Sunday, August 26, 2012


Part three of three

When I left off last week, I had determined that my great-great-grandfather Isak Fischel Pikholz and Dalia's great-great-grandfather Mordecai Pikholz are beyond a doubt brothers, making us fourth cousins.

I have much to cover here, so I do not want to speculate on the name of their father - our next generation up - though I think I know what it is. Another time, perhaps. In any case, he seems to have been born about 1780, based on the ages of his two known sons.
I expect to be able to add Vladimir's great-grandfather as another son of Mordecai, after we get his test results in another month or two. We also have a family of cousins in Kansas City, whose late fathers ought to be second cousins of Vladimir. One of them has done an autosomal test and we await results.

So to all these, I add the other six Y-chrosome candidates that I listed last week:
3. Lloyd, whose great-grandfather married Aryeh Leib ben Mordecai's daughter.
4. One of the sons of Mordecai Allon, whose Pikholz grandfather lived further east into Ukraine.
5. M, the elusive great-grandson of Simon Pikholz, whose family went to New Jersey in the 1890s and who seems to be closely related to Dalia and me.
6. Moshe, who survived the War with his family in the forest around Skalat and whom we know nothing about past his grandparents' names.
7. Aharon, who has not been at all cooperative, but who is the only Y-chromosome candidate for his family.
And of course Jacob and Bronislaw, the descendants of Nachman, a contemporary of the father of Mordecai and Isak Fischel.
I am hoping to get these six to take tests, though in some cases, we may have to find a way to finance them ourselves.

The seven broken black lines represent those families whom we are trying to connect to an earlier generation.

Red lines represent connections that I assume to be true, but have not yet proven.

Red circles are those who have tested for DNA (Y-chromosome, autosomal or both). Green circles are those who said they would test but haven't yet. Blue are people we need to convince.

Then there are the seven families of four or more generations, for whom we have living descendants but none in an all male line. For those, we can talk about autosomal testing. So let's do so. (Two additional families of four generations do not appear to have anyone who survived the Holocaust and we can only guess exactly where they belong in the family structure.)

In describing these seven families, I will use the names that I have given these families on the Pikholz Project website.
1. RITA. This family is almost certainly descended from Nachman Pikholz and we can test that hypothesis once we have something from Jacob and/or Bronislaw. The oldest person we have here is Moshe Hersch, who was born about 1820.

2. TONKA. This family is also almost certainly descended from Nachman. The oldest person we have is Moshe Pikholz, who was probably born 1851. Moshe's father may have been Gabriel, who was born about 1822.

3. IRENE. This family goes back to Peretz Pikholz who was born about 1820. We have someone born 1916 who doing an autosomal test and we hope that gives a meaningful result. We also have a clue in the names. In addition to the three pre-1800 Pikholz who appear at the top of the chart, we know of a Berl who was born about 1789 and died 1877. We have a few children and grandchildren, one of whom was born soon after Irene's Peretz died and bore the middle name Peretz. So IRENE's Peretz may well be descended the son of this Berl.

4. STEVE. Another family descended from a Moshe Hersch Pikholz who was probably born about 1815.

5. RISS. A family descended from a Ryfke Pikholz, who was born about 1820.

6. MIGDEN. A smallish family descended from Josef Pikholz who was born about 1860.

7. WELWELE. A very small family descended from a Welwele Pikholz who was probably born about 1870.
As we sort out whatever we can with the families in the chart above, we can begin to approach some of these other families and see where that takes us.

This probably comes better as a lecture than as a written blog and I hope to turn it into a Power Point presentation, which can include ongoing developments. Of course, I plan to revisit the chart above as we get results from the pending and planned DNA tests. I'll report them here, so those of you who are interested, should pay attention for announcements of subsequent posts.

The other critical issue - which I addressed briefly and in a more limited context last week - is to what extent are these DNA results proof. If Vladimir and the Kansas City cousins show up as "suggested second or third cousins," can I record them accordingly? Or do I have to stick with notes that begin with "appears to be..." Can I put them unambiguously on a chart or do I have to used broken or colored lines that indicate "maybe." And who decides?

