About 6 months ago (I think) I filled out a bunch of information on Ancestry.com. I must admit to being encouraged to do so by the tv show “Who do you think you are.” But after finding quite a bit of information, I reached a dead end, became very busy, and stopped. Probably not uncommon in terms of searching out one’s family tree.
Well, last week I received an email from someone wondering if we were related. He saw me on Ancestry.com, followed the work I had made public and saw a connection.
I could immediately tell from the information my e-mailer provided that if he was on the right track in connecting our families, then yes, we were related. He spoke of my Great Grandmother Eva and my Great Grandfather Jack. The foundation of my branch of the family.
I gave my potential cousin, Michael permission to call me that evening, and he did. We had a long conversation, discussing our possible familial relationship. It was funny to hear how his side of the family and my side of the family shared some similar traits. Also, how close we had lived to each other. Michael is on Long Island. I was born there and much of my family remains there. I could tell potential cousin Michael was tickled pink. Understand, he had been working on this for years. Finding me was the break-through he needed.
The next step was to send emails back and forth discussing various family members and trying to determine if we were, in fact, related. I began to doubt our familial relationship because what Michael told me did not gel with what I had been told as a child. Namely that my Great Grandfather Jack had come over through Ellis Island on his own when he was about 19 years old. We had even identified the person we thought was Jack from a ship’s manifest.
Since my discussions with Michael were going on as my relatives on Long Island and in parts of New Jersey had been dispersed to other locations due to hurricane Sandy, I couldn’t just call and get answers. Patience was required. Michael, to his credit, had no doubt of our familial relationship. He was convinced of his solid work, and sent me documents he purchased to support his findings. Eventually he found a smoking gun proving everything. My Great Grandfather Jack’s draft card, the image I have attached to this post. Michael was able to connect the information from Jack’s draft card to the census, and then to show through various censuses (censi?) that the same Jack lived with Michael’s great grandfather, Morris. Also, Jack had come to the United States much earlier than we thought he did, and he lived with quite a few relatives while here. That is something I never knew.
About two days later, my Great Uncle Robby confirmed that Michael was correct, the story many in my family had heard about Great Grandfather Jack was completely incorrect, and all this time we have had a branch of our family living a short distance away on Long Island. My cousin Michael is to be commended for his efforts and tenacity. He was certain, and he was right. It seems that Grandfather Jack used to tell how he and his father crossed the border, hiding in a cart filled with hay. They held their breath as the guards used pitchforks to check and see if anyone was in the cart. Once in New York, Jack lived right down the street from my Great Grandmother Eva.
Michael suggested that Jack and Eva must have met as young people, fallen in love, and gotten married. His supposition certainly makes sense. They were both from the same part of the world before they came to the United States. They would have felt some level of comfort with each other. Of course, young was a relative term back then. Jack was a furrier at 15 when the census came to call. Perhaps people back then were just…stronger? More capable? They certainly grew up younger, they had no choice. The only job I had at 15 was taking care of my parent’s dogs.
I am of two minds about this experience. First, I am astounded to learn that all of a sudden I have a lot of new relatives. I am looking forward to getting to know them. A number of us live very close to each other and I can see perhaps some much larger passover dinners in my future.
Second, I am disappointed that all of these years have gone by with these family members living so close, and up until now, I had no idea they existed. Michael noted that my Grandmother Ruth was still alive when he got married, and he would have loved to have had her at his wedding. I know my mother would have loved to meet Michael and the other members of our family.
I now have answers, or will soon have answers to so many questions I have always wondered about. Michael has done an amazing job researching our family. He was even able to go back to the Holocaust and identify many individuals he believes were lost to us. About this we will never have actual proof, but he could see the lines go extinct during that awful time. Every time I saw Schindler’s list and other movies about the holocaust I was forced to wonder, what happened to my family? How many people did we lose? How did my family escape? Now, perhaps, I will at least get a general idea.
I already knew we still had family in Russia, my Uncle met a cousin there. But that was on my mother’s father’s line. The people Michael is talking about are on my mother’s maternal line. This line happens to be the line I am close with, and that my family has been close with the entirety of our lives. Much of my family lives in New York and New Jersey. Michael realized he might even have met some of the folks from my line of the family, given where they and he worked over the years.
I imagine, relatively soon, I will meet Michael and other cousins, as well as many new great aunts and uncles. My mother, who is no longer with us, would no doubt have been excited and fascinated to learn this news. Family was always very important to her.
So if you are reading this, hello to my new family. I am excited to learn you exist. And thank you, Michael, for your dogged efforts.
Isn’t the Internet an amazing thing?