Sunday, October 15, 2017

Scoring A Big DNA Win - For My Cousins

Dealing with Family Tree DNA "Close Match" alerts

I manage over a hundred family DNA kits, almost all with Family Tree DNA. So I get many scores of these notices every week. Not only each person, but since, for instance,  Dan is a member of all five of my projects, I get all of his notices five times. Others are members of multiple projects and for them too I get multiple notices.These notices of "Close Matches" means matches that FTDNA considers to be suggested second-third cousins.

A few months ago, I decided to deal with these alerts in a systematic fashion. As I wrote in detail at the time, I decided to download as an Excel file all the matches during the month of May for each of my project members. Then I arranged them in separate Excel files by group: my mother's side, my grandmother's side, the Rozdol-Pikholz side, etc. That's a lot of work by itself but after that I had to sort by the names of the new matches to see who may have interesting matches with several people within each of my groups.

I wrote to the ones that looked promising, asking them to give me their GEDmatch numbers so I could have a proper look. Some replied, most did not. Some gave me their GEDmatch numbers, others did not care to share this secret information with me. Others needed help even creating GEDmatch numbers. Oh, and a few would send me a list of all the GEDmatch kits in their families.

I looked at each one against all my kits - after sorting on the "Name" column of their match lists so all mine would come up together near the top  - and created 2-D Chromosome Browsers. For most I would do two or three Chromosome Browsers for different parts of my families.

There were some successes, of the sort that determined that so-and-so is definitely connected to my family through my great-grandfather's Rosenzweig or Zelinka sides or my maternal grandmother's Rosenblooms. Most were either vague or turned out to be scattered across the family with no direction at all. I wrote about the successes for May and repeated the experiment for the June alerts, writing about those successes as well.

Since then I have been busy with other things - including holidays - but I finally decided to look at all the alerts for July-August-September, limiting the analysis to my mother's side and my paternal grandmother's side. There were about 125 worth looking at just on my paternal grandmother's side.

I got some of that done before the Sukkot holiday and during the Intermediate Days at the beginning of last week but it was very frustrating and I was not even getting the level of successes that I had previously with the Duncans and Robbie and Sam and the others.

I worked on the responses from my mother's side last night and this morning sent out analyses of the GEDmatch kits of about thirty of these supposed matches. One of those was for a woman named Barbara Jo Strauss, who had nine matches with people on my mother's side. People who appear in the Borisov Project that I am doing with Galit Aviv Sisto.

It turns out Barbara is the sister of Mark Strauss whom I met two years ago the day of my book launch at JGS Maryland. He was there with his wife's brother's wife who is a Skalat Pikholz cousin of mine. Mark is an experienced genealogy researcher with a good working knowledge of DNA and it was he who responded when I first wrote Barbara last week.

Barbara's results
I reported to Mark that Barbara had two Borisov matches of interest, plus a third which I considered marginal at best.

The three green bits on chromosome 1 are 11-12 cM. The first is my second cousin Sam, the second my first cousin Kay and the third my second cousin Inna. That means one representative of each of the three children of my great-grandparents Israel David and Etta Bryna Rosenbloom.

This is not impressive at barely 12 cM but it is definitely a valid match. (Kay has no Jewish DNA on her father's side, so that pretty much eliminates the endogamy factor.)

We have only the one surname Rosenbloom on my grandmother's side, so it's really not much to work with - like so many others of these alerts analyses.

Chromosome 6 has a slightly stronger match - 14-15 cM - with four of my parents' children, my first cousins Kay and Leonard and a second cousin Liya. No one from Uncle Hymen's family. This too appears a legitimate match, though it was also unlikely to lead us anywhere absent some Borisov or Rosenbloom knowledge from Mark.

There was one other match I didn't even mention to Mark. A segment on chromosome 10 of near-identical 13.5 cM matches with five of my parents' children, but with not a cousin to be found, it was quite useless.

The one I thought marginal is on chromosome 12. There Barbara has matches of nearly 15 cM with my father's sister, my brother, one of my sisters and my second cousins Rhoda and Marty, who are sister and brother. Together with those are smaller matches with my other three sisters and me.

So that is a match on the east Galician Pikholz or Kwoczka side and those never go anywhere, as we have so little to work with in the way of surnames.

I reported all of this to Mark in my usual generic fashion, without all the names and numbers. His response was:
Ok.  If you give me the kit numbers of a few of the most significant matches, I can see which of my cousins also match those same segments to narrow geography and surnames.
 So I did.

Mark then asked me for more detail about Rhoda because she is Barbara's best match among my project members - 90 cM total with a largest segment of 41.1 and 11.1 cM of X to boot.

Mark's reply included:
They all share my paternal grandmother’s Berkowitz family in common, originally from around Humenne, in Eastern Slovakia, near the border with Ukraine. Other known surnames are Eichler and Burger.
For some reason I do not recall, I had discussed Rhoda's mother's family with her a couple of years ago and remembered that someone was from Slovakia/Hungary. Rather than hunt through my correspondence, I copied Rhoda on my reply to Mark. A few minutes later Mark told me that Rhoda's maternal grandmother was indeed an Eichler with the correct geography. He and Rhoda share a fourth-great-grandfather "Moyzes Eichler, who was born in 1785 in Hencovce, Slovakia."

And Rhoda (who carries the name of our second-great-grandmother Rivka Feige Pikholz) just told me that her youngest daughter has taken an interest in genealogy.

So that is a success for Mark's family and for Rhoda. For me it's a collateral success and a good reason to continue plugging away at the FTDNA Alerts. Of course, it helps when the person on the other end of the conversation understands the material.

Perhaps I'll send a notice about this blog to all those whom I've been talking to about alerts this month.

