GENEALOGY PROJECT

 

For years now, I've been flipping through old documents, sorting through records, and bothering family members about their great aunts' middle names. All the paper cuts and annoyed cousins have resulted in the ever-evolving tree below. It will take a few weeks to code the tree data I've collected into the software, so it will continuously grow. But hopefully, at the end, there will be a searchable family tree that goes back six generations (so far) into my family's history. I have added a section below the tree window where I will list chronological updates (and cool findings).

Because I update the tree weekly, and each week comes with some new, cool discoveries, I have added small summaries of the findings from each week of my family research. To read these updates, click the linked dates below the heading "Weekly Updates." Doing so will take you to the summaries, which appear below the tree window.

 

Speaking of the tree window--sorry it's so small; the embedding code isn't the best. To move through the tree, simply click and drag the window. To see details about individuals within the tree, simply click their picture. Eventually, I plan to have scanned documents for each family member, telling their story as best I can based on the info I have.

WEEKLY UPDATES

November 12, 2017

 

It's been about two weeks since I've revitalized the genealogy project, and already, I'm coming across things that I didn't expect. As in any family, you can get a pretty good idea about who your ancestors were by talking to your grandparents. My best source for these kinds of conversations was my maternal grandmother (Mulmul). Since I was a tiny Kurt, I had been told that my mom's side of the family came from Germany. More specifically, my family told me that my ancestors were from near Luxembourg, meaning that in addition to the significant amount of German ancestry I have, I probably also have some French. So, when I began digging up old files, looking at old pictures, and looking at documents until 4AM, I fully expected to find a family history centered around the Rhineland region of Germany--just north of France.

I only had to go back three generations to my maternal great-grandmother to find that Mulmul was a bit off in her geography. I have found exactly zero people in my family from anywhere near Luxembourg, including the Rhineland. Instead, most of my mother's side of the family comes from a region called Saxony. To drive the point home about this, check out this map of the German states/regions. For the sake of clarity, I've included a red arrow pointing to the Rhineland and a blue arrow pointing to Saxony.

Swing and a miss there, Mulmul.

Instead of coming from a region in the west of Germany bordering France and Luxembourg, every German member of my family that I've found so far comes from Saxony, which borders Poland and what used to be Czechoslovakia. This was all surprising (and fascinating) enough, but when I started looking up old birth and death certificates from that side of my family, it got even more so. It turns out a sizable portion of my family didn't come from the German side of the border. My great-great-grandfather (Max Jäckel) was from Czechoslovakia. As you go up that branch of the tree, all his ancestors were Czech. I went my whole life thinking that my mom's side of the family was completely German. In just a few weeks of digging, I found out that a very large portion of it was not.

This line of research has led to a ton of questions that I hope to get sorted in the next few weeks. I will be sitting down with my Aunt Ginny around Thanksgiving to talk about that side of the family. In a few exchanges, she let me know that other parts of the family that I haven't gotten to yet are from the north of Saxony, near Poland. All this is to say that I've found that the Yetter/Jäckel/Feldmann/Schuerer side may be more eastern European than I ever knew. I'll know more in the coming weeks.

For now, I have a few upcoming steps. First, I sent away for a few DNA ancestry kits (AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, and 23andMe). I did a lesser-known (read: cheaper) one not too long ago, but I wanted to try a few of the higher-tier ones to see what shakes out. All of the companies offer different ancestry services, so I wanted to try them all. Some of them even offer DNA analyses to show you what diseases you are susceptible to. I didn't buy that option; screw that noise. I worry about that stuff more than enough without having DNA evidence. I should get the results of these soon (23andMe in the coming days).

