My German DNA Success Story

I recently had a breakthrough on my mother’s side with an autosomal DNA match. It was on her Rathfelder side which is the rarest as far as DNA matches go. Apparently there aren’t many Rathfelders around and very few that have taken DNA tests.

Here is the summary of my success:

  1. My mom’s Rathfelder ancestors lived in Riga, Latvia. Based on this I did a search under my mom’s results at AncestryDNA for matches from Riga, Latvia.
  2. I was fortunate to find someone with a large match.
  3. I got in touch with the match and asked the administrator to put the results on
  4. The administrator of the match put the results up on This is the step that happens rarely – to me at least.
  5. I checked the results against a Rathfelder 2nd cousin’s DNA I had tested and there was a good match there also.
  6. I did some genealogy and found where the match likely was.

The Ancestry DNA Riga Search

When I put in Riga, Latvia, under the AncestryDNA search criteria for my mom’s kit, I found the match. It was the largest Riga match she had after my my 2 sisters and myself. Here is a screen shot of the match with cM’s shared and my note that the match was in Riga.

Match in Riga

I was a little surprised that AncestryDNA had the relationship at 4th cousin, based on the 6 segments shared. I would think that it would be closer than that.

The Match in Gedmatch

Here is the same match at gedmatch:


Note that Gedmatch shows fewer segments (4) but a higher total cMs. Gedmatch estimates 3.8 generations to a common ancestor. That sounds like a 3rd cousin to me.

All Roads Lead to Hirschenhof

My mom’s match had as the most distant Riga ancestor someone by the name of Spengel. I knew that all my mom’s ancestors lived in Hirschenhof, Latvia, prior to moving to Riga. That meant that the match was likely in Hirschenhof. I did a quick Google search for Spengel and Hirschenhof and came up with some results. I tried the match’s other ancestors with Hirchenhof and found no results. Here are my mom’s Hirschenhof 1st and 2nd great grandparents. They would represent 2nd and 3rd cousin matches:

Hirschenhof Ancestors

Time for Some Hirschenhof Genealogy

Here is the Linden Evangelical Lutheran Church outside Hirschenhof where my mom’s ancestors got baptized, confirmed, married and had their funerals.

Linden Church

I like the photo because it appears to show people sledding down the hill by the Church. Also because it looks like this picture could have been taken in New England where I live as well as Hirschenhof, Latvia.

Raduraksti is the website I like to use for Latvian genealogy. That is where I was able to find the Linden Church records. They are listed under Draudzes, Liepkalnes. I had to look up draudzes. It means congregations. Liepkalnes is apparently the Latvian name for Linden. My mom’s match’s grandfather was Friedrich Spengel. I was able to find his birth and baptismal record here:

Friedrich Spengel Birth

I could tell that Friedrich, Bernhard was born in 1859 based on the index and note at the top of the page. I could tell that his dad was Johanne Georg [something] Spengel married to a Rathfelder. However, I had no idea what the first name of Friedrich’s Rathfelder mother. I wrote to a Rathfelder relative in Germany named Inge for help. In the meantime, I discovered that there was a Wilhelmine Rathfelder in the index to the church records. Here is her birth record in 1844.

Wilhelmine birth

Now that I know it says Wilhelmine, I can read it. Before that, the ‘W’ looked like a ‘Dr’ or ‘Lr’ to me! Here I recognized Wilhelmine’s parents as my mother’s great grandparents: Johann Rathfelder and Rosine Schwechheimer. Here from my web page is the family:

Johannes family

This shows that in my research, I was missing Wilhelmine. However, there was plenty of time for her to be born between February 1843 and 1844. It seemed clear that my mom and her match had as their common ancestors Johannes Rathfelder and Rosine Schwechheimer. However there were a few problems.

the problems with WILHELMIne
  1. There were 2 Wilhelmine Rathfelders
  2. With the above scenario, my mom and her match would be 2nd cousins. Ancestry showed them as 4th cousins and gedmatch seemed to indicate that they would be closer to 3rd cousins, but not 2nd cousins.
  3. If Friedrich Spengel’s father married this Wilhemine, then this Wilhelmine would have been 15 when Friedrich was born.
Two Wilhelmine Rathfelders

I’ve heard it said that you learn something new every day. In looking up information on Lutheran Church records, I discovered that it would be normal for a child to be named after the godparent. This was certainly true here. Friedrich Spengel was named for his godfather Friedrich Niclas.

Here is what Inge tells me concerning her reading of Wilhelmine’s baptismal record:

You found out yourself, that no. 58 of the Linden churchbook is an entry like follows

I am sure, you still are knowing:

Wilhelmine Rathfelder,(born July, 2nd, baptized July, third (dritten)

Vater Tischler Joh(ann) Rathfelder, M(utter) Rosina geb. Schwechheimer

Taufzeugen Jungfer Wilhelmine Rathfelder, Tischler Heinr(ich) L├╝tken und Fr(au) Philippine geborene Rathfelder

A Jungfer is an unmarried female.

