Meeting New Cousins

There is one more sibling of my great-great-grandfather Gerson Katzenstein to research and write about—his half-brother Jakob.

But before I move on to the next step in the Katzenstein research, I have several other topics to discuss—updates and items of interest that have accumulated over the months but that were put on the back burner. So the next few posts will be about these varied topics including some interesting discoveries and meetings with cousins. Today I want to talk about two recent meetings with “new” cousins.

On August 4, my cousin Jan and her husband Richard made a trip to Provincetown to meet Harvey and me and spend the day together. We met them at the wharf where the ferry from Boston arrives, walked around Provincetown, and had a wonderful lunch overlooking Cape Cod Bay and Provincetown Harbor. We had a great time together—the conversation flowed naturally, and we all hit it off very easily.

Jan and me and a new friend in Provincetown

Jan is my second cousin, once removed. Her great-grandmother Toba/Tillie/Taube Brotman Hecht was the half-sister of my grandmother Gussie Brotman Goldschlager. I had “discovered” Jan after the amazing breakthrough I had finding my grandmother’s long missing half-sister Toba through the pure serendipity of a list of names in my aunt’s baby book from 1917.

Aunt Elaine’s baby book. Note the last name in the list on the left—Mrs. Taube Hecht; that is my grandmother’s half-sister Toba/Tillie/Taube Brotman Hecht and Jan’s great-grandmother.


While we were together, Jan completed a DNA testing kit, which I mailed the next day.  I am hoping that her DNA results will help me with my Brotman research since Jan is descended  from Joseph Brotman and his first wife and not from Bessie, my great-grandmother. Perhaps her results will help me identify which genes came from Joseph and not Bessie as I search for more answers to the many questions that remain about the Brotmans, for example, about the relationship between Joseph and Bessie.

Then on Tuesday, August 8, we had dinner with another “new” cousin, Mike and his wife Wendy. Mike is my fourth cousin through my Hamberg line. We are both the three-times great-grandchildren of Moses Hamberg of Breuna. Mike’s great-grandmother was Malchen Hamberg, who married Jacob Baer; Mike’s grandmother was Tilda Baer, who married Samuel Einstein/Stone, the co-founder with Maurice Baer (Tilda’s brother, Mike’s great-uncle) of Attleboro Manufacturing Company, the jewelry company now known as Swank.

Samuel Einstein/Stone, Sr., Samuel Stone, Jr. standing Sitting: Harriet, Stephanie (Mike’s mother), Tilda, and Babette (Betty) Stone Courtesy of the family


Mike and I found each other back in March, 2017, as a result of a comment left on my blog by a man named Dr. Rainer Schimpf. Dr. Schimpf wrote then:

I am so excited to read your blog! We are doing research on Samuel Einstein, born in Laupheim, Wuerttemberg. He was connected to Carl Laemmle, founder and president of Universal Pictures, who was also born in Laupheim. Could you please get in contact with me? Thank you so much!

Best, Rainer

I contacted Rainer immediately, excited by this connection to Hollywood since I’ve always been a movie fan and trivia nut. Rainer told me that he was curating an exhibit about Carl Laemmle for the Haus der Geschichte Baden-Wuerttemberg, which is the state museum in Stuttgart for the history of southwest Germany. Laemmle was born in Laupheim, Germany, and had immigrated to the United States in 1884. The story of his career in the United States is quite fascinating (though beyond the scope of my blog). You can read it about it here and here.

Carl Laemmle
From Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Rainer said that in the course of his research about Laemmle, he had found a newspaper article describing a party celebrating Laemmle’s fiftieth birthday in 1917; one of the guests mentioned in the article was Samuel Einstein from Attleboro, Massachusetts. (Einstein had not yet changed his surname to Stone.)

