The Journey of Finding Me

 

Do you know from where you really come? Beyond just your birthplace, your parents, their parents and maybe back several generations. Some of your pasts may even go back to the Mayflower.

 

I have always been curious about my roots. I always asked my parents (sometimes nagged) to tell me what life was like for them. Here’s what I learned about my familial history.

 

My parents were both first generation Americans. Both of their parents came from Eastern Europe all the way to Brooklyn, New York where both my parents were born. This was during a time of mass immigration from Eastern Europe to Ellis Island.

 

My parents gave me tidbits of their lives. My dad only spoke a language called “Yiddish,” which is a combination of German, some Slavic words and Hebrew. He learned English quickly as children can easily do. His father was a butcher. He was the oldest of 6 children. First sons in these families are treated like princes.

 

My mother was the youngest of her family at the end of the Depression. Her name was Helen. But her mom—my grandmother Bluma— would call her “Elen” with a Russian accent.

 

Not pronouncing the H, Bluma would call eggs, “heggs.” She added the H, just another special memory I have of her. My mom’s father worked for the workman circle. Her dad called her his “little tiger.” She was active as the last child.

 

I do know that my parents profited from the much-touted education of New York schools. They also lived with the backdrop of World War II and the Holocaust.  

 

Dad became an interpreter for the Army, carrying a big walkie talkie on his shoulder. He went to France, Italy, Germany and North Africa. My mother was an administrator for an ammunition company, which was also tied to the war effort.

 

When Dad came home on furlough, he met my mother in Central Park. He went back to the war sending her love letters, some in French. They married after the war.

 

Dad was close with uncle “C” (Dad’s mom’s much younger brother). His journey as an immigrant is an interesting one. He came from Poland to NYC, to medical school in Scotland, to Camden, New Jersey where he opened a medical practice. He encouraged my parents to go with him. The move to Camden in dad’s family is reported to feel like defection. But they followed him a few years later. He was an obstetrician gynecologist. He delivered my siblings and me.

 

As I got older, there still was so much to know about my parents. But, I also wanted to know about their parents who left these foreign countries. Dad’s parents faced religious oppression and poor economics. In my mom’s case, both parents came from more thriving cities of Kiev and Odessa, but saw the writing on the wall as Jews.

 

After having my first child, I was intrigued to know more. It is so interesting that my parents shared their world view with my three other siblings and me. What’s more, their parents taught my parents. And their parent’s parents taught them. When I raised my children, I inherited all that information plus my own to share with them.

 

There’s a part of a prayer for the deceased that I enjoy: “May his or her memory be a blessing.” Memories reawaken family members.

 

In the recent past, I took two DNA tests. The commercials promise many things. I first signed up with Ancestry.com about 5 years ago and 23 and Me, two months ago. Each time I spit into a cup and sent it on its way. With each method, I got similar information.

 

Yes, my grandparents and many generations before lived in Eastern Europe and were Ashkenazi Jews, and not much more.

 

The good news is I found two DNA cousins with each test.

 

The first test revealed a DNA cousin, I’ll call her “D” whom I knew from my community. That was exciting to both of us. Though we could not determine how we were related.

 

Jump to the present, when a 3rd cousin found me on 23 and Me. I’ll name him “O.” We share the same great-great grandparents. Their children were my great grandmother and his great grandfather.

 

I would have never thought of my great grandma Bubby as a link to another wing of my paternal past. 

 

Her real name was Malka, known affectionately by her grandchildren and great grandchildren, as Bubby. She died in 1960 when I was 5 years old. I do remember her to be frail, her head covered with a shawl (from the old country).

 

I also remember she exuded love and kindness. “O” confirms that was her reputation.

 

So now my focus has turned to Bubby. I know who her parents were. They were my great-great grandparents. I am also learning the names of the towns where they lived which was part of the Austria-Hungarian empire. It became Poland and now it is in the Ukraine.

 

Another thing you get from researching the past is geography, politics and history.

 

Now here’s the connection between these two DNA cousins. Cousin “O” apprised me of a surname that was the maiden name of my Friend “D.” In other words, her great grandmother could have been Bubby’s sister who married a man whose name was D’s maiden name.

 

It is thrilling how D and I are possibly close to finding the missing pieces that bind us, DNA-wise. She has more research to do.

 

There is a big market of DNA tests out there. DNA companies play on the seed that many will want to know who they really are. If that is you, start small and ask questions. The older siblings and cousins, aunts and uncles are good witnesses to those who passed. Of course, check censuses, graveyards and death records.

 

Your story will eventually grow bit by bit, chapter by chapter into a family saga.

 

Beth

Beth grew up in Camden, New Jersey and majored in Education and History at Rutgers University and later obtained a Masters in Family Therapy at Drexel University. She’s married to her husband of 41 years with two young adult children—a daughter and son—who both work in NYC. She loves movies, Netflix, books, history, linguistics and exploring the human condition. From her extensive background, she’s accumulated many stories and lessons and looks forward to shaping the conversation.