Premium Member of the Week: Sandy Johnson

Hi Sandy. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us today! Can you tell us how long you’ve been doing German genealogy and what got you started?

 I have been doing genealogy for over 30 years, and pretty quickly got into the German part of it because my maternal side knew where in Germany we came from. Of course the location name had been “Americanized” so it was a bit of a challenge.

 

I started genealogy for a few reasons – my Grandmother showed me her old family pictures and I was very curious about those ancestors of mine. Plus my Dad was a great story-teller.

The story-telling makes it so fun! What’s your favorite genealogy story related to your family?
 
The most current one is when my cousins and I found our Great-Great-Grandmother’s birth location in Germany. We had spent ten years trying to locate where she came from. It was like she just appeared here in Minnesota when she married our Great-Great-Grandfather! We could not locate anything about her or her family. With the help and advice of Baerbel Johnson, FHL’s German Specialist, we were able to find it. It really helps to know German Kurrentschrift when going through all that microfilm!
 
That’s great that you were able to find her after ten years – congratulations! For people still on that elusive search, do you have any favorite websites you would share?

When needing help with words,  I use WordMine.Info (I learned about “Hangman” from one of Katherine’s webinars). 

I also use www.abkuerzungen.de for those pesky abbreviation issues. I also like to use https://www.font-generator.com/fonts/18thCenturyKurrent/ to see if I’m actually reading the letters correctly on the word I’m trying to translate. 

For research I frequently use ancestry.com and familysearch.org, among many others.

  

Those are all great sites – thanks for sharing! Speaking of tips, what would be your #1 genealogy tip you’d share with others?

Keep digging (researching)! New items and resources keep popping up. 

So true! Finally, what is one way in which the Premium membership has helped your research?


I have so many!

A big help was the Premium article on abbreviations because i had come across some abbreviation problems in one of my document. I was really delighted when our Premium Facebook Group discussed some abbreviation issues awhile back and I could add those to my abbreviation collection.

I print many of the SK Translations articles and include those in my translation help binder. I also copy many of the words and translations of those words from our Premium Facebook group for that same binder.

 

I’m so glad to hear that everything has been helpful for you. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Sandy!

Check out our other Premium Member Highlights and their fascinating genealogy stories. And be sure to give them a comment if what they have to share has helped you, or if you like their family stories!

Premium Member of the Week: Michele Dambach

Hi Michele. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us today. Can you tell us how long you’ve been doing German genealogy and what got you started?

I was dabbling in genealogy for a few years, but really began in earnest in 2019. My Dad and I were planning a trip to Danzig/Gdansk, where he was born during WWII. He got in touch with some of the local officials, who welcomed us with open arms.

 In addition, they discovered marriage certificates and other documents from my great grandparents. This caused me to want to learn even more prior to our trip, and I’ve been hooked ever since. 

That makes sense. A trip to Germany always makes things more fun and exciting. What about websites? Do you have a favorite?
 
Aside from being a Premium member of SK Translations, I use Ancestry, Family Search, and Meyers. Google is also a great friend – with information from around the world sourced with even just a broad search term. 
 
I love those websites too. As you’ve continued your German genealogy journey, have you learned a top tip that you would like to share with our readers?
 

I highly recommend taking a course on reading/translating the German handwriting. With so many letters looking similar or resembling one another, it has become invaluable for me. And as  you begin to become more familiar with the script, it truly does get a bit easier. 

Thanks for the course shout-out! I’m so happy to hear that it has helped you so much. What about any stories? Do you have a favorite story related to your ancestors?

My father and I were able to take a trip to Gdansk in December 2019. Through research and documents, I was able to take photos in front of the house where my father, my grandparents and great-grandparents lived. I also found the building where my great-grandfather ran his freight and moving business, close to the Motlawa River. But the best part was seeing the baptismal font where my father was baptized. The font had just been returned to the sanctuary in St. Mary’s Basilica after years of being in storage. My father and I met with the Monsignor and were able to pray together in front of the font – it was a very moving experience!

