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 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Matching Sandee

I manage sixty-eight family autosomal kits on GEDmatch, with six more either in the lab or expected there soon. It is no wonder, then, that I get more than a dozen inquiries a week from people who find matches. Many have very little information and others have some meat on them. These range from:
Dear Mr. Pikholz,

WE ARE COUSINS! I have a match with you on GEDmatch. Can you tell me how we are related?
Israel, I have seen your work on Facebook and I know you are very busy. I have matches with twenty-eight of your kits and my sister has thirty-four. Our GEDmatch kit numbers are [redacted] and [redacted]. Here is a list of the best of our matches: [redacted]

My families ancestral surnames are: [redacted]

Can you suggest how we might be related and how I should proceed?
I have a boiler-plate response, to which I add comments as relevant. Here is that response in its current incarnation:
Let me explain who I am and why I am here. That will help you understand why there are things I know about, while other things are way out of my orbit. And why I am not diving into this with you as enthusiastically as you might like..

Most people do genetic genealogy in order to find new relatives, either for their own sake or in order to help move back in time. That is not what I am doing. My main genealogy interest is the single-surname Pikholz Project, which has as its mission to identify and reconnect all Pikholz descendants.

The Pikholz families divide into two groups, both from east Galicia, one (mine) in Skalat and one in Rozdol. If the two are connected it involves people who lived at least two hundred years ago. We have about eighteen Pikholz families from Skalat, some going back to the edge of the pre-surname period and a few where we dead-end more recently. I am trying to use DNA to see how they fit together. I have a number of successes under my belt and several theories that should be testable when the newest batch of results comes in.

Among the Skalaters alone, I have over forty people who have done Family Finder and more on order.

So you see that I have limited interest and resources to get back much further right now, even though there are a few dozen non-Pikholz who match thirty or more of my people, almost surely from the pre-surname period. (I can get a dozen inquiries like yours in a typical week.)
I don't mind answering specific questions, such as "Is UB related to Sam", but if you want me to do the work (the only guarantee is my best effort), I will have to turn the meter on. (I am a professional genealogist.
In general, chromosome browser on GEDmatch is the best way to go to find patterns.
Some never reply. Some thank me and go on their way. Some expect me to do the work for them, which accounts for the bit about turning on the meter.

The more serious inquirers actually do some work, but invariably their results are all over the genealogical map. If they match any of the dozen descendants of my Pikholz great-grandparents, chances are they match at least eight or nine. They usually match a few of the descendants of Nachman Pikholz and Peretz Pikholz and Moshe Hersch Pikholz and Mordecai Pikholz and sometimes Uncle Selig Pikholz. They often match a few of the dozen Rozdol Pikholz descendants or my Kwoczka cousins or the two first and four second cousins on my mother's side or the two on my paternal grandmother's side.

Or my mother-in-law.

But because they are all over the map, it is very hard to say anything useful. Another untraceable relative from the period before records and surnames, with a common ancestor in the early or mid-1700s at best.

Then early last week there was Sandee.
Hi Israel,

I am on ancestry, Family Tree DNA, and GED match.  You and I are 4th cousins, according to ftDNA.  More interestingly,  I have matches of varying closeness to 29 of the people you manage on GED.  Now I am curious.  How can this be?  I have looked at your family tree and nothing jumps out at me.  I also have tested my mtDNA, and apparently that is not where we relate.  My family is primarily from Ukraine, Poland and Romania.  

I did compare in the chromosome browser.  I wish I had a better understanding of what it means.  

My name is ... Sandee ....  I would be interested in your take on this.  I hope you will be kind enough to respond.  My email is [redacted].  

My best,

My boilerplate response did not scare her off and in fact she went to work on the chromosome browser and although it took a few days, I was finally able to see her results - which she sent me as a pdf file. My first impression was that she matched well in Skalat, but not everyone. Her results seemed more focused. She also sent me her ancestral surnames, which were not familiar to me and did not line up geographically with my people.

I asked her to run it again, but leaving out the Rozdolers and my mother's family. And my mother-in-law. That left mostly the Skalaters. When I saw those newer, cleaner results, I suggested we speak. It seemed more efficient than writing it all out, with explanations and discussion.

We went through them together chromosome by chromosome. We pretty much ignored the matches that were smaller than 5 cM, though it is hard to ignore a column of six or seven of them all in the same place.  We looked at matches of 5-10 cM only when we had a few on the same segments. And we took note of the segments that were larger than 10 cM. 

