My sister Bobbie and I have always been aware of 75% of our family origins.  Grandmother Freda Belford Heller was from Minsk, Belarus.  Our mother Jeanne Bernstein Heller Polinsky’s parents were Samuel Bernstein and Sadie Roth Bernstein, both supposedly from a small village in eastern Austria.

 

 It was our father Hoyt Bernard “Bernie” Heller’s family line that we could not trace past his father Albert E. Heller.  All we knew of this man was that he originated from the East Stroudsburg, PA, area.

Our genealogy led us back to Johan Christopher Heller and his five sons that left Pheddersheim, Germany, in 1738 and helped colonize east-central Pennsylvania.  Johan Simon Heller is our first-generation ancestor; his son Isaac, the twelfth child, is the first Heller born in America.  We suspect our surprising Italian, Finnish, Iberian, Swedish and West African origins are from the women who married our male Heller ancestors.

  

There were 2,702 matches or new cousins. We have listed the first ten new first cousins twice or more removed. 

Our core Heller - Polinsky family enjoyed a mini-reunion Dec. 22 – 29, 2017.  Pictured in the group photo are my sister (R) Bobbie Heller Polinsky and her son Brett Polinsky.  Left side: her son Craig Polinsky, Arnold Heller, and Arnold Polinsky, Bobbie’s husband. 

Photo taken Dec. 28, 2017 at Chanson restaurant in Deerfield Beach, Florida. 

 

After we successfully traced our roots to Johan Christopher Heller and his sons, we kept searching European antecedents and discovered that their ancestors migrated from the Zurich area during the 1600’s to the Pheddersheim, Germany area. 

In the 1400’s and 1500’s, the Hellers – Fridli, Hans, Lorenz, Conrad Oder and his father Conrad - lived in the Brandenburg, Germany, area near Berlin.  We can only guess how long our ancestors lived there or any places before there.

Bobbie and I speculate that the Hellers may have originally been Jews and were forcibly converted to Christianity during Europe’s religious wars. We theorize this based on the 75% estimated proportion of Central European DNA – that Heller males carried Ashkenazim DNA and their wives contributed the other interesting strains.   

The Hellers who arrived in Philadelphia in 1738 were already fervent Lutherans probably from generations of religious practice.  The only possible Jewish source is a Becker who married into the family in the 1830’s. 

Two Hellers fought in the French & Indian War, eleven in the Revolutionary War, a dozen in the Civil War, and along with Bernsteins, Reitmans, Roths, Goldsteins, and Auerbachs, dozens fought in World War II.   

Our main discovery from this genealogy is that the Hellers are one of America’s great families and we are proud to be related. 

  

50 % of our DNA is pictured in this photo of my grandparents fiftieth wedding anniversary in 1954.  Standing center is Samuel Bernstein and Sadie Roth Bernstein who lived into their mid to late eighties.  The group includes their five children and spouses and our parents. 

Aunt Rose and Uncle Morris Bernstein, far left couple, divorced because Rose, Italian and Catholic, baptized their two children against his will.  Rose is not in our gene pool so she’s not part of our striking 8.3% Italian heritage.

Moving right, Uncle Irving Goldstein with daughter cousin Betty because his wife, our Aunt Rose, was ill.  Irving was of Romanian heritage.

Center, sitting: Uncle Joe and Aunt Minnie Bernstein; next couple Aunt Fannie and Uncle Harry Becker. 

Far right: Our parents, Jeanne Bernstein Heller and Bernie Heller.