Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Jacob meets Joanna
One of the purposes of a family genealogy web site is to serve as a place where unknown family members can find each other. In the case of the Pikholz Project, we occasionally meet a previously unknown branch in exactly this way - someone looks for his grandfather online and finds him on our site.

About nine months ago, I received an email from a young woman in Warsaw named Joanna who told me that her late grandfather Julian was the son of a Polish woman and an older Pikholz man. Joanna didn't know the man's first name, but she knew where he lived and what he did for a living. She continued:

The features of my grandfather Julian, my mother and her brother, and mine have always been perceived as original and Semitic rather than Slavic, which might be accounted for by our origin and the multicultural mixture existing in the borderland area.

Around the year 2000 my mother told me and my son Filip that my grandfather Julian's father was Pikholtz, the administrator of one of the estates where my great grandmother Marta had worked (she had become a wife and a mother by then which means that Julian was a child born out of a romance). My mother told us the situation was very awkward, Marta was Julian's lonely mother so, in an intolerant environment, he was badly treated being a child born out of wedlock, and Jewish to top it all.

I took a long time to associate certain facts of my grandfather's life with his speechlessness. Being Polish and Jewish he had to hide from both the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and from the Germans. Then he had to hide from the Polish being a Jew. His features and his face were unambiguous.

My mother told us that the Pikholtz family were in the ghetto (probably in Podwołoczyska) during the war. Someone saw the Pikholtz sons being brought away, Julian was said to know one of them personally.

I had no problem identifying Julian's putative father as a certain Josef Pikholz who has a single living descendant, a great-grandson Jacob here in Israel, who is one of the prime movers of our research and a Polish speaker to boot. (Well, not "a single living descendant" - Jacob has children and grandchildren - but you get the idea.)

There are other children in some of these families.
If what Joanna tells us is true, then she and Jacob are second cousins. That would be closer than any other relative he has on his mother's side. But how do we prove it?

Well then, despite what I wrote here a few weeks ago, DNA seems to be the way to go. The easiest thing of course would be a Y-chromosome test on all male lines, in this case leading down from Josef. But line from Josef to Jacob includes Jacob's mother. Nor is there an all male line from Josef's father Arie Leib or even from Josef's grandfather Nachman. So although we have a male line from Josef to Julian's sons and grandsons, we have nothing to compare it to.

I spoke with the folks at Family Tree DNA, where I had done my own testing last year, and they suggested a test they call Family Finder which can measure degrees of cousinhood based on the percentage of overlapping DNA, without regard to whether the lines being tested are male, female or mixed. Since we are talking about really close cousins here, that should suffice.

So in the coming days, Jacob will be discussing with Joanna exactly how they will do this test.

The Twenty-two Skalat-area Pikholz Families
But since we are already dipping our toes into this pool, we decided to look at the next step.

We have probably twenty-two Pikholz families of four or more generations from the Skalat area and although we assume they are all related, we have no proof, nor do we have any idea what the full family structure might be. To be sure, some of those families seem to be related to one another, based on patterns of given names, family traditions or other considerations, but that represents only the preliminary stages of proper research.

So the question is, how can we use DNA testing to advance the project.

Here again, the obvious path is that of Y-chromome testing, to see that everyone leads back to some original male Pikholz. Unfortunately, that will not work. Two of the families (marked in blue in the chart above) have no living descendants, so there is no one to test. Five others (marked in red) - include my own line - have women of unknown (or at least unclear) parentage in the first generation, so the male line is meaningless. Of the other fifteen, only seven have a male line that has living descendants, plus there is an eighth which can also be useful. Let's lay them out.

LAOR - This is the family of Jacob and perhaps Joanna that I discussed above. Assuming the connection with Julian proves to be valid, Julian's son is a candidate for testing.

RITA and TONKA - We have living descendants, but no male line.

ROSA and ELIEZER - We have one son in the second generation of ROSA and he married a daughter in the second generation of ELIEZER. Unfortunately the living lines from that marriage are not male-only. We do, however, have one line in ELIEZER which is all male, down to two brothers who live in Israel. Members of that family are interested in their history, so there should be no problem getting one of them tested.

MATI - The man at the top of this family is almost certainly in the second generation of ELIEZER, but there is no male line to test. However, one of the daughters in the next generation married a Pikholz of unknown parentage and we have a male line from there. I am very interested in having that line tested. Contact with the single candidate for testing is sporadic, but it is not hopeless.

VLADIMIR - The top if this very small family is also possibly from the second generation of ELIEZER. There is one person to test, an older Russian-speaker here in Israel. I hope we can secure his cooperation.

ORENSTEIN and DORA - These two families are related, according to family tradition, and there is a marriage between them. We have one male line for DORA in the US, none for ORENSTEIN. Here too, contact with the single candidate for testing is sporadic, at best.

STEVE, IRENE and WELWELE have no male lines and we have no real ideas whom they might be connected to.

GRIMAYLOW - This is a family with no obvious connection to any other, but the one line we have is a male line with two brothers, one about eighty and one over ninety, both living in Israel and both have sons. I have never been in contact with either, but some years ago was in contact with their sisters. This will not be simple, I suspect, but may be doable.

ISRAEL - Of the two brothers in the second generation, one had daughters who went to the US and the other had sons, one of whom has one candidate for Y-chromosome testing. He rebuffed my only attempt at contact  some years ago, but perhaps we will be able to do something this time.

CHONE - This family is from eastern Ukraine, but my guess is they came from Skalat. My contact is with a female descendant in the US, but she has brothers who would qualify for Y-chromosome testing.

So we have eight people we'd like to test, six of whom may need serious convincing. Not to mention that these tests cost $169 each.

Another thing
Four of the five families whose earliest identified Pikholz ancestors are women, have female lines which I would like to test.

PITTSBURGH - This is my family and there is one line that is female all the way down. Perhaps we can get cooperation there.

RISS - There is one very elderly woman in Chicago who qualifies. She has only sons, but the female-line test can be done with a male at the end, as males have mitochondria too.

KCMO - There is one candidate. Maybe. If we can make contact with her. We haven't thusfar.

KHARKOV - My contact person here became invisible six or eight years ago.

Also, there are two sisters here in Israel whose mother was Pikholz from all four grandparents. Their female line goes back to the female half of the top of ORENSTEIN.

All of these are interesting in a "you never know what might turn up" sense.

There are some other possibilities as well, but that's enough for the present.

Perhaps in a few weeks, I'll analyze our Rozdol families in the same way.


  1. Intriguing! I can't wait to see what happens next, but I guess I'll have to--I know how long these things can take. Genealogy is not for people who must have immediate gratification.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Even getting started is easier said than done. But going public here is one way to get it moving.