Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

When your family is like spaghetti

By ManicMorFF courtesy of morguefile.com

One of the many things that I have been involved with this semester – besides work and school and putting together a one hour workshop on fighting bias that I’d like to test drive and moving kids into college and sending off another to Israel (just in time for the lockdown no less) and editing my parents’ memoir (yes! Finally sent it off to be printed!) is a dive into my family’s genealogy.

I’ve blogged about it twice so far. In Climbing the family tree, I wrote about some of the stories I’ve  discovered on the way (I’ve since watched both the movie and the documentary made about the famous relation I mentioned in the blog). In All in the family, I shared the story of how I was able to connect two siblings (my great grandmother Bessie on my father’s side and her brother Dave) with a third. What I didn’t mention was that the third, Morris, was actually my great grandfather on my mother’s side.

Since I published that blog, I’ve learned a lot more. And what I am finding could be likened to a puzzle with an unknown number of pieces missing. Or, for what I do know, like a deep bowl of spaghetti.

For instance, Morris’s wife Dora was a cousin of his. And Dave’s second wife Rose was a cousin too. And that the father of another undefined cousin Clara has the same father’s name on her headstone as Rose but records of Rose’s father don’t include Clara. Meanwhile, the father on Dora’s headstone matches no one, which means we have another branch to discover. Needless to say, the research fills my head with avenues to explore and marriage and death certificates to order and headstones to find and so much more to do. I even started a narrative document to help figure out where the connections lie (like Clara’s husband who has a different last name and whom everyone names as a brother in law…except for one person who calls him a cousin). How is he either?? I don’t know. Yet.

On the other side of things, I think I know where they came from now. Berdynovo was a small Jewish agricultural colony in the province of Kherson that was founded in 1858. There is not much on it online, although I put together a file with all that I’ve found so far and have emailed anyone whose name appears on any of the sites or books I’ve identified to ask for help. Why? Because the names in 1858 are a few decades before the ones I know left. I want to find out which of my family lived there. I think if I could find records of who was born, married, died there, I could find the magical key to explain this messy tree. I hope I am right, although I am afraid I may have to learn Russian first…

In one Jewish genealogical group I am in, someone else brought up the issue of marrying cousins and I couldn’t believe how many others chimed about finding out their trees too were like a pile of spaghetti. The same week, someone else announced that he had been able to trace back his family over a thousand years! Flabbergasted is an understatement.

When I think about the Jewish people, how we’ve moved around, changed names, changed directions, and lost so branches of our trees, I feel even more convinced that we need to document what we can, we need to learn what we can about who we are and where we came from.

I welcome any volunteer sleuths who want to check out the two documents I link to above and let me know what they think. I also invite you all to take a journey down your family’s past as well. I think part of untangling our spaghetti is recognizing we are all part of one big family.

Shanah tovah.

About the Author
Born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island, Wendy lived in Jerusalem for over a decade submerged in Israeli culture. Since returning to the U.S. in 2003; she has been soaked in Southern life in metro Atlanta. An Ashkenazi mom to Mizrahi sons born in Israel and the US, MIL to a French Mizrahi DIL and an Israeli DIL whose parents are also an interesting mix, and a step mom to sons born in the South, she celebrates trying to see from multiple perspectives and hopes this comes out in her blogs. While working in Jewish and Zionist education and advocacy, Wendy's interests also have her digging deep into genealogy and bringing distant family together. All of this is to say, Wendy's life has brought her to the widened framework she uses for her blogs: there are many ways to see and understand.
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