Please leave your comments.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


(Part two of three)
Here is part one

Hey, let's do some DNA testing! What fun.
A few weeks ago, I told you about a Polish woman named Joanna who learned that her grandfather was the son of a Pikholz man whom we have tentatively identified as one of the sons of Josef Pikholz of Klimkowce. (We thought it might be Josef himself, but he seems to have died a bit earlier.) Josef has a great-grandson here in Israel named Jacob, who is an active participant in our Pikholz research. In order to determine that this story is true, I suggested that Jacob and someone in Joanna's family do autosomal DNA tests.
Different types of DNA testing

Then I realized that Joanna's uncle Bronislaw could do a Y-chromosome test to help identify that line within the larger Pikholz structure. Neither Jacob nor anyone else in his branch has a male line, so Bronislaw is our sole option for a Y-chromosome test for this branch.

As I say, I discussed this in detail awhile back.

Of course in order to apply the results of Bronislaw's Y-chromosome test, we would need to check the Y-chromosomes of the other Pikholz branches. There are seven such branches for which I can identify candidates for testing.

1. Last week, I discussed Mordecai Pikholz (1805-1864) who appears to be closely related to Isak Josef Pikholz (1784-1862). The twenty-one year age difference could fit father and son or brothers or uncle and nephew or any sort of cousins. Isak Josef has no male line that we know of, but Mordecai has a great-great-granddaughter, Dalia, who is very interested on our project. Dalia is not eligible for a Y-chromosome test, of course, but she could do an autosomal, while her late brother's son does the Y-chromosome. So let's test Dalia and her nephew. They agreed and did the tests.

2. Vladimir lives in Ashkelon and is the great-grandson of Jachiel ben Mordecai Pigoltz. This could be the same Mordecai as Dalia's, making Vladimir and Dalia third cousins. So let's test Vladimir. His test is being processed now.

3. Aryeh Leib is almost certainly a son of Dalia's Mordecai, but he has no male line. However, his daughter Ettel (b. 1860) was married to a Jachiel Pikholz of whom we know nothing. Jachiel and Ettel have a male line to a great-grandson named Lloyd, in the United States. A Y-chromosome test would tell us something about Jachiel. An autosomal would be unpredictable because both parents of his paternal grandfather are Pikholz, but that could lead in interesting directions. So let's test Lloyd. He agreed, but hasn't done it yet.

4. Mordecai (Pikholz) Allon died here a few years ago. His family was from deeper in Ukraine, but there is a good possibility he is part of a Skalat family. His three children live in the US and I am in touch with Daphne. Let's test one of Daphne's brothers. She agreed, but no one has done it yet.

5. The family of Simon Pikholz went from Skalat to New Jersey in the 1890s. This family appears to be close to mine and to Dalia's. Simon has one great-grandson from a male line and I am in touch with him intermittently. He is a bit elusive and does not always reply. But since we are doing it, let's test Simon's great-grandson. I asked him and he has not responded.

6. Yaakov Pikholz, his son Israel Aharon, their wives and five of Israel Aharon's children spent the War in the forests around Skalat. The young adults survived. We have no idea how they connect to anyone else. One of the two sons, Moshe, is still living. I have never had contact with him, though I have with his older sisters. Let's see if we can test Moshe. I wrote a letter and received no response.

7. Jachiel and Israel were brothers. Jachiel had three daughters who went to the US before World War I and I am in touch with some of their descendants. Israel had two sons here in Israel, one of whom has a living son Aharon who has had absolutely no interesting in contact, though he did refer me to his sister. Let's see if we can do a test for Aharon. I wrote a letter - even cc'ing his sister - but received no response.

Perhaps some of them are simply not willing to spend the money.
The eight in red are the ones I'd like to test for Y-chromosome.
We also have several other families with four or more generations for whom an autosomal test could be very useful, once we have results from some of those listed above. But that will come later.

We also have a number of smaller families, but in most of those cases we have no evidence of living members for many years.
I realize the irony in all of this, particularly the autosomal tests. In one of my first blog posts, I  wrote about my skepticism of this whole testing business, calling it "smoke and mirrors." There is just too much that is based on probability and guesswork, especially once we get into fourth and fifth cousins. (Not to mention that the website of the testing company does not always make it easy to understand the analytical tools they offer.)

But I figured if we were doing this, I should do an autosomal test myself. Who knows what might show up.

Reasonable preliminary results
My autosomal test (the company calls it "Family Finder") showed thirty-five third cousins, only one of whom was someone I could account for - and he is on my mother's side. He is at best a fourth cousin and none of the others appeared to have any chance of being third cousins in any direction, based on my previous research.

But I figured I could improve the odds by asking my father's sister to test. Any of mine that she matches would be on my father's side and anyone she did not match would be on my mother's side. My aunt took the test.  Among her results were some close matches who were not close for me at all.

