Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Every Once in a While it's Easy: DNA [and why you should research collateral branches]

A while back, I received an e-mail from Toby about my 3rd cousin once removed, Barbara.  Toby was interested in the potential 2nd-3rd cousin match of Barbara to her relative B.J.  Toby also mentioned a number of other relatives she's had tested.  I've seen them show up in some of the FamilyFinder results, but always very distantly.

I've been attending a lot of DNA lectures, so the first thing I did was pull up the FTDNA chromosome browser.  They share 53 DNA segments, but most of them were small.  Once I filtered out everything under 10cm, I was left with a handful of shared segments, all of them under 20cm.  I figured there was nothing here worth investigating, but I wanted to be nice, so I wrote Toby back and answered her questions.  She was looking for AUERBACH/AVERBUKH connections.

Hi Toby,

Yes, I manage Barbara's kit.  There don't appear to be any strong matches to any of Barbara's known relatives that I've tested (Cooper and Allen/Entes lines).  However, Barbara's paternal grandmother, Edith Goldweber (1898-1989), was the daughter of Motel Goldweber and Chova AVERBACK. Could Averback be a misspelling of Auerback?  Edith Goldweber settled in Cleveland, Ohio.  I'll see what else I can find out about her.

What do you think?


Toby immediately wrote back:

Hi Mindie,
Yes- you've got it. 
Chava Goldweber was the sister of Avram Goldberg, my great grandfather. Their original surname was Auerbach (which is written and pronounced as Averbukh, Averback, Auerbakh etc). this is absolutely verified by paper trail and family .

We had a mini-reunion of Auerbach descendants at my parents house in abt 2008. Barbara's parents and her uncle and aunt Sylvia were all there. 
This isn't a line I'm researching, but now Toby has another kit she can use as a reference point and I know how several other kits that I haven't contacted (because they were too distant) are related to my ALLEN/ENTES family.

Toby also sent me a ton of information about this really interesting line:  

"Our Auerbach/Averbuch family descends supposedly from a lineage of 14 generations of rabbis. I'm still working on that part, BUT what we do know is the following 

1. The earliest known forefather was the Gaon Rabbi Yisrael Auerbach, Rabbi of Kosow. He had one son (at least): Yehuda Leib b abt 1750. 
2. Yehuda Leib was the Gaon Rabbi Yehuda Leibish Auerbach. He was the rabbi and Av Bet Din of Horodenko, then of Kosow later Rabbi of Torcin, and finally Av Bet Din of Vishniewitz where he died in roughly 1810. He wrote a book called Mehokek Yehuda.  He was married twice and had at least 3 sons and 2 daughters by the first wife. Not clear on children from the second wife.
3. Not clear which of the sons was our direct relative. We actually know more about the daughters as they married famous rabbis. 
4. Then we have Mystery Son's child, Rabbi Yitzhak Yehuda Auerbach. He married a woman named Gella. YY was the Rabbi and Av Bet Din of Rozhishche. They are supposed to have had about 10 children. We know 6 of them: Ephraim b. abt 1857, Abram Elya b. 1858 (my great grandfather), Zlota b. 1867, Chava b. 1871 (Barbara's great grandmother), Rochel, and Jennie. YY died before 1885. Gella died before 1904. 

    * Abram came to the US in abt 1885. He brought over his wife, Toba and children, then helped bring over Zlota and Chava. This is family from which B.J. descends.
    * Ephraim was a rabbi who died in 1925 in Horchiv, Russia where he was a rabbi. One of his children came to the US aided by Abram. The rest of that line was killed in the Holocaust. 
    * Zlota married a Siegel. She was known as Sarah in the US 
    * Chava married Mottel Goldweber in Rozhishche and 7 of their children were born there. The whole family was in the US (in Cols OH) by 1911 This is the family from which Barbara  descends. 
    * Jennie married Joseph Bronstein in Russia. Of their 7 children 4 came to the US (Cols OH) and 3 remained in Russia. One child of the family that remained in Russia was able to survive WWII and get out. This is the family from which Jenny [another person who shows up in the DNA matches] descends. 
    * Rochel married Isaac Schafir. Two of their children came to the US, one had descendants who went to Israel, the rest died in Russia in the Holocaust. This is the family from which Ruth [another tested DNA kit] descends. " 

