Thank you !!

Thanks to the collaborative world family tree at our long lost second cousins in Germany have been found. Here is that story.

benedict margaret marriage

Margarette and Benedict Reiner on their wedding day in 1889

We knew we had half second cousins somewhere in Bavaria but did not know their surname nor where they lived. The family lore is that my great-grandfather Benedict Reiner was studying to be a priest when he got the daughter of the local innkeeper pregnant. Her family was welcoming but he did not want to be an innkeeper so he ran off to Munich and became a contractor. His illegitimate son from this union came for the occasional visit to Benedict and was called Xavier according to my late mother.

My News Year’s resolution this year was to better learn how to do German genealogy research so I could work on this part of the family. It is the only branch that is not done when you look at the five generation fan chart, so it has been calling to me for a while.

Last week I scanned in a marriage document for Benedict and my great-grandmother that I had found years ago on a microfilm at the LDS family history library. My plan was to upload it to all my online trees and then request some help with checking the translation from my mother over at a facebook group about Bavarian genealogy (thank you Ute). I use many online family trees but I usually start with GENI because it is easy to use and pretty and seems to have more European genealogists than the others. Since I am descended from recent immigrants to the U.S.A. that is an important consideration for me.

GENI has a nice feature that when you are logged in and start typing a name in the search box, it shows you the names that match from your tree or from those people you are following. However if there is a lot of information on your home page when you first arrive, it can be slow to do that. That is why it was not yet responding when I typed in Benedict’s name. So I hit the search button figuring it was an uncommon name thus the regular search it would find him easily and quickly. I was surprised when it found two of them. Curious I clicked the other. He had no dates listed and a different wife and child so perhaps that is why the GENI matching algorithm did not find him.

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Celebrating the birthday of the country that took us in

None of my great-grandparents were born in the USA and only one of my grandparents was. Why did my ancestors come here? What does this day mean to us? Does the next generation take the freedoms here for granted? I think I often do, but today I want to celebrate this great country that my immigrant ancestors came to with this blog post about my grandparents and how it happened that they became Americans.

OpaMeetsOma1908smllMy mother was born in Munich, Bavaria (Germany) to a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. I was always told that they met at the 1909 automobile club ball in Munich, but I found this picture with the caption 1908 costume ball so I guess they met a year earlier than I had realized.

At the time they met, my grandfather Siegfried was 23 and a medical student from an extremely wealthy Jewish family. My grandmother Fanny was 19, from a middle class family. Her father was a contractor/brick layer who had run away from the seminary he had been sent to in his youth. He read Latin and Greek in his spare time for pleasure and had sent his only daughter to a convent school. She made the dress and headdress that she is wearing in this picture

For my Opa it was love at first sight, but neither family approved. Siggy and Fanny went to concerts, the opera, and hiked together in the Bavarian Alps. The courtship lasted for over nine years. First my Opa had to get his doctorate since his father refused to support a wife and family for him. Then there was World War I where he served as a medical doctor. Additionally Fanny had a small TB spot on her lung so she was sent to a sanitarium and then, before the war, au paired in France and the Isle of Wight, since she was advised not to winter in Munich. Her resulting fluent English (and French) was most useful later on.

When Siegfried’s father, my g-grandfather Josef, was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1917, he finally gave his approval for them to marry, which they did in a civil ceremony a year later. Her parents did not attend. By the way, Josef died from the anesthesia during his operation in 1917, not the cancer.

Because my Opa was Jewish, he was dismissed or rather pensioned off from his Freiberg University professorship in 1933/1934. My grandmother was the one who insisted that they leave Germany; Opa, like many German Jews, thought it would all blow over. My Oma was not willing to risk the lives of her three lovely daughters when the family had many offers from overseas universities.

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100 years ago … my grandfather and World War I

On June 28, 1914 my grandfather Siegfried Joseph Thannhauser was celebrating his 29th birthday when Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated commencing the countdown to World War I. What were your ancestors doing on that day?

S J Thannhauser on right, World War I

S J Thannhauser on right, World War I


When you are American and you have a German grandfather then you may have the feeling that he fought on the wrong side in World War I. My Opa was a medical doctor and he demonstrated his bravery by picking up the wounded under fire after his driver was killed; for this he received the Iron Cross. Funny how that was forgotten when he was dismissed from his professorship in 1933 for being Jewish.

He also had a hobby, photography, and took many photos during his time at the front. He made two albums of his war years which the family still has. One of his great grandsons showed them to a friend who was studying WWI. She had them digitized and then posted them on her blog, with the family’s enthusiastic permission. The picture on the left is from those albums.

So to honor this day and my Opa, I added a page on our family history site about his war service with links to those photographs on her blog.

I miss you my beloved Opa! Growlie, growlie … (what I used to say when I scratched the bald spot on his head for him for which I would be rewarded with a quarter!)


Ashkenazi Genetic Pile Ups?

Well I thought I had found a real cousin on the German Jewish side due to a few common surnames but no luck finding the relationship yet. Sadly there is a large match on our X but the common surnames are not on a branch where X could come from. Of course one of the problems in German Jewish genealogy is that all but a few prominent families had no fixed surnames (they used their father’s name) until 1813/14.

Even worse she mainly matches me on segments that are what I call “Ashkenazi Pile Ups” or locations where there are well over 30 people matching me but not my Dad for more than 5cm.  By comparison I notice only one such pile up on my 100% Norwegian father’s matches at chromosome 9, at about 80,000. But that will be the topic for another post.

These are the three pile ups my new distant cousin matches:

Chromosome 2:  45 matches for this segment at 23andme

150.1 163.3 9.9CM

Chromosome  4: 80 matches for this segment at 23andme

some start at 18.1 and some end at 25.0

19.4 24.8 7.2CM

Chromosome X: about 30 matches for me, 50 for my brother…. hmmm

a few are longer than this

123.4 137.8 14.1CM

For those of you who are wondering where to find this data on 23andme you can download all the segments that match yours with the name of the donor (most will be anonymous) by going to “ancestry labs” under ‘My Results” and clicking on “Countries of Ancestry.”  Scroll down the page to the long blue button where you can download a CSV of all your matches. [updated 27 dec 2013 – n.b. you can get this data and more  by using the site to do the downloads]

There are a few more pile ups in my and my brother’s matches than these …

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Ashkenazi Lament

My father is Norwegian (Lutheran) while my mother was German, half jewish and half catholic. So my maternal grandfather was a German Jew, this qualifies his DNA as Ashkenazi. Apparently this group was very inbred to the point where I am finding many many matches at 23andme for my DNA (from him) that are too far back to find the paper trail. And we have most of our jewish ancestors documented back to the late 1700s. To be specific, of my over 1000 matches at 23andme at least 900 or more are Ashkenazi of which over half are Eastern European. As we have no known Eastern European family [correction: one 4th grandfather born in Ukraine plus another unknown], I have to conclude that siblings of our ancestors in the 1500s and 1600s migrated East [correction: much movement back west in the 1600s for example Sulzbach welcomed back eastern jews in 1666]. Our Floss families came there from Austria which deported its Jews in 1420 and again in the mid 1500s according to the Wikipedia article on Austrian Jewish history. Probably at that time other family members went further east.

So far I have found one new 5th cousin through the 23andme site on the jewish side (and that was from a surname scan) as compared to about six new Norwegian relatives. And it seems that the Ashkenazi matches drown out our other German matches. Of course the problem may also be that very few Germans have tested since it is apparently not legal there. Fortunately lots of Norwegians have tested.