Sandee's matches were indeed well-focused. There were very few matches with descendants of Old Nachman or Peretz, none with even two on matching segments. There was no trace of the descendants of Moshe Hersch except Leonora. Nothing either from the two great-great-grandchildren of Uncle Selig. A few matches of over 10 cM with the second cousins Craig and Ron, but never together. Very little of Vladimir or Joyce and neither of the Kwoczka cousins. And of my known Pikholz third cousins, Elaine was there and Joe was not.

But Sandee does have many matches with my sisters and me. And alot with Aunt Betty, but not with Uncle Bob. Quite a bit with Herb and some with Dalia, Lloyd, JudyT and Sam's daughter. And as I mentioned, Leonora. And some with my second cousins Terry, Rhoda, Marty and especially Lee - but less than I would have thought. These results had "Descendants of Mordecai and Taube" written all over them, but not only.

Aunt Betty, my sisters and me, without Terry, Rhoda and Marty looks like my grandmother's side, which includes Lee as well. It looks like Sandee's connection with us has to do with my grandmother's Slovakian-Hungarian side, in addition to a Galician connection through Mordecai or Taube. And since Sandee's matches include Cousin Shabtai and not Cousin Fred, that seems to point to my grandmother's maternal (Hungarian) side.

The matches with Herb are interesting, especially where Sandee matches him and Dalia together. There seems to be a connection somewhere between Herb's father's family and someone on Dalia's other side. Sandee could fit in there too, especially since Elaine's great-grandfather and Herb's grandfather are brothers.

It was a well-spent half hour on the phone. It is normal to expect that distant connections of this sort involve multiple common ancestors, but I have not seen someone whose results are so focused, particularly so heavily weighted to one of the Pikholz lines. So far it doesn't mean anything. We have not done proper triangulation. And until Sandee can get some of her cousins to test, we cannot know where we should be looking for a paper trail on her side.

But I really like where this is going and especially how it is getting there.

Housekeeping notes - literally, for a change
NOTICE: We leave Egypt this weekend. May you all find it real and meaningful. And a joyous occasion.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Day of Memory, A Day of Joy

This Thursday the sixth of Nisan is the 119th yahrzeit of my great-grandmother Etta Bryna Rosenbloom. (I have discussed her here, here, here and here.)

In brief, my great-grandmother died probably in her late thirties and we nothing about her except that her father was Yehudah and that he was a Levi. In particular, we do not know her maiden name or where she came from.

One of those links above discusses a fairly close conection I made with Deborah Sirotkin Butler via MtDNA, which looks at the maternal line. But nothing came of it.

Then this:
 and in particular his most distant maternal-line ancestor:

Yenta Bryna. Sounds an awful lot like Etta Bryna.

So how close is this man? He is zero genetic distance from me, but mitochondrial DNA mutates very slowly, so our common ancestor could be five hundred years ago.

Well, it says "FF," so he has done a Family Finder. Let's do that search.
Third cousin - Fifth cousin. 91.81 cM in common, longest block is 12.72 cM. Well fourth cousins means that my Etta Bryna and his Yenta Bryna could be first cousins. That would be fabulous.

I looked at the chromosomes. There were some matches between this new fellow B and us - us being my sisters and me, my first cousins Kay and Leonard and our second cousins Sam and Beth, all of whom I discussed about a month ago. The matches did not triangulate well - not on FTDNA and not on GEDmatch.

I also compared chromosomes with B and Deborah Sirotkin Butler. She too shows up as a perfect MtDNA match and a third-fifth cousin Family Finder match. But I do not have any matches with both of then, save a few very small segments.

I spoke to Leonid, the cousin of B who manages his family kits. He refers to his ancestor alternately as Yetta Bryna and Yenta Bryna and tells me she was born in 1868 in Lodz and died in 1928 in New York. That would make her about ten years younger than our Etta Bryna. We have no way to bridge the gap between Lodz and Borisov. Leonid has five kits that match B, so perhaps I can learn something by looking at all five compared to ours.

In any case, without some documents to take us back another generation, the DNA is not going to get us very far.

So all we can do today is remember great-grandmother Etta Bryna bat Yehudah HaLevi.