All of this makes me glad that I've been researching people who aren't directly related to me.  The GOLDBERG and GOLDWEBBERs aren't related to anything I'm researching, but they married into my lines.  If I hadn't been researching those collateral branches, we wouldn't have been able to figure out how B.J. connects to Barbara.

IAJGS 2017 Conference

I gave two presentations at the IAJGS conference:

Finding Your Kaplans: How to Research Common Names
Organize and Share Your Genealogy: Methods from the Library of Congress

Both presentations were a part of the IAJGS Live! program and will be posted here as soon as I receive a copy of the talks.

The updated handouts for both the talks can be downloaded at IAJGS 2017 Handouts.  Please let me know if you have any problems downloading the handouts!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Are you looking for the DNA portion of my presentation from last year's IAJGS conference?

I recently suggested that some people look at my "Get them to say yes!" presentation from the 2016 IAJGS conference for information on DNA.  The DNA portion of that presentation starts at 54:46.  You can skip ahead to that point by dragging the status bar at the bottom of the video.  Enjoy!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

DNA Triangulation Made Easy: A Case Study

One of the things that has absolutely fascinated me are the new doors opened up by looking at DNA.  As I mentioned in my "Get them to say yes" presentation, DNA has helped me identify new branches of my family that can then be confirmed via paper trail, photos, and family stories.  DNA suggests new places to look.

I received an e-mail a few months ago addressed to my 3rd cousin 1x removed, Barbara.  Barbara had recently agreed to be tested as a part of a Facebook plea asking for members of a certain branch of my family to test.  The reason I was asking for more people to test is that I'm a huge fan of DNA Triangulation.

DNA Triangulation uses autosomal DNA tests (in this case FamilyTreeDNA's FamilyFinder test) from multiple known relatives to help identify which genetic lines they share with previously unknown genetic matches.  If Saul (a previously unknown person) has a close match with my known relatives David, Sherry, and Matt, then the relationship is probably along the ancestral lines that David, Sherry, and Matt have in common.

The reason to use an autosomal test (aside from the fact that it is the least expensive test) is that autosomal tests look at DNA from both of a person's parents so they can pick up relationships that are not straight paternal line (Y-DNA) or straight maternal line (mtDNA).  So if your mother's father's aunt is the connection between two people,  a FamilyFinder test may pick it up (at least until you get past the 5th cousin level, in which case it fades into the background of random chance or with Jewish endogomy you hit the "we're all Ashkenazi Jews" wall since we're more or less all related to each other).

So, I took one branch of my family, Harry Cooper and Martha Allen, and asked if the oldest living descendant of each of their eight children would be willing to take a DNA test.  I didn't get someone from every branch (yet) but a good number of people agreed.

Harry Cooper and his wife Martha Allen Cooper

The results from one of the branches, Barbara, had her results come back on October 14th. An e-mail showed up in my inbox the very next day.  Apparently Barbara's results had her listed as a 3rd-5th cousin match with him and as a 2nd-3rd cousin match with his mother!

During our e-mail exchange he sent me the results of his mother's chromosome browser results with a number of my known relatives.  Barbara, David, and Stuart are all first cousins to each other.  This enabled me to narrow down the shared genetic line to the ancestors shared by all three people.

As you can see, all four people share a match on chromosome 21, however there are three other spots where three of the four individuals share a segment of DNA that is greater than 5cm.

Okay, what does it tell me?  Does it tell me that Barbara is definitely related to this man's mother?  Probably not yet, but it does make me want to take a closer look at the ancestors that David, Stuart, and Barbara have in common.

