So in a shocking (to me, anyways) plot twist, a totally new direction…
In comparing the DNA of my mother and her third cousin from the Akerfelds line, it seems that the only other people matching the both of them (ie. sharing a common ancestor at some point) are of Ashkenazi Jewish lineage. However these Jewish matches appear to be fairly close cousins – 2nd to 4th cousins. This could indicate that either the father or mother of Jekabs and Ernests Akerfelds was the child of Jewish parents who must have been converts to Lutheranism.
Interestingly though, the third cousin has a lot more Jewish matches than my mother does. I started investigating this a little bit…
One reason could simply be that the third cousin has another Latvian ancestor from a different line not shared with my mother who is also of Ashkenazi descent.
Ashkenazi ancestry and DNA testing gets fairly complicated though, since the population is infamous for their endogamy – basically the population increased very rapidly from a smaller core group of people, who all married within their own faith and localities – which means inevitably, to varying degrees, cousin marriages and interbreeding. This happens in all cultures and religions, and yes if you look hard enough you will see it in your family tree too – every generation you move backward in time, you multiply the number of ancestors you have by two (ie 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, etc). At the 20th generation level, you have 1,048,576 ancestors… were there 1 million people in the areas nearby to your family who were completely unrelated? Good luck!
Another thing complicating Ashkenazi genealogy is that for the most part they had young hereditary surnames – for example in Kurzeme, surnames were not required until 1835, which in my Akerfelds case points to either the father or grandfather of Jekabs and Ernests being the first to bear their name, which means genetically we could match people of all different surnames at a fairly close level…
So after signing up at JewishGen, I checked their Latvia database for the only surnames that I do know my mother and her third cousin share – those are Akerfelds and Grinbergs. That ever elusive “Grinbergs alias Akerfelds”. Well, GREENBERG…(Grinbergs is prounounced the same and also means the same thing, it’s just the Latvian spelling) is definitely a name used by some Jews in Courland. And other surnames connected to the Jewish DNA matches of my mother and third cousin also appear in Courland, some as close to the Akerfelds’ origin point as Aizpute.
But then I was reading about Jews converting to other religions in the 1800’s on the Roots=Saknes site, which mentions that often when Jews converted they were encouraged to choose more Lutheran/Christian names, both first and last names. So perhaps this Jewish line of mine is a totally new surname all together?
Luckily my mother’s third cousin has also completed some Y-Chromosome DNA testing, which should give us some strong hints as to whether or not this Jewish link follows the direct male Akerfelds line, or if it was perhaps a wife with a different surname who married into the Akerfelds family. It should also answer whether or not the Akerfelds line has anything to do with Sweden and if not, where that male line originates.
His Y-DNA test results should be in any day now… I’m waiting!!!