That guy who lives around the corner could be your cousin

After 15 years of living in my remote village in the northern Galilee, I discovered exactly that. Fred Brandsztetter, who literally lives around the corner from me, was a fourth cousin of my Dad’s from Fred’s father’s father’s side and a third cousin from his father’s mother’s side. In our ancestral family where there were multiple instances of cousins marrying each other, Fred’s grandparents were second cousins. This is only one of the remarkable connections I’ve uncovered in my family history.

The first hint of a possible family linkage came from my discovery that Brandsztetter was the maiden name of my great-great-great-grandmother Estera who married Mechel Prajs. Mechel had a sister Bajla who married Estera’s brother, Judka Siapsia. We have several instances of a brother and sister in our family marrying a sister and brother of another family. Judka Siapsa and Estera’s father was Chaim, and this namesake rebounds across family generations: my great-great-grandfather was Chaim as was one of his grandson’s. Fred named a son Chaim after his father; his great-grandfather was Chaim, as was his great-great-great-grandfather. In every other generation, with the passing of the name-bearer, the name was passed on to a new-born descendant. Fred and I share the common ancestor name-pool comprised of Chaim, Estera, and Bajla.

When I first approached Fred and asked him about his ancestry, he couldn’t help me. He had no idea of his family further back than his great-grandfather Chaim. I discovered the connection circuitously after meeting other cousins who casually mentioned their cousin Fred, and found concrete documentation after sifting through Polish archive records from a town near our ancestral village.