A decade ago I embarked on what I thought would be the simple task of tracing my Eastern European roots. But I found Hungarian research was different from other genealogists’ work. Most frustrating were the multiple place names, so for the longest time I researched in circles, not knowing where to look-until I joined a Hungarian roots online forum. I faithfully read every posting and made a few inquiries, and soon things started to make sense. I hadn’t been able to make a single contribution, though. That changed when a Hungarian graphology professor posted a request for cursive writing samples. I sent him a North American handwriting booklet with worksheets.
He insisted on returning the favor, so I asked him to photograph my great-grandfather’s house in Budapest, where I lived as a little girl in 1956 before immigrating to Canada. I often wondered how well that old house survived the Hungarian Revolution, but my family avoided the subject since the property had been expropriated.
The photos arrived with a letter from the lady who still lived there. Of course she remembered me. Her son and I were playmates-we shared living quarters when the government placed three families in the house. She invited me to visit, and I learned more about my family from her than vital records could ever tell. I also discovered the other family who’d lived there had made the trip back all the way from Australia. They, too, revisited the fortress whose walls kept us all safe until it was time to go.
Don’t Prune That Tree
Wherever we go-whether it’s Israel, Canada, Colombia, Slovakia, Australia or America-I can usually name a local cousin or two from the thousands of people I’ve researched over the years. My kids, exasperated, invariably ask, “A real cousin? Does he know you?” They, for whom any cousin past first is too distant, understand I have no problem embracing second and fifth cousins equally. I also welcome cousins by marriage (and their cousins, too) as my own. My family tree is wider than it is high. If your clan is small, you take what you can get, right? And besides, I believe all Jews are brothers.
So when my son planned a trip across America, I suggested an alternative to the motel route. He could travel genealogically, staying with cousins. Our forefathers emigrated from Russia to New Jersey, Poland to Pennsylvania, and Slovakia to New York. Today, I exchange e-mails with their grandchildren in Massachusetts, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota and California. To me, that’s a mighty fine itinerary. But my son sought excitement. Anonymity. Spontaneity. The last thing he wanted, he laughed, were cousins. He wanted to live his own dream, not mine.
Let him laugh. I haven’t yet met all our e-mail cousins in person, and perhaps I never will. But I have been blessed.
We were looking for a motor home and started working with a saleswoman over the Internet. She called one day to discuss a vehicle she thought we’d like. She knew I do genealogy and told me she hadn’t found a trace of her own family. While I recommended some Web sites, my husband put her last name into Google <www.google.com>. Up came a Web page with photos. I relayed the URL and she logged on-then started screaming. The first picture showed our saleswoman and her cousins.
Rings a Bell
My great-uncle William Eby Sheaffer died in 1943 at his home in Astoria on Long Island, NY, leaving his second wife, Julia, a widow. Julia was a mystery to us: When I was growing up in the 1940s and ’50s, relatives knew little about her, except that she and Eby visited family in New Jersey every summer. A few people had been to their home, but no one ever met her family or knew her maiden name. Relatives guessed she remarried and moved out of state after Uncle Eby’s death.
To my surprise, while searching the New York Times for Eby’s obituary, I came upon an Aug. 23 article about Julia called “Police Squad Finds Ring Lost in Sewer.” A few months after Eby died, Julia’s diamond ring fell from her finger onto a sewer grate as she hurried to catch a bus. The ring toppled into the sewer as she reached for it. An emergency police squad quickly arrived, formed a bucket brigade to bail water from the sewer, and sent two men to search in “muck that nearly reached their hips.” Patrolman Finnin ran his hand “along the slippery base” and finally found the ring. Offering profuse thanks, Julia said the ring had taken on new value because of its lucky recovery. Sgt Schieler was quoted, “Maybe we’ll find something hard to do tomorrow.” I got a wonderful glimpse into the life of the mysterious Julia.
What Goes Around …
My husband, Jack, was born in Greenfield, Wis. His family moved to Long Island, NY; then Burlington, Vt.; then back to Long Island. After his first marriage, he lived in Fairfax, Va.; Brunswick, Ohio; and finally, Lancaster, Pa. Meanwhile, my schooling and career took me around Pennsylvania from Johnstown to Shippensburg to York. Jack and I met at a dance in Lancaster.
Early on, we discovered a shared interest in family history. So when Jack went to Frenchville, Pa., in search of his maternal line, I visited Clearfield to research my own mother’s ancestry. His line went back to Irene Plubell, his fifth-great-grandmother; mine, to my fourth-great grandfather Philip Krise. What a surprise to learn Irene’s grandson Henry married Philip’s granddaughter Anna Catherine, and they had 12 little Plubells. After all those moves, what are the chances my husband would marry a lady with family connections?
From the February 2006 issue of Family Tree Magazine.