Monday, 23 November 2015

A Hundred Up

Three years ago I submitted a DNA sample to FamilyTreeDNA, and sat back and waited for the test results. The genetic 'matches' have duly been coming in, week by week since then, over 5000 of them and counting. Today I received my 100th match at the level of 2nd-to-4th Cousin. A cause for celebration, you would think - a host of new connections, new cousins, the expansion of our family tree, new family stories to hear and tell.

Well, I have not been able to establish a connection with a single one of them, with the exception of one I already knew, since before she was born so to speak - she's my cousin's daughter.

The problem is, my ancestors. And those of my matches. We are Ashkenazi Jews, and belong to a group that has been endogamous - ie, has intermarried within the group - not just for generations, but for centuries. So the DNA testing companies, and the science that underlies them, struggle to fit us into the pattern that works well for most other populations. They say they compensate to take account of the effects of endogamy, and I'm sure they do, but in my experience I have to say they end up grossly over-estimating the closeness of our relationships.


(click if it's too small to read)

Here's the listing of my top 5 matches. Katy, the first one, is a 1st Cousin Once Removed - my cousin's daughter. So I know her. The next four are classed as probable 2nd-3rd Cousins, which means we should share great-great-grandparents, or closer. 

The thing is, I know my family quite well. I know all the descendants of all my grandparents, most of them personally. I know the given and family names of all 8 of my great-grandparents, and where most of them were born and where they lived. I know the names and places for the vast majority of their descendants - ie, the brothers and sisters of my own grandparents, and their children in turn, who are my 2nd Cousins.

Moving back to the previous generation, my great-great-grandparents should in theory be the source of my 2nd-3rd Cousin matches. I know the given and family names of 12 out of 16 of them, including all 8 men and 4 of the women, and many of their places; I also know the given names of the other 4 women. My knowledge of their descendant lines - ie, those of my great-grandparents' siblings - is much more sketchy. In some cases I know only the name of my own ancestor, and have no information at all on possible siblings. Some of my DNA 2nd-4th Cousin matches will undoubtedly come from these unknown lines, maybe most of them. But surely not all 99 of them?

From my grandparents to my great-great-great-grandparents
(click on the image to enlarge it)

To take this one step further, the above implies that I actually know the family names of 12 out of 16 of the families of my great-great-great-grandparents - in other words, I know the family names that all of the siblings of my great-great-grandparents would have had, even if I don't actually know whether they existed or not. And these, of course, are the family names that the men would have passed on to the next generation.

At this point, let's make a few uncontroversial, generalising, assumptions: 

i) that any descendants that married and had children would be more or less equally divided between male and female
ii) that most women would take on their husband's surname on marriage, and thereby not pass on their own
iii) that any children they had would again be 50% male and 50% female, and so on

In this scenario, my knowledge of the surnames of any potential cousins would more or less halve with each generation, as the women don't pass on the known family name. However I do actually know who the siblings are in some cases, in particular who the women were, and who they married, and this knowledge increases the closer we get to the present day - so the halving process I am suggesting here is an exaggeration. I know much more than half of the names in my grandparents generation, but the calculation is easier to follow like this - let's just bear in mind we're being severe with the numbers.

So whereas I know all the family names of my great-great-grandparents' generation - the source of my 3rd Cousins - I will only know about half of those of my great-grandparents' generation, and a quarter of those of my grand-parents'. Which means I should expect to recognise the names of an eighth - 12.5% - of my parents' generation. And 6.25% of my own. Not 0% of any of them, which is where I am with my DNA matches at the moment.

We can halve again to get the picture for 4th Cousins - I should recognise fewer names in each succeeding generation: 12.5% of my 4th Cousins in my grandparents' generation, 6.25% in my parents', and 3.125% in my own. But again, not 0% of any of them. Especially considering we're just being theoretical, and not taking my actual knowledge into account.

And it's not just me recognising names in my own family tree - I am sharing trees with a number of my closer matches - and I don't recognise what's on theirs, nor they what's on mine.

So my conclusion is that FTDNA's match estimates exaggerate the closeness of our relationships. My guess at the moment is that they are a couple of generations out at least. I'm in touch this week with a couple of the 2nd-3rd Cousin matches in the list above, and I'll be surprised if we manage to confirm FTDNA's ratings. More than surprised - I'll be overjoyed! But I'm not expecting anything closer than 4th-5th.

A major issue of course is that most of us are finding it very difficult to trace our families back more than two or three generations, which is where we need to be to locate 3rd Cousins and further. In many areas the documentary trail has been disrupted, by emigration, war, revolution and the Holocaust, not to mention those inconsiderate ancestors who wilfully changed their names when it suited them. And all this makes it even more difficult to trace the descendants of those generations. But I still think I should be able to recognise one or two of them, at least.

On the plus side, it is useful having Katy in the list, as I can do a check on whether the people that match me also match her - she's on my father's side, so this gives me a rough orientation as to which side the others probably match me on. If they match Katy, they're probably on my Schreibman-Ilyutovich side, if they don't, they're probably on my Frankenstein-Waxman side. Reassuringly, across all 5000 matches, there's more or less half on each side.

