Thursday, December 31, 2015

Stats and Summaries

It's not generally my way to summarize at the end of the Gregorian year when we have a perfectly good Jewish New Year for that purpose, but between the end of the FTDNA sale and my upcoming trip to the US, it seems a convenient time.

Ester Pikholz and Marcus Stern
I first ran into the family of Ester Pikholz and Marcus Stern about a year ago and reported on that here. They have a daughter Sadie born in 1889 who was married to a Benjamin Francis, whose brother Sam Francis was married to my grandfather's first cousin Sarah/Sadie Frankel. Sam and Sadie lived in Denver. I had no idea who this Ester is, where she was from, who are her parents.

I saw them again in some Social Security Claims records a few months later, but that didn't add much.

Finally, Steve Pickholtz saw a reference to Esther and Max (as they are called in US records) in a tree on Steve actually found four people there of interest, but only this one replied to my inquiries. Turns out that Esther and Max Stern had a number of children who married in the US around the time of WWI. Earlier this week, I heard from a great-granddaughter and we have been carrying on a lively discussion all week. She says that Esther died in New York, which means there should be a grave and a death certificate with information on her parents.

I'll be meeting with this great-granddaughter in Philadelphia before my talk there next month. More on all of that as it happens. (I have not put this family on my website because I hope to learn where exactly they fit in. No sense in doing extra work.)

The DNA in my project
There are now ninety-two people who have tested (or at least ordered tests) as part of my  family projects. All but one has done a Family Finder and others have done MtDNA and various levels of Y-DNA from
Y-37 up to my own BigY.

The chart on the right shows how that breaks down among my families and also notes how many ordered their tests after publication of ENDOGAMY: One Family, One People last summer.

There are eight Pikholz families of four or more generations who have not tested at all (not including the Sterns whom I mentioned above). Two of the missing eight are from Skalat, four are from Rozdol and two we can only guess at. There are also some smaller families and individuals but those do not seem to have living descendants.

There are quite a few in families who have already tested whom I am after to join the project. The excuses are many and varied.

Statistics from my personal matches
I have finally gotten past 5000 matches on Family Finder and as of today I have 5238, fifty-four of which are from the project. That would be 44 Pikholz, 2 Kwoczkas (we don't have results from the other two), two on my father's maternal side (the third has not sent in the kit yet) and all six on my mother's sides. So my remaining matches total 5184. Many of the testers in the project have more, some over 6000.

The statistics below are for my own matches.

I have six matches who are defined by FTDNA as suggested second-third cousins, what they call "close relatives." (That's aside from fourteen known relatives in that group.)

As is probably typical, though I haven't seen statistics, three of the six have not bothered to list their ancestral surnames and geographic areas. Of the three who have, only Jack S lists a familiar surname - Gordon, which is my mother's paternal side. I have been talking to Jack and although he insists we are closely related, I don't really see it in the numbers. Our longest match is under 30 cM, which is nice, but hardly blows me away.

David and Jack have the same surname, but except that name itself, the names they list do not match one another.

The interesting thing here - and I expect it is typical of Jewish matches - is that all six have about 3000 matches in common with me. That's 54-62% of all my matches which I share with these strangers. Those are very large numbers, it seems to me. (Others will say "I thought you matched EVERYONE!")

I did a chromosome browser to see how the six matched up with me in individual segments. This is not a scientific study - they may do better when compared to my sisters or cousins - but it is illustrative.

FTDNA's chromosome browser is limited to five matches, so I added David S at the bottom in orange, on the relevant chromosomes. The threshold here is matches of five or more centiMorgans. As you can see, there are some nice matches among the group - with me - on chromosomes 6, 9, 12, 15 and 18, plus some others.

Of course, this being endogamy, not all those are expected to be in the same directions. The group of three on chromosome six and the group of four on chromosome 18 may well come from different common ancestors, even though I match the same three people in both cases. It would help if we knew the ancestral names.

But these matches are small. How small? Here is the same chromosome browser with a threshold of 10 cM.
The only matches greater than 10 cM are on chromosomes 9, 14, 16 and 17 and aside from a very small overlap on 9, none of them match each other.

These are not close relatives of mine. And these six are seen by FTDNA as the closest  matches I have, aside from my known family!

Suggested second-fourth cousins
What FTDNA calls "Distant Relative" includes suggested second-fourth cousins and suggested third-fifth cousins. I have one hundred suggested second-fourth cousins, seven of whom are Pikholz descendants.