Motion Picture Weekly, January 1917

Rainer had been trying to learn more about Samuel Einstein and had learned quite a bit, including that Einstein was one of the founders of Attleboro Manufacturing, now known as Swank.  He also had learned that Samuel Einstein was “one of four Jewish boys of Laupheim, who made unique careers in the US. All four were meeting at the birthday party of Laemmle in 1917 (Leo Hirschfeld [inventor of the Tootsie Roll] and Isidor Landauer [of International Handkerchief Manufacturing] are the other two boys).” (email from Dr. Rainer Schimpf, March, 2017)

Rainer wanted to learn more about Einstein, his family, and his connection to Laupheim, Germany, and to Laemmle. I shared with Rainer what I knew, and then I searched for and contacted as many of the Baer/Stone family members as I could, and one of them, Faith, a great-granddaughter of Tilda and Samuel Stone, responded with great interest and then connected me to her cousin, Mike. Thanks to that one comment by Rainer on the blog, I now not only know more about Samuel Einstein/Stone, I also am connected to many more of my Hamberg cousins.

Together Rainer, Mike, and I were able to pull together a fuller picture of Samuel Einstein, his family of origin, and his life in Germany and in the United States.  Although I won’t go into complete detail here about the Einstein family, I will point out one interesting bit of information we learned that answered a question I’d had while researching the Baer family: how did Maurice Baer and Samuel Einstein end up as business partners?[1]

The Baers lived in Pittsburgh, and Samuel Einstein lived in Attleboro, Massachusetts. How could they have met each other? Even today, it would take almost ten hours to drive the more than 500 miles between the two cities. It would have taken days to get from one to the other back then.


Well, Rainer discovered that Samuel Einstein had three uncles who lived in Pittsburgh who had been in the US since the mid-19th century. Perhaps Samuel met Maurice Baer when he visited his relatives in Pittsburgh; maybe the Baers and Pittsburgh Einsteins were well-acquainted. If and when I have time, these are questions I’d like to pursue.

When Mike learned that I spend the summer on the Cape where he would be visiting this summer, we arranged to have dinner together. It was a lovely evening with Mike and Wendy with lots of stories and laughs and good food.  We felt an immediate connection to these warm and friendly people. Mike shared some old photographs and even showed me Maurice Baer’s walking stick. It was a lot of fun.

Harvey, me, Mike, and Wendy

It is always such a pleasure to meet new cousins—whether they are as distant as fourth or fifth cousins or as close as a second cousin.  It reinforces the idea that we are all connected in some ways to everyone else, and it inspires me to keep looking and researching and writing.

There are so many more cousins I’d like to meet in person—or as Jan said, IRL FTF. Some live nearby, and I hope to get to see them within the next several months. Others live much further away, making it harder to get together. But I’ve gone as far as Germany to meet a cousin, so eventually I hope I can meet many of those who live in the United States.


[1] Since Samuel is only related to me by his marriage to Tilda Baer, I had not previously researched his background too deeply. For the same reason, I won’t go into detail here on all that we discovered about his family.

Losing the DNA Wars

So many people use DNA to find their lost relatives.  I have read absolutely amazing stories of people finding parents, siblings, and cousins.  People write about breaking down brick walls and finding their great-great-great-grandparents on someone’s tree and suddenly learning about five more generations.  One man wrote an entire blog that mostly focuses on how he used DNA to find his grandfather.

But not me.  I don’t have any truly amazing stories to tell.  It is true that I was able to use DNA to corroborate the family stories that my great-grandfather Joseph Brotman and Moses Brotman of Brotmanville were brothers.  Not only did Elaine match my mother as a second cousin as expected, but another Brotmanville Brotman, Larry, also came up as a match at the expected level.  Plus I found Phyllis and Frieda through DNA.  As discussed earlier, we are hypothesizing that their ancestor Sabina Brot and my grandmother were first cousins through my great-grandmother Bessie’s family.

second revision family chart for blog

Now I am not at all suggesting that those connections are not important. I was very excited to make these connections and hope to learn more from them as time goes on.  But what I was ultimately hoping for was that I would find some new third or fourth cousin on the Brotman side who would have names and maybe even records of my Brotman ancestors—that I would learn where Joseph and Bessie were born, whether they had siblings, who their parents and grandparents were, and where and when they lived and died.  At a minimum I hoped I would learn where Joseph and Bessie lived with more certainty than I’ve been able to establish through US records alone.

