I am now delving into a part of genealogy research that is the hardest thing I’ve yet done in this project: DNA testing. I am not and never was a science or math person. My head starts spinning when I see too many numbers and/or scientific terms. Reading about DNA results is like reading Russian or Chinese for me. The words are not at all familiar, and the numbers have no meaning in the world in which I am used to operating. Terms like SNP, centimorgan, autosomal, and others I can’t even keep in my head at all mean little or nothing to me, even after reading several articles and websites defining the terms.
I say all this by way of disclaimer. Everything I am writing about today is foreign to me, and I am still trying to get help to be able to comprehend these test results more fully and to figure out what I can learn from them.
Having said all that, here’s the story. Those who have followed this blog for a long time know that one of my brick walls was trying to find out whether my Brotman great-grandparents, Joseph and Bessie, were related to the Brotmans who settled in southern New Jersey in the 1890s and founded the town that is called Brotmanville. My Aunt Elaine had told my cousin Jody and her husband Joel that Joseph had had a brother who moved to New Jersey where the town was named after him. Through my research and contacts with members of the Brotmanville Brotman family, I learned that Moses Brotman, a contemporary of Joseph Brotman, also had a father named Abraham and also was from Galicia, as was Joseph. The Brotmanville Brotmans believed that Moses was from Przemyl, which is about 100 miles from Tarnobrzeg. But none of us had any documentation of the family in Galicia or anything more than anecdotal evidence of a connection or birthplace.
So last spring I decided to try DNA testing to see if I could break through this brick wall. My first thought was to do a Y-DNA test on a male descendant of Moses and a male descendant of Joseph. It had to be a father-son-grandson-great-grandson connection to get a reliable Y chain as Y DNA is only passed from fathers to sons. I found one great-grandson of Moses Brotman who qualified and also asked one of my second cousins who was a direct male descendant of Joseph. We had the tests done by Family Tree DNA or FTDNA. It took about three months for both test results to return, and it showed that my Moses descendant Larry and my Joseph descendant Bruce shared 34 of 37 markers on their Y-DNA.
I had no clue what that meant. According to a woman who works for FTDNA, it meant that there is a high likelihood of “some genetic connection,” especially since the two lines share the same surname, Brotman. By “some genetic connection,” she meant that at some point in time the NY Brotmans had a common ancestor with the Brotmanville Brotmans. It might have been as recently as Abraham Brotman, the father of Joseph and perhaps the father of Moses, or it might have been centuries ago. The fact that Bruce and Larry have 34 out of 37 markers that were identical indicates that there is some family tie—but those three different markers suggest that there were mutations. Those mutations might have occurred between Bruce and his father or his father and his grandfather or even earlier. Or they might have been on Larry’s side. There was no way to know from the Y DNA results alone.
So my contact at FTDNA suggested that the next step would be to try a different DNA test called an autosomal DNA test, which is better at predicting the degree of connection—i.e., would better tell us whether Joseph and Moses were brothers, both sons of the same Abraham Brotman. My contact at FTDNA said that if we could get two of the grandchildren of Joseph and Moses to take the autosomal test, it would tell us if they are likely second cousins.
As I understand it (and remember the disclaimer above), autosomal DNA is DNA we inherit from both of our parents. We got an X from our mothers and either a Y or an X from our fathers to determine our sex. The other 22 pairs of chromosomes are also made up of genetic material we get from both parents, and those 22 pairs are our autosomal DNA. But it is not obvious which half of each pair came from which parent. This is where I start getting that deer in headlights look and feel.
But what I’ve been told and what I’ve read indicates that autosomal DNA testing is quite useful in figuring out the degree of relationship between two people. So I asked Elaine, Moses’ granddaughter, and my mother, Joseph’s granddaughter, if they would take the autosomal DNA test through FTDNA, called the Family Finder test. If the test showed that they were second cousins, we would have fairly strong evidence that their grandfathers, Moses and Joseph, were brothers. My mother and Elaine agreed to take the test, and once again we waited for results.
Those results came in about a week ago. First, I got Elaine’s results, and then a few days later, I received my mother’s results. And they matched! FTDNA predicts their relationship to be second cousins! Of course, this is not definitive proof. DNA testing is just a prediction, but at this degree of closeness, it is considered quite strong evidence, especially with the anecdotal evidence behind it, that is, the shared surnames, the shared father’s name, my aunt’s story, etc. Elaine and my mother share 334 centimorgans. That seems to suggest close cousins.
And then there was more. Although Elaine and my mother were each other’s closest matches, my mother had a second very close match to a woman named Frieda. She shared 292 centimorgans with Frieda, and Frieda was another predicted second cousin. But Elaine was not a close match to Frieda, although she was listed as a possible third to fifth cousin. So who was this Frieda? The FTDNA page listed Brod as one of her ancestral names and one of her ancestral towns as Radomysl nad Sanem, which is about 20 miles from Tarnobrzeg, where I believe Joseph and Bessie lived.
I emailed the person in charge of Frieda’s results, her niece Phyllis, and we have now started trying to figure out how Frieda is related to my mother. Since Frieda is listed as a likely second cousin, she could have shared a great-grandparent with my mother. But since Frieda is not as close a match to Elaine, they did not share a great-grandparent. That could mean that Frieda and my mother are both the great-granddaughters of the parents of Bessie Brot/Brotman whereas my mother and Elaine are both the great-granddaughters of the parents of Joseph Brotman and Moses Brotman.
And since Bessie was Joseph’s first cousin, that could explain why Elaine is a more distant cousin than my mother is to Frieda but still related to both. Elaine is not directly descended from Bessie’s line, but is directly descended from Moses Brotman, who would also have been Bessie’s first cousin if Moses and my great-grandfather Joseph were brothers. Elaine would have some of the same genetic material as Frieda as a third cousin, but not as much as she has with my mother, her presumed second cousin.
Have I lost you yet? I am trying to create a chart and will post it once I am sure I have it right.
This was incredible news for me. First, finding the connection between Elaine and my mother was corroborating evidence of our tie to the Brotmanville Brotmans. Second, finding Frieda gives me an opening to find out more about Bessie and Joseph and where they lived.
But I am once again at a stumbling block. Phyllis knows only that her great-grandmother, Frieda’s grandmother, was named Sabina Brod and was from Radomysl nad Sanem. She does not know anything more about Sabina’s family—who her parents were or who her siblings were. Sabina moved to Germany with her husband in the early 20th century and died there in the 1930s. As far as Phyllis knew, Sabina had no relatives who were in the US. Neither Phyllis nor I have found any definite records of our Brod or Brodman or Brotman relatives in Galicia.
So for now all we have is the DNA results. And I am struggling to understand them and to learn more from them. And it is a struggle for me. If there is anyone out there reading this who is comfortable with this type of data, I’d love an advisor who can assist me.
But for now it feels like I have found another opening into the mystery of my Brotman ancestors. I feel one step closer to knowing where they lived and who their families were.