AncestryDNA results mildly interesting

Less than five weeks after returning my AncestryDNA kit to the lab via mail, I was notified that my results have been processed. With AncestryDNA, the results are a moving target. As more samples are analyzed, they will be able to provide more accurate information. As the test offered by AncestryDNA is an autosomal test, analyzing the entire genome rather than just the Y chromosome or mitochondrial DNA, the results paint a picture of my full genetic make-up (rather than just patrilienal or matrilineal heritage).

AncestryDNA provides two types of results: my genetic composition and potential relatives who have genetic markers similar enough to mine. My genetic composition isn’t too surprising.

AncestryDNA Results

If there’s anything to be surprised about, I suppose it would be the 17 percent component of Scandinavian descent. I’m not aware of any ancestors from Denmark, Norway or Finland, but my knowledge only goes back four or five generations. Most of my ancestors lived in Russia or eastern Europe before coming to the United States and are, from what I can tell, Ashkenazi Jewish, so the assumption is that they arrived in Europe centuries ago in an early migration from the middle east. The Sturmwald family arrived in the United States a generation or two prior to most of my other ancestors, and they came from Germany. My guess is that I might be more likely to find a Scandinavian background by tracing that family back, just because it is geographically closer than Romania, Lithuania and Russia.

The 2 percent of my genetic composition that is identified as “unknown” could perhaps be identified in the future after AncestryDNA collects more samples.

AncestryDNA also includes in these results a list of potential relatives. My results presented one possible third cousin and many probable distant cousins. Many of the users on this list provide public family trees, but I was unable to find someone who shared an ancestor with whom I am familiar. There would be hundreds to look through, so I focused only on the first few pages of results. There was only one tree that included a surname I recognized from my tree, Stein, but that is an incredibly common name, and the location didn’t match up with the location of the Steins in my tree.

Here’s the closest identified relative based on DNA.

DNA Matches
AncestryDNA match Info

Again, this is early in AncestryDNA’s life cycle. Many users have not received their invitation to participate, let alone have had their results processed.

Over time, it’s possible my list of possible distant cousins will grow.

There’s also some concern that DNA matching programs have difficulty avoiding false positive family matches among “European Jewish.” AncestryDNA warns:

Are you surprised by the number of matches? Well, there’s a good reason. It’s a little complicated and science-y, but the bottom line is that it appears our system returns inaccurate matches for people of European Jewish descent. The good news is that our match predictions will improve over time as we grow our database of DNA signatures. In the meantime, don’t be afraid to reach out — you may just discover that distant cousin you never knew you had.

When a reason is complicated and “science-y,” it would be nice if there was some kind of link where I could learn more information. I’m not afraid of a little science.

What would have been nice would be if AncestryDNA’s matching results gave me new clues for researching my heritage, particularly the surprising Scandinavian component. Perhaps now that my information is in the system, a potential distant cousin will find my information and contact me. But, even if that does happen, what is the real value in connecting with someone who may be a fourth, fifth or more distant cousin? We might be able to identify a common ancestor — but then what?

In terms of value, I’m not convinced that AncestryDNA is a great deal for the price. It’s not that the results didn’t meet my expectations. In terms of genetic composition, there were no surprising discoveries, just a new question about the Scandinavian component. At this time, the matching section of the results hasn’t been fruitful. Even if I were presented with obvious cousins, the price is still high.

A few days before receiving notification that my results were available, I also enrolled in FamilyTreeDNA. From reviews I’ve read, FamilyTreeDNA is preferred for discovering details about Jewish ancestry. FamilyTreeDNA has many more options in terms of DNA test types, and the cost can be much more expensive than the AncestryDNA test. Overall, the value of expensive DNA tests for genealogy is suspect, but the only way to know is to participate.

