Sunday, June 16, 2019

When Theories Are Wrong

Sometimes naming patterns can suggest a relationship, and you can theorize how someone is connected into your family.  But sometimes those assumptions are wrong.

More than two years ago, I wrote about Ukraine's Books of Sorrow, in which various districts of Ukraine attempted to list those killed during World War II.  (If you didn't read that post and you have relatives from what is now Ukraine, it's worth checking out the post.)  In that post, I mentioned that there was a Smil-Mozesh Ruttner (born August 14, 1928) from the town of Tyachiv who was listed as having been killed in the war.  Since my great-great grandfather Shmuel Moshe Rutner had died in nearby Kolodne in the previous month, I theorized that this Smil-Mozesh was the child of one of my great grandmother's brothers--possibly one who I hadn't yet discovered.


Sunday, May 26, 2019

Visualizing your Tree - With Expected Autosomal & X DNA Shared

I've mentioned the very cool Exploring Family Trees tool before, which allows you to upload a Gedcom file and quickly visualize your family tree.  I just uploaded a new Gedcom file and noticed that some useful features have been added, which can help you understand how much DNA you may have inherited from a particular ancestor.
Descendants of Avraham Rutner, my 5th great grandfather

Sunday, May 19, 2019

A Tulchin Boy, Who Befriended Presidents, Governors and More!

I've been trying to track Samuel Soupcoff and his family for years.  My grandfather had told me that the Pittsburgh Soupcoffs were related to his Pittsburgh Supkoffs, but he didn't know how.  The Soupcoffs had come to America earlier than my Supkoffs, and I was trying to find the Soupcoff town of origin.  But in most cases, they simply stated "Russia," although one of Samuel's brothers, in his name change application, said that he had been born in Bessarabia--and in other places he stated Germany.  And Samuel's father went back to visit family and said he had been in "Podolian," which would be the Podolia Guberniya where my Supkoff (then Zubkis) family was living.  But I wanted to narrow it down to a specific town to see its proximity to my family.

Because Samuel was famous, I thought that perhaps there would be more recorded about his origins.  But he either claimed he was born in Russia or Pennsylvania.  I looked in many (many) places.  Since he lived in Salt Lake City for much of his adult life, I spoke to local experts at the Family History Library, but they couldn't think of resources beyond those I'd already checked.
Nothing in the US gave his place of birth except for that one passport application, which was pretty much illegible.  It seemed like the Soupcoffs, despite being covered in news stories across America, didn't want their Russian Empire origins to be found.

Well, I found him.  And whatever was scrawled on that passport application was a lie.
Samuel Soupcoff Birth, 1884

Sunday, May 12, 2019

A Branch that Survived!

About five weeks ago, I sent snail mail letters to some of my family's ancestral towns in Ukraine.  I tailored each for the specific town but generally asked if they had any records or photos on my family (thanks to Google Translate).  I didn't know if I'd hear anything back, but if I didn't, I'd just be out postage.

One of those letters has already come through in a big way.
Some of the letters sent to Ukraine; the one to Kolodne is the bottom one

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Yom Hashoah 2019

Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) starts this evening.  For the past three years, I have listed the names of the family members I've found who were murdered in the Holocaust.  In 2018, I listed 259 relatives.  In 2019, I am listing 367.

Every year, this list grows as I find new branches of my family--and then find that multiple members of those branches were killed somewhere between 1941 & 1945.  This year I found over 100 more people--and many other relatives whose fates are as yet unclear.

Publishing this yearly list is my one small way to make sure they are all remembered--all 367 of those currently on this list.

Front Row L-R: Yosef Wollich, Mendel Chechman, Devorah Chechman; Back Row L-R: Sara Fine Wollich, Moshe Wollich, Chaike Chechman.  All were murdered in the Holocaust

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Genealogy & the Power of Vaccines

I live in Baltimore, one of the places where measles (considered eradicated from the United States) has hit.  While the majority of the people I know are vaccinated and vaccinate their children, there are those who think that measles and the like are innocuous childhood diseases.  As a genealogist, I've seen how many children died before we had vaccinations.  And as an aunt to a niece who ended up in the ICU because of a vaccine-preventable disease, I've seen what the lack of herd immunity is doing.
Jewish Deaths, Volovets District, 1892

