Sunday, August 25, 2013


I am going home Monday (arriving Tuesday) at the end of a twenty-seven day trip to the US, so I suppose it's time to record some thughts about the time I have spent here - chiefly the Conference in Boston. (Right now, Blogger is in one of its moods and I cannot even get it to accept links.)

Last week's blog was basically a placeholder, saying nothing at all and with no announcements about it on Facebook or anyplace else. Oddly enugh, accrding to Blogger's count, I had about the same number of unique visits as any other week. So I suppose it doesn't matter if I say anything or not. But I am not so much speaking to readers as I am recording my work and experiences in genealogy.

Shabbat in Brookline was very nice. I was with a family I didn't know, arranged by a neighbor of mine who made aliyah from there a couple of years ago. In the course of Shabbat, I met a man who was getting married the following week at the Poale Zedeck in Pittsburgh, so I was able to send surprise regards to my uncle. Friday I went over to Irene's house and I talked Pikholz genealogy with her and her husband and older son. Irene participated in the Conference and our paths crossed several times a day.

The Conference hotel left something to be desired, starting with space to move around in the guest rooms. It would have been crowded in that room if I had been there with my wife. So much moreso with a roommate. A third cousin of my wife's, actually, and a very nice fellow. The lecture halls were cold, even for me. The elevators were terribly slow, but fortunately I was on a low floor and took the stairs much of the time. All told, the hotel gave us the facilities we needed and on balance was not bad. I used one of the lunch breaks to meet an old friend from my Chicago days - someone I hadn't seen in forty years. (He says he reads tis blog - Hi Zale.)

Morning minyan was well-attended, between eighteen and twenty-five people, with a brief class beforehand on the subject of exhumation and reinterment. Afternoon and evenng services were less well-attended, but we managed. The ever-reliable Elliot Greene (with whom I have a DNA connection) handled all the arrangements, including siddurim and a sefer Torah

One of the most interesting lectures was by a woman who was raised Roman Catholic who managed to prove her Jewish ancestry back to the Inquisition and added to the historical record of her ancestral Spanish town in the process. She eventually received letters both from the Rabbinate in Jerusalem and from a prominent US Sephardic rabbi attesting to the fact that she was Jewish from birth. I bought her book "My 15 Grandmothers" which tells that story. Her journey could have ramifications for many other Conversos, who are interested in returning to their historic Judaism, five hundred years after their forced cnversions.

Logan Kleinwaks spoke about what is new on his wonderful website, It used to be mainly directories, which can be searched using Optical Character Recognition, but he has been adding other types of records as well. I hsve to spend some time on the site when I get home.

Online Historical Jewish Newspapers was the subject of a talk by Janice Sellers. The tiny room was overflowing, with people sitting on the floor and standing along the wall. It was good, though I already knew quite a bit of what she presented.

I attended other lectures as well, but these were the best of the bunch.

I attended two meetings - one of JRI-Poland volunteers and town leaders, run by Stanley Diamond and Robinn Magid. The other was the Sub-Carpathian SIG, run by Marshall Katz (both a DNA match and a yinzer). I'll do a separate post in a few weeks about Marshall and the Sub-Carpathians and why this interests me at all. (Related to this was a lecture by Olga Muzychuk, the Deputy Director of the Ukrainian Stete Archives. Perhaps I'll have more on this when I blog about Marshall.)

My cousin Adam Brown spoke about what he considers the next big thing in genealogy - online, collaborative trees and in particular He knows well that I have reservations about this kind of thing. In fact, I have an article in the coming AVOTAYNU called "Getting It Wrong" which the editor has apparently paired with Adam's article reviewing his talk at the Conference. I am already thinking out a response to Adam's article, for the following AVOTAYNU.

My main interest at the Conference was DNA and I attended everything I could. I started off with an hour of one-on-one discussion with Bennett Greenspan, the President of Family Tree DNA, the company we use for our Pikholz Project testing. He gave me some direction on the analysis of our Y DNA results. (We are close to thirty people so far, with results from thirteen.) Bennett also promised that he'd get Elise Friedman to give a webinar for project administrators, going through all of FTDNA's analytical tools.

I also attended his talk, which I found less useful, but it was an insight to his philosophy. I did not attend Bennett's Breakfast With The Experts session, as it conflicted with morning minyan.