Of the remaining ninety-three, fifty-one have been kind enough to list their ancestral surnames. I keep thinking I should write the others and ask them, but I really don't have the time and patience. The ancestors listed by the fifty-one include less than a handful with names that match mine.

One that I wrote to replied dismissively that his ancestor is from a different city in the same country, less that seventy miles away. He concluded with "So we are related somehow, but figuring out how is very difficult." I am not sure how he hopes to do that figuring if we don't follow up matching names from matching countries.

Of the ninety-three, for about half, the longest matching segment is in the 16-17 cM range and another quarter in the 18-20 cM range. There are five between 26 and 35 cM and two of those are a father-and-daughter.

As far as the common matches, I only checked a few, but even the furthest of the suggested second-fourth cousins have about 3000 matches in common with me. That's endogamy for you.

This whole set is more likely to be fourth-fifth, even sixth cousins, probably multiple ways,  rather than seconds or thirds. One of the seven known relatives is a third cousin, the others are further out.
Eighty-two pages of "distant relatives," ten a page - 814 altogether.

I started this exercise thinking I would go as far as suggested third-fifth cousins, but now that I take inventory and see that there are 714 of those, I decided to leave it.

But just for sport, I looked an the number of common matches I have with the last five on the list. Three of them have 279, 278, 270 and 304 pages. The fifth is named McKenzie - he has 135 pages in common with me.

Housekeeping Notes
I am still working a couple of possibilities for west coast talks during the week following RootsTech. Not with Jewish genealogical societies. Stay tuned.

Mazal tov to fellow blogger Jeanette Rosenberg on being awarded OBE by Queen Elizabeth.

For anyone who wants genetic genealogy tote bags or T shirts without shipping charge, we just added a "deliver at RootsTech" option to our order page.

Sunday, December 20, 2015


The family
I introduced the family of Berl Pfeffer and his wife Lea Pikholz when I wrote about their son Leo the Spy three years ago and revisited them here a couple of months ago.

Lea is one of two known daughters of Simon Pikholz and his first wife Dwore Waltuch. After Dwore died at age twenty-three, Simon married her younger sister Chana, who ended up in the US, as did her four adult children.

As for Lea and Berl, they had twelve children, nine in Kopicienice in east Galicia and the last three in Czernovitz where Lea died in 1913. When Leo went to the US in 1923, the passenger list names his closest relative as his father Berl, in Vienna. Vienna doesn't seem to have a death record for him, so he may have gone elsewhere.
Wolf Leib (aka Leo) Pikholz is on the last line, as shown above, with his father's Vianna address.

One of the grandsons of Taube saw my post about Leo and that was the first I knew of Taube aside from her birth record. He filled in some of the other details. Of the twelve children of Lea and Berl, four died in childhood, five others grew to adulthood and had no children. Dwore lived a troubled life in the US with her son and we do not know what became of them. That left Taube and Joel.

I never saw a birth record for Joel, but his daughter Berta in Mexico City filed a Page of Testimony for him in 1999. Later I found Joel's Czernovitz marriage record to Mota Salter and Berta's 1912 birth record, also in Czernovitz. I had not been able to find anything further, but Taube's grandson told me that she had two children.
Simon Pikholz and his first wife, Dwore. He later married her younger sister and had additional children

A Tel-Aviv attorney I work with from time to time phoned me some weeks ago and reported that she saw an index reference to a Custodian of Abandoned Property file in the name of Amalie Pickholz.The file was from 1984.

I had first seen Amalie's name when the Central Zionist Archives accidentally allowed me to look at some Pikholz files in their basement. One of those showed that in 1962, Leo had written to the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem asking about his sister Amalie, who it turns out was living in Rumania. At some point she acquired or deposited assets in Israel, perhaps intending to come here later. Or perhaps she had lived here for a time. It was those assets that the Custodian of Abandoned property would have held.

The attorney had no idea what kind of assets were involved. It could be anything from a small bank account to a large building or a plot of land. Potential heirs would have to document what happened to all of her brothers and sisters, who had children, who their heirs would have been and where they are today. The assets would have to be substantial to make it worthwhile.

Additional inquiries revealed that Amalie had a deposit of cash of 1090 Israeli Sheqels, about $300. So much for that.

But it did remind me that I had a loose end regarding Joel's daughter Berta. I knew her name as Bertha Federmann from the Page of Testimony and I had the 1999 address as well.

