Today’s blog post marks my 107th… 107 editorials that evolved without a plan, a core topic, or a main focus. Basically, I write with no rhyme or reason. I just sit down (I started a little over two years ago) and type away about whatever pops into my head. Over time, my blog has become a type of diary that captures involuntary thoughts and reactions to the events that occurr around me.
As I look back and reflect, however, I realize that the impetus for my writing came as a result of a major “Aha!” moment. My dad’s serious health issues – his surgeries and chemotherapy between June and December of 2009 – and the new reality show “Who Do You Think You Are?” caused me to embark on a search of my father’s family ancestry. Weird? Not really.
During one of my trips from Atlanta to Florida, I sat in my dad’s hospital room while he slept. I was sure he was going to die. What, I wondered, have I always wanted to know from this man, but never took the time to ask? With my perception of the shortage of time ahead, and at the risk of annoying him, I knew I had to ask about his family. Or more specifically, ask the question “What happened?” But, I lost my nerve. I didn’t want to bring up a subject that seemed far away, long forgotten, and maybe even painful; a conversation about a group of people who played no role in my life whatsoever. Simply put, I whimped out.
A month later I started watching a new TV show called “Who Do You Think You Are?” Figures from the entertainment world (i.e. Brooke Shields, Susan Sarandon, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, and Emmet Smith) signed on to the show to research their family histories and find long-lost family members. Their nagging questions echoed mine! Then, one night while watching Lisa Kudrow (from the show “Friends”) trace her Jewish ancestry, I thought, “If she can uncover her family’s story in an hour-long show, how hard could it be?” So, I grabbed my laptop and started typing…www.ancesty.com.
My search for family has been ongoing now for the past 4 years and has yielded a tree of almost 700 names. I “found people” (mostly long-dead relatives!) by researching census records; address directories; World War I and II draft registration cards; ship manifests; naturalization applications; birth and marriage records; and by reading headstones and grave markers at cemeteries. I connected with people through Facebook. I picked up the phone and called “strangers” to make introductions and verify information. I even met some new cousins on FaceTime this week!
The process has been challenging and elusive…like trying to catch snowflakes or dandelions or leaves as they blow in the wind…but it has produced a few precious treasures: a late 1920’s picture of a family gathering; answers to some questions; and new cousins that I’m proud to call my own. Better yet, it reconnected my dad with cousins with whom he lost touch over fifty years ago.
My search has stalled a few times and has hit some bumps in the road, but I press on. It’s about the journey; not the destination. I’m intrigued and captivated by the stories I’ve uncovered. Stories of adultery and scandal; intermarriage and secularization; assimilation and loss of traditions; abuse and abandonment; tragedy and unfulfilled dreams; triumph and success. I am not a judge or jury and do not render opinions on these stories. I just collect and preserve them all. I try to understand them in context — according to their time and place in history and life — without judgment. I accept them all as part of my own Jewish and American narratives.
My search for family has taught me that it’s never too late to wonder why; never too late to learn; never too late to mend old wounds; and never too late to connect with one’s relatives. It has taught me to write things down…to leave something tangible for future generations…so they know “why.” A new year (perfect timing!) gives us a chance to start a new chapter with a new perspective and a fresh, blank page. So, what are you waiting for?
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What is a journey?
A journey is not a trip. It’s not a vacation.
It’s a process. A discovery. It’s a process of self-discovery.
A journey brings us face to face with ourselves.
A journey shows us not only the world, but how we fit in it.
Does the person create the journey or does the journey create the person?
The journey is life itself.
(Louis Vuitton advertisement, 2008)