Heard on the Hill

Ryan Discovers He’s Part Jewish, and More Congressional Root-Finders

The speaker will appear on the fifth season of ‘Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.’

PBS show traced Ryan back to his 10th great-grandfather. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Catholic Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan is a little bit Jewish.

Ryan taped an episode of the PBS series “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.” and found that he’s 3 percent Ashkenazi Jewish, the Associated Press reported. He traced his heritage back to his 10th great-grandfather, who was born in Germany in 1531.

“We don’t know who that Jewish person was, but we know it was on his mother’s German line, which makes sense,” Gates said of Ryan’s ancestry. “So somebody who was a Christian German slept with a Jewish German person, and that’s where that came from.”

The Wisconsin Republican is a practicing Catholic. Fewer than 30 current members of Congress identify as Jewish.

The speaker will be on the show’s fifth season, which will begin airing in January. Other lawmakers slated to appear are Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

The show traced Rubio back to his maternal fifth great-grandparents born in Italy and his seventh great-grandparents on his father’s side, who were born in the Canary Islands, the AP reported. 

And Gabbard’s “genome looks like the rainbow coalition because it’s Asian and European and African and it’s beautiful,” Gates said, according to the AP. 

Other lawmakers have appeared on previous seasons of Gates’ show. Here are some notable congressional root-finders:

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., discovered he is distant cousins with comedian Larry David, who plays him on “Saturday Night Live.”

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., found out about his white great-grandfather.

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., found out more about his enslaved ancestors.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., uncovered that his Confederate great-great-grandfather, William Alexander McCain, was captured and imprisoned by the Union.

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