Actually, that is not quite all we can do. We can rejoice with cousin Baer, Sam's son, who is to be married to Dina, Wednesday evening, 6 Nisan, on the anniversary of his great-great--grandmother Etta Bryna's death. The wedding is in far off Australia, but the couple will be living just outside Jerusalem where Baer is studying in yeshiva. Dina's birthday is also 6 Nisan.

Mazal tov to the couple and the families.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Imperfect Triangulation

While examining the autosomal DNA results of Ira and Steve on GEDmatch, a curious thing turned up. Ira and Steve are second cousins, great-grandsons if Isak Pikholz of Rozdol and his wife Toby Blum.

In the course of my analysis, I saw the following on chromosome 7.
Ira and Steve have a match of just over 66 cM, as represented by the orange bars.

Below that, each has a green bar representing a match of about 13 cM that each has with Esther. But Esther's matches are not identical. Her match with Steve is 13.2114 cM, while her match with Ira is 13.3094 cM. Close but no cigar. It fails the triangulation test.

Let's look at an analogy. Ira and Steve sit down to dinner together for sixty-six minutes. Esther comes to join them for part of the meal, about thirteen minutes worth. But since Steve and Ira are together, Esther cannot spend even one second more with one than with the other. Her matches with them must be identical to the last decimal.

It is possible in theory that she matches both of them on their other sides - not the Pikholz side where they match each other, but Ira's mother and Steve's father. But it would be too much of a coincidence for those matches to be so similar.

In order to confirm the GEDmatch numbers, I did a chromosome browser for Esther.
Esther's matches with Steve and Ira are the same as theirs with her, so we see no internal inconsistency.

So just for fun, I did the same chromosome browser on FTDNA.

The bar graphs look just like the GEDmatch chromosome browser. But the numbers are slightly different. Particularly the 13 cM segments in blue. Esther matches both Steve and Ira from position 67,711,326 to 80,123,786, for a total of 13.04 cM.

GEDmatch is much easier to work with when comparing more than five kits. Some say that it is more accurate. It may be, much of the time. But not this time. This time FTDNA's numbers work and the GEDmatch numbers do not. Sometimes these tiny variations do not matter. In this case, it's the difference between possible and impossible.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Lazerus Kits For My Mother

The kits I was able to produce for my father using the Lazerus tool at GEDmatch have been easy. I have four descendants (one more is stuck in the lab in Houston) for Group 1 and various combinations of Group 2, which allow me to weed out most of the endogamous relationships. But no matter how I have done it, I get kits with at least 3400 cM.

Considering that GEDmatch defines success by "Batch processing will be performed if resulting kit achieves required threshold of 1500 cM," my father's kits are excellent.

My mother is a different matter. Mother has the same four descendants for Group 1, but candidates for her Group 2 are in short supply. My father has a living sister and brother - my mother has none. I have two first cousins on my mother's side - a son of my uncle and a daughter of my aunt - who qualify, plus two second cousins on either side, though one of those four, Beth, is not yet on GEDmatch.

So for now, I went with what I had. All the tests are FTDNA's Family Finder.

Everyone in the bottom row has done a Family Finder test.

I decided to create three Lazerus kits for my other - one with the five cousins, one with just my two first cousins and one with Kay alone.

The kit with four of Mother's children in Group 1 and five of my cousins in Group 2 gave my mother 3137.4 cM.

But that is problematic. All of my mother's grandparents are from the same general area. Israel David is from Borisov, in what is now Belarus. Etta Bryna is likely from Borisov or nearby. So is Aunt Mary's husband.

Chana Kugel is from Pleschenitsy, now in Belarus, and Hirsch was born in Dolginov, just across the border in Lithuania. Uncle Hymen's wife is from Schedrin, a hundred miles from Borisov. So there is a high probability of a significant amount of overlapping ancestry.

So I cut back to my first cousins, eliminating any endogamy from my second cousins' other grandparents. The size of my mother's kit decreased by twelve percent, to 2766.4 cM. I thought it would shrink more. Some of that decrease is real and some is because endogamy had created a larger kit to begin with.

However, I was able to eliminate the endogamy entirely. Kay's father has no Jewish DNA, so if I used her alone in Group 2, there would be no endogamy at all. The results here surprised me even more. This Lazerus kit had 2188.8 cM. That's nearly eighty percent of the kit that was made from Kay and Leonard together in group 2.