My grandmother’s baby sister, Sophie Kerstman

Once you start looking into your family history, there’s no way to avoid sad stories. My paternal grandmother’s family are the Kerstmans. My great grandparents were Isadore Kerstman and Anna (Khiena Liba) Lepiansky. Izzy and Anna were both immigrants, from Russia and Lithuania respectively. They met in New York, and were married in December 1914. Three and a half months later, Anna had her first child, Sophie.

No one in my family has told me about this first child. I was unaware of her birth until I started searching birth, marriage, and death records online for the name Kerstman. Kerstman is not a common surname. It’s a word for Santa Claus in Dutch, but that’s most likely not the source of the name in my family. Most likely, Kerstman in my family was a misspelling of Kurzman or Kurtzman — a common name meaning “short person” in Yiddish and German. Izzy’s surname was consistently spelled Kerstman by the time he was in the United States.

The search led me to burial records for a Sophie Kerstman, aged 19 days. The lack of other Kerstmans in New York at the time suggested that Sophie was a previously unknown child of Isadore and Anna. The timing was right, reinforcing the possibility of a match. I ordered the death certificate from the New York City Department of Records to see if I could find additional clues.

Sophie Kerstman’s death certificate [NYC Department of Records]

The death certificate confirmed my suspicions. Sophie Kerstman was the daughter of Isadore Kerstman and Anna Lopinsky, living at the same address I’ve already discovered for this family. Sophie was 19 days old when she died on 11 April 1915, and the cause of the death is listed as prematurity. The natural inclination is to consider that medical advances, nearly one hundred years following Sophie’s birth, could probably have allowed Sophie to survive had she been born today.

Sophie was buried in Mount Richmond Cemetery. Mount Richmond is operated by the Hebrew Free Burial Association, an organization that allows those without much financial flexibility to receive a burial. The cemetery is still in use by the organization today. Isadore and Anna were newcomers to the United States and had not yet achieved the point of affording to live on their own — they lived with many relatives in a tenement. (The location of the tenement is in what is now Bushwick Park in Brooklyn between the pool the baseball diamond.)

They probably appreciated the community’s ability to take care of its members.

As I wrote above, none of my relatives have mentioned Sophie Kerstman to me. Perhaps it was a sad story that the family did not like talking about. Perhaps my grandmother and her brother and sister did not even know about Sophie.

Sophie Kerstman’s family tree

Looking closer at handwriting solves a mystery

Lillie Landes handwritten birth record [Drouin Collection]

In researching the Landes family in Montréal and Detroit, I came across birth records for the children of Martin Landes — my great grand uncle — and his wife, Paulina (Pearl) Jaruslavitz. The records are handwritten, and they are contained in the “Drouin Collection” on The discoveries have helped me support the written history that passed from Mortimer (Morty) Landes to my father. Like almost all discoveries, the birth records introduced more questions.

I discovered a birth record for Lillie Landes, born to Martin Landes and Paulina Jaruslavitch on 7 May 1910 in Montréal. I was unaware of Lillie previously, and have not found any further records. You can see the handwritten acknowledgment of Lillie’s birth here.

During my search, I uncovered another birth record for a son of Martin and Paulina in Montréal. Through the work of volunteers, this record was indexed under the name “Track Landes.” Volunteers take the time to interpret handwritten records in order to make them searchable, and these volunteers should be able to make the best judgments when handwriting can be confusing, so I trusted this index was accurate.

“Track” did not sound like it was a name that someone in my family was likely to have, however. I didn’t recognize it as a name, at all, until I remembered that a certain former governor of Alaska had a son named Track. Although unlikely, I decided to take the index for its face value and add an entry to my family tree for Track Landes. His birth date was 1 Jun 1903, close to his would-be brother, Irwin or Irving, who was born around 1904 according to the census information I had found by that point.

My research continued in different directions, and I didn’t come back to the mystery of Track and Lillie Landes until the other day. With fresh eyes, I took another look at the handwritten birth record for “Track” Landes and decided it just didn’t look right.