Another Yad Vashem document tells us:

Joel Pfeffer was born in Kopyczince in 1885. He was a merchant. During the war he was in Caserne Dossin (Malines-Mechelen), Belgium. Deported with Transport XVII from Malines,Caserne Dossin,Camp,Belgium to Auschwitz Birkenau,Extermination Camp,Poland on 31/10/1942.

Joel was murdered in the Shoah.

This information is based on a Deportation list found in List of the Jews deported from Belgium - Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistence (sic)  at Mechelen / Malines.
I also had downloaded Joel's 9 November 1885 Kopicienice birth record from JRI-Poland, identifying his parents as we knew them to be.
A few years ago, I wrote to the address in Mexico that Bertha had given in 1999 but received no reply, nor was she to be found in the Mexican telephone directory. I made some efforts to find a death record or a cemetery entry, but I got nowhere and, being easily distracted, I left it for another time. At this point, I did not know the name of Mr. Federmann, Bertha's husband.

"Another time" came as a result of finding Amalie's $300 and I turned to the discussion groups at JewishGen where I learned that many Mexican death records were to be found at There were two - Berta and Szaja Chaskiel.

Berta Pikholz Pfeffer died at age 89, having been born in Cernauti Lituania, a naturalized citizen of Mexico, widow of Shaya Federman, daughter of Jacobo Pikholz and Matl Pfeffer. She died at 8:15 PM on 21 April 2001 in Acapulco. The informant and witnesses were not related to her.

On that day, 8:15 was after sundown so her date of death in the Jewish calendar is the twenty-ninth of Nisan.

There were several obvious errors in the death record, aside from spelling variations. Berta's name is "Pikholz Pfeffer" which implies that those were the surnames of her parents. In fact they are the surnames of her father's parents. Her mother's surname is Salter. That error is reflected in her parents names, where her mother is called Matl Pfeffer.

Berta's mother on her birth record
I do not know why Berta herself calls her father's wife "Nina" on the Page of Testimony. Her name is listed as Matl everyplace else, including Berta's birth record. Perhaps it was a nickname. More likely she was a second wife, not Matl at all. I'll have to look into that some time.

Cernauti is Czernovitz, but it is definitely not "Lituania," no matter who ruled and how the map was drawn.

Her father is listed as Jacobo rather than Joel and I assume that is an error, as every other document calls him "Joel."

Her husband Szaja Chaskiel Federman Kupermintz died at age 86. He was born in Bendzin Poland and his nationality was Polish. Berta Pikholz is named as his wife. His parents are David Federman and Zipora Kupermintz. He died at 9:30 AM, 10 September 1997, which is the eighth of Elul. Here too, the informant and witnesses are not family members.

One of these days I'll see if I can get cemetery photos and track down the children.

Housekeeping notes
My 26 January talk for the Jewish Genealogical Society of Connecticut will be at Temple Sinai, 41 W Hartford Rd, Newington. They haven't set the time yet.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Adventures at the Population Registry

Two and a half years ago, I posted a piece about the obstacles erected by the Israeli Population Registry with regard to vital records - particularly death records.

Here is a new story. I was contacted last summer by a firm of international probate genealogists in London regarding a man in Israel who was named as an heir in the will of a woman in England. I had done work for this firm before. My contact there knew the name of the Israeli man and his address in a Tel-Aviv suburb as of 2012. I think she had written him and had gotten no response.

I was able to report that this man had been born in 1922 and I had the names of his parents and his identity card number. I further found that he was a widower and I located addresses for his two children. (He may have had more - I just found the two, a son and a daughter.)

But he no longer had a phone listing, so I considered that he might already be dead. He was not however in the database of the Burial Society of Greater Tel-Aviv, so if he was in fact dead, he was not buried in one of the six Tel-Aviv area cemeteries.

I wrote to London with all this information and gave my contact the addresses of the son and daughter, as well as my invoice. The addresses were a few years old and neither was in the online phone directory.

In mid-October she reported hearing nothing from either of them.

The Ministry of Justice maintains an online database of probate files so I had a look there. Not every death involves a probate, but in this case, I found him. The probate file had his name and identity number and was opened at the request of his son, whose name I already knew. The file was opened on the third of December 2014 and closed on the sixteenth of February after the state expressed "no interest." There was a will and the probate directed that it be honored.

It did not list a date of death. It did however say that the existence of the probate file was announced in the Yediyot Aharonot newspaper on the seventh of December 2014.

My contact explained that the date of death was critical. Her deceased is a cousin of the man in Israel. If she predeceased him, then his children would receive his share. But if he predeceased her, they would receive nothing and his share would revert to the estate. The cousin in England had died on the eleventh of November 2014, so it was not obvious who died first.

