Marching toward solving a WWII family mystery with Ancestry DNA

I never have been so anxious for DNA results until my mother’s cousin agreed to DNA testing. Finding the mystery WWII soldier who fathered my mother’s cousin and left behind so many questions for three generations is resting on one Ancestry DNA test.

The results came in much quicker than expected, one week after the DNA kit arrived at the lab. I was imagining weeks of staring and yelling at my computer screen, “Just come in! I can’t wait another minute!”

I was expecting two scenarios: all 5th-8th cousin matches who would be completely useless or closer matches who would not answer my messages. I never expected the scenario I am in today.

In the past month since the results have arrived and continue to come in regularly, the closest matches have the tiniest family trees and won’t logged into their Ancestry accounts, in addition to not answering my messages. Now, I am screaming in my head,”Just log into your account and answer my messages!”

zeesmatches

My cousin has one 3rd cousin match,  20 4th-6th cousin matches (one of these is listed as a very high match) and a massive list of 5th-8th cousins that ends on page 54.

Meanwhile, I have 36 pages of matches for the 4 years since I have tested with Ancestry and not one in common with my mother’s cousin. I have 6 in-common matches with her on Family Tree DNA.

Every day, I check for new matches more often than I want to admit and hoping to get more 2nd and 3rd cousin matches to go around matches who don’t have detailed family trees nor an interest in answering my messages.

Right now, I am putting my hope into the people who bought DNA kits for themselves and as gifts this holiday season. The chatter on Facebook sounds as if Ancestry did very well for selling its DNA this holiday.

The golden match will be on Ancestry DNA and that person hopefully will test soon. It is obvious that the mystery father was most likely an American or Canadian soldier. One look at this ethnicity breakdown definitely doesn’t point to a German nor Russian soldier as the father, when the mother is half Russian and East Prussian.

zeesbreakdown

My biggest fear is that an older man living in a nursing home, who is thinking that he never had children, will die not knowing about his daughter. He has two grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and a great-great-grandson.

My great-grandparents died, wondering what happened to their pregnant daughter. She left war-torn Berlin for Soviet Ukraine, hoping for more food and better living in her home country. Five years ago, the American Red Cross and International Tracing Service teamed up successfully to answer that question by finding her.

Now, all hope is on Ancestry DNA to help name the man who fathered my cousin to put in the final piece of this puzzle. It just takes the right person to take the DNA test and make time to answer my messages to make one woman’s dream of finding her father’s family to come true.

Remember to click on the follow button for this blog  on the top right to keep posted on this journey.

Previous posts on this story:
Countdown begins for AncestryDNA to solve a 71-year-old mystery from WWII

A shocking twist gets thrown into finding the mystery birth father from WWII

A DNA test and small paper trail face off to complete a WWII love story

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Countdown begins for AncestryDNA to solve a 71-year-old mystery from WWII

I didn’t think I would ever get this close to finally solving a family mystery from WWII. My great-grandparents died in the 1970s, wondering whatever happened to their free-spirited daughter and unborn grandchild.

Five years ago, American Red Cross with the help of International Tracing Service found my missing grand aunt alive after vanishing for 66 years. The incredible news came days before my birthday, a great gift.

Now, I am waiting for Ancestry DNA to come through for my entire family and especially for the daughter of my grand aunt. She, her children and grandchildren don’t know anything about her father.

In the past year her matches on Family Tree DNA haven’t been close enough to answer the question on the mystery father from war-torn Berlin, Germany. Tired of waiting for the golden match, I finally gave into paying for a DNA test through Ancestry DNA.

It’s been an 11-month ordeal. The first Ancestry DNA kit was returned to my cousin. It’s illegal to send spit-filled test tubes through the Russian postal service abroad.

Thankfully, Ancestry DNA agreed to send me a second kit at no charge. I created a new plan to get around Russian laws. I found a contact to get the DNA kit out of Russia while they travelled abroad.

I told my cousin of the plan and the importance of immediately getting her mother to do the test so everything would line up properly. I started to sweat two weeks before my contact would travel.

My cousin didn’t answer my message about whether she mailed the DNA test until 6 days before my contact would travel. She told me she mailed the package that day. I got even more nervous.

The distance the package had to travel was close to the distance between Toronto, Canada, and New York City. How could the Russian postal service deliver the package in time?

I was devastated when I learned that the package arrived in my contact’s city a day after the traveling contact left Russia. Then, it took another 4 days to get through the city and into the local post office.