Housekeeping notes
Cousin Debbie's sister's DNA results just came in. She does not have the big segment that Debbie shares with us, but when we get her on GEDmatch, we'll see if perhaps she has some other matches of interest that Debbie does not.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Our Genetic Portrait - Part Three

In  my posts last week and the week before, I introduced DNA Painter and described how I identified segments that my family received from specific ancestors of my father and from each of my mother's parents. The segments are pretty much low-hanging fruit - easy to identify and confirm.

This week, I added five additional relatives on my father's side. The results from one of them quite surprised me. Which is why I am writing this.

Reminder - this profile is called "Israel Pickholtz family," not just "Israel Pickholtz." I saw no reason to use only my own segments when my brother and four sisters have segments from those same ancestors which can only enhance my map. That decision required calling this profile "female" because my sisters have a paternal X, even though I myself do not.

My second cousin Susan
The segments from Susan
When I went after the low-hanging fruit on my father's side, I  produced fifteen segments on my grandmother's mother's side and six on my grandmother's father's side. In fact there was one other group which I could have done and didn't - and that would be my grandmother, without regard to which of her parents they came from. I corrected that today, with my second cousin Susan. (I also have two double second cousins, but they are not much use for this, though they are valuable as matches.)

So Susan has now added another fifteen segments to the map. They are not as specific as I'd like, but we take what we can get. They represent what comes from my grandmother - and to Susan, from her grandfather.

Pikholz fourth cousins
The early Pikholz family itself is complicated. I included two great-grandchildren of my great-great-grandmother's brother Uncle Selig in my first round, but the descendants of her other two brothers are Pikholz in muliple directions so are not useful for this exercise. All except two - Nan and Jane, who are second cousins to one another and fourth cousins to me. What we share with them is common to our second great-grandparents Rivka Feige and Moshe Hersch.

Together Nan and Jane added eight segments to the ten I already had. Two of those are on each of chromosomes 1 and 22  and the others are on chromosomes 5, 14, 18, 20. Some of those do not rise to the level of "certain" and one is merely "possible," that being the match on chromosome 5.

The Kwoczka cousins
The segments here come to us from Jutte Leah, my great-grandmother. I had eleven segments from Pinchas, my third cousin, and another nineteen from my father's second cousin, Bruce. But I also have three third cousins once removed who had tested, Pinchas' niece and nephew, and a granddaughter of Bruce's first cousin. The truth be told, I did not expect to get much from them.

Ben added two segments - one of 16 cM on chromosome 9 and one of 26 cM on chromosome 20. The latter overlaps a smaller segment which I already had from his uncle Pinchas. With Ben in, his sister did not add anything else. (I knew from before that her matches with us were not as good as Ben's.)

Robin was the surprise. She added eight segments. They totalled 154 cM, with the largest segment 32 cM. My first contact with Robin was after she tested and that was how we found each other. I had my doubts about how much her results would contribute, but 154 cM is impressive.

Once again we learn the lesson - test everyone.

There is one oddity. More than an oddity, actually. Here is chromosome 10.
 Robin's segment falls within Bruce's segment, but Robin and Bruce do not match each other there - or anywhere else on chromosome 10. So they must have received those segments from different people. It is possible that one of these segments comes from some outside endogamous source. But it is also possible that one received this segment from Rachmiel's mother and the other from his father. (The same as Jutte Leah's mother and father.)

Robin's matches with Jutte Leah's descendants on that segment are with Aunt Betty, Herb, Lee and Roz.

Bruce's matches on his segment are Aunt Betty, Rhoda, Marshal, Lee and my sisters Amy and Judith.

The appearance of Aunt Betty and Lee on both segments gives me pause. For that matter since Rhoda and Roz are first cousins, that is also a problem, for their grandmother only received the segment from one of Jutte Leah's parents. So let's have a look.

The Roz-and-Rhoda problem is not really a problem because Roz' match with Bruce is not in the same place as either of Rhoda's two matches with Robin.

But there is no way we can avoid the problem with Aunt Betty and Lee. Their matches with Robin are within the same range as their matches with Bruce. They must be matching on their other chromosomes - the one from their other parent.  If say they both match Bruce on the Kwoczka line, then somehow Aunt Betty matches Robin on my grandmother's side and Lee matches her on his father's side. Those matches could be on any of Robin's ancestral lines - except the one through Rachmiel Kwoczka.

I must go back and downgrade Robin's segment to "possible" or maybe delete it entirely. Bruce's match seems more likely so perhaps I can call it "very likely," but since my policy is to be conservative, I'll go with "possible" for both Bruce and Robin.

(I wonder how many other matches are like that. Better not ask.)

The total from Jutte Leah Kwoczka now looks like this:

Wishing everyone an easy and meaningful Yom Kippur.
גמר חתימה טובה

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Our Genetic Portrait - Part Two

In my post last week, I introduced DNA Painter and described how I identified sixty segments that my family received from specific ancestors of my father. The ancestors concerned are three of my father's grandparents, two of his great-grandmothers and one second great-grandfather. The segments are pretty much low-hanging fruit - easy to identify and confirm.

Reminder - this profile is called "Israel Pickholtz family," not just "Israel Pickholtz." I saw no reason to use only my own segments when my brother and four sisters have segments from those same ancestors which can only enhance my map. That decision required calling this profile "female" because my sisters have a paternal X, even though I myself do not.

Mapping my mother's side
My mother's side is quite a different story. Not only do we have few known ancestral lines, but we have no test results from third or fourth cousins. Since all we have are second cousins (plus two first cousins, Kay and Leonard), I can only use DNA Painter to attribute segments to my grandparents, Rachmiel Gordon and Sarah Rosenbloom. I have no idea what they received from which of their parents.

There are now 132 identified segments on my mother's sides, which is an update since last week.

On the Gordon side, we have two second cousins on GEDmatch - Judy and Ruth. They are first cousins and their grandmother is Rachmiel Gordon's older sister. Andrea, the daughter of Judy and Ruth's first cousin, has also tested is new to GEDmatch and she adds nine segments that Ruth and Judy do not have.. And there are two third cousins who tested but have declined to upload to GEDmatch.