“Track?” Landes in handwritten birth record [Drouin Collection]

The handwriting throughout the record is consistent, and capital “T” is written consistently. It does not look like what is included in the above graphic. The first letter of the name, when compared to other words more easily identified, is certainly a capital “I.” The loop at the the top right of the letter gives its identity away.

It looks like the name as written in this birth record is most likely Isack, not Track. The spelling is non-standard, but that isn’t surprising, considering misspelled words and names are frequent throughout the records from this synagogue. At first, I tried to see if I could somehow justify the handwriting as saying “Irwen,” but I’m relatively sure it was written as Isack. Isaac could be an alternative name for Irwin. Probably most famously, Israel Isidore Baline adopted the Americanized/Anglicized name Irving Berlin; it’s not unlikely that Irwin and Irving were nicknames for Isaac.

As a result, I’ve removed Track Landes from the family tree and applied this birth record to Irwin Landes. I have found travel records for Irwin between Canada and the United States, and I’ll still continue looking for more evidence of Irwin’s existence. The mystery of Lillie Landes, however, continues. It will be important for me to keep in mind that the indices that rely on people’s interpretation of handwriting can often be incorrect.

Here are more handwriting samples that identify the capital “I” and capital “T.” The “I” seems to be drawn with one stroke, while the “T” seems to be drawn with two.

Capital “I” example
Capital “T” example

What do you think? Does this handwriting indicate “Isack?”

The two marriages of Fannie Landes

Marriage certificate for Albert Paltiel and Fannie Landes [NYC Department of Records]
Fannie Landes, daughter of Moses and Bertha, married Albert Paltiel from Canada in 1907. Fannie and Albert had two children, Joseph and Harry, before Albert passed away in 1909. Five years after Albert passed away, Fannie remarried, and her new husband, Adolph Goldenberg, helped raise the children. The information I have about the Paltiels of this generation came from the family history written by my grandfather’s brother, Mortimer (“Morty”) Landes, as well as a family tree document provided to me by my father.

The information led to census listings and a search for likely marriage certificates. The certificates for Fannie’s two marriages arrived earlier this week, and I’m relatively confident the certificates pertain to the Fannie Landes who is my great grandfather’s sister. Yet, there is still some confusion surrounding Fannie’s mother’s maiden name.

I mentioned that on the death certificate for Bertha Landes, her father and mother are listed as Martin Goldenberg and Bertha Goldenberg. Goldenberg is the last name of Bertha’s son-in-law, Adolph, the second husband of Fannie, so my first assumption was that Adolph might have reported the information incorrectly. I previously had information indicating Bertha’s maiden name is Jereslawitz. Both marriage certificates received this week for Fannie Landes, like Bertha’s death certificate, contradict what I thought I had known.

The first marriage certificate, for Albert Paltiel and Fannie Landes pictured above, lists Fannie’s parents as Moses Landes and Birth (I’m assuming this should be Bertha) Goldenberg. The second marriage certificate, for Adolph Goldenberg and Fannie (Landes) Paltiel pictured below, indicates Fannie’s parents’ names are Moses Landes and Bertha Goldberg.

About the certificate for Paltiel/Landes:

Continue reading “The two marriages of Fannie Landes”

Celia Neckameyer and George Walcoff

Marriage certificate for Celia Neckameyer and George Walcoff [NYC Department of Records]
Two years ago, I didn’t know the name of my mother’s paternal grandmother. When I began asking my parents about their family, I learned about Anna N. None of my close relatives could remember her maiden name, however. It wasn’t too long ago that I discovered I had Anna’s name in front of me for quite some time. It was listed on Seymour Berman’s certificate of death, a copy of which I had obtained from my mother. Seymour Berman was Anna’s son. I knew Anna had a sister Lena, so I was able to find census records that likely pertained to the Neckameyers in my family.

