Friday, September 30, 2016


The title of this blog, "Commencement" is more about when I am writing it than about what I have to say. It means "beginning," but as any graduate knows, it's the name of the ceremony that marks the end of some level of formal schooling. It may also mark new beginnings for the individual participants, but each on his own path and each in his own way.

Like the turning of the calendar year.

Traveling and speaking
I have never traveled abroad as much as in the past year. Three trips, nine weeks, twenty-four presentations (plus one more that was snowed out), even two television interviews. Lots of family visits, including with close relatives I hadn't seen in many years.

But enough about last year. Next year is upon us and although some potential speaking venues say "talk to us later," more say "talk to us about 2018, as we are already booked." I cannot think that far ahead.

I am giving one presentation at RootsTech in Salt Lake City, and like last year I'd like to set up a few events before and after. Mostly before, because of the timing. Three dates are nailed down, with a few others under discussion and (ATTENTION PROGRAM CHAIRS!) the schedule looks like this.
22 January (Sunday) - JGS of Maryland
29 January (Sunday) - JGS of Philadelphia
10 February (Friday) - RootsTech
  • The days between Baltimore and Philadelphia are available for the east coast. 
  • The days following Philadelphia are available for most anywhere. 
  • I want to use the days leading up to RootsTech for research in Salt Lake City. 
  • Notable are the Sundays on either end of RootsTech, which are still available.

I am certainly not limiting myself to my basic genetic genealogy presentation "Lessons in Jewish DNA - One Man's Successes and What He Learned on the Journey." That's what is scheduled for Philadelphia and RootsTech, but there will be something new in Baltimore. "’s Lazarus Tool As It Applies to Two Kinds of Endogamy" which I unveiled in Seattle is also a possibility, as are some other topics.

Invitations from non-Jewish groups are most welcome.

Nana's mother's side,
the Bauers and the Sterns
The coming year also includes a trip to Slovakia and Hungary in the spring. My paternal grandmother's father is from Trencin County Slovakia and her mother is from Kunszentmiklos and Kalocsa Hungary and among other things, I expect to find graves for both sets of her grandparents. Also participating in this trip will be my first cousin Linda, my fifth cousin Cyndi and probably another fifth cousin Susan. We are working with Karesz Vandor of Hungarian Roots on some of the arrangements.

As it happens, a few days ago someone who heard me speak in northern Israel last year told me about a friend of hers in Prague who is a Zelinka relative of mine and talking to her should help us with the Slovakian portion of our trip. The one here speaks to me in Hebrew and to the woman in Prague in Czech. I wrote to the Prague cousin in English and she replied in a sort of Hebrew in Latin letters with a Czech "accent." Of course, conversation with Linda and Cyndi is strictly English, though Linda can manage basic Hebrew. Karesz speaks everything.

(The places in red on these maps are where Nana's ancestors lived.)

Nana's father's side, the Rosenzweigs and the Zelinkas
Then there is the IAJGS Conference in Orlando. To tell the truth, I'm not thinking that far ahead yet. And I have submitted proposals for the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference, but they have not yet issued notices of acceptance.

Little Sister
There is a prayer called "Little Sister," written 7-800 years ago, which opens the New Year service - this year, Sunday evening. More precisely, although it is printed in most versions of the service, most Ashkenazic congregations don't say it, while the Sepharadim sing it in unison.

But we all know the takeaway lines.

Seven of the eight verses end with the line "The year will end and with it, its curses." The eighth concludes "Let the year and its blessings begin." Often, we put those two phrases together as a blessing for the New Year.

We exit a year that we all experienced together and enter a year where we each have our own hopes and dreams.

May you and your families be written and sealed in the Book of Life.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Ancestry and Me

In Parts Two and Three of my series on What I did Over the Summer, I mentioned testing my DNA with

While I was in Seattle, I spoke with Crista Cowan about getting access to Aunt Betty's kit and to her son Ed's. Crista did whatever hocus-pocus she does and I was invited to see those two kits. One time. After that, any attempt to look again gave me this, on the right.

That happened both with Aunt Betty's kit and with Ed's.

In the meantime, I had posted a tree on Ancestry, of only my own personal ancestors. With none of the collateral lines that just tend to confuse people. But more importantly with none of the lines of the other Pikholz descendants who have tested. I am not sure what I need to do here or what would just make it more complicated.

So a couple of days ago, I received a notice that my results had come in.
I clicked through and reviewed the settings which determine what information my matches can see. I told them they can show my actual name rather than my Ancestry user name. They don't have a "none of your business" option for birth year, so I chose 1881.

But then I saw a button called "View Another Test" that had not been on the screen previously and that gave me access to Aunt Betty and Ed.

I peeked at the ethnicity, even though I know not to take it seriously. Aunt Betty is 98% "European Jewish" with bits of "Middle East" and "Iberian Peninsula." Mine is 92% "European Jewish" and 4% "Middle East" with bits of Caucasus, Iberian Peninsula and Ireland. Ireland? Really? Maybe that explains why my parents painted the kitchen on Stanton Avenue and the living and dining rooms on Denniston in green.

So on to the matches. I have no "shared ancestor hints" and no "starred matches" - I suppose if I ever have one, I'll find out what it is - and 5134 "4th cousins or closer." When I looked, that was not exactly the case. Aunt Betty and Ed show up first, of course. Then Berek, a known third cousin once removed on my mother's side. (Until about two years ago, we thought his mother and all her family were killed in the Holocaust. In fact we didn't even know the names of his grandparents' five children.)

Those are followed by four people called "Possible range: 3rd - 4th cousins Confidence: Extremely High." 