We have six tests on the Rosenbloom side, three from my grandmother's older sister Alta and three from her younger brother Hymen (Chaim Benzion). Here is the  structure of the family - both sides together. Those who have tested and uploaded to GEDmatch are in yellow.

The Gordons
I started with Judy and Ruth. Judy has twelve matches with us - "us" being the eight grandchildren of my grandparents. Ten of those twelve have enough good matches that I consider them certain. On chromosome 5, Judy has a match with Kay and a similar-sized match with my sister Sarajoy. Normally I would reject that as being not good enough, but the fact that Kay's father has no Jewish DNA gives her a bonus since there is no endogamy from that side. Nonetheless, I rated this match "very likely" rather than "certain."

On chromosome 9, Judy has a match with me, a similar match with my sister Judith and a much smaller match with my brother Dan. I would like to see more people here, especially either Kay or Leonard, so here too I rated it "very likely."

Next I looked at Ruth's matches with us, ignoring those which she shares with Judy and which I had already recorded. There are fifteen. Ruth's total match with me is nearly 500 cM, much higher than we would expect from a second cousin, and I suspect that her father has significant Galitzianer in his background. (His parents died when he was young, so we really don't know.) Here Kay and Leonard become more important. Matches which include them, I regard as certain . Matches which do not, I downgraded to "very likely" because there is a non-negligible possibility that this such matches come from our fathers rather than our Gordon mothers.

I also downgraded a match between me and Ruth because although Leonard is there, his match is much smaller. It simply doesn't feel certain. All told, Ruth has eight certain matches with us and seven "very likely."

Andrea has nine matches but six of them are only with my mother's children. I marked those as "very likely" rather than certain. I left a comment in those cases.

This is the set of matches between Ruth, Judy and Andrea and my grandparents' eight tested grandchildren.

The Rosenblooms
A bit of background on my grandmother Sarah's family. She and her sisters and brother were born in Borisov in what is now Belarus. Her father Israel David Rosenbloom appears in the 1874 revision list in Borisov so I assume that's where his family had lived. His wife Etta Bryna - whose surname is unknown - could have been from anywhere.

My grandfather Rachmiel Gordon was born in Dolginov which is not far away and it is possible, even likely, he had some family in Borisov. Sarah's sister Alta married Berl Kaplan whom we think was from Borisov, but we are not sure. Uncle Hymen married in Pittsburgh - to a woman from Schedrin, also Belarus, but over a hundred miles from Borisov.

So I decided that I could not set matches that did not include any of Uncle Hymen's grandchildren as "certain" due to the possibility that there was some kind of connection between Sarah and Alta's husbands' families.

But it is more complicated yet. Louis Jaffe, Judy and Ruth's grandfather, was also from Borisov, so I had to be on the lookout for matches that might have included his family mixed in with the Rosenblooms.

I will spare you all the detail, but there are a lot of segments that required analysis and decisions. These are the results of the six Rosenbloom second cousins - three from Alta's granddaughters and three from Uncle Hymen's grandchildren. (Hovering over and clicking on the segments gives much additonal information.)

Lots of segments here. Quite a few overlapping segments as well, because a match with one of Alta's granddaughters may be similar to but different from a match with one of Uncle Hymen's grandchildren. This is not trivial, even if there is some (unnecessary) duplication.

If you look at the segment at the far right end of chromosome 19, you will find a similar match on the Gordon set above. Here is the chromosomal view.

The green match is from Judy. The brown match is from Lydia and Inna.

These are not distinct Gordon and Rosenbloom matches. Judy triangulates here with Lydia and Inna. Like some kind of general Borisov segment. And who know how many more are similar, but we cannot identify them. I rated it as "very likely" but I'm not even sure what that means in this context.

And can you imagine, there are people who would do this automatically!! Endogamous populations are hard to do well. Anyone can do them badly.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Our Genetic Portrait - Part One

DNA Painter
A few months ago, I came to the conclusion that I have been spending entirely too much time on the trees and not enough on the forest. I would hear from people who think they may be related to my family and I'd look at their GEDmatch kits, comparing them to my 110+ project members looking for segments with multiple matches of 10 centiMorgans or more to see what patterns would show up.

Most of them showed some direction, but nothing really specific, appearing mostly to be too far back in time to do anything with, especially without the benefit of common surnames, geography or multiple family kits

I decided I needed to do some chromosome mapping in order to attribute particular chromosomes to specific ancestors. I had used Kitty Cooper's wonderful Chromosome Mapper a few years ago, but I was far from comfortable with it. I circled the Chromosome Mapping course at GRIP next June and wondered if it would relate to the specific issues of endogamy.

A couple of weeks ago, someone on Facebook mentioned a new tool called DNA Painter and I decided to give it a try. This is a report on my first efforts. The chart below shows my first 183 segments - 60 on my father's side and 123 on my mother's side. And there will be more.

In the course of creating this map, I have been in contact with the developer and he has welcomed my comments and questions. There is a lot to like here.

The data comes from the GEDmatch one-to-one and X-one-to one results.

What you are probably supposed to do is take all your matches with a particular person and copy them into the Painter, but this is not a responsible way to deal with families from endogamous populations.

For us, we have to go segment by segment, analyzing each one, looking for matches with multiple people that are based on more than "I match cousin so-and-so, so we must be related IN THE MOST OBVIOUS WAY." Not necessarily. I'll get into that in greater detail on my mother's side.

First note that this profile is called "Israel Pickholtz family," not just "Israel Pickholtz." I saw no reason to use only my own segments when my brother and four sisters have segments from those same ancestors which can only enhance my map. That decision required calling this profile "female" because my sisters have a paternal X, even though I myself do not.

