Five Generations of Mothers

Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and all the mothers everywhere! Today’s post covers my maternal foremothers in photos.

My mom and me in the late 1970's

My mom and me in the late 1970’s

My mom - 1951

My mom – 1951

My maternal grandmother - 1921

My maternal grandmother, Selma – 1921

My maternal great-grandmother c. 1900

My maternal great-grandmother, Johanna c. 1900

My maternal great-great grandmother Rosina Lorig Hirsch

My maternal great-great grandmother, Rosina c. 1880

Efraim Lilian – A Happy Ending


Liba and Efraim Lilian

Liba and Efraim Lilian

Back in February, I wrote about Efraim Lilian, a refugee who escaped war-torn Germany during World War II. His story left off six months after he arrived in Israel. When Efraim first hit the shores of Haifa, he was sent to Atlit Detainment Camp along with the other passengers aboard his ship. Atlit, now a museum and research center has information about many of its former detainees so I thought that they might be able to tell me what happened to Efraim following his release.

I became aware of Atlit’s research department shortly after learning about the museum and immediately made contact with one of the employees. Unfortunately, she couldn’t find even a small detail. I let it rest for a couple of months but decided to call the museum one more time. Atlit Museum has a new website which has been drawing attention from both researchers and family members whose loved ones were once there. The museum has gained valuable information from this new addition and because of it, this time I had success!

The archivist was happy to tell me that shortly after I called her, Efraim Lilian’s granddaughter Mina called and provided information about her grandparents. She gave me Mina’s phone number and I was able to make contact and find out more about this branch of my Bernfeld family. Efraim Lilian is my second cousin twice removed and the grandson of my great-great grandfather Jacob’s brother Moshe. I learned that Efraim and his wife Liba arrived together on the same ship. They had two sons who also escaped Nazi Germany. The sons arrived in Israel first and shortly after, their parents followed.

Mina shared some family photos with me and told me that her grandparents and their children settled in Israel. The children eventually got married and started families of their own. I was happy to learn that today, Efraim and Liba have many descendants. 

My DNA Results and Useful Charts & Links for Genetic Genealogy

I’m a mixed-media artist, a writer and am currently working on family research as well. Just like anyone else with a creative mind, I go off on a million tangents. Those of us with many interests love to seek out new adventures and when we do, we become impassioned with the new challenges they bring forth. I’ve been doing family research consistently for the past year but seven weeks ago, after receiving my autosomal DNA results, I took a break in order to learn everything I could and make sense of the results.

A few months ago, I mentioned that I was in the process of taking an Autosomal DNA test and was planning to use the results to connect unlinked branches on my Bernfeld family tree. When I decided to join other people who have had their DNA tested for both genealogical and medical purposes, I had no idea how fascinating this addition to my research would be.

Although my initial goal was very focused and specific, the results inspired me to dive in full force and go into learning overdrive.

Autosomal DNA is a term used in genetic genealogy to describe DNA which is inherited from the 22 autosomal chromosomes.¹ Each person inherits approximately 50% of his DNA from his mother and approximately 50% from his father. At this time, the testing companies cannot tell you which segments were inherited from your mother and which ones were inherited from your father. One possible way to find out which segments you inherited from each parent would be to either get at least one of your parents tested or test very close relatives on both sides. However, in the case of Ashkenazi Jews or any other endogamous² population, there’s a higher probability than average that both sides of the family could be related somewhere back in time. If this is known, you may need to test additional people in order to figure out where your DNA is coming from. It is important to know which side of the family your inherited DNA segments are from if you want to figure out how your matches relate to you.

The three main companies that test autosomal DNA are: Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and AncestryDNA. I tested through Family Tree DNA and 23andMe. My data results were almost identical between both companies. The reason why I say almost is because each company uses a different set of algorithms and therefore the results are slightly different.

My Family Tree DNA results say that I am 92% Ashkenazi Jewish and 8% European. Note the orange (paternal) and green (maternal) flags. They represent the most distant paternal and maternal ancestors reported by my Family Finder matches. This is one of the most difficult aspects in terms of figuring out the MRCA (most recent common ancestor) between two people. My Family Finder matches list locations where I have no known ancestry such as Lithuania and Latvia. In my case, many branches on my paternal side and one on my maternal side cannot be researched before the mid-19th century due to lack of documentation and therefore I don’t know where those ancestors migrated from. It is a reasonable possibility that I could have ancestry from Lithuania and Latvia because these countries are within close proximity to where my family lived but at this time, I can’t prove it.

23andMe reported a slightly different analysis as you can see in the photo below. The results predict that I am 82% Ashkenazi Jewish and 100% European. The one item that surprised me was having 2.4% British and Irish heritage. I am not aware of any ancestry from that region. They came up with these numbers based upon their own data so I am slightly skeptical and at the same time intrigued.

