Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Are We All from Vitebsk?

Where the Wild Goose Goes: Vitebsk is a city of some 366,000 inhabitants in present-day Belarus. Before World War II, Jews constituted about 52% (34,500) of the city's total population of 66,000.

During World War II, the city came under Nazi German occupation (11 July 1941 – 26 June 1944). Most of the local Jews perished in the Vitebsk Ghetto massacre of October 1941.

Vitebsk was, of course, the boyhood home of artist Marc Chagall. And of ILGWU labor journalist Max Danish. And of Mossad chief Isser Harel. And, as well, of playwright S Ansky. Plus more than a few prominent others.

Maybe it's something in the water.

Of the many ancestors of Abq Jew, exactly none are known to be from Vitebsk. Or, perhaps, all are.

A MyHeritage Story

Abq Jew has written often about genealogy site MyHeritage (see Blood, Spit & Years and Fame, Fortune, and Four Wives, et al). Almost everything Abq Jew has written has been complimentary, in both senses of the term.

Well, here is a cautionary tale of how MyHeritage can lead one (Abq Jew) down a rabbit hole and on to a wild goose chase.

It all started when Abq Jew was looking for DNA matches who also have shared family members on Abq Jew's Family Tree. And viola (or other stringed instrument)! Betsy G popped up.

Ordinarily, 1.1% shared DNA would scarcely attract Abq Jew's attention. But 39 Smart Matches? We've gotta be mishpocha! But how?

Abq Jew is not proud to say that he spent a good couple of hours using MyHeritage and Facebook and Google to track down exactly who Betsy G is and where our respective Family Trees intersect.

And Abq Jew found her!

Sure enough, Abq Jew placed Betsy G right into his very own Family Tree. And discovered that she was a mere 17 steps away!

Betsy G has turned out to be Abq Jew's father's uncle's sister-in-law's 2nd cousin's husband's cousin's daughter. Here's how:
1. RWY is Abq Jew's father
2. Frances Y is the mother of RWY
3. L (Rosenfield) Pearl is a sister of Frances Y
4. Benjamin Myer Pearl is the husband of Lillian (Rosenfield) Pearl
5. Bessie (Zimmer) Pearl is the wife of Benjamin Myer Pearl
6. Abraham David Zimmer is a brother of Bessie Pearl
7. Birdie Zimmer is the wife of Abraham David Zimmer
8. Robert Rosenberg is the father of Birdie Zimmer
9. Iosel Meir Rosenberg is the father of Robert Rosenberg
10. Hirsch Nachman Rosenberg is a brother of Iosel Meir Rosenberg
11. Lillian Scher is a daughter of Hirsch Nachman Rosenberg
12. Irene Zivin is a daughter of Lillian Scher
13. Alfred Zivin is the husband of Irene Zivin
14. Ana Zivin is the mother of Alfred Zivin
15. Paul Mendelsohn is a brother of Ana Zivin
16. Jean G is a daughter of Paul Mendelsohn
17. Betsy G is a daughter of Jean G
So ...
What's wrong with this picture?

Abq Jew's beloved great uncle Benjamin Myer Pearl was indeed
the husband of Lillian Pearl. But, before that - Uncle Ben was
the husband of Bessie (Zimmer) Pearl. 

Abq Jew is related (but NOT by blood) to his great uncle Ben Pearl.
Abq Jew is related (by blood) to his beloved great aunt Lillian Pearl.
Betsy G is related (but NOT by blood) to Bessie (Zimmer Pearl).

Abq Jew recalls being told the following story.

Harry Wise, Abq Jew's mother's father, worked at the same place as Ben Pearl, Abq Jew's great uncle. Or belonged to the same union. In any event: the two men knew each other.

Bessie (Zimmer) Pearl, Ben Pearl's first wife, had died at the (even then) young age of 42, leaving Ben Pearl a widower with two young sons - Martin and Arnold.

Harry Wise knew of Lillian Rosenfield, an unmarried violinist who happened to be Abq Jew's father's aunt, through Abq Jew's mother, who was (even then) dating Abq Jew's father.

And so, Abq Jew's great uncle Ben and Abq Jew's great aunt Lillian were introduced. They married; and the rest, as they say, is history.

So, Abq Jew hears you, his loyal readers, ask:

If Abq Jew and Betsy G are not related by blood,
why do they share 1.1 % of their DNA? And why does MyHeritage think they might be 3rd - 5th cousins? 

The answer can be summed up in one simple word.


Which Abq Jew explains at great length in his seminal blog post (like there is such a thing) You've Got DNA Matches!.

And which Jennifer Mendelsohn explains at much greater length and increased clarity in her seminal article, No, You Don't Really Have 7,900 4th Cousins: Some DNA Basics for Those With Jewish Heritage.

Which in turn can be summed up with the statement:

Yes, genealogically speaking,
we are all from Vitebsk

Oh. And how about those 39 Smart Matches? Most of those matches only exist because Abq Jew is tracking the Zimmer family on behalf of his dear relatives, the women of the Pearl family.

To whom Abq Jew sends his warmest greetings
on matriarch Sylvia Pearl's 84th birthday!

And so, the only question remaining is

Why did Abq Jew fall down this rabbit hole
and on to a wild goose chase?

To which Abq Jew must respond:

But to celebrate the conclusion of this blog post, Abq Jew thoughtfully provides Mickey Katz's Geshray of De Vilde Gotchka (Cry of the Wild Goose; lyrics here) for your merriment.

We don't all have to go where the wild goose goes.

But if you do ... be careful where you step.

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