 

Wow, that does sound incredible. How special for you to both be able to be there together. 
 
Finally, how has the Premium membership helped your German genealogy research? 
 
The Premium membership provides monthly articles that explore topics in depth that assist in my research. In addition, the Premium Facebook group has become invaluable to me. I anticipate our weekly “meetings” to get assistance with those one or two words on a document that are leaving me stumped. These words, once deciphered, often lead to new clues about where to search next for family records. 
 

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Michele!

Check out our other Premium Member Highlights and their fascinating genealogy stories. And be sure to give them a comment if what they have to share has helped you, or if you like their family stories!

Premium Member of the Week: Janis Allison Keough

Hi Janis, thanks for taking the time to share your story with us today. hOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN DOING GERMAN GENEALOGY and what got you started?

I’ve been “doing” genealogy in general for 50+ years, ever since I found a bunch of family documents, including German letters (in the Old Script!), in my grandmother’s attic. I’ve been too intimidated to really get into my German genealogy until recently, when I took Katie’s online handwriting class. So, really, I’m a German Genealogy newbie!
 

What’s your favorite genealogy website you use nowadays?

I use Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org the most, because they have so much and are so easy, but I’m hoping to learn about some of the websites specifically for German research.
 

I love those websites too. As you’ve continued in your german genealogy journey, have you learned a top tip that you would want to share with our readers?

Just keep trying. You never know when that document you know must be there will finally appear. Once, I accidentally found an important record simply by googling a name out of desperation.

that’s so nice when that happens! what about any stories? Do you have a favorite story related to your ancestors?

My favorite story is about my great grand aunt, Caroline Dedrick/Dietrich. The family myth was that she married a German count who was touring America, had a son with him, and went back to Germany with him. He then tricked her into returning to America without her son, and she never saw the count or her son again.

After much research, I found that she did marry a German man named Ernst von Ferber, but he wasn’t a count. They moved to Olewein, Iowa, where their son, Julius, was born. Ernst opened a store there, but the business failed, and I believe they did go back to Germany. 

Caroline came back alone and lived with her family in Illinois. She was listed as a widow named Ferber in the census, but she went back to using her maiden name soon after that. She never married again and died in Kansas. Ernst immigrated to Canada, married again, and had a large family. I’m still looking for evidence of their divorce and of Caroline being in Germany. I have DNA matches to descendants of their son, Julius von Ferber, so I’ve managed to confirm some of the story!

that’s great! And finally, How has the premium membership helped your research in german genealogy?

Premium membership has helped me find new places to search, helped with my transcription of those old letters,  and introduced me to other researchers. The community is very friendly and helpful.
 

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Janis!

 Voices of the Ancestors - remember those that came before you ...

Check out our other Premium Member Highlights and their fascinating genealogy stories:

“Not Trying to Hide That It Has Lived a Life”: An Interview with Book Conservator Noah Smutz

I was recently introduced to Noah Smutz through a mutual friend. When she heard what he did for a living, she had a feeling he and I would hit it off – and she was right. On our Zoom call last week, I had to really try and stop myself from asking him too many questions – something I’m prone to do when I get excited about a topic – but I just found myself wanting to know more and more about his fascinating line of work. Because you all love history as much as I do, I asked Noah if he would be interested in doing a formal interview about his job. Lucky for us, he said yes! 

Read on to find out little bit about his unique career, some expert tips on family bible storage, and where you shouldn’t be keeping your old family photos…

Hi, Noah. Thanks for taking the time to talk today. First, can you tell us a little more about what you do for people who are not familiar with your work?

Hello – and sure, I’d be happy to. I’m a conservator – someone who cares for and repairs cultural heritage objects. Specifically, I am a book conservator. This means I conserve and repair old books and all types of archival records. 

In the past year, for example, I’ve had books from the sixteenth century to the twentieth century, French and Indian War officer commissions, books on St. Louis history, a few prints, and of course, some family bibles.

Wow, amazing. So what is a typical day’s work like for you?

