Sunday, August 9, 2015

Charles William Brinton Turns Sixty-Seven

Charles William Brinton was born on the twelfth of August 1948. Or maybe the eleventh

But the story begins earlier - or actually later.

Morty's story
Aunt Betty had a baby and Uncle Ken passed out cigars. Not to me - I was eleven years old. Morty was born on the eighteenth of July.

Then a few days later, when they were discharged from the hospital, they learned that his official date of birth was the seventeenth. It was not like Uncle Ken to misreport such a thing, so what was this about?

It was about Daylight Saving Time. (No not "Savings." There are no savings. It's about saving daylight. As though we can actually do that. Like in a piggy bank or a jar.)

Morty was born during the hour that was the eighteenth according to DST but the seventeenth according to Standard Time.

Apparently Pennsylvania recognized that Daylight Saving Time was not a real thing, just an artificial convenience. (Or annoyance, depending on your perspective.) The REAL, LEGAL time was Eastern Standard Time, all year long.

I thought that for years.

The discussion
Five years ago I had some kind of issue with a date of death. The tombstone had one day and the Social Security Death Index had the previous day. I did not have a death cerificate.

There are a dozen or more possible explanations for this kind of thing. Sometimes people confuse the date of burial with the date of death. Perhaps some confusion if the death was in the evening and therefore the next day according to the Jewish calendar. Or just plain errors - the hospital, the family, the stone maker, the Social Security record, who knows. But for some reason this got me thinking - in the abstract, to be sure - about the Daylight Saving Time issue.

I posted the following to the Association of Professional Genealogists discussion group.
This is how it appears in the APG archives
Most of the responses never really addressed the questions, because this appeared to be something that no one had much thought about before. It did solve a problem for one Altoona Pennsylvania genealogist whose conflicting birthdates could now be attributed to her 12:09 AM birth.

At some point in the discussion, the conclusion seemed to be that this was not, in fact, the policy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at all, but something that was decided by individual hospitals.

There was still the esoteric question of what is correct for purposes of genealogy. What do we write in our databases and websites? Of course not everything is perfectly standardized. The very fact that we use dates and times in the places the events took place means that a person born in the United States could have an earlier birth date than someone born in Europe a few hours earlier.

Surely the law deals with this when, for instance, a will leaves something to "my eldest grandson." (Does "eldest" always mean "first born?") But other than that, does it ever have any non-trivial "real life" significance?

But until I began thinking about this particular blog post, I hadn't given it another thought.

A few weeks ago, I presented the question to the ultimate authority on citations, Elizabeth Shown Mills. I wrote to her on Morty's official birthday, saying inter alia
I am planning a brief blog on the subject and wanted to mention whatever genealogists consider best practices.
She replied the same day that she had never heard the question raised before.

When it really mattered
That brings us to Charles William Brinton. It mattered to him enough to go to court.

Brinton was born 12:03 AM on the twelfth of August 1948 and so it was recorded on his Delaware birth certificate. On the first of December 1969, he realized this was not a good idea.

For those of us of a certain age - and I include myself - the first of December 1969 was an important day in our lives. It was the day of the first lottery. For the military draft. For service in Vietnam.

Wikipedia "Draft Lottery (1969)" tells us:
The days of the year (including February 29) were represented by the numbers 1 through 366 written on slips of paper. The slips were placed in separate plastic capsules that were mixed in a shoebox and then dumped into a deep glass jar. Capsules were drawn from the jar one at a time.
The first number drawn was 258 (September 14), so all registrants with that birthday were assigned lottery number 1. The second number drawn corresponded to April 24, and so forth. All men of draft age (born 1944 to 1950) who shared a birthdate would be called to serve at once. The first 195 birthdates drawn were later called to serve in the order they were drawn; the last of these was September 24.
The eleventh of August was number 324. Breathe a sigh of relief and get on with your life. The twelfth of August was number 142. Not so much. (My own number was 355.)

Brinton got the Delaware Bureau of Vital Statistics to issue a new birth certificate, to wit his birth was "August 12, 1948 12:03 A.M., D.S.T. August 11, 1948 E.S.T. 11:03 P.M."

Brinton took the Draft Board to court to get an injuncton pending a new birth certificate which would cite only August 11 as his legal birthday. According to the court's opinion, issued February 11, 1971, the facts were not in doubt.
The following factual summary has been stipulated by and between the parties to be true and correct. Plaintiff was originally assigned 1970 Random Sequence No. 142 by the Selective Service System based upon the fact that he had originally reported his date of birth to Local Board No. 5 as August 12, 1948.
Based upon Section 5(a) of the Selective Service Act of 1967, 50 App.U.S.C. § 451 et seq.; Selective Service Regulations §§ 1631.4, 1631.5 and 1631.7 and Local Board Memorandum No. 99 issued by defendant Tarr, plaintiff's liability for induction is governed by his 1970 Random Sequence Number. The 1970 Random Sequence Number for persons subject to induction born on August 12, 1948, is No. 142; the number for persons born on August 11, 1948, is No. 324. Registrants (not otherwise exempt or deferred) assigned No. 142 were liable for induction during 1970, but those assigned No. 324 were not.
Everyone agreed that Brinton had originally acknowledged his birthday as August 12, but now wanted the privileges on having been born on August 11. The draft board argued that this was sufficient, regardless of any subsequent changes in the birth record.

Charles William Brinton received his injunction and was not drafted. Sometime this week - maybe Tuesday, maybe Wednesday - he will celebrate his sixty-seventh birthday. Felicitations from All My Foreparents.

Housekeeping notes
I'm off to the US Tuesday morning. Here is the final(?) list of pesentations I'll be making while I am there.

16 August, 1:30 – JGS of Maryland Hadassah, 3723 Old Court Rd., Suite 205, Baltimore

17 August, 7:30 – JGS of North Jersey YMCA, 1 Pike Drive, Wayne NJ

20 August, 6:30 – Bnai Sholom Congregation, 949 10th Avenue, Huntington West Virginia

23 August, 1:30 – South Suburban Historical and Genealogical Society and Illiana JGS, 3000 West 170th Place, Hazel Crest Illinois

25 August, 7:30 – JGS of Los Angeles, American Jewish University

26 August, 7:00 – Phoenix JGS, Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center,
Arizona Jewish Historical Society, 122 E Culver St, Phoenix

30 August, 2:00 – JGS of Long Island, Mid-Island Y-JCC, 45 Manetto Hill Road, Plainview NY

1 September, 5:30 – JewishGen and the JGS of New York, Museum of Jewish Heritage, 36 Battery Place, New York. Space for this program is limited and people are requested to register by 13 August.

I hope to see many of you along the way.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The DNA of "The Fewest of All Peoples"

I am writing this Saturday night after we read the weekly Torah portion which includes this verse:
  לא מרבכם מכל-העמים חשק ה' בכם ויבחר בכם כי-אתם המעט מכל-העמים
Not because your numbers are greater than any people did the L-rd desire you and choose you; for you are the fewest of all peoples.
Devarim (Deuteromony) 7,7

I'm not sure about "the fewest of all peoples" numerically, but we certainly don't rank anywhere near the largest peoples. And considering the large number of tragic events to strike the Jews throughout the generations, keeping us small seems to be part of a deliberate plan.