Second, I will be meeting with my aunt to pick up tons of old pictures of the family and talk about the parts of the family from north Saxony. I'll be very curious to see if she knows whether the Feldmanns, Schuerers or anyone else up my mom's side of the tree are also from across the border. The mystery surrounding the geography of my maternal great-great-grandmother (Thekla Schuerer) has led me to contact the town in Germany where she died (Oelsnitz) to ask about her death certificate. That should have her parental information on it, which will open up a lot of possibilities for going further into the family's past, both in Germany and the countries that lie to the east of it. 
Onward and upward!

One set of fun findings to sign off here -- I found the passenger manifest and the ship that Great Mulmul emigrated to the US on. She left Bremen, Germany on February 25, 1925 and arrived in Philadelphia on March 6. Below are a picture of the passenger list (note the second person from the top) and a picture of the SS George Washington, the ship she came over on. I know the passenger manifest is small, but if you click on it, it will zoom a bit for you.

'Til next week!

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November 19, 2017

Due to an busy conference and travel week, I haven't had much of a chance to update the tree in the last few days. I incorporated a few changes early in the week, but from Wednesday through Friday, I was on a train, in a conference room, or asleep. Despite only a little progress on the tree itself, there've been some strides. I knew my schedule would be horrible this week, so I deliberately sent away my first "spit tube" (gross) to a genome mapping company so I would get my results back this week. My plan worked out. On Tuesday, I got back my DNA breakdown, giving a few clues about the history of the Braddock/Yetter lines.

These results were not as easy to decipher as I would have thought. There were quite a few "ambiguous" results that I got back from 23andme; this wasn't necessarily weird. Each company uses a different algorithm to calculate your DNA makeup, and if there is something in your genes that the algorithm doesn't recognize, it lumps it into a "broad" category. Luckily, there are other organizations doing DNA mapping, so I was able to get some clarification on my results so far. Let's start with the 23andme results. For the sake of simplicity (and your interpretation sanity), I've grouped a few categories that fit together on my genome due to logical pairings.

In order of decreasing prominence, 23andme has identified my DNA as being...

German/French (37.2% composition)
The 23andme algorithm pairs together German and French because of common genetic markers in Western European countries north of Spain and Italy. But let's be real. This is German. I am 37.2% German. Most of my mom's family comes from Germany, there are German names all over my family tree, and there are no French names to be found anywhere in my family. Plus, I don't even like Bordeaux wine - an obvious indication there's little to no French here.

23andme interprets this result as... "You most likely had a parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent who was 100% German. This person was likely born between 1890 and 1950." Duh.

 

The fact that there was a lot of German in my DNA wasn't surprising, but I was surprised that it wasn't a bit more. I would have guessed I would have been at least 40-45% German, given how many stories I'd been told of my family's presence in Germany. Once I saw the other proportions, though, it started to make a little sense.

 

British/Irish (34.2% composition)

Like the German and French pairing, 23andme pairs together the Brits and the Irish because of common DNA. I can't be as sure about what percentage is which here, though, since there is a lot of British and Irish on my dad's side of the family. Still, it's pretty safe to say that it's mostly British, given that my family is traceable to England in the 1200s (and the fact that my last name is, you know, Braddock).

 

23andme interprets this result as... "You most likely had a parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent who was 100% British/Irish. This person was likely born between 1890 and 1950." Again, duh.

Still, I thought this would be between 40-45% as well. If you combine the ancestries that I was told my whole life that I am "half and half" of, I could have been 50-50 German and English. After looking at my family tree in the last few weeks, however, it became clear that there's other ethnicities in there. Let's see what they might be.

 


Eastern European/Ashkenazi: (5.2% composition)

When I first started looking at my family tree years ago, I noticed some interesting things going on on my mom's side that might suggest the presence of Jewish ancestry. Although names are not a perfect indicator by any stretch, the fact that my great grandmother's maiden name was Feldmann and my great-great grandmother's maiden name was Schuerer gave some sort of hint. Add to that the fact that part of my family actually came from Czechoslovakia and not Germany, and it became even more likely. This result validates that suspicion.

