Genetic Origins of Ashkenazi Jewish Pfeffers

Pfeffer means pepper in German. Variant spellings are Pfefer, Feffer and Feffer. It is not known how exactly my Pfefers got this name, but legend has it that it derives from a 17th-century German baron named Von Pfeufer/Pfeuer. The Cohens or prominent Jewish townsmen who worked for this baron were given the Pfeffer name. My family has always spelled it with one F, as records attest.

For other Pfeffers, perhaps their ancestors dealt with pepper as tradesmen. Some Pfeffers shortened their name from Pfefferman or Pfefferberg, but are not necessarily related. The Russian Peretz and Polish Pieprsz, which both mean pepper, were also likely not related, unless a Pfefer or a records clerk decided to change the surname (as happened with one family in Opole Lubelskie who later settled in Ostrowiec). The surname Pfeiffer/Fajfer is a completely different name and bears no relation whatsoever.

Since testing with and, I’ve found several (P)fef(f)ers who have also tested with these companies and who shared significant DNA with my brother and/or I. However, not all these Pfefers have the same ancestral origins and haplogroups as my Pfefers.

My Pfefers from Nowe Miasto and Ostrwoiec, Poland

My known distant cousin recently tested with one of these companies. He shares significant segments of DNA with me, but not with my brother. He and I have been estimated at 3rd to 5th cousins, and my brother does not even show up in his results. However, he is a relative, just my brother inherited less Pfefer DNA.

Before his results even came in, I suspected that his haplogroup would be J1 (also known as J-M267), shared by 20 per cent of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews. Also, just like in my family, he was always told that his Pfeffers were Cohens. And my hunch was right: not only does his paternal line belong to haplogroup J1, but he was also confirmed a Cohen, as certain markers matched the Cohen Modal Haplogroup.

I’m 99% sure that if my closer male Pfefer relatives were to test, they will get the same result as this relative.

Pfefers from Moldova

A few months ago, I spoke with a female Pfefer from the US to see if there was a relation. Her Pfefer great-grandfather immigrated to the United States came from Moldova in the early 1900s. Her male Pfefer cousin did ancestral DNA testing and his paternal haplogroup is I-M223 (or I2a2a), which is not a Jewish haplogroup at all.

In fact, I-M223 originated in Northern Europe and is more common there. So a male may have converted to Judaism somewhere along this Moldovan Pfefer line. This male cousin did show up as related to me as 3rd to 5th cousin, but he also matches me maternally on the X chromosome (we share the same maternal line haplogroup), so the relation is likely not through our Pfefers.

Pfeffers from Galicia/Western Ukraine

A Pfeffer that distantly matches me on, whose origins are from Chorostkow, Nisko and Tarnapol, Galicia, has a haplogroup common to Native Americans and Eurasians:  Q1b.

Another Pfefer whose ancestors hail from the Volhynia Province (Kowel, Rozhyshche, Lutsk) of Ukraine and have an oral tradition of being Levites, not Cohens, belong to haplogroup R-M198 (R1a1a), which is more common to Eastern, Central and Northern Europe and originated in Central Asia/Eurasia. R-M198 is also found in 50% of Levite Ashkenazi Jews.

Finally, the descendent of a Feffer from Verba, near Berezhany in the Ternopil province of Galicia, shares the same haplogroup as my known distant ancestor, mentioned further above: J-M267 or J1. Although this Pfefer and I are very distantly related and we also match maternally on the X Chromosome, it is likely that we share a common Pfefer ancestor who lived in the 18th century or earlier.

To sum up in a chart:

Name Geographic origin Paternal Haplogroup Haplogroup origin


Haplogroup common to
Pfefer (my line) Ostrowiec and Nowe Miasto, Poland J1/J-M267 (projected). Oral History of Cohen Caucasus/Anatolia Mediterranean Europe, Balkans, Middle East
20% of Jews.
Pfeffer (my known distant relative) Ostrowiec and Nowe Miasto, Poland J1/J-M267 with Cohen Modal Caucasus/Anatolia Mediterranean Europe, Balkans,

Middle East

20% of Jews

Pfefer Kishinev, Moldova I-M223/I2a2a Northern Europe British Isles, Scandinavia, Germany, Benelux, Eastern Europe
Pfeffer Nisko OR Chorostkow, Ternopil province, Galicia Q1b Central Asia Native Americans, Central Siberia, Central Asia. 5% of Ashkenazi Jews
Pfeffer (now spelled Feffer) Verba, near Berezhany in Ternopil province of Galicia J1/J-M267 Caucuses/Anatolia Mediterranean Europe, Balkans, Middle East

20% of Jews

Pfefer/Fefer (now spelled) Pepper Volhynia Province (Kowel, Rozhyshche, Lutsk) of Ukraine R-M198 (R1a1a) with Levite oral history Eurasia Mostly Eastern Europe, half of Ashkenazi Jewish Levites
If one male Pfeffer has a completely different haplogroup from another male Pfeffer (starting with a different letter), then they are most likely not related through the male Pfeffer line. 
Finally, Two common Jewish male haplogroups are J1 and J2. If one Pfeffer is J1 and the other is J2, their shared paternal ancestor was a J, but that’s thousands of years ago!

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