Whether you’re an adoptee seeking biological relatives, or a family historian looking to prove your lineage, DNA testing can be an excellent research tool. In this real-life example, I’ll show you how well-researched family trees (or for an adoptee, mirror trees) can be used in conjunction with DNA matches to verify ancestors.
This particular genealogical adventure led me to world traveler, writer, and book-reviewer, my 5th cousin once removed, Victoria Weisfeld. Though I didn’t inherit her creative writing genes, Vicki and I both enjoy a good mystery and strongly support the First Amendment.
While viewing my 23andme matches, I noticed Vicki had taken the time to attach a short genealogical bio. Most users do not do this, which can make it very frustrating to try to figure out who they are, let alone where they may sit in your family tree.
“I have a lot of information.”
Victoria also listed her real name, along with the names of her grandparents. I always advise reaching out to your DNA matches who already clearly have an interest in genealogy, as they are more likely to respond than others who may have tested for other reasons.
If a DNA match provides her full name and the names of all her grandparents, it is usually possible to create a tree from that information. Fortunately, Vicki responded to the message I sent and shared her family tree and research notes with me. With this information, along with the info in my own tree, I was able to work backward to find common ancestors.
Heggus? Hedge? Hegyi?
One of the other reasons I contacted Vicki was that I recognized the surname of her grandfather. Hegyi is one of the most common surnames in my paternal great-grandfather’s home village and I’ve encountered it many time while translating birth records. 23andme suggested I’d have to locate the common 4th great-grandparents (great-great-great-great-grandparents), to find a connection, so I started with Vicki’s grandfather Ferencz. She had provided me a beautifully written chronology of her research, I just had to grab the baton and keep running.
According to 23andme, Vicki and I share .20% of our DNA. That’s not very much. If you’re just getting started with genetic genealogy, I’d suggest trying to find a predicted 3rd cousin first (about 50-100 shared cM).
23andme has a chromosome browser tool, where users can view matching DNA in centiMorgans instead of percent, but it takes a few steps to get there. To quickly estimate cMs while scrolling through cousin matches, we can take that percentage and multiply it by 74. A full explanation of why this works can be found here.
Vicki’s .20% x 74 = 14.8 cM
Opening the chromosome browser tool shows us the actual value is 15cM.
23andme’s estimates are pretty accurate, and 15cM falls within the range ISOGG considers 4th-5th cousins. As long as there weren’t any non-paternal events, Vicki and I should share a pair of identifiable common ancestors who were born in the mid-1700s.
Vicki had already done a great deal of research on Ferencz and his wife Mary of Dearborn, Michigan. Ferencz Hegyi was difficult to find because his name seemed to change on every document. To understand why, we need to look at Hungarian pronunciation.
Hegyi uses the 2-letter consonant gy. Try putting the Hungarian word for one, egy, into Google translate and clicking the speaker icon. Egy sounds sort of like “edge” but a little like “eggs.” It’s a sound that isn’t common to English-speakers. We might say see Hegyi and say Hay-gee, which would be incorrect. Hed-gee or Hedge-ee would be closer, but still not quite right.
Per Vicki’s own family history,
I already knew our grandfather’s last name had numerous spellings. In our family alone, aunts and uncles used Hadde, Hedge, Hedde, and Hegyi, for example. Hegyi is a fairly common Hungarian name and means “of the hill.” …
At Ellis Island and among individuals eager to assimilate in a new country, many name changes and Anglicizations occurred, and that happened in our grandparents’ records.
And that’s probably what happened. Ferencz is simply Francis or Frank in English, so all American documents (other the passenger manifest) refer to Vicki’s grandfather as Frank.
Three Ferencz Hegyis
Vicki used details she found in several documents to figure out Frank’ place of birth. She found passengers manifests from three men who could have been her grandfather and narrowed it down to one. Again, excerpts from Vicki’s notes:
1. June 24, 1906, Ference Hegyi, age 23 and single, from Siklod (a town in far south Hungary), arrived aboard the SS Ultonia. …
2. October 9, 1906, Yerencz Hegyi, age 16 and married, from Giatfalva (Fiatfalva), arrived aboard the SS Kaiser Wilhelm II from Bremen, Germany. …
3. May 24, 1911, Ferenez Heggus, age 23 and single, from Kondorfa, Hungary, arrived aboard the SS Chicago from Le Havre, France. He also was Hungarian, of “German race,” the document says. His final destination was Bethlehem, Pa. …
I’m persuaded he immigrated in 1911 from Kondorfa—Passenger #3.
The research notes that led Vicki to this conclusion are very detailed. She meticulously noted every document, compiled the facts, and in the end, came to the correct conclusion. Her grandfather was traveling as Ferencz Heggus.
Officials at Ellis Island did not change people’s names.
As previously mentioned, immigrants often altered their names to sound more American. Heggus may have seemed a good choice at the time, or maybe it was a simple clerical error.
Per the New York Public Library:1
Although it is always possible that the names of passengers were spelt wrong, perhaps by the clerk when the ticket was bought, or during transliteration, when names were translated from one alphabet to another, it is more likely that immigrants were their own agents of change… people often changed their name in advance of migration.
More commonly, immigrants would change their names themselves when they had arrived in the United States, and for a number of reasons. Someone might change their name in order to make it sound more American, to fit in with the local community, or simply because it was good for business…
Often, as there was no law in New York State requiring it be done, no official record of a name change was made. People would just start using a different name.
They were both living on 3rd Street.
Below, a notation from Frank #3’s passenger manifest. He arrived in New York City on May 24, 1911. It says his father back home was Ferencz of Kondorfa, Vas Megye, house 108.