I decided to take the next, obvious step - the ancestral matches of my father's sister and brother, Aunt Betty and Uncle Bob, since all their ancestors are also my ancestors. But their matches are not the same as my father's matches (as represented by his children), so there will be places where the final map will include segments from both my grandfather and my grandmother AT THE SAME PLACE. This is a good thing, because it fills out the ancestors, but it will require extra care when some new person comes into the picture with a match that needs defining.

Mapping my father's side
I began with my fourth cousin Anna, the great-granddaughter of Uncle Selig about whom I have written several times.
This chart may be familiar to you from my DNA presentations.
The circled matches on Anna's chromosomes 3, 8 and 15 are definitely from our second great-grandmother Rivka Feige Pikholz and are the basis of the demonstration that Anna and her half-brother David are descendants of Uncle Selig. I also included Anna's matches on chromosome 21, as these are clearly from the same source.

But I tend to be conservatiive, so on chromosome 15 where Marty and Anna share 50 cM, I decided to record as certain only the 22.6 cM that Anna shares with Marty and Herb. The rest of Anna and Marty's long segment I recorded as "possible," though I could have chosen "very likely." Here is how that segment appears in full.

Another set of Rivka Feige matches came from my father's half second cousin Lia who contributed five segments to the map. These are the Rivka Feige segments from Anna and Lia.

Note that on chromosome 15, one segment is pink rather than red. That is Marty's "possible" segment.

The second easy match was with Debbie from North Carolina, whom I wrote about in May 2016. She has one large match with us on chromosome 2 and and another on the X. The first is definitely from my second great-grandmother Mari Zelinka and the second is either from her or from my grandmother's Bauer/Stern side, but since I have seen no other indication this might be the case, I attributed the segment to the Zelinkas and called it "very likely."

Together with two segments from my fourth cousin Milan in Prague, this is what we have from Mari Zelinka.

There is also a single segment in purple which we received from Mari Zelinka's father - based on a match with my fifth cousin Cyndi Norwitz on chromosome 18.

Two other easily identifiable ancestors on my father's side are my great-grandmothers Regina Bauer and Jute Lea Kwoczka. The first I established using fifteen matching segments with my father's second cousin Shabtai and the second using nineteen segments with my father's second cousin Bruce and another eleven with my third cousin Pinchas. Here is how those appear.

This gives me a total of sixty segments of low-hanging fruit on my father's side, supposedly representing 36% of my the ancestral DNA from that side.

But in fact that is not correct. As you can see clearly on chromosomes 3, 8 and 18 there are overlapping ancestors. Different versions of the same segment from different ancestors. Here is where I have to be very careful when I want to look at matches with new people. And the 36% is nםt representative of all the ancestors on my father's side - it just refers to segments which have at least one ancestor represented.

Perhaps I shall redo the map later, so I can show a separate set of chromosomes for each of my paternal grandparents.

My mother's side is a different story entirely and I hope to tell you about that next week.

For now I shall wish you all a happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous 5778 and that you and your families should be written in the Book of Life.

לשנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו

Housekeeping notes
When I visited the cemetery in Vienna a few months ago, I reported that several of the family graves had no tombstones or had tombstones in very bad condition. I was kind of hoping that close family members might address this and I can now report that one actually did. The grandson of Isidor Riss sent me photographs of the stone he put up for Isidor (who died in 1937) and his wife Ernestina who was killed in Auschwitz. 

In other news, I had a look at my Ancestry DNA matches for the first time in a long time and dropped a note to a woman named Andrea whom I didn't recognize but who seems to be fairly closely related. Turns out she is the daughter of a second cousin on my mother's paternal side. I knew her name but we have never met. I asked her to join GEDmatch and she said she would. Meantime we are now Facebook friends.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Issues With GEDmatch - A New Example

Last night, I received an inquiry from Banai Feldstein, whom I am sure many of you know, reporting that her mother has a new match with one of my people. His name is Marty and his Family Finder results came in maybe ten days ago. He is her fourth closest match over all on GEDmatch and she thought it worth a look. 
Family Tree DNA is in the same ballpark.

Marty is my second cousin on the Pikholz side. Marty's sister Rhoda and first cousin Roz do not appear on Banai's mother's match list at all. (Banai herself does match Rhoda and Roz, which indicates something from her father.)

Banai's mother's match of 22.4 cM with Marty overlaps a match with a match of 13 cM with Herb who is a first cousin to our fathers - so there seems to be something on our joint Pikholz/Kwoczka side. But none of the other cousins are there and it appears fairly obscure.

I did a one-to-one and the results were different.
The total of 133.6 became 70.4 and "estimated generations to MRCA" went from 3.4 to 3.8. This is not a threshhold thing - or if it is, it is pretty obscure. If I drop the threshhold to 4, total cM is 141.6 and at 5, it's 124.5 cM.

So we decided to leave it for now, but this is another internal inconsistency with GEDmatch data. Their stack has become worrying and it cannot serve their image well among users.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Progress - The Problem Is Acknowledged

Nearly six months ago, I wrote in this space about a problem at Family Tree DNA that had been bothering me for a year or more. I added a few more bits of evidence later that same day.

The problem, which I first noticed in the "Close Match Alerts" they they send every two or three days, was that people who tested more recently were being called as better matches than people who had tested earlier, despite what their own numbers were saying.

Here are three matches between a man named Mark and three of my siblings. My brother, whose test was received in Houston on 7 January 2017, matches Mark with 143 cM total and a longest segment of 8 cM. FTDNA calls him a "second cousin - fourth cousin."

My sister Sarajoy, who tested in July 2014, matches the same Mark with 145 cM total and a longest segment of 8 cM. FTDNA calls them "Fifth cousin - Remote Cousin."

My sister Jean, who tested in December 2014, matches Mark with 149 cM with a longest segment of 23 cM. FTDNA calls them "Third Cousin - Fifth Cousin."

Something is clearly wrong. It is as though the algorithm was changed but only for people who tested more recently.

If you look at the comments in my March blog, you will see that Lara Diamond - a serious DNA researcher by any standard - had noticed the same phenomenon.