Normally, a survival strategy for a population involves large numbers of offspring over generations. From time to time we see these breathless articles about the number of people living today who can count Genghis Khan or Charlemagne among their ancestors. (Yes, conquest too plays a role in spreading your DNA.) This is not at all similar to the statistical observation that all European Jews are descended from Rashi who died just over nine hundred years ago and who had all of three daughters.

Abraham too was blessed with the promise that his descendants would be like the stars in the sky and the sand on the shore (Bereishit - Genesis - 22,17). Other verses make it clear that these promises are analogies to very large numbers, with implications that extend to influence among "the nations."

This is a strategy that anyone can understand. You want to propagate your DNA, you do it through large numbers. Even moreso if it is spread by many nations. So like sand on the shore and stars in the sky, little bits of Abrahamic DNA reach to the far corners of the world. A fine blessing.

So what's this about being the "fewest of peoples?" This seems a less effective strategy for survival, much less propagation.

When introducing the subject of DNA to an unsuspecting audience, we often use this kind of illustration to explain how we inherit DNA from our ancestors.

The first generation, the great-grandparents, are represented by solid colors and these colors decrease on average by half with each subsequest generation. Some of those colors will disappear entirely after a few generations and others will persist longer. But the point is made that the further we get from some arbitrary source, the less of that source remains.

In fact, of course, our great-grandparents are not solid colors. They are composed of hundreds of bits of different colors in a mosaic that represent the Jews of Europe who produced us over the last hundreds of years and more. If we pick an arbitrary starting point twenty generations ago, we should have a million unique ancestors. But there were not a million Jews in Europe five-six hundred years ago, so we must have drawn from most of them multiple times. This is endogamy and I have discussed it here before - and of course many others have as well. Our great-grandparents' tapestries - indeed our own as well - include several instances of most of those colors and many instances of some of them.

But the point I am after is that for Jews who are descended from Jewish lines, those great-grandparents will have very much the same colors. Any two will preserve the DNA of much the same ancestors, as will our grandparents, our parents and ourselves. And as we continue propagating within the tribe, so will our children and our grandchildren. We will be very much like our ancestors of ten and twelve generations ago and in that sense they are preserved to an extent that Genghis Khan and Charlemagne with their tiny scattered bits, can only wish for.

What is success for a population? Is it injecting tiny bits of your group DNA into other populations far and wide - populations who carry some bit of you but do not resemble you or reflect who you are?  Or is it propagation that ensures that twenty generations hence your people will be very much like you?

Note: I do not doubt that you can challenge what I write above using science, statistics or even history. If you do, you have missed my point.

Housekeeping notes
The shipping discount for ENDOGAMY: One Family, One People is valid until Monday 3 August.

I am speaking in Baltimore, Wayne NJ, Huntington WV, Hazel Crest IL, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Plainview Long Island - and probably one or two more.The precise schedule, while not quite final, can be found on the website, where you can also order books, T-shirts and tote bags.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Galicianers From Russia

Another year of mourning the Temple in Jerusalem and the loss of sovereignty that came with it. And another reminder that what we read ten days ago is still relevant.
Have you not done this to yourself, in that you have forsaken Hashem your God as he led you on the way? What business have you on the road to Mizrayyim (=Egypt) to drink the water of the Shihor? And what business have you on the road to Ashshur (=Assyria) to drink the water of the River? Your own wickedness shall correct you and your regression shall reprove you.
Yirmiyahu (=Jeremiah) 2, 17-19
Alliances are temporary and trust in the nations is folly. Always was and always will be. Tempting though it may be to think otherwise.

Yesterday's fast is behind us and this week's blog is a day later than usual.

Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007
Last week, the genealogy community heard about a new database available on, a database of the sort that most of us thought we would never see. The government has been chipping away at the Social Security Death Index for several years now due to some spurious privacy issues, so imagine our surprise to see a Social Security database with more information than before. It doesn't cover everyone that SSDI has, but it includes parents' names in both the data and the search.

Here is the way Ancestry introduces it. (The red emphasis is mine.)
This database picks up where the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) leaves off by providing more details than those included in the SSDI. It includes information filed with the Social Security Administration through the application or claims process, including valuable details such as birth date, birth place, and parents’ names. While you will not find everybody who is listed in the SSDI in this database, data has been extracted for more than 49 million people.
Information you may find includes:
  • applicant's full name
  • SSN
  • date and place of birth
  • citizenship
  • sex
  • father's name
  • mother's maiden name
  • race/ethnic description (optional)
You may also find details on changes made to the applicant's record, including name changes and life or death claims. You may also find some unusual abbreviations or truncated entries for county and other names and punctuation errors in the data. These are in the original; we have not altered the text.
I started with Pikholz, Pickholz and Pickholtz.

Under Pikholz, there are two listings. One man who I knew spelled his name that way in the US. The other is a woman whom we know - the listing is her mother's maiden name. This woman's Social Security document gave her precise birth date which may or may not be correct and a confirmation of a middle name for her mother, which fits oral testimony from a descendant named for her.

Under Pickholz there are twenty-one entries, mostly Pickholz spouses. I know twenty of them, though I must check to see if any of them have information that I don't have already.

The one I have never heard of is Kalman Szapiro, born in Skalat in 1916, died in 2001. His mother is Marian Pickholz. The record also showed that Kalman became Karl in 1959 and that subsequently Szapiro became Schapiro and Shapiro. As usual, I turned to Renee Steinig for her people-finding expertise and she came up with a funeral home in Florida. I wrote to them asking if they would give me contact information for next of kin or at least pass on a letter from me. (An obituary had no family information.)

There are other kinds of follow-up to do, which I'll try to get to in the next week or so.

The Pickholtz entries
I moved on to Pickholtz where there are thirty-two entries. Among those is Max Greenberg about whom I blogged a few weeks ago. This new document could have saved me a lot of work finding him!

Most of the rest I know, but again, I must check for new details.

Another one caught my attention - Sady Francis, the daughter of Max Stern and Esther Pickholtz.

It took some time until I realized that I had first seen this woman last winter and had even blogged about her. Her husband's brother is the husband of my grandfather's cousin. This new document reminded me that I still have work to do on those two couples.

A completely new one is Abraham Izen, the son of Joseph Izen and Sophia Pickholtz, born in 1882 in "Charkoff, Soviet Union." That
would be Kharkov, a large Ukrainian city that was in the news a few months ago as part of
the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. In 1882 it was unambiguously Russia.

Though Kharkov is not near Galicia, we have another Pikholz family there, the three children of Rose Pickholtz and Jack Lipschultz. One of those three, a daughter Sylvia, was supposedly born in 1890. Unfortunately Sylvia';s great-granddaughter dropped off my radar about ten years ago. We know nothing further about this Kharkov family, but age-wise Sophia Pickholtz Izen may well be a sister of Rose Pickholtz Lipschultz. Or not.

Work to do on that. There is no indication on the document where Abraham Izen lived in the US, but his Social Security card begins with "561," so he would have signed up for a Social Security card in California.