23andme interprets this result as... "You most likely had a second great-grandparent, third great-grandparent, fourth great-grandparent, or fifth great-grandparent who was 100% Eastern European and/or Ashkenazi. This person was likely born between 1770 and 1860." Given what I've found in the tree so far, coupled with the percentage of Eastern European/Ashkenazi ancestry found in my chromosomes, this ancestor was from my mom's side, and is probably directly related to my great-great grandmother (probably her mother).

 

Now, this gets a bit hazy, because "Eastern European" is pretty broad. Luckily, 23andme gives a little information about which countries they might mean here. Specifically, this result likely means that I have a great-great grandparent (or earlier) on my mom's side who was Ashkenazi and from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belarus, or the Ukraine.

Scandanavian (1.6% composition)

Huh. Complete surprise here. I never knew of any family that was from Sweden, Norway, or even Denmark, but here we are. I don't really have any insight here, given that I haven't seen anything like this in my family tree yet, but it's altogether possible that as I dig into my dad's side, I will find some family members that jumped into the tree from up on the Scandanavian peninsula. We'll see.

 

23andme interprets this result as... "You most likely had a third great-grandparent, fourth great-grandparent, fifth great-grandparent, sixth great-grandparent, or seventh great (or greater) grandparent who was 100% Scandinavian. This person was likely born between 1710 and 1830." 

I'm resisting a very strong urge to just post a picture of the Swedish Chef from the Muppets, so let's move on.

West African: (0.5% composition)

I didn't expect this, but I can't say I'm surprised. Given that (a) my dad's side of the family has been here forever, (b) the ancestry is from West Africa, and (c) I believe I had some family in South Carolina in the 1800s, it is altogether possible that this came from a distant relative who was brought to the U.S. in the slave trade. Way to go, racist ancestors.

 

23andme interprets this result as... "You most likely had a third great-grandparent, fourth great-grandparent, fifth great-grandparent, sixth great-grandparent, or seventh great (or greater) grandparent who was 100% West African. This person was likely born between 1710 and 1830."

At this point, you might be wondering if I remember how to do math. If you add up those percentages, they only equal about 80%. As I said, 23andme is hardly perfect in its algorithm, and rather than incorrectly attribute your DNA to an ancestry base, it leaves it as "broad." That's where the other bit went. It leaves us with...



Broadly Northwestern European or Eastern European (i.e., indeterminate): (21.4% composition)

There's not much to say about this category, other than the fact that 23andme suspects that the remains of my genome are from Northwest or Eastern Europe. This would make sense, given that my dad's family is from England, and my mom's is from Germany and the rest of Eastern Europe.

 

Essentially, this means that any of the categories above (other than West African) could be higher than they are listed in the raw data presented by 23andme. Luckily, there are academics who study this kind of thing and can narrow the playing field a bit. That is, it is possible to upload my genome data to Columbia University's DNA project to see if they can clear things up. This helped a lot.

Before I get to that, though, let's take a breath and look at the data that 23andme provided. Based on my genome, here is my ancestry per the 23andme algorithm:

 

When I uploaded the raw data to the Columbia DNA project, I was mostly interested in the "Broadly Northwestern European or European" category. I figured that all the other categories would be about the same. This was pretty much the case. The algorithm used by the Columbia DNA project puts together England, Ireland, and Germany into a single category called "Northwestern European." The total percentage there (79.0%) was about the same as the total percentage provided by 23andme.

What was interesting though was the percentage of "Northeastern European" heritage that Columbia DNA project found. In total, the Columbia DNA project found that 15% of my genome comes from North Slavic countries (Belarus, Estonia, Ukraine, Lithuania), Finland, and Ashkenazi heritage.

If we use the Columbia Project to fill in the gaps from the data provided by 23andme, it seems like that "Broadly European" category includes more Eastern Europe than Western Europe, given that (a) the Western Europe percentages were about the same, and (b) 23andme has a strong algorithm for Western Europe, meaning that Eastern Europe results are a bit trickier for it.