But alas, it was not to be, and I am about to surrender in the DNA wars.  Let me tell you what I’ve done, what I’ve tried.  Maybe someone out there will have a better idea.  First, as I mentioned before, I found three amazing women to help me—-Leah, Julie, and Lana.  Leah and Julie are biologists, and Lana is an IT/math whiz.  They pored over my data and tried to find patterns in the matches.  We had DNA results from my mother, brother, second cousin Bruce, the Brotmanville cousins, and Frieda and Phyllis. I even tested myself to add to the mix.  We had all the tools on GEDmatch.  We used every tool available—triangulating, segment matching, one to ones, one to many, chromosome browsers.  (If these terms aren’t familiar to you, maybe you are lucky.)  I learned about DNA.  We contacted experts on Ashkenazi genetics and genealogy.  We banged our heads together, we argued, we laughed, and we became friends.

We made lists and spreadsheets.  I emailed more people than I can remember, setting out why I was writing to them, listing what my ancestral names and towns were, and asking for input.  Some people never even responded.  Most did, but once we got beyond the niceties, there was not one time when we could figure out why or how we might be related.  There was no pattern.  There were matches from Germany, Lithuania, Ukraine, Hungary, Russia, and so on.  There were none from Romania.  There were none from Galicia.  There were some from far-away places in Poland, but not anywhere near Tarnobrzeg.

And there were no common surnames.  No Brotmans, Brots, Rosenzweigs, Gelbermans, Goldschlagers.

So great—I have hundreds of possible second to fourth cousins (I didn’t even bother looking at those predicted to be further out), but I can’t prove how I am connected to any of them.  Even Frieda is a guess, a hope.  At least with Frieda I know the family name was Brot and the location was near Tarnobrzeg.  But the others?  Not. A. Clue.

English: The structure of DNA showing with det...

English: The structure of DNA showing with detail showing the structure of the four bases, adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine, and the location of the major and minor groove. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sure, maybe my ancestors moved from Lithuania or Ukraine or Germany.  Maybe they all adopted different surnames in 1810 or so.  So what good does that do me?  It’s like saying I must be related to Jon Stewart because after all, I am sure he had ancestors who also traipsed around Europe.  I am sure if he tested, we’d share some DNA.  So, yay!  I am Jon Stewart’s eighth cousin or something.  I can’t prove it.  And I can’t prove that any of those supposed cousins on FamilyTreeDNA or 23andme or GEDmatch are really my cousins.

The problem is endogamy.  Most Ashkenazi Jews share at least some DNA with almost all other Ashkenazi Jews.  We all come from the same roots, and our people have been marrying each other for generations upon generations.  My experts have concluded that as a result, a lot of the “matches” are really false matches in the sense that the amount of DNA shared is just not an accurate predictor of the relationship between the two people who match.  I had matches who shared close to or more than 100 cM, meaning we should be second to fourth cousins, but there is no way that we are.  Maybe 6th cousins or even further.  And we can’t trace back to our 6th or 7th great-grandparents in any way that will tell us since there were no surnames back then in most Jewish communities.

So…I am throwing in the towel at least for now.  The DNA stuff has eaten up endless hours of my time.  It’s been fun.  It’s been educational.  But it’s gotten me nowhere.  I will still chat with my new buddies, and I am still learning new things all the time.  The science is fascinating. I am still excited to find my brain challenged by new ways of thinking. (I haven’t taken a science class in 45 years.)  I’ve even gotten my friend and fellow blogger at Bernfeld Family from Galicia and More involved in our shenanigans. In fact, she has a great post today about her DNA adventures.

But I am raising the white flag on finding Brotman relatives.  I am not emailing any more long shot cousins.  I can’t find the Brotmans this way.  At least not for now.

Now…on the other hand…maybe I CAN find a connection to those Goldschlagers if one of them decided to do a DNA test.  Hmmmm….

Damn, the stuff is irresistible.