Basically, I make items whole and usable again. This includes tasks like reattaching the boards to a book, creating a new binding for a book, flattening a map that’s been folded for 70 years and mending the tears, and other things like that.

Noah at Work

That sounds fascinating. How did you get started in the field?

I have a bachelor degree in Classics from the University of Kansas. My original plan was to become an archaeologist, which culminated in spending six weeks on a dig in Crete. I loved Crete, but soon figured out that archaeology and I weren’t a good fit. While on the dig I was introduced to archaeological conservators, which was my very first interaction with conservators – and I was intrigued.

So, when I returned to the University of Kansas, I got a job as a student worker mending circulating collections – any books that can be checked out of the library and thrown in a backpack or book drop. That was when I knew that this career was for me. After finishing my undergraduate degree, I went to West Dean College in the United Kingdom and completed a two-year masters degree in conservation studies.

Learning to work with old books in the United Kingdom sounds like an incredible experience. What’s the oldest item you got to work with there?

While interning at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, I worked to repair a book from 1342 (though the binding was from the nineteenth century).

You’ve got me beat! The oldest document I’ve worked with is 1533 – and that book is from a full two centuries before. That must have been a great experience. Is that the most interesting document you’ve worked with, or would you say something else?

That was definitely interesting, but at the Smithsonian Libraries, I had the opportunity to work on a book called Principles of Beauty. It’s from the late 1700’s and depicts women with different shaped faces in profile. Different hair styles were then printed on very thin, see-through tissue paper. The book allowed readers to mix and match these different hair styles to see how they look with different shaped faces. 

It was a fascinating piece because of its function. It was also an incredibly rewarding treatment. The binding had to be fully re-sewn before the original boards were reattached and a new leather spine was created. The tissue paper overlays were dirty, creased, and torn. So we then had to wash, flatten, and mend those. Finally, I created an enclosure to house all of those pieces together (For more information on the process, see here).

Old Book Before and After Treatment

Wow, I would be so nervous I would accidentally tear something! What is the hardest task you face when conserving books?

Nineteenth century materials can be tricky. As I’m sure you genealogists know, paper from the nineteenth century is usually very poor quality and extremely brittle. Leather from the same time period is similarly poor quality. This is due to the industrialization of production techniques without fully appreciating the long term effects of, at the time, new chemical processing procedures. Due to the delicacy of these materials, brittle paper, and crumbling leather, it takes additional focus and sometimes time to coax these items into doing what you want.

You need a lot of tools to work with old books!

That’s so interesting to learn that about the nineteenth-century paper. It is very brittle, and I never knew why. In addition to letters, a lot of our readers have family bibles, which I know you work with a lot. What would you tell people who want to keep their family bibles in good condition? Any steps they should take?

A box of some type can be incredibly helpful to protect family bibles. These bibles tend to be large and their own weight can work against them. A box keeps the boards from getting scuffed on the shelf and protects the bible if it’s frequently going from one family member to another. I’ve seen many bibles where the spine was detached 20 years ago and has been misplaced, or the marriages page came loose and disappeared at some point. A box helps prevent things like that from happening.

Additionally, if the bible is stored in an open place – on a table for example – make sure it does not receive direct sunlight as that will cause damage over time. 

Book Before Treatment

Same Book After Treatment

Those are great tips, thank you. I see that you also provide photo storage services. Can you tell us a little more about that?

Sure. My family, like many of your readers’ families most likely, has boxes of old photographs that typically lived in garages, basements, or attics. There’s very little organization and you’re as likely to pull a photo out from 1880 as 1980. 

There are many photo storage products on the market that claim to be ‘archival’, but that term is a marketing term that doesn’t mean anything. So it can be difficult for individuals to determine which product to purchase and which product is best for the type of photograph they have.

There are many different photographic processes and they can’t all be stored in the same type of folder. In addition to these items, when a person goes to purchase photo sleeves or envelopes, they may only need 5 or 25 – but the minimum order size can be 100+. NS Conservation offers a service to rehouse all of a person’s family photos, and we then return them in an acid-free, archivally-sound box. This way all the items are stored correctly and the individual is not left with 75+ expensive photo sleeves that they have no use for.

