Our first success
I did an autosomal DNA test with FTDNA getting on for 5 years ago, and since then a few of my cousins have done so too. Week after week I check our match lists, occasionally spotting a promising looking match, but never yet managing to establish a connection with anyone.
Well, we've just had our first success: my cousin Katy has been able to confirm a previously unknown cousin. It's on her father's side, and I'm connected to her on her mother's side, so it's not a new cousin for me, but the discovery could indirectly be of some help to my own researches.
A few days ago a new match, Niel, appeared in Katy's list, with figures too big to ignore: they share a total of 225cM, with a longest single segment of 75cM. FTDNA predicts they should be 2nd-3rd Cousins. We all have plenty of predicted 2-3Cs, as do most people with Jewish ancestry, and I have never yet been able to connect to any of them. But none so far have shown figures as high as this, so it was obviously worth investigating.
I have pretty full information on our close relatives on Katy's mother's side, but I have no record of Niel's name. He appears on my match list, and that of my brother, but we share such a small amount of DNA with him that the match probably has very little significance. So the first conclusion is that he'll probably turn out to be on her father's side.
Next step: ask Katy. She had never heard of him. She asked her Dad. He didn't recognise the name either.
So I tried looking online. My first port of call was the Geni world-wide Family Tree - and bingo!, there he was, in a Tree with a handful of relatives, none of them known to us. One of these was his father, Louis, so I tried looking for him on Geni, to see if there was maybe another Tree for this family. There was, and it showed Louis' mother with a surname not too far from Katy's own family name. This did indeed look promising.
Yesterday, while we were still scratching our heads over this, Katy received an email from Niel. He had seen her in his own match list, and recognised her surname as being close to his grandmother's maiden name. He looked for her via Google, found her website, and saw that she had family connections to South Africa.
This is where the jigsaw comes in.
Niel told us that his grandmother, Mary, was "sent to Canada" to marry his grandfather, Noah, whose wife had died, leaving him with two young children. She herself had a young child, and as Niel puts it, "Unfortunately in those days they thought it was OK to leave her baby behind in Lithuania." This child, Heidi, was brought up by one of Mary's brothers, who later emigrated with his family to South Africa; Niel didn't know the name of this brother.
This last sentence immediately rang a bell with Katy. She knew from her father that his own father, Bentzion, had grown up in South Africa with a "cousin" called Heidi as part of the family. However none of the children seemed to know how she was connected, nor who her parents were.
Now we know. Piecing together the information from Niel and Katy, we have been able to re-constitute the family tree. Mary (also known as Miriam) has to be a sister of Woolf, Bentzion's father (and Katy's great-grandfather) - they have the same surname, and the two stories fit. Heidi is Mary's daughter by a first partner, brought up as a member of Woolf's family, and emigrating to South Africa with them. Meanwhile Mary and Noah had two children in Canada, including Niel's father Louis.
So Niel is Katy's 2nd Cousin-Once-Removed. Without the DNA test to spark the contact, we would most likely never have known. They are now moving on to swapping photos and more stories, no doubt.
And as an added bonus, FTDNA uses the DNA that a person shares with known close relatives to allocate some of their other matches to one side or the other of their family. In Katy's case, her mother is a First Cousin to myself and my brother. The DNA we share has enabled FTDNA to create a list of Maternal-side matches for her. Fitting together the pieces of the jigsaw with Niel has now produced a list on her Paternal side. This should help orientate further researches for her.
It may even have repercussions for myself and Brian, as we are more likely to be related to her Maternal matches than to her Paternal ones. So if a promising match appears on my own list, I can use Katy's lists as a steer, and pay it more attention if it is also on her Maternal side.
So we haven't exactly completed the jigsaw, but it's nice at least to fit two of the pieces together - and at the same time, to increase our chances of finding more pieces!