The next time the contact would travel abroad was scheduled months away. I was one step away from getting my hands on the package and done with waiting.

Thanks to a distant cousin from Russia on Ancestry DNA, I got advice for getting the package out of Russia. My contact followed my directions and I had the package in my hands 6 days later.

I couldn’t be happier to finally touch this package. I saw that U.S. customs cut open the package inside to inspect the contents. They didn’t care the customs form didn’t declare the actual object inside because DNA kits aren’t illegal in U.S. postal mail.

I immediately put the DNA test in the return shipping box at the post office. It took a week for Ancestry to list the kit as arrived.

Now, the waiting game begins. Will the matches again be too distant to find the father’s family? Will close matches refuse to answer my messages?

Let’s hope for a holiday miracle and finally say mystery solved.

Read the previous posts on this journey:

A shocking twist gets thrown into finding the mystery birth father from WWII
A DNA test and small paper trail face off to complete a WWII love story

The drama a DNA test brings to a family tree

Four years ago, I thought it only would be a dream to know the maiden name of my paternal grandfather’s mother. He didn’t even know her maiden name.

So I was beyond thrilled when a researcher solved the mystery by digging through census and birth records. She was successful with just having her first and middle names, birth year and general area where she was born.

I posted on genealogy forums looking for relatives of my great-grandmother. Some distant cousin must be out there researching the same family when she was one of 9 kids.

It took two years for a cousin to contact me after seeing my posts. His great-great-grandfather was brother of my great-grandmother.

The enthusiasm for finding each other has hardly died down two years later. We continue to exchange family information and write to each other on a regular basis.

A few months ago, I finally asked the DNA test question. He wanted to do a test but couldn’t afford one. With the Russian ruble crashing, spending money on a DNA test was a luxury.

Thanks to the $69 Family Finder test sale at Family Tree DNA over the summer, it was the perfect time to confirm our relationship.  I counted down every day for a month until the results were expected.

The first day the results were expected, the status changed to a delay of two to four weeks. I checked the next day whether the status had changed again. The matches were available. I was excited and nervous.

My cousin had 259 matches, compared to my 209 I’ve accumulated over 5 years. I wasn’t sure about how our relationship would be identified.  I wasn’t the closest match as I had expected.

With that shock, I didn’t have the patience to scroll through 9 pages of matches. I searched for myself by my last name and our common surname.

I was nowhere to be found. This had to be a mistake. To my annoyance, it took until the next morning to get his raw data file. I immediately uploaded his file to Gedmatch to get a second opinion on this DNA testing disaster.

Not one pinch of us matched by DNA, disappointing on so many levels. But I should have known better with doing DNA genealogy for 5 years.

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Image from Family Tree DNA

Family Tree Maker designates us as 3rd cousins 2 times removed. I could have increased the chances of matching with his family by having his father take the test.

The most annoying part of this experience was the message from Family Tree DNA that the results were available. The message was sent 27 times. Apparently, this is supposed to be the haha moment.

I am not worried that my cousin isn’t my cousin. A researcher documented the family tree and my cousin has an old family tree that is backed up by family documents.

DNA doesn’t have the precision of documents. As DNA data gets passed down to each generation, there isn’t a magical formula to guarantee certain DNA from each ancestor. Documents don’t change over time, just fade.

Previous related posts:
New Russian cousins found again!
Wondering if my family tree is about to grow

A shocking twist gets thrown into finding the mystery birth father from WWII

ancestrydnaAt Christmastime, I was daydreaming that my cousin would have great matches to finally find her father’s family on Ancestry DNA.

But nine months after sending her the DNA kit, I don’t even have my cousin’s completed DNA test in my hands yet. I am still fuming on the why.

Thanks to the strict regulations of the Russian postal service, the completed kit was sent back to my cousin’s daughter, who attempted to mail the kit to me. She told me that she sent the kit in April and I was counting down the days to when it arrived in my mailbox at my front door.

I only learned a week ago about the Russian Postal Service rejecting my cousin’s package to get through customs. She felt so horrible that she didn’t have the heart to tell me until recently.

Meanwhile, I am getting more matches on Ancestry DNA from Russians living in RUSSIA. What is so special about their packages that they don’t have our problem?

I contacted a distant cousin match living in Russia about how he managed to get his package out of Russia. Apparently, the trick is marking the package as a test sample or plastic tube and using an expensive express service of the Russian postal service to get the tube of spit through customs.

This match lives in Moscow so I am wondering whether a big city advantage exists. My cousin lives near the border of Belarus in a medium-sized city.