Although this is a very inexact science, the two sets of results together would suggest that I'm about:

 

35-40% English/Irish,

35-40% German/Czech,

8-15% Eastern European/Ashkenazi (grouped together from difficulty parsing the data; likely from Czechoslovakia, Belarus, Poland, the Ukraine, and/or Hungary), and

0-5% Scandinavian/Finnish/West African/other

I can't stress this enough: this is a very inexact science. There are always gaps in what the algorithms can tell you. But, given what the two services have provided, I'm confident in this result. I have samples out to two other companies (AncestryDNA and MyHeritageDNA) to get a bit more data and validate what these results show, so I'm really excited to see if anything else shows up!

I'll also be using these results to target my searches for family members a bit more on my ancestry project. Rather than shooting at targets in the dark, this gave me a flashlight.

As a final note, I would recommend that anyone who is interested in their family heritage to go ahead and do this. It was a very cool experience, and one that I'm looking forward to digging deeper into with the results of my other genome tests. Of course, I'll update here when I do.

For now, though, I'm going to make some babka. I'm like 1% Belarusian, after all.

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December 13, 2017

 

It's been quite a while since I've had any time to work on this project, and it's all August's fault. Back in August, I agreed to do a bit of work for several different organizations. All of the due dates for that work is December 31. "Sure!" I thought. "That's four months away!" Well, my nose is now officially being worn down by the grindstone. Add to that the end of the semester and the need to do student grades and evaluations, and here we are.

In any event, the gap between my last update and this update has given enough time for another set of DNA results to come rolling in. This one was from MyHeritageDNA.com. I expected there to be significant overlap with the results from 23andme, and in some cases, there was. But the results from MyHeritageDNA were... interesting... in spots. Rather than give a complete breakdown like I did with 23andme, here are the abridged results from my DNA test, and my reactions to them.

 

England/Scotland/Ireland and Northern Europe (67.0% composition)

This seems about right. Both 23andme and the Columbia project estimated my Northern/Western European heritage to make up around 70% of my DNA (about 35% from England, 35% from Germany/Czechoslovakia). The MyHeritageDNA estimates might undershoot those figures a little, but nothing too far outside the realm of possibility. Given this, I think my estimate for my actual English/Irish and German/Czech heritage is about right, which is between 70-80%. Solid.

Eastern Europe/Ashkenazi/Baltic states (21.3% of composition)

Again, this seems within the realm of possibility. Belarus and Poland are within MyHeritageDNA's algorithm that placed my DNA from up in northeast Europe, but it also includes Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. This seems to overlap with my other results showing me to have Eastern European and Ashkenazi-heritage DNA. I would guess that this places my actual Eastern European/Ashkenazi DNA at between 8% and 12%, with a little extra juice coming from the Baltic states. Given my guess from last month, these results are close enough for jazz.

Italian (4.4% of composition)

It's plausible that MyHeritageDNA's algorithm captured what 23andme couldn't in its "Broadly European" category. That said, I've never heard any stories in my family about any Italian heritage. Things are getting weird.

North African (4.7% of composition)

This region includes places like Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, and Egypt. I have absolutely no clue on this. So, let's see what's left... Moving on. 

Middle Eastern (2.7% of composition)

Um... what?

The MyHeritageDNA algorithm says that I have an ancestor or two from The Levant, which includes places like Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. I can't make heads or tails of this, but my thinking is that MyHeritageDNA does a better job than 23andme of going back a bit further into the past. Given the small amount of DNA (only 2.7%) attributed to the Levant, I would imagine it is from 7-10 generations ago. But as I said before, this is an inexact science, and that would be a best guess. 

