6. Ancestry(.com)

As a child, my father told us stories of our ancestors who lived in Spain at the end of the 15th Century. He said they worked in the Royal Treasury and were caught embezzling money from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. According to his version, our family members were the first Jews expelled from Spain.

Much later, I heard a very different story from a first cousin. No, no, no. We were not embezzlers. Our ancestor was the Royal Treasurer for the Court of Castile, a very learned and popular man: Don Isaac Abravanel (or Abarbanel). At one time, the phrase, “It is sufficient that my name is Abravanel,” opened doors and bestowed favors.

Wanting to know more about our esteemed relative, I began research. The belief was that the Abravanel lineage came through our fathers’ father’s mother, Anna Henkin Goodman. After years of looking at death certificates and spending lots of money on an Ancestry.com membership, I am not much closer to making the connection than before I started.


However, I did populate our online tree on all sides of my families, including the Shamberg branch (our fathers’ mother’s family). At one point, I began to see the pattern in causes of death. The same set of conditions occurred in a few Shamberg relatives. My father, his mother, her sister and brother, some of their children. It all led back to our great-grandparents.

I contacted living relatives of Aron’s wife to determine if anyone from that side of the family had the set of symptoms I have outlined. Not one person had similar conditions, nor did they remember any of their relatives having anything like it. Other medical problems, yes, but not “The Shamberg Curse.”

The logical conclusion was that Aron Shamberg carried the defective genes that he then donated to his children. As he died from a heart attack at age 50, we do not know if he would have suffered with the same set of conditions. Not all of his descendants got the variants, some of them had a few, and now, three generations later, I seem to be the only one with the whole Megillah, as it were.

Recently, I decided to have the good people at Ancestry.com analyze my DNA for possible further clues to our family’s geographical lineage. While the primary results revealed nothing remarkable, it was the genetic data they provided that I delved into. They sent me a file with all the genetic pair codes, thousands and thousands of numbers with A, G, C, and T characters. It is very overwhelming and mind-boggling at first, but then I discovered a website that helped me decode my own genome.


7. SNPedia and Genomics