More in the DNA Wars

Lately I have been drowning in DNA.  I am trying to figure out how to interpret the DNA results I have and make use of them in searching for my ancestors.  Specifically, my Brotman ancestors.  As I look forward to visiting Poland in May and seeing Tarnobrzeg, I more and more want to be able to find something that actually corroborates my conclusion that that was the general area where my great-grandparents Joseph and Bessie Brotman lived.  I was hoping that perhaps with DNA results, I’d find another clue, another cousin, who knew something I didn’t know.

Animation of the structure of a section of DNA...

Animation of the structure of a section of DNA. The bases lie horizontally between the two spiraling strands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I dove into the DNA.  When I last wrote about the DNA tests, I talked about the fact that the autosomal DNA results supported the story my aunt had told about Joseph Brotman and his brother who had moved to New Jersey where they named the town for him, i.e., Brotmanville.  Moses Brotman’s granddaughter Elaine tested as a likely second cousin to my mother, just as she would be if Moses and Joseph were brothers.  I am still waiting for results of an autosomal DNA test of Larry, who is a great-grandson of Moses Brotman, for further support (I hope) for that conclusion.  But sadly the Brotmanville Brotmans are also not clear on where Moses lived or was born in Galicia.  Family stories suggest Preszyml, which isn’t too far from Tarnobrzeg (about 90 miles), but there is no paper record to support that story either.  They also do not have any records or stories about the parents or siblings of Moses Brotman.

But the DNA results also produced an unknown likely second cousin for my mother named Frieda.  Frieda’s niece and I have been in touch, and we have narrowed down the possibilities of the connection.  We believe that the connection is through Frieda’s mother whose name was Sabina Brot.  We think that Sabina’s father might have been Bessie Brotman’s brother. Here is a chart that helps to visualize the potential relationships:

second revision family chart for blog


Again, there is no paper trail, but this is how we reached that tentative conclusion:

First, not only did my mother test as a second cousin to Frieda, but my brother tested as a second to fourth cousin to Frieda.  But Elaine, the granddaughter of Moses, tested as a third to fifth cousin to Frieda, meaning that Frieda shared more DNA with my mother and my brother than she did with Elaine. Since Elaine would be more closely related to Joseph than she would be to Bessie,[1] I inferred that Frieda was more likely connected to my mother through Bessie, not Joseph.  (Keep in mind that Joseph and Bessie were supposedly first cousins, so even Elaine could share some DNA with Bessie from Bessie and Joseph’s mutual grandparents, Elaine’s great-great-grandparents.)

At the suggestion of Frieda’s niece, I then ordered an mtDNA test on my mother’s kit to see if she and Frieda were in the same haplogroup.  As defined by the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), “A haplogroup is a genetic population group of people who share a common ancestor on the patrilineal or matrilineal line.”     Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is only passed by mothers to their children.  Although sons inherit mtDNA from their mothers, they do not pass it down to their children.  Thus, mtDNA is a way of testing the maternal line—from mothers to daughters and so on.  If Frieda and my mother were not in the same haplogroup, we would be able to infer that the connection had not come from Frieda’s grandmother as a sister of Bessie, but more likely from Frieda’s grandfather.  As it turned out, my mother was not in the same haplogroup as Frieda, meaning Frieda’s mother (Sabina)’s mother was not the connection to my mother’s mother’s mother.  Thus, we concluded that if my mother and Frieda are second cousins, it was most likely that Bessie, my mother’s grandmother, and Frieda’s grandfather were siblings.

If only Frieda knew the name of her grandfather or the town where he lived, we could make some progress.  But unfortunately, Frieda’s family knows almost nothing about the background of Sabina Brot or her parents, so we are once again at an impasse.  Frieda’s niece believes Sabina lived in Radomysl nad Sanem, a town not far at all from Tarnobrzeg.

I put aside the DNA at that point, figuring I’d done what I could do.  I emailed a few other “matches” on FamilyTreeDNA, and I received a few responses.  But no one had any helpful information or anything that seemed like a possible link to my family.