No matter what the advantage is, I am praying and hoping others will pray that the second kit makes it out of Russia and into the lab of Ancestry DNA in perfect condition.

My cousin got her Family Tree DNA kit to me last year and none of the matches are close enough to determine who is the mystery father. Hope started dying down when Ancestry DNA changed its DNA file format for transfers to Family Tree DNA and now those transfers are on hold.

All my kits at Family Tree DNA were getting many matches every week, probably thanks to the Ancestry DNA customers paying $39 to find more matches at Family Tree DNA.

I am convinced someone who tested through Ancestry DNA is the key to solving this 71-year-old mystery. With more than 2 million DNA kits processed, I am hoping my cousin can finally find the mystery WWII soldier who helped bring her into the world.

My cousin shouldn’t even be alive. Her mother returned with her to Soviet Ukraine in 1946 after they escaped to Germany. They were the perfect candidates to be killed at a Siberian gulag but somehow the crafty mother and her daughter lived a quiet Soviet life.

They escaped being sent to the gulag but a darn DNA test can’t get out of post-Soviet Russia in 2016. Apparently, divine intervention is needed for my cousin one more time.

Related post:
A DNA test and small paper trail face off to complete a WWII love story

2015 redefines value of DNA genealogy tests

My hope for finding great matches through DNA testing was set high for this year after reading so many success stories on Facebook. It’s been exactly 5 years since I swabbed my mouth for the Family Finder test from Family Tree DNA.

Since then, I also have tested through Ancestry DNA and 23andme. Right now, I don’t know if my hope just needs to be extended for another year or got crushed by one company.

I naively thought that the majority of 23andme customers who chose to be private would change their minds after the company announced those people will no longer have messaging abilities.

Nope, the majority of my private matches (and the majority of my matches) sit in the land of anonymity. My closest matches, 3rd to 6th matches, are taunting me by refusing to name themselves and their ancestors. When the day comes that I get closer matches, I worry whether they will hide behind “Anonymous Male or Anonymous Female.”

On top of this, 23andme just showed where its heart (or wallet) is invested with the price increase to $199 from $99. AncestryDNA has mainly priced its test at $99 and Family Tree DNA continues to keeps its Family Finder test at $99.

23andme has restarted offering health-related results so it’s focus isn’t genealogy. I understand the importance of learning about health conditions through DNA testing but 23andme has changed so much that it should be the third choice for DNA genealogy.

My disadvantage with these DNA tests has been who I am. Seven of my eight great-grandparents are Russian. One great-grandmother was born in Russia, where it is now Poland, but she had German strong family roots throughout Poland.

Genealogy is getting more popular in the former USSR but the U.S. prices for DNA tests are hard to swallow in Russia and Ukraine. Only Family Tree DNA sends kits there but some Russians and Ukrainians were sneaking in the 23andme test. Forget that until their economies get better.

In the meantime, I am thrilled that Ancestry DNA is now selling its test to United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada and Australia, where Russians and Ukrainians escaped for better lives.

The company also added two features – showing the amount of DNA in common with matches and viewing the shared matches with each match.

Another addition to Ancestry DNA has been DNA Circles, a feature that tries to predict a common ancestor between matches based on DNA and family tree data. That feature has been highly criticized but maybe this feature will help some break down their brickwalls.

There hasn’t been much change at Family Tree DNA, except for better ethnicity breakdowns and the ability to search the database of family trees by name or place. Family Tree DNA has the best tools to analyze matches. The only thing that Family Tree DNA could improve is building up its customer base for the Family Finder Test.

So if you’re like me with lots of Eastern European blood running through your veins,  there is no need to run away from DNA testing for genealogy. Everyone’s experience will be different.

I highly recommend first testing through Ancestry DNA, which is having a sale on its test for $89 until Dec. 21, and then transferring your data to Family Tree DNA for $39. I recommend using 23andme as the third choice, especially for adoptees.

After the first test results arrive, upload your data for free to Gedmatch, which matches you with Ancestry DNA, Family Tree DNA and 23andme customers who chose to do the same. This route will be most wise and affordable.

Related posts:
Guide for making the best choices in DNA testing

A Russian-American’s insider view of the Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder Test

A Russian-American’s inside view of the new AncestryDNA test

A Russian-American’s insider view of the 23andme Autosomal Test (before the recent changes)

A DNA test and small paper trail face off to complete a WWII love story

My second cousin was only told of her father’s name and military title during WWII. The mother is mum about the mystery father who served in the Soviet Army for the Battle of Berlin.

