Posted by Ancestry Team on January 12, 2017 in AncestryDNA
Photo courtesy Julie Martini

For her entire life, Julie Martini had considered herself German-American, even though she had been born with an Italian family name.

Looking to learn more about her family history, Julie joined Ancestry to find records that would uncover her Old World roots in Germany or, perhaps, Italy.

Documents and family links Julie found on Ancestry revealed that her great-grandfather had, in fact, been born in Wintrich, a tiny village of fewer than 1,000 people today, located in Germany’s west-central wine region.

And yet there was that name—Martini. Julie wondered how a German family from the Rhineland ended up with an Italian name. Were they—was she—Italian at all?

Can DNA Solve A Family Mystery?

AncestryDNA gave Julie a chance to find out. Using nothing more than a saliva sample, AncestryDNA can help pinpoint a person’s ethnic origins and map out regions of the world where his or her ancestors likely lived.

By comparing the DNA of Ancestry members, AncestryDNA can even suggest possible relatives that they may not even have known about.

AncestryDNA worked for Julie. It revealed that while her ethnic heritage was primarily German, she had a bit of Italian DNA in her cells!

That was enough for Julie to plan a trip to Italy and Germany, where her research and DNA test came together in a way she never imagined.

Unexpected Obstacles

The trip did not go entirely as Julie had planned. When she tried to look for historical and family records in the town hall of the German county where Wintrich was located, she found the building closed for construction.

And nobody there spoke enough English to tell Julie where the records had been moved. When she then decided to visit Wintrich to search for parish records relating to her ancestors’ births, marriages, and deaths, she was told that the village no longer had a church.

Wintrich, the German town where Julie hoped to find her ancestors' records
Wintrich the German town where Julie hoped to find her ancestors’ records

But there was one glimmer of hope: Someone in Wintrich’s village information center recognized the Martini surname and with the help of a phone book, found where Martinis still lived in Wintrich.

Knocking on a Stranger’s Door

After walking a few blocks to that home, Julie nervously rang the doorbell and waited while a German woman looked her over before opening the door. Julie handed Anne, the homeowner, a note containing the names of Martini’s great-grandfather and great-great grandfather.

With Anne’s English-speaking son translating for them, Martini asked about her ancestors. “Ja, ja,” Anne’s husband said. Yes, he knew those names. Martini had found the descendants of her great-grandfather’s brother!

A Family Mystery Solved

Over hugs, tears, and photos, Martini finally found out how her German family had come to have an Italian name—and Italian DNA.

The Martini family left Italy in the 1600s and settled in Wintrich, where they planted a vineyard in the fertile soil.

For more than 400 years, Julie’s German family bottled wine. In fact, Martini returned to the United States with two bottles of her ancestral vintage, a gift from her newly discovered cousins.

Wintrich wine grapes
Julie’s family had bottled wine in Wintrich for generations

It was DNA that led Julie to Wintrich. And it was also DNA that led Anne to open her door to an American stranger, as DNA, which shapes how we look, had given Julie a face that resembled Anne’s great-niece.

Thanks to one simple test, German-American Julie learned how she had been born with a Italian name. And you can learn the true origins of your family too.

– Sandie Angulo Chen

41 Comments

  1. Kristy

    How do I update my ancestry account . I have a new card can you email me and I will give you my new card. Thanks Kristy

  2. Bonnie Szydlowski

    Great story but I am wondering how she was able to see how much German and how much Italian DNA ethnicity. My DNA estimate just says Western European instead of differentiating. Is Ancestry working on better delineation of ethnic regions?

  3. Ann Lamb

    Bonnie, I don’t think the test differentiated between German and Italian. Julie already knew her family was from Germany and that her name was Italian.

  4. Keith Riegel

    Never go to a foreign country to do genealogy research without a good plan. Get the addresses and hours of the places you want to visit. Call ahead to make sure they’ll be open, even if you have to find someone to translate for you. Check something like the FamilySearch Wiki to see what types of records exist and when they began. For Germany, civil registration didn’t begin until 1876, so it wouldn’t make much sense to go to the town hall for ancestors from the 1600s. Most church records have been centralized into various repositories, depending on the denomination (Catholic, Protestant, etc.). And many of them have been digitized and put online at Ancestry, FamilySearch, and Archion.de. If you don’t speak the language or have an interpreter/translator, you will have a difficult time doing research in archives in a foreign country. Just reading the handwriting can be difficult without training and practice. Julie was lucky to find any Martinis left in Wintrich!

  5. toni

    I’ll give the add agency an A for creativity on this story. Makes ya wanna subscribe to ancestry, doesn’t it?