Given all this, here are my DNA results, per MyHeritageDNA:

So, what does all this mean? I think it verifies a few things from the 23andme/Columbia DNA project data, but also raises some new questions. A few questions that I'd like to explore a bit deeper are:

  • Where did the Italian, North African, and Middle Eastern DNA come from? Are those real, or just hiccups in the data?

  • Given that the "Baltic" category emerged here, what are the odds that I have family from the northeast of Poland or eastern Belarus? Both of those popped up in my previous test, so this might be verification of that? It seems like it's getting likely.

  • If possible, can I identify where my family with Ashkenazi DNA were? Right now, it seems like the most likely candidates would be Germany, Czechoslovakia, or possibly Poland. However, given this new information, if I have/had family in the Baltic states, it could possibly have been any one of the countries in the eastern bloc. It's hard to say, and the only way to really get an idea about it is to look for DNA matches I have on Ancestry.com and MyHeritageDNA.com to see if any of them pop up in those regions. That's next.

  • Related to this, if the Middle Eastern DNA data are real, which country did my family come from?

There's a lot to unpack here, but having two sets of data really allows me to make a few definitive conclusions, some that have always been clear, others that haven't. First, German and English DNA was never in doubt, and these results just add more proof of that. Second, my family's connection to eastern Europe has gotten stronger with these results, but there's a little bit of fuzziness as to where in eastern Europe we came from; wherever it is, it is likely to have had at least a moderate number of Ashkenazi Jews that regularly interacted with the other peoples in the area. I'll have to look into this a bit; I'm not sure of the history of it. Finally, I have nothing but questions about southern Europe, northern Africa, or the Levant (i.e., Middle East).

 

I'll worry about that later, though. I still have final papers to grade.

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January 10, 2018

 

Once again, I had grand plans to work on this project quite a bit over the holidays. As usual, though, I underestimated how busy I would be and didn't anticipate a few other unfortunate events. For example, I actually had set time aside to work on the family tree and record this entry in the genealogy blog on the two days leading up to the new year. Unfortunately, an elderly gentleman who felt that he needed to beat a red light saw to it that I would instead spend the last week and a half talking to insurance companies after he ramped up a median and plowed into my car. I got lucky though; his car was airborne and came down to hit me at the wheel well, totaling my car. If he had gotten a bit more air, he would have hit me right at my driver's side window and tore through the cabin of my car, which pretty much would have been a wrap on me. And it's way too cold for anyone to stand outside at a funeral in January, so let's all count our blessings!

Okay, enough morbid humor. Back to the task at hand.

In the last few weeks, I received the last of the results from the three DNA kits that I sent out for analysis. The entries written above respectively detail my results from 23andme and MyHeritageDNA. I recently received my results from what was supposed to be the most widely respected of the companies --  AncestryDNA. AncestryDNA is a branch of ancestry.com (the site that I have been using for my genealogy project) that tests your DNA for markers related to your heritage, matches you with people that use the site with similar DNA markers, and shows how your ancestors probably traveled to your current location. Sounds pretty cool, right? I thought so too.

Unfortunately, the results I got from AncestryDNA were the most vague of any of the three companies I sent samples to. There's actually not too much detail to account for in the results, so I will just list them.

Western European (between 23% - 81% composition, 53% estimate)

You are reading this right. Whereas some of the other companies were able to give me estimates down to the tenth of the percentage point, this service tells me that my DNA is somewhere between one-quarter and four-fifths composed of Western European ancestry. Very precise, guys. Even better, the countries that comprise "Western Europe" in the algorithm (at least as identified in my DNA sample) aren't exactly pinpointed. Here is an image taken from my DNA profile produced by Ancestry DNA.

Very helpful. The countries included in that yellow egg include: Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Andorra, part of Spain, Czechoslovakia, northern Italy, and Poland. So, yeah. AncestryDNA has determined that a significant portion of my heritage is from Europe. I could have figured this out by walking in my bathroom and looking in the mirror.

