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DNA: My Weiss Ancestry

My mother was born in a German colony in Ukraine, the first child born to a couple named Weiss.

Tracing her family history has been a challenge. Records were tough to find during the Communist years, and when the doors were finally opened, we did not find much inside. No church records, no census, no civil registration before the 1920s.

So I plodded along. I gathered what little information I could find in archives in Ukraine, and tracked down distant relatives. They helped me discover the places of origin, pre-Ukraine. I have traced my family back to East Prussia, Posen, Poland, and even -- finally -- a village that is in Germany today.

I was told that some relatives had gone to the United States before my mother's family came to Canada in 1928. If that was true, where did these people go? I searched for several years to find Weiss and Scheffler kin in America, but other than the ones I found because of leads from other family members, I had no luck.

Enter DNA. After I tested through Ancestry, I found one new family, then another, then another. Distant cousins had tested, and then posted enough information online to help me make a connection.

This is huge; I have hundreds of relatives in the United States that I did not know about a year or so ago. And I have been doing research since 1978, not knowing that these relatives were, in some cases, within an hour or two of me.

At first, I could not determine whether some of these people were on my father's side (English, Irish) or my mother's. What to do? I asked cousins on both sides to test as well. That way I could make a reasonable guess about which side my DNA matches -- my newfound cousins -- were on.

Odds are, people who match my Weiss cousins as well as me will be on my mother's side; the ones who match my Obee cousin will be on my father's side. (Not a perfect system, because there could be other connections between families, but it is a starting point.)

I also tested my sisters, because DNA is not passed down the same way to siblings. I compared the top 100 matches for the three of us; one of my sisters has 54 matches that the other two of us do not have. All of my sisters' genetic matches are genealogical matches for me as well. Testing siblings has given me more chances to make connections with relatives.

I am using the same theory with my cousins. My Weiss cousins have matches in Eastern Europe that I do not have; all I need to do is filter out the matches from their non-Weiss side. One cousin in particular has stronger matches than I do on the Weiss lines, all Germans from Russia. He has some Weiss matches that do not show up for me.

If one cousin is good, two or three are better. They have helped confirm the results on my Weiss side, and filter out the non-Weiss matches. In the end, we have far more relatives than we knew about -- lots and lots of Schefflers! -- and I have been able to clarify some details in our collective family history.

As a byproduct, what I learn about their non-Weiss relatives will give my cousins a boost if they decide to start researching their own families.

I also paid for a test for my mother's cousin, the last person of that generation. Again, the information in her DNA is making a big difference; she is one generation back, so she has more distant matches than I do.

And every time I find a new match, I increase the information available to me, since saliva from my cousins is helping me fill in the gaps that resulted from the turmoil in Ukraine a century ago.

Modern techniques matter. We've come a long way from a little village in Ukraine.


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