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.

Does Anybody Really Care about a Fifth Cousin?  Are Collateral Lines Relevant?

y Sg647112c (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

y Sg647112c (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

I have been spending many hours recently researching the children, grandchildren and other descendants of the siblings of my three-times great-grandparents.  Sometimes I find myself thinking, “Why am I researching these people?  They are my third cousins twice removed or my fifth cousins or my second cousins four times removed…or whatever.”  Although I’ve had moments of wondering this before, it’s been especially true for the Nusbaum clan, who for the most part flew under the radar and did not have lots of juicy or interesting stories to tell—they were mostly law abiding merchants; they lived their lives quietly and out of the public eye.  They were not politicians or inventors or criminals or performers.  They did not change history.  Sometimes when I learn that a particular relative had no children, I am relieved.  One more line has been completed.

So why do this?  Does anybody really care about such distant relatives? Do I even care? Is it just my general compulsive need for a sense of completion? For being thorough? Or is there something pushing me forward, person by person, line by line?

Some of it is definitely my neurotic need to finish things.  Until recently I would finish any book I started even if I hated it.  Then finally I realized, “Hey, I hate this book.  I do not need to finish it.”  It was tough, but I started realizing no one was grading me if I put the book away.  And it is not just books.  When we moved into our new home five years ago, I stayed up past 3 am just to put away every last dish, fork, pot, and coffee mug in the kitchen.  Craziness.

But I do think that something else impels me to keep researching and writing about all these distant cousins.  First, it gives me the big picture about the lives of my ancestors.  I start to see trends and patterns.  For example, I would not have seen how important the liquor trade became in the family and the country if I had not followed all those Simon and Nusbaum relatives who started selling liquor in the 1870s.  I would not have understood how important the peddler trade was to early German Jewish immigrants if I did not study all the Nusbaum siblings. I would not have sensed the broad impact of the 1870s depression by studying just my direct ancestors.   And as I move into the 20th century, I would perhaps not have seen how suddenly education became a much bigger factor in the lives of these families as both sons and daughters started getting a college education.

So in order to appreciate the larger society in which our ancestors lived, it is important to research not just your direct line but those collateral to it.  But there is more there.  Because I could do all that research and not blog about these people.  I am no fool; I know that it doesn’t make for sexy reading to follow the life of someone who was born, grew up, sold hats, got married, had children, and died.  So why even bother posting on the blog about that ordinary person? Partly because we all live ordinary lives.  Most people are never in the paper for anything “interesting.” Most of us are not politicians or entertainers or criminals.  Most of us are born, grow up, go to work, have families, and die.  Don’t we matter? Won’t our grandchildren want to be able to tell their grandchildren something about their ancestors?  I hope so.

By Citynoise (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Citynoise (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

And then there is this other thing.  It hasn’t happened a lot, but it’s happened to me enough that I know it can happen.  Someone googles their great-grandfather’s name, say Simon Nusbaum, for example.  They land on my blog, and they learn something about their great-grandfather that they never knew—for example, that he was Jewish or that he was the son of a once successful merchant in Philadelphia. And they leave a comment on the blog, and I now have a new cousin with whom I share a family history and some smidgeon of DNA.

Isn’t that worth it?  Right now I am searching for the living descendants of my three-times great-grandparents and their many siblings, and I have found a number of them.  They are mostly my fifth cousins with a few fourth cousins mixed in.  Some I have already emailed, others I will today.  I have not heard back from those I emailed, as is often the case.  Maybe they think I am a crazy person.  Maybe they have no interest today.  But maybe in a month or a year they will wonder about their ancestors and find my blog or find me.

And even if just one of them responds to me, it is worth it.  Maybe they will have a picture of John Nusbaum and Jeanette Dreyfuss or one of their children.  Even if they don’t, I will have helped them learn about their family’s history, and that will make all of this worthwhile.


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)


A Brick Wall Tumbles, Thanks Once Again to the Genealogy Village

When I learned that my brother’s Y-DNA did not match the Y-DNA of a descendant of Moses Cohen of Washington, DC, I was sorely disappointed.  I was sure that all the circumstantial and documentary evidence I had found supported my hunch that Moses was the brother of my great-great-grandfather Jacob Cohen and son of my three-times great-grandfather, Hart Levy Cohen.  But DNA does not lie, and I was very surprised by the results.