Monday, April 22, 2019

Supcoff/Soupcoff - DNA Proof

I've been trying for years to connect the Soupcoff family who ended up in Pittsburgh with my Supkoff family, who also ended up in Pittsburgh.  My grandfather had been told that they were some kind of cousins, but he didn't know how.  I've extensively researched both lines but never found that link, although it did appear that both lines had originally been Zubkis.  Recently, with records that Alex Krakovsky has been putting online, I found references to various Zubkis families.  In September, I wrote about a document I found enumerating a Zubko family in Gaysin in 1850, adjacent to the town of Kuna where my Zubkis family lived.  I was pretty sure that the Gershko who headed this household was the brother of my 4th great grandfather.
Zubka Family, 1850, Gaysin

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Upcoming Talks - Boston & Chicago Areas

If you're interested in DNA, I'll be speaking in both Boston (Newton Center) and Chicago (Northbrook) in the next 2 months.

Me speaking in Toronto a few years ago

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Now THAT'S a Large Segment

My parents recently took 23AndMe tests (thanks to them for humoring me yet again).  My mom's came back in record time, while my father's is still processing nearly a week after my mother's finished.  Looking at my mother's matches, there was one that looked really interesting:
My mother's shared DNA with Natalie

Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Name-Changing, Town-Moving Zibkis/Zubkis/Zubko/Zubkov/Soupcoffs!

Many people talk about surname changes that happened after their ancestors emigrated to America (not at Ellis Island!).  But most assume that the family name was relatively stable in Europe and that the town from which their ancestors emigrated from was the family town for generations.  While that might be true, sometimes it's not.  As an example, let's look at my 5th great uncle Hirsh Zubkis and some of his descendants.

The first mention I have of Hirsch is in 1811, when he was a 15-year-old living with his father and brothers (no women were mentioned in this revision list) in Uman.
Zibkis Family, 1811, Uman

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

DNA From Which Parent?

Some of the DNA companies will tell you which side a match is from if one or both of your parents have tested with that same platform.  I'd tested with 23AndMe back in 2013, but both of my parents only just tested.  My mother's results came in today, but we're still waiting for my father's.

But since only my mother is in the system at this point, 23AndMe is looking at all of my matches and trying to predict through which parent we are connected.  Well, this might work really well if you're not from an endogamous population, but if you are, it isn't so helpful.
My closest matches on 23AndMe.  Check out the prediction between each relationship--all on the mother's side!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

A DNA Connection--Or Rather, Connection_s_!

Back in November 2018, I was going through my 23AndMe results.  Because I'm 100% Jewish, endogamy causes me to have a ton of predicted close matches, so I was concentrated on those with open sharing, so that I could look at the size of our largest shared segment as well as those where known relatives who have tested also shared a large total amount of DNA.  One of the people I messaged was MC.
Message Sent to MC in November 2018

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Hungarian Vital Records from MACSE, for English Speakers

MACSE is the Hungarian Society for Family Research.  If you have family who lived in Hungary, it's a great (and growing) resource for finding records on your family.  MACSE has been indexing thousands of Hungarian vital (and other) records which are not indexed anywhere else.  While some limited searching can be done for free, you can join MACSE for $30 a year to get access to everything that they have indexed.  If you have Hungarian ancestry, this is one of the best deals around.  But it takes a bit of experimenting for English speakers to figure out how to best leverage what it has.
Marriage of Pepi Ruttner (my grandmother's second cousin) to Gyula Neuman; August 1945

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Holocaust Deaths - Registered Post-War

Many of those killed in the Holocaust did not have their deaths registered at that time.  However, in many cases, their deaths were officially registered post-war by surviving family members or friends.

Death of Nachman & Perl Feintuch

Sunday, February 17, 2019

My Great-Great Uncle's Marriage

My great grandmother had a brother named Mendel Fuchs.  Until I got civil vital records from his hometown of Dulovo (then Dulfalva), I didn't even know he existed.  Since that time, I discovered that he was born in 1900 and that he was murdered in Dachau in November 1944--and was even issued a death certificate.