Finally, for sport, I did a fourth kit using Leonard alone in group 2. That kit had 1527.6 cM. Kay's match with us is 43% greater than Leonard's, even with any endogamous effect that Leonard's mother might have.

Note that all these kits, including those with one person in Group 2, are above the threshold that GEDmatch sets for batch processing.

Blaine Bettinger who blogs at The Genetic Genealogist, is doing a study on the amount of shared DNA in known relationships. If you haven't participated, you should. I imagine the findings above will interest him.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Sam's Daughter and the (Isak) Josef - Mordecai Complex

Early in our research on the Pikholz families, Jacob Laor obtained a copy of the marriage record of Berl and Dwojre Pikholz, with the help of Alex Dunai. The document was from 1887, but was obvously just a formality, as the couple had been having children together since at least the 1860s.

According to the marriage record, Berl was born in 1816 to Josef and Rojse Pikholz and Dwojre (or as we spell it today, Devorah) was born in 1837 to Motie (=Mordecai) and Taube Pikholz. Everyone was from Skalat.

Is the course of our subsequent research, we learned that Josef was actually Isak Josef, who died in 1862 at age 78 and Mordecai and Taube were born 1805 and 1802, based on their death records. I never found anything else about Rojse, but grandchildren were named for her before Josef's death.

The family structure appeared thus:
Note that Mordecai has one grandson called (Isak) Josef and another named Josef Mordecai, neither of whom seems to be a descendant of (Isak) Josef the elder.

Everything pointed to a fairly close relationship between the two couples, aside from the marriage between their children Devorah and Berl. Twenty-one years separate Josef and Mordecai, enough that they could have been father and son, but not so much that they could not have been brothers. They could also have been uncle and nephew or first cousins or more distantly related. For that matter, the wives could have been sisters.

The other contemporaneous Pikholz men in Skalat were Nachman (1795-1865), Berl (~1789-1877) and Leib (~1780-1844). And of course my own great-great-grandfather Isak Fischel born maybe 1820. Much of Nachman's family is documented to the present. Berl is probably the father of Peretz Pikholz (1820-1873), who has living descendants from all of his five known children. All we know about Leib is from his death record.

We have well-developed lines from Mordecai's children Chaje Cirl, Aryeh Leib and Chaim Yaakov, less so from Henie. Izak Josef's children include my great-great-grandmother Rivka Feige, her brother Selig and very likely Moshe Hersch about whom I have written several times. From Berl and Devorah's three or four died in childhood, one has living descendants and descendants of the others appear to have been murdered in the Holocaust.

Sam's Daughter
There is another family that fits in here someplace. Simon Pikholz was married to Dwojre Waltuch who died in 1861 at age twenty-three leaving two daughters. We have information on descendants of one of those daughters, Lea Pfeffer. Simon then married his late wife's sister Chana Waltuch, with whom he had a number of children, four of whom went to the United States and have living descendants. Chana also went to the US, but Simon did not so we assume he died in Skalat in the 1880s.

Simon had a son and a grandson named Mordecai and at least one granddaughter Taube, so he may well have been the son of Mordecai and Taube. Simon also has a grandson named Shalom (Sam) which is also the name of the great-grandfather of Charles and Leonora from the Moshe Hersch line. That Sam/Shalom assisted Charles' parents in immigrating to the US in 1939 and is listed on their papers as a distant cousin.

Without jumping to conclusions, the more detailed family structure looks like this, where some of the conclusions are based on DNA.

The matches within this group are extensive, to put it mildly. Everyone pretty much matches everyone else. They do not have the same level of matches with the  descendants of Nachman or Peretz. The marriage of Berl and Devorah comes from the two families as does the marriage of Leonora's great-grandparents Isak Josef and Gittel. My own great-grandparents represent a mixture of the DNA from the same two families. And if we make the easy assumption that Simon and Szulim are brothers, sons of Mordecai, then the marriage of Szulim and Sara is another between the families.

Leonora, Judy, Charles and my own family are all clearly products of both Isak Josef and Mordecai or his related DNA.

But the reasons for matches between Nan, Jane and Selig's descendants, on one hand, and Dalia and Lloyd on the other, are less easy to explain. True, we are dealing with the general phenomenon of endogamy, and true as well Mordecai and Isak Josef are almost certainly from a recent common ancestor. But those apply to the descendants of Peretz and Nachman as well, and the matches with them appear weaker than within the Isak Josef-Mordecai complex.