I answered many of these questions about the Neckameyers recently. Through Anna’s own marriage certificate, I was able to piece together a history that confirms that Anna and Lena have other siblings. One of these siblings is Celia Neckameyer, and the information I found points to her marrying a man named George Walcoff who lived nearby. I ordered their marriage certificate to confirm.

The facts on the certificate seem to support the conclusion that Celia is the sister of my great grandmother, Anna Neckameyer.

Continue reading “Celia Neckameyer and George Walcoff”

Bertha Jereslawitz Landes’s death certificate

Bertha Landes’s death certificate [NYC Department of Records]
I’ve been writing about the last three death certificates I’ve received in decreasing order of confidence. The latest as of today is the death certificate registered by the Department of Health of The City of New York for Bertha Landes. Bertha, whose maiden name is Jereslawitz according to the marriage certificate for her son Joseph Landes and Sadie Lustig, died on 26 November 1927 at Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan, where she had been for 17 days, and the doctors did not identify a cause of death.

Let’s look at each fact and determine whether it helps or hurts the likelihood that this death certificate pertains to my second great grandmother.

Female, white, widowed. Check, check, and check. Three points.

Age 68. This puts her birth year at around 1859. The 1901 Census of Canada puts her birth date around 1857. The 1905 New York Census would place Bertha’s birthyear at about 1860. I have not discovered a 1910 U.S. Census record for her or her husband. Her birthyear according to the 1920 U.S. Census would be 1860. One point for the birth year.

Occupation: housewife. This matches all other documentation for Bertha, but I’m not awarding any points for this being correct.

Birthplace: Romania. It’s well-documented that the Landes family immigrated from Romania to the United States and Canada. Census records all list Romania as the birthplace for Landeses who were not born here. One point.

Has been living in the Untied States and New York for 28 years. Despite being listed in the Canadian census as living in Montréal in 1901, later census records indicate her family considers themselves to have immigrated to the United States in 1899 or 1900. I’ll give half a point for this only because it’s somewhat confusing when they were living in Canada and when they were living in the United States.

Former or usual address: 761 Trinity Avenue. This is in the Bronx, and I have no evidence of any of the Landes family living at this address at any time. Without a 1925 New York Census record for Moses, Bertha, and their son Charles, I looked at 761 Trinity Avenue in that database, browsing the images. The Landes family was not enumerated at that address in 1925. With this curiosity, I’ll take away one point.

Place of burial: Mount Carmel Cemetery. Other members of the Landes family are buried at this cemetery: Fannie Landes (Paltiel) Goldenberg and her second husband Adolph (although there’s a possibility this grave is a different Adolph and Fannie Goldenberg with a Romanian background), Joseph Landes and his wife Sadie, and Charles Landes and his wife Clara. According to his death certificate, Bertha’s husband Moses is buried there, as well. Neither Moses nor Bertha show up in the Mount Carmel Cemetery interment search. A visit in person is required to verify the burial location. I’ll award a point for this burial information.

Names of parents: Martin Goldenberg and Bertha Goldenberg. First of all, it’s unlikely that Bertha Jereslawitz Landes’s father has a different last name than her own maiden name. Secondly, it also seems unlikely that the daughter shared the same given name as the mother. Finally, the last name matches the last name of Fannie Landes’s second husband, Adolph. I can’t give any points for this information, because no other information I have proves or disproves it, and because Bertha’s father’s last name of Goldenberg doesn’t make any sense at the moment.

Like the other death certificates I’ve received recently, perhaps this is just the case of bad information. According to the second page of the death certificate, the undertaker was employed by “Mr. Landes,” Bertha’s son. I expect it would be Charles, who lived with Moses and Bertha the longest, but the first name is not specified. Of Bertha’s other two sons, Joseph died two years prior and Martin was likely living in Detroit at the time. Perhaps the informer was Bertha’s son-in-law, Adolph Goldenberg. If Adolph was the person providing this information, perhaps he gave the names of his own parents when asked, explaining why Martin Goldenberg and Bertha Goldenberg were listed as the deceased’s parents.