There was a meeting of DNA Project Administrators, at which I had hoped to learn all about the subject. What I learned was that I was not the only clueless person in the room and I expect that the more experienced folks thought we were holding them back.

I also attended a two-hour for-pay computer session on DNA analysis for individuals who had already tested. Some came totally unprepared and we wasted upwards of half an hour because they didn't know thier kit numbers or passwords or had no idea even how to get into the site. Fortunately the room was available into the next hour, so Elise gave us some extra time at the end.

My own talk, on Tuesday at five, went very well. Barbara Stern Mannlein introduced and people seemed to enjoy it. I am still trying to get the audio recording to which I am entitled. The program people made a big deal about getting speakers' permission to video the talks, but in the end no video was done of mine. Too bad, because the audio alone is not very useful. (My Power Point was full of dynamic slides, including circles and arrows and general activity. I was surprised that in all the other lectures that I attended, Power Point served as nothing more than a slide projector. Maybe people prefer it that way.)

The next evening I had a long discusion with Russell Maurer, a micro-biologist, who had attended my talk. He seemd to think I am doing this sensibly, but cautioned about chasing any particular conclusion. That, of course, was my whle point. And as I wrote two weeks ago, subsequent test results seem to support where I am going.

I was also drafted into a Q&A panel on archives in different countries. It was a first-time event and can only get better. The biggest problem was that the questons were both rambling and off-topic.

After Boston came Miami and south Florida, Baltimore and Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Bloomington and finally Chicago and Buffalo Grove. I missed an imprtant visit at the Greyhound Station in Columbus, but more on that anther time.I saw some close family, made face-to-face connections with several Pikholz families and visited two Florida cemeteries.

Next year's conference is in Salt Lake City, the week before Tish'a beAv. My participation may be contingent on whether I am approved to speak.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


I chose this title for this week's post a few months ago and I have ever so much to say. Plus other subjects.

But I am travelling, with inconsistent Internet and much to do, so I am taking this week off.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


At the conclusion of my presentation at the Conference last Tuesday, I showed what Family Finder (autosomal) results we had received thusfar. The close family consisting of my Aunt Betty, my father's cousin Herb and my fourth cousin Dalia, all fit together in a neat group.

Vladimir, who I thought was a third cousin to Dalia and a fourth cousin to me, turned out to be nothing of the sort. He showed up as a "remote" (probably fifth or sixth) cousin of all of us.

The Kansas City cousin who I thought was a second cousin once removed to Vladimir showed up as no relation at all to any of us, including Vladimir.

On the other hand, Gadi of the Rozdol Pikholz families, who decided to begin a Rozdol DNA project on his own initiative, showed up as a remote cousin to all of us - including Vladimir and the Kansas City cousin. It was almost as though six generations or so ago, the Rozdol family separated from the rest of us.

That would require, of course, that the Skalat and Rozdol families are in fact from a common Pikholz source, which is different from what we had been assuming until now.

Just before the Conference - when I am drafting this - we received some additional results which I didn't include in my presentation - the Family Finder for Amos. (I discussed this family last fall.)

Amos' family is the only Rozdol family we have which leads up to a woman and we have no idea which of the male lines in Rozdol she connects to. Amos did both an autosomal test and a Mitochondrial test.

Amos came up as a third cousin to Gadi, which is reasonable. We will understand more about that once we see other Rozdol results. Amos came up as a remote cousin to my Aunt Betty but not to Herb or Dalia. This could be a matter of DNA distribution (he is actually remotely related to all of them) or it could mean he is related to her on her mother's side.

And Amos is a remote cousin to Joyce from Kansas City.

I then made my first attempt to use the chromosome browser, which shows which chromosomes are the ones that match. Here are the results. (The black background represents Amos.)

If you look at chromosomes 1, 11 and 12, you will see that Gadi (orange) and Aunt Betty (blue) have sections that match Amos in the same place. This makes it pretty clear - and I don't yet know how to do the statistics - that Amos' match with Aunt Betty is on the same side as his match with Gadi - the Pikholz side.

You can also see that in chromosomes 2 and 4, there are overlaps between Aunt Betty and Joyce. That seems to show that even though they do not have enough matching DNA to be considered a match, there is enough of a match between them and Amos that we can say they all match on the Pikholz side.