Following the DNA Triangulation method, my next step would be to get descendants of the lines that David, Stuart, and Barbara have in common to test.  One of the lines these three have in common is Halperin.  If, for example, I test known Halperin who I can link to these three via a traditional paper trail and the match with these new people continue, then I know to take a closer look at the Halperins.  If there's no match with Halperins, but a match with known relatives who are Isaacsons and not Halperins (David, Stuart, and Barbara are descended from both), then I know to take a closer look at the Isaacson line.

What do you think?  Does this technique seem useful, or is it an expensive waste of time and money in Jewish populations since we're endogomous to begin with?  This is such a new science; we all have so much to learn!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Get them to say YES: Reluctant Relatives, Cold Calls, and DNA Testing

The presentation listing for the Madrona room.

I finally got up the nerve to apply to speak at the 2016 IAJGS (International Association of Jewish Genealogists) convention and was accepted.  I was in a fairly small room, but it was still standing room only.  I was introduced by the amazing Lara Diamond, who also wrote a bit about my talk on her blog at Lara's Genealogy: IAJGS 2016 Day 5.  A preliminary version of this talk was presented at a JGSMD meeting and was revised and expanded based on the questions people asked.

A small, but packed room with my first cousin 1x removed Estelle in the front row.

The first thing most people think of when interviewing in relatives is how many names, dates, or places that person can provide.  I try to turn that idea on its head.  What can I give THEM?  What stories can I share?  What photos can I provide that they might not have seen, or that might bring back good memories?  How can we become friends?  We all share things with people that we like.  If you give me a gift, I'm going to give you a gift in return -- the gift of friendship, memories, of wanting to help you and join you on that journey to discover our history.  This idea, connecting family and becoming a part of a larger group, is at the heart of my research.  This is what I hoped to convey in my talk.

I tried to turn this central philosophy and approach into a series of concrete techniques for reaching out to relatives, including those who are reluctant to meet with a stranger, and provide examples of research successes to inspire and encourage people to expand their research in new areas.

The lecture was really broken into three sections:

  • "Relatives" 
    • How do you contact them?
    • How do you prepare for the meeting or interview?
    • What role does documentation play?
    • Why it's important to be an ethical researcher.
  • "Cold Calls" 
    • How do you find new people?
    • How do you convince them to talk to you, a stranger?
    • How do you build a relationship that will lead to even more relatives?
  • DNA Testing
    • What can DNA tell you?
    • How do you ask someone to take a DNA test?  
    • What are some examples that will get them interested in participating?

If you'd like to hear more, here is the video of my presentation:

If you have any problems with the video, this link will also take you there:
Get them to say yes presentation (IAJGS 2016)

Thoughts and comments are more than welcome!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

How to Get Started With Your Family Tree (And What Mistakes to Avoid)

Stories are always make fun listening, but how do you get from a story to a family tree?  Thanks to Don Pfister for suggesting this topic.

I’ve been interested in family history since I was a little girl, listening to my grandmother and great aunts tell stories around the dining room table.  Mom told me not to interrupt them, ask questions, or otherwise "bother" them.  My great-aunt Yetta had a copy of the family tree.  Everything was already done. 

Yetta Splaver Berkowitz

Eventually, as that generation started to pass away, I got up my courage and asked Aunt Yetta if I could see the family tree.  She pulled out an old "Copy Max" box that contained two trees.  One was clearly done sometime after 1996 and had a lot of missing pieces.  Who had made the tree?  Who provided the information?  When was it created?  There were very few dates saying when someone was born, died, or married.  Too many people were simply rectangles with "unknown" or "unnamed."  If I was lucky, there might be a first name or a surname.  There were a few obvious mistakes, such as getting my mother's name wrong.  While this was a good place to start, it was also a great example of how NOT to do a family tree!