Once you receive the results, you’ll want to compare them with your DNA matches. Each testing company provides a couple of tools to assist you.

If your initial excitement wears off and becomes replaced by thoughts such as, “Who are these second to third level cousins that I never heard of before? I thought I knew the names of all my second cousins!” then you may need more chromosome viewing options.

Testing companies are very limited in regards to the tools they provide and most people will want to delve deeper into chromosome comparisons in order to find answers. Another important thing to consider if you are part of an endogamous population is that your matches may appear closer than they really are. For example, one of my DNA matches showed up according to Family Tree DNA as a third cousin when in fact he is a fourth cousin once removed. Without a family tree, I would not have figured this out. Third-party tools might provide a better solution because DNA segments can be analyzed and compared with other matches.

The following third-party tools can significantly help you:

Gedmatch enables you to find DNA relatives by comparing your kit with others. Once your raw data is available, you can upload it to their website and use a variety of tools for comparisons. Some of the tools include, one-to-one comparisons and one-to-many comparisons for both autosomal DNA and the X chromosome, a 3D chromosome browser, a matrix tool and more. Their upgraded Tier 1 level utilities offer a matching segment search, a triangulation tool and the Lazarus tool which can create surrogate kits to represent close ancestors. You will need to test several closely related relatives in order to use the Lazarus tool. Triangulation allows you to match specific segments with more than one person. For example if A and B match on a given segment and B and C match on the same segment, then A and C will also match on that segment if they triangulate.

Autosomal DNA Segment Analyzer (ADSA). Description from the website: The Autosomal DNA Segment Analyzer (ADSA) is a tool that takes your data from Family Tree DNA or Gedmatch and constructs tables that include match and segment information as well as a visual graph of overlapping segments, juxtaposed with a customized, color-coded In-Common-With (ICW) matrix that will permit you to triangulate matching segments without having to look in multiple spreadsheets or on different web pages. Additional information, such as ancestral surnames, suggested relationship ranges, and matching segments and ICWs on other chromosomes is provided by hovering over fields on the screen.

Mitochondrial DNA haplogroup analysis. If you test at 23andMe, in addition to autosomal results, you will also receive Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) results if you are a male and mitochondrial DNA results if you are a female. Mitochondrial DNA results enable you to know what haplogroup your direct maternal lineage is from and Y-DNA results will provide you with the haplogroup results from your direct paternal lineage. A haplogroup is a genetic population group of people who share a common ancestor on the patrilineal or matrilineal line.³ You can learn more about haplogroups in the following article, written by Roberta Estes by clicking on this link.

Promethease. Promethease provides genetic health information based upon the raw data from an autosomal DNA test.

I found the following charts useful while learning about autosomal DNA.

The first two relationship charts show you the average amount of centimorgans (cMs) that you share with a relative. Wikipedia defines a centimorgan as a unit of measurement used for genetic linkage. It is the distance between chromosome positions (also termed, loci or markers) for which the expected average number of intervening chromosomal crossovers in a single generation is 0.01.

DNA Centimorgan Relationship Chart Courtesy Kristina Gow Dunnaway

DNA Centimorgan Relationship Chart
Courtesy Kristina Gow Dunnaway

Courtesy Robert James Liguori

Courtesy Robert James Liguori

The next chart shows the average amount of DNA that a person shares with a family member.

Courtesy Wikipedia

Courtesy Wikipedia

The next two relationship charts show the average X chromosome inheritance.

X chromosome inheritance for a woman. Courtesy Jim Turner

X chromosome inheritance for a woman.
Courtesy Jim Turner

X chromosome inheritance for a man. Courtesy Jim Turner

X chromosome inheritance for a man.
Courtesy Jim Turner

The following item, called a consanguinity chart, is useful when figuring out the relationship of a most recent common ancestor (MRCA). It helps sort out the confusion once you start getting into a relationship such as for example, second cousin four times removed.

Some of the DNA blogs that I’ve been following and recommend are listed below. I am grateful for the amount of time and detail these authors put into their posts in order to help people learn and understand genetic genealogy.

DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

Kitty Cooper’s Blog


The Genetic Genealogist

Your Genetic Genealogist

Additional Links:

The International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) provides a wealth of resources.

Family Tree DNA Projects. Currently, Family Tree DNA hosts 8,187 different projects.


²Endogamy is the practice of marrying within a specific ethnic group or tribe.


Spring Has Arrived and Research Update

It’s been hard to stay indoors and blog during this time of year because spring has arrived in Jerusalem! Our seasonal rain period is over and has been replaced by plenty of sun and warm weather. Once this transition happens, we won’t see rain until autumn.

