Monday, June 1, 2020

It's That Time of Year Again. The Skalat Memorial Service.

Sunday at five-thirty, the Skalaters in Israel gathered at the memorial in the cemetery in Holon, just south of Tel-Aviv, to remember our community and its members, seventy-seven years after the destruction of the ghetto. No "all the Skalaters," of course, especially this year when some are still considered "high risk" for the virus. Yocheved Sarid is one of those who was not able to be there, but her four children were.

There were nearly thirty people in attendance - fifteen men and nearly that many women. Three women who actually lived in Skalat. Everyone wore masks.

There were copies for the taking of the Hebrew version of Avraham Weisbrod's Yiddish yizkor book. This edition includes about sixty pages of personal testimonies, organized by Lusia Milch. Zvika Sarid, who has run the memorial service for quite a few years now, read one of those testimonies, by Phyllis Nissenbaum Linnel, (p. 153).

Zipi Tal - the daughter of Chaim Dlugacz and Cyla Pikholz  - read some prepared remarks based on her own experience as a second-generation survivor. Her parents came to Israel in 1939 and her mother's two surviving sisters came some years after the war ended.

Zipi Tal, center, with the hat
Tova "Giza" Zehava, who survived the Holocaust in Skalat as a child, spoke from the heart about her own experiences, with an emphasis on her mother's sister Betka Marder and her infant son. Betka's husband was Moshe "Munio" Pickholz, whom I believe to be a third cousin of my father.

Chaim Sarid reviewed the situation of the two memorials in Skalat - one in the corner of the soccer field which had been the Jewish cemetery and one in nearby Novosilka. He reported on the need for repairs and the associated finances. He had sent some photos in advance of the service and asked for $100 contributions.

The memorial in Novosilka in better days
Zvika asked me to read Psalm 130 and say Kaddish.

Same time next year.

Monday, May 18, 2020

The 1929 Envelope From Penza

Seventeen months ago, I wrote at some length about a company which can take DNA samples from old envelopes - whether from the sealed flaps or the stamps - for use in genealogy. I have nine envelopes that were sent in the 1920s from Penza Russia, where my great-grandfather and namesake was living, to my grandmother's brother in Brooklyn. I scanned the envelopes and the company - totheletter DNA in Brisbane Australia - thought that three of them looked suitable for DNA extraction.
The process is two-fold. First they extract the DNA, then if that is successful, they test it and upload it to GEDmatch. Of course, I have no idea if my great-grandfather is the person who sealed the envelope. That could have been done for instance by his second wife, who is not my great-grandmother. Or her daughter. Or the post office worker.

A few months ago, I decided to give it a try, using the May 1929 letter.

This morning, I received the report on the extraction. Here it is in full.

Hi Israel

We’ve finally received the results from the lab. We only found a minute amount of DNA in your sample. This will not be suitable for further processing at this time.

We’ve attached two images below - one of what a fresh DNA sample would look like during a quality check, and your sample. You  can see the images are quite different. We would not expect DNA from an old envelope to ever look like the fresh sample, but nevertheless we would expect to see some “bumps”.

We are working on a solution to process very low yield / quality samples which we hope to have in place by the end of the year. Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) is currently an option, but is very expensive and still carries the risk of failing. Our solution will aim to bridge the gap between microarray technology (the much cheaper option, which would have been used when you did your own DNA testing at a company such as and WGS.

What we can do when we have our solution ready, is to process this sample at some point to see if we do get any data out of it. I really can’t provide you with an estimate of the chances of success. The fact that there was such minimal DNA in your sample makes it challenging.

I’m sorry we weren’t able to get a better result with your envelope, but I hope we will be able to help you in the future. Please do ask if you have any questions.

Thank you for your support and we wish you well during this time.

Kind regards
This is what a fresh sample looks like:

And this is what ours looks like:
Definitely not good enough.
I am certainly not going for the very expensive Whole Genome Sequencing. I could try another of my samples, but the rest of the batch was not encouraging.

Hi Israel

We had 17 samples. Five had no DNA at all. The rest could potentially be successful via Whole Genome Sequencing but we are reluctant to recommend that when the stakes are high i.e. it is very expensive, and we may still not get a useable result. We expect to overcome this with our solution we are working on right now. If it were available today, we would recommend running your sample on it.