A piece of the original Splaver family tree
I should have learned the importance of documentation from this tree, but I didn't.  Instead, it inspired me to start asking questions.   Memories (especially mine) aren't particularly reliable, so I started taking notes. You can jot down notes or type as someone is talking, but I found myself saying things like "hold on while I write this down" which really got in the way of the flow of the conversation.   Eventually, I realized the best way is to record the interview (with their permission, of course). Getting permission isn't just the ethical thing to do.  In many states it's against the law to record someone without the consent of all people being recorded. If you have a smart phone, it should have voice recording software built in. Another nice thing about smart phones is that people don't feel self-conscious around them since they are pretty much everywhere in our society. Don't be surprised if you both forget that you’re recording!  I like to start the conversation with something silly like "Today is September 7, 2016 and I'm interviewing the AMAZING [insert name here] and her fabulous daughter [insert name here]!"  It always gets a laugh and is a good way to get people to relax, while still documenting who is in the conversation.

The next problem is what do you do with the recording once you have it.  I hear all kinds 
of stories about people with boxes of random photos and documents.  It's exciting  to open up a treasure box of old papers and pictures.  I've opened up many as I meet with family members, but it's really hard to make sense of it all.   I needed something to organize everything.  Initially,  I started out with binders of people and family groups, but found that things were still getting lost.  Did I put the wife with her husband or her parents? At what point did I spin someone off into their own binder? And, of course, there were always those papers that fit in multiple places. What was I going to do with those?  After a while, I had several shelves with binders, each "organized" slightly differently, and I still couldn't find ANYTHING!

I needed something that grouped people together in multiple ways where I could associate documents with multiple people, so that I would find it no matter how I looked for it.  Eventually, I chose FamilyTreeMaker because it was easy to use and I could use it to organize electronic copies of everything that I had – documents, photos, videos, and of course those audio interviews.

While I was busy taking notes and scanning photographs, one of the things I didn't know to do (and really regret that I didn't do) was to write down where everything (including photos) came from.  I wish I knew who had the original photo that I know simply as "Belle Glassman and her brothers."  Knowing who had those photos might help me understand who kept in touch with that branch of the family and lead me to where there descendants are now!  Also, technology has greatly improved since I first started collecting photos.  It would be great to go back to the owners and re-scan the images at a higher resolution.  Also, if you want to get into things like Photo Genealogy (see
Sherlock Cohn) or photo restoration, it's best to scan at the highest resolution possible.  I just couldn't do that in the days when I needed to haul the photo albums down to the nearest Kinkos! 
Belle Glassman and her brothers
The next big decision I had to make once I moved into the electronic world was do I put it online?  There is a huge movement out there to make things accessible.   There are many advantages to online trees.  They're automatically backed up.  It makes it incredibly easy for people to find you.  They can be accessed from anywhere.  Of course, there are also some distinct disadvantages.  One of the problems I started to experience was that I was tainting my sources.  People's memories would start to merge with information I had given them until (in some cases), I found that people were repeating my own speculations back to me as their memories!!!!  The same thing happens with family trees.  You can see information on someone else's tree and think "Great!  They have this too, so it must be correct" when, in fact, someone else had simply copied the information from your online tree.  You have no way of knowing who has copied your tree, whether the information is being used correctly, or how to correct something that later turns out to be a mistake.  

I can't tell you the number of times I've seen whole sections of trees grafted onto someone's family tree for no better reason than "I just found a tree with Louis Goldman from Chicago.  I have a Louis Goldman from Chicago.  There can't possibly be two Louis Goldmans of about the same age who were from the same town.  This must be a part of my family!"  (This reasoning is why it's all but impossible for me to research my great-great grandfather Isadore Kaplan.  There were, in fact, two Isadore Kaplans who were about the same age and immigrated to Cleveland within a couple of years of each other!)

What are some of your tips, tricks, and things to avoid?  Please let me know in the comments.  

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Why take notes on those “tall tales” that relatives tell?

Welcome to Splaver Stories and Entes Elements!  Lara Diamond of larasgenealogy.blogspot.com has been trying to talk me into starting a genealogy blog, so here goes!

