Finding Grandpa: How DNA Solved a 70 Year Mystery: Part Three

Gedmatch.  Sounds like a dating service, doesn’t it?

corporate logo for GedMatch, including green clouds with black outline

I read a genealogy blog about utilizing an online tool called Gedmatch.  I’d never heard of that before.  I researched what it was, and how to use it.  It took several You Tube video tutorials for me to figure out what I needed to do.  The idea behind Gedmatch is to compare your DNA results to others, regardless of which testing company you used.  As more and more companies are providing DNA testing, it can actually be harder to find matches.  If we’re related, and tested at different companies, we’d never see that we match.

corporate logos for 23andme, My Heritage DNA, Ancestry DNA and Family Tree DNA

(Just joining?  You can read Finding Grandpa: Part One and Finding Grandpa: Part Two )  If you are interested in having a DNA test, you can order one here.  This post contains affiliate links.  Click here for more info.

In theory, this would eliminate the need

for anyone to test at more than one company.  The caveat is that you have to know it exists.  You also have to go through the trouble to add your DNA to the site.  While Gedmatch is a free tool, it limits the number of matches it will show you up to your closest 2000.

Not to complicate things, but Gedmatch is merging with another related online tool called Genesis.  Some DNA companies test results were not compatible with Gedmatch, hence the merger.  I believe now, regardless of which company DNA results are from, they can be uploaded to Genesis.

Gedmatch required downloading my raw DNA

from Ancestry, and then uploading it into their database.  I was then assigned a kit number. This kit number can be shared freely with other Gedmatch members to see if they are genetic matches.  About 24 hours later, I was able to view my results.  Gedmatch results are not pretty, like Ancestry’s results are.  It looks like a complicated Excel spreadsheet.  Hello You Tube videos again!  I had to learn how to read the results.  I had to learn what a centiMorgan (cM) is.

data spreadsheet displaying DNA matches

If you are not a geneticist, (I am not),

the scientific definition of a centiMorgan is complicated.  In layman’s terms, a cM is a unit of measure for DNA. It indicates how much DNA you share with your matches.  Generally, the higher the cM, the more closely related you are to your match.  As an example, a parent/child relationship would be between 3330-3720 cM’s.  Full siblings average 2629 cM’s.  First cousins average 874 cM’s.  Second cousins average only 233 cM’s, so the numbers drop quickly.

As I looked at the Gedmatch results, Uncle Morris had a match at 247 cM’s.  The cM chart indicated it was likely either a second cousin, or first cousin twice removed.  Either way, I felt I struck gold!  Now all I had to do was contact this person, and see what he had to say.

On June 13, 2017,

family tree chart displaying 5 generations of ancestorswithin hours of my email to the match, I received a response with a chart showing his lineage. This went all the way up to my great grandfather.  I cannot adequately put into words what this felt like.  The chart only included this cousin’s direct line.  He did not have any information on my grandfather’s other siblings.  It didn’t matter.  With the name, I was able to research and find more information.

My grandfather’s name at birth was Moses Abram Zelikovich.

He entered the United States via Baltimore, in 1906, under the name Moses Selikowitz.  His father was Benzion Grod Zelikovich, and his mother was Chana Sheitel Vishmant.  His brothers were Leopold (originally Lieb), Leon (Lazar), and Jacob (Yankel).  One sister, Hanna, also came to the US.  His other 3 sisters did not, and I believe they perished in the Holocaust.

My grandfather was born in April 1886 in Bauska, Latvia. map of Bauska, Latvia

Yay!  It was Latvia after all.  His siblings were also all born in Latvia.  His father was born in Linkuva, Lithuania, and his mother was born in Seduva, Lithuania.  He spoke Yiddish, which was originally a German dialect mixed with Hebrew and Aramaic elements.

My grandfather used the last name Sallick,

which initially was the only thing I had to go on.  His three brothers changed their last name to Selis.  This is why I never found his family.  For whatever reason, my black sheep grandfather did not change his name to the same name his siblings used.

close up of a man (my grandfather's brother), wearing glasses and a bowtie
My grandfather’s brother, Leon

The next step was to find the descendants of my grandfather’s brothers.  I researched obituaries, and compiled a list of children and grandchildren’s names.  Facebook was used to find and contact the great granddaughter of my grandfather’s brother.  She read my story about the decades long search, and she replied to me.  I gave her as much information about my branch of the tree as possible.  She put me in touch with other members of the family who were older, and knew more about the family history.

My mom was thrilled, never doubting

black and white close up of a man wearing glasses, and a suit with a white carnation pinned on it.
My grandfather’s brother, Leopold

I had found the right people, and she finally had answers to her father’s origins.  My Uncle Morris was a tougher sell.  He questioned how I was so certain these were the right people.  I tried to explain the centiMorgans to him.  He remained skeptical.

black and white picture of four children, from the early 1900's
Leon’s four children

We had a growing group email with my known, and new side of the family exchanging information.  It was not until one of my new cousins made a comment, that Uncle Morris finally believed this was his family.  Without any prompting on our part, she said, “We knew there was an Uncle Morris (referring to my gramps, not my uncle) that moved to South America and was never heard from again.”  Those words were magic.  We had a new family.

Since then, we’ve met and had two family reunions.

I hope to have many more. I hosted the first reunion in the San Francisco Bay Area October 2017.  The second reunion was July 2018 in Baltimore.  My mom finally saw Baltimore, a lifelong bucket-list item for her. It ended up being her daughter, not her father, who took her there to meet her relatives.picture of my a woman, (my mom), at the Baltimore Immigration Museum, wearing a dark shawl

Several of my new cousins have since had DNA tests done.  Every one of them is a match, at the expected centiMorgan level.  Additional proof that we did have the right family!  Though it took decades to unlock this mystery, it was worth every moment.

I wonder what my grandfather would think of all this.

He never could have fathomed DNA testing would reveal his true identity, and lead me to find his family.  I will never know why he was so secretive, or what else he may have kept private.  I don’t believe he was ashamed of being Jewish, I think he feared for his safety.  At least now I can add Latvia to the list of places my ancestors were from.  And that makes me very happy.

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