Sunday, November 20, 2005

I like being nosy!

I first got hooked on genealogy when my son and daughter were in high school. As Juniors, they were required to diagram their family trees as far back as they could. It was during this time that I discovered how very little I knew about our families. And, it was during this time that I learned to like being nosy.

My daughter used a large sheet of poster board to to illustrate, in four quadrants, each side of my husband's and my families. Some quadrants were covered in data, based on how big the families were, and some quadrants (my dad's) were small because I could not find out very much information. My husband even illustrated the top of the poster board with a lovely tree and a massive root system. (She got an A+ on the project.) The three of us spent countless hours gathering information on folks in our families and what we discovered was amazing.

So, now I was hooked, not on phonics, but on genealogy -- the penultimate art of being nosy. I spent a lot of time and money calling and writing family all over the country over the years trying to coax them into revealing a lot of really personal information. (Some folks were reluctant to speak with me, and others were pleased that I would actually be interested in them and their stories.) I spent a lot of money on a computer program (Family Tree Maker) to document the highly personal information these family members had given me. I spent a lot of money joining Ancestry.Com to have access to their numerous databases. I learned to be a computer sleuth and have discovered ways of gleaning seemingly inconsequential information from a lot of "free" sources on the Internet. I spent a lot of time compiling and entering data into the database all the stories and information that I garnered from every available source. I discovered that the thrill of discovering a small bit of information about a relative, and placing it into the bigger picture (sort of like a jigsaw puzzle), is almost indescribable.

This project has taken me down a path I never would have imagined when I first began more than 15 years ago. I have succeeded in documenting at least eight generations of our families going back into the middle of the 19th Century. I discovered that my husband's paternal great-grandfather was a dictator in Mexico during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I discovered that my maternal grandparents came from a village in the Ukraine (Kremenchug) on the Dneiper River. I discovered things about relatives that nobody knew (or remembered), such as the child of my great-uncle and great-aunt who died when he was a very small boy.

The pivotal point of my research on my mother's side of the family is when my maternal grandparents got married and came to America.

Clara and Sam, 1902
Kremenchug, Ukraine, Russia

Their story is amazing and everyone in that branch of the family wants to read it. When I first saw Barry Levinson's movie Avalon, I felt he was telling my family's story of coming to America. My grandfather Sam came first, passing through Ellis Island in 1904, followed by Clara and my uncle Max in 1905. They settled in Hammond, Indiana, and had another son and four daughters (including my mother Sara). Sam's brother, my great-uncle Moishe, and his mother Rebekah also came to America around that time and Clara's father, my great-grandfather Judah, followed. There were already relatives in Chicago, but I don't know who they are.

Sam and Clara, 50th Anniversary, 1952

A high point in our family's history was during my grandparents' 50th Anniversary. Sam and Clara renewed their wedding vows at the Kneseth Israel Synagog in Hammond that my grandfather helped found back in the 1920s and all the family and friends gathered to help them celebrate. We all dressed up, ate a lot of good food, danced, sang, and celebrated a happy life. This event was captured for posterity by the many pictures the photographer took. (Who can forget the moment the photographer snapped the picture of the entire family and my cousin Jerry, standing in the front row, simultaneously pressed the rubber bulb under his arm that released the rubber worm in his bowtie? Priceless.)

Sam and Clara, 60th Anniversary, 1962

My grandparents lived a long time and they left a wonderful legacy for all of us. I feel I am leaving a legacy of my own by telling all our families' stories. After all, if we don't remember for our children and the generations of children to come, who will? The stories of our relatives' lives will be like so much smoke, soon dissipated and forgotten, misty memories down through time.


At November 20, 2005 4:43 PM, Blogger Alipurr said...

maybe you should write a book....i would buy it...hey that reminds you know where the memory book is for the girls that i gave you to fill in????? I think you should get it out and fill it in some more. I would like some of your memories in your own handwriting for the girls.

At November 20, 2005 4:44 PM, Blogger Alipurr said...

Hey, did you like that? I was being nosy, too. Like mother, like daughter, so they say.

At November 21, 2005 8:18 AM, Blogger susan said...

I, too, got into genealogy a few years back. I discovered so many interesting things. I put it all into a book and gave it out for Christmas presents to all the family members.

At November 23, 2005 3:56 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

Cool story. I got into genealogy for awhile, but I haven't had time to work on it in a long time. After I finish some projects, I need to pull that stuff out. I've got Mom's paternal side traced all the way back to Germany.


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