German ancestry of my Galician or Ukrainian ancestors?

Joseph Walder

One of the thus far enduring mysteries of my DNA matches (on Ancestry) is the appearance of moderately strong matches with people who, when contacted, tell me something along the lines of "I can trace my ancestors back in Germany several hundred years." This is mysterious to me because my paternal grandparents came from Galicia and my maternal grandparents came from  Ukraine. I've traced three of the four back to the mid/early 1800s. (The fourth, who abandoned his family in the US, had very likely falsified his name and perhaps other aspects of his history.) The trail goes cold when I get back far enough that Jews in Galicia and Ukraine did not have surnames.

So how do I interpret those DNA matches tied to German ancestry? How might I link them to ancestors in Galicia and Ukraine? Just to be clear, the DNA matches tied to German ancestry have typical strengths of around 100 cM.

Joseph Walder, Portland, Oregon, USA

Sally Bruckheimer <sallybruc@...>

In the US, Germany was more socially acceptable than Russian, Jewish, Polish or other Slavic. My mother said she was thrilled to be marrying somebody who was German and Sephardic, because she was Russian and Polish. I also have ancestors who were supposed to have come from Germany but came from Russia. 

Some people might have lived in East Prussia or some other 'German' area which later became Russia (my mother's mother's family came to the US from an area that was once New East Prussia before Napoleon), but in my case, the family didn't live there at the time.

And anyway 100 cM is not a close match for Jews.

It might also be that clerks thought they were German, as one set of ggrandparents, who obviously didn't give the information, were, 'George and Annie' with the right surname, both German (he was born in the Netherlands, she in Nassau, which at least was in Germany when Germany formed). So some neighbor probably knew Mr & Mrs., and that they sounded German, and the clerk added the rest.

"So how do I interpret those DNA matches tied to German ancestry? How might I link them to ancestors in Galicia and Ukraine? Just to be clear, the DNA matches tied to German ancestry have typical strengths of around 100 cM."

JoAnne Goldberg

My mother's ancestry is 100% German Jewish (maternal Hesse, paternal
Rhineland) well-documented to the early 1700s and before on some lines. 
And yet, everywhere my mother has tested, including Ancestry, 23andMe,
and FTDNA, she has many matches without any known German ancestry.

Ancestry is the most accurate in terms of identifying closer matches,
but even so, I see matches > 100 cM -- she's got over 200 of them on
Ancestry -- that don't appear to have German ancestry.

I think there are only two possibilities for these DNA matches:

* They date back to the 1500s/1600s when many German Jews were expelled
from their towns.  (The DNA suggests that some of my mother's ancestors
may have been in Galicia in the 1500s -- 1000 miles east of their German

* The matches have German ancestry from the 1700s/1800s but  lack records.

I'd love to figure it out!

JoAnne Goldberg - Menlo Park, California

Joseph Walder

It would seem that I forgot to include a couple of important statements in my initial post:

1) The people telling me that their ancestry was German Jewish all had done a lot of traditional archival research and had extensive family trees. Their "German-ness" had nothing whatsoever to do with a perceived preference for being of German origin rather than Polish or Russian, say.
2) The ancestors of my DNA matches came from a variety of locations in the German lands, not necessarily regions that became Polish or Soviet after borders were changed following the 2nd World War.

I also do not understand the dismissive statement about the relevance of a 100 cM DNA match. I am fully aware of the role that endogamy plays for Jews, but I can also state that I have plenty of "weak" DNA matches on Ancestry that I know are actual relations. I know this because I've done the archival work that places these "weak" DNA matches in my tree, or in some cases because I've met the actual people.

Joseph Walder

I would imagine that migration is the explanation for the mysterious matches I mentioned in my original post as well as for what Ms. Goldberg describes. But when did that hypothetical migration occur? Has any reader out there ever successfully traced ancestors migrating from the German lands eastward into the Slavic lands, say?

Sheila Toffell

I have the same question. Lots of German “cousins” around the 3rd to 4th range, but my grandparents came form Poland and Ukraine. The one thing I know is that where the family in Poland lived, in Kaliscz gubernia, was for a time Prussian. I have yet to find out if any records even exist for that period, roughly before 1815, and even so the family names, LAKOMSKI, RACHWALSKI and SOMPOLINSKI, are clearly from the Kalisz area. 

I assume anything German from the Ukrainian side would be from migration patterns, but I have no way of knowing, and names change anyway.

Sheila Toffell
Glen Rock, NJ

Shelley Mitchell

One thing I know for sure is that Jews learned several languages. Polish to deal with the locals, and German to do business. Most considered the German language to be the language of a classier group of people. Not at all like “peasants.” It was, for example, the artisans who travelled all around. They didn’t have to move to do business. And Germans also came to where the workers were.

In my case, my great grandfather, and later my grandfather, were carpenters, working mostly in wood.
Shelley Mitchell 

Rachel Unkefer

I can't speak to strong or weak matches at Ancestry, but at FTDNA, 100 cM match can be a person who matches multiple ancestors hundreds of years ago, but none in a recent timeframe. The length of the longest segments are as important as the total matching cM. Unfortunately, Ancestry doesn't give us a chromosome browser, so it's difficult to assess these matches.

Speaking as someone who has done extensive research on German Jewish families, both DNA and documents, I can cite the Bacharach family who was likely in Frankfurt or Worms in the 13th century and by the 17th-18th century had several branches in Lithuania, Belarus, Czechia, etc. While the family has an origin in Germany, and many branches were still there into the 20th century, there were also family members who spent the past 400 years in Eastern Europe and whose descendants don't necessarily consider themselves German-Jewish, even though they still carry a German surname.

One pair of such relatives share 131 cM, even though their common Bacharach ancestor has to have lived prior to 1600. Their largest shared segment is only about 10 cM. The total 131 cM most likely is a compounding of multiple relatives who lived in the Middle Ages, most likely in Germany. There were several population bottlenecks that occurred before large migrations east, so the vast majority of Jews in Eastern Europe in the 18th-20th centuries were descended from a very small number of Jews who survived those bottleneck events in Germany and eventually moved eastward. All those shared DNA segments from a small number of ancestors compound to look like the common ancestors are much more recent.

If you do share long cM runs with any of the unexpected Germans, consider a possible NPE in more recent generations. Maybe you do have a German ancestor who was not the spouse of your female ancestor from Ukraine or wherever and they met each other in New York or somewhere outside of Europe. Or there could have been a traveling rabbi or merchant from Germany visiting your ancestor's village or something along those lines. I would only look at this explanation if you have long matching segments, which you can't really tell at Ancestry.