It would help even more to have a few more known cousins do the test, as this would enable us to refine the analysis further, and get closer to identifying how our matches connect to us. Ideally I would like to have one of each line - a Frankenstein who's not a Waxman, and a Waxman who's not a Frankenstein, and similarly a Schreibman who's not an Ilyutovich, and an Ilyutovich who is not a Schreibman. That woud help us identify matches for each of my four lines.

And of course it's not just for 'my' family - they would all get matches on the other sides of their own families, as well.

Any offers?

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Who was Isaac Frankenstein?

My Frankenstein family were originally from Gombin and Plock in Poland, and came to England during the mid-19th-to-early-20th Century. I have recently come across an Isaac Frankenstein, who was born around 1825 in Poland, and appears in the 1851 UK Census. I am attempting to see whether I can connect him to my own family. He emigrated to the USA in 1853, and I have traced him via New York and Alabama, to Savannah, Georgia.

Isaac Frankenstein m Kate Barnett, Brighton, 1853

In 1853 he had married Kate Barnett in Brighton, England, and shortly afterwards they sailed to New York, taking with them Kate’s sister Leah. In the 1851 UK Census, Isaac had been living in the household of Kitty Barnard, mother of the two girls, in Portsmouth. He may have gone there to be apprenticed as a jeweller to Kitty’s late husband Lyon Barnard, who had died in 1849.

Kate died a few months after reaching New York,in 1854. Within a few weeks of Kate's death, Isaac married Leah; like her sister, Leah used the name Barnett at her marriage, rather than Barnard, the name used in the Census. Isaac and Leah had one child in New York, then a second in Alabama, and then settled in Milledgeville, Georgia, at that time the State capital, where they had two more children. By 1861 they were in Savannah, 160 miles away. Isaac died there in September that year.

Who was Woolf Barnett?
The Barnards/Barnetts were also apparently from Poland. There is also a Woolf Barnett, who appears to be related, but does not appear in any UK records with them. He had arrived in Savannah a few years earlier, and married Selina Russell there in 1847. She died in 1850, and I lose track of Woolf for the next few years.

Then, in the 1860 US Census, taken on 18 June, Woolf Barnett, aged 35, was living in Milledgeville, with or next door to Isaac and his family - see below for details. Two months later, he returned to England and remarried. His new wife was Rachel Joel, from another jeweller family. They were married on 22 August, also in Brighton. On the marriage certificate, Rachel gives the same address - 89 St James Street - as Isaac Frankenstein and Kate Barnett had given 7 years earlier. It is the address of Rachel's father Jacob Joel, silversmith, and his family, throughout this period.

Woolf Barnett m Rachel Joel, Brighton 1860

Woolf and Rachel returned immediately to Savannah, where they had three children, then Rachel died in 1864.

In the 1870 US Census Leah Frankenstein and Woolf Barnett, both now widowed, are again living in the same house with their respective children. There is no indication of any relationship between them. In the 1880 Census they are again in the same household, but this time Leah is reported as Woolf’s sister. However, various UK and US records indicate that Leah’s father was Lyon Barnard, and Woolf’s was Elias Barnett. The only explanation I can think of is that they are really half-siblings, and that their mother was married twice, first to Elias, and then to Lyon.

Another thought that occurs is that although Lyon's family appears as Barnard in the 1841 UK Census, and in his own death record in 1849, they call themselves Barnett thereafter, from the 1851 Census onwards. Intriguingly there is one exception where Barnard is used - see below. Kate refers to her father as Lyon Barnett on her marriage certificate. The family seem to regard the names as equivalent. Might Elias Barnett and Lyon Barnard have been brothers, even?

Who was Elias Barnett?
At this point the story gets even more complicated, as there seem to be several Elias Barnetts in the Southern states at this period, as well as a few in the UK. Intriguingly there is an Elias Barnett buying and selling property in Alabama at around the same time as Isaac and Leah Frankenstein are there for the birth of their second child Harris in 1857. However, nowhere is it specified where in Alabama Harris was born, so I have not been able to link them together there with any certainty.

The families of Isaac Frankenstein and Elias Barnett in the 1860 US Census
(Isaac himself is entered at the bottom of the previous page)

In 1860, Elias Barnett (54) is living in Milledgeville with Woolf (35) and Benjamin (25), which sounds very much like a father and two sons, though this is not specified. They are the next household in the list to Isaac and Leah Frankenstein, and may well be living in the same house. Did Isaac and Leah go to Alabama specifically in order to join up with Elias, and then all move together to Milledgeville - always assuming that the Elias Barnett we found in Alabama is the same person?

Elias and Woolf are said to have been born in Poland, Benjamin in England, which suggests Elias may have emigrated from Poland to England at some point between 1825 and 1835.


