Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Vagaries of Autosomal DNA

I received Family Finder matches today for a known cousin. He is not yet part of my project so I cannot look at his matches with all the cousins together, but I did have a look at five individuals.

The first two are known first cousins to the match, and to each other.  The total cMs fall within the norm for first cousins according to Blaine's Shared cM Project.

The third match is with a half-nephew, which according to the Project is clustered with first cousins. But this match is significantly larger than the two first cousins, even a bit higher than the 95% percentile (1159 cM).

The fourth is a known second cousin - reasnable but slightly over the 95% percentile (397 cM).

The fifth is a bit of a surprise, as she is the sister of the second match at the top. Her match is more than 30% larger than his and this too is outside the 95th percentile. Her longest segment (94 cM) is about the s ame as her brother's (92 cM), so clearly there are significantly more segments. That longest segment is the same for both matches and is the segment we famously share with the descendants of Uncle Selig.

Each has segments that the other does not but clearly the sister has some very large ones, most notably 83 cM on chromosome 4, 49 cM on chromosome 11,  and 70 cM on chromosome 16.

Nothing here is out of the ordinary, but it gives me another opportunity to bang on the drum for testing everyone you can. Yes, siblings too.  They can be very different.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Developments in Chromosome 21

Some months ago, Jessica Feinstein, the editor of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain quarterly Shemot, asked me to write a brief piece for their winter DNA issue. That publication came out recently and my article is reproduced below.

There is, however, something new which came in after Shemot was already closed. I have added that here in red.

Chromosome 21 – Perhaps My Favorite Brick Wall
Israel Pickholtz

Background  - The Bauers and the Sterns
I manage DNA kits of over 120 people – about two-thirds of them Pikholz descendants and most of the rest known members of my other families. Those include two grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren of my father’s maternal grandmother Regina Bauer Rosenzweig and one grandson (Shabtai) of her brother. Regina Bauer was born in 1870, one of five daughters and two sons of Simon (Shemaya) Bauer (1833-1902) and Fani (Feige) Stern (1842-1911).

The Bauers were a large family in Kunszentmiklos Hungary, about an hour south of Budapest;  in the 1700s they had lived in Apostag, about half an hour further south. We have many Bauer records from both places.  Fani Stern was born in Kalocsa, another half hour further south, and her father Salomon (Selig) Stern (~1805-1862) was from nearby Paks. Fani’s mother was a Grunwald from Perkata, which is across the Danube from Kunszentmiklos.

Regina’s paternal grandmother was probably a Lowinger and Fani Stern’s maternal grandmother was a Hercz, so I have five of Regina’s ancestral surnames to work with. Jewish research being what it is, I have no other great-grandparent with that many ancestral surnames.

When I first learned of nearly two years ago, I mapped out twelve segments where Shabtai matches multiple descendants of Regina with at least 18 cM. The largest of these are 61, 57, 47, 38 and 35 cM.  Using the “Segment Search” tool on GEDmatch Tier1 (this was previously known as “Matching Segments Search”), I was able to see other people who match those specific segments. Most of my larger segments of interest had few outside matches, but I wrote to the matches where I could and none of them knew anything helpful.

While reviewing my Family Tree DNA match alerts, I found Robbie from Chattanooga Tennessee. Robbie showed matches with my father’s sister, my second cousin Susan, my brother, one of my sisters and me – and Shabtai. The match was 19-21 cM on chromosome 21 (where our segment with Shabtai is only 23 cM) and clearly showed that Robbie had a common ancestor with Regina Bauer. It is his only match with us. I asked Robbie about his ancestry, but he is adopted, so could not tell me anything.

But this is only half the story.  Here is Robbie’s full match with us on chromosome 21.
In addition to the six Bauer descendants, he matches three of my cousins on my father’s paternal side – Pinchas, Rhoda and Roz. Rhoda and Roz are my second cousins, first cousins to one another. Pinchas is our third cousin.  But it’s more complicated than that. Pinchas is a third cousin of Roz and Rhoda on a second path that has nothing to do with the Pikholz family. That second path is almost certainly what is in play here.