Kind regards
So I shall take Joscelyn's advice and wait until they have completeed their new process which is currently under development. Even then, I might try an extraction from a second envelope to increase the chances of success.

I like to say that sometimes "no" is also an answer. But sometimes "no" tells you nothing at all.

So that's the story.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Testing Siblings - Redux

I have written about the importance of testing siblings on any number of occasions, each time as background to a story. Here is another one from the last few days.

I received an email from a fellow named David, saying that he had seen indications on GEDmatch that we may be second cousins. He gave me a list of eight family surnames, none of which match any of mine.

I expected to tell him that the matching segments are likely from two or more distinct common ancestors, but first I looked at our kits on the GEDmatch One-to-One tool.

Three segments, all less than 10 cM. Nothing near second cousin level.  Obviously his match must be one of my cousins, listed under my email.

So I looked at David's top matches and one of my paternal second cousins stood out.
Well, 248 cM certainly looks like a second cousin - with segments of 42.6 cM, 34 cM and 33.4 cM and five more over 19.5 cM. But still, these could have come from several different common ancestors. On the other hand, a segment over 40 cM and two more over 30 cM looks encouraging.

I also recognized one of David's surnames as someone on that cousin's other side - I think a maternal grandmother.

This second cousin has a full brother who has tested as well as a first cousin, who is also my second cousin. Here is the brother.
Where David matches the sister with 248 cM, he matches the brother with only 116.8 cM. That's less than half. And of those 116.8 cM, only the segments on chromosomes 10 and 16 are among David's matches with the sister.

David's match with their first cousin is not worth mentioning.

So I wrote all this to David, bcc'ing the female cousin, so they can examine surnames. (This particular cousin is good about that.)

But my point, of course, is that had the sister not tested, all David would have had is the brother's second-cousin-once-removed level match. Would he have followed it up? Who knows!

Test first cousins. Especially test second cousins. But don't neglect the siblings. It matters.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

A Very Deep Connection or Just A False Segment

Every few months, I look at the recent FTDNA matches of my 100+ family kits. I save all those which the company calls "third cousin to fifth cousin" or closer, put them in separate spreadsheets for each of my families and sort by match names. Then I go through them painstakingly looking for matches which look worth following up, based on the longest matching segments. Most of my fully Jewish kits have 2-300 such matches.

Then I write to the matches and ask them to give me their GEDmatch kit numbers so I can run the match against each family, using the indispensable Multiple Kit Analysis on Tier1.

In this round, covering the previous five months, I wrote to eighty-nine people and after two weeks thirty-one have responded. I consider that a good rate of reply, perhaps helped by the fact that people are stuck at home with nothing to do. Some of those give me other family kits to check as well.

It is rare when one of these turns out to be an actual, identifiable relative - either of mine or of some of my cousins - but I find the exercise useful in giving some direction. (I plan to write about a new actual relative later this week.) I also get an occasional new match on one of my special segments, such as the right end of chromosome 21.

Then there is Helen's match.

Helen has a run of the mill match on chromosome 19 with six Pikholz descendants which is too small to be useful, probably going back well before 1800. Not only is it small, but it only includes a few of the twenty-odd family members who might match that segment.

On chromosome 10, Helen has an unusual match with both my half second cousin Fred, my fifth cousin Cyndi (over 15 cM) and Cyndi's brother. Fred's only Jewish grandparent is my paternal grandmother's half sister, so matches with Fred do not have the endogamy which so complicates our Jewish research. This should be my great-great-grandmother's Zelinka from Trencin County Slovakia, where they lived since at least as far back as the mid-1700s.

On the other hand, we have tests from descendants of my grandmother and her full brother and sister and they do not share this segment. So perhaps this segment is from Fred's grandmother's other side, who lived in Budapest.

None of this rings any bells for Helen.