Here is another notation from the same manifest. It says Ferencz is planning to stay with his cousin Joseph Toth at 3rd St, South Bethlehem, PA.
My great-grandfather, Jozsef Horvath also arrived in South Bethlehem on December 19, that same year. His family member back home is listed as his mother Mrs. Horvath of Kondorfa. The person Jozsef is planning to meet in America is his brother Gyorgy, who also lived on 3rd St, South Bethlehem, PA.
At the time, the houses on 3rd Street were row-homes, primarily occupied by immigrants working for Bethlehem Steel. The neighborhood looks much different today. The homes were demolished, but many of the old Steel buildings have been preserved and converted into a 10-acre entertainment complex.
The proximity of Vicki’s grandfather to my great-grandfather in 1911 is pretty convincing proof that our connection goes back to Kondorfa somewhere. But how can we be sure the Frank on passenger manifest #3 is Vicki’s grandfather?
The final clues are on Frank’s naturalization papers. If Frank emigrated to Bethlehem, how did he end up in Michigan? While many had long careers at Bethlehem Steel, for others, it was just a stepping stone.
The Steel was loud, dangerous, and dirty. Kondorfa was a village of farmers and shepherds — nothing like the booming industrial city of Bethlehem. Some immigrants, like Jozsef’s aforementioned brother Gyorgy, returned to Hungary to continue farming. Perhaps Frank’s move was prompted by news of farming opportunities in Michigan. On his 1917 draft card, Frank’s occupation is listed as farmer, as well as on his 1924 naturalization paperwork, below.
Frank’s birthplace is listed as “Kondorfer,” and states he arrived in New York on or about March 25, 1911. My guess is someone wrote Mar instead of May, because his arrival date was actually May 24, not Mar 25.
Closer inspection of Frank’s file shows a document attesting to his arrival at Ellis Island on May 24, 1911, aboard the SS Chicago. On this document, his name is listed as Ferencz Heggus, but we have enough matching information to confirm that this is indeed Vicki’s grandfather.
I grew up near Bethlehem, PA, and always knew the name of my great-grandparents’ home village, but I knew very little about the cousins who moved across the country. Thanks to Vicki, I was learning about some distant relatives who ended up halfway across the country.
Now that I had enough evidence of a link to Vicki through Frank and my great-grandfather Jozsef, the next step was to search the old church records and see where our family trees meet.
The village of Kondorfa, Vas Megye (County), has been predominately Catholic for hundreds of years. Between about 1820 and 1895 most of Kondorfa’s births, marriages, and deaths were noted at the Roman Catholic church in the nearby village of Őriszentpéter.
These documents are not yet indexed by the LDS at FamilySearch.org. They can be viewed here, but none of these records will show up in a name search. A spreadsheet containing almost all of the births recorded in Őriszentpéter from 1786-1895 can be viewed here.
Finding Frank’s Family
Ferencz Hegyi was born October 20, 1888, in Kondorfa, and baptized the following day in Őriszentpéter. His parents were Ferencz Hegyi and Juli Fabian of Kondorfa. The image below can be viewed here.
From here, I searched the records for Ferencz’s siblings. I found 5 other children born to Ferencz Sr. and Juli Fabian between 1880 and 1895, Their son Peter, was born in 1885 in house 108 (the number listed on Frank’s passenger manifest).
Ferencz Sr. and Juli probably had more children, but after 1895, the records were documented in a different location and take a lot more time to find. Going backward is actually easier.
Considering the first child born to Ferencz Sr. and Juli was in 1880, the couple probably married no more than two or three years before then. Searching the marriage records, I found the following:
07 Jul 1878 • Őriszentpéter, Vas, Hungary:
Ferencz Hegyi, age 25, a farmer and soldier, marries Julianna Fabian, age 18, both of Kondorfa
Ferencz and Julianna were living in house 108 when they married.
Below is the other half of the document:
Groom’s parents: Ferencz Hegyi & Anna Herczeg. Bride’s parents: Ferencz Fabian & Judith Laczo (deceased)
I repeated this process for Ferencz Hegyi and Anna Herczeg, to find their parents, as well as Ferencz Fabian and Judith Laczo. It’s a pretty standard formula when a family stays in one place for a long time.
Find all the children and then search for a marriage record right before the first child was born. If that doesn’t turn up a marriage record, check for possible illegitimate births and look for a marriage after the birth of the first child. This was very common.
Almost everyone in this village was a Horvath, a Hegyi, or Herczeg.
Before long, I had a tree for Vicki’s grandfather, but with all the families with similar names, I asked my 3rd cousin to take a look at the connections. She also builds family trees from online records and has researched many of the same branches, with some dating back to the early 1700’s.
Sometimes, a new pair of eyes can help find something that’s right under your nose. I showed her Vicki’s tree and she noticed some details I had overlooked. She also found a few places where Vicki’s tree crossed her own.
I say this a lot: If you encounter someone in America whose ancestors were from the same tiny Austrian-Hungarian village as yours, you’re probably related.
The images below show the path where Jozsef’s tree meets Ferencz’s tree.
Ferencz and Jozsef’s fathers were 2nd cousins. Ferencz and Jozsef, sharing great-great-grandparents, were 3rd cousins.
The most recent common ancestors, often abbreviated MRCA, are Janos Herczeg, b. 1747 and Rozalia Horvath b. 1755, These are my 5th great-grandparents and Vicki’s 4th great-grandparents. That makes Vicki my 5th cousin once removed.
Some may find this type of research a bit extreme for building a family tree, and it is. I chose to share the story of my link to Vicki because some might say a 5c1r is too distant to bother trying to find. With practice, this process isn’t all that difficult. Also, for adoptees and others with questions about their lineage, distant DNA matches may be the only way to locate people who can provide answers.