The great-grandmothers of Pinchas, Rhoda and Roz are the sisters Beile and Jutte Zwiebel and their mother is Ester Chava Lewinter. The Zwiebels and the Lewinters are from the Tarnopol area of east Galicia and have nothing to do with anything Hungarian, since 1800. Nonetheless, the three of them triangulate with the six Bauers – everyone matches everyone else on this segment.
This is a classic case of Jewish endogamy, where my Hungarian family and my Galician cousins have some sort of common ancestor. Maybe on the Bauer side, maybe on the Stern side. Maybe on the Zwiebel side, maybe on the Lewinter side. Who knows! But a common ancestor there is – recent enough that the match between the groups survives yet far enough in the past that it predates the known geography of the families. The fact that Robbie has only this one segment with us sounds like it is further back than the 20 cM segment might otherwise indicate.

We have no cousins of either Regina Bauer or Beile and Jutte Zwiebel, so we cannot determine whether our segment 21 comes from their fathers’ sides or their mothers’ sides.

The Other Matches
Recently I went back to the Segment Search tool on GEDmatch Tier1 to see who else matches on that segment. There are about three dozen who match our chromosome 21 with more than 12 cM. Five of those have a match of 18.0-18.2 cM and another’s match is 16.8 cM. The rest are 12.0-15.1 cM. Robbie’s match of 19.3 cM is still the largest. A few of them are managed by people I know as researchers – or even know personally. A few are related to one another. By and large, these are kits that – like Robbie’s – don’t have significant matches with us outside of chromosome 21.

I wrote to all of them. Fifteen responded.

One – Andrew – has a Bauer grandmother. He writes:

My line of the Bauer family, and most likely yours too, originated from Moravia, and from there Northern Hungary (what is now Slovakia), particularly in Hluboka, Nyitra County. In the early 19th century, there was a great movement of Jews (and also Slovaks, or Tóts) to south-eastern Hungary, where more opportunities opened up at that time. Your Bauers were not that far there from  my Bauers, they may have visited each other, but how they were related, I don’t know; perhaps you can find out. I have looked at your Kunszentmiklos Bauer database, many names are similar to my list, but they are clearly not the same people.

Regina Bauer spoke German, in addition to Hungarian, so there may be something to this. And if it is real, it may or may not include chromosome 21.

 Andrew has no Bauer candidate for a Y-DNA test, so we cannot compare his line to mine.

Another match is the daughter of a woman named Zendel and suggests a similarity to Zwiebel. I don’t think so.

Another dozen said they did not have any of the seven surnames on my side or any geography of real interest. The rest of the matches never replied.

Last week, I received a note from a woman named Nava, with whom I had corresponded earlier about chromosome 21. Nava's match to us on chromosome 21 is small, about 10 cM with Robbie and a bit smaller with my six Bauers. It does not match Pinchas, Rhoda and Roz who start a bit further to the right on this segment, but that does not bother me.

Nava writes:

I've built out much more of my family tree since we communicated last, at which point I was just beginning the research. I took a look again at the info you shared in your email and have noticed a possible connection. 

I've followed my mother's line back to my great-great-grandmother. Her name was Szara Hercz, born 1830 in Berczalja, Saros, Kingdom of Hungary (current-day Slovakia). I wonder if that could be the link we share on your Hungarian branch as you mentioned the name Hercz? She married Saja Czigler (born 1829) and their daughter, Anna (b. 1859) emigrated to the states in 1892. One of her daughters was my great-grandmother, Blanche Zuckerman, who died in New York when I was a child.
So perhaps this segment come from a common Hercz family. Or not. Our relevant towns are 156 miles apart which proves nothing one way or another. (Actually, her Hercz family lived quite near my great-grandFATHER's family.)

Nava has no one with an MtDNA line to her second great-grandmother so the fact that I have one to my fourth great-grandmother (H10a1b). 

Nava has no matches with our six Bauers (or Robbie) over 10 cM on any other segment, though she does have a small match with my brother and my cousin Susan on the same segment.Of course, that needn't be from the same ancestor as the one on Chromosome 21.

This brick wall will fall
How, I don’t know. More testers, more patience by me, more DNA analysis tools – for the DNA itself and for the test results – more older records, more traditional genealogy research to find additional descendants of these families, even cleaning up the Kunszentmiklos cemetery.