There’s so much beauty to see right now and I want to share some of it with you. As you can see in the video, the desert where I live is in full bloom and the drive from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea is breathtaking.

Although I’ve been enjoying the outdoors, I do have some news regarding family research. There’s been a few great discoveries, especially with the Bernfeld clan.

Several Bernfeld descendants have started taking DNA tests and my newly found cousin, Bruce Bernfeld matches me exactly where he should, at the third cousin level. It’s been a bit of a challenge to figure out how all of our Bernfeld participants are related. Although we show up as relatives to one another (some more distant than others) we don’t all match and triangulate on one common segment. As more people test, we hope to figure this puzzle out and find some answers.

Another incredible discovery was learning that Rabbi Simon Bernfeld’s son, Raffael survived the Holocaust! This is the first time that I came across anything mentioning a surviving descendant.

Raffael Bernfeld was born in Belgrade in 1891 while his father Simon served as chief rabbi there. I stumbled upon his name through a record from the Cison Valmarino internment camp in the province of Treviso, Italy. The list, dated 1946 states that he survived the war.

I am still trying to learn what happened to Raffael and if he has descendants. The last item found in his paper trail was in reference to a restitution claim that he submitted after the war. I requested information about his file and finally received a response today. An archivist was willing to send me a 260 page document relating to his case but it required a hefty fee. Unfortunately, I don’t know German so instead of that option, I asked the representative if she knew where he was living when he filed the application. Hopefully she will have an answer.

The third piece of information regarding Bernfeld research relates to Efraim Lilian, the relative I recently wrote about who escaped Europe only to be locked up in a detainment camp. An archivist that I am working with in Jerusalem found his name in a database and is currently trying to gather information. I’m optimistic that there may be more to this story, one that ended prematurely due to lack of additional material.

I look forward to catching up on all of my fellow bloggers posts which I missed over the past few weeks. You inspire me!

102 Years of a Beautiful Life – Part 1

When I think of my grandmother, a saying from the Talmud comes to mind, “Whoever saves one life, it is as if he [or she] saves the entire world.” The story that I relate to this quote is remarkable and at the same time, has a great amount of sadness. I will write about that event soon but first, I would like to start from the beginning of my grandmother’s life.

My grandmother Selma age 18 - Germany

My grandmother Selma age 18 – Germany

On January 1, 1900, the first day of the 20th century, my grandmother, Selma was born in the small rural town of Thalfang, Germany. It is now part of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Her parents’ modest home only had two bedrooms, a living room and a small kitchen. Selma and her older sister shared a bed because the room was too small for an additional one. Their mattress was made from straw and each year, it was replaced with a new batch. The only source of heat inside the home came from a coal oven, located in the kitchen. The living room, which also served as an all-purpose room, was where her father set up a workshop for his carpentry business. They also had a small barn attached to the house where they kept chickens and a goat. Although I don’t have a photo of the house she lived in, I found a couple of pictures of the neighborhood where she grew up. The first image is the view across the street from her house and the next one is the synagogue building, located next to where she lived. When Selma was six years old, her parents and two sisters moved to Cologne. The family struggled financially because Selma’s father could not find full-time employment. They hoped that the move to a large city would enable him to find a full-time job and earn a steady income. Selma’s grandparents were devastated by the news that their only child, my great-grandmother Johanna and their grandchildren would be moving so far away. Selma, the oldest grandchild (her older sister had a different mother and therefore different maternal grandparents) had always been very attached to her grandparents and decided to stay with them so that they wouldn’t be lonely. Selma was eleven when her grandfather died but she and her grandmother, Rosina remained in their home. After graduating grade school at the age of fourteen, Selma continued her studies as an apprentice to a fine seamstress in Hermeskeil, Germany.

Seamstress teacher

Seamstress teacher

She would leave on Monday by train and return home on Friday in order to spend the weekends with her grandmother. Since Rosina did not have the financial means to pay for Selma’s room and board at her school, she made arrangements with several families so that Selma could live at one home and eat at five different homes each week. While Selma was learning, WWI erupted. She could hear the shooting all throughout the war. Although the fighting never reached her town, they were still affected because of food rationing. There were many farms in and around her community but the farmers sold their produce to businesses that were willing to pay more than the local retailers. After three years of an apprenticeship, Selma started her own dressmaking business in her home. Within a short amount of time, she built up a very successful business and employed two assistants. In July, 1917, one year after she started her business, Selma’s grandmother, Rosina died tragically by falling down the basement stairs. Selma continued to live in the house alone. After World War I ended in November 1918, English and American soldiers arrived in Germany. As they traveled through the countryside, they would sleep in residential homes. Since my grandmother lived alone, she was worried by the thought that soldiers might stay in her home. The soldiers were very considerate of the fact that she was by herself and didn’t include her home while they stayed in the area. During this time period, Selma began writing letters to her grandmother’s brother Michael. He lived in Chicago and encouraged her to move to the United States. The economy in Germany was terrible so she was happy to accept his offer. It took about two years before she could acquire a visa. Before Selma immigrated to the U.S. in 1921, she sold her house and put the money in her German bank account. Two years later, in 1923, the money lost all of its value because Germany had hyperinflation and went bankrupt. In 1923, the inflation was so terrible that Selma received an envelope from Germany covered with stamps on both sides. It cost 57,000 marks just to mail that one letter to the United States. The chart below gives you an idea of how rapidly the German Mark devalued in 1923.

