Growing up I had heard the story that my Zaidie lost brothers and sisters in the Holocaust with minimal detail. It was only many years later and long after both my Zaidie and Bubby had passed that my interest was sparked to find out what happened to that part of my family. Of course by then, I could no longer ask the questions, That was several years ago, and though I still know very little of what must have been their horrific experience, I did connect with some shared family. With some research I was able to find some documentation and photos to build some of their life stories.
Once I got started, it became a passion to learn whatever I could about what I had always thought was a very small family. Where did they come from? What did they do? What were their lives like?
The very first thing I found was my grandfather’s ship manifest documenting his trip from Poland to Montreal. After that first find - which felt like a treasure I was hooked. I was fascinated by the detail on the document, and tried to imagine what it was like for my grandfather as a 20-year-old young man leaving his entire family with only $25. in his pockets to join his future wife and her family. What was he feeling heading into a country where he would not speak the language. And then a few years later to have the family he left behind be wiped out while he was a world away.
I was not able to get very far in my Holocaust research but with bits of information I can surmise that my Zaidie’s family was sent to Treblinka and likely murdered on arrival, with no paper trail. However, I haven’t given up and will continue to search to learn more about their lives and deaths.
Once the genealogy bug bit I dabbled in research of other parts of my family. I knew very little about any other family. No one ever spoke of family beyond the relations I knew. I assumed other than my Bubby’s immediate family with whom she immigrated as a teen, that the rest of her family stayed behind in Poland. Same with my Dad’s family. His parents came from Russia in the early 1900’s and I didn’t know of any cousins.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’ve since found extended paternal cousins including 3 who like me, grew up in Montreal but as adults moved to Southern California. They live 45 minutes away from me! Our parents were first cousins and I never knew about them until I started my genealogical adventures.
I also discovered that my Bubby had a very large extended family all living in Toronto. I've been fortunate to have connected with many descendants form her extended family. Last year I organized a Zoom reunion of approximately 25 cousins ranging from age 16 to 96! Everyone felt so blessed to have connected not knowing of each other’s existence until I brought us all together.
I learned a lot of the tools I use to do my research by attending meetings and lectures at the local Jewish Genealogical Society. They hosted so many interesting speakers; from professional genealogists to representatives of both Jewish and non-Jewish Genealogical organizations. I became so involved with the Orange County Jewish Genealogical Society that I soon became President, as well as the Newsletter Editor, a position I still hold
I have found the experience of researching my ancestry so enriching I would encourage anyone who wants to dig into their genealogical history to join a Society. With online events now a way of the world there is access to Societies beyond your local ones and the opportunity to learn from so many wonderful speakers. My experience is that genealogists love helping other genealogists and are very generous with their time. If you are thinking of beginning, or improving your research don’t hesitate to reach out to your local Society.