Sunday, July 8, 2018

Inferring Burgenland Ethnicity Using DNA and Surnames

From top left to bottom: me, and my father Robert Kapple, my great-aunt Bertha Kappel-Solomon, my grandfather Rudolph Kapple

I began my genealogy research to find out more about my grandfather Rudolph Kapple's roots. I had never met him because he died in Chicago when I was 7 years old. My father's parents divorced and my grandmother moved with her children to California where I was born, and raised. As a matter of fact my first trip to Chicago was last year. I've always regretted never meeting this grandfather, and asked family about him. Even though my father sided with his mother in the divorce he still loved his father. When he heard of his death he was very broken up I remember. I remember him telling me about a tour of a steel mill he took with his father, which was a fond memory for him. That whetted my appetite for more.  

I was always told Kapple, or Kappel as some of our family spell it, was a Jewish surname. That's the only thing I knew about the family. I didn't know where the family came from? My Grandfather's death certificate said he was born in Australia. I had thought to start searching there, but my grandmother had some research done which pointed to Austria, and not Australia, as his place of birth. I read the book "My Sixteen" which has instructions on researching immigrant ancestors. I ordered the documents suggested, and looked at census records which were on microfilm at that time, and not yet on the internet. Once I found the name of their village I looked the village name up on the internet, which took me to the Burgenland Bunch. This group led me to church records. The spelling of the name in the old country turned out to be Köppel. I was surprised to find the Köppel's in the Catholic Church records going back to 1785. The surname Köppel seemed even more Ashkenazi related. I figured maybe they converted to Catholicism?

I had a Kapple male first cousin take the Y-DNA test; his result turned out to be in the J-172 haplogroup. Many people of Jewish ethnicity tend to be in that haplogroup, so I thought this was further confirmation that we were indeed Ashkenazi on our Kapple line. I looked up the surname Kurta on a Holocaust database site, and Kurta came up. I thought maybe the Kurta  surname origins were also Ashkenazi? 

I thought I had it all figured out. We were substantially Ashkenazi Catholic converts? I was in for a big surprise when my autosomal ethnicity results came in. Zero Ashkenazi. I had an aunt and first cousin tested to confirm these autosomal results. My cousin came out with a trace amount of Ashkenazi, and my aunt zero. FTDNA predicted my aunt to be around 30% Southeast European, and 6% Eastern European. That would seem to account for part of the 50% of DNA she would have inherited from her Burgenland born father. 

My own ethnicity predictions are around 4%-6% Eastern European on most of the tests. AncestryDNA gives me a range of 0-12% Middle Eastern, which could point to some possible Ashkenazi ancestry? My Aunt has 1.1% Ashkenazi ethnicity at MyHeritage. 

It seems like much of my grandfather Kapple's ethnicity is missing from these tests, everyone in my family who has tested seems have a chunk of missing ethnicity from the Kapple side. British Isles and Western Europe seem to be over estimated. 

What really intrigues me is the Slovak ethnicity prediction. I do see surnames such as Muik and Kurta listed in the Slovakian church books. Both 23andMe and point to the possibility of Slovakian ancestry for me and my aunt.

After visiting Austria, Bratislava, and the western portion of Hungary I had not noticed many people with the dark eyes, and dark hair similar to my Kapple family, or other similar features? Even the Kurta cousins living in Burgenland tend to have lighter features. I thought that was a little odd? Looking at us your first guess as to our ethnicity probably wouldn't be Germanic. I don't have any pictures of my Inzenhof great-grandparents. I only have physical descriptions from documents. My great-grandmother Mary Kurta was 5 feet tall with dark hair and brown eyes. My great-grandfather Frank Kappel was 5 feet 6, with dark hair and brown eyes, as you can see in the description on his Declaration of Intention below.  My father looked much like his father and had black hair, and brown eyes.  His mother had light colored eyes 

Interesting that I did see a few more people in Slovakia that looked like us, with darker features. Our tour guide in Bratislava, Slovakia had darker features, more like our Kapple side  of the family. I was beginning to think the Slovakian estimate was correct. 

I've since looked at a list from 1720 and there was a Kurta already in Borogodor at that time. 23andMe states that I probably have ties to Slovakia within the past 200 years. Looks like it would be more than 200 years ago, more like 300 years or more, since a Kurta was in the Borosgodor area in 1720. If Muik is the source of the admixture it's possible they migrated to Borosgodor at a later time?   

23andMe Predicts I have Slovakian ancestry within the past 200 years? 

1720 Census Borosgodor

Slovakia is mixed ethnically because it was part of the multi-ethnic Hapsburg Empire. There are signs in 3 languages on the old pharmacy in Bratislava, photo below. Instead of my family being from Slovakia it may be that the mixed Hungarian ethnicity of the people of that country is throwing our ethnicity prediction off? It could also be that some of the people who settled in Inzenhof were from Slovakia?

An old Apothecary shop in Bratislava with signs in 3 languages 

Kurta indeed appears to be a Hungarian surname. I marked all of our Kappel side surnames according to there likely ethnic origins. Nearly all of the others appear to be Germanic. 

Surnames can be adopted for various reasons and don't always reflect a persons ethnicity. I do think the surname Kurta is a clue that line is an ethnic mixture of  Germanic and Hungarian. 

Looking at all the information provided by the DNA companies I would say the origins of matches, especially close matches, is more informative than the ethnicity results alone. The fact my aunt and I have Austrian matches seems significant since my mother, who has no Austrian ancestry, doesn't have any is a clue to our origins. My aunt has 17 matches with Austrian ancestry. If I didn't know families origins at all I would look more closely at the origins of matches. 

I absolutely loved Bratislava and would love to find an ancestral connection to Slovakia. It could be we just share a common Hungarian ancestry? I may never know for sure? At this point I would say my Burgenland family is a mixture of Eastern European and Germanic ethnicity. 

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