Wendy Kalman
Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

How far back can you trace your family?

How deep are your roots? Can you find your branches? Photo by Stocky59 courtesy of morguefile.com

How far back can you trace your family?

In my case, it all depends. Thanks to the work of others before me, I can trace the roots of my maternal grandfather’s mother’s branch back to my fourth great grandfather, likely born about 1800. But my mother’s father’s father’s branch? It sadly ends with his father’s first name and the unsubstantiated data point that he was born in 1838. Nothing more, not even the names of his siblings. At the same time, I’ve traced his descendants forward. Well, to some extent. The ones in America took some effort, but have largely been documented. The two brothers who stayed in Russia are another story. While I’ve been fortunate enough to find the descendants of one brother in Israel and the Ukraine, I cannot say the same regarding the second brother, Shaya, and his family. We have a few photos perhaps from the 1920s and some others that may have been taken later, but a few first names no one recognizes. I was told they perished in the Holocaust, but I want to honor their names and I don’t even know how large his family grew before they were lost to us all. When a tree falls, it ought to be remembered.

On my mother’s mother’s side and my father’s mother’s side, we can go back to the first name of my great grandfather and the small agricultural colony his grown children emigrated from, Berdynovo, but no more. I have not been able to find any vital records and as it was only founded in the late 1850s, this means we have no idea where they came from. A complete brick wall.  Coming forward has also been a challenge. I once compared untangling relationships to a plate of spaghetti and that’s true. DNA opens some doors but figuring out relations still requires documentation – and that is in short supply.

On my father’s father’s side, we’ve been able to go back to my fifth great grandfather born around 1776 – and can even figure out his father’s first name. The roots have been amazing to dig up. Tracing my second great grandfather’s descendants forward to find the branches that have grown has taken me on an interesting journey as well, as I’ve not only found and met far flung family it the United States, but also discovered the great grandson of my great grandfather’s sister who had stayed in Russia is now living in New York.

And now I’ve begun exploring my husband’s family. Once side can go back quite far, multiple generations in fact, and the other – nothing.

What is family but roots and branches, branches and roots. Some run deep in the ground and others cut too prematurely.

And you – how far back can you trace your family?

About the Author
Born in Brooklyn and raised on Lawn Guyland, Wendy lived in Jerusalem for over a decade submerged in Israeli culture; she has been soaked in Southern life in metro Atlanta since returning to the U.S. in 2003. Recently remarried, this Ashkenazi mom and MIL to three Mizrahi sons and a DIL in their 20s splits her time between managing knowledge in corporate America, pursuing a dual masters in public administration and integrated global communications, relentlessly Facebooking, enjoying the arts and trying to bring a wider perspective to the topics she covers while blogging.
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