Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Month Abroad: Part Five - Relatives

This is the fifth and final part in my series of blogs on my recent four weeks in the US. Part One (Iberia) is here. Part Two (GRIP) is here. Part Three (Seattle) is here. Part Four (Speaking) is here.

I had a chance to see quite a few relatives on this trip, some of whom I mentioned briefly before. But I'd like to expand on some, so I am summarizing all of them here, together.

In the Chicago area, I stayed at my sisters, though she and her husband were away. I got to see her two boys. One of her girls was in Israel during my trip and we nearly met at the airport in Madrid as she traveled east and I west.

I had a chance to see my brother who has been in Chicago the last few months. (I saw him in the winter as well.) Then I met Elaine, the widow of my first cousin David. She introduced me to her new husband and his son. who are settling in in Chicago where she and David had lived previously.

Shabbat I was with my first-born son, his wife  and four of their boys. The older two were away in yeshiva, but I did get to see one of them the following week in Baltimore.

Binyomin, on the right, was pleased to tell me that for his eighth grade science project, he extracted DNA from a banana.

Shlomo Zalman, on the left, often asks me about my genealogy research - as do the two older boys. In fact, he took the syllabus from the IAJGS conference in Salt Lake City two years ago.

I spent a wonderful week with Aunt Betty and Uncle Ken in Pittsburgh. They are both going strong, though as a concession to turning ninety, Aunt Betty let me open the sofa bed myself. That has never happened before.

Monday evening, we had my second cousin Roz over for supper. She lives not far away and was in my brother's class, but we never really knew each other. (Aunt Betty says she runs into her in Giant Eagle every once in awhile.) Roz did a Family Finder test and MtDNA for me during the recent Mothers' Day sale and I wrote about that two months ago.

When Roz came over, she brought a large hand-drawn chart of her grandfather's Lewinter family, which includes a bit of information that was very important to me. Part of the significance was the cousin who had drawn the chart.

You really must talk to everyone, not just one representative of each family. You can never tell who has the one photograph or the one artifact or the one memory that no one else has. (Such was the case with my father and Uncle Selig.) Same with DNA testing.

My second Shabbat was with my second cousin Alfred in Baltimore. That's on my mother's side. He is the only person who calls me "Yisroel Dovid" as that was the full name of our common great-grandfather. (He has a younger brother with the same name.) He has never agreed to test for my project but when a third cousin of his made contact through his brother Sam's test, he was quite enthusiastic. The only reason I was able to put them together was because when I asked his mother years ago for an inventory of her descendants, she also gave me all she knew about her ancestors. I included them in my database, so when we heard from the third cousin, I was able to identify their common ancestor. Another lesson - when you receive peripheral information, find a place for it.

In the meantime, Alfred's wife did a Family Finder and will probably do an MtDNA later on. So maybe we'll get him on board too. One of six in his family is really not enough.

They live right around the corner from Lara Diamond, so she was over for lunch and the four of us talked genealogy together for about six hours.

Later that afternoon, I went to Pinchas, my third cousin on my father's side and he had his neighbor Beverly, Alfred's sister, as well - together with her daughter. (Pinchas has tested for me, Beverly has not.) Pinchas and Roz are third cousins to each other twice, on the Kwoczka side and on the Zwiebel-Lewinter side.

My Baltimore stop concluded with an overnight visit to Uncle Bob and his wife Ro, who live in nearby Marriotsville. They did not attend my talk because it was a particularly hot day.

Monday morning, I stopped at my second cousin Judy's in Rockville and her first cousin Dick and wife joined us. This is my mother's paternal side. Dick brought pictures, some of which I had never seen.

This one, for instance, of my mother (left) and her older sister Aunt Ethel, whose daughter I would soon be seeing in South Carolina.

Next stop was in Bethesda where I met Jim Bartlett at the home of my wife's cousin Aline. Actually they are both third cousins and fourth cousins.

Aline is from the Belgian part of my wife's family, though she and her mother were both born in France. Aline is one of only two people in that entire family who has any interest in genealogy. She hasn't tested but as her parents are living, she plans to test them.

(Yes, I know that Aline has an MtDNA line up to Shimon's unknown wife, but I asked a cousin two generations further up to do that and we expect her results in a few weeks.)

Monday in Fairfax I saw Alfred's youngest brother Sam - he is the one who did test - both a Family Finder and a Y-37 to my namesake.

As I wrote in Part Four, Thursday after my talk in Charlotte, I drove down to South Carolina to see my first cousin Kay, whom I had not seen in forty-five years. Her daughter Stephanie, son-in-law and two grandchildren were visiting from Maine where he is in the military, so I got to meet them. It was a brief visit, but I am very glad we made the opportunity. So are they. For some reason, no one took pictures.

I was surprised that Kay and Stephanie knew as much as they did about our shared family history. Kay had acquired some documents on her own, something that no one else in my family has ever shown interest in doing. We also discussed the child that our mothers' sister had given up for adoption. My mother had never spoken of this or of the non-Jewish man who wanted to marry my aunt. (It is not clear is those are the same story or not.) In fact, the only reason Kay knew it was that her mother used it to warn her to "behave herself" when she went into the navy. As apparently my aunt had not done.

