Genetic Genealogy

It would appear that I have opened a brand new can of worms in my attempt to break through some of these Latvian genealogical brick walls – I tried a new method. I tested my mother’s autosomal DNA using Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder test. The whole process from ordering the kit to receiving our results took about 2 months. I received her results last week and have been on a reading bender ever since, looking for ways to interpret what we’ve been given.

The first thing we’ve been given is tools to calculate “Admixture” – her ethnic heritage. Family Tree DNA gives us the vague and somewhat confusing results of 89% Eastern European and 11% Finland/Northern Siberia. But a myriad of other admixture tools found at GedMatch give us a clearer, more Baltic approach – ~60% Baltic, ~30% North Atlantic, and a few other small minorities mixed in (always a hint of something from the Caucasus area).

The second type of hints we’ve been given is a list of “Matches” – people who share a segment of 7.0 centiMorgans (cM) or more of autosomal or x-chromosome DNA with my mother, suggesting they could be anywhere from 20th to 3rd cousins, depending on the amount of DNA shared.

It gets pretty technical, but the jist of it is, if you share a segment >11cM with someone, there is a >99% chance you share a common ancestor within the last 7 generations. 10cM = 99%, 9cM=80%, and it rapidly drops off from there, with less chances for smaller segments. Other things to consider are amount of segments shared – sometimes it is only one large segment, sometimes a medium sized one, plus a few other small ones.. it’s quite open for interpretation. I decided to focus first on those who share a segment of at least 10cM, since they seem the most probable. We have 59 matches at this level. You are able to see any data your matches have put in for their ethnicity and surnames in their family trees, as well as an email address to contact them at.

We have 4 matches that were predicted to be between 4 and 4.5 generations away, with German, German/Swiss, German/Swedish and Polish roots, although ¾ identify as German + one of the other ethnicities. 6 matches estimated at 4.8 generations away are of Russian, Polish, Latvian and Lithuanian ethnicity. From 5 generations back there are hundreds of matches – almost 2,000 in total, including some smaller segment matches.

I’ve noticed some recurring themes:

  • There seems to be a strong Lithuanian connection, particularily from the Samogitia/Telsiai area of Lithuania – not surprising given it’s proximity to my ancestor’s homelands in southwestern Latvia near the border with Lithuania. These matches seem to share particular segments of the 11th and 12th chromosomes, should that end up pointing to anything significant.
  • There’s also a strong Swedish connection – I’ve got a long theory that it could be from my Akerfelds family who’s ancestor appears to have been a mother of several illegitimate children living at an estate in Nikrace pagast owned by a Swedish baron (Baron de Bagge, Dinsdurbe estate)
  • There’s a pronounced Finnish connection, with a strong presence on the 4th chromosome
  • There’s definitely the probability that there’s some Baltic German mixed in at some point in the last 250 years
  • For some reason we have a load of matches with seemingly British Isles ancestors all matching up on a particular segment of the 19th chromosome, which I find interesting. There’s also a few Russian matches with that spot.
  • There’s a total mash-up of Eastern Europeans matching on a similar segment on the 3rd chromosome – from Hungarians, a Romanian and a Serbian to Slovakians, Swedes and Lithuanians. Is this that rogue “Caucasus” gene? Or the result of some Viking conquests?
  • There’s one particularily strong match with southern Estonian roots, and although many of the Latvian matches I’ve found seem likely to match up with my Akerfelds side down in Kurzeme, many of them also have a Northern Latvian connection, especially near Valka (right on the border with Estonia)

For now, it’s hard to say what to do with these hints. Something that could help solve some riddles is testing more family members – one potential 3rd Akerfelds cousin is completing some testing, results now pending. There’s a chance he will not show as an autosomal match to my mother since they are theoretically relatively distant, but he also has the ability as a male to test his Y-chromosome, a direct male lineage for the Akerfelds. If I can get a known male Akerfelds relative of my mother’s to test his Y chromosome as well, I can verify 100% that two Akerfelds ancestors I’ve found are definitely related, which is another theory of mine. Also using a method called “phasing” at that point I could distinguish which of my matches, and therefore which ethnicities are likely to have come from my mother’s Akerfelds side or her Vinakmens side. This could potentially help me locate more family records for all those blanks I’ve yet to fill in in my tree.

Until more testing is completed and I learn more about DNA, what I’ve started to do is contact my matches that are obviously Latvian, to see what their family trees look like and if I can help them expand those trees so we can find a common ancestor. So far I’ve got related families living in Saldus and Liepaja, totally within my mother’s paternal home-area.

The search continues! And the really interesting part is that as more people test throughout time, your own results just keep growing. Go on and try it out, people!! Maybe we’re related!

Methodology: Indexing of Elkesem Estate

One of my latest projects has been indexing baptisms at Elkesem estate from 1799-1875. While tedious, this will provide me with a good understanding of who was living at what farm, who was who’s neighbour/landlord, and what families were “originally” there as opposed to who moved in later. Prior to the 1850’s, laws were in place that made it very difficult for peasants to move from estate to estate. It is a rare occasion or circumstance when they did.

So, to see a baptism for a family name as early as 1834-36 (in Kurzeme) at a certain estate likely means that the original patriarch who was given the name during the naming process “originated” there. And since surnames did not exist prior to that… you could say the surname “originated” there. From there you can look at the parents of the child being baptised, and what farm they lived on, and hopefully identify the same family pre-surnames but other, earlier baptisms at the same farms by couples with the same first names.

I may use this same method for Lieldzelda estate, to try and piece together my Grinbergs-Akerfelds family since the Embute church books from 1853-1870 are missing, as well as the Lieldzelda revision lists.

Resource: These Names Accuse

What It Is

There is a book titled “These Names Accuse: Nominal List of Latvians deported to Soviet Russia in 1940-1941″. It was published by the Latvian National Foundation (located in Stockholm, Sweden). The list of names is actually a list of people reported to the authorities in Riga as missing, either by their family members, or friends, or other members of the community.

When the Germans occupied Latvia and took control, organizations such as the Latvian Red Cross and the Latvian Statistical board were established, and tried to compile a list of those murdered by the Soviets and count the human losses. They asked the Latvian public to report those known to have been executed, or deported, or just missing. The first compilation was published in 1942, but reports continued to be received, and supplementary lists were added. As time wore on and the fates of some of those arrested became known, the fate of a person was also added in.

How You Can Use It

In addition to first and last names, the approximate birth date, registration/group number, last known address, and in some cases, the fate of the listed person is included.

The group number indicates under which circumstance the person was deported – the number 2 meant deportation occurred on the night of June 14, 1941. Number 3 meant they were arrested, then removed from prison. Number 4 meant the person had been missing since the collapse of the Russian Empire (this was mostly military personnel) who had been forcibly evacuated to Russia.

Since many of those listed here perished, you are more likely to find information on extended families of ancestors here. In my own experience I discovered brothers and sisters of direct ancestors, however their stories are important too, providing clues and puzzle pieces. Keep in mind that quite likely their arrest and deportation had a formative impact on the family and friends they left behind.

If you’d like to know more about these events: http://www.latvians.com/en/Reading/TheseNamesAccuse/ThNA-00-OurFamilies.php

The full list of names can be found here: http://www.latvietislatvija.com/These_Names_Accuse/These_Names_Accuse.htm