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Hello again, all you Gerstenberger and Gerstenberg descendants!

While going through the Relative Genetics Website, I suddenly realized that
many of you have probably not seen the write-up there for our Gerstenberger
DNA Project (if you search by surnames, and click on Gerstenberger or
Gerstenberg, it will take you there.) Anyway, it was written last July, and
describes something of the purpose and the goals of the project. Here it


A little over ten year ago, a definitive work was published on the surname
GERSTENBERGER as found in the United States. It is titled "The Gerstenberger
Immigrants and Their Descendants in America - A Compendium of Vital
Statistics", by Duane & Ruthelma Gerstenberger, and is believed to include
90+ percent of all Gerstenbergers who have or are living in the U.S.

13 immigrants arriving between 1830 and 1910 established ongoing
Gerstenberger families. Several others arrived later and/or had small
families. The research was directed at tracing these immigrant families
forward to the present, and back as far as possible. One major goal was to
attempt to connect the various families. In this the authors were
unsuccessful, even though two of the immigrants came from cities 10 km.

We now have the opportunity to determine if these are separate and distinct
families, or if they are related, and even how closely! Y-chromosome DNA
analysis will give us this information!

But this is just the beginning of the story. Besides the emigrants to the
U.S., one family of Gerstenbergers emigrated to Bessarabia, on the Black
Sea, and grew into a large family. They had been offered special privileges
by Russia; in 1871 Russia rescinded these privileges, and an exodus began.
Many spread from Bessarabia back to Germany, to the U.S., Canada, and
Brazil. Their family history is extremely well documented in the monograph,
"Die Gerstenberger in Bessarabia - Ihre Ahnen und Nachkommen". Their
relationships with each other are quite well known, but again, it is not
known how are they related to the other Gerstenberger families? DNA has the

About ten years after the publication of "The Gerstenberger Immigrants . .
.", a dentist in Berlin, Arnt Gerstenberger, began working toward a "World
Wide Gerstenberger/Gerstenberg Family Reunion", to be held in August 2002 in
the town of Gerstenberg, which was then celebrating it's 775th Anniversary!
There were about 75 attendees, equally divided between the U.S. and Germany.
(Arnt believes the Gerstenberger and Gerstenberg families are related,
whereas Duane believes they are separate and distinct families - now we are
ready to find out for sure, and I am ready and waiting!).

Thus, our preliminary goals at this time are:

Determine if Gerstenbergers are one family or many

Determine if Gerstenbergs are one family or many

See if Gerstenbergers and Gerstenbergs are related

If more than one family, determine which, if any, of the various U.S.
families are related

Find lost relatives in Germany, Hungary, Poland, Brazil, New Zealand, etc.

You can become a part of this exciting adventure. Write me at for further information. This is a newly formed
group. We are looking for additional participants. Individuals interested in
collaborating on family history and using genetic testing to assist our
research efforts are encouraged to join.


Daughtering Out

Is our Gerstenberger surname in danger of “daughtering out”?  That’s what it is called when a surname disappears over time, due to having no children or having only daughters.  And it happens with alarming frequency and speed!  It appears to happen even if the numbers of boys and girls born are approximately equal, especially if the families are small.

The ratio of boys to girls at birth has remained constant over the past 200 years at about 1.06 boys to 1.0 girl.  With a slightly higher infant mortality for boys, by reproductive age the numbers are close to equal.  But this does not apply to each individual family – some families have more boys and some have more girls, and the predilection for one or the other is often spread across the entire extended family.  Because of this fact, some surnames ‘daughter out’ much more rapidly, in as little as four generations!

Now, let’s suppose that when surnames came into use in about the 12th century, 25 young men from different families left Gerstenberg to seek their fortunes elsewhere (that’s 25 different Y-chromosome DNA patterns).  Each later chose to be called ‘Gerstenberger’, from place of origin, rather than being named after his occupation, father’s given name, or whatever.

Several of these Gerstenberger families are going to ‘daughter out’ over the next 10 or 20 generations, reducing the number of different DNA patterns.  And some of them are going to be at the opposite end of the spectrum, and have many, many sons, so that their particular DNA pattern is spread far and wide.  Over time, those with many sons will become a majority of all those with that surname.