Then I decided to try and get more out of the results.  I asked a lot of questions in various Facebook genealogy groups, read a lot of blogs and websites, but was still without a clue.  I tried a program called DNAgedcom, which has a tool known as ADSA that allows you to see who else matches your kit on a specific chromosome and who else matches with that person.  It is a great tool, but unfortunately DNAgedcom is not yet equipped to handle the large number of matches that most Ashkenazi Jews will generate through autosomal DNA testing.

As I’ve learned, and as I’ve seen in my own family on several lines, Ashkenazi Jews are an endogamous population, meaning that they tended to marry within their own community and even within their own families.  Thus, a typical Ashkenazi Jew will share some bits of DNA with thousands of other Ashkenazi Jews.  My mother had thousands of matches, but most of them are so distantly related as to be irrelevant.  As was recently stated in one report, some researchers believe that all Ashkenazi Jews are descended from several hundred Jews who lived about 600 years ago.  So we are, in fact, all one big tribe.

That’s all well and good until you want to use DNA to find closer relatives.  For DNAgedcom, it was just too much data.  Their website estimates that a typical download will take about 30 minutes.  My mother’s data was still downloading after SIX hours, and it wasn’t nearly done.  In fact, it crashed and never completely downloaded.

Then people told me to try GEDmatch, another website for interpreting DNA results.  I sent the data to GEDmatch for my mother, brother, Bruce, and Elaine, and Frieda’s niece sent Frieda’s data.  Then I had no clue what to do with GEDmatch.  Like DNAgedcom, it’s a free site run by wonderful people who are interested in genealogical uses of DNA.  But free means you can’t complain when things aren’t clear or you can’t figure something out.  I was totally perplexed by GEDmatch.  Lots of numbers, lots of charts.  But what did they all mean?  And how could I use them to interpret the DNA results or find new matches?

Here’s a portion of one page of many showing (with identifying information deleted) some of my mother’s matches on GEDmatch:

GEDmatch sample for blog

Yeah, right? What does all THAT mean?

Back to the Facebook groups I went, and this time I found three incredible women, Julie, Leah, and Lana, who volunteered to help me figure out how to use the DNA results and the various tools available.  Together they have backgrounds in biology and IT and math.  We created our own space on Facebook to work together.  Well, mostly they worked, and I learned.  Am still learning.  They are amazing.  We have spent hours and hours online together despite the fact that we are spread across two continents and many times zones.

What I have learned?  To begin with, I now understand how DNA is affected during the process of meiosis, that is, the creation of gametes, i.e., sperm and egg.  I won’t show off here, though I do wonder what my high school biology was teaching us since I never learned this.  The bottom line is that DNA changes during meiosis when segments of the chromosomes “cross over” and then randomly sort themselves before the cell splits into ultimately four new cells, each with a unique selection of DNA on the chromosomes contained therein.  As a result, two children with the exact same parents will not have identical DNA since the sperm and egg that created the first sibling will have different DNA than the sperm and egg that created the second sibling.  (This may explain why my brother has the science brain and I, quite obviously, do not. I am sure he and others will gladly point out anything that is not correct about this description.)

Here’s a cute video that I found helpful:

Why is any of that relevant to using DNA for genealogy? Because it means that even siblings will share varying amounts of DNA and different DNA.  It’s not only that every generation has new parents mixing into their offspring’s DNA; it’s also that each parent shares different DNA with each child.  And with each generation there are more crossovers, more sortings, and thus more differences.   So when two people share a fairly large amount of overall DNA and also some large segments of DNA, it is quite reliable as an indication of a familial relationship.  Given all the crossovers and mixing and new DNA with every generation, it’s not likely that two people would share a lot of DNA unless they were related.

I won’t go into all the statistics and terminology.  That’s not my goal here.  I just wanted to explain why I’ve found these three women so helpful. I like to understand things, not just accept numbers without an explanation.  And it didn’t stop with the science.  My mentors then helped me figure out how to use GEDmatch to “triangulate.”  No, not like Bill Clinton.  In using DNA in genealogy, it helps to find out who shares DNA with you on a particular location on a particular chromosome. Then you need to figure out who among those people also share with each other.  Thus, if A, B, and C share with me on Chromosome 12 at a given location for a certain segment, but A and B do not share with C, I know that C shares with me from a different parent than A and B.  But I don’t know whether A and B share with the DNA I got from my mother or the DNA I got from my father.