But I didn't know what happened in between, although I did know from Dachau records that he'd been deported from Khust.  However, since many Jews were taken from their villages to Khust before final deportation, I wasn't sure where he lived as an adult.  But now I have some records from Khust, and guess who I found!
Mendel Fuchs Marriage, 1934

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Hungarian Civil Records on FamilySearch

FamilySearch has been adding more and more transcriptions (and books) for towns in what was the Hungarian part of Austria-Hungary.  Even if you don't have family in areas directly covered by FamilySearch's holdings, you may still find relatives, including those who moved to Budapest from quite a distance away.  (These records cover people of all religions.)
Death of Chajem Ruttner

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Divorces in the Shtetl - Reasons

Last week I wrote about the number of divorces in the town of Nezhin in the Russian Empire--and how it was so much more than I'd expected.  As a certified (certifiable?) geek, I ran the numbers.

But first, I did note why people were divorcing.  And there were some interesting reasons.
Nezhin Divorce:  He was unable to earn a living

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Divorces in the Shtetl - Frequency

Recently, I've been involved in several conversations about the divorce rate in America's Jewish community.  Many people say that there was essentially no such thing as divorce in Eastern Europe and that this is purely a function of American society; they imagine shtetl life to have been some sort of utopia.

Before you read further, guess what percentage of marriages in Europe ended in divorce.  And see how close your guess is to reality.

Because the vital records for Nezhin's Jewish community are largely intact from the late 1850s through the Russian Revolution, I decided to look at the ratio of divorces to marriages each year in that town.  (You can browse through these record books online yourself; information on what is available with links can be found here.)

What I learned about that is below; I also took note of the reasons for the various divorces, which are interesting enough to merit their own future post (so stay tuned).
Nezhin Divorce:  Because he was blind


Sunday, January 20, 2019

Philadelphia Bank Passage Order Books

A great resource on JewishGen--one that applies to immigrants of all religions, not just those who were Jewish--are the Philadelphia Bank Passage Order Books.  Relatives already in the United States could save up money to bring over relatives or friends still in Europe and arrange for their passage through various immigrant banks.

A combined effort between the Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center and the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Philadelphia indexed surviving books, and they can be invaluable for finding your relatives.  Even if your immediate family did not end up in Philadelphia, you may find that other family members did.  In fact, I recently found some of my own relatives that way:
Chaje Zupkiss Bank Passage Order, 1895

Sunday, January 13, 2019

mtDNA Success!!

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is passed down the direct maternal line.  mtDNA mutates very infrequently, so people (especially people from closed communities like Ashkenazim) tend to have dozens--or hundreds--of exact mtDNA matches, and those matches may be from common ancestors hundreds or more years back.  Some people dismiss mtDNA as being of much genealogical use.  But sometimes it can help you find another branch of your family, and it's just done that for me.  (And as I was in the middle of writing this, Roberta Estes posted about her own recent mtDNA success.)

Back in the summer of 2016, I wrote about how my mother had only one exact mitochondrial match, a man named Michael.  At the time, I noticed that while Michael was an exact match, they both had over 200 matches with one mutation's difference from both of them.  (Two-and-a-half years later, Michael is still my mother's only exact match, and they have over 380 matches with one mutation.)  In 2016, I recognized the name of one of those 200 distance-one matches and asked her how many exact matches she had.  It turned out that every one of those distance-one matches was an exact match to her mtDNA.  So I hypothesized that Michael and my mother were descended from one woman who relatively recently had a mutation that differentiated her mtDNA from the mtDNA shared by those 200+ people
My mother's mtDNA matches in 2016

Thursday, January 10, 2019

RootsTech for Jewish Genealogists

It's almost that time of year--RootsTech is coming!  And while Utah isn't the first place one would think of for Jewish genealogy, there's so much that RootsTech offers the Jewish genealogist.

(Note:  If you're coming or thinking about coming, keep reading to learn about a dinner for Jewish genealogists.)

Just a tiny portion of the HUGE exhibit hall

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Zubkis Family to 1755; Another Bit of Evidence

A few years ago I found what looked like my Zubkis family living in Uman in 1811.  This fall, I found another piece of evidence demonstrating that the 1811 family was, indeed, my great-great-great-great-great (yes, 5 greats) grandfather, listed with his five sons in Uman (the census was of males only).  If I could prove that this family was actually mine, then I would have traced the Zubkis family back to 1755, the approximate year of birth for my presumed 5th great grandfather.

And now I have another piece of evidence still that points to this being my family.  And this, like many recent successes, has been due to having Alex Krakovsky's wiki with scans from Ukrainian archives being consistently added.
1903 Kuna Households List, Zubkis Family #29 (males)