When, I don’t know that either. I’d like to think it will be in my lifetime.

For now I need to keep shining a light on this corner of my family genome. We never know what will prompt a breakthrough.

But this brick wall will give up its secrets.

Israel Pickholtz is a US-born professional genealogist who has been living in Israel for forty-six years. His flagship work is The Pikholz Project, which means to identify and reconnect all Pikholz descendants. He blogs at, writes and speaks on genealogy in Israel and abroad as the opportunities arise and is a member of the Israel Genealogical Society, Gesher Galicia, the Guild of One-Name Studies and a number of SIGs and research groups and a two-time alumnus of the Genealogy Research Institute of Pittsburgh. In 2015 he published his book "ENDOGAMY: One Family, One People" about his successes with DNA and lessons that are relevant to all genetic research. He has recently relocated from Jerusalem to Ashkelon and can be contacted at .

Thursday, September 26, 2019

FOR THE RECORD: My Grandfather's Name

Sometimes I write about matters of general genealogical interest; other times it's more personal.  Knowing (hoping?) that this blog will be a significant part of the official family record, I have an occasional post with the intent to get certain facts and stories "on the record." This is one of those.

The question
My father is the eldest of three. In the last two weeks we lost both his brother, Uncle Bob, and his sister, Aunt Betty. Uncle Bob was buried in Huntington West Virginia where he lived his final months with his daughter and son-in-law Linda and Mitch. Aunt Betty is in Poale Zedeck Sheraden in Pittsburgh, behind her parents. Over forty years ago, she pointed and said "That's where we will be."

Aunt Betty being brought
to rest behind her mother
During the service at the funeral home, Aunt Betty was called "Basche Feige bat Chaim Menahem." At Uncle Bob's funeral last week, he was also called "ben Chaim Menahem (and Miriam)."

After he returned home, my eldest son wrote and asked about the fact that my grandfather's grave says "Menahem Chaim." So I would like to set the record straight.

My grandfather, Morris Pickholtz, was Menahem, called Menahem Mendel by some in his close family. When he was fifty-one, he had a serious heart attack and for a while it was not clear if he would survive. I was born during that period and there was a definite possibility that I would be named for him. The name Chaim was added.

He lived another nine years and eventually died of a stroke and in the intervening years, his used Chaim Menahem. Both my father and Uncle Bob were called to the Torah as "ben Chaim Menahem." I know all this because I was there.

The actual story
When his gravestone was erected, the long-time rabbi of Poale Zedeck, Rabbi Joseph Shapiro, told Aunt Betty that his original name should appear first so his stone says "Menahem Chaim."

Four in a row. My grandparents on the left. Next to them Aunt Helen and Uncle Joe. Two brothers married two sisters.
Two grandsons were born after my grandfather died.  Aunt Betty's youngest son is Menahem Chaim, as on the stone. Uncle Bob's son in Chaim Menahem, as he was called. If my youngest sister had been a boy, she would have been Chaim Menahem. (Two of my second cousins are named for my grandfather - one with Menahem as a first name and a second name from his other side, the other is Menahem Mendel.)

Background on the names
My grandfather was the youngest of ten. Before him were three sisters, three brothers and three more brothers who died before their second birthdays.

My grandfather was born in late 1896 and was given the name Mendel on his birth record.

The death of Mendel Kwoczka
Some months earlier, his mother's uncle Mendel Kwoczka died at age seventy-one. I have no doubt at all that this is where his name comes from.

The uncle Mendel is identified explicitly as the son of Josel and Jute Lea Kwoczka and we already know them as my great-grandmother's paternal grandparents.

My grandfather and his siblings - who is named for whom
We know whom seven of the ten children of my grandparents are named. Well, almost. I wrote at some length about Uncle Max' name here. Both Uncle Max and Uncle Joe reversed their first and middle names - in fact they probably never knew the correct order. In Uncle Joe's case, it was no doubt because the great-grandfather he was named for was known as Josef, as were all the Isak Josefs who were named for him.

