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. 

2 Responses to Why a Historically Oriented Genealogist Took a DNA Test

  1. Anna Redsand says:

    Your posts on genealogy always inspire me to do more looking. I used 23 and me and suddenly, 5 years after testing, within the same week, was contacted by matches on both sides of my ancestry. I’d like to do a lot more research, but other deadlines keep me too busy at the moment.

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