An Elias Barnet in Liverpool in 1841, with sons Lyons and Berrant

One candidate in the UK could be an Elias Barnett living in Liverpool in the 1841 UK Census, with a wife Sarah and two young sons, Lyons aged 8, and Berrant (sic), 3. Elias is said to have been born in 'Foreign Parts', the others in Liverpool. This family does not seem to appear in later UK Censuses. To add to the intrigue, there is a Lyon Barnett who died in Savannah in 1867, who is said to have been born in 1834 in England, but does not seem to appear in any other records in either country. And could the 'Berrant' from Liverpool in 1841 be the same person as 'Benjamin' in Milledgeville in 1860?

To add to the mix, there is an Elias Barnett indicted of bigamy in Alabama in 1849, and one who played a significant role in the Civil War. I have no idea at the moment whether these are one, two or three different people. The bigamist married twice in the USA, so if he is indeed the same person as ‘our’ Elias, father of Woolf, he was probably married in England at around the same time, and so could quite possibly be a trigamist.

I cannot find birth or marriage records, nor any other census records prior to 1860, for anyone I can identify as ‘our' Elias Barnett. There also appear to be another couple of candidates in the UK, in addition to our Liverpool suspect, but I cannot say with any certainty whether any of them are this one. Although I do quite fancy the Liverpudlian.

One thing I have found is at least one Elias Barnett, and one Woolf Barnett, with criminal convictions in the UK in this period.

Who were Kate and Leah Barnard?
As for Kate and Leah Barnard/Barnett, I have not been able to find birth records for either of them in the UK. They would have been born before statutory records came into effect in 1837. Kate is said to be born in London, Leah in Portsmouth, both around 1830-34 - but who knows?

The most puzzling document was the Passenger Manifest for Isaac, Kate and Leah, when they sailed from London to New York in December 1853. Isaac and Kate are clear enough, but who is their travelling companion?

Isaac, Kate and Lebonard cross the Atlantic, Dec 1853

Lebonard Frankenstine? Lebonard? It was only when I tried saying the name out loud that the penny dropped: Leah Barnard! Note that both Kate (1853) and Leah (1854) married as Barnett.

Who was Harris Frankenstein?
On Isaac's marriage certificate in 1853, his father is said to be Harris Frankenstein, deceased. In accordance with Ashkenazi Jewish tradition, Isaac named his first (and only) son after him. However, I can find no other trace of Harris the father, either in Poland, the UK, or the USA. Both the names ‘Isaac’ and ‘Hersz’, which often transmutes into Harris in English-speaking countries, occur in my Frankenstein family around that period, so this Isaac and Harris could possibly be named after the same common ancestors. However these names were quite common across Poland, so for the moment that has to be classed as a nice idea but nowhere near proven.

So who was Isaac Frankenstein? Although I have managed to map out some of the key points in his life, I still don't have a clue as to where he was born - apart from 'Poland' - or whether he could have been a relative of my own Frankenstein ancestors.

I am hoping that somewhere, somehow, there will be records, that are maybe not yet available online, from Georgia and/or Alabama, that could help throw light on this family. Or from the UK. Or from Poland, even.

Does anyone have any suggestions? Any ideas at all would be most gratefully received!

Sunday, 27 September 2015

David Frankenstein, 1899-1918


Last Thursday we laid stones on the grave of my cousin David Frankenstein, also known as Franks, who died nearly 100 years ago. I say "cousin" for short - he's actually my 5th Cousin; our common ancestors are my 4x-great-grandparents Jakob Wolkowicz and Bajla Moskowna, who were probably born around 1760. I had been tracing his branch of the family, and came across his First World War service record a couple of weeks ago. We were going to Belgium for a few days last week, and sought out the cemetery where he is buried on the way back.

David was born in Hackney, London, in 1899. His grandparents Izrael Frankensztajn and Fejga Szajna Rozenblum had come to London from Plock in Poland around 1870, either just before or just after the birth of David's father Harris. David was the eldest of 5 children born to Harris and his wife Ruth Leapman. The other children all went on to marry and raise families in London, as far as I have been able to track them, but I have not as yet managed to establish contact with any of them.


David was called up to serve in the British Army in October 1916. His service record is very difficult to decipher, but he appears to have been sent to France some time during 1917. He seems to have been wounded at some point, and sent back to the UK. He then returned to France on 26 May 1918, to be posted to the Duke of Wellington's Regiment. This regiment took part in the Battle of the Selle, in late October, and in the attack on Valenciennes, a week or so later.

It was during this attack that David lost his life, "killed in action" on 1 November, along with some 60 of his comrades. They are buried in the municipal cemetery in the village of PrĂ©seau, a few kilometres south of Valenciennes. There are a hundred or so war graves in this cemetery, and David's grave is the only one marked with the Mogen Dovid, suggesting that he is the only Jewish soldier buried there.

Ten days later the Armistice was signed, and the War ended. The tragedy was not yet over for David's mother Ruth, however, as Harris died the following March. Within 4 months she had lost her eldest son, and then her husband.