Nitpicker’s Guide to Finding Your Roots – Sanders/David

I’ve never nitpicked Finding Your Roots before, the TV show hosted by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, but watching the episode about Bernie Sanders and Larry David, I have to make some comments. And they’re longer than Twitter can hold.

Because the show goes back and forth between the two, I’m going to not do that since it gets confusing without the full episode and the video.

Larry David

Beginning with Larry David, when looking for the origins of the family beyond Brooklyn, Gates said “We were completely stumped… We didn’t even know where to start looking… One of our researchers noticed a tiny little thing.”

Hey Skip, that tiny little thing is a big flag in Jewish genealogy. Every good Jewish genealogist knows to look for the place of origin for a US immigrant on the naturalization. Other good sources include the ship list and the SS-5.

Larry didn’t even know his mother was born in Europe? Interesting.

Also, Blume is not pronounced the way it was on the show, nor was Regina or Leib. Skip, do you want a Jewish genealogist to consult with you? I’m available. ;-)

They believed that Larry’s grandfather, of the ten siblings, was the only one who immigrated to the US. I assume they looked? They didn’t say why they believed that.

They found a lot of records at Yad Vashem for the surnames in his family. Did they try to track down the survivors and find living relatives? I remember asking that for a UK episode of WDYTYA many years ago. I love when they do distant cousins reunions on the show.

Gates really needs some help in pronouncing Jewish names. The synagogue name in Alabama was said completely wrong.

Only about 3000 Jewish men fought for the confederacy. That statement needed qualifying. How many fought for the union? How many lived in the US at the time? Without additional information, that number alone doesn’t say much.

Larry’s reaction to learning his ancestor was a slave owner was outrageous to watch. Well, he did fight for the confederacy, Larry.

Bernie Sanders

And now for Bernie Sanders. They spent some time finding things on his father’s side that are not easily available, so some of it was interesting in that it added to what I was able to find.

They stated that Elias Sanders arrived in the US at the age of 16. The ship list clearly showed he was 17. They covered that part of the page with his photo in the video. They did have the right ship list, but didn’t highlight him on the page showing that he arrived as Eliasz Gutman, or why that was his name.

Actually, there were two ship lists that listed Eliasz Gutman and I found both. One was the year before, showing him as 16, but that wasn’t Elias on the ship. It was his brother Henry. They showed the correct one for Elias. Did they not get that part and thought he travelled himself on both ships? Then why did they show the page for the second one? Was it because he was at the top of the page on that one so it looked better? I don’t know what to make of that now.

Henry was still talking about the Sanders side of the family, but showed a photo labeled Radzyn. That was his mother’s side. I wonder where they found the picture that Bernie had never seen before of his Sanders family, including his uncle.

After learning his uncle was killed by the Nazis, why would the book include a picture of the man who had him killed? I wouldn’t want that in my fancy family book.

I was impressed that they were able to trace all the way back to Hersz and Kayla Mlynarz, as well as the Apeloig family that they didn’t feature on the show but I saw it on the tree. No online trees went beyond Frejda Mindla Mlynarz, even though at least one had that name on it. And that was also why I wanted my blog post to go out before this aired; I didn’t want to seem like I got any of the research from the show. They did find some things I didn’t for the Sanders side, and they obviously researched the history whereas I just did the genealogy.

DNA

Then they looked at the percentage of Ashkenazi Jewish DNA each man had. How did they calculate that? When I first tested, I was told I was 85% Jewish. Now, I’m 96%. My DNA didn’t change. The DNA isn’t labelled. Having Jewish DNA is self-reported. My DNA matches 96% that the specific company has deduced matches other Jews. It doesn’t mean I have 4% that is not Jewish. It just means that 4% hasn’t been determined to be Jewish yet. I was not impressed by this part of the show.

And exactly how much did Bernie and Larry match their DNA? Does Gates know that almost all Ashkenazi Jews appear to be distant cousins via their DNA? Since they don’t go into details, I can only guess it was the same kind of insignificant amounts that I match almost every other Jewish genealogist I know. But yes, I’d believe that two Ashkenazi Jewish men were distant cousins. I’d also believe that I may match both of them just as distantly.

Conclusions

Both men’s family trees extended back to 18th century Europe and “then disappear”. No, they don’t actually disappear. The Jewish records run out. Did they search the Catholic records to go back further? Did they even know that earlier Jewish Polish records can often be found in the Catholic records? Radzyn has Catholic records. I just didn’t have the time to go through them. I may have been able to go back a little bit farther if I had. I do less German research, so I couldn’t say more about that.

I loved all the bits of history that were told during the course of the episode. This is also the reason why I like Who Do You Think You Are? And I like that this history applied to my family in this episode. Somehow the Jewish episodes of WDYTYA, at least lately, don’t cover the European Jewish history even when they have someone Jewish on the show. As much as I like learning about the Civil War, the American Revolution, and the royal families of Europe, I prefer the history that applies to my own family.

I don’t know why I haven’t watched every episode of Finding Your Roots over the years. No wait, maybe I do. I think the DNA analysis often bothers me. I remember, I believe it was the first season, when they specifically compared a Jew and an Arab and then decided the bible was true somehow from that. OK, I need to put that aside and watch this show more often because I definitely enjoyed this episode.

And to finish up, I will again share the photo taken at the IAJGS Conference this summer in Orlando. Henry Gates was the keynote speaker at the banquet and his presentation was terrific. This picture was taken at a private reception just before the banquet.

Blurry me and Henry Gates
Blurry me and Henry Gates

And Skip, I was serious earlier. I’m available for consulting when you need a Jewish genealogist to help. :-)

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