I had one small glimmer of hope when I learned about a family story that indicated that Moses Cohen, Sr., was not the biological father of Moses Cohen, Jr., who was in fact the biological great-great-grandfather of the living descendant whose DNA had been compared to that of my brother.  But how would I ever prove that?  It seemed hopeless.

Nevertheless, I decided to see what I could find that might help answer some of my questions.  Where and when was Moses, Jr., born? When and where did Moses, Sr., marry his mother Adeline Himmel? I could not find any American records showing a marriage or an immigration record for Adeline and her son Moses, Jr.  All I had were census records from 1850 and 1860 showing that Moses, Sr. and Adeline were already married by 1850 and that in 1850, Moses, Jr., was eleven years old.  Later census records indicated that both Moses, Jr., and Adeline were born in Germany and that Moses, Sr., was born in England (though a few later census reports filed after Moses, Sr.’s death by his children said he was also born in Germany).  Some of Moses, Jr.’s and Adeline’s records were even more specific, several naming Baden as her place of birth.

Several months ago when I first discovered the DC branch of the Cohen family, I had tried without success to find where in Baden Adeline had lived.  I sent a message on the GerSIG listserv (German Special Interest Group) of asking for help.  I received many suggestions, but the most helpful one was from a man named Rodney.  First, he looked up the surname Himmel in Lars Menk’s “Dictionary of German-Jewish Surnames” and found that there was only one Jewish community in Germany where the name Himmel appeared, in  the Eberbach region of Baden.  Then he pointed me to a website that compiled various birth, death and marriage records from various towns in Germany, the Landesarchiv, and specifically to a book of the Jewish records for a town in Eberbach called Strumpfelbrunn where Rodney found a birth record for Jacob Himmel that he translated for me.  The record said, “On the 24th December 1815 was born Jakob Himmel, legitimate son of Moses Himmel and his wife Bromit nee Jakobin(?). Witnesses are Jakob Goez and Abraham Mond.”

(Generallandesarchiv Karlsruhe 390 Nr. 1137, Bild 8
Standesbücher / (1691-) 1775-1875 (-1958)
Kernlaufzeit 1810-1870 > Amtsgerichtsbezirk Eberbach >
Strümpfelbrunn, israelitische Gemeinde: Standesbuch 1810-1866 / 1810-1866)

Jacob Himmel birth record

Jacob Himmel birth record

I immediately wondered whether this Jakob Himmel could be the same as the one living next door to Moses, Adeline, and Moses, Jr., in Baltimore in 1850, the one I suspected was the brother of Adeline.

Moses Cohen and family 1850 census

Moses Cohen and family and Jacob Himmel and family  1850 census

Rodney suggested that I look for other records in the Strumpfelbrunn book, but it was written in old German script that looks like what you see above.  I wouldn’t even recognize my own name written in that script.  I tried my best, but after a few pages, I gave up and said that there had to be an easier way.  But there was not.  These records are not digitized or translated anywhere yet.  So I returned to American records and moved on, figuring I’d either never find Moses, Jr.’s records or I’d find them some other way.

Then in the last few weeks I found the passenger manifest for Jacob Himmel.

Jacob Himmel ship manifest

Jacob Himmel ship manifest



I posted it to a Facebook group called Baden Genealogy for help in deciphering the town listed as Jacob’s place of last residence, which looked like Rutlingheim to me and to most others.  But there was no such town in Baden, no town that had a name that looked even close.  I tried searching for the two men who appeared to be traveling with Jacob from “Rutlingheim” and had no luck at all locating them in the US.  Then two days ago, I posted again to the Baden Facebook group, asking whether the town could be Billigheim, a town reasonably close to Strumpfelbrunn where a Jacob Himmel had been born.

Monica, a member of that group, responded, and when I explained why Strumpfelbrunn was my point of reference, she invited me to send her the birth record I had and the source where I had found it and she would translate it for me.  Her translation was consistent with that of Rodney except that she read Jacob’s mother’s name as Fromit, not Bromit.  She, like Rodney, said I should look for other mentions of Himmel in the record.  The book is close to 300 pages long, and I told her that I just could not decipher the old German script.  Then she made a brilliant suggestion; she sent me a link to the font for that old script, had me install it into Word, and then suggested I type out Himmel and any other relevant names in the script and compare it to what I could find on the pages of the records book.

And so I did, and on page 78, I found a record that looked like it had the name Moses Himmel in that old script.