Perhaps most interesting is the fact that we now have results from two Rozdolers and both are matches with Joyce from Kansas City. Joyce has so far had no matches with Skalaters. It may be that the Kansas City family - who lived in Podolia - just east of Galicia and nearer to Skalat, is in fact more closely related to the Rozdol side.

I may just be getting the hang of this.

Oh, and one more odd thing. My second cousin once removed on my great-grandmother's Kwoczka side tested a few months ago. This is a selection of his matches.
He matches everyone. I know how he matches the first three. I haven't a clue how he matches the other five.

The Caveat

Wednesday evening, I had a meeting with Russ Maurer, a genealogist I know who has a background in micro-biology. He attended my presentation and said he enjoyed it. We discussed how much of these results are dependable and to what degree. He warned me about taking the results too seriously, which of course was the subject of my talk.

So let me make it clear. I have NOT decided that we can say for certain that the Pikholz family from Rozdol are part of our Skalat family. I am saying that I am way more open to that possibility that I was before. We'll know more as more tests results come in during the coming weeks.

The Uninvited Visitor

An odd thing happened last week when a fellow named Vic in Skokie Illinois joined our family DNA project. I had though that it was by invitation only, but I guess not.It seems that Vic saw that he is a remote relative of several of us, so decided to join our group to see if he could learn about the relationship.

That seemed to me harmless enough, but not worth alot of my own effort. However, in speaking to him, it seems that he is a second cousin to a woman named Cynthia who is definitely of interest.

The DNA report claims that Cynthia is a second cousin to Aunt Betty and to Vladimir, a fourth cousin to Herb and a remote cousin to Dalia, Amos, the non-Pikholz Kwoczka cousin and me - but not to Joyce or Gadi.

I am not sure quite what to make of this and I think I'll wait until some more of our results come in. After all, we have results from only nne of our people and we have nearly twenty others whose test results are pending.


Sunday, August 4, 2013


Next week in Florida, I'll be meeting with a number of Pikholz descendants, including the two granddaughters of Rosa. This ought to be a fairly simple story of a woman who escaped Europe with her daughter in the months before the War and settled in the United States. But there are complications, so I thought I'd lay out the story here as a way of organizing my thoughts before we meet.

Blime's Children

Blime Pikholz and Abraham Brandes had the following children: SON (1886), Nissen (1887), Ruchel (1889), SON (1890), Peter (1891), SON (1895) and Chaje (1896).  F.or most of these we have birth records; for the  son born in 1890 we have only a death record with an age.

Peter was born in Lwow, the others in Tarnopol or in Zagrobela, which is on the western outskirts of Tarnopol. I have no idea why they were in Lwow during that particular period.

In addition to the three unnamed sons, the youngest daughter Chaje died when she was a few days old and we have the death record..

Peter died in 1916 during his military service and is buried in an unmarked grave in Vienna.

Nissen married his cousin Bassie Ruchel and was deported from Vienna in 1942 with his wife and six children. They were killed in Maly Trostinez, near Minsk.

Daughter Ruchel goes to America - twice

We have a  passenger list is from 27 March 1923 (sailing date) which includes Ruchla Brandes, age 33, single, a tailor of East Galician nationality, last residence Vienna.  Nearest relative in Europe is her mother, Blime Pickholz of Vienna.  Final destination is her cousin Mr. & Mrs. Jak. Spanier, in New York.  (I  looked a bit for this man and his family a few years ago, but with no success.)

Click to see a larger version of this passenger manifest.
According to the manifest, Ruchla Brandes was born in Tarnopol and had previously visited the US in July 1911 and 1921, or more likely FROM July 1911 UNTIL 1921.  She intended to stay permanently in the US.  Her age is the same  as Ruchel Brandes, born in 1889 - and everything else fits nicely.

We also have the manifest for the earlier trip to the US - a July 1911 passenger manifest which includes a Rosa Pickholz, age 21 or 23, from Vienna, travelling with her cousin Bertha Silberman.  Rosa lists her nearest relative in her home country as her mother "Lime" who appears to be Blime. I have not been able to learn more about Bertha Silberman.

On the other hand...