Smoke and mirrors? Robert M. is a second cousin to my aunt but remote to me?
It's like asking an engineer for plans for a triangle and getting this.

 But even the ones that both my aunt and I match could be either on my grandfather's side or my grandmother's side, so I enlisted my father's first cousin Herb. Anyone he and I both matched would be on the side we are looking for. Cousin Herb took the test.

Dalia's results came in. She shows up as a "suggested fourth cousin" to me. That's about what I would have expected. Dalia is also a "suggested third cousin" to my aunt, which is also about right. But oddly enough, Dalia is a "suggested second cousin" to Herb, which is definitely too close. Well, Dalia and Herb are both Galizianers on both sides of their families, so there could be an additional connection between them that we don't know about.

Dalia's matches to my known relatives

The bombshell
Then came the big surprise. The one result that no one had considered. A result that contradicted one of my most basic understandings. A result that was based on a comparison that we hadn't even intended to make.

Dalia's nephew's Y-chromosome test. And my own Y-chromosome test. They matched perfectly. Thirty-seven out of thirty-seven matches. No smoke and mirrors here - just a straight Y-chromosome, not affected by other sides of our families.
Dalia's nephew matches me perfectly for thirty-seven markers
My great-great-grandfather Isak Fischel is not from some family that I have to look for. He is a Pikholz. All this business about how my great-grandfather got his Pikholz surname from his mother - flat wrong. His wife still appears to be a daughter (or maybe granddaughter) of Isak Josef Pikholz, so it seems both parents of my great-grandfather were Pikholz. Why did they live in Zalosce, rather than in their birth town Skalat? Who knows.

According to the company's website, a match like that gives a probability of over ninety percent that my Isak Fischel and Dalia's Mordecai are brothers and the autosomal tests just strengthen that. I ran that possibility by the DNA discussion group on JewishGen and had some cold water dumped on me. But I consulted with the genetic genealogist CeCe Moore and she says they almost have to be brothers. Some others thought so too.

I am aware that the fact that Isak Fischel's wife is almost certainly a Pikholz may make these relationships seem closer than they are, but the testing company says that their system "prevent[s] over predictions due to intermarriage and reflect[s] more accurately your relationship to other Ashkenazi Jews in our Family Finder system."

I don't know if this means that I can officially record Isak Fischel and Mordecai as brothers or not. Perhaps the citation police consider this no more than supporting evidence, but it is certainly good enough to put it on a wall chart. If I had a wall chart. (I'd love to see your thoughts on this in the "Comments" section below.)

Either way, the web site will have to undergo major revisions, but not just yet.

I also do not know if we can strengthen this conclusion by upgrading the Y-chromosome test. Dalia's nephew and I had 37 matching markers, but they also do tests for 67 and even 111 markers. I actually tested for 67. So if we upgrade his to 67 or both of ours to 111, would we get results which would be recognized as "fact?" I have been getting conflicting "expert advice" on this question - some say that 37 is sufficient, others say we should both upgrade to 111, which would be a significant expense.

And how much do the autosomal results that we have vis a vis Dalia count? They certainly should! But here too, there are different thoughts from different people. There is a conservative view that DNA can never prove anything - only report on probability.

The surname of Isak Fischel is not the only revelation here. I explained last week that Isak Fischel cannot be the son or grandson of Isak Josef, because of the Isak in both names. Since Mordecai and Isak Fischel are brothers, we now know that Mordecai and Isak Josef are neither father-and-son nor brothers. Maybe uncle and nephew. So now, it looks like this:
And there is more. But this is enough for now.

One thing for certain. When someone says "What do you hope to prove with this test you want me to do?" I don't really need a specific answer. "You never know what might turn up" is my new mantra.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


(Part one of three)

Isak Fischel
My father's grandparents are all buried in Pittsburgh. I first visited them properly forty years ago and have been there maybe five times since. That first visit was the first time I learned that the father of my great-grandfather Hersch (Harry in the US) Pickholtz was called Isak Yeroham Fischel. That's what it says on his grave. Hersch's sister Leah Braun is also buried in Pittsburgh and his name appears there the same way. The other sister, Bessie Franzos (aka Frankel and Francis) has him as Yitzhak Fischel.

Fischel is the Yiddish equivalent of two different Biblical names - Efraim and Yeroham - so including "Yeroham" on some of the graves provides us with clarification, although he probably rarely used it. He appears in documents as Isak Fischel, occasionally Fischel Isak.

My grandmother told me that his wife's name was Rivka Feige, though I learned later that it sometimes it appears reversed in old documents.

