Sunday, June 28, 2015

Large Segments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Let's Be Realistic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Finding Max Greenberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Improved Strategies with GEDmatch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Skalat Memorial Service - Year Seventy-Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Some Oddish Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Writing for Readers, Writing for Listeners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had written this for readers, not for listeners.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The handout referred to in this article can be found at

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.