And she told me something I had never considered in my wildest dreams.

Aunt Ethel and Uncle Kenny (I wrote his story four years ago), who lived in Vandergrift, about an hour from Pittsburgh, had no children for about ten years and then adopted a girl about three years old. Kay and her brother were born after that. So while we were talking, Kay tells me that Donna was the youngest of four children whose Jewish parents from Pittsburgh were killed in an airplane crash. The children were split up. When Aunt Ethel died one of the older children called and Uncle Kenny took the call and before he gave the phone to Donna, wrote down the contact information for the family. Donna wouldn't hear of any of this, threw the paper away and never followed up - even when she was sick and the medical history might have been useful.

I was as close to speechless as I ever get. I knew that Donna's birth name was Sally, as that's how we were introduced the first time we met. (I was about five.) But it never occurred to me that she might be Jewish. I gave Stephanie a paid test kit to send to Donna's son. There will, no doubt, be more to this story.

I already told you about the Nemerow Pikholz descendants in Durham.

Linda's in West Virginia was not only for "catching up with myself." There was work to be done. Some months ago, I decided that I wanted to go next spring to my father's mother's places in Slovakia and Hungary. (Nana herself was born in the US, her brothers and sisters in Budapest.) So I threw out the idea to Linda and put her in charge.

In the meantime, our fifth cousin Cyndi - on the Zelinka side - decided she was going with us and rounded out the foursome with another fifth cousin, Cyndi's third cousin Susan. So Linda and I spent some time discussing what we wanted to do and then we got Cyndi on the phone for  - oh, at least half an hour. We had decided to work with Karesz Vandor, whom I already knew and whom I'd be seeing the next week in Seattle. We needed him not just for the trip itself, but to do some preparatory work to see what family graves were likely to still be there.

We are talking the beginning of next May, starting with a few days in our mutual towns in Trencin County Slovakia. Cyndi wants to photograph and record all the graves in Kotesso, on the theory that we must be related to everyone in the town. I know that Nana's paternal grandparents should be there.

From there we'd go to Budapest then split up. Cyndi and Susan had their other side in Kosice and we had Nana's mother's side in Kunszentmiklos and Kalosca. So now we feel that this is actually going to happen.

Thirty years ago, Aunt Betty bought herself a Commodore computer in order to write up Nana's recipes in book form for the family. It seems that Linda did the same for Aunt Betty's recipes on the occasion of her ninetieth birthday.  (Nobody ever tells me anything!) When I was at Linda's, I saw it and I hope that the Israeli part of the family will get copies in the not-too-distant future.

Oh, and Linda decided to test her DNA. Her father - Uncle Bob - has already tested, so this is mostly for her late mother's side. Her sample is on its way to Houston.

Cincinnati began with an overnight with my wife's maternal second cousin Billy and his wife Rachelle. This whole branch is one that no one would have ever discovered had I not gone after them - and even now, I am more involved with them than my wife is. Rachelle is a Lichtig descendant and my wife's father's aunt and great-aunt both married Lichtig men. Rachelle has a large Lichtig chart that I had seen before, but she is not sure of her own place there.

After my Cincinnati talk, Ed, Jeannie and I (see Part Four) went over to Phyllis and Michael's house. Phyllis' late father and my wife are second cousins. Phyllis and Michael both tested when we visited them last summer and Jeannie sat with Phyllis going over her results in greater detail than I have been able to do. We didn't see much of Michael as he was busy with son Aaron's two young boys. I have been following Aaron's family pretty closely on Facebook so I feel that I know the boys. It isn't mutual. Aaron's wife Alyssa came over later as well.

That left only Rita in Seattle. (Well, there was also Ed's wife's sister-in-law in Seattle, but we are not playing that game.) Rita was one of the original members of the Pikholz Project.
"Halevi" in the top left corner
We had met once before, when she was in Israel seventeen years ago. We have since determined with the help of DNA (see Chapter Five of my book ENDOGAMY: One Family, One People) that Rita's family belongs in the same line as Jacob Laor, descendants of Nachman Pikholz who was born about 1795.

Rita's research has a number of brick walls. One is her cousin Moshe Hersch Pickholtz whose tombstone says he is a Levi. That can only be true if he or one of his ancestors got the name Pikholz from his mother. Rita herself thinks the family made it up, just for show.

Her other, bigger frustration is her grandmother's brother Shoil Pikholz who came to Palestine as an older man, perhaps in the 1920s. In all these years, I have found no sign of him, living or dead. We have also found nothing about his two sons - names and ages unknown - who stayed in Galicia, probably lost in the Holocaust.

Housekeeping notes
This empties out my list of scheduled speaking appearances.

I am thinking about a US trip in perhaps late January and will have to make a decision in the next week of so. It depends, of course, on speaking venues. I am working on a couple of new presentations, so having spoken previously needn't be dispositive. Any programming people who are interested should please contact me soonest.


  1. Brilliant stuff...Sheldon Pickholz in NJ is a Levi as well. There seems to be a strand somewhere.

  2. Sheldon's great-grandfather Berl Fuchs was a Levi and his wife was Beila Pikholz. The marriage was not registered with the civil authorities, so the kids got her surname.