So now we have the matches for Sam's Daughter, the great-granddaughter of Simon. Here are the first twenty-eight, up to the classification "fourth cousin - remote cousin."
I added a column to note the family of descent for each match
The vast majority of Sam's Daughter's matches are from the Mordecai-Isak Josef group, even though Simon seems to have a path to only one of them. As I said above, there are a few possibilities. But from looking at this data, including the individual chromosomes, over the last few weeks and discussing some of it with other people, I am thinking that there may be some other possibilities.

For instance, perhaps Lea Waltuch, the mother of Simon's two wives, was a Pikholz, maybe even the daughter of Isak Josef. That would give Simon's children paths to both Mordecai and Isak Josef. We cannot prove that, of course, even if it is true. All we know about Lea Waltuch is that there is a granddaughter named for her before 1860, so she died not live to old age.

But there is another idea I like better. As I write above, twenty-one years separate Isak Josef and Mordecai, enough that they could have been father and son, but not so much that they could not have been brothers. They could also have been uncle and nephew or first cousins or more distantly related. But what about Mordecai's wife Taube? Maybe she is the daughter of Isak Josef. That would leave any possible relationship between Isak Josef and Mordecai in play, except father and son.

Taube was born when Isak Josef was only about eighteen, but that does not have to be a problem. After all, Mordecai's daughter Chaje Cirl was born when Mordecai was only seventeen.

Taube was considerably older than Isak Josef's known children Berl, Rivka Feige and Selig, but maybe there were others we don't know or others who died in childhood. Or Taube was from an earlier wife of Isak Josef, not Rojse.

If Taube is Josef's daughter, it would certainly explain why Taube's children Chaje Cirl and Aryeh Leib had sons named Josef. That's a question that's been in the back of my mind for many years, and has never been properly addressed.

There is probably no way to prove any of this, but it does execrcise the mind on all matters of genealogy, and that too is useful. It also gives me another opportunity to say that I am happy so many names in that complicated chart are in red, indicating that they have tested - but I'd still like to get more of Simon's descendants to participate in the testing project.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Getting the Y-Chromosome Right

The Rozdol Male-Lines
It is axiomatic that all the Pikholz descendants from Rozdol are from a single couple, Pinchas and Sara Rivka, whose youngest known child was born in 1818.

I never expected the Y (male-line) DNA to match the three identical lines from Skalat because I have been assuming that if the families in the two towns are related, it is through Sara Rivka, not Pinchas. But at least the Y-DNA of the male-lines from Rozdol should all be identical, unless there was a mutation in the last two hundred years.

Of the nine Rozdol lines, one is a maternal line back to the 1830s, two have no male line descendants, two (Robert and Gadi) have taken thirty-seven market Y tests, one (Micha) took a twelve marker Y test and three have not agreed to test, despite being asked multiple times.

The problem has been that Robert (who is traceable to Pinchas and Sara Rivka as a fourth-great-grandson) and Gadi (traceable to his second-great grandfather David ben Isak and Feige, who was born about 1823) do not have matching DNA. It is possible that the connection between Gadi's David and the original couple Pinchas and Sara Rivka is through his mother Feige rather than his father Isak, but it did not sit well with me.

At the time of the recent sale on DNA tests, when more than twenty Pikholz descendants ordered tests (all but one from Skalat), I decided that we needed to upgrade Micha's test from twelve to thirty-seven markers so we could see how he compares to the other two.

In the meantime I had a closer look at Robert and Gadi.

They were identical except in two markers - DYS437 and DYS438. In the first Gadi is 14 and Robert is 11. In the other, they are reversed. In each case, there is a difference of three so together we are looking a difference of six. Six mutations in two hundred years on those markers is highly unlikely and the numbers are too symmetric for my taste. After a Facebook discussion with some of my colleagues, I became convinced that in one of the two cases, the results were reversed.

A few days ago, Micha's results came in for markers 13-37 and he is a perfect match for Gadi.

I wrote to the always reliable Janine at Family Tree DNA and asked her if she could check Robert's results to see if perhaps they had reversed DYS437 and DYS438. She did and I was right. The results that we have for all three are now identical and will be corrected to haplogroup R-M269. This is the same as our Skalat haplogroup, even though the numbers themselves are very different.