Everyone loves a good story.  As we get older, those stories start to grow.  What’s wrong with a little harmless exaggeration to keep your listener’s attention?  Or, perhaps, our memories get a little fuzzy after a while, so we fill in the gaps with what sounds right to us.  At any rate, I tend to take stories (especially really good ones) with a grain of salt.

One of my favorite family stories is of my great-grandmother, Jessie Allen Glassman.  Jessie, I was told, was an independent woman who was well ahead of her times.  She was an activist all her life "in a time when women weren’t activists” (my apologies to the Women’s Suffrage movement) and even separated (or divorced, depending on who you asked) her husband "in a time when women just didn’t do things like that."  My mother admired her greatly, partially naming me AND my sister after her.

Jessie Allen Glassman
The story was that, when she was young, Jessie absolutely adored her older brother "Yehudas Liebe" (he name turned out not to be Yehudas Liebe, but that's a different story).  She followed him absolutely everywhere… including forbidden Zionist meetings.  They were eventually caught.  Yehudas Liebe was shipped off to the Russian Army.  Jessie was shipped off on the first boat to the Americas and was eventually left to make her own way in New York City where she met and married my great-grandfather.

When I asked my Great-aunt Goldye, Jessie’s daughter, the story got even better!  Not only was Jessie an activist, but so were all her cousins!  They were very important in the Zionist movement and friends with none other than Golda Meir who would visit them in Cleveland, Ohio. 

At this point, I'm sure you can tell that I didn’t believe this story.  My beloved Great-aunt Goldye is as sharp as a tack and would never tell a lie (at least not in the harmful sense), but I assumed she was embellishing things.  An Israeli Prime Minister was friends with my relatives?  My people were just ordinary folk from a little shetl in what is now Belarus.  It’s a little much, don’t you think?

Now some of the story was clearly true.  Jessie did arrive in New York in 1907, according to the ship manifest, accompanied by her Aunt Etta and Etta’s children.  Family lore has it that, when they arrived in America, Etta's husband Frank, a farmer, didn't want (or more likely couldn’t afford) another mouth to feed, so Jessie was left behind in New York.  The records also bore this out.  Etta and Frank, along with their children, show up in Wooster, Ohio.  Frank was indeed a farmer.  According to her marriage license application, Jessie was living in a boarding house and working as a seamstress, having apparently survived well enough on her own.  She married Harry Glassman, whom she had met at a dance, in New York on July 15, 1912.  The two made there way to Cleveland where Jessie was reunited with her cousins who had also made the move to the city.  Jessie's marriage, unfortunately, didn’t stand the test of time.  In keeping with her independent ways, Jessie naturalized on her own in 1939.

Frank and Etta Allen with their children (Sarah is in the last row, second from the left)
Now I’m a little bit obsessed with collecting documents.  Ideally, I prefer to collect at least one document for each year of that person's life.  No, I'm not OCD... except where genealogy is concerned.  I recently discovered that the Cleveland Jewish News, the entire archive, has been placed online free of charge!  This is a fantastic resource for people researching Jewish Cleveland.  I started searching for names, not expecting to do much more than collect a few notices of obituaries, weddings, births, and unveilings confirming things I was sure that I already knew.  If I was really lucky, maybe there would be a few new details about that person's life.

This is what I found in the March 16, 1979 edition of the Cleveland Jewish News (p.36):

Sarah Halperin, my great-grandmother's first cousin who sailed with her from Smorgon to New York, an "Activist in Labor Zionism?"  The pretty young girl in that old family photo "worked closely with her friend Golda Meir?!"

I learned several lessons from this.

1.  Get people to talk to you.
2.  Document those tall tales!
3.  Never assume.  The stories just might turn out to be true.
4.  Never doubt Great-aunt Goldye!!!
5.  ALWAYS document those tall tales!

It turns out that many members of my family were involved with Pioneer Women, and later its successor NA'AMAT.  I'm working on scheduling a call with the current president of NA'AMAT USA (who happens to be my second cousin twice removed).  It'll be interesting to see where this thread leads.