Then I ran Helen's kit against my mother's side and found these two segments on chromosome 7. The one on the left is about 12 cM and the one on the right is 18 cM. The matches are with one of my first cousins and his nephew. Since there are no matches with the rest of my family, this clearly appeared to be on my cousin's mother's side, where the known surnames are Kalson (or Keilson), Sadofsky and Brinn, all from Lithuania.
Then I took a more comprehensive look. The segment on the right includes five near-identical matches of nearly 8 cM with my brother, two of my sisters, my paternal second cousin Susan and Fred. And everyone triangulated with everyone else.

There seemed only three possibilities. Perhaps my maternal cousins' Lithuanian ancestors and my own Slovakian Zelinkas or Rosenzweigs had a common ancestor who left us some common DNA. Perhaps the set of seven small matches were a false segment that somehow carried through to five descendants of my great-grandparents. Or perhaps only Fred and Susan's segments are false and this segment is on my mother's side, shared with her brother's son and grandson.

That third possibility seems wrong to me. But I am not enamored of either of the others.

But Helen has one other segment that may shed some light. On chromosome 10, Helen has a segment of 15 cM with Fred and 10 cM with my cousin's nephew. And they triangulate.
It is hard to call this one false. So there really appears to be a long ago common ancestor of my Slovakians and my cousin's mother's Lithuanians.

I think. Helen, of course, has no idea.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Nava - A New Match on Chromosome 21, With A Twist

I have written in this space about my great-grandmother's chromosome 21 on several occasions, most recently barely two months ago, based on an article I wrote for the JGSGB publication Shemot.. The quick background is that two of Regina Bauer's grandchildren and three great-grandchildren match her brother's grandson on a segment of 23 cM on chromosome 21. Her known ancestral names are Bauer, Lowinger, Stern, Grunwald and Hercz from Hungarian towns south of Budapest.

Smaller matches on that same segment are three of my cousins on a different side, which are almost certainly from an ancestor they share with one another, but not with the rest of my family. Their ancestry there would be Zwiebel and Lewinter from the Tarnopol area of east Galicia.

As I wrote two weeks ago:
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.
 My recent piece discusses the fact that I have about three dozen other people who match on that segment, the largest being Robbie whose match with Shabtai is 19 cM. Those who have responded to my inquiries have little to add to my research, though one has Bauers with different geography.

So what brings me back to this segment? A week or so ago, I received an inquiry from a woman named Nava, here in Israel, who has a match with me on MyHeritage. This is not the Nava whom I discussed in red two weeks ago, but someone else.

This is Nava's match with our group. The six with the red blobs near the top are my Bauers and the three towards the bottom are the Zwiebel/Lewinter cousins. I have labelled Shabtai and Robbie by name.
Nava's match with Shabtai is over 18 cM, nearly as large as Robbie's but a bit further to the left.

She also has matches that go further left with lines 3, 4, 5, 12 and 33. I brought that to the attention of those matches but have not heard from them. Truth be told, I do not know that I want to midwife that correspondence on my own.

But it gets better. We also have this new segment. This is a small match - just over 10 cM with Shabtai and generally barely worth mentioning. Except for one thing.
This smaller match belongs to Joseph - Nava's husband!

In fact, they have five small segments in common which indicate one or more ancestors common to both of them, but probably much further back than their own ancestral knowledge.

And of course, some of those segments may be false.

But there is more. Two weeks ago I wrote this:
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.
Nava's husband Joseph is the first of the matches on chromosome 21 who also matches another of my Bauer segments, in this case on chromosome 17. The matches are my father's sister and brother and three of my sisters. And of course Shabtai, who is the basis for this comparison.

Of course, I have no way of knowing - at least for now - if the segments on chromosomes 21 and 17 come from a single ancestor but the lead itself is interesting. I am waiting to hear from Nava and Joseph about their ancestral surnames and geography, but I am not optomistic. Nava keeps referring to Belarus/Lithuania.

The "Segment Search" tool gives quite a few matches on chromosome 17, all on the segment on the right in the figure above. (I ran it with a threshold of 13 cM, just to keep it manageable. There are another two dozen in the 10-13 cM range. And remember, "Matching Segments" is limited to the top ten thousand matches.)
I wrote to some of these chromosome 17 matches about two years ago. Perhaps I shall revisit these.