There is a moral here, of course. Sometimes the testing companies make mistakes. When you make good case, they are willing to check their work. But no one will find this kind of thing for you. You have to have enough information to make the case and you must pay enough attention to the details to realize that there is a case to be made.

I'd still like to get those other three Rozdol families to do Y tests. And all six who have not tested to do Family Finders.

And speaking of mutations
Y-37 results came in a couple of weeks ago for a member of another of my families.

There are no perfect matches here, but the 155 matches that FTDNA counts include eleven at a genetic distance of one and thirty-one at a genetic distance of two. Some of those are marked "FF" to indicate that they have also done Family Finder tests. Genetic distance refers to the number of mutations since the most recent common ancestor.

My strategy for following up with these kinds of matches is to see who has both a close Y match and a Family Finder match of "third cousin-fifth cousin" or closer. I have seen experts who say that the Y chromosome has mutations every four or five generations on average, but this can vary, depending on where the mutation occurs and on the vagaries of DNA inheritance. After all, in both the Skalat and the Rozdol Pikholz families, all three DNA tests show no mutations at all in the last two hundred years.

Following up Y matches is more than a bit of a crap-shoot, so I generally think in terms of a genetic distance of one being worth looking at and anything further being too low-probability to bother with unless there is a very good Family Finder match.

But in looking at these particular results I realized that I was missing a point of logic. I am willing to look at a match with a genetic difference of one because the most recent common ancestor might well be four-or five (or less if I am lucky) in the past. But a genetic distance of two does not have to mean double that. The second mutation could be in  the other person's line.

Let's say that Reuven and Shimon have a common ancestor and we figure an average of one mutation every five generations. If they have a genetic difference of one, that is one mutation, that would mean they are likely about fourth cousins because there was one mutation during five generations. But if there is a genetic disrtance of two, that does not mean that an average of ten generations had passed since the common ancestor. It is just as likely that there was one mutation in Reuven's line and one in Shimon's. In that case, the common ancestor might be five generations back, yet the descendants themselves would have a genetic difference of two.

I tested the reaction to that theory in the ISOGG Facebook group, and a brief but spirited discussion ensued. Some agreed that I was making sense. Some not so much. There are always some in that second group. Some of the people I most respect thought I was correct. That's good enough for me. In any case, we are talking about probability, not conclusive fact.

Housekeeping notes
Five Pikholz Family Finder results came in over the weekend. It will take time to analyze, but it appears that two have excellent results, two are about what I expected and one is very odd, having no Pikholz matches in her first fifty-five. (She has lots of known relatives.)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sam and Beth

I have been preoccupied the last couple of weeks and have not blogged. Even this one is brief. But it's something.

Family Finder results came in for my cousin Sam. He is a second cousin on my mother's mother's side. Sam has also done a Y-37, but those results are not in yet.

The only other person in Sam's family who has tested is his first cousin Beth. I have asked Sam's brothers and sister, but no luck yet. If you look at the numbers below, you will see (once again) that siblings can have significantly different matches from one another. "My brother already tested" is not really a good answer to a request to test.

So at least I can look at how Sam and Beth match with my grandmother's descendants. That would be my three sisters and my first cousin Kay. Our mother and Kay's mother are sisters. (On our side, we have another first cousin and my fourth sister whose tests are in the lab.)

First the general comparison.

All of us have better matches with Sam than with Beth. Jean's, Sarajoy's and Kay's are not significantly larger. Amy's match with Sam is about 27% larger than her match with Beth and mine is about 46% larger. Those numbers are significant and might indicate a match with Sam on his mother's side, one that Beth doesn't share.

The other point of note is that Kay has better matches with both Sam and Beth than we do (Amy's match with Sam is an outlier here), so perhaps Kay's mother's DNA is closer to that side than is our mother's. We cannot know, of course. On our side we have tested almost everyone living in our generation..

I also looked at the chromosomes. I am not going to show all of them here - just the ones where Beth and Sam match. Each of has quite a few places where we match Beth or Sam, but not both.  The chromosome browser below includes only segments of 5 cM or greater.

We have a really nice match on chromosome 9, including everyone - well, Amy not so much.

All of us but Amy have a nice little match on the left end of chromosome 2.

Amy, Kay and I have matches with Beth and Sam on chromosome 8.

Beth and Sam have matches on chromosomes 14 and 18. All of us match them on either 14 or 18. None of us matches them on both 14 & 18. I find that curious though not really significant.

