by Lisa Herschli
Did everyone in my dad’s family perish in the Shoah? What if someone did survive? DNA maybe my answer. How better to find lost relatives than to spit in the tube and send it back to Ancestry.
I anxiously awaited the results. A few weeks later, I received notification of new relatives. Every day I receive notifications of new DNA matches...I have so many relatives. I started contacting some of the matches. I offered my family history, including surnames and towns. If I got a response, most didn’t know their family history, surnames, and villages.
But how did I have so many cousins? Being a member of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Colorado (JGSCO) helped me understand the Ashkenazi Endogamous phenomenon. If you are unfamiliar with the word Endogamous, Wikipedia defines “Endogamy” as the practice of marrying within a specific social group, religious denomination, caste, or ethnic group, rejecting those from others as unsuitable for marriage or other close personal relationships. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endogamy)
On September 10, 2014, The Times of Israel published a study conducted and funded by the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation along with several private foundations that determined that Ashkenazi Jews alive today can trace their roots to a group of about 330 people who lived 600 to 800 years ago. (https://www.timesofisrael.com/ashkenazi-jews-descend-from-350-people-study-finds/) and (https://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-ashkenazi-jews-dna-diseases-
DNA experts like Greg Liverman, Terry Lasky, and Jennifer Mendelsohn have been keynote speakers for JGSCO. Since COVID, Zoom webinars make attending these presentations viable, no matter where you live or where the presentations are.
After learning about Endogamy, I deleted most DNA Match notifications from Ancestry and other sites.
Recently, Ancestry sent one of those notifications, but I saw a possible fourth cousin before I hit delete. I click on this Michelle Sanderson only because she, too, lives in Denver. Unlike many potential relatives, Michelle has listed some names of her relatives. Are her great-great-grandparents mine? How common are the names Morris Abraham Rippner and Rifka Petyan Rippner?
Many of us love a good puzzle. Genealogists are detectives and researchers and love fitting or finding the missing piece. I google Michelle and also look on Facebook. On Facebook, I am surprised that we have a mutual friend. I would like to say this is “beshert,” the Yiddish word for “destiny.”
Rather than going through our mutual friend, I decided to message Michelle through Ancestry DNA. I waited a week for a response, but I never heard back.
I understand that some “relatives” are not interested in being found, but why would Michelle do an Ancestry DNA test if she didn’t? If she just wanted to know her traits and health, she would have done a 23 and Me test.
I contacted our mutual friend and asked Dee if she was in contact with Michelle, and she said, “yes, why do you know her?” I say, “no, I don’t, but we are 4th cousins.” Dee is floored and says that Michelle will be so surprised and excited. Dee introduces us by way of a three-way call, and by the end of the day, my new-found cousin and I are on FaceTime looking at my, wait, our family tree
We have since met for lunch, and through Facebook, I introduce her to relatives that I am in touch with. Lesson learned: pay attention to “You have new DNA Matches.” Sometimes, you can find that needle in the haystack.