In November 2014, I happened across an Ancestry.com online tree featuring Sarah Pikholz, her husband Eisig Baar and twelve children. The tree had them in Czechoslovakia but I quickly found the first three births in Yahilnytsya (Jagielnica) in east Galicia, now in the Ternopil’s’ka Oblast of Ukraine. The first child was born in 1865 so I figured that Sarah was born in the early 1840s. My flagship research is the single-surname Pikholz Project from east Galicia, but I had no candidate for this “new” woman.
Milton, the great-grandson of Sarah who posted the tree at Ancestry, hadn’t a clue about Sarah’s parents or siblings. Indeed, east Galicia and Jagielnica meant nothing to him. None of the records I was able to find were helpful except those which cited the Jewish names of the children.
My attention was drawn to the son Gustav, whose Jewish name was Gabriel, a rare name in the Pikholz database. Rare but not unique. Breine Pikholz, the wife of Avraham Aron Riss, named the first of her seven children Gabriel Wolf (Wilhelm) in 1860. Breine’s father was Gabriel, so he must have died young. Breine’s mother – based on a late birth record of two of Breine’s children, filed after Breine’s death – was Ryfka Pikholz. Both Breine and Sarah named their first daughters Rivka, with the secular name Regina.
There are other matching names among the children of the two women, but Moses, Juda, Josef and Rosa are too common to be useful.
It appeared to me that Breine and Sarah are sisters. I turned to DNA for help. Milton was willing to do an autosomal test, what FTDNA calls “Family Finder”. Between Milton and me, we are in contact with five of Milton’s second cousins – two from Gustav and three from Josef – but none have been willing to test thusfar.
On Breine’s side, Wilhelm’s granddaughter tested as did the two grandchildren of Isidor, first cousins to one another. Here too, three grandchildren of Josef have been unwilling to test. And Breine’s youngest, Rosche, has a grandson from her elder daughter. But Rosche also has a living daughter. Lillian lives in Chicago and I had tried unsuccessfully to contact her over the years.
Breine’s three great-grandchildren matched one another exactly as expected. But Milton’s results were a surprise. His very first match was with my father’s brother, followed by my second cousin Lee, Breine’s great-granddaughter from Wilhelm and my father’s first cousin Herb. Milton’s matches with his putative third cousins from Isidor are twenty-second on his match list and fourth-remote cousin.
This was not good enough to determine that Breine and Sarah are sisters.
But since I already had their Family Finder results, I compared each of the four to the other Pikholz families, where over sixty descendants had tested for the project. All four clearly matched one particular Pikholz branch much more than any of the others. This is the branch which begins with (Isak) Josef (b. ~1784) and Rojse. (Note that both Sarah and Breine named children Josef and Rosa.)
Using both documents and DNA analysis, I had determined that Isak Josef and Rojse had four children – Moshe Hersch, Selig, Berl and my great-great-grandmother. Clearly Ryfka, the mother of Sarah and Breine also belonged on that list. But my g-g-grandmother was Rivka Feige and Isak Josef and Rojse certainly didn’t have two daughters named Rivka/Ryfka.
The obvious theory was that after Ryfka’s husband Gabriel died young – how young we don’t know but Breine named her first son for him in 1860 – Ryfka, who was a young widow with two small children , was married off to an indeterminate cousin Isak Fischel Pikholz with whom she had four children. We don’t have precise ages for those four children but the wife of the eldest was born about 1847, which would make them a few years younger than Sarah.
I am not concerned that the one is Ryfka, not Rivka Feige. We know the name Ryfka from a birth record from 1888 when Breine is already dead and Riyfka herself had been dead maybe thirty years. So the name provided by her grandchildren or son-in-law may well have been incomplete.
By this time, in early summer 2015, Lillian had agreed to meet me during my upcoming trip to the US. Lillian is one generation older than Breine’s other living descendants, so her Family Finder would be better. But it was more than that. Last year, I asked my third cousin Joe in Denver to do a Family Finder for the project and also a Mitochondrial DNA (MtDNA) test. That would show his maternal line going back to Rivka Feige. Only Joe, his brother and his sister’s two children could do that test. He said “What do you want to prove?” and I said “I don’t know but maybe I’ll need it some day.”
If Ryfka and Rivka Feige are the same woman, Joe and Lillian would have the same MtDNA. If they do, it would not be proof, but it would be supporting evidence. If they do not, Ryfka and Rivka Feige are not the same woman and I go back to the drawing board.
Lillian’s Family Finder results came back in early October. Her first three matches are her known close cousins. Fourth is my father’s cousin Herb, perhaps Lillian’s half-second cousin. Her sixth match is Milton – a good sign. Ninth is my father’s sister. Five more of my personal family are suggested second-third cousins and nine are suggested second-fourth cousins. This looked very good indeed. But if the MtDNA doesn’t match, we have nothing.
This week Lillian’s MtDNA results came in and she is a perfect match to Joe. That is not a unique match, to be sure – there are ninety-two other people with the same perfect match. But together with the Family Finder results, it is enough for me to merge the families.
DNA is supposed to be good, but not usually that good.
Editor’s note: In his recent book on autosomal DNA – as in his presentations – genealogist Israel Pickholtz does not bring a “how to” approach, as every family is different. He prefers a “how I did it” approach, demonstrating the successes he has had in his own families and the general lessons that are applicable to all research of this sort.
Available from: http://www.amazon.com/Endogamy-One-Family-People/dp/1680340387