Can a person get Spanish or Portuguese citizenship based on DNA results showing Sephardic DNA?

So, you think you have Sephardic ancestry, or perhaps you even know that you have Sephardic ancestry, but you're wondering how to prove it for the purpose of acquiring citizenship in Spain or Portugal.  Obtaining documentary evidence linking every generation between you and your Sephardic ancestor may seem a daunting task, considering the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497.

But wait!  There are commercials on TV all the time now about how taking a DNA test from this or that company can prove that you're 3% Sephardic, 28% Canadian, and 69% Martian.  Why not just take a DNA test, which will prove that you have at least some Sephardic ancestry?

If only it were that easy.

Unfortunately, with very few exceptions, most people cannot take a DNA test to prove that they have Sephardic ancestry.  The reason for this is that there has been so much intermarrying since the time of the expulsions that there is no such thing as a 100% "Sephardic" genetic identity.  At best, a DNA test can help prove a recent connection to a Sephardic family (such as if you were adopted and have no documentary proof of who your biological parents are or were), but it is unlikely to prove that you had a specific ancestor expelled in 1492 or 1497 from Iberia.


It's important to note that neither Spain nor Portugal accept a DNA test alone as proof of a person's Sephardic ancestry.  The Federación de Comunidades Judías de España explicitly states that a DNA test cannot be used to prove Sephardic heritage when applying for its certificate.  The various other FCJE-approved entities around the world, as well as at least one non-FCJE entity that I have looked at, mention numerous types of evidence that can support the issuance of a Sephardic heritage certificate, but DNA results are not among them.  This will become less and less important anyway now that the October 2019 deadline for applying with the Spanish government has come and gone; unless you are finishing up collecting your documents for your Spanish citizenship application and have already started an application before the deadline, you can't apply anyway (unless applying under the older, more restrictive law requiring a period of residence in Spain and the renouncement of your old citizenship).


For Portugal's purposes, there are currently only two entities that can issue certificates recognized by the Portuguese government for the purposes of proving Sephardic origins for a citizenship application.  One is the Comunidade Israelita de Lisboa (CIL) and the other is the Comunidade Israelita do Porto (CIP).  A third community, the Comunidade Judaica de Belmonte, may seek recognition soon, but there is no word on that yet.

The CIL mentions various types of evidence on its website that can be used to prove Sephardic ancestry, and a DNA test is not among them.

On the other hand, the CIP states that DNA test results may be considered probative of a person's claim to Sephardic ancestry when requesting a certificate of Sephardic origin form them (see page 11 of this document, explaining the procedures around DNA tests submitted to the CIP, including the requirement that all DNA tests be independently evaluated by Dr. Luisa Pereira).  It's not clear whether the home genealogy tests advertised on TV would be sufficient for these purposes, especially since there's no chain of custody attested to by a doctor or other professional which protects the integrity of the process (you could pay your best Sephardic friend to spit in a home DNA test, send it into the lab, and suddenly you would have test results showing that, indeed, you are a member of a Sephardic family).

Regardless of whether DNA test results are considered by the CIL and the CIP, both the CIL and the CIP require, as a part of their application processes, the inclusion of a family tree showing the subject of the certificate's link to a Sephardic ancestor (whether back to the time of the expulsions or some more recent provable Sephardic ancestor).  A DNA test cannot tell you who your distant ancestors are for the purpose of constructing a family tree.  So, it appears that a DNA test may be corroborative for the purpose of issuing a certificate, but a DNA test alone cannot satisfy Portugal's requirements for applying for citizenship because a DNA test does not establish a person's family tree.  At best, it may help prove that the family tree is not a fraudulent document, because evidence of Sephardic ancestry in the DNA test results bolsters the claim that a person in a family tree was of Sephardic ancestry.

Additionally, the CIP also states that not having at least one Sephardic Jewish grandparent of Portuguese origin prevents the CIP "from accepting a proven emotional connection preserved throughout the centuries by family traditions."  Therefore, a DNA test which purports to show a "percentage" of Sephardic ancestry cannot qualify a person for a certificate from the CIP unless it can also somehow prove that at least one of the applicant's grandparents was halachically Jewish.

So, you should be able to establish your Sephardic heritage through the use of historical documents, testimony about family memories, etc., but if you do want to obtain a DNA test to corroborate your historical documents or simply for fun or personal interest, make sure to compare the tests that are available to the general public and pick the one that is going to provide you with the information that you are most interested in.

Have you used DNA test results in support of an application for a Sephardic heritage certificate from a Spanish or Portuguese Jewish community?  If so, it would be appreciated if you could describe your experience in the comments section below, including whether the application was granted or denied, and what other information you included in the application.


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