Date Approx. Value of 1 US $ in German Marks
1/1/1920 50 Mark
1/1/1921 75 Mark
1/1/1922 190 Mark
7/1/1922 400 Mark
1/1/1923 9,000 Mark
6/1/1923 100,000 Mark
9/1/1923 10,000,000 Mark
10/10/1923 10,000,000,000 Mark
10/25/1923 1,000,000,000,000 Mark
11/15/1923 4,200,000,000,000 Mark

Selma immigrated to the United States on April 30, 1921. The first part of her journey involved taking a small boat from Hamburg, Germany to Liverpool, England. She waited there for a week and then departed from the Port of Southampton traveling on a Cunard Line ship named the Aquitania. The journey was difficult because she was seasick almost the entire time.

My grandmother saved this photo of the Aquitania, the ship she took while immigrating to America

My grandmother saved this photo of the Aquitania, the ship she took while immigrating to America

Ship travel log during my grandmother's trip to America

Ship travel log during my grandmother’s trip to America

In 1921, the year that Selma arrived in America, anti-immigrant sentiments ran high. That mood was reflected by the Emergency Quota Act which Congress passed on May 19, 1921. Fueled by fears that uneducated foreigners would flood the work force, the law established strict immigration quotas. After arriving at Ellis Island, she stayed with relatives in New York before continuing her journey to Chicago. Selma lived with her uncle Michael and his wife Fanny for one year but she didn’t like Chicago and returned to Brooklyn. She stayed with Michael’s sister-in-law, her great-aunt Mina. In 1922, Selma went to the McDowell School in Manhattan where she studied dress pattern design. In the evening she went to school to learn English.

Selma Frankel - 3rd row from front left side

Selma Frankel – 3rd row from front left side

In 1923, after Selma finished her pattern course, she worked for a dressmaker named Madame Pauline who had a shop located on Second Avenue in New York. There, she met a girl from Poland  and they started their own dressmaking business together on 13th Avenue in Borough Park, Brooklyn. In part two, you will find out what Selma did to save many lives during World War II.

Hirsch Family – 1860’s

This photo is the oldest one in my collection and is also my all time favorite. My great-great-grand uncle, Isidor is standing in between his parents, my great-great-great grandparents Hirsch Hirsch and Susanna Mayer.

The photo was taken in the 1860’s in Rhineland, Germany.

Currently, a researcher is getting ready to publish an article about this branch of my family in May. I will post the piece here when it’s available.

Samuel Hirsch – Chief Rabbi of Luxembourg and Reform Rabbi in Philadelphia


The information available for those doing family research never ceases to amaze me. I just came across a Luxembourg postage stamp which commemorates the 125th anniversary of the death of my second cousin four times removed, Rabbi Dr. Samuel Hirsch.

Samuel Hirsch was born in Thalfang, Germany on June 8, 1815. We are both descendants of Salomon Ackermann and Zerle Levi but this is where our trees split. I descend from two of Salomon and Zerle’s children, Isaac and Johanna, through different branches and Samuel’s ancestral line is through Isaac and Johanna’s brother, Samuel.

Samuel Hirsch's ancestors Courtesy, Elmar Ittenbach

Samuel Hirsch’s ancestors
Courtesy, Elmar Ittenbach

Although there are plenty of resources available relating to the life of Samuel Hirsch, including his own writings, I was only familiar with his later years in the United States, serving as a Reform rabbi in Philadelphia for over two decades.

After stumbling upon the postage stamp, I learned that he was appointed chief rabbi of Luxembourg in 1843 by Wilhelm II, king of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg. Samuel Hirsch held that position until 1866 when he moved to Philadelphia to lead Congregation Keneseth Israel.

Rabbi Hirsch was known for his radical voice in Reform Judaism when the movement was in its early stages in Germany. He was considered a controversial figure.

In 1888, he retired and moved to Chicago to live with his son, philosopher and rabbi, Emil Hirsch. Samuel Hirsch died in Chicago on May 14, 1889.