  6. Anthony Wilkinson

    Bonnie, theyd have differed because German/French is recorded as “Western European”, while italian and greek is grouped together 🙂

  7. Margaret Little

    Nice story, lucky Julie. Been disappointed in my DNA results, little or no feedback from the list of so called Cousins of various degrees of separation. Those that have trees on Ancestry hardly any have anyone remotely related to me, those that did never bothered to answer email – Still after 34yrs researching maybe there is no-one left to find.

  8. irene geels

    my DNA has verified what I found on Ancestry, with a surprise or two, however out of dozens of matches I only have found 2 that I know the common ancestor to. I find it very difficult to find matches on other members trees and extremely frustrating that members do not twin up their trees with their DNA

  9. Cardie

    I love that I went ahead a had my DNA done with a few surprises showing me 14 Pe r cent Irish. Had no idea of Irish in the family. Now new cousins are coming to light. My husband has found out by connecting with third cousins that his g grandfather isn’t related to him which means he has another surname. We are hoping a unknown new 2nd or 3rd cousin might pop up.

  10. I am a journalist with Kilimandjaro radio. Kilimandjaro is an online radio that focus on African news, African music and any thing African,. We would love to have you told to our listeners about Ancestry DNA particularly those whose DNA shows they 100% Africans. Thank you

  11. Janeane armstrong

    My mother as adopted at around 8 months of age after her mother Giving birth to her or shortly thereafter. We knew her surname and that she had 1 brother. Turns out she had 2 brothers and of course her father. The DNA test has shown me 2nd, 3rd and 4th cousins. I just wish they would respond to my messages.

  12. Janeane armstrong

    Corrected: My mother as adopted at around 8 months of age after her mother died Giving birth to her or shortly thereafter. We knew her surname and that she had 1 brother. Turns out she had 2 brothers and of course her father. The DNA test has shown me 2nd, 3rd and 4th cousins. I just wish they would respond to my messages

  13. Anna Hodgkison

    I did the DNA test and the results came back just after xmas. I was adopted and have met my birth mother but she would not tell me about my father. I had no idea that I would not only discover my father but also brothers sister and lots of cousins. I am so excited!

  14. Susan Fern Morrow

    Anna Hodgkison: your story is very fascinating. Can you tell us more about how your discovery came about?

  15. Member Services Social Support Team

    @Bonnie: You can find more information about the ethnicity by clicking on the region and we also have a number of helpful articles from the DNA results page. These can be accessed by clicking on the Question Mark Icon located in the top right of either of your results pages. But we will certainly pass along your feedback in relation to this and we hope to make this available in the future as we improve and expand our services.

  16. Elizabeth Cavlan

    I have been trying to find where in Ireland my great grandparents came from but for years have never been successful. I love reading a bout those who have found theirs. I have hope that one day it will happen for me.

  17. Julie Martini Dustin

    Hi everyone thank you for your comments on the Martini Family. If you have Italian DNA or at least on my test it was in a separate group. Not in the Western Europe catagory, which I also have. If you click on Western Europe it will break it down for you. My husband speaks German very well as he lived there for several years. There was no one around the building that knew where the files were during the reconstruction. That was part of the story that leaves you to wonder why we didn’t search more. But we also had the plan of going to the village as we were less than 30 minutes from there and had a rental car. My Great Grandfather left Germany when he was 14, which was in 1871. I was not looking for Ancestors from the 1600’s as I had no clue about that. I was just going to try and see my Great Grandfathers Birth Certificate from the Catholic Church as he was Catholic. I realize my story was pure luck on my part to stubble upon my family. Never, ever thought in 100 years this could of been the outcome. I was hoping to maybe also find a tombstone??? I guess I would encourage everyone of you to try and keep searching as you never know what you might fine. My Grandmother, my Mom’s mother, her maiden name was Hackenschmidt, born in Russia, part of the Germans from Russia. All we knew was the name of the village she was born in. Not even the correct spelling, but how it sounded. With that one little clue we found the village she was born in. Ask the oldest living family member any small details they might know. I happened to receive the Martini Family Bible insert from my Father. His Grandfather, my Great Grandfathet lived with his family bwfore he passed away. That is why I knew the date of his birth for my Great Grandfather. It had all the dates, his birth, his marriage to his wife with all the names of the their children. That piece of information was a blessing.

  18. Andrea morrison steffens

    I can no longer find my way in to my ancestry.com information. please help me find my way back. Thanks.

