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Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Spitting in a vial to find the past
Howard Schwach

A few months ago, I spit into a vial all the way up to the black line and sent my spit away to a laboratory in California.

Now, thanks to a new DNA identification program driven by Ancestry.com, the results are in.

I am 77 percent European and Jewish.

No surprise there, since I have known for several years that my great-grandfather, Samuel Schwach, came to New York City in 1891 on the steam-ship Noordland from Kisvarda, Hungary.

He was the first of a long line of people with the Schwach name to live in New York City and specifically in Rockaway.

I used to tell a story that my children and grandchildren found funny.

The word “Schwach” means weak in the Yiddish language, the now all-but-archaic language spoken by my forbearers in Europe.

I told my family that our ancestors had a different, unknown name, and when the clerk at Ellis Island asked Samuel what his name was, he thought that he was asked how he felt, and answered “Schwach.”

Thanks to Ancestry.com, I now know that story is not true and so do my grown children and their children.

Why is that important? Because I think that everybody — especially kids — should have an idea of where they came from, not only geographically, but culturally as well.

Obviously, lots of people agree with me. Family trees are becoming big business on the internet and there are several high-profile television series in which celebrities and others search their roots with the help of professionals.

I never used a professional, but I have used sites such as Ancestry.com and JewGen.com to find not only dead relatives, but living ones as well.

I found lots of interesting information — interesting to me, at least, but my grandchildren have begun to show an interest as well, which is the point of the exercise.

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Howard Schwach
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