Thanks to genetic genealogy something incredible has happened last Sunday! And I would have given anything to share it with my grandfather! However, during his lifetime people didn’t even dare to dream about the things that are possible today. I hope that my personal experience will not only show how valuable DNA can become for your traditional paper genealogy research, but also how important it is to see them both as a whole (which still isn’t the case in Germany).
My maternal grandfather, Viktor Haas, grew up in an orphanage after his parents’ death and didn’t have any contact to his biological relatives, because all of them allegedly emigrated to Canada and the United States a few years before he was born. Among those relatives was an aunt with two children – and that was pretty much all of the information he received. My grandfather was looking for them and other relatives during his lifetime, but his search remained unsuccessful. Since Sunday – nearly 108 years after their emigration – I finally know what had happened to his aunt, know the names of her descendants and the place in the United States where her family settled back then!
When I began researching our family history five years ago, the only other clues that I could use were my grandfather’s patronymic and his year of birth 1913. It suggested that my great grandfather’s name was David Haas and that he was presumably born some time around 1890. I received my DNA test results at about the same time and was surprised to learn that I had several hundred genetic relatives living in the United States and Canada. All of them were really distant, yet some of them were still able to provide me with first hints about my grandfather’s place of birth, which a little later could be confirmed as Schoendorf on the Volga. In the following months I delved deeper into genetic genealogy and also made some progress with regard to traditional paper research, but mostly on my maternal grandmother’s side.
In May 2018 I also visited the Engels and Saratov archives on the Volga where many original documents on Volga German colonists can be found. According to the 1897 census record for Schoendorf there was only one David Haas and his family was listed as follows:
Peter (son of Philipp) Haas, 38 years old, head
Margaretha (daughter of Georg), 34 years old, wife
Katharina (daughter of Peter), 8 years old, daughter
David (son of Peter), 5 years old, son
Peter (son of Peter), 4 months old, son
Peter and Margaretha were my gg-grandparents and the name of my grandfather’s aunt who allegedly emigrated was Katharina…
At about the same time I began looking for people with the family name Haas and roots in Schoendorf at a Volga German genealogy forum http://forum.wolgadeutsche.net. This is how I came in touch with A. Haas from Bremen and O. Haas from Chemnitz, who turned out to be my mother’s and her siblings’ third cousins according to the DNA tests results. Nonetheless, I was still able to connect their family lines to our family tree thanks to the census records. Our common ancestors were my ggg-grandparents Philipp Haas and Anna Margaretha Schlegel.
Some time ago a new match with the family name Aul appeared on Ancestry for my aunt and me (my mother and uncle tested at 23andme). He was the highest of our unknown matches so far, sharing 142cM with my aunt and 85cM with me. If you took his age into account, it placed him in the 2c1R range for my aunt and 3C for me (same gg-grandparents).
His family tree was a bit sparse though:
I didn’t come across the family name Aul in my research before, but according to his family tree his great grandfather Heinrich Aul, b. 1882, was from a Volga German colony by the name of Krasnoyar. After checking the Find A Grave website, I’ve also learned that his grandfather, Victor Aul, was born in Russia as well in 1908. Victor later married a girl with the Irish family name Walsh, so we weren’t related to him through her line. On the other hand, his maternal line had also to be considered, but he didn’t include any information about his mother at all.
I then sent him a message with a brief description of our family history, but didn’t get a reply. So I tried to find out more about our mysterious Mr. Aul in a different way by comparing him to our other matches at Ancestry. There weren’t that many matches shared between us, but our distant Haas cousins from Bremen and Chemnitz were among the few. And he wasn’t matching anyone of our other higher matches who I was previously able to assign to Sophia (David Haas’ wife) thanks to Visual Phasing and the X-chromosome inheritance pattern (by that I mean not those sharing at least 20cM with him and us, which is the necessary threshold to appear as a shared match at Ancestry).
Besides, I also had access to the profiles of the distant Haas cousins and could see that they were a more distant match to Mr. Aul than my aunt. They each shared 70cM with him, while my aunt shared 142cM as you already know. Our common ancestor with the Haas cousins was my ggg-grandfather Philipp Haas, b. 1818. Thus, our common ancestor with Mr. Aul had to be my gg-grandfather Peter Haas, b. 1858. According to the 1897 census my gg-grandparents Peter and Margaretha had three children: Katharina, David and Peter. According to the 1920 census it remained that way – David and Peter were still listed there, but there were no other, younger siblings of the two. Therefore, Mr. Aul had to be either a descendant of my great grandfather David’s sister Katharina, b. 1888/89 or their brother Peter, b. 1896/97.
I couldn’t sit still anymore after I realized that! I checked Facebook and found Mr. Aul’s profile, including a picture of his parents in their younger years. His mother appeared to be a beautiful woman of Hispano-American origin. That meant we couldn’t be related to him through her. And neither through his Irish paternal grandmother. Our connection had to be on his paternal Aul line! And that meant his paternal grandfather’s mother must have been Katharina Haas!