  19. Lisa J Woodward

    I received my DNA results back, whew I had no idea! I actually am very amazed about what it has revealed. From stories that I had been told, Indian, Irish, Scottish that was all I got. Whew and never meeting any grandparents, all passed away at young ages. So on with the search I go now, to find who these other people are!

  20. angie dawn bradley

    My son Parrish Bradley has never met his dad.and it could be Michael engine Johnson from Georgia. Or James Walter piper. Kansas or California.. Mom was from Ohio_ Linda Ann Anderson.
    And daddy was from minniapolis minisota and St Paul minisota.. I need help.. Please!!!!!

  21. Suzanne Donahoe Silvia

    DNA says 14 % Iberian peninsula that’s Spain I have not found any Spanish surnames. Could that be before surnames were recorded??Suzanne Donahoe

  22. Ihave been suring on-line greater thsn 3 hokurs lately, but I by nno meanns discovered aany attention-grabbing article ljke yours.
    It iss pretty wworth enough ffor me. Personally, if all web ownerrs
    and bloggerrs mwde ust right content ass youu did, tthe wweb sall bee a lot
    morfe hekpful than ever before.

  23. Member Services Social Support Team

    @Suzanne: The AncestryDNA reference panel contains 3,000 DNA samples from people in 26 global regions which go back up to 10 generations. The test goes back 500-1000 years. We would also note that Ethnicity does not necessarily respect National boundaries so it is not possible in all cases to distinguish between certain countries (England, Scotland and Wales for example). If you click on the region in your DNA results it will also show you more information here. We attached a link to an article here that explains more: http://ancstry.me/1On7OIu. We also have a number of helpful articles available from the DNA results page. These can be accessed by clicking on the question mark icon located in the top right of either of your results pages. There are 8 great articles here (on the ethnicity page). We hope you will find these helpful.

  24. Vickie Eichers Perkins

    I was shocked when I found out at 70 years old that my father was not my father. All relatives who could have provided info are all deceased. I don’t know how to begin a search.

  25. Ava Hiltermann

    Hi, I just got my results back from DNA. It shows mostly on my mother’s family side and none on my father’s side, based on DNA matches. I would want to know why. I love how the percentage of countries on DNA.

    I haven’t find any connections to my great grandfather Frank Kriess McRight line or my great Italian grandparents who are originally from Ancona, Italy of Casavecchia and Cardinali line, of direct ancestors. The DNA match I know was my cousin Kelly McCloy, lot unknown people.., that don’t have similar family ancestors.

    Can you be of help with this?

    Thank you,

    Ava Hiltermann

  26. Ruth Stockey

    I am going to be heretical here and say that I also was disappointed in the generalities shown by ancestry DNA. I also had my DNA done by 23 and me and it is a lot more detailed and includes the actual data from the chromosomes and shows which genes match. One of my cousins who I originally found on ancestry.com was also on this site, so it was good to confirm that the relationship that I knew about was also shown by the DNA. Maybe they won’t post this…but my 2 cents worth.

  27. June Toscani

    Interesting, as I am also born with an Italian name from Dutch parents. Dutch being very close language wise to low German as we recently found with a German friend and have the family tree back to the 1700’s and we are still in the Netherlands. I guess we have to go back further in the line like Julie. Haven’t done the DNA testing as yet, but planning on it.

  28. Norah Ossinger trecartin

    This is all so interesting… I have had myself, my mom and my son tested. next would like to get one of my brothers and my husband done. I was very surprised to see that I was 61% Western European…we thought we were mainly English and Irish….. This seemed to be a big percentage and was wondering why…

  29. Heather

    I have the results from myself and Daughter but found it hard to connect her to my family tree with her DNA results. Waiting for my Mother’s as these were all Christmas gifts sent in at different times. Should we have sent them in under my ancestry account, so they would show up on the same family tree? Found one person who is listed as a 5th cousin but now sure how we connect or where to start……need some assistance, wish it was more user friendly……hope for more info to confirm our family lineage…..you can send me a pm if you want, it is interesting though 🙂

  30. Helen Bowie

    Thank you so much! I really needed this explanation about DNA and how some siblings can be different that your own. Funny how you can get some genes and others not get it at all? Very interesting and great that you shared.

  31. June

    If ancesters were serfs on a lord’s lands wouldn’t their surname be that of the owner of the estate where thety

  32. jeweldean harris

    I have been on Ancestry for a few years and this last time I entered a new payment method they took my card but I lost my DNA RESULTS for myself and my sister I would like to get them back please thank you

  33. Two prominent examinations that are the Senior school certificate exam (SSC) for class 10th and Higher Secondary Certificate or intermediate exam for the 12th standard is held by the board

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