According to the records of the Vienna Jewish community (IKG), on 16 October 1921, Leon Laufer (b. 1897, Lachowice) married Rosa Pickholz, daughter of Blime Pickholz and Abraham Brandes, born Tarnopol, 21 March 1892. We do not have a copy of the actual marriage record.

We have no birth record for this Rosa, but since there is a gap between Peter (1891) and the next birth (1895), an undocumented birth in that period is not unreasonable. But Peter was born 29 December 1891, so the 21 March 1892 birth date cannot possibly be correct..
Click the image to enlarge
This Rosa Laufer went to the United States with her daughter Edith in February 1939.  According to the passenger list, she was an American citizen due to her marriage 16 December 1921 to a citizen, but I have not found any immigration or citizenship record for her husband, Leon Laufer. (It is this daughter Edith whose two daughters I'll be meeting.)

According to the passenger list, Rosa is forty-five years old, which means she was born in 1894, which makes more sense than 1892. (Note that Leon was born in 1897, so it would make more sense that his wife would have wanted to appear younger at the time of their marriage - not older.)

Once in New York, Rosa made an attempt to secure passage for her mother Blime and Nissen's eldest daughter Suzanne, but was unsuccessful. Blime died in Theresienstadt.

Finding Edith

Nearly five years ago, the same month that I found living descendants of two of Blime's sisters, I found a series of Pages of Testimony that Edith (known as Dita) had submitted to Yad Vashem.

Those Pages included her grandmother Bime, her father Leon Laufer who was killed in France while on a business trip of some sort, her uncle Nissen (listed as Nathan) with his wife and five of their six children and an aunt Charlotte Rosenbaum of Vienna, with her husband and two sons. Also a few other of her father's Laufer family.

According to the Page, Charlotte was about fifty, so she would have been born about 1892. As I wrote earlier, there was a gap between the children so 1893-4 would have been reasonable.
We have no Charlotte among the birth records and the only daughter other that Ruchel and Rosa is Chaje, for whom we have a childhood death record.

I spoke with Dita on the phone and she could not tell me anything to help straighten out the apparent contradictions. She had no knowledge of any other brothers and sisters that her mother might have had, aside from Nathan, Charlotte and Peter the young Austrian soldier.

Rosa lived in New York and died in October 1955.  According to her tombstone in Mt Hebron Cemetery, she was sixty-one years old, which is consistent with the 1894 birth year.

The tombstone lists Rosa's name as Rachel bat Avraham, which is a problem considering that she has a sister Ruchel who is several years older and who was last seen entering the US in 1923, and identified as "single" at a time that Rosa was already married. Edith told me that it is "not possible" that her mother had been in the US prior to 1939.

Dita herself died less than six months after we spoke so we were not able to really discuss this as I wanted to show her the documents first. I plan to visit her grave in Florida next week.

I have not ruled out the possibility that someone in this story was using an assumed identity, but I have no idea how to test that theory. 

Yet another Rosa from Tarnopol born in 1892

So we have these two sisters, Rosa (Rachel) born 1892-1894 and Ruchel born 1889.

But there appears to be another. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum has a 1943 record of a Pickholz family from Szolvya (near Munkacz) who apparently tried to make aliyah.  The family consists of Felix (b. 1888, Krasovka), Rosa (b. 1892, Tarnopol) and Mila and Eszter (both born 1926, Szolvya). My guess is that Rosa is the Pickholz, not Felix, and she looks very much like she could be part of Blime's family, as we do not have other Pikholz births in Tarnopol during those years. Of course, that could not possibly be the case, but I am recording the story of this family here due to the similarities.

The Central Zionist Archives has this same record, but neither institution was able to provide further information, nor was ITS or anyone else.

The USHMM says to ask the CZA and the CZA says to ask the USHMM, as each claims it received the information from the other.. One would think that if there were forms for aliyah, the CZA would have them, but apparently not.

The death of Rosa's father Abraham Brandes

We know nothing about the death of Blime's husband Abraham Brandes and no one seems to mention him anywhere. It must have been before the War, as Blime appears as a widow. He could have died in Tarnopol during the period for which we have no records. I have no idea when the family moved to Vienna, but there does not appear to be a relevant death record there.

There is a 27 September 1894 death records for a Mendl Abraham Brandes in Vienna, but he cannot be Blime's husband - certainly not with a daughter Chaje born in December 1896.