Trailhead

trail·head noun \ˈtrāl-ˌhed\ The point where a trail begins.

Genetic genealogy has opened up new doors for genealogy research. In the past 25 years we have seen the internet changed the face of genealogy. However, as much as some things have changed, many of us still struggle with some of the same brick-walls we faced decades ago. Over the next 25 years, genetic genealogy promises to allow us to look over those brick walls and connect to our ancestors on the other side. In this blog I will share my personal journey through the mists of history along the genetrail left by my ancestors. Along the way I will share information about research tools and methods in this dynamic area of genealogy. I arrived at the genetrail trailhead because of a rumor.

August 19, 1965
The rumor started with a well-meaning phone-call from a distant cousin of my father’s. I was 30 days old. My parents were preparing for my Pidyon Haben. In the Jewish tradition, the parents of a first-born Israelite child – as opposed to a child born to members of a priestly tribe -must ceremoniously redeem their child by giving a Kohen, a patrilineal descendent of the priests of the Jewish temple five silver coins. This ceremony is knows as Pidyon Haben, the redemption of the first-born son. The phone rings and my father picks up.

“Abraham, why are you planning a Pidyon Haben? Turins are Kohanim, and Kohanim don’t have a Pidyon Haben ceremony. Needless to say the family was flustered. This was news. No one had ever heard that we were Kohanim before. A decision was made to go ahead with the ceremony and the rumor faded away.

January 21, 2011
I am running a search for “Turyn” on Geni and I come across a profile for Aharon “HaCohen” Turyn. I immediately recall the old family rumor and wonder whether it has some basis. Using Google I found Arthur Turyn’s NY Times obituary and was able to contact his son. “Yes”, he tells me. My father was a Kohen and we even put the tell-tale “Spock” hands on his tombstone (Leonard Nimoy, a Kohen, adopted the traditional priestly hand positioning for his Vulcan salute).

I then recalled how a group of researchers had isolated a Kohen gene and wondered whether I might be able to be tested for it. A bit of online research brought me to Family Tree DNA and I saw that they offer testing for CMH, the “Cohen Modal Haplotype”. I immediately ordered a test and waited for the kit to arrive.

While I was waiting for the FTDNA testing kit to arrive I found another wonderful resource to aid me in resolving my question about Kohen-hood. A donor had sponsored an online database of Warsaw’s Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery. Luckily I was searching “Turyn”, an unusual surname. By searching the online database I was able to find dozens of my Turyn relatives and none of the tombstones had any reference to their being Kohanim (information that is typically found on a tombstone). Were we Kohanim, or not?

My FTDNA testing kit arrived. The test was painless. I swabbed both cheeks and mailed the kit back for testing. I had arrived at the Trailhead and the adventure had begun! In future posts I will share my ongoing DNA discoveries along with information about methods and products that I have learned along the way.

How did you get involved with Genetic Genealogy. Please share in your comments!

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