I think I will wait until we have our other two test results before setting out to see what unsuspecting new relatives might match us. And of course, we should have Sam's Y-37 results in a few weeks, as well. (I have an MtDNA here, which I have discussed before.)

However, just before I post this, I hear from Sam, who received an email from a woman named Mary whose husband is a "third-fifth cousin" match to him. None of the surnames she has on her FTDNA entry match the very few we have on our side, but I had a look anyway. Mary's husband has matches with both Sam and Beth on chromosome 7 of nearly 16 cM and although he also has some scattered matches with us, they are in different places and he does not match Kay at all.

This tells me that Mary's husband is probably on the side of Sam and Beth's grandmother, probably a few generations beyond FTDNA's prediction. But it may give us something to work with.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Small Segments (and Endogamy)

The issue of small segments
When we compare autosomal matches on the basis of individual chromosomes, there is a natural tendency to concentrate on the larger segments. If you match someone on 30 or 40 centiMorgans (cM), it is clearly a good match. Small matches of one or two cM get overlooked - often deliberately.

When I first began looking at segment matches, I wondered about that because all my DNA came from my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, even the smallest segments and if I match someone who got those same segments from his ancestors, perhaps both of us got them from a common ancestor.

After I raised this question several times at the GRIP course last summer, CeCe Moore convinced me otherwise by agreeing with me. That is, she agreed that these small segments - I prefer the term slivers - had to have come from somewhere in my past but since they are small, they probably came from so far back that searching for a common ancestor on that basis would not be a productive use of my time.

FamilyTreeDNA's chromosome browser starts showing matching segments with a minimum of five cM, but you can raise it to ten cM or lower it to three or even one cM. GEDmatch suggests seven cM, but you can change that to whatever you wish. But when you download raw data or total matches, you can pretty much do as you like.

There are researchers who begin any examination of matches by deleting all segments that are less than whatever minimum threshhold they set for themselves, never looking at those small segments again. Some go so far as to say that it is wrong to look at small segments.

When I met with Kitty Cooper and Gaye Tannenbaum in Salt Lake City last summer, we discussed the logic of starting with nine or ten cM but once you have a segment of that size, other smaller matches - perhaps even four cM - become relevant.

Not everyone takes this approach. One of the most consistent and convincing champions of using small segments is Roberta Estes of DNA Explained. Roberta has defended advocated the use of very small segments for triangulation and is rightly proud of her successes in having done so. Last week, Roberta posted a long blog after several weeks of laying the foundation. As you can see from what she writes, Roberta is a friend of this blog and I want to make a number of comments on what she wrote.

Moshe Hersch (And you thought we were finished with him!)
But first I want to show you something I found during the last few days in my own work which demonstrates the importance of very small segments.

Some weeks back, I concluded a discussion of two men named Moshe Hersch Pikholz, whom I thought might be the same man. Great-great-grandchildren of one (Charles and Leonora, second cousins to one another) and great-great-grandchildren of the other (Jane and Nan, also second cousins to one another) did Family Finder tests.

The maternal grandmothers of Charles and Leonora (sisters) are the daughters of two Pikholz parents whose relationship to one another is unknown. Aside from that, Leonora's maternal grandfather also has two Pikholz parents, in this case first cousins. So on one hand, Charles and Leonora have extra doses of Pikholz DNA, but on the other hand it makes it very difficult to say for certain which ancestor contributed what, moreso than with normal European-Jewish endogamy.

Nonetheless, I concluded that the genetic match between the two pairs of second cousins was good enough to demonstrate that the two Moshe Hersch Pikholz are indeed the same person.

This week, I took a closer look at chromosome 20 of the four cousins, using GEDmatch at a threshhold of 5 cM..
The bar graph is illustrative but it is not at all proportional.
In the first segment of chromosome 20 (the left side of the bar graph and the top row in the two charts above) Charles and Jane have a large match of 34.1 cM. Both match Leonora on the first part of that segment and both match Nan on the second part. Leonora and Nan do not match each other, but that is not a problem. I don't need all four to match.

The second segment (the right side of the bar graph and the second row in the two charts) is not so simple. Here we have a match of 60 cM between Jane and Nan, part of which matches Charles and part of which matches Leonora. Charles and Leonora are not a match. However nearly a quarter of Charles' match with Nan and Jane overlaps with Leonora's match with Nan and Jane. If this description is complete and correct, something must be wrong, because it is inconsistent.