That makes sense. I know a lot of my readers have some very old family photos. I always love when they share them with me and I get to see the faces of the people I am translating about! What’s your number one tip for photo storage?

Don’t put photos in the attic, garage, or basement. The climate in these areas is usually unregulated and large temperature and relative humidity fluctuations are especially damaging to photographs. It’s much better to store them somewhere in the main living space, even if it’s on a high shelf in a closet. Also, keep photographs out of direct sunlight.

All great tips, thank you! And finally, one last question for you, which you told me you get asked a lot. What is the difference between conservation and restoration?

Conservation is the act of repairing an item so that its lifespan is increased, while also not trying to hide that it has lived a life. Restoration is repairing an item in such a way that it looks like it did when it was new. For example, to conserve a book, the original boards will be retained even if they have water staining and are faded. Whereas restoring that book might mean making a new binding, or redying the cloth so that it is not faded and the water staining doesn’t show.

Noah’s Workshop

That’s a great explanation. I love the phrase “not trying to hide that it has lived a life.” That really fits well with what we also try to do as genealogists. 

Thank you, Noah, for taking the time to explain book and photo conversation to us. Where can people find you if they want more information on anything we discussed?

Thanks for having me. My website is www.nsconservation.com and my other contact information is as listed below. Please feel free to get in touch!

Email: noah@nsconservation.com

Phone: 314-810-9184

Instagram: @nsconservation

Noah Smutz is a book conservator and the owner of NS Conservation.Noah has been in the field of conservation since 2011 when he started as a student worker in the University of Kansas Libraries conservation lab. He has since held internships for the Smithsonian Archives and Bodleian Library amongst others. He graduated with his Masters Degree in Book Conservation from West Dean College in the United Kingdom. Previously he has worked as a Book Conservator for the Smithsonian Libraries. Noah has worked with institutions such as the St. Louis Art Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Missouri State Archives, and the Missouri History Museum. He has been a member of the American Institute for Conservation since 2010 and a Professional Associate since 2019.

Book Before Treatment

Book After Treatment

Premium Member of the Week: Alexander Tolksdorf

1. WHAT’S YOUR NAME?

Alexander Tolksdorf

2. HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN DOING GERMAN GENEALOGY and what got you started?

Over 10 years.
 
My paternal grandparents immigrated to the United States from Germany in the 1950s. As such, I began exploring my family history directly in German records and sources from the get-go. Indeed, as all of my grandparents immigrated to the United States, Germany seemed like the easiest place to start!
 

3. What’s your favorite genealogy story from your family?

A story my great grandmother loved to recount. While I never met her directly, the story has been retold through my father. My great grandmother grew up in the Prussian province of Posen, near Ostrowo, on a farmstead, which contained a cherry orchard. She was a young girl when World War I broke out, and one day witnessed soldiers from the Russian army foraging across the farm collecting cherries. One soldier decided to demonstrate his civility to my onlooking family, so he proceeded inside the house to wash the cherries. Unusual for the time, the house contained an indoor bathroom and toilet. Indeed, the soldier spotted the toilet and, thinking it a washbasin of sorts, deposited his cherries in the toilet to wash them — and of course, pulled the lever. As the cherries disappeared before his eyes due to this new dark magic, he proceeded to pull out his rifle and shoot up the toilet while yelling obscenities! Certainly must have been frightening at the time, but my great grandmother always burst out laughing when telling the story!
 

4. What’s One Piece of Genealogy Advice You’d Give to Others?

Always keep looking! Retrace your steps and approach the problem from a different angle. Often time, genealogical records and resources can be difficult to find or access, but will reward your persistence.

5. How has the premium membership helped your research in german genealogy?

 I am actively looking to improve and develop my ability to read and transcribe the old German scripts. The Premium Membership has given me invaluable tips and tricks to analyze a new piece of text and the ample practice to develop my skills.
 

