Of DNA Testing and The Magic of Photographs: Who is That Woman?

As many of you know, I have not had much success using DNA as a genealogy research tool. Because I have thousands of matches on each of the major DNA testing sites (Ancestry, 23andme, FamilyTreeDNA, and MyHeritage), finding a true match—not one just based on endogamy—is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Over time I have found some “real” matches, but I usually only know they’re real because I’ve already found those cousins through traditional genealogical research. Finding that the DNA confirms what I already knew is nice, but not really helpful in terms of advancing my research. Even when I look at the matches that cousin shares with me, I am not making progress because our shared matches also number in the hundreds if not thousands.

Nevertheless, I periodically check my matches on each of the sites to see if any truly close matches have appeared. A couple of weeks ago I checked with 23andme and discovered a new third cousin match, Alyce, who also shared a family surname that appears on my tree—Goldfarb. Since the Goldfarbs are related to my Brotman line, I was quite excited. My Brotman line is one of my biggest brickwalls. I cannot get beyond the names of my great-great-grandparents.

Some background: my maternal grandmother’s parents were Joseph Brotman and Bessie Brod. But sometimes Joseph’s surname is listed as Brod, sometimes Bessie’s is listed as Brotman. Family lore is that Bessie, Joseph’s second wife, was his first cousin. Various US records revealed that Joseph’s parents were Abraham Brotman and maybe Yette Sadie Burstein; Bessie’s parents were Joseph Brod and Gittel Schwartz. But I have no records from Poland where they once lived to verify those names, nor can I get any further back to determine if Joseph and Bessie were in fact first cousins.

Then years later I discovered the Goldfarb cousins after seeing the names Joe and Julius Goldfarb and Taube Hecht in my grandfather’s address book and my aunt’s baby book.

After much digging, I learned that my great-grandmother Bessie Brod had a sister Sarah Brod (or Brotman) who married Sam Goldfarb. Joe and Julius Goldfarb were two of their sons, my grandmother’s first cousins. And Taube Hecht was my grandmother’s half-sister Taube Brotman, daughter of Joseph Brotman and his first wife. Taube’s daughter Ida had married Julius Goldfarb.

Through more research I was able to locate cousins descended from the Goldfarb line and from the Hecht line—Sue, a granddaughter of Julius Goldfarb and Ida Hecht, and Jan, a descendant of Taube Brotman Hecht line through her son Harry. They tested, but the results didn’t help me advance my research. I still couldn’t determine if my great-grandparents were in fact first cousins, and I still hadn’t found anything to expand the reach of my Brotman/Brod family tree.

Then a few weeks ago I found Alyce, a granddaughter of Joe Goldfarb and his wife Betty Amer and thus a pure Goldfarb (non-Hecht) cousin. She connected me with a few other Goldfarb cousins—descendants of Joe or one of his siblings. That’s a lot more DNA to work with, and I am hoping that I can get someone who’s more expert at parsing these things to help me use the DNA of these new cousins to advance my research. So far all I can do is stare at chromosome browsers and see overlaps, but I have no idea how to parse out the Goldfarb (Brod) DNA from the Hecht (Brotman) DNA to get any answers.

All of this I will return to at some point when I have more to say about what the DNA reveals. For now I want to talk about the photographs that Alyce shared with me of my Goldfarb relatives. Alyce sent me over twenty photographs. She was able to identify the people in many of them, but unfortunately a number are unlabeled. Also the quality of some of the photos is quite poor. I won’t post them all, but I will post a few today and more in a later post.

First, in Alyce’s collection was this photograph she labeled “I think this is Grandpa’s mother Sarah Brothman. I could be wrong.” (Brothman was yet another variation on how Joseph, Bessie, and Sarah spelled their surname.)

“Sarah Brothman” Courtesy of Alyce Shapiro Kunstadt

I almost fell off my chair. I had that exact same photograph, but in our collection the photograph was said to be of my great-grandmother Bessie Brod Brotman.

My great-grandmother Bessie Brotman (or so I was told)

I wasn’t sure who had the right label for the photograph, but just the fact that Alyce and I had in our possession copies of the same photograph seemed to confirm what the DNA and all my research had already told me—we were cousins!

Alyce had other photographs of her great-grandmother Sarah, and when I saw those I thought that in fact that first photograph was of Sarah, not Bessie. Here are her other photographs of Sarah, all courtesy of Alyce, and then another photograph I had of my great-grandmother Bessie.

Sarah Brod/Brotman Goldfarb and her son Leo Goldfarb. Courtesy of Alyce Shapiro Kunstadt

Bessie Brotman

Bessie Brotman

It seems to me that Bessie had a rounder and softer edged face than the woman seated in front of the grocery store, so I think that woman was indeed Sarah, Bessie’s sister.