So what I get out of this is that Wilhelmine Rathfelder had an unmarried godparent with the same first and last names that she had.

So Who was Friedrich Spengel’s Mother?

Prior to writing this blog, I was leaning toward the younger Wilhelmine as being Friedrich’s mother. Now I am leaning toward the older godmother. This is based partly on the DNA results. I am guessing that the godmother could have been Wilhelmine’s Aunt. Here is what I have for Johannes’ family. I think that he actually had other siblings that I don’t yet know about. Perhaps he had a sister named Wilhemine.

Johannes' Parents

That’s as far as I got on the genealogy. There is more work to do.

The Spengel Match Helps With My Chromosome Mapping

I have mapped most of my chromosomes and my 2 sisters’ chromosomes to my 4 grandparents. This shows for each chromosome the portion of DNA my sisters and I received from each grandparent represented in 4 different colors. I used a method developed by Kathy Johnston. For example, here is how I had mapped out Chromosome 17:

Chromosome 17

My sisters are S and H. I am J. Note on my mother’s side (on the top of each bar) I have maternal grandparent 1 and 2 because I could not tell who was who. Now with the known Spengel descendant match, I can tell which is Rathfelder (my mother’s father’s line) and which is Lentz (my mother’s mother’s line). Here is how gedmatch shows the Spengel match. Remember that Spengel had a Rathfelder mother, so will indicate the Rathfelder line.

Chr 17 Gedmatch

Above, #1 corresponds to my sister Heidi (H) and #2 corresponds to my sister Sharon (S). My mom is #3. Note that The green matches for daughters #1 and #2 shouldn’t be larger than the mother #3, but they are. I show no match to my mother’s match on this Chromosome. Due to the the location of the Spengel matches above, this tells me that MG2 above has to be Rathfelder. That leaves MG1 as Lentz. Now I can add the real names of the grandparents that my sisters and I got our maternal DNA from on Chromosome 17.

Chr 17 Rev

That means if my 2 sisters have a maternal match with anyone after 9 or 11 on their Chromosome 17, it would be with someone who is a Rathfelder or Rathfelder ancestor. If I have a maternal match with anyone in that area, it would be with a Lentz or Lentz ancestor. This is quite helpful to know.

My mom’s Spengel descendant match will also help in updating my family’s Kitty Munson Chromosome Map. However, before I do that, I will want to confirm which Rathfelder is the common ancestor between my mom and her new match.

Summary and Conclusions

  • I’m grateful that this Rathfelder match showed up as one of AncestryDNA’s 2 million customers
  • I may have been able to find out the same information in the first part of the blog leading up to the Rathfelder common ancestor without using gedmatch.
  • Gedmatch gave me more confidence in where to look. I knew I needed to look for Rathfelder ancestors in Hirschenhof.
  • I wouldn’t be able to map any DNA without gedmatch. AncestryDNA does not tell me on what Chromosomes that I match. For me, this is where a lot of the fun is in genetic genealogy.
  • This genetic match has pointed out a some holes in my genealogy. In order to nail down these DNA matches, one has to also nail down the genealogy and include many siblings.
  • I didn’t have either Wilhelmina Rathfelder in my genealogy, so this helped improve my Rathfelder genealogy.
  • The Spengel descendant didn’t know of any Rathfelder or Hirschenhof ancestry, so that has helped my mom’s match learn more about their genealogy.
  • I am grateful for AncestryDNA in supplying the match; I am grateful for the match in posting to gedmatch; I am grateful for gedmatch; I am grateful for the Raduraksti web site; and lastly I am grateful for my German cousin with Hirschenhof Rathfelder roots for helping me to understand the Church Registers.


2 Replies to “My German DNA Success Story”

  1. My grand-grand father and grand-grand mother where also married at this church in 1873. They later moved to Riga. I have the marriage certificate in Latvian.
    His name is Carl Friedrich Peter Kist (schneider)
    her name is Emilie Charl Kroeger .

    While on this subject Latvia, Riga, etc. Two days ago at the gym I work out in, I meet a gentleman who was born in Riga, like me, and whose parents probably knew my parents in Riga. What are the odds for that?
    Anyway, so much for that.
    Ivar Kist

    1. Thanks Ivar,

      Yes, I find that of my 4 grandparents, the Germans from Latvia appear to be the most obscure. However, there are others out there with the same heritage. Roberta Estes who is quite the DNA and genealogy blogger has also wondered at the immigration of Germans in that not all of them traveled to the US. Some went East or elsewhere. I think she called it backwards immigration.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *