Where Do I Come From: Donald Yates


Where Do I Come From
Real People’s DNA Stories

Sizemore Indians and British Jews

By Donald N. Yates

english jewry after hyamsonAs soon as EURO DNA was released last month I quickly studied my new list of European nationalities where I have significant ancestral lines according to DNA Consultants’ new autosomal population analysis. I had come to know and accept, of course, the usual suspects, compiled from the 24 populations available from ENFSI (European Network of Forensic Science Institutes). But the new list represented 71 populations and far surpassed ENFSI or any other database in commercial use. It had, for instance, the first European comparisons for countries like Hungary, Lithuania, Malta and Iceland. So how would my familiar matches—Scotland, Ireland, England, Belgium and the rest—shake out in the new oracle?

Some of the top matches—above British Isles or Northern European ancestry—were Central European. Here were the top 20:

Rank European Population Matches
1 Slovakia – Saris (n=848)
2 Finland (n = 469)
3 Slovakia – Zemplin (n=558)
4 Netherlands  (n = 231)
5 Slovakia – Spis (n=296)
6 Romanian – Transylvanian – Szekler (n = 257)
7 Romanian – Transylvanian – Csango (n = 220)
8 Scotland/Dundee (n = 228)
9 Switzerland (n = 200)
10 England/Wales (n = 437)
11 Ireland (n = 300)
12 Italy (n =103)
13 Denmark  (n = 156)
14 Romanian (n=243)
15 Swedish (n = 311)
16 Serbian – Serbia / Vojvodina / Montenegro (n = 100)
17 Icelandic (n=151)
18 Estonia (n = 150)
19 Romanian – Transylvania/Banat (n = 219)
20 Norwegian (n=1000)

 

Slovakia? Romania? To be sure, I had always had a fascination with both countries. In my salad days I studied in Europe and traveled to Bratislava, where I fell in love at first sight with the chiseled blonde visage of a friend of my university classmate. And I had also been to Romania in the days of its Communist regime, when my long-haired travel companion and I were welcomed like long lost relatives or conquering pop heroes.

Admittedly, the results of an autosomal ancestry test are cumulative and combinatory. While they do reflect all your ancestry, as no other test can, you are cautioned not to use the matches to try to pinpoint lines in your family genealogy. There is always a temptation to over-interpret.

My European admixture results from AncestryByDNA had yielded a confirmatory result:  20% Southeast Europe. That struck me at the time as odd. Yet Hungarian was now one of my top metapopulation results, too. (Remember, Hungarian data did not figure into ENFSI because Hungary is not in the European Union.)

The Scottish (my grandmother was a McDonald) made sense, as did all the other matches from what I knew through years of paper genealogy research. But I was unaware of any strong Central European lines.

Sizemore Research:  Pitfalls of Genetic Genealogy
Then I recalled the Sizemores. My great-great-grandmother was a Sizemore, and they were multiply connected with my Coopers, my mother’s maiden name. Could the Central European effect in my EURO result be from the Sizemores?

Much ink—or at least many keystrokes—has been expended on the Sizemore controversy. There are pitched battles on genealogy forums and edit wars in cyberspace. One armed camp has them down as Melungeons and admixed Cherokees with crypto-Jewish strains. Another holds it as an article of faith that the Sizemores were a lily-white old Virginia British family and the surname comes from something like Sigismund (think Goetterdaemmerung). Y chromosome DNA shows ambiguous conclusions:  you can visit the advertisement page sponsored by Family Tree DNA.

Alan Lerwick, a Salt Lake City genealogist, upset the apple cart some years ago by linking America’s Sizemores to Michael Sismore, buried in the Flemish cemetery of the Collegiate Church of St Katherine by the Tower in London in 1684. That was the same parish as my Coopers lived in. Then and now, it is the most Jewish section of London.

Sizemore is not a British surname before the sixteenth century. It was clear to me long ago that neither my Sizemores nor my Coopers were Mama Bear, Papa Bear families. Spurred by my EURO DNA test results, I dug into my subscription at Ancestry.com and learned that Michael Sismore was recorded as being born as Michael Seasmer in Ashwell, an important village in north Hertfordshire, November 1, 1620. His parents were Edward Seasmer and Betterissa (a form of Beatrice). New information! Alert the list moderators and surname project guardians!

Seasmer is undoubtedly the same as Zizmer, an old Central European Jewish surname adduced in multiple families in Israel, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Austria, Russia, Moldavia and the United States. Edward and Michael are favored first-names in the U.S. branches. The Hebrew letters, which can be viewed on numerous burials in Israel, are  (in reverse order, right to left) RMZZ. Cooper is a similar Jewish surname, common in Russia and Lithuania and Israel as well as the British Isles and the U.S. In fact, my father’s surname, Yates, is a Hebrew anagram common in the same countries, meaning “Righteous Convert.”

