Finding John Costello, updates

Finding John Costello – A DNA Journey: Isidore Fried & Sarah Esther Salzman, the Beginning of the End

Finding John Costello


The very first MRCA couple that I identified for my John Costello DNA matches were Isidore Fried & Sarah Esther Salzman.

I remember being so excited when I connected four of their living descendants!  I had a couple to research that had to be fairly close relatives of John Costello.  And so, research them I did.  I am.  It’s ongoing.

They haven’t been the easiest couple to research.  Their family was quite fractured.

That should have been a clue.

So while I have been digging, searching, analyzing, and sometimes throwing records back into the pile of possibilities, I have kept up my DNA gathering efforts.

I have this lovely little pile of DNA kits sitting in my office.  Five AncestryDNA kits and three 23andMe DNA kits.  I so desperately want to send them off to family members who might help bring more pieces of John’s story to my table.  I’ve offered them to far more people than the eight who can actually use them.  But there they sit.  Unclaimed.

There are seven very specific people that I would really like to test.  In my family, Vince and Virginia, the two living children of John.  In cluster #1, there are three living grandchildren of Isidore and Sarah that I would like to test.  And in cluster #2, there are two living great-grandchildren of Samuel Fried that I would like to test.

Despite my efforts, those prospective test takers still remain on my wish list.

A few weeks ago, I actually made a wish list with pen and paper and assigned each kit to a person.  At the time, I had nine kits.  I realized that I had a “surplus” of two – sort of.  I really want to convince Vince and Virginia to take two tests each – one from each vendor.  But since I was making absolutely no progress on that, I started toying with the idea of “wasting” a test on my Mom’s sister, Vince’s daughter.

It wouldn’t really be a waste at all, unless of course, Vince ends up testing.  But he hasn’t, and I don’t know that he will.

So, I asked my Auntie V if she would take a test.  She was worried it was a waste of money.  I assured her it was not.  She agreed, the test was mailed, she completed it right away and the wait was on.

Mentally, I was preparing for the possibility that her results wouldn’t eliminate any of the possible relationships between our family and our two close DNA clusters.  I didn’t want to be disappointed.

When I got the email that her results were being processed, I tried not to count the days.  But I couldn’t help myself, I was fairly certain her results would be done on about Wednesday the 8th of May.

But then, Sunday morning, the email came in telling me that her results were here.

I logged in.

I checked our key matches on 23andMe – there are three.

I opened my document that is filled to the brim with charts.  I started plugging data into those charts.  I started checking the numbers using the Shared cM tool.  I logged the new data, assigned the appropriate probability grouping, and color-coded each new entry.

When I got to the hypotheses for our family group compared to the Isidore Fried & Sarah Esther Salzman descendants, I had ten theories to test.

Hypothesis after hypothesis was eliminated until at last I was left with only two possibilities.

Only two.


Are you ready for this?


Take a breath.


No, not you, me.


“Can it really be true?” she whispers before she types.


Here goes…


John Costello is either the brother of Isidore Fried or Sarah Esther Salzman or, surprisingly, John Costello is Isidore Fried.


Let that soak in for a second.


Two possibilities.



Either way, all of that delight upon identifying my first MRCA couple among my John Costello matches was well deserved.  The statement that I have made many times since that moment – that I need to learn EVERYTHING I can about Isidore and Sarah – is absolutely true.

Isidore and Sarah are the beginning of the end of my John Costello journey.


Now Grandpa Costello, which is it?  Are you the brother, or are you, Isidore?

If you are Isidore, what on earth were you doing in the almost six years between when you skipped out on your parole in Illinois and when you showed up in Spokane, Washington?  Methinks I smell a story here.  A story that I will likely only ever be able to speculate about…


Now, dear readers, can you believe it?!  The list of possible answers to my question was narrowed down significantly by the spit of a person who wasn’t even on my DNA test-takers wish list.  How remarkable.


Also, ummm… I am now just separated from the answer to my overarching question by the tiniest list of documents.  A marriage, a birth, another birth or two, and suddenly that gigantically empty hole in my tree will start to fill in.  Somebody pinch me – this hardly feels real!




21 thoughts on “Finding John Costello – A DNA Journey: Isidore Fried & Sarah Esther Salzman, the Beginning of the End”

  1. Wow. Just wow. Is there any way you can explain (in terms that someone who doesn’t deal well with numbers and statistics!) how you reached this conclusion based on this one more DNA test? I am just amazed by what you’ve been able to do!!

    1. Thank you, Amy!

      Hmmm… I hope I can explain this in a way that makes sense. I’ll try, here goes.

      The first big step is organizing your two clusters – how is everyone in that cluster connected to each other. I use the two people who are most closely related based on number of cMs to generate a list of possible relationships between them. Then I cross off any that are absolutely impossible logically – like two women born about ten years apart are not likely to be great-great-aunt and great-great-niece. I do leave some that seem highly unlikely just to rule them out with the numbers. Then I set up relationship charts for the two clusters based on all of the possible relationships on the list. Then I chart all of the shared cMs between every member of both clusters. Then I use the shared cM tool on DNA painter to check and see if the hypothesized relationship is possible based on the shared cMs between everybody.

      The reason Auntie V’s results ruled out so many people is because she shared a lot more cMs with one match from the other cluster than anyone else does. That really is the trick of it all – finding the edges of the family relationships through the highest and lowest matches between the two clusters.

      I wonder if I should write a post…

      1. Thank you, Amberly! That really helps. And a post would be great especially if you have a way to illustrate some of these steps. I know you’ve done this before, but I just got too overwhelmed by numbers and got a little lost. I once tried DNA painter a few years ago and got a severe headache!

        As I commented on Facebook, I really wish I could take a course from you on how you did this. I am not sure one blog post would do it! Maybe an online course somewhere. I’d pay to take it!

        1. You are welcome, Amy!

          Okay, deal, I’ll work on a post for you and try to reduce the numbers talk. 😉

          Oh wow, I wish I were even a little bit qualified to do that. Maybe one day…

            1. I agree. I would love more info on matching DNA. I don’t even try to do that. I just go by the family stories I know on how people were related and the lists of people and family tree I made from talking to all my grandparents years ago.

              1. Thank you, Ellen! I have it on my list, I’m hoping to get something written up for next week. ❤️

    1. Thank you, Sheila! It means a lot to have so many people rooting for me. ❤️❤️❤️

    1. Thank you, Cathy! I’ve added it to my list. Hopefully I can get something written up for next week. ❤️

  2. I am beginning to Love John Costello and his story! I can’t wait to find out if he is Isadore. But then that would make so much sense as to why he kept to his story!!

    1. Thank you, Ellen! I love him too, despite his seemingly extensive efforts to hide his identity. 😉

  3. I held my breath, I really did! How wonderful that your hunch paid off.
    I have given DNA test kits to my sister & my son. They’ve had them for 2 years!! My sister is suspicious that the test results may be used against her!😳😳 Heaven only knows why. My son’s possibly just lazy! This isn’t an inexpensive endeavor for me. Stinkers, both!!
    I’ve used 2 different companies & I am sorry about that now because the results for my 3 daughters are SO different. Guess I’ll dig in & buy more to see if I can receive results that at least reflect they are my children!!
    What do you think of DNA done by Heritage?

    I appreciate any assistance except holding a gun to their heads.
    Thanks so much from your Cousin Nancy.

    1. Hello Nancy! I am impressed with the tools that MyHeritage DNA has. Their database is still on the small side, but if they keep up the good work it’s bound to grow.

      I’m sorry your kits are sitting unused! I know the feeling well. Maybe suggest they register them with just initials? No reason they can’t do that. 😉

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