I have no idea whom Uncle Dave and Aunt Mary (Miriam) were named for. My guess is that they are both named for people in Isak Fischel's family. We don't really have any Davids or Miriams in the early-generation Skalat Pikholz families.

Also note that my great-grandfather was called Hersch on all his European documents. On his grave as well as on the graves of my grandfather, Uncle Joe and Aunt Bessie, he is called Zvi Hirsch, while on the graves of Uncle Max, Uncle Dave and Aunt Becky, he is called Zvi. Aunt Mary's grave has no Hebrew.

Wishing everyone a good new year. May you be written and sealed in the Book of Life.

לְשָּנָה טוֹבָה תִּכָּתֵבוּ וְתֵחָתֵמוּ

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The New Skalat Pikholz Haplogroup

From time to time, I have reported in this space about my Y-DNA matches, with particular emphasis on the apparent fact that the Skalat Pikholz family are part of the older Spira (sometimes Spiro)  family. In my most recent post on the subject eight months ago, my emphasis was on the Y-111 results of a Spira and a Spiro, whom I have known about for some time, and the three Skalat Pikholz testers (Zachy, "Filip" and I). I also included two other Spiras who had done only Y-37 tests; one I call "Z-man" and one new tester whose actual surname was changed from Spira recently.

My guess at the time was that the Pikholz line split from the other Spiras about nine generations ago. Perhaps a few more. (There are no significant autosomal matches within the above group of seven.)

So what's new?
We have several new developments. First of all, the new Spira tester has upgraded to Y-111 and he is a genetic distance of 3 from "Filip" and me and 4 from Zachy. That is closer to us than the others. The new tester has still not done a Family Finder (autosomal) test, but I would be surprised if he is close enough for an autosomal match.

Second, Family Tree DNA has a new test called Y-700, an upgrade of the Big Y-500. The Y-700 has taken some months because they wanted a new cheek swab. This test is based on Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs), as opposed to the Y-37 and Y-111 which are based on Short Tandem Repeats (STRs). In general, STRs are relevant to more recent generations, while SNPs are more ancient. (That is an oversimplification and you can read more about this subject here and at other blogs.)

The big deal about the SNP tests is that while the STR test can assign all of us to the huge R-M269 haplogroup, the SNP tests assign us more sophisticated haplogroups based on what they call the "terminal SNP." These terminal SNPs are outlined in a haplotree structure.

This is the relevant section of the R-M269 haplotree. All these people are part of haplogroup R-FGC20765, which is the way my own haplogroup was defined when we first began talking about SNPs.

Then, about three years ago, some of us were redefined as R-A9700, while the group on the left had its own set of terminal SNPs. I have been graciously guided through the world of SNPs by Rachel Unkefer, who is an administrator of our haplogroup project.
My paternal and maternal haplogroups
as they appear on my FTDNA home page.

The Y-700 test has identified a new SNP - R-FT56914 - for which three of us (Spira, the new tester and I) have tested positive. The Spiro test is still pending. R-FT56914 is my new terminal SNP and FTDNA shows it on my home page and in the center column of the haplotree above.

The Spiras have a later terminal SNP and they are defined as R-A10520. We have no idea exactly what "later" means, only that it was later than R-FT56914.

This is the newest version of my Y-111 results. "Filip," Zachy and Spiro do not appear in the second column since they have no Y-700 results. (Spiro is, as I said, waiting for his results.)

Since "Filip" and Zachy have not done SNP tests, I cannot know if the new R-FT56914 terminal SNP arose within the last two hundred years which would make it peculiar to me or if it is older and covers all three of us.  At some point, perhaps I'll scrape together some budget to run the Y-700 on one of them.

The two at the bottom are from the R-FGC20755 group. They appear in the far left column on the haplotree together with a third man whose Y-111 does not match mine.

Then there is Jerry Simonowits, on the third line from the bottom. He is significantly further from me than the Spiras. He did the Y-700 but, unlike the rest of us, tested negative for the R-FT56914 SNP. So he remains defined as R-A9700 and appears to my right on the haplotree. 

This is the TiP report for the closest of the Spiras, based on our Y-111 results. Nine-ten-eleven generations to the common ancestor still looks reasonable.

We are still clearly closer to the Spira/Spiro family than to anyone else.