Another thing I learned: I knew that chromosomes came in pairs, one from each parent for each of the 23 pairs of chromosomes.  But I didn’t know that the testing companies don’t really distinguish one side from the other.  They test two strands from each pair of chromosomes (one from each chromosome in that pair), but the two are jumbled together on the companies’ depictions of what is on that Chromosome 12 I mentioned above.  What that means is that when I look at their depiction of a chromosome and see matches, I’ve no idea which parent’s strand that match pairs up with.

Human metaphase chromosomes were subjected to ...

Human metaphase chromosomes were subjected to fluorescence in situ hybridization with a probe to the Alu Sequence (green signals)and counterstained for DNA (red). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For example, if you look at my brother’s chromosomes with my mother’s as a match, it looks like she matches all his DNA. All that orange is where she matches his DNA on his chromosomes.  But in fact, that’s just half of his DNA.  The DNA from my father isn’t reflected.  All we are seeing is that my mother gave my brother half of his DNA.

Mom DNA on Ira's Chromosomes


In this case, we know that this is DNA from his mother because, well, I know she’s his mother.  But when I look at someone else on my brother’s chromosomes, I don’t know if that person is matching the strand from my mother or my father unless I triangulate the three kits.

Here’s a more typical chromosome browser display with various matches:

typical browser results

Each color represents a different person who shares some DNA with my brother, and as you can see, there are some places where two colors overlap, like on the 21st chromosome.  How do I know whether those people share DNA with my brother that comes from my mother or from my father?  How do I know if those two overlapping people are related or just one shares my father’s DNA on the location and the other shares my mother’s DNA at that location?  Triangulation.  We have to figure out if those two people also share DNA with each other at that location and also whether they share with my mother at that particular location.  And that’s what Leah, Lana, and Julie taught me to do.

Where has that gotten me? Well, we found that on Chromosome 21 my mother and Frieda had a large segment overlap with three other people.  I then triangulated and found that all of them also matched Frieda and each other at that location on Chromosome 21.  That means that they are all somehow related: Frieda, my mother, and A, B, and C all share a common ancestor who passed on this rather large segment that they all share.  I don’t know for sure whether my mother got that segment from her mother or father, but since we have reason to believe that my mother and Frieda are connected through my great-grandmother’s Bessie’s family, it would seem that A, B, and C are also somehow related to my mother and Frieda through that family line.

So I emailed A, B, and C.  I’ve heard back from two of them, but with nothing that’s very helpful.  The little information each had showed nothing to explain this DNA connection.  There are no common surnames and no common geographic locations.  These two didn’t even have roots in Galicia that they knew of.  Huh? Now what?

Good question.  We are still tweaking the numbers, scouring other chromosomes, hoping something will provide a breakthrough.  But at the moment I hold out limited hope that we will find someone who can connect all the pieces.  It’s just too far back in a place where very few records survive and where surnames only started 200 years ago.  Maybe A, B, and C had relatives who adopted different surnames, not Brot or Brotman.  Maybe their great-great-grandfather moved to Ukraine or Lithuania or Latvia or mine moved away from there.  We can speculate all we want, and the DNA doesn’t lie.  But we may never, ever find the answer to how we are related.

So I have no better information today about where my great-grandparents lived or the names of their siblings or the names of earlier generations.  But I know a lot more about DNA and about the tools out there for using it, thanks to Lana, Julie, and Leah.


I will be taking a short break from the laptop—SPRING BREAK!  (Now that I am retired, it’s not really my spring break, but years and years of celebrating it still has its effects.)  See you soon.

For anyone who wants a broader introduction to DNA and chromosomes, Steve Morse (of wrote a very clear laymen’s overview of the topic here.