Premium Member of the Week: Nina Gafni

1. WHAT’S YOUR NAME?

 Nina Gafni 

2. HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN DOING GERMAN GENEALOGY?

Officially, I’ve been doing German and German Jewish genealogy for almost a year. Unofficially, I’ve been doing it my whole life. I was always the one who raided my grandmother’s photo albums and wanted to know all about the family history.
 

3. HOW HAS THE PREMIUM MEMBERSHIP HELPED YOUR RESEARCH?

The handwriting class and premium membership have been a godsend both on a personal and professional level. I am a professional translator (French, German,  and Italian into English). Genealogy is a big part of my business. That said, as any good translator knows, having other people around to question is crucial to success. Since old handwriting can be tricky to read, you want to get that much-needed second opinion. After all, you want to give your client the best possible translation. 
 
On a more personal note, I have been working for some time to connect various family branches. My cousin and I have been trying to figure out exactly how we are related. The key is the degree of cousinship between her father, an Austrian Holocaust survivor whose journey took him from Vienna to France, England, Canada, and finally back to Austria, and my great-grandmother. For many years, my cousin’s father would not talk about his past. When he finally did, his memory was a bit shaky. My cousin and I have used many different means to track down potential relatives. A chance finding of what is most likely my great-grandmother’s birth certificate provided some clues as to other relationships. The premium membership proved invaluable in helping me to decipher the antiquated spelling. Who knew I had an ancestor who was a toll collector, and another who was a shop assistant? 
 

4. What’s One Piece of Genealogy Advice You’d Give to Others?

 I think the most important bit of advice is to check everything. Talk to your family members and get their stories. If you can write these stories down or record them, that’s even better. Documenting your family history is especially important when you come from a family with a lot of common first and last names. I have my tree on Ancestry.com. I love it when Ancestry sends me hints. However, you really need to check this against your own documentation. Otherwise, you could end up accidentally adding the wrong Edward Goldberg to your family tree. 

Premium Member of the Week: Debra Hoffman

INTRODUCING THE NEW PREMIUM MEMBER OF THE WEEK – 

A FUN WAY TO GET TO KNOW THE SK TRANSLATIONS 

PREMIUM MEMBER COMMUNITY!

 

1. WHAT’S YOUR NAME?

Debra Hoffman

2. HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN DOING GERMAN GENEALOGY?

I have been researching my German ancestors for over 40 years. My Grandmother Ruth Lindenmeyer inspired me as a young girl by telling me stories about them and encouraging me to research my family history. 
 

3. HOW HAS THE PREMIUM MEMBERSHIP HELPED YOUR RESEARCH?

One way the Premium Membership has helped me advance my genealogical research is through the educational articles.

4. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE GENEALOGY STORY YOU’VE EXPERIENCED?

My favorite story is finding a special postcard at a local antique store. As I wandered through the store, I came across a postcard. When I picked it up and turned it over, I was shocked to see that it had been sent to my Great-Grandfather Roland Stolzenbach by his brother Howard in 1909. I considered it my postcard from heaven!

5. What’s One Piece of Genealogy Advice You’d Give to Others?

Research is not about looking up your ancestors, but rather tracking them down.

Premium Member of the Week: James M. Beidler

INTRODUCING THE NEW PREMIUM MEMBER OF THE WEEK – 

A FUN WAY TO GET TO KNOW THE SK TRANSLATIONS 

PREMIUM MEMBER COMMUNITY!

 

1. WHAT’S YOUR NAME?

James M. Beidler

2. HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN DOING GERMAN GENEALOGY?

36 years

3. HOW HAS THE PREMIUM MEMBERSHIP HELPED YOUR RESEARCH?

I don’t always tune into the “Ask the Translator” hour but I always read the “after summary” … every week I learn a few new words that may be useful in the future!

4. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE GENEALOGY STORY YOU’VE EXPERIENCED?

I was historian of the Daub family reunion and had corresponded with a historian of the same surname from Germany (less than 10 km from our Daub ancestral village) … I had invited him to come visit America thinking I had a year to prepare but his wife called me one morning to tell me her husband was arriving in 3 days! We all became friends and have exchanged visits ever since!