Thursday, August 15, 2019


The following email landed in my inbox over the weekend.


For those not familiar with the area, Radautz 47°51' N 25°55' E is 31 miles (50 km) south of Chernovitz. Both are in historic Bukovina which is just south of east Galicia. It was part of the Austrian Empire but now the two towns are on opposite sides of the border between Ukraine and Rumania. 
We have two Pikholz families who lived in Radautz, both of them descendants of  Mordecai and Taube Pikholz of Skalat. Mordecai is almost certainly the brother of my great-great-grandfather. 

Moshe and Freide Pikholz
Mordecai and Taube's daughter Chane Chaje (~1823-1896) was married to a man named Eliezer (~1822-1878) a Levi who went by his wife's surname - we do not know what surname he was born with.
Eliezer and Chane Chaje's (first-born) son Chaim (~1849-1910) had eight children that we know of, one of whom is Moshe, who married Friede Kruk of Radautz and at least some of their children were born there. Four of those birth records are included in this project.

Moshe and Freide's son Leiser came to Israel and I know his two children. Moshe's other children were killed in the Shoah. The interesting thing that we see in the index is that Freide is called Kruk/Kruck (pronounced Krik) on three records, but is Ellenberg on the 1906 record of the daughter Chane Chaje. My first instinct is to say that Freide's two parents are Ellenberg and Kruk, though it is not clear which is her father and which is her mother. At least not from the index.

The actual records clarify it for us. Leiser's birth record shows Freide's surname as Ellenberg, but that is crossed out and Kruk is written in its place. That sounds to me as though Ellenberg is her father and Kruk her mother and someone realized afterwards that their marriage was not registered. They are from Kolomea.
The record of the youngest of the four - Raizie Mindel - specifies that Freide's parents are indeed Israel Ellenberg and Jente Kruk.
Freide's own birth record does not appear in the Kolomea records, but her sisters' do. And her mother Jente's 1911 death gives the names of HER parents.

Benjamin Hersch and Rivka Bernstein
I have not seen any relevant death records in the Radautz database, but there are some marriages and in particular this:
Benjamin Hersch Bernstein, born 1876, married Rifke Pikholz, born 1877. Rifke is the daughter of Chaim Jankel and Gitel of Olsowze. We know Chaim Yaakov (Jankel) and his wife as the head of our Buczacz family. Chaim Yaakov is the son of Mordecai and Taube Pikholz of Skalat.

I do not see a listing for Olsowze in the JewishGen Gazeteer, but there is a village called Olesha 49°07' N 25°16' E, which is 6.5 miles from Buczacz which could be the right place.

We know of five children of Benjamin Hersch and Rifke - Chaim Juda, Rachel Ziwje, Isak, Abraham and Gitel - and the Radautz database has all five birth records.
These five records confirm what we already know and do not add  anything knew aside from the births themselves. I had been hoping to find the surname of Rifke's mother Gittel.

The Bernstein clan lived in Radautz and the children of Benjamin Hersch and his brother have given names in common, so it will take a bit of additional analysis to identify the next generation in the Radautz records. (Note to self...)

I have had contact with a few descendants here in Israel, but they have been singularly uncooperative.

I really appreciate the work of Bruce, Edgar and their team in getting this material transcribed and making it available at no charge.

Housekeeping notes - coming attractions
22 August 2019, 6:30 – Jewish Genealogy Society of Pittsburgh, Multi-purpose Room of the Heinz History Center
Why Did My Father Know That His Grandfather Had An Uncle Selig?
25 August 2019, 1:30 Jewish Genealogy Society of Maryland, Pikesville Library, 1301 Reiserstown Road
I shall be part of the Ask The Experts panel
27 August 2019 -  Wake Forest University Campus, 1834 Wake Forest Road, Winston -Salem, NC, sponsored by university's Office of Jewish Life.
4:00 - (Student program) Lessons in Jewish DNA: One Man’s Successes and What He Learned On the Journey
5:15 - (open to the public) Why Did My Father Know That His Grandfather Had An Uncle Selig?