In addition to Leah, Bassie and Hersch, there was a brother Yehiel who never left Europe. I first learned of him from my father, who died back when any genealogy work I was doing could best be described as "puttering." My father himself knew very little of the family history, but he gave me two pieces of information which I have never heard from any one else. My father wrote me a note that his grandfather Harry Pickholtz had a brother Yehiel with three children and had an uncle Selig Pickholtz. I can only speculate why my father would have known that his grandfather had an uncle Selig. That speculation is for another time, but the information is relevant here.

As I got further into my research and records became available through JRI-Poland, I was able to put together the basic structure of the family of Isak Fischel and Rivka Feige. (See to the left.) The approximate birth years of their children are based on their death records. (I also began using the Galician spelling "Pikholz" more frequently.)

I put Yehiel as the eldest because I learned later that two of his children were born in 1874 and 1876. He may, in fact, be younger than the sisters.

Josef and Rojse and Motie and Taube
The Jews of Galicia did not always record their marriages with the civil authorities, but occasionally a registration will show up many years after the actual Jewish marriage date. One such record is the 1887 marriage in Skalat of Berl, age 71, son of Josef and Rojse Pikholz and Dwojre, age 50, daughter of Motie (=Mordecai) and Taube Pikholz.

This couple had ten children and there are a few living descendants.

I got the idea into my head that this was a close-cousin marriage or perhaps an uncle-niece, but although I made notes to that effect, I did not record a relationship between them since I had no evidence.

I never found anything else about Rojse, but I found what appear to be death records for the other three. Motie died in 1864 at age fifty-nine, so would have been born about 1805. Taube died in 1872 at age seventy, so would have been born about 1802. Josef - or more properly, Isak Josef - died in 1862 at age seventy-eight.

If Josef was in fact twenty-one years older than Motie, they could have been father and son, or brothers or uncle and nephew, who knows. Perhaps they were not closely related at all - just two Pikholz from Skalat whose children (also twenty-one years apart) married one another.

Motie had two other daughters and some sons, but I found no other children for Josef. Among Berl's descendants there were some Isak Josefs, whom everyone called Josef, as well as younger ones who were called Josef without the Isak.

It was then that I found the only Selig Pikholz in my database. (Remember, my great-grandfather's uncle?) Selig had a son Itzik Joseph, born in 1862, several months after the death of Isak Josef. This indicated to me that Selig was very likely a son or grandson of Isak Josef. I later found that Selig had an older son Markus (= Mordecai, almost certainly) and the same as Selig's father-in-law. That precluded the possibility that Selig was a son of Motie, who was still alive when Markus was born.

My grandfather had an older brother Yosef Yitzhak, but when we found his birth record, it turned out that he too was originally Isak Josef. So Uncle Joe fit the pattern of those named after Isak Josef, that they were named Isak Josef, but called Josef.

So that sets up Isak Josef as the father or grandfather of the brothers Selig and Isak Fischel. But wait. There is no way that ISAK Fischel has a living father or grandfather named ISAK Josef. That seemed to leave the possibility that our Pikholz name did not come from Isak Fischel, but from Rivke Feige and she was the sister of Selig. (I have written before about the fact that many Jewish couples did not register their marriages with the civil authorities, so the children received the mother's surname.)

That sets up this structure:
Everyone in this structure was born in Skalat, except the children of Isak Fischel and Rivka Feige, who were born in Podkamen, quite a ways away. Why, who knows, but my best guess is that Isak Fischel comes from Podkamen or somewhere nearby. Of course, he is not Pikholz, so he could have come from anywhere. Of their four children, three married into families from nearby Zalosce and lived there. Rivka Feige sent her daughter Bassie back to Skalat and she married someone from there. Bassie's children were born in Skalat.

And what was the surname of Isak Fischel? The surname that should have been ours? Who knows. My very first blog post in this series discusses this at length. I have even ordered every record I could find in east Galicia for people named Isak Fischel, hoping one would lead me someplace.

I may never know the answer to this question, just as I will probably never be able to pin down the relationship between Isak Josef and Mordecai. I am largely resigned to this, but I plod on.

The thing is, although my grandfather died when I was nine, I knew his three older brothers, who died when I was seventeen and twenty-one so I surely could have asked them about their grandfather. The middle sister Miriam (Aunt Mary Braun) lived another nine years and we had some correspondence, so the answer to that particular question was almost certainly available.