So somehow my family ended up with a photograph of Bessie’s sister Sarah. And we never would have known if I hadn’t found Alyce and she hadn’t shared her copy of the photograph.

I slowly flipped through the rest of Alyce’s photos, noting the faces of my grandmother’s Goldfarb first cousins Joe and Leo and their wives and children, hoping I could identify some of the unknowns in Alyce’s collection, when I came to this photograph. This time my jaw dropped.

Rose Goldfarb, Joe Goldfarb, Gussie Brotman

Alyce labeled this photograph, “Grandpa Joe. I think that could be Aunt Rose [the youngest child of Sarah Brod and Sam Goldfarb] on the left. Not sure who’s on the right.”

But I knew who was on the right. I had no doubt. That woman was my grandmother, Gussie Brotman Goldschlager, posing with two of her first cousins, Joe and Rose Goldfarb. I was blown away. How could Alyce, who until just a few days earlier was unknown to me, have a photograph of my grandmother—a photograph I’d never seen before?

I sent the photograph to my brother for confirmation, and he agreed. I ran the photograph through Google’s face identification software, and Google agreed. Here are some other photographs of my grandmother.

Gussie Brotman

Goldschlagers 1935

Jeff and Gussie c. 1946

I think you also will agree.  Alyce, my third cousin, had a photograph of her grandfather Joe and my grandmother Gussie together. Wow.

48 thoughts on “Of DNA Testing and The Magic of Photographs: Who is That Woman?

  1. Hi, known someone better message. It is about our Jewish family as some have said to me that you must find out in Denmark itself. I have some Path from U.S. with the Acuff family , probably also with DNA relation. Otherwise , everything is as secret as it can come about with my family three example of JewishGen #367887 Member .
    Magnus. !


    • I was told by BEN NOAH Business Manager for the Israeli Family Trees that it was about Jacob Bendix from Ahause , but I don´t get to vote with our Descendants. Some say that Jacob Bendix (Goldschmidt – Goldsmith ) 1686- to 1777 ( 37 ? ) does not have DNA, but it might be someone else in question. Has been notified of match about Aaron Benedict Goldsmith , half – brother of Jacob Benedictus Baruch Kassel Levie Goldsmith 1686-1777 ( 37 ? ) on Myheritage.com/DNA , others believe that it may be Falcke Jacob the Danish , but it is probably completely beside reality . Does anyone have better knowledge ?.
      Magnus. !

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A word on “They were first cousins” marriages. I have run into instances where the descendants heard “cousins” and assumed “first cousins,” when in fact the grandparents had been second or even third cousins. I always assume that stories are correct, but not necessarily precise.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree—my aunt (the main source of that family lore) only said “cousins.” And it could be more distant than first—but I sure would like to know. Thanks!


  3. What a wonderful surprise! Not only that you’ve found a DNA match you can work with but that she also has the same photo of Sarah.
    There must be some way or someone who knows some things you might be able to do with your matches to sort them at least a little bit.
    I think having too many matches must be as frustrating as having too few. My Mom has a little under 8,000 with 366 being 4th cousins or closer but many of these are really more like 5-7th cousins.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know this sounds crazy, but I think I’d rather have a few really helpful matches that moved my research along than so many that are overwhelming and thus not helpful. Is that your mother’s Luxembourgian side? I assume there must be some endogamy in that community as well, given how small the country is.

      Liked by 1 person

      • If there is endogamy in the communities my mother’s ancestors came from then it’s from an area of Germany just across the present-day Luxembourg border. Her paternal grandfather’s parents were 3C1R and 5C1R. I have DNA matches with up to three MRCAs in that area.
        For her maternal side, I have not found cousin relationships between spouses. This is mainly due to the Catholic church prohibiting marriages between cousins. Dispensations for marriages within the fourth degree of relationship (number of generations back to the common ancestor=third cousins) were at times granted and mentioned in marriage records.
        So even though Luxembourg is small, they paid special attention to how close the bride and groom were related.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s interesting that the Catholic Church prohibited cousin marriages. I guess they were way ahead of the times. Do you think it was based on genetics or just a sense that it was wrong?