[1] Although Bruce, another great-grandchild of Joseph and Bessie, also tested as a third to fifth to Frieda, he shared more DNA with her than Elaine did, although he shared less than my brother did.  In theory at least, Bruce and Ira should test as the same distance from Frieda, if she is related to us through Bessie. But DNA does not always pass on in equal segments, or so I’ve learned.   Bruce might have more from Joseph’s side through his parents and grandparents than from Bessie’s side and my mother might have more.

This is NOT a test even if it looks and sounds like one!

As promised, here is a chart to illustrate one possible way that my mother Florence, Elaine and Frieda are all connected.

New PDF Chart showing relationships of Moses Joseph Bessie et al-page-001


There are a LOT of unknowns and assumptions here.

First, we are assuming that Joseph Brotman and Bessie Brot were first cousins, as family lore says.  If so, then one of Joseph’s parents was a sibling to one of Bessie’s parents.  On this chart, I am assuming that Joseph’s father Abraham was a sibling to Bessie’s mother Gittel Brot because I don’t think Abraham would have named a son Joseph if he had a living brother named Joseph.

Second, we are assuming based on DNA results that Joseph Brotman and Moses Brotman were brothers, making their children first cousins and their grandchildren, here Florence and Elaine, second cousins.  The DNA results seem to support that assumption.

Third, we are assuming that Florence and Frieda are also second cousins based on the DNA results, meaning that Gussie Brotman and Sabina Brod were first cousins, meaning that one of Gussie’s parents and one of Sabina’s parents were siblings.  Here, I am making the assumption that Bessie Brot, Gussie’s mother, was the sister of Sabina’s mother, but it could be that Bessie was Sabina’s father’s sister.  I don’t know whether Brod was a name Sabina got from her mother or her father because in Galicia in those times, the state often treated Jewish children as illegitimate if their parents had only a Jewish marriage ceremony and thus assigned the mother’s name to the children instead of the father’s.  So either is possible here.

So what does this all mean? Well, hold on because this is where it gets a bit slippery. Taking the above chart as true (which is still very speculative), it means that Elaine, Florence, and Frieda are all third cousins since they all have the same great-great-grandparents, i.e., whoever were the parents of Abraham Brotman and Gittel Brot.  (I don’t know whether Brotman and Brot were two versions of the same name or two completely different names in the family; both exist as surnames so they could be as unrelated as someone named Rosen is to someone named Rosenberg, for example.)

BUT Elaine and Florence are also second cousins (as well as third cousins) since they are the children of first cousins (Louis and Gussie) and the grandchildren of siblings (Moses and Joseph Brotman).  AND the same is true for Florence and Frieda: they are second cousins because they are the children of first cousins (Gussie and Sabina) and the grandchildren of siblings (Bessie and the parent of Sabina).


So my mother is a second cousin to both Elaine and Frieda (since her grandparents were first cousins), BUT Elaine and Frieda are not second cousins, only third cousins.  Their grandparents (Moses Brotman and Sabina’s parent) were not first cousins, just second cousins.

That is consistent with the DNA results which showed my mother as a second cousin to Elaine and also to Frieda but showed Elaine and Frieda as likely third to fifth cousins.

I have no idea whether that is a help or not.  In fact, I think I am more confused now than before.  Please tell me if that makes no sense.  Ask me questions.  Test my thinking.  Please.

And a big THANK YOU to my new cousin Phyllis for helping me sort through all of this!

Brotman Update! The Trials and Tribulations of DNA Testing

Animation of the structure of a section of DNA...

Animation of the structure of a section of DNA. The bases lie horizontally between the two spiraling strands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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.


My aunt’s story about Brotmanville

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.

English: A DNA microarray. Français : Une puce...

English: A DNA microarray. Français : Une puce à ADN. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

English: The structure of DNA showing with det...

English: The structure of DNA showing with detail showing the structure of the four bases, adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine, and the location of the major and minor groove. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Screenshot (24)

A screenshot of the chromosome browser showing where on my mother’s chromosomes Elaine and Frieda match her DNA

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.

English: DNA replication or DNA synthesis is t...

English: DNA replication or DNA synthesis is the process of copying a double-stranded DNA molecule. This process is paramount to all life as we know it. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)