• Dr. Adina

Why I Was Rooting for Uruguay in the World Cup (And Didn't Even Know It)

I'll be honest, I really don't like soccer (or football for my non-American readers). Just never cared about it, and truth be told, I'm not watching any of the games.


However, I've still been exposed to all things World Cup, especially in the genealogy world. 23andme ran a marketing campaign, "Root for Your Roots," that assigned you teams to cheer based on your DNA. As an Ashkenazi Jew, I was told to root for Russia, Poland, and Iran, despite no known connection to any of these countries and some complicated history. MyHeritage ran the DNA results of eight soccer legends, surprising them with their own ethnicity results and documenting their reactions.

Now that Poland and Iran are out, 23andme tells me I should be all in for Russia.

But none of this really meant anything to me, until I saw Uruguay trending on Twitter because of their heartbreaking loss in the quarterfinals to France. I was sad, despite not having watched the game nor even knowing there was a game until after the fact.


Why did I care all of a sudden? When I see Uruguay, I think about family I've never known, but long to find.


My great-grandmother, Bessie (Gailis) Klane, immigrated to the U.S. in 1905. I knew nothing about her family besides the recorded names of her parents on her death certificate. Fortunately, using Jewishgen.org, I was able to confirm not only her parents' names, but also that she had a sister, Hana, who married Josif Pres. This information jogged my first cousin once removed's memory of his grandmother Bessie attending a wedding of her sister's child in Uruguay in the 1950s.

Marriage for Hana Gailis and Josif Pres found on Jewishgen.org.

Because of privacy laws, I've had a very difficult time finding my great-grandmother's sister's family. I haven't even been able to locate the ship manifest for their arrival in Uruguay, although I believe those records are closer to appearing online. However, when I found cemetery records for an Ana and José Press in Montevideo, my hunch was this was my family.


Uruguay Civil Registration Index Card for Genia Press Gailis found on FamilySearch.

Yet, not until FamilySearch recently published the Uruguay Civil Registration index for 1900-1937, did I get confirmation. Just searching by the last name "Pres" yielded a record for a daughter, Genia Press Gailis, born in 1932, with Ana and José as parents. I had been correct! Perhaps it was Genia's wedding that my great-grandmother attended after not seeing her sister for almost 50 years.

My great-grandmother on a passenger manifest traveling from Uruguay back to the USA.

At this point, I've reached out to various Jewish organizations in Montevideo, but have yet to turn up any more clues. Hopefully, with some more patience and growth of commercial DNA sales, I will one day reunite with my great-grandmother's family.

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