I had some half-hearted correspondence with FTDNA's Help Desk, but it was all dismissed as the randomness of DNA. Then last winter I sat with Janine Cloud at RootsTech and got more specific. She sent me back to the Help Desk and there it remained for the last six months.

At the IAJGS Conference in Orlando, I sat with Bennett Greenspan - the Man Himself - and he asked me to forward my anecdotal data to him personally. Yesterday he acknowledged that the problem is real and that they would be addressing it, though not immediately. I'll mark it for follow-up in sixty days.

In the meanime, my second cousin Marty's test arrived in Houston this week and I'll be looking to see if his matches are significantly different from those of his sister Rhoda, who tested way back at the beginning.

Now if we could get GEDmatch to acknowledge their problems, we would be getting somewhere.

Housekeeping Notes
I am speaking on Thursday 7 Spetember for IGRA in Modiin at seven thirty. The address is Yigal Yadin 41, ground floor and I'll be speaking (in English) on
Lessons in Jewish DNA – One Man’s Successes and What He Learned On the Journey

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Why Do We Test? - the JewishGen Version

JewishGen is a fine organization which has been working for the last thirty years serving - even forging - the community of genealogy researchers with Jewish ancestors. As they themselves tell us, they are "[p]rimarily driven by volunteers" which often means an uneven level of expertise.

Last week, a woman whom I shall call R, posted the following question on the DNA Testing Discussion List.
"Is there any reason to do or not to do the Big Y test?  What would we learn? "
I was taught to begin answering with brevity and only when pressed, go into detail. I replied:
If we need to know what we expect to learn before testing, we wouldn't test
much and we'd learn even less.

So much of my own progress has come from tests that my project members did before I had any idea what results were expected. This is especially the case when you consider that the database of tests has been growing by leaps and bounds in the last few years. You test now and three or five or a dozen years later some new test helps you solve some problem you didn't even know to describe when you tested. And when it comes to testing the older generations, the rule is always DO IT NOW. Even if you haven't a clue what you are after.

So R asked her question on the discussion list and I replied.

The anonymous "Moderator on Duty"chimed in as follows:
Your comment, which you should feel free to send privately to R if you're so inclined, would likely be read as disparaging her question, even if you didn't mean it that way. We will not be posting it.
For the record, we all know what to expect most of the time, and it doesn't stop us from living our lives. In the world of scientific research, grant applications generally require a statement of what the applicant expects to find. Statistical comparisons require a null hypothesis, i.e., an expected result, against which to measure the experimental results. And even infants know what to expect; they react more when they encounter something different from their previous experience. So R's question was a perfectly reasonable one.
A few minutes later, the JewishGen Helpdesk sent the following:
Your issue has been received by JewishGen and assigned #10995. A volunteer will follow-up with you as soon as possible.
You can view this request's progress online here:
I am guessing this had to do with the above exchange, but I have no idea and I never requested intervention. The link they suggested didn't work.They have acknowledged my follow up inquiry, but they still haven't told me what the "inquiry" was about.
As it happens, Blaine Bettinger - one of the top genetic genealogists - had just initiated a discussion on Facebook a couple of days earlier which included this:
I've noticed an interesting misconception among genealogists when it comes to DNA; namely that we must approach DNA testing or our DNA test results with a research question in mind. But that misses out on 95% of the fun of DNA!
The response to Blaine's post was overwhelmingly in favor of testing for its own sake, without knowing what will come of it.

I don't know who the anonymous moderator is. I do know that when the discussion is about opinions, research strategies and other non-fact-based matters, the moderators have to understand that there are many legitimate approaches.

Oh, and I did write to R directly. She had no problem with any of what I said in my original response.

Housekeeping notes
I am waiting for a time and an address for a talk I have been asked to give in Modiin (in English) on 7 September.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Tara and Cousin Herb

Tara's matches
It began last Thursday mornng with a note from professed newbie Tara in Toronto. It seems that when she sorted her GEDmatch results by "longest segment," her top four matches all pointed to my email address.

The first of the four, with a longest segment of 70.7 cM is my father's late first cousin Herb. The other three are my sister Amy, my brother Dan and I. Worth a look? I'd say so. I mean who has a longest segment of 70 cM with a stranger?

Tara matches forty-one members of my project, but it is an eclectic group. All six of my parents' children were there, but not my father's sister and brother. And despite my X match, which is from my mother's side, there is only one second cousin from that side.

I did a few chromosome browsers and distilled the results to a single chromosome of interest - chromosome 3.

The small bit on the left side of the centromere is something I wouldn't bother mentioning, but it's right here in front of me. The five blue segments are my parents' children and the 12.5 cM green segment is my half second cousin Fred. The triangulation is good. So while this is not a large match, it does point someplace fairly specific - my Rosenzweig/Zelinka side from Trencin County Slovakia. That does not fit Tara's surnames or geography, which is largely Romanian.

The action is on the other side, where we begin with Herb's 70 cM segment in orange. On the left side of that segment, my sister Amy has 39 cM. On the right side of Herb's segment on lines 5 and 7, my sister Judith and my second cousin Terry have ~23.5 cM, my sister Sarajoy (line 6) has nearly 20 cM and the mysterious Vladimir (line 8) has 13.5 cM. On lines 3 and 4, my brother and I have ~36.5 cM that begins overlapping with Amy's segment then runs to the far right end like the others on the right. Finally my second cousin Rhoda (line 9) has a 9 cM segment that falls under Amy's and a 23.7 cM segment like mine and Dan's but not as long.

Tara's Romanian geography does not fit our eastern Galicia, nor does she have any of the very few surnames we know on the sides we share with Herb.

Of course, the thing is that if Herb has a legitimate 70 cM match with Tara, I would guess that the MRCA would not be expected to be much before 1800.