I did one thing, however. About sixteen months ago, I ordered a Y-chromosome test, hoping to find someone else with the same father-to-son DNA. You can never tell with these things. Maybe I can identify Isak Fischel's family after all.

Sunday, August 5, 2012


Zygmundt Migden
Back at the beginning of my research, I found a Page of Testimony at Yad vaShem in the name of Gustaw Migden of Tarnopol. He was killed in Tarnopol in 1943.

The Page listed Gustaw's wife - Freida Pickholz, born in 1886 - and three unnamed children. There was no other information about Freida and I did not recognize her from my work to that time.  The Page was sumbitted in 1956 by their son Zygmundt, a resident of Beer Sheva.

I made some inquiries and eventually learned that Zygmundt had lived in Ashkelon and had died in 1986. But the local burial society didn't have him - not in the old cemetery and not in the newer one. Zygmundt had been born in Tarnopol in 1913 and had made aliyah in 1936, a single man.

I renewed my search for Zygmundt from time to time and the road kept leading to Ashkelon, where it ended abruptly.

In the meantime, new records became available and I found the marriage record for his mother Freida Pickholz. She was born 25 November 1885 to Josef Pickholz and Sussel Gruberg. We knew Sussel, who died in Karlsbad in 1928, but did not (and still do not) know anything about Josef's family. Eventually, I found Freida's two brothers and younger sister. One of the brothers seem to have died young, but the other two lived in Lwow and their small families included several physicians.

According to the Page of Testimony, Zygmundt was one of three children, but all I found was an older sister who died as a child, before Zygmundt was born.

Eventually, I came back to the burial society in Ashkelon and I spoke with someone in the office who looked once again and found nothing. Then she said "Wait a minute" and she gave the phone to an older gentleman who had just walked in. I asked him my question and he said "I think he is in Adivi."

The Adivi Cemetery
Rehavia Adiva was the first mayor of Ashkelon (1965-1972) and when his married daughter died at age twenty-four in 1953, he bought a piece of an orange grove near the cemetery and buried her there. Over the years, he and his wife were buried there as well as assorted others.  Over forty in all.

Rivka Yaakoba Goldberg,
Adivi's daughter
He gave me directions and I went to the site. Follow the dirt road around the side of the old cemetery, then further along a dirt road to the right. Look for the cemetery inside an orange grove on the left.

And there it was. Hidden inside the orange grove. No sign or anything.

I spent the better part of an hour, recording the names on the stones and taking photographs of the four Migden graves. They are side by side - Zygmundt, his wife Helena, their fourteen year old son Gedalyahu and Zygmundt's forty-seven year old unmarried brother Dr. Meir Migden. Meir's grave has a plaque in memory of Gustaw.

When JewishGen inaugurated JOWBR, I decided that I should enter all the graves in this cemetery, but Ashkelon is not on the way anywhere, so it waited.
Adivi Today
About sixteen months ago, I was in Ashkelon with my wife and youngest son and we decided to photograph the whole cemetery. It was easier to find this time, as the orange grave was gone. There were still the dirt roads, but you could see the cemetery from a distance.

There was a sign - a sure indication that someone had taken responsibility for maintenance. In this case, the Council for Preservation of Historic Sites and the City of Ashkelon.

There didn't seem to be any preservation going on - no fence or anything and no obvious maintenance. There has been a bit of vandalism.

We took photographs and made handwritten notes on the ones where the epitaphs were not clear. When I got home, I saw that some of those photos were not good enough, so another visit would be needed before submitting it to JOWBR.

The oppotunity for that came a few days ago. I went to Ashkelon with Dvorah Netzer, to meet my putative cousin Vladimir. Dvorah's Russian-speaking Medved cousins generously agreed to host the meeting and to help with the communication.

After that meeting, Dvorah and I went  to the cemetery to finish the photography and I passed on the pictures and the data to JOWBR that same evening. Occasionally, something actually gets crossed off my to-do list.

Housekeeping notes:
1. Next week begins a three-part series on the huge breakthrough on our family structure, based on DNA testing.

2. A colleague of mine in Europe writes as follows:
I am writing to you because I have an iPhone / iPod / iPad etc game developed, the name is Famble. It is the classical word search game - but the words you are looking for are Jewish surnames. It is so funny if you have to find your ancestral surnames, my wife, who is neither a big genealogy fun, nor plays around with computer games, laughed out when she tried Famble and found both times a friends' names popping up. Here is the link:

It is also possible to add one's family names to the game, currently it has some 3,000 names in it.
I don't have any of these devices, so cannot venture an opinion. Just passing it on.