Great Britain (between 0% and 39% composition, 16% estimate)

I know it's not 0%, for obvious reasons. The wide range here is pretty concerning, too. At this point, I began to wonder if the sample I provided was faulty or something. It seems ridiculous that 0% would be included in the confidence interval for my UK-specific DNA. In any event, let's go with it.

Ireland, Scotland, Wales (between 0% and 31% composition, 15% estimate)

Again, I know this isn't 0%, and again, the wide range is concerning. Basically, AncestryDNA has told me that I have a significant amount of European DNA coming from somewhere in Western Europe, as well as Great Britain and the Irish island. Nothing I didn't know before, obviously. What's most disappointing is how little specificity there is in the estimate.

Europe East and Ashkenazi (between 0% and 15% combined composition, 5% estimate)

Like the algorithm for Western Europe, the algorithm for Eastern Europe includes a ton of countries. These include: Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Austria, Russia, Hungary, Slovenia, Romania, Serbia, the Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia. Given what I've found from my other DNA tests, I think we can probably rule out most of these countries, with the exception of the Czech Republic, Poland, and maybe the Ukraine.

Western Europe, Great Britain, Ireland, and Eastern European/Ashkenazi ancestry make up the bulk of my DNA profile as reported by AncestryDNA. There are a few others that pop up too: Southern Europe (Italy/Greece),Iberia (Spain and Portugal), and the Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, Turkey, etc.) show up as well. However, these lesser represented countries are pretty low on the estimates, so I won't go into detail here.

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Despite the annoying wide ranges provided by AncestryDNA, it did provide relative estimates for each DNA profile. So, with those figures, it's possible to compare the profiles across all three services to get a general idea about my heritage. I've been saying from the beginning that this is an inexact science, so there are no hard and fast answers, but looking across all three services provides insight that I wouldn't get through just one. So, let's have a look.

Keep in mind that the figures for 23andMe were corrected with the Columbia algorithm.

 

Now, it's certainly not scientific to take the average across the three services to provide a definitive answer about my heritage, but it's the best I can do with the resources I have. Assuming these figures are right, there are a few expected and unexpected outcomes. I certainly expected to have a significant amount of German and English DNA, obviously. I did not expect that the Czech Republic would come into play in any way, shape, or form, so that is pretty cool.

I expected some Eastern European and/or Ashkenazi DNA, but not to that extent. There is significant variation among the three services in their estimates of that DNA, which is expected given the differences in the algorithms they use. Still, that it might be as high as 20% is surprising, and stands as a mystery that I plan on digging deeper into. I have to find out more about Thekla Scheurer (my maternal great, great grandmother). She is the key to figuring out the Eastern European/Ashkenazi part of the puzzle. I now know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that my DNA profile has Eastern European/Ashkenazi swagger. Now I want to find out where in Europe it came from. My focus will be on Eastern Germany, the Czech Republic, Western Poland, and to a lesser degree, the Baltic States. I still have a message out to record-keepers in Oelsnitz, Germany to see if they have any information on her. Hopefully they will get back to me soon. I also plan on reaching out to towns in the Czech Republic where my family has lived. 

Finally, I found there to be a lot of noise in the data. As shown in the table, the different algorithms identified different markers in my DNA. 23andMe, for example, found Scandanavian DNA where the others didn't. I'm not sure how to go about parsing this. I think at this point, it's easier to just say that I have significant DNA markers that I can investigate (German, Czech, English, Irish, Ashkenazi) and minor DNA markers that I can't (pretty much all the others). Still, it's fun to think about potential African, Scandinavian, Italian, and Middle Eastern distant cousins.

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Well, that's it on the DNA-testing front. I've gotten as much information as I can from these three services, and they have taught me a few things about myself. From here, I will dive back into the family tree project and start building biographies of family members going back as far as I can. And come hell or high water, I will figure out who Thekla Scheurer's mother was.

But first, time to call the insurance company... again.

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© 2018 by Kurt Braddock

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