Three DNA Cousins

A Tale of Three Cousins
Or how DNA testing helps connect lost families

By Jaroslaw Teklak, Contributor; Max Heffler, GHJGS Member;
and Stefani Elkort Twyford, President

Editor’s note: This story is the first in a series called Stories, a new section in our newsletter and website. Stories highlights just that—the stories of GHJGS members about themselves, their family, their way of life. We want to preserve the written and oral histories of our community, their past, and their families. We hope that you will share your stories with us so that they will remain available to future generations.
Rosie Arcelay, Editor

Cousin 1: Jaroslaw Teklak

My story is very emotional.

From left to right: Stefani Elkort Twyford, Jaroslaw Teklak, and Max Heffler, in Warsaw, Poland, August 2018. Image by Stefani Elkort Twyford.
From left to right: Stefani Elkort Twyford, Jaroslaw Teklak, and Max Heffler, in Warsaw, Poland, August 2018.
Image by Stefani Elkort Twyford.

I had suspicions about my heritage for a very long time. But I had no idea of who I really was or any history about my family.

After my mother’s funeral, my cousin called me. We agreed to meet in person. We met 2 months after that phone call. I was completely surprised by the information he provided about our family.

That conversation triggered something in my brain… and I began to remember strange things that happened to me in the past. Deep in my heart, this entire time, I knew that I was Jewish. I began doing research to find family members. I found very little information. However, a DNA test looked like a good place to start.

My brother and I did a DNA test. And when the results came… it showed that both my brother and I were Jewish. The other surprise that came with the results was a list of cousins with whom we shared this DNA. Max Heffler was one of them. So, I sent him an email. And prayed for an answer.

Cousin 2: Max Heffler

August 1, 2018, was like any normal day. Except today, I received this email:

Hi! My name is Jaroslaw. I am living in Poland, near Warsaw. Recently I got results of my DNA test from Ancestry DNA. Maternal. My mom was a Holocaust survivor. She was taken from the Warsaw Ghetto by a woman, Feliksa Sikorska. My mama found out about her past about 1962-3. She began looking for her family lost in Shoah. I remember going with my mama to a Jewish cemetery in Warsaw. It was the grave of Chava Goldberg. Chava’s children are my cousins. I think Lea and Abraham Rudnicki may be my grandparents? Their family was killed in the Warsaw Ghetto. But Abraham was killed in Jablonna. In Jablonna, mama was raised by women named Sikorska. She named my mama Weronika Skorska. When my mother married, she took the last name Teklak from her husband. Maybe mama was one of Lea and Abraham’s daughters? Please take time to help me find out my real family. Thank you. I am waiting for your answer.

I replied:

I will be in Warsaw beginning this Friday. Can we meet? Can we get a photo of my great-greatgrandmother Chava’s grave? I am close with Lea’s grandchildren here in Houston. This is exciting news!

Cousin 1: Jaroslaw

Choosing Max as the match to write to was either pure luck or God’s will! Max started helping me at once. Then I read his email. And was a bit scared. Max was flying to Warsaw in a couple of days! I wanted so much to meet my cousin in person. A JEWISH COUSIN! CAN’T SLEEP OR EAT! Then I got this thought in my mind—what if he won’t accept me as a Jew?
I wanted so badly to be a Jew…

Cousin 2: Max Heffler

We spoke on the phone that night. That may have been when he invited me to his nephew’s wedding.

 

Jaroslaw Teklak’s nephew’s wedding. Warsaw, Poland, August 2018. Image by Max Heffler
Jaroslaw Teklak’s nephew’s wedding. Warsaw, Poland, August 2018.
Image by Max Heffler

On August 2, 2018, Jaroslaw wrote:

My son’s name is Richard Teklak. I am Jaroslaw Teklak.

I am sending pictures of Weronika, my Mama, and my Father Richard. Also one of myself and my Son Richard when he was 7 years old.

I then started searching all of the 500+ Goldberg graves at the Okopowa Street Cemetery for the possible connection, and sent them to Jaroslaw for confirmation.

August 3rd, 2018, we exchanged photos.

I believed he was likely my second cousin and shared that information with the family that would be his first cousins here. It was difficult for me to later share with them that he was likely a more distant cousin…

On August 5th, I wrote:

Much to share after last night when I met your first cousins and attended the wedding reception for one of their sons. Tomorrow we go to the cemetery to see our common great-great-grandmother’s stone.

On August 6th, I helped him upload his results to GEDMatch Legacy and GEDMatch Genesis. And that’s when we made an interesting discovery. I immediately wrote to Stefani:

You are predicted closer to my new cousin than my brother, the closest of me or my siblings to him!

Cousin 3: Stefani Elkort Twyford

I happened to be in Warsaw at the same time as Max, since we went to the same genealogy convention there. Max had related the story of his new cousin. However, I was somewhat surprised when I got an email from Max that said that I was a closer match to Jaroslaw than he was.

I replied.

So, I should have gone to the wedding!

Cousin 2: Max Heffler

By August 8th, I started looking at Jaroslaw’s results. I looked for his closest matches with Warsaw connections. Then, I also sent him information about the synagogue service that Stefani and I planned to attend. All three of us were able to attend. DTD.

Jaroslaw Teklak with his new cousin Max Heffler. Warsaw, Poland, August 2018. Image by Max Heffler.
Jaroslaw Teklak with his new cousin Max Heffler. Warsaw, Poland, August 2018.
Image by Max Heffler.