Herb's chromosome 3 on the segment that matches Tara
Before anything else, I did a triangulation to see whether all eight of the Pikholz descendants actually match Tara and Herb in the same places - or whether perhaps Herb and Co. match Tara on one of her parents and some of us match Tara on her other parent. I did that by comparing all eight (plus Tara) to Herb. Tara is on line 4 and the black vertical lines mark the ends of her match with Herb. That is the area we are interested in for triangulation.

Amy is on the left. Judith, Terry and Sarajoy are on the right. Rhoda, Dan and I overlap both sides. This is the same as our match with Tara above, so the triangulation works. Vladimir matches Herb, but not here, so he is no longer part of this analysis. He does match Tara, but the common ancestor is through her other parent.

Matching Segments
My next move was to look at Tara's Matching Segments analysis to see who else matches her long segment with Herb. (I have referred to Matching Segments before. It is a GEDmatch tool on Tier1 which requires a small donation.) I decided to limit this search to segments of 13 cM or more, but I was really interested only in those over 15 cM.

These are the results with personal information redacted and my family in red. (In this case, there is no significance to the colors on the bar graph.)

I added in the small segment from Rhoda. Eliezer is Judith's son and Avi is Judith's twin's son, so I had excluded them from the chromosome browsers above.

I also added in my fourth cousins, the half-siblings David and Anna (the second and third from the top) even though they are only about 11 cM. They did not show up on Tara's chromosome browser but they did show up here. Same thing with my third cousin Joe. In all three cases they show up on a one-on-one with Tara, with a single matching segment. (GEDmatch probably has some obscure rule that explains this.)

All three triangulate with Herb.

What is significant with all three is that they are not descendants of my great-grandmother, so Tara's segment with Herb and Co. appears to be a Pikholz match, not a Kwoczka match. (There is a reason I say "appears to be" but I won't go into that here.)

Just for fun, I ran Tara on the fancy one-to-many at Tier1 and the three single-segment matches don't show up there either. Not even when I raise the limit from 2000 to 5000. Furthermore, the 2000-match Tier1 search does not give all the normal matches that the regular 2000-match search shows. Much as I love GEDmatch, sometimes you have to look at something half-a-dozen ways to get a full picture and then hope you got it right.

Triangulating Tara's non-Pikholz matches with Herb
I did one-to-ones between Herb and each of the twelve people in the above list whose matches with Tara are 15 cM or more. Leah and the three in the "Elisha group" do not match Herb at all, so they are on Tara's other side.

E, J, Carol, Steven and Ryan match more or less according to their matches with Tara, though Ryan's is about 30% larger.

The other three - L, Harriett and Joseph - match Herb on no more than 10.5 cM of their matches with Tara. What about the rest? Who knows. It will require further inquiry.

What happens next?
Before I draw any conclusions and even before I write to any of these matches, Tara's mother has agreed to test. Probably her father too. That should clarify whether Tara's long match with Herb is from one of her parents or is perhaps - as is likely - a composite, part from her father, part from her mother. The "Are Your Parents Related" tool on GEDmatch shows her parents unrelated to one another on chromosome 3, so we needn't worry about that.

Oh, and Tara has a paternal grandmother who is willing to test. Anyone in Montreal who can help with this?

Meantime, Tara has joined our surname project at FTDNA.

Monday, August 14, 2017


My mother's mother, Sarah Rosenbloom Gordon, went to the US from Borisov before WWI - as did her two younger sisters and her younger brother. The two sisters were dead by early 1916. An older sister stayed in Russia with her husband and children. There was also a younger half-brother and half-sister who remained in Russia with the father and step-mother. The half-brother was killed in a pogrom of some sort after WWI.

Less than seven moths ago, I reported here that we (=Galit Aviv-Sisto) had found the grandchildren of the older sister Alta Rosenbloom Kaplan. Grandsons in Indiana and New Jersey, a granddaughter in Columbus Ohio, a granddaughter in Nuremberg, a grandson who died here in Israel (I am still looking for his three children) and at least two living granddaughters in Moscow.

The IAJGS Conference in Orlando was three weeks ago (seems more like three months!) and Aeroflot has a nice price from Israel to the US east coast (< $1050), so I booked my flight and arranged to visit one of the Moscow cousins - my second cousin Liya, her husband Gennady and their daughter Katya who has been my Facebook translator these past months. The other, older cousin was not well and her daughter who would have accompanied us, was out of town.

My three "new" second cousins - first cousins to one another - in three countries. I now have DNA from all three.

Katya met me at the airport Tuesday evening. Moscow is a huge city, very sprawling - at least that was my impression - and it took about an hour to get to their apartment. The weather was much warmer than I expected. Liya is a retired mathematician, as was her father (my mother's first cousin) and his younger sister. Gennady is a retired professor of electrical engineering.

They have a son, Ilya, who lives in UK but as his daughter Tatiana was already in high school when they went, she stayed behind to finish her schooling in Moscow. Tatiana (twenty-one) is studying mathematics. When I told her I was going to Orlando and identified it with Disney World, she said that all she knows about the US is where people study mathematics. These mathematicians tend to be focused.

Wednesday, we went to the cemeteries, Gennady driving, Liya with her gardening tools, Katya and I. Our Kaplans are all buried in the Vostrikovsky Cemetery. In the best Soviet tradition, it is non-sectarian and perhaps that is the reason it is in such good condition. There is no Hebrew on the tombstones, nor are there any Jewish symbols. Not even the small stones that visitors leave in many countries. Each grave or pair of graves is surrounded by a metal fence.

My great aunt Alta is here as are all of her children. It is not clear where her husband is buried or even when he died, in the early 1920s. Apparently he was never discussed. Uncle Hymen said his name was Berl, but his children are Borisovitch and Borisovna. You will see the problem with that further on.

Most of our Kaplan graves are in section 94.

Next to the road is the grave of Sophia (Sonia) Borisovna Kaplan, born 1921, died 1969. I do not have precise dates. She was a mathematician and died of breast cancer.