Photo: Me and Rudolf “Rudi” Daub, a distant German cousin, on the front page of the Daub Family Reunion’s newsletter after his first visit to America.

5. What’s One Piece of Genealogy Advice You’d Give to Others?

Be humble on your genealogy journey because you often know less than you think, especially about the history and circumstances that were different in your ancestors’ eras. Avoid ‘presentism’ … Challenge your assumptions!

 

Below is the entire story of the Daub Reunion:

Premium Member of the Week: Maria Mueller

Introducing the new Premium Member of the Week – 

a fun way to get to know the SK Translations 

Premium Member Community!

 

1. What’s your name?

Maria Mueller

 

 

2. How long have you been doing German genealogy?

 

I have been researching the German side of my family for about 6 years. My father Oswald Müller was born in Fagaras, Romania. So far I have traced back his mother’s family back to Austrian Silesia and have a fairly large tree for her. On the other hand, his father’s ancestors are still a mystery to me.
I grew up speaking German at home and ever so grateful to be able to read the old documents. I would often get stuck, though, because of the bad handwriting, and unknown words or abbreviations.

 

 

3. How has the Premium Membership helped your research?

 

This Premium membership was exactly what I was looking for. I use to struggle for hours trying to figure out words. Katherine has provided the tools needed to decipher my documents and along with her individual help, my unknowns are being solved. I have already learned so much from Katherine and I look forward to improving my skills.

 

 

4. What’s your favorite genealogy story you’ve experienced?

 

A couple of years ago I met a Romanian student who was working at the Santa Cruz (CA) Beach Boardwalk for the summer. She translated some letters and documents for me from Romanian into English. Shortly after that I was contacted by a Romanian DNA match living in Boston. He had a German grandfather so we are working on finding our common ancestor. Well, as it turns out, the young lady that translated for me is his cousin’s daughter! It is indeed a small world.

 

Jewish Genealogy, DNA and Brick Walls: An Interview with My Family Genie’s Dr. Adina

I recently had the chance to sit down and chat with Dr. Adina, founder and owner of My Family Genie. Dr. Adina, a member of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy, GeneaBloggersTRIBE and the Virtual Genealogy Association, uses her doctoral level research and analytical skills to build family trees, uncover missing or previously undiscovered records, and find lost and unknown family members with the ultimate goal of connecting her clients to their past, present and future. In this article, Dr. Adina explains some of the aspects of Jewish genealogical research to us, delving into the intricacies of DNA and providing tips on helpful websites and overcoming brick walls in genealogy research. Even if you don’t have Jewish ancestors, no worries – many of her tips can apply to a variety of backgrounds!


Dr. Adina, My Family Genie

1. Hi Dr. Adina! Thank you for talking with us today. Can you tell us a little about your business to get us started?

Hello! Sure, no problem. As a genealogist, I use both traditional and genetic genealogy in my research. My most popular services have included helping people find records to overcome brick walls and making sense of DNA results. Besides looking into the past, I’m also pretty adept at using social media to locate living people, which especially helps in NPE (non-paternal event)  or adoptee situations.

2. I see you specialize in Jewish genealogy. How did you get involved in that field in particular?

By default! I am fully Ashkenazi Jewish, so in order to understand my own genealogy, I needed to learn necessary skills and strategies related to Jewish genealogy. In my own search, I uncovered several resources that now allow me to help others in their pursuit to understand their own Jewish roots.

3. That sounds really interesting. Could you explain to us a bit how history has affected Jewish genealogy, in addition to the more obvious World War II?

For one, Jewish surnames are a fairly new phenomenon. Historically, Jews went by the “son of” or “daughter of”, and this is still reflected in religious practices and on Jewish graves. Although some German Jews adopted surnames as early as the 17th century, Eastern Europe did so much later; the Austro-Hungarian Empire began in the late 18th century. Parent/child and siblings may have had different surnames, especially when coupled with assimilation, which adds to the obstacles. In one example, family lore states that my great-grandfather purchased his surname to escape the Czar’s army. His brother adopted his wife’s surname. Recently discovered grandchildren of this brother’s line had no idea their grandfather had taken their grandmother’s surname, so they were shocked to learn that they had incorrectly been researching their grandfather’s line for years. Researching Y-DNA can also be particularly difficult because even relatively close matches according to genetic distance will have completely different surnames.