She needed a death certificate. My experience has been that the Population Registry has been more and more difficult about giving death certificates to people who are not "first degree relatives." Apparently the law allows them to give a certificate to anyone with "a legitimate interest" but they often choose to interpret that in the narrowest of ways.

I went to the library and pulled up the newspaper on microfilm. The announcement by the Justice Ministry had four columns of tiny print, showing the name, date of death, probate file number and the name of the person who had opened the file. I could see the man's name, but could not make out the numbers which comprised the date of death. Nor could any of the younger eyes in the library.

You can, no doubt, see the problem. Enlarging just makes it even more illegible.

I phoned the probate people in the Ministry of Justice and they told me that the date of death is 6 October 2014, which is a month before the cousin in England. But they would not give it to me in writing. I could probably find a copy of the death certificate in the probate file, if I had power of attorney and wanted to make two trips to Tel-Aviv.

The Population Registry suddenly felt more promising. I checked with them on the phone and they said that if the folks in London gave me power of attorney, there would be no problem going to their office downtown and getting a death certificate on the spot. In English. This was, in fact, something I had done a few years earlier, so I knew it should work that way. But the clerks in the office have also been known to say that they would not give a death certificate to anyone but the person named.

My contact in England sent me a power of attorney and about a month ago I wasted a morning of my life at the Population Registry in downtown Jerusalem. The first clerk didn't know what to do and she sent me to another clerk named Halutzi.

Halutzi told me in no uncertain terms that I had come to the wrong place.
a. They have never ever ever issued a death certificate in English
b. They can only give a death certificate to a person with a legitimate interest which can only be his children. even in a case where the children have no interest at all in settling this inheritance. Even if I have power of attorney from England. Even if the British power of attorney had been written in Hebrew. Even though the death certificate had no information that I didn't already know and the crucial part of which had already been published in the newspaper by the Ministry of Justice.
c. The Population Registry does not serve foreigners.  I should tell my British friends to try the Consulate.

Of course, the fact that I had, in fact, done this before carried no weight. Nor did the fact that they had told me on the phone that there would be no problem.

I went back to my office and sent a fax of complaint and requesting a solution. A week later I sent another and later a third. Then I phoned. And I phoned again and eventually got to a supervisor named Itzik.

Itzik said I should go back down and demonstrate that I have a legitimate interest. And I said "Why will he listen this time?" and the supervisor said "If you are not the son, he won't."

Before deciding I'd have to go to Tel-Aviv to see the probate file, I tried one more thing. The newspaper. Maybe they could give me a better copy of the Ministry of Justice announcement.

Much better. Cost about ten dollars. "Please," I wrote to my contact in London,"tell me this will be sufficient."

Housekeeping notes
Two more additions to my winter tour :
Jewish Genealogy Society of Connecticut, 26 January. Time and place to be determined.

Tucson Arizona, 7 February - a joint program of the Southern Arizona Jewish Genealogy Society and Pima County Genealogy Society. Time and place will be determined.
I am also scheduled to speak on 13 April, here in Petah Tiqva. That one is, of course, in Hebrew.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

My Father and Uncle Selig - The Solution?

I have discussed my great-grandfather's Uncle Selig at length here, here and most recently here and I thought I had said everything there was to be said, considering the paucity of records and the few known descendants.

I am now certain that Uncle Selig is the younger brother of my great-great-grandmother Rivka Feige Pikholz and that this is the relevant family structure.
The children of Isak Fischel and Rivka Feige were born in Podkamen, near Zalosce.

I do not actually know that Uncle Selig's mother is Rojse. Due to the age difference, I suspect he may be from a second wife.

I first learned of Uncle Selig when my father sent me a note many years ago saying that his grandfather Hersch had an uncle, Selig Pikholz, and that they lived in the same area. No one else of my father's generation - at least none that was alive when I began my research - had ever heard of Uncle Selig. and I always wondered how it was that my father knew any of this. My father's grandfather Hersch died when my father was eight, so I don't imagine they had meaningful conversations. 

Great-grandfather Hersch had lived with Aunt Mary and Uncle Max for some years and their son Herb - who is five years older than my father - had never heard of any Uncle Selig.

