Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Serendipity Finds a Family!

     I have had a strong interest in my family history for many years and thanks to former geneaologists in the family and some of my work, I have many branches of my family researched back up to 2.5 centuries. I have also worked on my husband's family and interviewed his parents and wrote a lot that they said down. But my husband never had much interest. In fact when he had to translate for the above mentioned interviews he would lose patience and then so would my interviewees. But this last summer a distant cousin visited us in Milwaukee and mentioned that there was a family member in Boston. Hubby called that person and learned of another individual with the same last name but who was thought to just be a friend of the family. After many phone calls back and forth between the Boston relative and many other possible relatives, a detailed family history was found. We were still not sure if this history was correct but finding a Duma Voters' List in Kishinev, Moldova which included names of voters and also the father's name helped us confirm the connections in this extensive family tree. After two months of multiple phone calls to family members now in Israel, sometimes to people who were elderly and had never learned Hebrew, spoke only Russian or Yiddish, we felt reasonably sure about these family connections. My husband decided to hold a family reunion in Israel this time when we visited there. We were able to host a gathering with 35 members of the family, 2/3 of whom never knew of the other branch's existence. Four of these attendees were in their 80s. My husband arranged a luncheon at Helena Restaurant inside the National Park at Caesarea in Israel. This venue is very nice, located right on the Mediterranean. It not only provided good food and an area that allowed us some separate space, but it also allowed attendees to also visit the National Park: ruins of the old Roman city of Caesarea. We posted the printed family tree on a wall of the restaurant in our little room and it became an immediate draw to people as they arrived. Each one wanted to find their family branch and point it out to others that were studying the tree. My husband gave an introduction and then had a representative of each family speak about what they knew about the family as a whole and where they fit in.
     Our lunch table was placed into a large square with people sitting around the outside. So we did not put name cards at the place settings. But I think if we did this again we would have to do just that. As much as our known cousins frowned at the contemplation of being mixed with other unknown relatives, that is probably what should have been done. For the most part people just sat down with their own known relatives and stayed there the whole afternoon. After the mixing at the posted family tree there was little other mixing. I tried to stir things up and went around to each family group like the mother of the bride at the reception,and struck up conversations and made introductions and utilized by digital recorder to record what people had to say. Of course if we put name cards at the table we would have to be sure that we paid attention to native languages. There were 3 people there who were over 80 years old, sort of the patriarch/matriarchs of their branches. We would have to make sure at least one family member was near them that could translate either into Russian, or Yiddish from the Hebrew that was the base language being spoken.
     One family member is Chaim Gutman who is an oncological surgeon. He comes to the US often for surgical meetings and will be in Chicago in June. We may be able to get together with him although I know the schedule is pretty full when you attend a medical or surgical meeting. The day is full of educational meetings and maybe even presentations you do yourself and the evening is also filled with dinners with colleagues and committee meetings. We will see what we will if there will be any time to get together.
     I met one young woman who kind of attached herself to me. She was the girl friend of one of the young cousins who asked to attend the reunion. She was quite intrigued in how I got interested in researching my husband's family. She asked if I had done the same for my own family and I said that I had, although in the case of my own family, I also inhertied a lot of family information from others who had gathered it. She asked what my background was; was I a history major that prompted such an interest. When I told her that I was a retired internal medicine physician, she said that made her even more intrigued. She is in medical school and just starting her clinical training. In Israel medical school is 6 years and includes the premed studies, the preclinical sciences and the clinical training years in that 6 years. She is a very nice young woman and I will definitely try to stay in contact with her.
     I think this gathering was a very good effort and a success for the first such meeting of this large family. We didn't even invite the younger generations because the group would have been too large. Another time I think I would like to have a good old fashioned American type family reunion picnic. Before I didn't know of any places that provide enough parking room and picnic tables for such a venture unlike here in the US. But now we know of a couple places where such a picnic could be held. Then we would be able to have all the younger members and their children because they would have a place to run around. I don't know if these newly discovered family members will get in touch at all, but I think it is a good first attempt. Maybe in another year or two we can try the larger complete family picnic.
     Here are a few pictures of our restaurant, our table arrangement and some of the family members.

Helena's is in the center, a very nice little restaurant with good food.

Our room with its square table. Mediterranean Sea beyond the windows.

     I am not identifying these people but any attendees who get on my blog will recognize them. If not, if your are other family members, just either comment or send me an email and I will provide the names and branch of the family members.

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