43 Shades of Grey… Chromosomes

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me” –     Psalm 139:13-16

Julia Tronkos with Grandmother, Aunt and Uncle in Livada_2

My Grandmother, Julia Tronkos (child) with her grandmother and Aunt Marie. ( Livada, Romania 1913) shortly after her father died and her mother Rose had immigrated to America.  The only piece I held to my Grandmother’s history.


     This past week I received the results from my Ancestry.com DNA test kit.   I have to say it has been worth every penny!  I received my package shortly after placing my order (on sale for $79.99) and I filled the vial with a sample which took less than a minute to complete. I placed it in the self returned package and ran back to the mailbox while crossing my fingers!

     The test allowed me some theoretical daydreaming.  My highest hopes would be to to find my elusive, Hungarian, great -grandfather.   I had no name, no date, nothing but the grey eyes that beam from my daughters faces. I always wondered where they got those gorgeous grey eyes? 


     My starting point was with my paternal Grandmother, Julia Tronkos. She  was born in Livada, Sutu- Mare Romania , on April 2, 1910 to Rozalia Julianna. Everyone called her “Rose”.

I only had some sketchy stories that were passed down to me.   I was told  Julia’s father was a decorated soldier in the Austro-Hungarian Army and his life was tragically cut short by a train accident when my grandmother was just a few years old. 

     The story always seemed questionable.  How could a mother leave her daughter behind and move to America to begin a new life?  I was unable to find a marriage certificate, a death certificate or any tangible evidence that supported the tale. I realized something serious must have impacted her decision. My suspicions were later confirmed when I found documents listing my grandmother shared the same surname as her mother.  I became determined to learn more and hoped  DNA might point me in the right direction. It seemed to be a needle in a genetic haystack. Who was this unnamed soldier? 


     I also hoped to find more details about my ethnic background using the latest scientific innovations that now make it possible to discover Ancestors through DNA. That was their slogan but I still was a bit pessimistic.  It played on those commercials that incessantly revolved on my TV. Was I about to “trade in my Lederhosen for a kilt”?Ancestry.com DNA kit

     I was about to find something even better!  A few weeks passed and an alert posted that my results were in. I excitedly logged on to my Ancestry.com account to see what they found.  My genetic profile came back  34% from Great Britain, 32% Eastern European and to my surprise, I was possibly 3% Armenian/Caucus  and 1 % Middle Eastern.  That certainly explained my dark features.   I looked over my DNA “Cousin Connections” and the profile pictures of my genetic family stared back at me.  81 pages worth ! Most
Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 7.16.50 PMwere distant cousins four to eight times removed but the very first one on the list was an orange circle that stated was my second cousin.  My second cousin?!   Following it was the notation: “extremely high” match .   I was able to click on the members page and reviewed the tree who shared the same DNA as me.  It noted we shared a great -grandparent but despite scrolling through his tree,  I couldn’t figure out how we were related.  I wasn’t able to recognize any of the surnames.  Coincidently, the family was also from Satu-Mare Romania.  I reached out to the tree owner to ask a few questions.

     I was answered quickly by  Sandy,  who told me that our common ancestor was Jozef Stekli . He was born about 1888 in Turterebes, Satu Mare Romania and he didn’t pass away until , (ahem), 1935 in America.  My interest was piqued since this was just 12 miles from where my grandmother was born.  Sandy told me that he had married a woman named Anna Muha in 1922 but she had been told he had been previously engaged.  My eyebrows raised a bit more when she told me he had been a soldier in the Autro- Hungarian Army as the veterinarian for the Royal Lipizanner  Stallions.   A few clicks on Ancestry.com’s military records revealed Jozef had been stationed in Livada, Satu Mare!  

This DNA meant Joseph Stelki was my great grandfather.  Mystery solved.  Suddenly, just like this photograph , my history had been torn in half, and this amazing portrait was emerging. Jozef Stekli


     Sandy was kind enough to take the time to share as much information  she had on Jozef Stekli and his family who later immigrated to Dayton, Ohio in the mid 1920’s.  She had some old tattered photographs under her bed and carefully scanned them to send me. It  flashed across my computer screen and I couldn’t get over the uncanny resemblance to my father.


Joseph Stekli and his Grandson, William Leopold.

I contacted an expert on the regiments of the Austria-Hungarian Army and he was able to make some conclusions based on the photographs.  He concluded, ”  In the picture with the 2 stars on his collar, your great grandfather  is wearing a cavalry uniform.  He is a corporal.  (I thought that he was possibly an officer being a veterinarian but he is not listed in any of the officer Militar Schematismus.)  In the picture with 3 stars, he is wearing the standard uniform of the infantry.  The 3 stars indicate he was either a zugsfuher (platoon leader) or a feldwebel (a sergeant).

I went from knowing nothing to all this wonderful information.  This DNA test proved something in a tangible way: I was connected, not only to uncover my great grandfather  but also in the historic world—God’s huge family of wonderfully created people. He made this possible by fashioning DNA to pass on to our descendants—a fundamental code that determines hair color, eye color, and, of course, much, much more—using 23,000 genes spread across 46 chromosomes, half from each parent. We carry this information on from generation to generation as it changes and combines in new and different ways, creating something unique.


 Bess, (my father’s sister) compared to her cousin Irene- daughter of Joseph Stekli.


I couldn’t help but smile when I pulled up Josef’s New York Passenger list from 1922. He would have been standing alongside thousands of weary but hopeful immigrants in the great halls of Ellis Island. The inspection process would last approximately three to five hours. Doctors would briefly scan every immigrant for obvious physical ailments and Joseph was listed as 5 feet 7 inches tall, with brown hair and grey eyes.


Thousands of genes expressing not only the beauty of God’s creativity but the wonderful connection we all share as His children. 


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