Her son David (who is almost certainly named for our great-grandfather, as am I) is the one who came to Israel. Next to her is her husband Maksim Markovitch Gorohov, born 18 April 1925, died 30 April 2004.

Maksim's surname was originally Razgon but was "sovietized" to Gorohov. David reverted to Razgon in Israel.

This is the view from the side of Sonia's tombstone.  Sonia shares the grave with her older sister Esfir Borisovna Kaplan, 1903-1978.

Esfir - which I am told is the Russian form of Esther - was named Etta Bryna after her maternal grandmother who died in Borisov in 1896, probably before her fortieth birthday. Etta Bryna's surname is unknown and I have written abut this several times, most recently here.

Esfir's husband was Yosef Gemeyner. She was not able to have children but she raised her husband's son Mark from his previous marriage.

Alta, my grandmother Sarah and Uncle Hymen all had daughters named Etta Bryna for their mother and all three of those daughters adopted after not being able to have children. (My Aunt Ethel had two natural children after adopting.)

A bit further back from the road, without moving the car, are Liya's parents.

Isaak Borisovitch Kaplan 1909-1966 and Emma Abramovna Elkind 1913-1969.

Liya, their only child, ws born in 1939, so she was orphaned of both parents by age thirty. Alta was still alive when her youngest children, Isaak and Sonia, died.

The picture of Isaak on the tombstone - a Russian custom which is practiced in Israel as well - I have never gotten used to it! - is certainly familiar.
This is the same Isaak, standing on the right. This was the only Kaplan photograph we had until seven months ago, so we thought there were only four children, not six. (The girl is Sonia.)

Below, we see the Kaplan family in 1914, just before Uncle Hymen (standing in the back) sailed to the US on the last ship before WWI. Isaak is the young boy seated on the left. The daughter on the table died and I do not know her name. Esfir is the girl on the right.
A bit further back at the same stop are the graves of Lev Borisovitch Kaplan, born 18 March 1907 and died 4 Decenber 1986. His wife Pelageya Alekseyevna was born 13 November 1912 and died 23 January? 1989.

I assume Lev was named for Etta Bryna's father Yehudah. We have no idea when or where he died, but there is a good chance it was after Etta Bryna.

They had three children - one now in new Jersey, one in Columbus and the youngest who died in Moscow ten years ago.

As we visited each set of graves, Liya brought out her gardening tools and went over each one. The clippings were carefully removed.

We moved along the road to the corner of the section where we found the grave of Boris Borisovitch Kaplan, 1900-1973. This is where we defer to Uncle Hymen's memory of Alta's husband as Berl, as there is no way Boris would have been given the same name as his father. In fact, Uncle Hymen said that this son, Boris, was named Boruch Yosef.

His wife Genia Yankelevna Chankina - 1897-1972 - is in the same grave. To the right is a sign - not a proper stone - for her brother.

The fence was freshly painted. Perhaps at the direction of their daughter Dusya. Or Dusya's daughter. Dusya was born in 1929 and is one of the two great-granddaughters mentioned by my great-grandfather Israel David Rosenbloom in a 1929 letter to Uncle Hymen. No one is certain if Dusya is alive as the families are not in contact.

We crossed the main road to the other side of the same cemetery heading for section 116. On the way we encountered an entourage of large men in suits, sunglasses and Mercedes looking for all the world like your stereotypical Russian mafia, straight out of central casting. We carefully found a way around them.

The eldest son Yakov, named for Israel David's father, is in section 116. Yakov was a shoemaker which enabled him and all the family to live in Moscow. This is what saved them during the Holocaust.

Yaakov is not called Borisovitch, but Berkovitch which fits better with Berl as Alta's husband's first name. My mother's first cousin, Yakov Berkovitch Kaplan was born 1899 and died 1984.

His wife Fanya Gershevna Pinskaya is buried in the same grave. She was born 1905 and died 1988. The Soviet regime did not acknowledge marriages at that time and their children have Fanya's Pinsky name.

Fanya was from Penza, where Israel David lived after WWI, and I assume that is how Yakov and Fanya met. Inna in Nuremberg is their daughter.

Within the boundaries of the same fence is Alta.
Alta Davidovna (from Israel David) Kaplan, 1879-1970. The family tradition was that she lived to ninety-three, so the stone may be incorrect. Or the tradition.

The family says that the name "Alta" was added during a childhood illness and that her original name may have been Masha - but no one is sure.

There are about six years between Alta and my grandmother Sarah, the second child. That fits with the story that Uncle Hymen was called CHAIM Benzion because several sons died in infancy. Very likely they were born between Alta and Sarah. (Attention family members - Benzion and Masha are probably family names. Chaim and Alta are not.)

Finally - on this day which was beautiful for visiting cemeteries but miserably hot for sitting in traffic - we drove to the Malakhovskoye Cemetery to see Aunt Mera, the half sister with whom Uncle Hymen was particularly close.

The stone on the left is Maks Yakovlevitch Goldin 1905-1978 and Mera Davidovna Goldina 1903-1990. My grandmother, who died in 1959 in her seventies, had a living sister as recently as twenty-seven years ago. Aunt Mera was a physician and the cemetery records say she was from Penza.

I do not know if here is any symbolism associated with the cut corner on the top left of the tombstone.

This is a Jewish section, rather than standard Soviet, and people leave stones. The flowers are plastic, so could have been there for years.

The grave on the right is Mikhail Maksimovitch Goldin 1931-2009. Aunt Mera's son. The blank space below his name looks like it should be for his wife, so she may well be alive. Maybe children too.

At four in the morning, it's already light that time of year in Moscow. Gennady and Katya drove me to the airport at five thirty Thursday morning for my 9:25 flight to Dulles. There were eight chairs at the gate.