Hertfordshire was an important center for British Jewry, mentioned in the works of Hyamson, Jacobs and others (see map above). A good hypothesis to explain the transformation of Michael’s name from Seasmer to Sismore and thence to Sizemore is this. His grandfather, a Zizmer, came to England in the time of Elizabeth, perhaps via the Low Lands, possibly as a soldier or cloth merchant. This could account for Michael Sizemore’s burial in the Flemish cemetery of St Katharine’s by the Tower, usually reserved for foreigners. It also explains the predilection in descendants for such names as Ephraim, Michael, Edward, William, John, Richard, James, George, Hiram, Isaac, Samuel, Solomon and Henry. And why girls were named Lillie, Lydia, Louisa, Naomi, Pharaba, Rebecca, Sarah and Vitula. The last name (also found in my wife’s grandmother’s name) was a Jewish amulet name. It meant “old woman” in Latin and was given to a child to augur a long life.

Zismer took the form of Cismar, Cismarik, Zhesmer, Zizmor, Ziesmer, Zausmer, Cismaru and Tzismaro—all amply attested in the records of European Jewry, including Jewish Gen’s Holocaust Database, with the records of over two million victims and survivors of the Nazi genocide of World War II. I am proud of my Jewish heritage through my great-grandmother and through my half-blood Cherokee Indian mother Bessie Cooper Yates.

Thank you for indulging me in this genealogical excursion into a family mystery. Like the restaurateur, I would be to blame if I didn’t eat in my own establishment. I can confidently say that DNA Consultants’ new EURO DNA is a smorgasbord of genetic delights for those jaded by the old-fashioned sex-linked testing. I thank our R&D team, in particular Professor Wendell Paulson, our head statistics consultant, along with all those who helped vet its amazing power, and I encourage you to try it today!

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  Comments: 7

  1. David R. Armstrong


    Dear Dr. Yates,
    You have certainly provided considerable weight to the ancient saying, “What’s in a name!” Not to mention, what is in our DNA, and what does it mean, to the depth of our biological roots (I don’t care to go as far back as the time of T.Rex, as they did not leave written records, just fossils, but maybe some DNA in amber-trapped mosquitoes). We’re still finding out incredibly more all the time. And where geographical, cultural, historical and DNA data intersect, maybe a Holy Grail or even Ark Covenant fingerprint or two, or graffiti on some ancient temple’s marble might suggest an ancestor was there.
    It was personally rewarding to see your interview with the host of Jewish Voices on YouTube, regarding your investigations and book, “When Scotland Was Jewish” (which I have yet to read, but really want to), as my DNA might check out to be at least a fifth of Scots, while a pint of Irish, on both sides of the family – and as I have counted many ethnic and religious-minded (almost without question tradition-minded) Americans of Jewish ancestry as real friends, it was a great moment of gratitude (and goosebumps) that I experienced, to learn that Scotland was a safe haven, even welcoming for Jews who were vacating the country to the south of Hadrian’s wall, due to 12-13th century persecution there. Now I must read the book. As mixed up (and certainly strengthened) as we Americans are in our melting pot, it is both amazing and sad that so many in our country still fail to tolerate, honor, respect, and love our diversity; but I honestly believe that number to be declining, however fitfully.


  2. I found out years ago that I had Jewish markers..from your company…it has been a treasure to me and a delight..thank you..Shalom my friend


  3. I have interest in comparing my dna with someone who I believe might be my biological father. Can Dr help me?

  4. Jonathan Bellomy


    Greetings, Don. As far as I can ascertain via genealogical research over the web, my Cherokee and Creek blood (if the websites were accurate) come through my Prince branch. John William Prince, who married Mary Giles ( they are my fifth great grandparents), was the son of Little Prince (Tastanaki Hopayi). He took a Creek wife when he conquered them as a Chieftain — he ruled in tandem with another Chieftain, who was called Big Warrior. Little Prince was the son of Chief Great Eagle (Reuben Brock). Reuben’s father was, as far as I can tell, my earliest kin in the Cherokee Tribe — William Brock (Moytoy), born 1680. After seeing you interviewed in regards to your book, When Scotland Was Jewish, I knew that I was on the right track concerning my Brock/Brooks/Brooke/de Broc roots. The de Broc variant is, obviously, Norman French. Knowing that the diaspora led some Jews across North Africa, and how they had crossed over at Gibraltar into Spain; and knowing that the Spanish Inquisition spurred them on to France, and then across the English Channel; and, noting in my research showed that one of the given names of one in the de Broc line was a very Hebraic-sounding Sahaer — quite close to Sahar, I was wondering if your knowledge of the Cherokee and/or the Brocks has shown the Brock line to be Jewish in origin (whether Sephardic or Ashkenazi)?

  5. Evelyn J Lightfoot


    Are you the same Dr Yates connected to the central cherokee nation?

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