Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Alexandra Schlecki spent years trying to find out the identity of her great-grandfather, from the family line
A genetic test has successfully identified a British woman’s great-grandson, 93 years after he went missing in Malta.
Alexandra Schlecki, 31, from Cambridge, has told how the test returned a 70% match with the man whose DNA was missing from her mother’s son by marriage.
Sergio Polaski disappeared after becoming separated from his flight in 1940.
It is the first time a possible match between a man and a person of Maltese origin has been discovered using DNA testing.
The original man went missing on the Isle of Man on 12 January 1940. His wife married another man after his disappearance and Nicola and her father Andrew were unaware that their grandfather was missing.
In 2007, Nicola discovered Sergio’s brother, who was then in the Maltese military, had died.
A DNA test initially failed to solve the mystery of what happened to Sergio, but a second test on her mother’s brother and the family he had married confirmed it was him.
Alexandra applied to the family after coming across the Daily Mail article about her ancestor’s discovery, but the family couldn’t see any trace of Sergio – he would have been 93 by then.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Alexandra’s search for her great-grandfather led her back to Malta, which lost nearly half its population in the Mussolini and Hitler battle
Fortunately, one of her mother’s maiden names was Polaski and so she decided to send it to ancestry.co.uk, a US-based research company which tests for certain genetic differences and regions in different countries.
Analysing the DNA of 11,000 people from their study of Maltese families, the site told the family there was a 70% likelihood that their match matched his mother’s brother.
“He came back with two tasters and in each one he matched absolutely perfectly. And so it was simple, I just sat there with him to have a bit of a tug in the arm that was now with me,” Alexandra told the BBC.
The family have since made an online announcement of the DNA match, to raise awareness of Sergio’s story and to try to trace the other relatives of those who went missing in Malta in the 1940s.
The search led the family back to Malta, where he was born in 1921 and still lived, and they have been trying to pinpoint some of the relatives of those who went missing.
DNA stored at the archive library at the National Museum of Historical and Maritime Archaeology in Malta suggests he is related to a woman there who might know some of the other family members.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Sergio lived in Malta for nearly two decades before being arrested at the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944
The family have all gone to Malta to meet the woman who appears to have a connection with Sergio. The meeting is due to take place next week.
So far they have been unable to match his maternal grandmother with any of her descendants.
“Malta is still not home for us yet, but the hope is that before we go back to Malta we will understand the small sum of money our great-grandfather earned from the cream of the population with which he married and started a life over there,” said Alexandra.
Alexandra hopes other people would be interested in joining in the search. She says he was different to the others who went missing in Malta.
“I feel he is someone who would be completely off the radar. He didn’t have a big family to adopt him. He was active in working people’s protest against fascism. He supported the communists as they were opposing Mussolini and the Nazi occupation of the island.
“People who went missing in Malta survived the war, and to some extent they enjoyed freedom and democracy, but I think that was one of the advantages of going missing at that time,” she said.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Family photo of Sergio looking out of a school window in 1940.
A total of 202,290 people from the Isle of Man, Croatia, Malta, Romania, Poland, the US and Spain were captured by Nazi Germany and Italy, or by the partisans and their allies, during World War II.
That figure is 49.8% of the island’s population at the time. Of the island’s total population at the time, 30,388 people survived, many of them captured and imprisoned in Malta.
Those who were captured or died during the war in Malta returned home later with wooden heads made from a camp inmate’s scalp. Some other recruits returned with their heads still attached.