The only people I saw during my Baltimore-area overnight were Uncle Bob and Ro and Friday I was off to Orlando.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Wives of Moshe Hersch

Mail from Judy
In Orlando with Rozdol Pikholz cousin Audrey (left) and
my fourth cousin once removed Steve and his wife Diane
I have been very busy lately and have not even written yet about my visit to Moscow. And I'll not be writing about the IAJGS Conference in Orlando.

But some DNA matches came up this week that appear significant and I want to tell you about one of those. (Despite everything, I have been trying to keep up with all these "I have ## matches with your project. How are we related?" emails.)

This one (partially redacted) came Thursday:
Dear Israel Pikholz,
Your reputation precedes you. However, I didn't think I had many matches with you until I looked at it from the perspective of my (full) brother's DNA report, and especially from Chromosome 23. I am attaching a PDF showing all 17 matches of individuals you manage who appear on my brother's list in GEDmatch.

My brother is Ira Rosenberg ... and I am Judy Pritchett .... I have included myself.

Our four grandparents' surnames are:

Rosenberg (unknown, possibly Zbaroz) ff
Dejur/Deshur (Katerinopol), fm
Abramowitz (Odessa), mf
Alter/Alpert (Kriulyani, Bessarabia) mm

On Chromosome 23 there do seem to be two distinct family lines represented. 
This is chromosome 23, as she attached it.

Line 1 is Judy herself, where she matches Ira.

Lines 2 and 3 are my fourth cousin Nan and her son Steve who introduced one of my Orlando talks, ~25.6 cM. Line 4 is Nan's third cousin and my fourth cousin Charlie, ~16.3 cM. The four blue bits (5.3-5.9 cM) are Aunt Betty, two of my sisters and Uncle Bob's daughter. When I ran it myself the following day, Uncle Bob himself also appeared, as did my double second cousin Marshal. (Marshal was missing because Judy only saw seventeen matches with my families, when in fact there are forty-nine.)

All these matches are on my father's side - and in fact must be my grandmother's side because Uncle Bob gets no X from his father.

The large X-match between Ira and Nan & Charlie

Nan and Charlie are, as I said, my fourth cousins, descendants of Moshe Hersch, the brother of my great-great-grandmother Rivka Feige Pikholz.

Charlie could have received the segment in question from either parent of his great-grandmother Sara.

But Nan could not have. Her great-grandfather Berisch received X only from his mother. Since she and Charlie received the X from the same source, it must have been the mother of Berisch and Sara - Moshe Hersch's wife. (I acknowledge that it is possible that the X in question snuck into the lineages of Charlie and Nan via a spouse of one of the intervening generations, but based on what I know of the family, I consider this highly unlikely.)

Ira's Rosenberg family comes from Zbarazh, which is near Skalat, but since Ira received no X from his father, that cannot be the source of this match. But that is another question, not for here.

But now I must introduce a bit of research history. 

The Hebrew side of Berisch's stone.
When we received the 1826-1845 Skalat deaths maybe eighteen years ago (thanks to Jacob Laor and Alex Dunai), we found an 1843 death for seven year old Israel Pikholz, son of Moshe and an 1842 death for three year old Perl Pikholz the daughter of Moshe Hersch. The fathers may be the same person, but not necessarily. We also have the 1918 death of Nan's great-grandfather Bernard / Berisch Pickholtz in Philadelphia - which includes his birth date 14 December 1837. His father is named on his tombstone as Moshe Zvi, which is, of course, Moshe Hersch.

So it appears that Moshe Hersch may have had these three children in a three year period, before 1840.

Later we received an 1887 death record from the AGAD archives for Sara Pikholz, showing her to be forty years old. From the birth records of Sara's children, we know her parents to be Moshe Hersch and Jente. (Sara's husband is Szulim Pikholz, but that has nothing to do with this analysis.)

Sara's 1887 death record - age at death was forty.

Because of the long break between the three pre-1840 births and the 1847 birth of Sara, I was not prepared to declare that this was one family. When I got into DNA, I demonstrated in Chapter Six of my book that the two Moshe Hersch were the same person, but I was still wary of saying that all four children were from the same wife. (Yes, I know that there may have been additional childen in between, but I have seen nothing that mentions such children.)

But since Nan and Charlie share a segment on the X chromosome that can only have come from Moshe Hersch's wife, it is tempting to put the question to bed by declaring that Moshe Hersch had only one wife - the one we know as Jente.

But not so fast. If The mother of Moshe Hersch's pre-1840 children died, it is likely that the family would have married him off to someone else within the family. The dead wife's sister or niece, for instance. So even if Moshe Hersch had two wives, there is a better than even chance that they would have had much of the same X chromosomes. If they were sisters, the X from their father would have been identical.

I still do not know if Moshe Hersch had two wives, and we may never know. But I am now certain that if he did, the two women were closely related. Considering all the difficlties in this research, that qualifies as progress.

What about Ira's matches with my grandmother?
In addition to the six ~5.5 cM segments, Ira also has matches of more than 10 cM with my grandmother's family, on two other chromosomes.

On chromosome 17, Ira has matches of 13-16 cM with Aunt Betty, Uncle Bob, my second cousins Marshal and Susan and one of my sisters. Another sister has ~8.8 cM on the same segment. So we know that Ira is related to my grandmother's side, as I showed above on chromosome 23.

On chromosome 18, there are three identical segments of ~15.9 cM with my father's second cousin Shabtai, one of my sisters and me, plus a segment of ~12.6 cM with another of my sisters. This too is my grandmother's side, but in this case Shabtai makes it clear that the match is on my grandmother's mother's (Hungarian) side. The truth is, I'd be more comfortable if Aunt Betty, Uncle Bob or one or two of the second cousins also showed up on this segment, but we can only use what we have.

This match on my great-grandmother's side does not in any way indicate that the other two segments (on chromosomes 17 and 23) are also my grandmother's mother's side, rather than her father's side.

Now if Judy and Ira have some surnames and geography that fit any of this, or if they have cousins who can test, we may be able to move this along.