I first met Schelly Talalay Dardashti in person the year IAJGS (International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies) was held in Chicago. She is a petite bundle of unstopping energy and joy. Her knowledge of genealogy and especially Jewish genealogy is immeasurable. Her kindness is true and to the core. Perhaps best though, she understands my jokes.
Rebekah: Please tell me about yourself. Are you currently working or retired? What are your other hobbies or interests outside of genealogy?
Schelly: A native New Yorker, I’ve lived in Iran and Israel and now live in beautiful New Mexico. I’m a journalist, genealogist, speaker, and instructor. In 2006, I created the award-winning Tracing the Tribe, the first Jewish genealogy blog. I was one of the founders of the Belarus SIG on JewishGen and worked on the Sephardic SIG there as well. It’s All Relative ran in the Jerusalem Post from 1999-2005. I’ve written for major Jewish and general genealogy publications as well as mainstream audience publications. I’ve been an officer of several Jewish genealogical societies in the US and Israel and now serve as US Genealogy Advisor for MyHeritage.com, where I also edit and contribute to the MyHeritage genealogy blog. I am also a board member of the Society for CryptoJudaic Studies. My main interests are Jewish genealogy (Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Mizrahi), genetic genealogy, social media for genealogy, and educating/encouraging the younger generations to get involved.
Rebekah: How long have you been actively involved in genealogy, and how did you become interested in the field?
Schelly: 25+ years in genealogy tracing my families across Belarus, Russia, Lithuania, Spain, and Iran. My daughter was preparing for her bat mitzah many years ago and brought home a one-sheet project asking for the English and Hebrew names of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. From there, we developed an entire family history project for both her paternal Persian Jewish side and her maternal Ashkenazi-Sephardic side. It is all her fault that I became a genealogist (said in a very loving way!!!). BG, before genealogy, I was an avid needlepointer.
Rebekah: At what point did you decide to become involved in genetic genealogy?
Schelly: I met Bennett Greenspan just before he launched FTDNA. He was at an International Jewish genealogy conference in Salt Lake City, and a bunch of us went to dinner with him. It was a fascinating story, and I think we all were gung-ho from the beginning.
Rebekah: What genetic ancestry tests have you taken?
Schelly: I’ve done FF and mtDNA for myself, and Y-DNA and FF for my husband.
Rebekah: Have you tested family members?
Schelly: Extended family members have tested for my husband’s side, and on my side, there are clusters of people who match exactly, but we cannot discover exactly how, as the places and names are so far removed from each other. I believe it is the Sephardic origin that is the connection.
Rebekah: Have you ever been surprised by your or your family’s test results?
Schelly: Well, finding the the KRANSDORF-JAFFE group was a huge surprise for our TALALAI family.
Rebekah: Has genetic genealogy helped you break through any of your brick walls or solve a family mystery?
Schelly: Our family always had this story of being Sephardic. No one believed it. Judy Simon and I founded the IberianAshkenaz DNA Project as she had the same sort of story in her family. The Project has made many surprising connections and confirmations for some Eastern European Ashkenazi families who match Sephardic and Hispanic families.
Rebekah: Are you involved as a group project administrator? If so, what made you decide to become involved? What projects do you administer or co-administer?
Rebekah: Have you witnessed success stories in your projects?
Schelly: Many in the IberianAshkenaz Project.
Rebekah: What advice would you give someone starting out in genealogy or personal ancestry DNA testing?
Schelly: Personally, I advise beginning genealogists to do a Y-DNA test (if they have the appropriate person to test) before even starting their research. They may find they match genetically to someone who has already done all the work! And while they are testing the Y, to go ahead and have that male do the mtDNA as well, just to add to the database for altruistic reasons!
Rebekah: What do you think the future holds for genetic genealogy?
Schelly: The more tests are refined, the more information will be available. The future of genetic genealogy will be even brighter than currently. Better tests, better tools to understand the results and a larger community of very helpful individuals.