Of course, we occasionally see new DNA patterns emerge as Gerstenbergers.  On page 282 of the book, you will notice that Joseph was adopted Gerstenberger – he now has 9 male descendants, who are spreading his DNA pattern.  Infidelity also plays a role – in a large family, sometimes an older daughter has a son before marriage, and the son is raised by the parents as their own, with their surname.  I’m sure you can think of other possibilities.

Now, let's go back to the original question.  I went through the book, and counted every male and every female born to each of the several families.  Here are the results, starting with the family with the highest percentage of male offspring, and going down to the family with the lowest, or put another way, the highest percentage of female offspring.


                                                Males                            Females

MA       (4 Generations)             76%  (27)                     24%  (  7)

WI        (6 Gen.)                        65%  (28)                     35%  (15)

E-OH1  (5 Gen.)                        63%  (19)                     37%  (11)

TX        (6 Gen.)                        63%  (66)                     37%  (39)

MI        (6 Gen.)                        63%  (115)                    37%  (69)

MN       (4 Gen.)                        58%  (63)                     42%  (45)

2nd NY  (3 Gen.)                        57%  (13)                     43%  (10)

KS        (5 Gen.)                        55%  (68)                     45%  (56)

W-OH   (6 Gen.)                        51%  (36)                     49%  (34)         Without adopted – 49%  (27)                  51%  (28)

E-OH2  (6 Gen.)                        50%  (37)                     50%  (37)

IL         (5 Gen.)                        49%  (25)                     51%  (26)

1st NY   (3 Gen.)                        48%  (14)                     52%  (15)

IA         (5 Gen.)                        41%  (33)                     59%  (47)


Interesting?  It looks like we are in pretty good shape, with nine of the families producing over 50% males.  So far, the largest family is our combined KS-MN family.

 Some Genealogical Food for Thought

In doing Genealogy, some are interested in tracing all possible ancestors, and all the descendants of those ancestors, assuming, correctly, to be related to them all.  Others might want to limit their search to just those individuals who had passed genes on to them – the information contained in an Ahnentafel.  Even the latter limit rapidly grows into an enormous number.  After only 10 generations, there are 512 individuals, at 15 generations it is 16,384, and that’s, on average, less than 300 years back!

Genetic Genealogy puts a whole new spin on this problem, that is, the problem of limiting the numbers to something less than overwhelming.  In the first instance, we can readily see that most all of our genes are such a mixture of thousands of individuals, that we really can’t claim relationship to any of them, back very far – how about 1 part in 16,384?  Would you get excited about that?

Now, turn the coin over.  As a male, I get many genes on my Y-chromosome from my father, his father, etc., from way back, virtually unchanged!  Now this is interesting!  And ladies, don’t feel left out: your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother (well, you get the idea), has passed on her Mitochondrial DNA, again, almost intact, for many generations.  Of course, your brother gets it, too, but he can’t pass it on, only you can.

So you see, I got my Y-chromosome DNA from a man in the distant past by a direct line, and my Mitochondrial DNA from a woman in the distant past, passed from mother to daughter until it reached my mother, who gave it to me.  So if I were to wonder who I am most closely related to in the distant past, it is one man and one woman, who perhaps lived worlds apart, and very little related to the 16,000 or 16,000,000 ‘ancestors’.

What we need, as Brian Sykes suggested, is a ‘matriname’ to go along with our ‘surname’.  Then we would be able to keep track of our female line, as well as our male line.  It is so difficult now – my mother was born a “Youngs” but that was the name of her father, not her mother, who passed Mitochondrial DNA to her; her mother was a “Keller”, again the father’s name, and then a “Hartl”, who was really a “Wolf”, etc.  Confusing, isn’t it!  And Mary Wolf was Austrian!  I had never before considered myself to be part Austrian.  Who knows – perhaps I, too, am distantly related to the Iceman!

And here’s something else to think about.  My matriname is not the same as that of my children???