Germ-line BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations account for most of familial breast-ovarian cancer. In Ashkenazi Jews, there is a high population frequency (approximately 2%) of three founder mutations: BRCA1 185delAG, BRCA1 5382insC, and BRCA2 6174delT. This study examined the frequency of these mutations in a series of Ashkenazi women with ovarian cancer unselected for family history, compared with the frequency of these mutations in families ascertained on the basis of family history of at least two affected women. Penetrance was compared, both according to the method of family ascertainment (i.e., on the basis of an unselected ovarian cancer proband vs. on the basis of family history) and for the BRCA1 founder mutations compared with the BRCA2 6174delT mutation. There was a high frequency (10/22; [45%]) of germ-line mutations in Ashkenazi women with ovarian cancer, even in those with minimal or no family history (7/18 [39%]). In high-risk Ashkenazi families, a founder mutation was found in 59% (25/42). Families with any case of ovarian cancer were significantly more likely to segregate a founder mutation than were families with site-specific breast cancer. Penetrance was higher in families ascertained on the basis of family history than in families ascertained on the basis of an unselected proband, but this difference was not significant. Penetrance of BRCA1 185delAG and BRCA1 5382insC was significantly higher than penetrance of BRCA2 6174delT (hazard ratio 2.1 [95% CI 1.2-3.8]; two-tailed P = .01). Thus, the high rate of germ-line BRCA1/BRCA2 mutations in Ashkenazi women and families with ovarian cancer is coupled with penetrance that is lower than previously estimated. This has been shown specifically for the BRCA2 6174delT mutation, but, because of ascertainment bias, it also may be true for BRCA1 mutations.