A DNA Success Story

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz

The other day, I received a message from FamilyTreeDNA that I had a new mtDNA or maternal match.  The person matched in the basic HVR1 test for maternal ancestry that I had taken.  I thought there might be a chance of a connection and contacted the person, who turned out to be Max Blankfeld, Vice-President of FamilyTreeDNA, which is a partner with JewishGen in genetic research.

Upon discussing our families, we could not find a definite connection at all as there was no common last name and no common shtetl or country.  His maternal family (Kuper and Neuman) came from Pinsk and Lakhva, Belarus, and mine (Oxenberg and Schubert) from Boryslaw and Drohobycz, Ukraine, but we agree to keep looking.  Perhaps the connection was further back than we had records for.

It is always difficult to document one’s female ancestor’s as very often there are no records or family history, especially of maiden names.  This was certainly the case of my great great grandmother Gitlia Schubert whose maiden name was unknown.

In passing, I mentioned to Max that I was familiar with his paternal Blankfield name from South Africa and he acknowledged that he had family there.  He said that finding them was his DNA success story.  I always love success stories, so asked for Max’s story which he provided from an interview he gave to Blaine Bettinger, the author of “The Genetic Genealogist”, a blog founded in 2007.

I certainly did test, in 2000, and while the results did not surprise me, it helped find and confirm distant relationships, and also gave me very close matches with people that I was not aware of.

So here’s my DNA break through: in 1983, when I was still in Brazil, our family received a letter from a Blankfield living in Australia, where he gave us some of his genealogy and asked if we could possibly be related. The problem was that my father passed away in 1981, and never discussed very much his family with me because he was a Holocaust survivor, and both parents and sisters were murdered by the Nazis in 1942. So, I didn’t have any facts to check against that letter. I kept the letter in the drawer.

Fast forward to the year 2000, and the start of genetic genealogy. I start looking for Blank(en)f(i)elds to be test. Saul Issroff, an avid genealogist from England tells me that he’s related to some Blankfields in South Africa, and gives me the name of a female Blankfield. She convinces her father to be tested. High expectations. Results come in and bingo - very close match. I ask for their family tree and guess what - that man from Australia is in that tree! We put together both trees, and it looks like we shared the same great-great-great-great-grandfather! (I must say that I had a previous attempt with another Blankfield that did not show a relationship).

(Eli Blankenfeld, between his sisters, 2nd from right, top row, his father Motel Blankenfeld, 4th from right, second from top row, his mother to left of father)

After relating this story to me, Max further stated that the man in Australia had passed away since then and that his son Mark had later contacted him, but he had lost his information.  He certainly wanted to be in contact with Mark again.  Given this, I decided to check out several resources and see if I could locate the missing Mark. 

  • JewishGen Family Finder - First, I checked out the JewishGen Family Finder and noted that there were numerous researchers looking for Max’s last name or its variants, but neither Max nor Mark were registered as being amongst them.  This is a further incentive for those of you who have not signed up with the JewishGen Family Finder to do so.
  • Facebook - Subsequently, I looked on Facebook and, again, no Mark appeared, but a number of individuals did exist with the same last name.  Evidently, they were not genealogists as they had not been listed in the JewishGen Family Finder.
  • Google - The next step was to check out the Internet and I Googled Mark’s name and found a Mark in several references along with his wife Hilary, but with no contact information.
  • Skype - Thereupon, I used Skype to make free calls to friends and relatives in Australia, who were formerly from South Africa, to see if they knew Mark.  One of my relatives told me that there was no one in Sydney, Australia, with that last name and that Mark must live in one of the other major towns where South Africans had settled such as Melbourne, Perth, or Adelaide, for instance. 
  • Australian White Pages - Given that, I also made use of the Australian White Pages which provides residential, commercial and governmental phone listings and postcodes in Australia.There I found fourteen listings for Max’s last name and its variants, all with only first initials of the first name.  As I knew that I was looking for a Mark and possibly a Hilary, I carefully searched these listings.  Success!  There was an M & H listed in Melbourne.   
Hoping that they would uncover additional relatives, I gave Max the links to the individuals I had found who were searching their family names.  They will now have further means of locating their relatives and getting them DNA-tested as well to ensure that they are actually related and aren’t just individuals with the same last name.

This is where DNA can be quite helpful as there may be cases in the past where families had the same common Jewish family name, or took on different names for various reasons such as changing their names when marrying, shortening their names from something else, or changing their names because of possible military conscription.  All of these things can make locating relatives quite complicated.

And so ends this particular DNA success story, for the moment.  It took not only getting tested to obtain results, but some good old-fashioned genealogical sleuthing too to make it all happen.  Remember that the next time you have an inkling to find your ancestors and their descendants via DNA.

NOTE: Please keep reading the Blog for DNA-related success stories which will be forthcoming on a regular basis in the very near future. 


  1. I have written a brief comment about my experience with DNA procedure, but the code I enter is not accepted.
    Howard V. Epstein, Ph.D.

  2. I'm looking for Yekelchik/Ekelchik family history. There are not many of us so I think there is a chance we are all either cousins once or twice removed. Looking for info. on Yekelchiks/Ekelchik from Uzda, a town close to Minsk, Belarus.

  3. I have had the three phases of the DNA FamilyTree analysis but it has helped little. I am seeking probable members of my father's family in Russia and Ukraine. I think they call themselves "Mizruchin" a verson of Mizrachi. My Haplogroup is E1b1b1 2. Ephraim H. Mizruchi, PhD.


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