Book Title: ENDOGAMY: One Family, One People
Author: Israel Pickholtz
Publisher: Colonial Roots (2015)
Like me, Israel Pickholtz is from Pittsburgh. In fact, I grew up around the corner from his grandparents and his cousins were my childhood playmates. Israel made Aliyah in 1973 and I made Aliyah 6 years later, in 1979. Israel began seriously studying his family tree in 1994 and I began studying my own 6 years later, in the year 2000. That was the year we got a computer and I stumbled on the Jewishgen website, the largest free Jewish genealogical website. I kept seeing Israel’s name pop up on the Jewishgen General Discussion Group emails, and finally I wrote and asked him, “Are you from Pittsburgh?”
I thought he was his cousin Jerry, the friend I called “Pickles,” growing up. But no. This was a different Pickholtz. We struck up a friendship.
Israel worked as a mining economist at Rotem Amfert Negev and later in import purchasing. You know, boring stuff. But genealogy was his passion. In 2008, he took early “retirement” and began taking genealogy clients both in Israel and abroad.
The main focus of Israel’s personal genealogy research is the Pikholz Project which serves to identify and reconnect all Pikholz descendants. In 2012, Israel made his foray into genetic genealogy research and two years later took part in the first Practical Genetic Genealogy course at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh. Now he’s written a book ENDOGAMY: One Family, One People, as a guide to those testing the waters of Jewish genealogical research using DNA.
Today, as we often do, we had a chat about the book and about Jewish genealogy in general.
VE: When did you start seriously researching your roots?
Israel Pickholtz: It was after my grandmother’s ninetieth birthday party twenty-two years ago, when the nine-year old daughter of a first cousin asked me to show her the work I had supposedly done over the years.
VE: What are some the traditional methodologies you and other genealogists use in your work?
Israel Pickholtz: Birth, death, and marriage records. Cemeteries, records of all sorts, interviews with older people, newspapers…
VE: So what made you decide to try give DNA testing a try?
Israel Pickholtz: Desperation on my all-male and all-female lines. I had nothing to go on and thought it might be useful to cast a net and see if anything showed up, then or in the future.
VE: Give us an overview of DNA testing—how is the testing done and what can we expect to learn?
Israel Pickholtz: The company I work with uses a do-it-yourself cheek swab. The other two companies use spit. Those two do not offer worldwide service nor do they do male- and female-line tests.
VE: So has DNA testing broken down any of your genealogical brick walls?
Israel Pickholtz: Yes, definitely. In one instance it gave an immediate answer to a question about an ancestral surname that had had me totally stumped for years. In a couple of others, it showed that several people were NOT related to one another as I thought they might be.
In a third, it confirmed my suspicion that a tombstone had the father’s name wrong, thereby demonstrating a sibling relationship.
It has demonstrated a number of relationships (and I do not use the word “prove”) and suggested some new avenues of research which I would not have considered before. But it does not stand alone and we still require traditional sources.
VE: Is testing expensive? Who should get tested, primarily?
Israel Pickholtz: “Expensive” is relative. An individual autosomal test is about $100. Male- and female-line tests are more expensive. Serious research usually requires testing multiple family members. The test company I use has sales periodically, so if you are not in a hurry, you can use those to your advantage.
As for who should test, first of all the eldest generation while they are still here. Secondly, people with no siblings. In general you want everyone your budget can handle. You want to have some diversity, on all sides of your family wherever possible.
VE: You talk a lot about endogamy. Can you explain the term and what it means to the Jewish family researcher?
Israel Pickholtz: Ten generations ago (~300 years) we each had 1024 ancestors, say 1000. Ten more we each had a million. There were not a million Jews in Europe six hundred years ago even if you factor in the migrations after the Inquisition. So every Jew who lived in Europe six hundred years ago and has descendants today is necessarily the ancestor multiple times of all Jews living today. We all share multiple ancestors with one another, so it is not possible to track bits of our DNA back to specific ancestors – and even if we could, we have multiple paths to each of those ancestors. This is endogamy. In the larger population it is a problem several hundred years further back and is called “pedigree collapse.”
VE: Tell us about your book. What made you decide to write about genealogy by genetics? Who’s your target audience?
Israel Pickholtz: I wrote about it because the endogamous populations were not being addressed successfully by the genetic genealogy community. There was a lot of shrugging of shoulders. I found that I was able to make progress in several parts of my families and wanted to share those successes with others – not so much to show them what to do but to instill the confidence that progress is indeed possible.
VE: Do you see genealogy as genetics as something useful outside of family research? Could such data be used, for instance, to solve legal and halachic issues?
Israel Pickholtz: It could be for some things, but these authorities tend to tread very carefully with new developments.
Many people abroad have used genetic research to solve questions of adoptions, abandoned children, unknown fathers and switched babies. I don’t do that kind of work, but the top people in the field say they solve 3-4 of these a week.
VE: Do you take clients?
Israel Pickholtz: I help people who ask and only recently have I begun trying to get used to the idea that I will turn the meter on when we get beyond the basic questions. Often people need guidance on whom to test and for what, but don’t think that is something they should have to pay for. This seems to be less of an issue in the gentile community.
VE: How do you see the future of genealogy by genetics?
Israel Pickholtz: Larger database will produce more and better results. New technologies will develop. Prices will drop some, but people will be willing to pay for more exotic tests.
VE: Tell us about your blog, All My Foreparents.
Israel Pickholtz: I blog about once a week on matters of genealogy, genetic and otherwise. Mostly about the research on my families but also on issues in the pubic eye. Occasionally I will blog about something more personal – a particular relative, for instance.
VE: What’s next for Israel Pickholtz?
Israel Pickholtz: Lunch and a nap.
ENDOGAMY: One Family, One People is published by Colonial Roots, a (non-Jewish) genealogy publisher in the United States. You can purchase books through the website http://www.endogamy-one-family.com where you can also find genetic genealogy T-shirts and some other accessories.