The last of the thirty-two was also from Russia, but from a place of greater interest: Nemerow.  Mollie Wilder was born 12 May 1902 in "Nemrov, Soviet Union" to Benjamin Weinstein and Sheva Pickholtz. She died in 2001. Nemerow is in Podolia, south east of Skalat on the road to Odessa. Russia, not Galicia.

We know Nemerow as the birth place of Nellie Rochester (Necha Pickholtz) of Kansas City Missouri and Pomona California. She and her family went to California soon after 1920 but left behind a married daughter whose family remains in Kansas City today. In fact, one of Nellie's great-granddaughters, Joyce, tested for our DNA project. Joyce's matches with the other Pikholz descendants are few and weak. Now we have this "Sheva" as a probable sister to Nellie.

A probable brother Moses was last seen boarding a ship to London and New York.

Again, Renee jump-started my research, finding New York marriage records on Family Search for Abraham (b. 1892) and Samuel (b. 1900) Weinstein, sons of Benjamin Weinstein and Sadie Pickholtz. They are almost certainly be brothers of Mollie.

Among the other bits and pieces that Renee found is an Ancestry tree by Mollie's granddaughter. We have already made preliminary contact. Her father is living and I have already mentioned that I'd like his DNA. If he is a second cousin once removed to Joyce, that should be an easy match.  In the meantime, I have introduced Mollie's granddaughter to Joyce and we'll see how that develops.

Much work to do.

Housekeeping notes
ENDOGAMY: One Family, One People had a nice write up in "Nu, What's Nu" (a weekly genealogy newsletter by Gary Mokotoff of Avotaynu) yesterday and I am looking forward to some proper reviews as well.

A reminder, the pre-release discount expires on 3 August.

I have a few more talks set, both in the US and here at home. The schedule looks like this:
16 August, 1:30 – JGS of Maryland Hadassah, 3723 Old Court Rd., Suite 205, Baltimore
17 August, 7:30 – JGS of North Jersey YMCA, 1 Pike Drive, Wayne NJ
20 August, 6:30 – Bnai Sholom Congregation, 949 10th Avenue, Huntington West Virginia
23 August, 1:30 – South Suburban Historical and Genealogical Society and Illiana JGS, 3000 West 170th Place, Hazel Crest Illinois
25 August, 7:30 – JGS of Los Angeles, American Jewish University
26 August, 7:00 – Phoenix JGS, Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center,
Arizona Jewish Historical Society, 122 E Culver St, Phoenix
30 August, 2:00 – JGS of Long Island, Mid-Island Y-JCC, 45 Manetto Hill Road, Plainview NY
27 October, 6:00 – IGS Jerusalem, Yad Ben Zvi, Ibn Gevirol 14 (Hebrew)
28 October, 7:00 – Carmiel, Yad Labanim, Hativat Yiftah 48. (Hebrew)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Two Very Different Kinds of Endogamy

Two endogamies
The wiki of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) defines endogamy as
the practice of marrying within the same ethnic, cultural, social, religious or tribal group. In endogamous populations everyone will descend from the same small gene pool. People will be related to each other in a recent genealogical timeframe on multiple ancestral pathways and the same ancestors will, therefore, appear in many different places on their pedigree chart. Endogamy can be the result of a conscious decision or cultural pressure to marry within the selected group but also occurs as a result of geographical isolation (for example, in island communities). 
This pretty much fits with what most of us mean when discussing the difficulties of Jewish genetic genealogy, though some might question the term "recent genealogical timeframe." For serious  research, the issue of endogamy is not a problem of recent genealogical time (the last two-three hundred years) but rather the gene pool of European Jews as it existed twenty generations ago. Each person had 220 ancestors twenty generations ago, which would generally be about five to six hundred years back. This number is something north of one million, which is undoubtedly more than the number of European Jews who lived at that time.

This shirt and others
are available at
In this sense, endogamy is not qualitatively different from the pedigree collapse that exists in non-endogamous populations, for they too reach a point when they run out of possible
unique ancestors. The real difference is that our repeated ancestors are more recent and far more numerous. This endogamy has us all related multiple times even though we may not be aware of it at all.

That is also what creates the illusion that people are closer than they actually are. Two people with several small amounts of matching DNA representing distant cousinhood, may appear to be more closely related because the total amount of matching DNA fits a closer relationship.

Let me repeat, the parties to such marriages are related multiple times through distant cousinhood of which they are probably totally unaware.

This, however, is not the endogamy that the average researcher thinks of when the term first comes up. The average Jewish researcher hears the term "married within the tribe" and says "My (great-)great-grandparents married cousins." To be sure, this too is endogamy, but it is of a different type.

Close cousin marriages
I refer here to marriages on the order of first or second cousins, an uncle and a niece or a first or second cousin once removed. Sometimes a bit more distant. These are generally deliberate choices, whether of the bride and groom themselves or more likely their parents.

These relationships can be useful in analyzing genetic test results. For instance, a person born of a marriage of first cousins will have on average 25% of his DNA from each of the great-grandparents that the parents share.
The percentages below 50% are averages.
That is the same percentage (on average) that each parent has from those same great-grandparents. As a result, for the purposes of examining those two great-grandparents, the child can serve as a stand-in for the parents. His DNA would not be diminished by the additional generation.

The Pikholz Project's most extreme known example of what I would call "personal endogamy" is Leonora, whom I have mentioned here before. Leonora's mother Taube left Skalat as the Germans approached in 1941 when she was eighteen, and fled east, ending up in Tajikistan, where her two daughters were born. All four of Taube's parents are Pikholz. Her father's parents are first cousins. Her mother's parents' relationship is more complex. I discuss this family in Chapters Six, Thirteen and others, in my book ENDOGAMY: One Family, One People.

There are a number of reasons for a culture of cousin marriages. Sometimes it was as simple as a small Jewish community with little contact with outsiders. Expanding that circle a bit, we have parents contracting marriages for their children with the people they know best - their siblings and close cousins, people they trusted, people whose life expectations and religious customs were like their own.

Related to that, a man (or a widow) matches his youngest son with his eldest granddaughter. The family provides a perfect shelter for the young couple.

Of course there are issues of business and property. Keeping it in the family by marrying within the family is a time-honored tradition. We see it among royal and other upper-class families and it happened among the regular folks as well. Similar to that is what we often see in rabbinic families, the closest thing to Jewish royalty.

We know of many instances in the 1800s where a woman dies leaving a husband with young children and the family assigns him a new wife either from his own family or from the wife's family. Dwojre, the wife of Simon Pikholz, dies in 1861 at age twenty-three leaving two young daughters. Simon then marries her younger sister with whom he has a string of additional children. (I discuss the DNA of this family in Chapter Thirteen.)

Sometimes those second spouses - "replacement spouses," if you will - are already related. My grandfather's first cousin Sara Frankel was in the US and pregnant with her first child when her husband died. The family back in Skalat sent a cousin of hers to marry her - though we have still not figured just how she and the second husband/cousin are related.

I believe that a similar situation occurred among my own Skalat ancestors, as I discuss in Chapter Twelve.

On my mother's side, after my grandmother's brother lost his wife in the 1940s in the US, his widowed sister-in-law married him so that (according to my mother) some strange woman wouldn't spend his money, depriving her niece and nephews of their rightful inheritance. (I learned four years ago that his children had never heard that explanation!)

