Sunday, August 11, 2019

And I thought it was complicated before...

I wrote not long ago about discovering that my great-grandmother Rosie Sitzman and her sister Mary Sitzman had different fathers. I had a little time this week, and started going through the DNA tests for my dad and his siblings and looking for matches that had ancestry from Bohemia or Czechoslovakia, that didn't have their second cousin in the shared match list. That way, the odds were more likely that they were related through Rosie's mystery father. I was able to find at least five or six leads, so I sent off emails to them, hoping at least someone would write back.

This weekend, I got an email back! One of the matches identified a few other matches as her first cousin and father, which gave me a little family group to work from. That was really helpful, because her cousin had a family tree that gave me enough data to identify some of their ancestors in census records in Wisconsin. With that info, I traced them back to their immigrant ancestor - John Miller, born 3 March 1883 in Kathrina, Bohemia/Czechoslovakia.

I found John's birthdate and birth place in his WWI and WWII draft registrations, where the info came directly from him, which made the info more reliable. Knowing that, I went looking in the Bohemian archives at the Porta fontium website ( and found the most likely candidate for the village of Kathrina - Sankt Katharina, a little village that's actually part of my great-great-grandmother's hometown of Rosshaupt! The right family in the right place at the right time! I couldn't believe my luck.

I went looking through the birth records for Sankt Katharina and Rosshaupt, and with some help from the German-Bohemian mailing list I'm on, I soon had most of three generations of John Miller's ancestry identified, and even a few ancestors from the fourth generation. His family name was, as I suspected, originally Müller (I wish I could take a German class so I could pronounce these names correctly). He also has the surnames Dobner, Radl, and Heger in his tree, none of which appear in my Zitzmann line. So this is all really good news, it's additional evidence that I really am on the track of my elusive great-great-grandfather. But as I began researching this family, I ran into some roadblocks.

For starters, John's mother Anna Radl was born to a single mother. Anna's birth record lists her mother (also named Anna Radl) and maternal grandparents, but the father's section is totally blank. That leaves a big chuck of John's family tree empty. Then, to complicate things even further, John's paternal grandfather, Michael Müller, was also born to a single mother (also named Anna, as it turned out). Thus John's pedigree has two big holes in it that local records probably won't help with (if the parents later married, they would sometimes add the father's info in later, but they didn't here).

It's still early into my research on this family, so I'm not giving up by any means. Many years ago, when I first learned my great-grandma was born to a single mom, I thought "well, that's one blank I'll never be able to fill," but that was before the advent of DNA and genetic genealogy. Now, I've got at least a partial family tree for someone that I am reasonably sure is related to me through that mystery great-great-grandfather. I have names, exact dates, and specific places for vital events of his relatives! That is huge!!  It looks like he, or at least his extended family, was from the same area that Rosie and her mom and sister were from, which makes sense. It's also a bit comforting to know that too, that my ancestor wasn't some vagabond who vanished into the ether. Even though his name isn't on the records, his DNA is, which links him to his family. I really hope someday I'll be able to find his name, as he's the only second-great-grandparent I haven't identified in my tree. And I don't like having white space in my family tree. :)

One other thing this research has taught me - there's a reason we keep saying test all the relatives you can afford. If I had tested just myself, I wouldn't have had enough DNA to match some of these matches. I tested my dad and three of his siblings, all of whom show these matches as related, but they all share different amounts of DNA with them - my uncle shares the most (over 200 cM with with father of that family group I mentioned earlier), one aunt shares less than half of that (barely 90 cM) and my dad and another aunt are about halfway between the two. Thus I now know to use my uncles test when dealing with these matches, as he shares the most DNA from that line, and is most likely to be the test that picks up matches the best. It's like having four fishing poles in the same pond with different bait - you don't know which will work best or what you'll catch, but the more lines you have out there, the better the odds that something will bite. (and yes, for any of you that really understand fishing, I clearly don't. But it's the best I could come up with late on a Sunday night.)