When I found an actual reference to Uncle Selig in the records, I saw that a son was born in Skalat in 1862 and that his wife was Chana, the daughter of Markus Kaczka. The distance between Skalat and Zalosce according to the JewishGen Gazetteer is 36.7 miles (59 km) from Zalosce, where I knew my great-grandparents had lived. This does not really sound like "in the same area" for that time and place. I later found Skalat references to two older daughters.
Yes, some of the records say Pick or Pik or even Pyk rather than Pikholz.

I began considering that my great-grandmother's name, Kwoczka, was a local version of the more common Kaczka, both related to poultry. I had seen that Kwoczka is unique to Zalosce and that almost all the Kaczkas in east Galicia are from Skalat. Not to mention that the fathers of both my great-grandmother and Uncle Selig's wife are named Marcus (=Mordecai). So my first theory was that we were related to both Uncle Selig and his wife, Chana, so that had something to do with why my father had heard of him.

Not very convincing, is it?

Then when we found that Uncle Selig was present at the circumcision of his great-grandson David Eisig Lippmann in 1911, I wondered if perhaps Uncle Selig had lived into my father's lifetime and it was his longevity or perhaps his death which had brought him to my father's attention.

That theory lasted until I found Uncle Selig's death record, in 1913, some ten years before my father was born.

Then, a few days ago, because of my obsession with this particular issue - I mean it's the only real bit of genealogy that my father knew - I took a step back and saw it all fall into place.

Rivka Feige was named after (by one of the daughters of her first husband) in 1862*. She was dead by the time Hersch was ten years old. Hersch's brother Jachiel would have been no more than about seventeen, maybe a few years younger. I don't know when Isak Fischel died, but he was named after by his daughter Bassie in 1873 when Hersch was probably twenty. He could have been dead five or ten or more years. And even if Isak Fischel lived to marry off his first three children, who knows if he is the one who raised them after his wife died.

The four children seem to have been born in Podkamen, near Zalosce. Jachiel married a woman from Skalat and lived in Zalosce. Leah married a man in Zalosce and went to Pittsburgh in the mid-1880s. Bassie married a man from Skalat and her children were born there, before one-by-one the family went to the US. Hersch followed Leah to Pittsburgh - Uncle Max in 1901, the first two sisters in 1902, Hersch himself and Uncle Joe in 1903 and his wife and the three youngest in 1904.

I think it went something like this. The four motherless children were raised - at least for a time - in Skalat. Probably by Uncle Selig and his wife Chana. They surely knew their grandfather (Isak Josef) who died there in 1862. At some point, Jachiel married a local (Skalat) girl and went back to Zalosce, which was near his birthplace Podkamen. Leah too went to Zalosce and married there.

Bassie married in Skalat - not because she was sent there to marry someone the family knew, but because she was already there.

Hersch may have gone to live with Leah or perhaps the Kaczka-Kwoczka connection is real and Uncle Selig's wife arranged him a shidduch with someone in her family in Zalosce. Or maybe both. Hersch and Leah must have been close, because he followed her to Pittsburgh.

And that's why my father knew. Because someone must have said - to him or in his hearing - that his grandfather was raised by his Uncle Selig. He heard, paid attention, remembered and passed it on.

And with all that back and forth, Zalosce and Skalat were not so far apart after all.

And while I am on the road between Skalat and Zalosce, let me touch base with another family. There is an unidentified Leib Pikholz of Skalat who was married to a Rachel Qualer or Kwaller or Kwahler of Zalosce who had children in the late 1870s and through the 1880s.

The given names there include Taube, Markus, Leiser and Moshe Hersch. Sounds to me like Leib is a son of the known couple Mordecai and Taube. They have a son Aryeh Leib who had children in the 1850s and 1860s. His wife died in 1874, so this could be the same Leib with a second wife, though I don't really think so.

Most of the Pikholz-Qualer children have both death and birth records, so I have no idea if there were descendants even in 1900.

There is a Kweller family from Zalosce who may have something to do with these - a descendant of that family was in my high school class. There were quite a few Zalosce families who went to Pittsburgh during the same period as my family.

* This is why I only now noticed the fact that Hersch was orphaned young. Only now have I established that there was a first husband who had children who named their first daughters "Rivka."

Housekeeping Notes
You can hear my December 1 interview on Savory Spotlight here.

Kitty Cooper had an excellent review of my book, including this
It is as easy to read as it can be, given that genetic genealogy is not easy to understand.  

My winter speaking schedule now includes 2 February at 6 PM at the Utah Jewish Genealogical Society. That's the evening before the RootsTech convention.

My full schedule (as it stands at the moment) can be found here. There are some available dates 25 January and the week following RootsTech.