The death certificate’s score is five and a half points. The points don’t mean anything, so they don’t determine whether this certificate represents the Bertha Landes in my family. There are other Bertha Landeses living in New York, but not at the right time or at the right age, according to census record indexes. I will accept this into the family tree, but I won’t add Bertha’s parents as listed on the certificate.

Is this the real Joseph Lustig?

Joseph Lustig’s death certificate [NYC Department of Records]
I wrote last week about the difficulty I had reconciling what I thought to be Eliza Lustig’s death certificate with the Eliza Sturmwald Lustig I had come to know as my second great grandmother. Death certificates are notoriously inaccurate, and it’s understandable. The informant providing the information to the Department of Health is often either grief-stricken and unable to recall obscure facts, or not close enough to the deceased to know the answers.

With information on the certificates contradicting known facts, it becomes much more difficult to say with certainty that the certificate is pertinent. Other clues might help, and the death certificate I received last week for Joseph Lustig is full of clues.

The date of death is one thing you can count on being accurate in a death certificate, and Joseph Lustig’s date of death is 22 December 1918 and a year of birth of 1855. From census records, I know that the Joseph Lustig in my family must have passed away between 1915 and 1920, so the date is right. The cause of death is almost guaranteed to be correct, though limited by technology and medicine of the time. The cause of death is listed as idiopathic cerebral hemorrhage, but I have no other information with which I can compare.

The death certificate does not list Joseph’s residence, only the location of death. The certificate identifies the place of death as 75 Second Street, a tenement in Manhattan. The doctor who signed the certificate indicates he had attended Joseph for three weeks leading up to his death, and the picture I’m drawing in my mind is that this doctor, based on 7th St., visited Joseph frequently until the time of his passing, if this in fact my second great grandfather.

So I’m looking for a Joseph Lustig most likely living in New York not far from this address. The 1915 New York Census and the 1920 Federal Census are good places to start, as I look for relatives — or Joseph, himself — living in the area. In June 1915, Joseph lived at 210-212 East 2nd Street in Manhattan, but his daughter Sadie lived with her husband and family at 71 2nd Street. That’s a distance of only two and a half long city blocks. I’m thinking the location is right.

Is there any other Joseph Lustig — a 63 year-old real estate agent — living in the area in 1915, born around 1855, that I could reasonably assume might be the Joseph who passed away at 75 Second St.? According to the index to this census on, there are no other Joseph Lustigs who fit that description.

Other clues allow me to positively identify this Joseph Lustig:

Continue reading “Is this the real Joseph Lustig?”

The Lepianskis in Lithuania

I wrote last week about receiving Anna Lipanski Kerstman’s naturalization documents, which provided new clues to follow. One of these is the name she with which she was listed when she immigrated to the United States from Jonava, Lithuania in 1911: Chiene Lipansky.

Chiene is a Hebrew name that is often Americanized as Hannah or Anna, so there’s no surprise with this information. There’s also no surprise with the idea that the last name could be spelled many different ways, from Lapinksy, to Lipansky, to Lipiansky, to Lepianski. It is this last spelling, in combination with her birth location of Jonava, that has opened new doors in research.

Thanks to the LitvakSIG and their partnership with JewishGen, many Lithuania vital records — birth, death, marriage, and some census-like lists — are available online. A “SIG” is a special interest group. Groups like these generally began as email lists (or “listserves”) that allowed people with similar interests to discuss. Like many special interests groups focused on geographical family history, the groups have worked together to digitize and index records which previously were only available by visiting towns in Eastern Europe (or by paying someone overseas to do your research — sometimes a risky proposition).

With these records searchable online, I found Chiene (or Khiena Liba) Lepianski (or Lepiansky, or Lepianskij, etc.) in Lithuania.

Continue reading “The Lepianskis in Lithuania”