Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Finding family through DNA

“My Jewish Roots” workshops sponsored by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Orlando (JGSGO) continue in November with their third workshop—“Find DNA Ancestors and Cousins.” DNA research has become increasingly popular as a genealogic tool to discover distant relatives, family mix and origins. JGSGO member Laurence Morrell described the results of his recent DNA testing.

The way this all got started was that I was curious about my genetic background. In 2012, I signed up with Family Tree for their DNA testing program, not knowing what to expect. After submitting a DNA sample, I was sent information about the results, which I still don’t fully understand. A short time later, I received an email from Family Tree with a list of names of possible relatives. The first on the list was a Roger Morrell. That got me excited. Who was Roger Morrell? Are we related, and if so how? I followed the instructions on how to make contact, which I did. Soon thereafter, I received a response from someone with a totally different last name. What gives? After numerous emails sharing information we established that yes, perhaps we are related.

Here’s how. Roger Morrell’s grandfather was Joseph Morrell. I had never heard of him. Martha, Roger’s niece, provided me with some information that allowed me to begin my own research. This Joseph Morrell lived in Savannah, Georgia, at the same time or shortly after my great-grandfather, Solomon Morrell lived there. Joseph’s wife, Rachel Morrell, which is the same name as my grandmother, died in Savannah in 1897 due to a tragic accident. She is buried there in the Laurel Grove Cemetery, apparently in a pauper’s section. Their daughter, Rosa, was also buried there years later.

Joseph Morrell’s naturalization papers left a paper trail that was too coincidental for him not to be related somehow. His “first papers” were filed in Meriden, Connecticut, where my Uncle Phil and my grandmother were both born. Both my great-grandfather and “Joseph” eventually made their way to Savannah, Georgia, where their “second papers” were filed.

Looking at the 1900 Federal Census (Savannah, Georgia), I was unable to find a Joseph Morrell. However, I was able to find information about his children. With information given to me by my “new” relative, I was able to determine that yes, these were the children of Joseph and Rachel Morrell. After his wife died, Joseph was unable to care for the children, Rosa, Jennie, Jacob and Samuel. Rosa, Jennie and Jacob were sent to the Hebrew Orphan’s Home in Atlanta, Georgia. Samuel (Sammie) remained as a boarder with a family in Savannah.

Apparently this action caused a rift in the family. Joseph eventually took three of his children back: Rosa, Jennie and Jacob, but they eventually became estranged, with little contact with their father after that. Through email contact with my “new” cousin, I was able to glean additional information. But, there was still nothing definite to solidly connect Joseph Morrell to my great-grandfather, Solomon Morrell.

Like any good sleuth, I dug deeper and deeper. I began to search city directories under the name Joseph Morrell. I was able to trace his movements and his marriage to his second wife Freda Posner. The one bit of information that really got my attention was a city directory entry from Passaic, New Jersey. There was a listing for a business “Morrell and Son and Morrell.” It listed Solomon Morrell, his son Philip Morrell and Joseph Morrell. In my mind, that had to be the smoking gun. There had to be some kind of relationship between Solomon and Joseph. They were either brothers or first cousins!

Additional information came to light with the 1930 Federal Census. Joseph Morrell was living in Los Angeles, California. Why out there? He had always been on the East Coast. Well, I found Solomon’s sister, Ethel, was living in L.A. My grandfather, Henry Morrell, the son of Solomon Morrell from his first wife, was also living in LA. Coincidence? I don’t know.

One more document I want to get, but have not proceeded with yet, is Joseph’s death certificate from 1937. I want to see if Joseph’s father’s name is Solomon, the same as my grandfather Henry’s father. In that case, Henry and Joseph would have been brothers, and Joseph would have been my great uncle. If it is different, then in my way of thinking they were first or at least second cousins. Either way, I am still enjoying contact with my “new” relatives until someone proves me wrong.”

The third in the series of Workshops held by the JGSGO, “Find DNA Ancestors and Cousins,” will be held Thursday, Nov. 10 from 7 till 9 p.m. at UCF Hillel. The featured speaker will be genetic genealogist Diahan Southard, who has been in the field for 16 years. She will take the mystery out of DNA and provide the direction to accomplish your genealogy goals. The Workshop is free and open to the public. Please bring your own laptop to participate in the lab portion. It is also possible to attend live via the Internet.

Pre-registration is required to participate either in-person or online: http://www.jgsgo.org/MyJewishRoots. For more information about Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Orlando, visit http://www.jgsgo.org and “like” us at http://www.facebook.com/jgsgreaterorlando. Questions? Email info@jgsgo.org.


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