Nov 19, 2014

Tracing Family Through DNA Is Difficult

Hank Gates:

Working with Ashkenazi Jewish autosomal DNA (atDNA) for cousin matching is challenging because Jews have been an isolated population marrying within their own group.

This means that any two people are likely to share stretches of matching autosomal DNA that would usually imply recent common ancestry between them, but the genealogical relationship is most often untraceable.

This is because rather than a single recent common ancestor contributing this matching atDNA, it was inherited from multiple, more distant ancestors.

 The contributions from these multiple shared ancestors can add up to enough shared atDNA to mimic a relatively close cousinship.

For example, two individuals of non-Jewish ancestry who share 1.5% of their atDNA are most likely confirmable second to third cousins. For two people of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, 1.5% of matching atDNA is almost always indicative of multiple, more distant relationships.

They might actually be double fourth cousins plus share an additional sixth and/or seventh cousin relationship. Obviously, the further back the common ancestors are, the more difficult it is to identify them.

Nov 17, 2014

Interesting Family Stories

Avner Less, the Israeli official who interrogated Adolf Eichmann, was reburied Friday in Berlin’s Wannsee neighbourhood not far from the house where the Nazi who helped organize the Holocaust outlined his genocidal plans in 1942.

Alon said his parents long were convinced that Germany had changed dramatically since the Nazi era, and wanted to be buried in the country they considered home.

“My father said that during his interrogation of Eichmann, the months he was there he was fighting against hate — his own hate,” Alon Less said. “He said hate does not solve any problems. It only causes more problems.”

Nov 10, 2014

Man Seeks Family Through Auschwitz Tattoo

Auschwitz prisoner No. A7733, Menachem Bodner, was a twin survivor of the Mengele experiments,.

At the end of the war, he was adopted in Auschwitz by two Holocaust survivors who gave him their last name but he did not know what had happened to the rest of his family. He wanted, especially, to find his twin.

Ayana KimRon, a genealogist, found a message Bodner had written in a family roots forum and by digging into Nazis archives came up with his real name and place of birth.

Elias Gottesman was Menachem's real name. Jeno Gottesman was the name of his brother. They were born in the Mukacheve area in the Carpathian Mountains in Hungary.

Thanks to these details, KimRon located relatives in Israel. They helped her find out that Menachem's mother, Roza, survived the war but was murdered in 1946 in her hometown by anti-Semitic rioters.

KimRon received a clue that the mother's sister or aunt had probably immigrated to the United States in the early 20th century. She only had the first name Mary and could not find her in any archive so she gave up.

23andMe company, a major DNA bank asked Menachem to donate a DNA sample and if his brother had ever given a DNA sample in the US they would find him.

On October 17 they sent KimRon a match. The system marked it as a first cousin. It was anonymous but the details that were provided were enough to make KimRon set her research in motion.

"Three countries were entered into the definitions – the US, Slovakia and Ukraine – and two last names – Berger and Burstein – and that the DNA group belongs to the mother.

"One of the assumptions was that Berger was the mother's maiden name, and the fact that they put Slovakia and Ukraine together with the US was enough for me to conclude that I may have found a connection to Mary."

Her renewed search focused on two databases: Ancestry and Ellis Island.

"I searched for a woman named Berger who had married a Burstein and I found marriage documents in the databasess. I removed all the Bergers who were not born in Hungary and was left with two Berger-Burstein couples. And then it jumped out of the page: Mary Burstein, née Berger.

"It turned out that Mary was born in remote village in the Carpathian Mountains, which used to be in Hungary and is now in Ukraine. That's the village were Roza, Menachem's mother, was born. And Mary's father had the same name as Menachem's grandfather. There was no room for doubt – Mary is Roza's sister."

Mary has three daughters in the US. The database documents revealed their identity, place of birth, where they moved to and when Mary was widowed.

One of her daughters replied to the DNA email. She had given the DNA sample for medical needs. She said she had heard about Aunt Roza, her mother's sister. Her daughter was named after her.

Mary had immigrated to the US in 1920, and the sisters lost contact with her family at the start of World War II when her letters were sent back to the US.

The cousin emailed a photo showing Roza and Ignatz Gottesman, Menachem's parents. Apart from his mother's blonde hair, Menachem, himself, couldn't remember anything.

Bodner chatted with his relatives in the US via video. The sisters told Menachem that his mother was a professional seamstress and embroiderer. They did not know what happened to his brother, Jeno.

Read the full story.

Earlier report on Menachem's story

Nov 4, 2014

A Ukrainian Shtetl called Zurów

SPEAKER: Hazel Sandow Boon
President, JGS of Hamilton & Area

Temple Sinai, 210 Wilson Avenue, Toronto
Wednesday, November 26th at 8 p.m.
Doors open at 7:30 p.m.
“Have You Heard of this Ukrainian Shtetl called Zurów?”

In June of 2013, Hazel Sandow Boon began her journey from Hamilton, ultimately arriving in Liviv, Ukraine to join two of her cousins to visit the shtetl which was called Zurów, Galicia when their HABER grandparents and great grandparents lived there. Most of their family had immigrated to New York City between 1890 and 1920.  What these cousins experienced was beyond their hopes and dreams.  Hazel will talk about the planning process for this sort of trip and will guide you through the many pictures she took so that you can take this journey to Zurów and Jewish Lviv with her.

Hazel was born in New York City.  She originally moved to Toronto on a work visa when she was hired as a violinist for the Canadian Opera Company.  Once here she so loved Toronto that she returned as a landed immigrant the following year.  Her husband of almost 39 years, John, is a transplanted Brit and it is his family history which got Hazel hooked on genealogy research.  She’s been working on her own family tree since around 2000 and has traced all four of her family lines (HABER, STARK, KANET & SADOWSKI) back to the late 1700s.  She was elected the first president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Hamilton and Area back in 2004 and continues to serve in that position.  Although her research has mainly taken her to Galicia and Poland, her work with members of Hamilton’s JGS has pushed her to pursue research in a variety of countries.

Oct 30, 2014

Memorial Plaques Indexing Challenge

Cheshvan (October 25 –November 22) is International Jewish Genealogy Month.  

The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) and JewishGen has announced a worldwide crowd-sourcing challenge to photograph and transcribe Yahrzeit memorial plaques. The project, called MEMPLAQ is starting now.

Memorial plaques typically include the birth and death year and father’s name, which helps people trace their Jewish ancestors and relatives. Thus far, 60,000 plaques have been posted to JewishGen from the US, Israel, Morocco and Canada. The information is searchable on the JewishGen website as a free public service to anyone who is interested in researching their Jewish roots.

JGS Toronto would like to participate too. In order to do so, we need your help. You can do this by choosing a synagogue or two to visit, then photograph and record data listed on their Yarzheit plaques for entry into the JewishGen Memorial Plaques Database. It’s easy to do and a mitzvah that will help genealogists worldwide.

You will find clear instructions about how to participate in the MEMPLAQ project at As a potential volunteer, all you have to do is read the short instructions, select a synagogue or two (start with your own!) and then contact us at to ensure that no one else is covering the same location. Once you have the go-ahead, contact the synagogue, using the template provided on the website, to arrange for permission to photograph and record the plaques. It’s as simple as that!

We hope to get started on as many synagogues as we possible during International Jewish Genealogy Month. Please join us in this enjoyable and worthy project!

See the database at