When Josef Pikholz of Klimkowce lost his first wife, his children were raised by his second wife who was also his niece. This kind of thing happened all the time. It was part of the social safety net of the era.

Yet another phenomenon was explained by a Lithuanian archivist at a talk at one of the IAJGS conferences eight or nine years ago. (I apologize for not remembering her name or the specifics of her talk.) She was addresssing the question why many marriages took place in towns where neither the bride nor the groom lived. Her explanation, this non-Jewish archivist: "Sheva berachos." The seven days of feasting after a wedding. It seems that during this period, the families would round up all the available young people ("young" meaning anywhere from about twelve years of age) from both families and match them up for additional weddings held there on the spot.

And I haven't even mentioned the possibility that cousins from the same gene pool living in the same place may have been attracted to one another, without the intervention of the parents.

All these cousin marriages create an endogamy that is known to everyone at the time and is recorded in some form in the family tradition, though not always correctly. The grandchildren of Rozdolers Berisch Pickholz and his wife Golde Pickholz always knew that their grandparents are cousins and assumed that meant "first cousins." They are wrong. Second cousins is most likely correct, but third is also a possibility.

The difference
Both these types of endogamy contribute to the difficulty of identifying specific ancestors and the path that any segment of DNA may have taken as it traversed the generations.

But they are not the same. The first kind of endogamy, the one that causes pedigree collapse, represents a dispersal of DNA segments among the ancestral lines of any individual or family. My sixth great-grandmother's DNA comes to me from eight, ten, twelve or more directions, each traversing a different set of my ancestors on its way to me. Good luck figuring them out, identifying the ancestors on each path and the relatives that are generated from each specific path.

What I called above "personal endogamy" is quite the opposite. Instead of diffusion, it creates convergence. My great-grandfather's parents were both Pikholz (we don't know exactly how they are related) so he carries something of a double dose of Pikholz DNA. His Pikholz-ness is more intense. And if there were additional Pikholz cousin marriages in his background - as in the case of Leonora's mother - that intensity is magnified. Although that can make it harder to be precise in our genetic analysis, it can make it easier to do a more general genetic analysis.

If an outsider appears to match my great-great-grandparents who were born two hundred years ago and who are closely related, all we need to know is the match to the family. In any event we usually cannot be so precise as to match the individual. Furthermore, this personal endogamy is strong enough that it smothers the older more diffuse endogamy. It can take what was quite impossible and make it manageable. With the right strategy, that can sometimes be enough.

The results of my great-grandfather's Lazarus kit (Chapter Eighteen) show some of that.

Note: Last week I received Avotaynu's Spring issue, which includes an article by my down-the-block neighbor Zev Kalifon, on the subject of endogamy. I had written this blog post earlier and the two seem to fit together nicely. I will suggest that Avotaynu Online might want to run them together.

Housekeeping notes
I can add to my US speaking tour a joint program of South Suburban Historical and Genealogical Society and Illiana Jewish Genealogical Society, 3000 West 170th Place, Hazel Crest Illinois, on 23 August at 1:30.

That is in addition to
16 August, 1:30 – JGS of Maryland Hadassah, 3723 Old Court Rd., Suite 205, Baltimore

17 August, 7:30 – JGS of North Jersey YMCA, 1 Pike Drive, Wayne NJ

25 August, 7:30 – JGS of Los Angeles, American Jewish University

26 August, 7:00 – Phoenix JGS, Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center,
Arizona Jewish Historical Society, 122 E Culver St, Phoenix

30 August, 2:00 – JGS of Long Island, Mid-Island Y-JCC, 45 Manetto Hill Road, Plainview NY

and a couple of others in the works.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Chone and Max

As I have said on many occasions, the Pikholz families come from two towns in east Galicia - Skalat and Rozdol. Any others are presumed to have come from one of these towns. Usually it is not hard to tell which.

Then there is the family I call CHONE. (That's a nickname for Elkhonon and is pronounced with two syllables.) It refers to Elkhonon Reuven Pikholc who was born in 1888 in "Lenkow, near Poltava." This would be easier to define if there actually were a town called Lenkow near Poltava - which is in Ukraine well east of Galicia. Even east of Kiev. If there is, I have not been able to identify it. The family could have come from either Skalaters or Rozdolers.

According to the birth records of his sons, Chone was married to Rosa Wajnstejn of Bialystok and Bialystok is where their three sons were born in the period 1914-1921. The eldest son Max (=Mordecai) changed his name from Pikholc to something more Israeli-sounding. I am in touch with his daughter, who - for my purposes - represents her two younger brothers. All three live in the United States.

It is recorded that Chone's father is Nachum Leib and with that, the road to the past ends. Nachum as a Pikholz given name is nearly unique. So are Elkhonon and Reuven. In short, I have no idea who this family is and I have not spent much time on it. Max had a brother, whose name he did not remember, who died in Bialystok at the age of four. Another brother, Moshe, was born in 1921 and died in the late 1940s, perhaps in Warsaw.

When we began looking at DNA, this family seemed like an obvious candidate both for a Y chromosome test and for a Family Finder autosomal test. Max' daughter began working on her brothers as she could not do the Y test. The brothers were very concerned with privacy and when, after two and a half years, one agreed to test, he did so under an assumed name.

In fact, after he did the tests, he delayed a number of months before releasing the results, which meant he couldn't even see them himself. For that reason, this family's results are not discussed in my book ENDOGAMY: One Family, One People which is now available for preorder.

Now, however, the results have been released, though I do not have permission to do analysis on GEDmatch. So let's see what we have.

His Y-37 test shows his paternal haplogroup to be R-M124, not at all similar to either of our known Pikholz families. That does not mean that there is anything amiss in the family genealogy. Chone could have gotten his Pikholc surname from his mother. Or his father Nachum Leib could have gotten it from HIS mother. Those are the easy, normal answers.

More complex explanations could be adoption or some non-paternal event. Not to mention that his Pikholc name could have arisen independently of our own.

Autosomal DNA (Family Finder)
Of his more than five thousand Family Finder matches (about ten percent more than I have), Max' son matches thirty-one Pikholz descendants. But he has 113 matches before he reaches his first Pikholz. That first one is Gene, a descendant of Peretz Pikholz and
they are suggested second-fourth cousins, with shared segements of about 114.4 cM, the largest being just over 17 cM. His next three matches are with Charlie, my third cousin Joe and my second cousin Lee - all these suggested as third-fifth cousins with 74-104 shared cM. His largest match with each of those three is 13-14 cM.

I did a chromosome browser showing how those four match Max' son and except for a small segment on chromosome 16, there are no matching segments. On chromosome 16, we see a match with Charlie and Lee, but they do not triangulate, so Charlie matches on Max' side and Lee on Max' wife's side - or vice versa.

Max' son has eight matches that are suggested fourth-remote cousins. One is in the same family group as Gene, but they have no matching segments. Two are from the Riss family, but they too have no matching segments.

I compared Charlie, Dalia, JudyT and Nan - all descendants of the Isak Josef - Mordecai & Taube complex - and found some interesting results.  On chromosome 17, Dalia and Nan have nearly congruent, triangulated segments of 11-13 segments.