The daughter of my cousin asked me if I knew anything about her grandfather. Relatives of my grandmother’s generation repeated the same story about this war love story.

The grandmother of my younger cousin got pregnant by a Russian soldier. She disappeared soon afterwards. A Russian soldier came to my great-grandparents’ apartment, begging them to come to communist-controlled East Berlin to pick up their daughter. The soldier told them their daughter was not returned to the USSR by sheer luck.

Too fearful of being forced back to the USSR and killed in the gulags for escaping war-torn Kiev, my great-grandparents stayed home and died not knowing what happened to their daughter and unborn grandchild. Was that visiting soldier the father of my second cousin?

Not only is the grandfather a mystery, but I was quite the surprise for my cousin’s family. I appeared out of nowhere four years ago with the help of the Russian Red Cross. My older cousin didn’t know her mother had a brother and sister.

After getting to know my “new cousins” for a few years, I finally popped the question to my second cousin’s daughter: “Will your mother take a DNA test?” A few weeks later, my cousin said yes with enthusiasm.

The time involved to get the Family Tree DNA test back to the lab in Texas was quite long. The package took two months to arrive in western Russia. Apparently, the horses delivering the mail also were busy with a circus tour.

My cousin got busy with her family life and waited several weeks to mail back the test. Thankfully, it took only less than 3 weeks for the test to arrive at the lab. Family Tree DNA quickly processed the test in a mere 16 days.

I was so hopeful to get close matches for my cousin. Family Tree DNA is the only large company that sends DNA genealogy tests to Russia and Ukraine, making it the best choice for finding relatives living in the former USSR.

My cousin has 27 pages of matches, giving her almost 300 matches. Her closest matches are 18 2nd to 4th cousins and 39 4th to remote cousins. I immediately uploaded her DNA data to Gedmatch to find other matches from Ancestry DNA and 23andme for free.

None of the matches on Family Tree DNA nor Gedmatch are close enough to ask the awkward question: “Do you have a grandfather who served in WWII in Berlin in spring 1945?”

This mystery is going to take more than a DNA test to be solved.

Thanks to the crafty and knowledgeable forum members on All Russia Family Tree, I learned about the only man who could have been the mystery Russian soldier. More than two dozen men with the same name served in the war but only one served in the Battle of Berlin.

The main Russian military archives released a boatload of information on the soldier at no charge- the soldier’s birth year, birth place, place of residence in 1987,  wife’s name and her birth year and their daughters’ names and birth years.

So here starts my personal challenge to see whether the DNA test or the small paper trail will help find the birth father’s family 70 years later.

Related post:

Guide for making the best choices in DNA testing

DNA testing finally proves its value in finding 16th century documents

It’s been almost 4 years since I decided to try DNA testing for genealogy. Lately, it has been a bust of distant cousins who rarely share one common surname.

So out of boredom, I started e-mailing my supposed distant cousins who have common ethnicity. I totally forgot I already e-mailed one match my standard message asking whether he has ancestors from the same places by chance. That was the best mistake I could have made.

My fourth cousin reminded me that I sent the same message twice but offered me something I never got from my other thousands of DNA distant cousins. He acquired records from Russian State Archives of Ancient Documents on our common ancestors from the 1590s-1600s.

I forgot that we had a common surname from the same Russian region. My cousin researched his ancestry as far back as possible and determined existing records can only connect us back to the 1600s while I had given up hope on connecting our families.

A great researcher in Kursk, central Russia, Evgeniy Karpuk, researched my Trunov family back to Peter the Great time, leaving the door open a few years later for this cousin to unload records on me as far back as 1594.

Just 5 years ago, I discovered my great-grandfather’s birth village of the late 19th century written on a German immigration record. I found a great Russian genealogy forum to figure out where this village exists on a map. On that forum, a not-so-friendly man from Belarus who cursed me out for America’s involvement in the Bosnian War gave me Karpuk’s contact information.

All my genealogy ducks lined up and today I have seen records dated from 1594-1646 from a cousin living in Siberia. It did come at the price of $150 US dollars  for 22 scans but that is much less than Russian State Archives of Ancient Documents would have charged me.

Thanks to these scans, I know the names of my 11th- and 12-great-grandfathers and the village where they lived in the 1600s.

So, DNA testing is worth the cheap price of tests today. I paid $289 for my Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder test, which is now $99. Just one e-mail message to a cousin who seemed too distantly related helped me discover more ancestors because I made the effort to reach out.

Here is a sample of these old Russian records:

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