I asked Roberta what she thought and she suggested that I lower the threshhold as far as possible. Perhaps, she suggested, there are some small segments that explain the inconsistency.

So I lowered the threshhold to one cM.

The long blue bar at the top right is the 60 cM match between Jane and Nan. The medium-sized blue bar at the right of the third line is the 24.5 cM match between Jane and Leonora. The bottom right where there is supposedly no match between Charles and Leonora, we see a series of about a dozen small matches in the same segment where Jane and Nan match. It is as though the long matching segment, to use Roberta's phrase, "has been chopped up." Or if you prefer, disintegrated.

If we ignore the red breaks, Charles' match with Leonora extends nearly all the way to the right end of Jane's match with Nan. Not only that, but Leonora's match with Charles extends Leonora nearly all the way to the left. If we count the small segments, all four line up very well together. To me it is clear that the 60 cM segment that Nan and Jane share came from Moshe Hersch (or his wife, assuming he had only one) and that it began to break down somewhere along the ancestors of Charles and Leonora, perhaps as early as their great-grandmother.

This may not always work so neatly and so conclusively, but to repeat a mantra of Roberta's, if you throw out the small segments even before you begin your analysis, you will never see this obvious result.

But that does not mean that I have totally signed on to Roberta's attachment to small segments. When you are talking about matches that are only small segments, the kind that do not overlap large ones, CeCe is probably right. It's generally not a productive use of my time to examine them.

That is even more valid when talking about endogamous populations where we know in advance that there are distant common ancestors simply by virtue of our being Jewish. For us, the strategy I discussed with Kitty Cooper, looking at smaller segments once you have a large match as an umbrella, is still the way to go. How large is large and how small is small is still a matter of personal preference - and mine is to be conservative. To quote myself in another context "If it might be wrong, it doesn't belong."

For the non-endogamous, such as Roberta, you can probably afford to be more liberal.

A Study Using Small Segment Matching, by Roberta Estes
I  am going to step through Roberta's blog and comment as I go along.

Sherlock Holmes is quoted as saying "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." That does not mean that if we have nothing to go on aside from DNA, then DNA must have contain a usable truth. Maybe yes and maybe no.

Roberta writes " So we need to establish guidelines and ways to know if those small segments are reliable or not." I say, very carefully. Different circumstances require different tools and also create different opportunities. I want to read what all the experienced experts have to say but then I want to make my own decisions for my own families. Usually I will write about those decisions and will entertain debate. Ridicule, not so much. Genetic genealogy is way too new to have hard and fast rules, especially ones that begin :You can't..."

Roberta is obviously correct when she says "assuming the position that something can’t be done simply assures that it won’t be." That is true for an individual project which discards small segments according to some rule, as well as studies on small segment research as a genre. Roberta says correctly "The only way we, as a community, are ever going to figure out how to work with small segments successfully and reliably is to, well, work with them." To that I add if you have a few cases that are proven based on small segments, there are almost certainly many others which are not proven because those small segments were never examined.

I am well-aware that my work is different from that of most others because I an not looking for "new" relatives, rather looking to figure out how the ones I know fit together.  One-name studies is a legitimate field with its own requirements and opportunities.

Finding three people who match on the same segment may be "the commonly accepted gold standard of autosomal DNA triangulation within the industry" but among the endogamous, we strive for the platinum standard. There are too many ways to be wrong if you have only three people using segments that are not large enough and not numerous enough.

Sometimes I want to get more than one trangulation within a potential family group. I suppose that has to do with endogamy. I think of these multiple triangulation scenarios like this.

Roberta's Sarah Hickerson article "was meant to be an article encouraging people to utilize genetic genealogy for not only finding their ancestor and proving known connections, but breaking down brick walls." Absolutely. Many of us read to find not only ideas but encouragement. And some of us write not to show how smart we are but to bring others to the point where they say "I can do this too."

Roberta, please note - for some of us 5-6 generations does not qualify as "low hanging fruit."  And still our small segments can be useful.

I can understand that FTDNA and the other companies must draw a line dividing matches from non-matches. But it would me very very helpful if we could get at our non-matches on FTDNA's chromosome browser. Not everyone is on GEDmatch.

I think that will do.