On chromosome 10, Charlie (13.6 cM), Judy (12.2 cM) and Nan (6.6 cM) have overlapping, triangulated segments with Max' son. These two seem to show that the family of Chone is part of that family group, though the evidence is certainly short of overwhelming. Considering that Chone's son is Max/Mordecai, if I had to guess, I would say that either Chone's mother or paternal grandmother was a daughter of Mordecai and Taube. But that is hardly more than speculation. Anything further would require documentation of the sort that we don't have. Of course, tests by additional family members could also be useful.

It appears, at least, that this family is a real part of the Pikholz family and not someone who comes at us from the presurname period in the early 1700s. And the Family Finder matches are with very few Rozdolers, so I think we can cross off that possibility.

Housekeeping notes
I participated in the IAJGS Conference here in Jerusalem for four days last week. The lectures were short this year - forty-five minutes instead of the usual seventy-five - and I attended two or three each day. I spent alot of time speaking with peoiple, meeting old friends, etc. And I was interviewed about ENDOGAMY: One Family, One People by a few Israeli publications.

I was also able to help people with their personal DNA analyses and sat at length with a few others discussing DNA testing and analysis in general.

The air conditioning was devastating but we were compensated with free coffee and tea.

I split much my time between the Israel Genealogical Society table and the Avotaynu Online table. (I have to get more involved with them.) Adam Brown gave an interesting talk Thursday afternoon about a budding Avotaynu Online project to do a genetic census of the Jewish people, because the endogamy factor guarantees that we are in fact one people.

I spoke briefly with Max Blankfeld of FTDNA who was selling test kits. Max is my closest Family Finder after my first twenty known relatives, but we haven't a clue how we connect. It is no doubt a large number of distant connections.

And I bought a one-year subscription to the My Heritage database.

Wednesday, six bloggers - including Dick Eastman - went out to lunch together.

Next year the Conference is in Seattle, but it ends the day before the Tisha beAv fast, so I do not plan to attend.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

ENDOGAMY: One Family, One People

For three years, I blogged nearly every week. A few months ago, that changed. I posted four blogs in January and six in March, but only one each in February and April and two in May. There was a reason for that. I was temporarily busy with something else.

It's time to tell you.

ENDOGAMY: One Family, One People tells you of my successes thus far in making sense of my families' DNA tests, despite the problems of generations of marriages within the tribe. My own story is a Jewish story and my examples are Jewish examples, mostly from east Galicia. But the principles are relevant for other endogamous populations as well as for the general genetic genealogy community.

Although the nature of my research and the structure of my families are probably very diffferent from yours, I believe that you can learn from my experience. I am here to inspire you to say "I can do this!"

ENDOGAMY: One Family, One People, published by Colonial Roots, will be officially launched at a meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Maryland on 16 August and is available for preorder now.

Sales through the website are being coordinated by Gold Medal Ideas, who have come out with a special line of genetic genealogy T-shirts and accessories. Those too are available on the site.

Meantime, I shall be hanging out much of this week at the IAJGS Conference here in Jerusalem.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Large Segments

The survey
The genetic genealogy community has been known to disagree about the usefulness of small segments. Although less contentious, large segments is also "a thing."

Blaine Bettinger asked on Facebook a couple of weeks ago
How many matches do you have using a threshold of 25 cM for a GEDmatch One-to-Many autosomal DNA comparison?
Of late, Blaine has taken to crowdsourcing Facebook for statistics in order to create databases for comparison. Most recently Blaine developed his Shared cM Project, where he asked people to tell him the sizes of matches they had with known relatives. The chart on the right shows the results.

It is anecdotal and self-selecting, to be sure, but for many people it feels better than the theoretical tables that we have been working with until now. ISOGG has even added it to their Autosomal DNA Statistics page. 

So Blaine's most recent crowdsourcing challenge has been large segments, something which I admit I have not paid alot of attention to. It is one thing to evaluate our matches by total matching segments and quite another to look at individual large segments.

The default threshold for GEDmatch is for kits which have a match of 7 cM or more, but as I mentioned recently in passing, we can change that threshold to suit our own needs.
For this exercise, Blaine wanted us to choose 25 cM.

So I looked at my own matches and there were twenty-six. For eighteen close relatives (up to second cousins) the range was from thirteen to thirty-seven. But of course most of those were just us matching each other. Once I eliminated the matches up to second cousins, I was left with eight. Most of the others were in the 10-18 range. Aunt Betty had twenty-two, Herb had twenty-three and oddly enough, one of my sisters had nineteen.

Meantime, other people were reporting back to Blaine that after removing close reatives, they were getting segments of 25 cM or more with fifty-sixty, even a hundred other people. This surprised me, so I began looking a bit deeper.

Matches with strangers
My interest in this exercise was not my usual how-are-we-related-to-these-other-Pikholz-descendants, but rather the strangers. I suppose that decision was trivial because none of my family members had matches of 25 cM or more with any Pikholz from Rozdol or with any descendants of Nachman or Peretz Pikholz. Or, for that matter, Vladimir or Joyce.

My list of strangers was the shortest - only four people. The first thing I did was to look at the strangers who appeared as matches for several of us  Eva, for example, matches six of us at 25 cM or more. So I looked at Eva's matches from 15 cM.

It was no surprise that all six are on the same segment. It was a bit of a surprise that she didn't match any other Pikholz at 15-25 cM. I would have thought there would be a few there. The key here is Rhoda, who makes it clear that this match is on the side of my father's paternal grandparents, but with no additional matches, that's as far as I can go.

Another match named Al showed quite the same sort of results.

Another match on my grandfather's side but with no smaller matches and not much else to say.

A third one told a different story. There are two, actually - a mother and daughter. This is the mother.
The first seven are more or less the usual group, some descendants of my great-grandparents. But they are followed by three more distant Pikholz descendants, two of whom have matches in the 18-19 cM range. Those two would be Judy and Leonora who are related to me through both parents of my great-grandfather.

Anna is a bit more specific. She is a fourth cousin of mine on my great-grandfather's mother's side. I am not sure how important that is because my great-grandfather's parents are some kind of cousins, but nonetheless it gives a bit of direction.

The daughter's matches are about the same. I wrote, hoping to find some names or geography we could work with. But I was disappointed. These matches are from the mother's unknown father. They are hoping for some direction from me. We are corresponding but for now, I don't think anything will come of it.

But while I am mentioning Anna
Our matches with our fourth cousin Anna, are unusual to say the least. Anna and her half-brother (who have both done Family Finder tests) are related to us through their Pikholz-descended father. Both their mothers are non-Jewish, so any Jewish DNA comes from the father that they share.

To confirm that there is no significant Jewish DNA from the mothers, I simply counted their matches. I have 4471 Family Finder matches and other members of my family have more or less (mostly more) than that.  Anna has 2366 and her half-brother has 2115. These numbers are consistent with having one non-Jewish parent.

If we look at the chromosomes below, we see that Anna matches everyone in my family except my sister Sarajoy and me. Her brother does not match the two of us nor does he match our second cousins Rhoda and Terry.

On Chromosome 8, both have a nice set of matches with Aunt Betty, Uncle Bob and Herb - who, remember, are their third cousins once removed.