Additionally, due to worsening conditions and hope for a better life, major Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe and Germany occurred in the late 19th to early 20th centuries, so fairly recently. Families lost touch and were scattered throughout the world. As an example, I have found family members who immigrated to areas all around the United States, Canada, Uruguay, Argentina, UK, Soviet Russia, and Israel.

   My great-grandparents; They were first cousins that went by the name Michelson. The name was changed from Stikan (although the story goes that my great-grandfather was the one who purchased the Michelson last name to escape the Czar’s army, his uncle/father-in-law adopted the name  when he came to the U.S.)

4. You mentioned DNA. How is Jewish DNA unique? And how does that affect genealogists who are searching for their Jewish ancestors?

Jews are an endogamous population, which means they married within their own group. In the case of Ashkenazi Jews, we have thousands of DNA matches, most being distant and untraceable after centuries of endogamy and pedigree collapse. Any match past second cousins needs to be explored with additional scrutiny. This contributes to making the search for Jewish relatives overwhelming and more difficult than standard genetic genealogy research.

5. That does sound complicated. What one piece of advice would you give to the beginning genealogist looking for their Jewish ancestors?

Upload your DNA everywhere. Not just for ethnicity estimates, but also for more opportunities to find matches to build your family tree. AncestryDNA is the best place to start because it has the largest database. You can also upload your raw DNA data to gedmatch, Family Tree DNA, and MyHeritage. The 23andme V5 chip isn’t compatible with most sites (although MyHeritage just recently began accepting transfers), but it does have the second largest database.

A MyHeritage match with a found 2c1r. Notice the largest segment. I look at this first to determine whether a match is likely traceable. Although I don’t have matches that high that I haven’t solved, I have several starting around the 130cM mark that are comprised of smaller segments I am unable to trace.

An AncestryDNA match with my known 2nd cousin. Elevated cMs are an example of how endogamy can affect your matches, although it usually becomes more of an issue further out.

6. Good to know! What about more advanced genealogists? What would you tell them?

When looking at Jewish matches, sort by largest segment (sections of DNA that are identical between two individuals), not total cMs (units to measure genetic distance). If you have significant Ashkenazi DNA and thousands of matches, focus on those that are a total of at least 100cMs, a longest segment of at least 23cMs, and preferably 1 or 2 more that are 10-20cMs or longer.

7. What are three of your favorite online genealogy tools?
              1. Ancestry.com – (Mostly AncestryDNA; I check matches daily!)
              2. Familysearch.org – Best central repository for records, including many in Eastern Europe and New York City (the latter where many Jews at least started out when they immigrated to the U.S.).
              3. DNA Detectives group on Facebook. Great place to learn about how to dissect DNA matches.

8. Are there any resources specific for Jewish genealogy that you’d recommend?

It depends on the country, but Jewishgen.org is the go-to (and also my actual favorite online genealogy tool), with thousands of records related to the Jewish world (many available to view on FamilySearch). The Central Database of Shoah Victims’ names through Yad Vashem has provided me with a plethora of information about my family who perished in the Holocaust.A page of testimony on the murder of my great-grandfather’s half-brother, found in the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names

9. If one of your clients hits a brick wall, what tips and tricks do you have for them?

What I’ve found is that usually a client is trying to conquer too much at one time. Genealogy is a marathon. I always ask a client exactly what they want to find, which focuses the research and makes it less overwhelming. I had one client who was trying to find more information about an ancestor, but couldn’t find him in a ship manifest. Knowing that Ancestry can be finicky with spellings, I tried certain variations and uncovered the record, which helped her overcome the brick wall.

Genealogy also isn’t a solitary activity. Speaking with other relatives or encouraging them to take DNA tests can only provide more information to overcome any brick walls.