DNA is incredibly powerful, but DNA alone isn’t enough – you have to look for another, independent piece of evidence. Although I didn’t get a response from Mr. Aul, it occurred to me where else I could turn for help to: the Volga German forum! It’s the place for people with Volga German roots outside the US and Canada. (For English speaking descendants it would be easier to get help at AHSGR.) Members of the Volga German forum collect information about their ancestors and there are already numerous threads on certain family names and colonies. Thus, I wasn’t surprised to find out that a thread on Aul from Krasnoyar already existed and posted my request there:
Here is the translation:
“There is a person with the family name Aul among our DNA matches at Ancestry, whose grandfather Victor Aul was born in Krasnoyar in 1908 into the family of Heinrich (son of Konrad) Aul, b. 1882, and the family emigrated to the United States in 1912. Mr. Aul and my aunt share 142cM (he and I share 85cM), which makes him a 2C1R for my aunt and a 3C for me. On our side the connection must be through my great grandfather David Haas, who had a sister named Katharina and a brother named Peter. If the connection is through his paternal Aul line (there was no information about his mother), his great grandfather Heinrich Aul must have been the husband of Katharina Haas from Schoendorf (the sister of my great-grandfather and the aunt of my grandfather, the one who emigrated). Does anyone have access to the family books of Krasnoyar from that time and can help me to confirm my theory? Thank you very much in advance!”
In the meantime, I decided to continue my search at Ancestry and have a look at the 1930 US census. I did find a person named Heinrich/Henry Aul there, who was born in Russia in 1882, but he was married to a woman named Amelia and not Katharina. In addition, the peculiar name of one of his daughters “Badilja” has caught my eye.
Other documents from that time also listed Emilia/Amelia Rieb as his wife. What a setback! I just couldn’t believe it, because our DNA results were telling me something different. For now, however, I had to accept what my eyes were seeing. Totally devastated, I then edited my post at the forum: “Update: It looks like we are not related through his paternal Aul line after all… According to the 1930 US census, the wife of Heinrich/Henry Aul was Amelia Rieb and not Katharina Haas. Were there any Rieb families in Krasnoyar?”
When I finished, I noticed that AndI, one of the forum’s admins (and no other than Andreas Idt, the author of a book on Volga German colonists “Auswanderung deutscher Kolonisten nach Russland im Jahre 1766” as it turned out later!), replied to my previous message:
“According to my notes, the parents of Viktor Aul, born 31.12.1908, were Heinrich Aul, born on 09.04.1882, and Katharina Elisabeth Haas, who were married in 1908, but I couldn’t connect her to any other Haas families from Krasnoyar. Presumably because she was from Schoendorf. It would be very interesting to find out more about her line. According to my notes, Heinrich Aul and Katharina Haas also had a daughter named Adele, b. 1910. ”
So it was Katharina Elisabeth Haas after all! What a dramatic turn of events! What a stroke of luck! My theory based on the DNA results was absolutely correct and finally everything started to make sense! Amelia Rieb must have been Heinrich Aul’s second wife and since they had to have been married in the US, I would surely find their marriage record! And the 19-year-old “Badilja” in the 1930 census must have been Adele! Most likely because the name was pronounced as Adelja in Russian.
Andreas Idt only had notes, but no copies of the original documents, because this Aul Haas family was one of his sidelines (the maiden name of Heinrich Aul’s mother was Idt). Another forum member advised me to contact Prof. Dr. Igor Pleve, because he reportedly had access to all family books from Krasnoyar and could email me a copy for a fee.
While I was waiting for Prof. Dr. Pleve’s answer, I continued to search Ancestry’s database for more US documents. You can get a copy of the passenger lists, naturalization records, censuses, as well as marriage, birth and death certificates there, and I would need almost everything to piece the puzzle together.
There was an entry from Jan 11th, 1912 on the passenger list of the SS Merion from Liverpool to Philadelphia about Heinrich Aul (29), his wife Katarina (23) and their two children Victor (3) and Adela (1):
Then, I also found the marriage record for Heinrich Aul and Amelia Rieb from 1913. Katharina Elisabeth Haas must have died during her first year in Chicago before reaching the age of 25, leaving two little kids behind.
Next, I found two naturalization records for Henry Aul that listed all of his five children. His three younger girls were by his second wife. According to the naturalization records, he was a widower and the first record stated his wife’s name as “Elizabeth”, born on October 31, 1888 in “Schondorf, Russia”!
The second record stated his wife’s name as Amelia:
Prof. Dr. Pleve’s email rounded everything up. The left side lists male colonists of Krasnoyar, Heinrich (son of Konrad) Aul and his son Viktor, and the right side his wife Katharina Elisabeth Haas and daughter Adele:
Genetic genealogy and paper research were complementing each other perfectly! None of this would have been possible without a DNA test. Neither without the documents. However, each of them alone by itself wouldn’t have been enough!