Both have very large matches with Marty on Chromosome 15 - Anna's is 50 cM!

But Chromosome 3 is remarkable. Anna's brother has a nice set of matches with five of us, two of which are a bit more than 20 cM. But Anna has seven matches, all over 30 cM and four of them are 57-69 cM! This is huge for four fourth cousins and three third cousins once removed. And keep in mind that Sarajoy and I are not there at all.

If Anna were not known to be a cousin, these numbers would jump off the page - but only by looking at the largest segments or the individual chromosomes.

In fact, if we only looked at the Family Finder match list (on the right), we would see nothing remarkable at all. We would not even see that Anna's matches with us are significantly different from her brother's.

There are lessons here galore. Lessons about looking specifically at the large matches. Lessons about looking at the chromosomes, not just at the total cMs and the overall suggested relationships. 

And perhaps most important is the lesson about testing cousins and siblings. Before Anna tested, her brother's results were anything but inspiring. If someone had said "Why do we need her? We have her brother!" look what we would have lost out on. 

And even with Anna, if all we had from our side had been Uncle Bob, Terry, Rhoda, Lee, Judith, Sarajoy and me, it would have been a fine test collection of seven people but we would have missed the best results.

I referred to Anna as a known fourth cousin. That is true now. It wasn't true six months ago, before we had seen Anna's results. For it was this set of results that clarified our relationship with Anna's family.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Let's Be Realistic

Let's be realistic. Your run-of-the-mill researcher has no business expecting that the genetic test he just ordered will bring contacts with actual relatives.

Sure it happens. There are success stories. Adoptees find someone who tests as a cousin and that gives an initial lead where nothing was known previously. And occasionally a "new" "close" cousin will pop out of the woodwork.

But most genealogy researchers will already know their first and second cousins and often some of the thirds, and the ones who aren't interested in being found aren't usually the ones out there taking Family Finder tests. (And don't get me started on those who test but do not list their ancestral surnames!)

My cousin Sam did a Y-37 test and found a grand total of three matches. His haplogroup is J-M172 and his three matches are at a genetic distance of two, three and four.

My cousin Leonard (E -L117) did a Y-37 and has five matches at zero genetic distance (two of them from one family) and ten with a genetic distance of one - this with a surname which we know goes back three hundred years. There is no one close there either and none of his matches shares that common surname.

Aunt Betty (H10a1b) has nine MtDNA matches, including three zeroes, but not a one with a Family Finder match at any level.

My cousin Joe (K2a2a1) has eighty-two MtDNA matches with zero genetic distance, but only three Family Finder matches among them - and they all appear remote.

I have over seventy suggested second-fourth cousins and over six hundred suggested third-fifth cousins - aside from known family members - and that is after Family Tree DNA has invoked their magic algorithm that supposedly accounts for endogamy. WHO ARE ALL THESE PEOPLE? And more important, where are all the real third-fourth cousins who are surely out there someplace?

What all this overlooks, of course, is the perspective of timing and numbers. I did my Full MtDNA test (U1b1) and at the time I had six matches with zero genetic distance and one match with a genetic distance of one. Now, four years later, I have fourteen of the former and four of the latter. Essentially that means that when I joined FTDNA, there were seven matches "waiting for me." And my time waiting for new matches has brought eleven more.

I started with about 2200 matches on Family Finder three years ago and now I have 4471. My matches have doubled in three years.

If we look ahead another ten years, my matches could increase say three or fourfold. From that vantage point, the vast majority of my matches will not be people whom I found waiting for me, but people who found me waiting for them.

Sam has three matches, none closer than a genetic distance of two, but ten years from now, he may well have a dozen of more, including one or two with zero genetic distance. This is particularly true of people who are part of non-American populations therefore less exposed to the idea of genetic testing. Here in Israel, genetic testing seems to have a very small following among the veteran Ashkenazic population, so many of our cousins may be late coming to the game.

So the truth is, the realistic view is that with only five years of autosomal testing in the various companies' databases, we should not think that we are testing to find our relatives. We are testing so that when our relatives test someday, we will be there waiting to be found. In the meantime, we check our new matches every week or two. That "someday" may be this week.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Finding Max Greenberg

The family
Fifteen years ago, back before JRI-Poland began working with the AGAD archives in Warsaw on east Galician records, Jacob Laor and I had our own project to collect records from from the Pikholz strongholds Rozdol and Skalat. One of the searches we ordered produced a three-page list of records and we ordered all of them.

Among the Skalat families we were able to reconstruct was Jakob Pikholz and his wife Henie Malka Ginsberg, the daughter of Abish and Lea Mariem. In time, we gathered what appears to be the whole set of births for this couple.

Two of those records are for the eldest daughter, Leie Mariem, one dated 22 September 1877 and the other dated 1 November 1877. When we saw the actual records, it turned out that the second was a death record dated 4 November

Second was a son Perec (=Peretz), born 1878. He went to New York in 1902 and we are in touch with his granddaughter. In New York, he was known as "Barney."

Third was a daughter Jente Rachel, born 1880. Seven years ago, we learned that she arrived in Jerusalem during WWII and died here in 1970. She has one granddaughter and I have met her several times. The granddaughters of Perec and Jente Rachel are the same age and both work in the legal profession.

Fourth was a daughter whom AGAD listed as Bassie, born 29 August 1882. The actual birth record calls her Bassie Rosa.

Fifth was a daughter whom AGAD called Roze, born 28 July 1884. The conflict between daughters named Roze and Bassie Rosa was obvious and we assumed that Bassie Rosa had died and the name Roze was recycled to the next daughter. Fifteen years ago, I was quite the greenhorn.

Sixth was a son Abysch Abraham, born 1886 and died 1889.

Seventh was a son Szyje Izak, born 30 September 1888. Shammai Segal told me that he knew a butcher by this name, but knew nothing about his family.

Last were a daughter Cirl Ester, born 22 November 1890, and a son Berysz, born 18 January 1894, about whom we know nothing at all.

Rose in New York
In 1907, Rosa went to New York on the President Lincoln. She is clearly identified on the passenger list as Rosa Pickholz, age 22 from Skalat, daughter of Jakob Pickholz who lived in Skalat.

In 1912, she married Samuel Greenberg, a fellow Skalater. He spelled it Gruenberg in Skalat. The parents' names are correct and she gives her age as 26 instead of 28.

In the 1920 census, they are in the Bronx with a son Max, age four years and some illegible number of months. Rose is thirty-four years old and both she and Samuel are clearly identified as born in Skalat.

And there, dear readers, the story ended for me. I could not find any of the three anywhere, including in the Social Security Death Index. Neither of Rose's great-nieces had ever heard of her or of Max. I would look at records from time to time, but either I was not seeing them or they were not there. Sam, Rose and Max Greenberg are common names and that certainly didn't help. It's not like looking for Pikholz.

When I had another look at the 1930 census three months ago, I saw Max, age fifteen born in New York, with his widowed mother Rose, age forty-one born in Austria. They were living in Brooklyn.

I moved on to the 1940 census and found them, still in Brooklyn. Max is a twenty-five year old law clerk (the law runs in this family!) and has acquired the middle initial "M."

