Skiest families will forever be welcomed here as cousins!
OUR FAMILY'S MITOCHONDRIAL DNA STUDY
In the mitochondria of our cells is DNA which is passed, unbroken, from mother to child. By studying this mitochondrial DNA ("mDNA" or "mtDNA" for short), we can determine our ancient matrilineal origins.
In 2002, I submitted my own mtDNA for analysis by the laboratory at Oxford Ancestors and discovered I descend from mtDNA haplogroup K. According to National Geographic:
Haplogroup K descended from a woman in the R branch of the human family tree. Because of the great genetic diversity found in haplogroup K, it is likely that she lived around 50,000 years ago.
While some members of this haplogroup headed north into Scandinavia, or south into North Africa, most members of haplogroup K stem from a group of individuals who moved northward out of the Near East. These women crossed the rugged Caucasus Mountains in southern Russia, and moved on to the steppes of the Black Sea.
Today, K has given rise to three of the four most common haplogroups in Ashkenazi Jews and is currently shared by over 3,000,000 people.
If you share mother-to-daughter descent from Chaia Ita Bris, you also are descended from haplogroup K.
Only a few women and girls now living are maternally descended right from our matriarch Sheine Esther Bris herself, and they are the daughters and granddaughters of Esther Kornetsky and Esther Fearer. Susan Oliver, daughter of Esther Kornetsky, volunteered to represent the Bris Family matriarch with her DNA, and she proved to be from mtDNA haplogroup J.
According to National Geographic:
While groups of hunter-gatherers and subsistence fishermen had been occupying much of Eurasia for tens of thousands of years, around 10,000 years ago a group of modern humans living in the Fertile Crescent — present-day eastern Turkey and northern Syria — began domesticating the plants, nuts, and seeds they had been collecting. What resulted were the world's first agriculturalists, and this new cultural era is typically referred to as the Neolithic.
This haplogroup has greater diversity in the Near East than in Europe, indicating a homeland for J's most common ancestor around the Levant, a coastal region in what is now Lebanon.
If you share mother-to-daughter descent from Sheine Esther Bris, you are matrilineally descended from haplogroup J, but because Sheine Esther is the ancestress of the whole Briss family, you share J ancestry no matter which family branch you belong to.
ARE YOU CURIOUS ABOUT YOUR OWN ROOTS? JUMP ON IN!
The link at the top of this page leads to an order form for Briss Family members to order their own DNA tests from FamilyTreeDNA, the laboratory specializing in genetic genealogy. If you are a Briss Family member, the link gives you a discount on your test order! Please feel free to use the link to order testing for yourself, even if you would like to test the side of your lineage that is not of the Briss Family. When you place your order, I will be automatically notified that you have joined the family project.
Only men can undergo Y-DNA testing, because only men have Y chromosomes to test. If you are female and you would like to know about your father's genetic heritage, order a test for your father, your brother, or your father's brother. A basic 12-marker Y-DNA test is US$99.00.
Any family member, male or female, can order a mitochondrial DNA test from FamilyTreeDNA by using the link at the top of this page and choosing mtDNA from the "Type of Test" pull-down menu at the bottom of the order form. I will be delighted to welcome you to our family's genetic project!