My writing about Genealogy My writing about Psychology My writing about Meat
Why a Historically Oriented Genealogist Took a DNA Test

Why a Historically Oriented Genealogist Took a DNA Test

Those who pursue genealogy do so for a variety of reasons. To find a particular relative. To determine whether they’re descended from royalty. To occupy time that might otherwise be devoted to earning a living. 

 Me, I was interested in learning about my mother’s family, the sixteen men and women in the picture topping this blog. I wanted to know how they lived, rather than how they died. The butcher shop in 19 Berggasse that my great uncle Siegmund Kornmehl owned was a (meat) hook into that inquiry, a way of grabbing the past. I wanted to explore what — and who — Rita Rosenbaum Jarolim lost when she was forced to leave Vienna after the Anschluss.

After all, I lost the city too. My father was also born in Vienna, though he and my mother met in English school in New York. (The question of whether my parents would have married if they had both stayed in Austria is another topic entirely.)

Some five years of blogging later, an outline of that history has filled in nicely. The name Kornmehl turned out to be relative magnet. I found more kin than I could have imagined, and just as many found me.  I have a bead on most of the maternal family members who lived in Vienna at the same time as my grandparents and mother did, and traced our common ancestors to a town in Poland called Tarnow.

My mother was a seamstress. Sewing — and butchering — ran in the family. Jewish tailors in Tarnow – 1928. Original in YIVO NYC Collection

Swabbing for Science–and Swag

So why did I take a DNA test?

Short answer: The test kit was free, and from a trusted company, and I was curious.

When you are a blogger, you are sometimes offered product samples. As a pet blogger, I was sent dog treats, leashes, and toys. For genealogy bloggers, the pickings are much slimmer. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to hear from MyHeritageDNA.com.

I respected MyHeritage.com as a major genealogy platform; I had used Geni, now under the company’s aegis, quite a bit early on. MyHeritage got into the DNA testing business later than its major competitors and was looking for a bit of publicity. Why not? 

I’d seen those Ancestry.com commercials, where the guy wearing lederhosen has to change into a kilt after he discovers his background is Scottish, not German. 

I wondered if there were any costume changes in store for me. 

Ashkenazi Jew (x99), Italian

As you can see from the following screen shot, nothing unexpected turned up, though that tiny sliver of Italian is a nice bonus. The Flatbush neighborhood where I grew up in Brooklyn was largely Italian and Jewish. Now I know it wasn’t only guilt and overfeeding that gave me an affinity for my Italian P.S. 92 peers, but blood ties too.

The bigger surprise was the list of family DNA matches — more than 50, and some quite closely linked to me. Several of them were first cousins once removed. None of the names were familiar, which led me to conclude they were likely from my father’s side. I have done very little research on my paternal family history — so far. 

I’m on the Record Now

I was nevertheless pleased. I’m not really looking for anyone, but what if someone is looking for me?

An article in the Washington Post has been on my mind. “She Thought She Was Irish until a DNA Test Opened a 100-Year-Old Mystery” is a great read, a fascinating tale superbly told and wonderfully illustrated.

Who knows what mix-ups might have occurred in my family, whether because of name changes, record keeping, or being forced to flee? If putting my DNA in a data base provides a clue to someone else’s mysteries, I’m happy to help.

And no, I’m not worried about a stranger looking to cash in on our kinship. I’m a freelance writer. Blood, meet stone. 

Disclaimer: I have no basis for comparison with other DNA testing companies, so can only say that sending a sample to MyHeritageDNA was simple; the test results arrived in a timely fashion; the results were presented in a easy-to-decipher format; and I haven’t been bombarded with sales emails. 

The Jewish Museum Vienna: A Personal Look

The Jewish Museum Vienna: A Personal Look

I know, you can’t go home again, especially if home is a country your family was forced to flee. I was under no illusion that a lilting Strauss waltz would be the soundtrack to my visit to Vienna, where both my parents were born. Still, I’d traveled to the city earlier this summer to seeContinue Reading »

Return to Vienna

Return to Vienna

There’s so much to report about my recent trip to Vienna, hosted by the Jewish Welcome Service, and so little time to do it right now as I prepare to leave for a book tour. But I won’t bury the lede. I’m thinking very seriously of returning to Vienna next year for a much longer timeContinue Reading »

Opening Up to Elijah: A Passover Story

Opening Up to Elijah: A Passover Story

Call me a seder skeptic. I’m fond of the Passover story, its message of exile and redemption. I especially like the ritual of saving a place at the table and a glass of wine for the prophet Elijah. Like Santa Claus, he is required to visit millions of homes in a single night. Opening the door for him to comeContinue Reading »

Grief, Food, & Nudity: A Story About My Mother & My New Book

Grief, Food, & Nudity: A Story About My Mother & My New Book

Not long after my father died, I went to Martinique with my mother. I remember three things about that trip.  My mother’s grief. The profiteroles. And the topless beach. Grief, food, and nudity My mother was in a raw stage of mourning, subject to fits of literal wailing. But no one in my family was everContinue Reading »

Of Chutzpah, Kickstarter, and Keeping a Low Profile

Of Chutzpah, Kickstarter, and Keeping a Low Profile

When I was growing up, my mother always implied that my sister and I should keep a low profile. We were supposed to excel in school, sure, but not to stand out because otherwise “they” would find us, even though we grew up in America, even though “they” found everyone they wanted to find inContinue Reading »

A New Journey

A New Journey

Dear Freud’s Butcherites Friends of Freud’s Butcher, As you may have noticed — at least I hope so — I haven’t been around much lately. The short version of the reason: I’m not a very good multitasker. For many years, I’ve had a travel memoir on my back burner. And I finally decided to finish itContinue Reading »

Of Genealogies and Possibilities: A New Year’s Musing

Of Genealogies and Possibilities: A New Year’s Musing

Happy 2015. It’s that time of year when all the possibilities seem to open up. January 1 is an arbitrary date, of course, but who doesn’t want to believe in fresh starts, in learning from our experiences, even if those experiences sometimes seem arbitrary too? I ended last year on a sad note, with the accidental death of aContinue Reading »

In Memoriam, Jean Phillips, 1953-2014

In Memoriam, Jean Phillips, 1953-2014

This page is for those who knew and loved Jean to post pictures and remembrances, long or short. Feel free to post text remembrances in the comments section here. Edie Jarolim, Tucson, AZ I’ve met many wonderful people through this blog. I never know when a relative I didn’t know I had or someone with information about Freud or rolledContinue Reading »

If Freud Celebrated Sukkot

If Freud Celebrated Sukkot

Jews around the world recently celebrated Sukkot, a joyous holiday that follows five days after the very solemn Yom Kippur; it has its roots as a harvest/agricultural festival. I won’t attempt to explain it in detail here; if you want to read all about it, including a discussion of how to pronounce it, here’s a linkContinue Reading »