Rose is married to Morris Gross and his daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter are part of the household. Rose is fifty-two. I found the 1937 marriage record of Rose and Morris, which named her parents and thus nailed down Rose's identity.

I enlisted the help of Renee Steinig, who is way better at finding living people in the United States than I will ever be, and she found Morris Gross' granddaughter. The granddaughter did not know Max, but she did know of Martin. She had a name for his wife, who predeceased him by some fifteen years. There is - or was a second wife - before Martin M. Greenberg, the attorney, died in 1991. He had one daughter who died at fifty-six in Montgomery County Maryland. Her son is on Facebook, but has not yet responded to my attempts at contact.

Rose, who died in 1965, Martin and Martin's first wife are buried in adjacent graves in Montefiore Cemetery. Rose's age is seventy-seven. Samuel is elsewhere and I have not yet identified him among the 1920s New York deaths.

I acquired a copy of the probate file and it contains Martin's death certificate, excerpted below. The informant was the second wife.

His mother is not Rosa. His mother is Basha Rosa. Bassie Rosa, the older sister born in 1882? But how can this be? If Bassie Rosa was alive, how was the next daughter called Roze?

Similar names
I went back to have a look at Roze's birth record, but rather than rummage through my printed records from fifteen years ago, I went through JRI-Poland. There I saw that the indexer in Warsaw had written "Raze," not "Roze" and that was, in fact a much better transcription of the original. Raze (pronounced "Rah-tze") is not a form of Rosa. It is a distinct Yiddish name. So in fact there is no conflict between the names of the two sisters, Bassie Rosa and Raze. I have no idea what became of Raze.

It is important to work with original documents whenever possible. Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, addressed this issue a few weeks ago, and not for the first time.
Of course, it helps  to know what you are talking about. Fifteen years ago, I did not know the name Raze, so looking at the original more carefully would not have prevented my error.

That brings me back to one of my favorite points. I am supposed to know what I am doing. Other members of the family assume that I do and are hardly likely to recheck my work. Heck, if not for Martin's death certificate, I wouldn't have rechecked it either!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Improved Strategies with GEDmatch

It's been not quite two years since I first began uploading raw autosomal and X-chromosome data to GEDmatch. Because of the nature of my research, I really want all the kits I manage to show up together when sorted alphabetically on a "one-to-many" comparison. For that reason, I assigned each of my kits an alias that begins with "Pikholz" followed by initials or a nickname. My own kit was called "Pikholz - IP." Aunt Betty's was "Pikholz - AB" and Gary's was "Pikholz - GZP."

For some reason, GEDmatch treats all these as though they have an asterisk in front of them (ie "*Pikholz - IP"). In an alphabetical sort, the names with an asterisk come before those without and that's fine with me.

When a few of my mother's Gordon family began testing, I added a "G" after "Pikholz" to help both with the identification and the sorting.

Some months ago, I decided that I wanted the Rozdol Pikholz descendants (there are twelve of these now) to sort together, so I added "Roz" to their aliases. Gary is now "*Pikholz - Roz - GZP."

Recently, I made two other changes. I have nearly fifty Skalat kits and it was getting cumbersome. First of all, I added "Sk" to all the Skalat Pikhlz descendants - and further added coding for descendants of my great-grandfather Hersch Pikholz and for descendants of Peretz and Nachman Pikholz. I became "*Pikholz - SkH - IP" and others begin with "*Pikholz - SkP -" and "*Pikholz - SkN." Other Skalaters begin with "*Pikholz - Sk -."

I did one other thing. All my kits now begin with the number "1." My alias is now "*1Pikholz - SkH - I." I did this of course because I wanted my kits to sort near the top. But it isn't just an issue of convenience.

GEDmatch processes all the data but only shows the first 1500 results. When you want the results to sort to show your closest matches, 1500 is plenty, even as the number of kits in the system has grown. But for those of us who sort alphabetically, that's not good enough because often our matches will not make the cut. For awhile I have been raising the threshold to 8 cM (the default is 7 cm) in order to reduce my matches, but often that is not enough and frequently I have to raise the threshold to 9 cM to reduce the number of matches displayed even further.

Sorting by email doesn't help because the email that represents all my kits begins with "israelp@," which comes out somewhere in the middle. I could change my email to something beginning with "ZZZisraelP@" and sort in reverse, but that seemed like alot of trouble.

So the aliases of all my kits now begin with "*1Pikholz" and I can go back to the default threshold of 7 cM. Eventually, enough other people will figure this out and perhps I'll have to change them to "*00Pikholz," but for now this will do.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Skalat Memorial Service - Year Seventy-Two

We met yesterday, Monday the seventh of Sivan, what is the second day of Shavuot for those Jews in Exile. This was the day of the major aktzia after which Skalat was declared Judenrein - free of Jews. Seventy-two years ago.

We met at the memorial for the Skalat community, "the holy Skalat Martyrs," at the Holon Cemetery in south suburban Tel-Aviv. Along that stretch are maybe thirty or forty (maybe more) such monuments. Some are for other towns in the area - Zbarazh, Husiatyn, Trembowla. Others are towns scattered across eastern Europe, including Pleshchenitsy where my mother's paternal grandmother Chana Kugel came from.

We were probably twenty-five people, exactly enough men for a minyan. There were four survivors from Skalat, all women. The rest were second generation Skalaters and even third generation.

Zvika Sarid led the service, as he has done since the late Chaim Braunstein was no longer able to do so. Chaim's son was there. He read the inscription that his father had written on the left side of the monument. Zvi Segal - Shammai's son - was there and his son spoke. Bronia spoke - she seems to have more energy every year. I read Psalm 130. Zvika said the memorial prayer. Everyone said kaddish together.

Yocheved, Zvika's mother, thanked everyone for coming. We hope we will see everyone again next year.

Shammai's family went off to nearby Rehovoth where their personal memorial is held for Shammai - who, appropriately, died on Shavuot. Must be five or six years now.

I asked Zvika if anyone is organizing a trip to Skalat in the coming year. He said not that he knows of. I was there fifteen years ago. It's time to go again.

To the suffering people of the Skalat community 
to the fathers who took their lives in their hands,
in desparate attempt to save their children,
to the mothers who hair blanched
from pain and fear for their dear ones,
for those tortured and shot in the town streets,
in the ancient citadels
and on the banks of the river,
to the thousands taken in the death cars,
to Belzec, on the road of blood and suffering
and were ground to dust., to the few who dared
to jump from the speeding trains,
because they never quit or gave up hope,
even at the edge of destruction,
for the thousands at the pts of death,
fathers, mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers
brothers and sisters, counting the
last grains of sand in the hourglass,
their eyes desparate and no one comes to rescue,
to the brave, the daring, the fortunate,
who in that night of storm and unrest,
of hope and desparation, joined the fighters of
Kobpak and whose blood filled the path
of the Resistance in the Carpathian Mountains,
to the thousands of the community who were killed
with the cry of SHEMA YISRAEL on their lips,
to the few who remained, by miracle or by chance,
fewer every year, and during these many years
they carry the cries of the entire community,
and the greatest and heaviest cry of them all,
the cry of the dead and of the living, echoing
throughout the world, from then until the end of time:

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Some Oddish Results

I know that once you get to third and fourth cousins, autosomal matches get really iffy. According to the ISOGG wiki, third cousins share 0,781% of their DNA on average and fourth cousins share 0.195% on average. In terms of centiMorgans, that's 53.13 and 13.28 respectively. "On average" means of course that it can be more - or less.