        Liked by 1 person

      • It was in 506 A.D. when the council of Agde forbade cousin marriage. It changed the western world breaking up the kinship networks (cousins marrying cousins to keep land in the family). It forced people to relocate to marry outside of the confines of their extended family. It might have been a sense that it was wrong as some say the church was obsessed with incest.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Great detective work! Just one caveat. Google like all AI computer-generated identification sites is highly inaccurate and no match for the human eye backed by solid research. In your case, it worked for you because you had other knowledge to back it up. I do not recommend using AI as a primary source for identification or photo comparisons.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Ava. And don’t worry—I would never trust Google alone. I ran through all my Google photos after I found this photo, and I would say at least 90% of the time it was able to identify family members from the time they were children through old age (my mother and father, for example). But there were other times that it labeled people totally wrong—usually photos of people who are at most distantly related but had some vague facial similarities to someone else in my collection. Nevertheless, the number of times it was right was astonishing.


  5. Wonderful news Amy! This past week I got back on my Kuhn Line and found my 2 times great grandparents in Hockheim Germany! I was able to get back to the late 1700’s and find out there were 2 or 3 more Peter Kuhns with variations on the name! I also was able to get back in the French Canadian side to find 3 , 4, and 5 time great grandparents in Canada, Mass., Rhode Island,, Vermont and Clinton NY and one brother who fled to Lousiana. I had trouble finding Pierre and Jean/John as they Americanized and had changed the Spelling of their names. I also found relatives -many good people, and a few not so good people in Germany that I am related to. I am grateful I am related to some very wonderful people, Like JS Bach, Daniel Boone, John Heintz and the Heintz family, etc. The two that I am related to that are historically bad,shall remain only within our family, There is a possibility I am related to Jesse James-still looking into this with our James family history!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh this is just wonderful! Just yesterday I had a bit of a potential breakthrough when my 3rd cousin showed me a photo of her great grandfather (my great grandfather’s brother) and I have the original photo in my collection! I think the four photos I have from the same time frame and same studio are not only her great grandfather but his three brothers, one of whom is my great grandfather.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. How wonderful! So exciting to make these connections and find these photographs. It is amazing how close cousins can be, certainly closer than many people are with their cousins these days in order to be in photographs together or indeed have copies of photos of shared ancestors. Really great!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Alex. I am in touch with my first cousins and many of my second cousins, and my husband’s family is really close. We see all his first cousins as well as their children and their grandchildren.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have 11 first cousins and I never spent much time with them as children as we lived hundreds of miles apart. I am friends with some of them via Facebook but not really very close. I guess if we had grown up closer to each other geographically then we may have been closer as cousins.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I had only six, and two lived in the same town so we saw them all the time. The other four lived two hours away so we saw them less frequently. My husband had seven first cousins, and most of them lived in New York and spent holidays together and had “cousins club” meetings. Even though they and their descendans are now more spread out (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Florida), somehow they stay in touch.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It is great to be close like that. My eldest uncle married twice so we saw less of his first 3 children from his first marriage than we did of the 4 he had from the second. I was closer to my cousin who was the daughter of my Mum’s second oldest sister – her mother died in 1989 when she was 14 and while she went to live with her father (they had divorced some years before) my parents were the trustees of her mother’s will and looked after her money until she was 21. My eldest cousin spent his early years in Nigeria but then came back here to go to boarding school and spent much of his early adult life in university. My other two cousins – their parents divorced and we didn’t see as much of them either. One of them now lives in Germany.

        My sisters children don’t see as much of their cousins either, we don’t see a lot of my brother and his two children. My stepsons are their cousins now too and see a bit more of them but even when they are all together they never speak to each other!! All far too shy!

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s sad that that happens in families. My husband’s family is the exception to the rule. It’s especially ironic for those of us who are so interested in family history. I never even knew my grandmother had half-siblings, let alone first cousins right in her neighborhood. Until I started doing genealogy.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, it is sad how families do drift apart, especially when people start having families of their own. My father was an only child as was his mother so that side was quite small, but his father was one of 5 and they all drifted apart quite a bit once my grandfather had died in 1975. My mother’s father was an only child too, her mother was one of 3 and they did see something of those aunts and the cousins on that side when they were younger but again drifted apart as they got older although I am in contact with some of my cousins on that side. It is due to the genealogy interest that I have actually made contact with most of these cousins and it is nice that they can read about our shared ancestry and my discoveries through the blog posts shared on Facebook. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Like you, I have found cousins I never would have known without genealogy. Many I am in regular contact with through Facebook or email, and a fair number I have met in person.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Fantastic connection you’ve found, Amy! I met a 4th cousin once who had a scrapbook with photos of my dad as a kid – that was so weird! I recently got a brick wall breakthrough with Ancestry’s Thru-Lines. I don’t do much DNA research, but once in a while it can sure be helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: (Re)-introducing the Goldfarbs | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

  10. Pingback: Sarah Brod Goldfarb, My Great-grandmother’s Sister: From Immigrant to American Grandmother | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

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