Monday, August 12, 2019

Pittsburgh, Baltimore, North Carolina

22 August 2019, 6:30 – Jewish Genealogy Society of Pittsburgh, Multi-purpose Room of the Heinz History Center
Why Did My Father Know That His Grandfather Had An Uncle Selig?

25 August 2019, 1:30 Jewish Genealogy Society of Maryland, Pikesville Library, 1301 Reiserstown Road
I shall be part of the Ask The Experts panel

27 August 2019 -  Wake Forest University Campus, 1834 Wake Forest Road, Winston -Salem, NC, sponsored by university's Office of Jewish Life.
4:00 - (Student program) Lessons in Jewish DNA: One Man’s Successes and What He Learned On the Journey
5:15 - (open to the public) Why Did My Father Know That His Grandfather Had An Uncle Selig?

Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Parents of the Mościska Fathers

A few weeks ago, this dropped into my inbox.
Subject: New records on the All Galicia Database
From: Gesher Galicia SIG <>
Date: Tue, 9 Jul 2019 11:38:03 +0100
X-Message-Number: 3

New vital records and Jewish taxpayer records are now available for all
to search on the All Galicia Database <>.

A. Vital records
- Mielnica (Melnytsya). Jewish deaths, 1820-1851 (162 records)
- Mosciska (Mostyska). Jewish births, 1909-1924 (1,259 records)
- Witkow Nowy (Novyi Vytkiv). Jewish births 1829-1861 (447 records)
As is my wont, I had a look, using the "Records added" option and choosing "in the past month."

The search produced two results, both in Mosciska (also known as Mostyska) which is about a third of the way from Przemysl to Lwow. It is not a town where I have ever seen any Pikholz.

The results included a major surprise. Look at what I marked in red.
The standard Galician birth records list the parents of the mother - and in Lwow the mother's mother's birth surname, at least in some years - but nothing about the father aside from his home town and occupation. But look at what we have here. 

In the first record, it shows both of the father's parents, with given names and birth surnames, as well as the mother's hometown. But oddly, not the father's. It also tells us where the parents of the child were married. The second record has all that, except the mother's surname.

This is a very big deal and I have not seen it in any other towns. There are not a lot of Mosciska birth records in JRI-Poland but the ones I found in the early 1900s had this information as well. So my impression is that this is a local custom, rather than one that simply showed up after the First World War.

How I wish we had those in Rozdol, Skalat and elsewhere!

In the case of Hirsch, the son of Benjamin Pickholz and Reisel Lowin, I did not know the parents of Benjamin. I have a birth record for Benjamin and did not have a wife or children for him. Without the paternal information in Mosciska, I would have had no way of identifying the one in this birth record as the one in the 1893 Rozdol birth.

The second record is from the Skalat part of the family. I know the maternal grandmother; she married in Podwoloczysk and her Pikholz mother was from Husiatyn. In fact, I already have both her 1893 birth record and her Podwoloczysk marriage record. This new birth record, from Mosciska, gives us the son Mechel.

Mechel's mother Brane has three grandchildren here in Israel and this record has given me another opportunity to break their collective silence on all things genealogical. One was once a neighbor of mine and all he was willing to say is "We are not from Galicia, WE are from VIENNA!".

Housekeeping notes
1. I shall be in the US for two weeks, beginning two weeks from now, visiting some of my elders. I have one presentation planned and two or three others pending.
22 August 2019, 6:30 – Jewish Genealogy Society of Pittsburgh, Multi-purpose Room of the Heinz History Center Why Did My Father Know That His Grandfather Had An Uncle Selig?

2. Family Tree DNA is having a sale through August. Here are the major discounts. There are additional discounts on upgrades.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Some Coming Events

Looking past the wedding of my son Devir Tuesday and my subsequent move to Ashkelon next Monday, I am planning a quick trip in August to see some of my elders in West Virginia and Pittsburgh. While I am there I am planning to see my grandchildren in Piscataway and ending up in Baltimore.

Steve Jaron of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Pittsburgh has arranged for me to give a presentation at the Heinz at 6:30 on 22 August. Details as they become available. The subject will be
Why Did My Father Know That His Grandfather Had An Uncle Selig?

This will be my first presentation at the JGS in my home town

We are working on a couple of other things as well.