Add to that mix the fact that Family Tree DNA's cut-off for acknowledging a match at all is nontrivial. You can have a small match but they don't count it. (I think their cut-off is 20 cM.)

Over the last couple of years, I have gotten used to Family Finder results that make some kind of sense and I have succeeded not badly at coming to conclusions that I did not think likely going in. This despite the vagaries of genetic inheritance that can show two fourth cousins who do not match at all, while their siblings match wonderfully and convincingly.

Another way of saying that is that I have gotten spoiled. That is why the newest compilation of Family Finder results feels so weird, though it really is not. For the most part.

Below is a table showing relationships among seven family members, identified by initials.

Here is the level of certainty of the relationships.
  • J, M and S are fully documented. 
  • F's relationship is based on a family tradition, confirmned by DNA testing (autosomal and Y).
  • G and R are fully documented. Their relationship with the others is based on strong naming patterns, supported by autosomal DNA.
  • D is related to the others based on naming patterns, supported by autosomal DNA.
The new results are for S and M.

The relationships on the top right are the suggested relationships according to the FTDNA matches. The bottom left are the actual relationships. Most of them are not bad.

D, the weakest of our assumptions, shows his first four suggested relationships as correct. F looks good, at least on the first three. G and R are great with each other and with J.

S's matches are generally is not as good as I'd like, though the matches with G, R and particularly D are important.

But the three fully documented relationships among J, M and S (marked in yellow) do not show up on FTDNA at all. This will undoubtedly raise credibility issues for the whole study, among some of the participants.

According to GEDmatch, the match between M and S is indeed very small, just 12.6 cM altogether with none of the three segments larger than 5 cM.

But the matches that J has with M and S on GEDmatch are not so simple.

Both are over 50 cM, so should certainly show up as matches on FTDNA. I asked the folks there to have a look at this and will add their findings at the end of this post when they become available.
The GEDmatch results are pretty much in line with the results predicted by ISOGG.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Writing for Readers, Writing for Listeners

This article was originally published in the December 2014 issue of Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly.  The version here is the way I submitted it to them.The phrase in red was cut by the editor.

I have never met Diana Crisman Smith, so the voice in my head that read her article ("Does It Sound Like You?" June 2014) was generic. Not even generic female. Nearly everything I read comes with a voice in my head and when I know – or have heard – the writer, I usually hear the virtual echo of the actual voice. I don't suppose there is anything extraordinary about that.

My own writing tends pretty much towards the same informal style as my speech. Certainly in my blog but also in articles that I occasionally write for publication. That is the case both in my native American-English and in Hebrew. And although I like it that way, it is not deliberate.

Even in the two short paragraphs above, I have used several sentence fragments, begun a sentence with "and" and used the informal "pretty much" and "I don't suppose." My writer-friend Varda, who looks over most of what I write for publication, knows to leave that kind of thing alone.

The Panel
During the summer, I had a different kind of challenge. I was a participant in a panel discussion at the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies' annual conference, in Salt Lake City,  on the subject "Internet Collaboration: How Do We Share Our Family Trees Online?" which was a polite way of saying "Geni – Yes or No?" I was "No." My indeterminate cousin Adam Brown was "Yes" and the publisher of the quarterly Avotaynu, Gary Mokotoff, spoke for "a third way." Sallyann Sack-Pikus, the editor of Avotaynu, was the moderator.

This panel was the continuation of a debate that began at last year's conference and continued in the pages of Avotaynu. To tell the truth, I was not crazy about doing this as I am not fast on my feet in debate – certainly not at Adam's level. But I had been front and center in this charge both in Avotaynu and on Facebook, so I hadn't much choice.

According to the rules Sallyann set, each of was to speak fifteen minutes from prepared text and then we would challenge each others' positions, before taking questions from the audience. We would see each others' remarks in advance in order to prepare our challenge questions.

The Problem
So I finally wrote it up about ten days before the conference, but when I read it aloud to myself to see how close I was to the assigned fifteen minutes, it just didn't sound right. It didn't sound like a speech or a presentation. It sounded like an article.

I have been speaking from notes since I was a youth leader in high school and have been using Power Point for years. I know how to do that. I have written letters to editors, op-eds and pieces for genealogy publications – I know how to do that too. I have never written a speech and I had just demonstrated to myself that I don't know how.

The sentences were too long, the structure of the thoughts too complex. In an article, if you don't get it right away you can reread the paragraph. That doesn't work when you speak from text, even if the full text is included in the handout

I had written this for readers, not for listeners.

The problem was that it was Thursday. I was going to the States on Sunday and would be busy with family matters followed by a week at GRIP in Pittsburgh before heading to the conference.

The Solution
The solution was in Pittsburgh, my home town. While attending my GRIP course, I stayed with Aunt Betty and Uncle Ken, one of whom – I forget which – is a sibling of my father. Uncle Ken
Photo by
Hannah Simon Goldman
has been retired from his job as a scientist for twenty-five years (do the math!) and spends one day a week at the University of Pittsburgh mentoring graduate students, mostly visiting Asians. Much of what he does involves helping them prepare and present papers.

He read my speech and asked many questions about genealogy – both the material itself and the nature of the research. And we worked on it. We looked at the sentence structure and we listened. My high school class just had its fiftieth reunion, so I am obviously not a youngster, but I was delighted to have an older, more experienced person helping me out, even if it was several hours after his bed-time.

By the time we were finished – by the time I left Pittsburgh – the words were 95% the same but it was not the same presentation. It sounded different. It sounded like it was meant to be heard, not read.

The Result
I was supposed to be showing how my way of presenting my research was collaborative and online without a "tree," so I jabbed with a few short sentences like "You can't say that's not collaborative" and "That's certainly collaborative." Those sentences get cut by an editor ten times out of ten. But they work in a speech.

My two-paragraph quote from Randy Seaver was relegated to the handout, as was my anecdote about the announcement from Geni that I am someone's "wife's aunt's husband's fourth cousin's wife's sister's husband's nephew's wife's mother's husband." The person responsible for that was in the audience and everyone already knew the joke.

The paragraph about my contact with the great nephew of Cousin Leo the Spy, received a new ending. "Now I have more. Now he knows more."

I changed my speech pattern a bit, not to slow it down, but to make it more deliberate. The punch lines punched.

The pro-tree position emphasized technology, young people and new researchers. I took a whack at that with this:
And an extensive web of DNA matches is about as collaborative as you can get! Even among the endogamous. Let me say that again for emphasis. An extensive web of DNA matches is about as collaborative as you can get! That is where much of my work is concentrated these days. And that is where many of tomorrow's researchers can be found.

In addition to issues like sentence length and complexity of thoughts, you can get away with bad syntax, bad grammar and even repeated words in speech, way more easily than in writing. And it's not that one is harder and one easier. They are simply different.

The handout referred to in this article can be found at