Sunday, November 28, 2021

A DNA Match is Only the Start - Using the Paper Trail to Find the Connection

DNA results don't generally tell you how someone's related.  You can use a match as a clue that someone is related to you, and then you can use other matches along with a paper trail to try to find the actual connection.  And when dealing with Jewish ancestry, endogamy comes into play in a major way.  Recently, a new match popped up which was intriguing--this person (listed with just initials) on GedMatch matched multiple people on my maternal grandmother's side, some with large shared segments.  Since my grandmother's parents were from what's now Subcarpathian Ukraine, I was pretty sure that this person would have had similar ancestry.

Here's how I took a DNA match and have been able to almost figure out our relationship.

I reached out to Moshe, whose email address was associated with this match, and he told me that the DNA was that of his grandmother, Malka.  He had a few of her ancestral surnames and locations.  I could rule out her Lithuanian ancestors as being our connection, but the Czech ones sounded more intriguing, since this part of the world was Czechoslovakia between WWI and WWII.  He didn't have towns of origin, though.

I located Moshe's great-great grandmother's birth registration

Moshe shared his Ancestry tree with me, and I was quickly able to zero in on an interesting line.  Moshe's grandmother Malka was born in America, but her parents were born in Europe, and her mother Freida seemed to be from the right part of the world to match my grandmother's family.  I did some quick searching to find Frieda's ship manifest but initially struck out; however, after finding her grave on billiongraves, I realized that Frieda's Hebrew name was Fruma, and I was able to locate her ship manifest (and soon those of her parents as well).  Frieda's hometown was Drahovo.  Drahovo (Kovesliget in Hungarian) was only about 7 miles away from Kolodne, where my grandmother's parents lived before they emigrated.  That sounded promising!

I was able to find birth records for some of Freida's siblings, which told me that Freida's father was from a relatively far away village--but that Fruma's mother (also named Malka, likely the DNA match's namesake) was also born in Drahovo.  I then found the elder Malka's birth record, which gave me the names of her parents.  While Malka's birth record did not give me her parents' town of origin, I found birth records for a brother David (yes, he was David Davidovics)--which informed me that Malka's mother (Frima Zelikovics Davidovics--likely Freida's namesake) was from Kolodne!  (Note that a sister Gitel also has her mother from Kolodne, but she does have Frima's maiden name as "Marovits," while Malka's and David's agree on "Zelikovics.")

The Zelikovics family regularly intermarried with my Rutner family, but the marriages I've recorded happened too late to have contributed to any of the elder Malka's DNA.  It's very possible that Malka's mother was a Rutner.  Based on Malka's birth record, Frima would have been born around 1854, but the earliest Jewish birth recorded in Kolodne was in 1862.  (If anyone knows of any earlier record books, please let me know!)  I have not been able to locate Frima's marriage or death records, either of which could name her parents.  There is one Frima whose grave is still legible in Drahovo's cemetery, but I was able to match the date of death to a Frima who died on the date listed on the tombstone, so the grave is not that of Frima Zelikovics Davidovics. 

The earliest birth of a Zelikovics child in Kolodne was that of Zelig in 1864 (yes, lots of Zelig Zelikovicses in Kolodne) son of Chajem and Eszter, .  The sandek (godfather) was David Ruttner--my 4th great grandfather.  Could Eszter have been his daughter?  Chajem and Eszter have no other children's births registered (but obviously could have had other children whose births weren't recorded).  But there's a Chajem who has children with a woman named Gittel Jankovics from the late 1860s into the 1880s.  It's possible that there were two Chajem Zelikovicses in town.  It's also possible that there was one Chajem, and his first wife Eszter died--and he then married Gittel.  Could Eszter Rutner also have been Frima's mother?  (Or was Malka's father a Zelikovics other than Chajem?) 

Some of the names of Frima's children and grandchildren hint that she actually may have been one of David Rutner's granddaughters.  But a hunch is not proof, and there are many other possibilities (so no way this is going in my family tree).

So what do these DNA matches look like, and do they give any insight?

  • The closest match of my kits to Malka the younger (Moshe's grandmother) is Henry.  Henry is a cousin on the Ruttner side--but he is also a descendant of a Rutner-Zelikovics marriage  So the DNA segments that he's sharing with Malka could be attributed to the Zelikovics family, so I'll have to discount him for this analysis.

  • But there is Cousin Moshe (called that in this blog to differentiate him from the grandson of the Malka who tested).  Cousin Moshe and my grandmother were first cousins through his mother, and Cousin Moshe's father was from relatively far from Kolodne.  So perhaps all of the larger segments that Cousin Moshe and Malka share can be attributed to our common ancestors.  Moshe and Malka share a 20.9cM segment on chromosome 13, as well as multiple smaller segments. 

  • Malka and my mother's first cousin Shimon share a 23.6cM segment on chromosome 2.  Shimon's mother's family is also from not near Kolodne, so this segment is of interest.

  • My uncle Eddie and Malka share a 23.1cM segment on chromosome 1.

  • And my mother's half second cousin Rochel shares a 24.6cM segment on chromosome 2 (on a different location than Shimon's match).

There's no triangulation here, since all of these large shared segments are in different locations of the genome.  But the number of large shared segments between people on this side of my family to Malka, as well as the geographic connection demonstrates that there must be a traceable connection, probably through Frima's mother.

At this point, I haven't determined that connection--but I'm confident that one is there.  I'm going to keep looking for additional documentation (I hope to find Frima's death record--with her parents not listed as "unknown"!) and also see if there are additional DNA matches that could be informative.

DNA isn't a magic bullet, especially for more distant matches--and especially when dealing with the endogamy that's intrinsic in working with Jewish DNA.  But it's a tool that can tip you off to look for a paper trail connection.  I've obviously started that process and will keep pushing away until I figure out a connection!

You can like my page on Facebook:

or on Twitter.


  1. That always seems to be the rub for me: I can't get back with the paper trail far enough to find the MRCA. Sigh.

    1. I am so enticingly close on this one! If I can just find Frima's death record with her parents' names....

  2. I used a similar approach to try to find connection with a non-Jewish match. Kathy and I share 274 cM across 10 segments. Longest segment is 58 cM. Her brother shares 181 cM across 8 segments and the longest is 48 cM and Kathy's daughter and I share 206 across 7 segments with longest segment 59 cM. Kathy and Dale's grandmother Anna was born in Szobrancz Furdo, the spa resort north of the town of Szobrancz, where my paternal MOSKOVITS and NEUMANN family lived, according to her immigration and naturalization records. My paternal grandfather Viktor had two brothers but they both died too early to be worth consideration. This suggests that the match was probably with one of many male descendants of Abraham MOSKOVITS from Hunkocz a short distance northeast of Szobrancz. My great-grandfather Markusz had 10 siblings and most of them had male off-spring. I'll probably never be able to identify the guy who fathered Anna's child but all available evidence points to this family. What do you think?

    1. They could also well be second cousins once removed (so you'd be looking a generation up from your or their grandparents, potentially). Or Victor could have had an illegitimate half brother who isn't on your tree but who is the ancestor of Kathy. I wouldn't rule out the Moskovits/Neumann line. Do you have known cousins on that side that you can test to help narrow things down?