After that a long list of "Possible range: 4th - 6th cousins" - two of whom with "extremely high" confidence and others just "very high." Ancestry and I clearly have a different understanding of "4th cousins or closer." I don't see 4th-6th" as meeting that criterion.

Most of those matches do not use anything resembling real names. I am used to Family Tree DNA, where most people use their real names.

They offer no information about any of these matches except a few words on their ethnicities, how recently they logged in and whether or not they have trees on ancestry. That last is not always correct - I am a match to Aunt Betty and it says I have no tree - but of course I do.

They have a "send message" button and I wrote to the first dozen or so with a message something like:

I have just received my matches from I have never worked with Ancestry, but I am deeply involved with Family Tree DNA, so I know a thing or two about genetic genealogy.
Ancestry says we are fairly closely related, but give no information other than this contact link.
If you want to talk, you can find me at . I can send you an invitation to my ancestry tree - which in order not to waste your time includes only my ancestors, not collateral lines.
Perhaps I'll hear back from some of them. I then looked for those same people among Aunt Betty's matches. I mean, any of my matches on my father's side are likely to match Aunt Betty. Problem is, after looking through the first dozens of matches for both of us, none of them do. My matches are certainly not all on my mother's side, so I am not sure why it shows up like this.

There is a limit - and it's pretty restricted - to how many of these 4th-6th that I am going to contact, at least at this stage. 

Meantime, I have heard from three other people who see me as a match, people I do not see as my matches, at least not near the beginning. One says I'm a 5th-8th cousin (do people really write to people that obscure?), a second who just says "distant" and a third whom I already know from FTDNA as some kind of fairly close relative on my mother's side.

Maybe I'll get this figured out. Or maybe more important things will get in the way. Perhaps one of my matches will respond and I'll learn something that way.

Housekeeping notes
After several weeks of selling Family Finder kits at the sale price of $69, Family Tree DNA has set the price at $79. Apparently that replaces the regular $99 price, though I have not seen an announcement to that effect.

FTDNA has also been getting results out earlier than planned for the last few weeks. I have some new family results that are not what I expected and I'll be writing about some of them soon.

The incomparable Lara Diamond has completed her trip to her ancestral towns in Ukraine. She should be reporting soon at her blog, Lara's Jewnealogy. It should have much more than she has shown us thus far on Facebook.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Family Tree DNA vs. GEDmatch

The last few test results from Family Tree DNA came in ahead of schedule and at the beginning of this week I received the Family Finder results for a woman I will call B. Her grandmother is Sheva Pikholz Weinstein whose children were born in Nemerow Podolia in the 1890s, into the early 1900s, so I'm guessing Sheva was born about 1870.

I have no idea what Pikholz family she belongs to. She never left Europe, so we have no ready access to a grave which might have her father's name.

The other family we have in Nemerow is Nellie Rochester, who was also born about 1870 and who has six great-grandchildren in Kansas City. One of those - Joyce - tested back in the early days of our project, but had very weak matches with only a small number of Pikholz descendants.

When I found the reference to Sheva and her family last year, it was clear that she was probably Nellie Rochester's sister and that her granddaughter - B - was very likely a second cousin of Joyce's father and his brother.

But it took me until my recent trip, when I spoke in Durham, to get the test done.

B's results showed just over eight thousand matches and I fully expected to find Joyce at the top of the list. Not only did that not happen, but B has 155 matches before the first Pikholz descendant shows up and even that isn't Joyce.

At the right are B's first twenty-four Pikholz matches. She has twenty-six more, all of whom are suggested fifth cousins-remote cousins.

Those in purple are Rozdolers, the reds are descendants of my great-great-grandmother Rivka Feige Pikholz, the browns are other Skalaters and those in black - including Joyce - are mysteries.

The numbers in red include matches on the X chromosome.

My regular readers will recognize the first two as my fourth cousins, the great-grandchildren of Uncle Selig whom I have discussed here many times.

The relationship order as determined by FTDNA remains very much of a mystery. B and Joyce have 90 cM of matches with a longest segment of nearly 27 cM - almost fifty percent longer than any other on this list. Yet Joyce is only B's seventh-ranking Pikholz match. And there are other rankings that do not appear to make a lot of sense.

Still, at third cousin-fifth cousin, Joyce is not far from what I would have expected and I am still trying to get a couple of her cousins to test on the theory that Joyce herself may be an outlier.

We are used to the fact that there are differences between FTDNA results and GEDmatch results. They tell us that it has to do with differences in the analysis, the rounding, the parsing and other catch-all terms that obscure more than they enlighten.

We live with that. But sometimes the pot boils over. This is one of those times.

In the chart above, I recorded the predicted relationships, total centiMorgans and longest segments for the first twenty-four matches both for FTDNA and for GEDmatch and added a "ranking" column for each. At the far right, I added a column showing the difference in ranking between GEDmatch and FTDNA for each person.

Anna and David, who are first and second according to FTDNA's reckoning, fall to thirty-fourth and thirty-fifth according to GEDmatch. Seven others have differences in rank of twenty or more. My father's cousin Herb who is thirteenth on the FTDNA list does not appear on GEDmatch at all, nor does Jane.

Someone phoned me this very day to tell me that she had compared several of her family members and her GEDmatch results are nowhere near her FTDNA results. "Which should I use?" she asked me. I know that the companies' algorithms are proprietary, but nonetheless perhaps someone can explain how these two sources - whom we depend on so much - can be so far apart. And indeed "Which should I use?" is relevant for all of us, isn't it?

Housekeeping notes
The first of my two television interviews with "Tracing Your Family Roots" on Channel 10 if Fairfax Virginia is now available here. I dislike watching or listening to myself, so I have no idea if it's any good.

There are also Seattle recordings which I'll post later.