Moses Himmel birth record 1839

Moses Himmel birth record 1839

Moses Himmel birth record 1839 detail

Moses Himmel birth record 1839 detail

I sent it to Monica, who translated it as follows: “In the year 1839 29th Dec at noon an illegitimate son of the spinster Adelheid Himmel was born.  She is the legitimate daughter of the deceased Moses Himmel and of Frommat nee Lagg from Amsterdam.  The boy will be named Moses at his circumcision.”  It then names some witnesses.

When I received that email with the translation, I felt those bricks tumbling down.  Could this be anyone other than Adeline Himmel Cohen and her son Moses? Does this not provide evidence that the family story that Moses, Jr., was not the biological child of Moses Cohen, Sr., is reliable? Doesn’t it explain why Moses, Jr.’s great-great-grandson does not share DNA with my brother, who is a direct descendant of Hart Levy Cohen, who was Moses, Sr.’s father, but not the biological grandfather of Moses, Jr.?

I then found another page, 26, that also seemed to have the name Himmel.  Monica translated that one as well.  “On the 5th of May 1820 in the morning 4 o’clock he died and was buried at noon.  Moses Himmel was married with Fromat Lagg (or Lugg or Legg) from Holland.  Age forty and four years.”  This was the death notice for Moses Himmel, the father of Adelheid or Adeline Himmel.  She named her illegitimate son for her father, not as a junior for Moses Cohen, the man she would later marry, probably in the United States.

Moses Himmel the grandfather of Moses Himmel

Moses Himmel the grandfather of Moses Himmel

Of course, there are many questions remaining.  I still don’t know when Moses, Sr., married Adeline.  Nor can I be 100% certain this is the right Adeline, though it certainly would appear to be so.  These discoveries also open up some new doors for my research.  If Adeline’s mother was named Fromat Lagg or Lugg or Legg and she lived in Holland, perhaps there is a connection to my Dutch ancestors in Amsterdam.  Her name was given as Jakobin on Jacob’s birth record; perhaps she was part of the same family as Rachel and/or Sarah Jacobs, my three-times and two-times great-grandmothers.  Now I need to return to the Dutch research and see what I can find.

In any event, once again the generosity of my fellow genealogy researchers has been demonstrated.  I never could have done this without the help of Rodney and Monica, two people I’ve never met, and the larger GerSIG and Baden Genealogy Facebook group communities.  It is astonishing what can be accomplished when people work together instead of fighting and killing each other.


An Important Clue Buried in A Wedding Announcement

As I was finishing up my research on Sallie R. Cohen and her life, I found this article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about her wedding:

Sallie R. Cohen and Ellis Abrams wedding story

Sallie R. Cohen and Ellis Abrams wedding story

(“Matrimony Notice,”  Tuesday, May 22, 1900,Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA) Volume: 142 Issue: 142 Page: 2)

Not only does this provide further evidence of the social and economic success of Reuben and Sallie Cohen, it also provides a very important clue to one of my biggest questions about the Cohen clan.  Remember the two Hart Cohens that had me confused a few weeks ago—one in Philadelphia and one in Washington, DC? After much searching and thinking I had developed a strong hunch that they were first cousins and that Jacob Cohen of Philadelphia and Moses Cohen, Sr., of Washington were brothers, both sons of my great-great-great grandparents Hart Levy Cohen and Rachel Jacobs.  I am in touch with Moses Cohen’s descendant Scott, and we are awaiting DNA test results to see whether he and my brother share enough DNA to conclude that we are all in fact descended from Hart Levy Cohen.

But now I have another fairly persuasive bit of evidence linking the Moses Cohen family in DC to my Philadelphia Cohens.  If you can read the announcement, you will see that one of the bridesmaids is Grace Cohen of Washington, DC.  Grace Cohen was the daughter of Moses Cohen, Jr., and his wife Henrietta.  She was born in 1877, two years before Sallie R. Cohen, daughter of Reuben Cohen, and was  thus her second cousin, assuming that Jacob and Moses were brothers and thus their respective sons, Reuben and Moses, Jr., were first cousins.

This is the kind of almost accidental discovery that just makes my day.  It’s the kind of thing that I could easily have missed or read and not thought about carefully.  Although the DNA test results may provide more scientific evidence that DC Moses and my great-great grandfather Jacob were brothers, this little tidbit in a wedding announcement is certainly fairly persuasive evidence on its own.