12 October 2007

Kids and connections

Read "Constructing the family tree" in Boston's Jewish Advocate.

Judy Bolton-Fasman describes her son Adam's homework assignment to make a family tree and along the way discusses her origins and those of her husband, recalls family stories and delineates the connection of the generations through this project.

I connected with this story because my own genealogical journey came about through our daughter's Hebrew School assignment in 1989. More schools, and specifically more Jewish education programs, should emphasize family trees as an important method of preserving continuity and identity.

Last year, Adam came to me with glue stick in hand to help him with a homework assignment. He had to plant a family tree – a tree of life – in the middle of an 11 by 14 inch poster board. I suggested that we get a handle on things by decorating the tree with flags from the places where we came from and where we have now settled.

Her maternal family was expelled from Spain and they lived in Greece, Turkey and Cuba, while her paternal family had vague origins in Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania.

“It’s not as easy as it looks to fill in this tree,” Adam said, standing beside me as I typed the names. His hand was on my shoulder, already the hand of a big kid – a nine-year-old – who rock climbs and fields baseballs.

“What makes it so hard?” I asked my boy.

He thought for a moment, eyes narrowing behind his round wire frame glasses. “There’s so much to remember about these people.”

Bolton-Fasman's son was not only after the names, but wanted stories and history. And we know how hard it is to flesh out our ancestors' personalities, the little things that made them human and help them come to life once more.

I think everyone will relate to the author's feelings about past, present and future.

My parents are joined together in one deceptively simple line on the family tree, and from there another line drops down to me, their first-born child – Judith Frances. My name sat next to Kenneth Howard’s on Adam’s tree and I saw, literally saw, how miraculous it was that we were side-by-side there. How blessed we were that in between our names is a line that dropped down to a new line with the names of our children: Anna Paulina and Adam Gabriel.

Looking at the intricate and idiosyncratic network of connections that bloomed on Adam’s family tree made me dizzy in a pleasant way, like when I spun around a room as a child. I handed Adam the freshly printed family tree and he noticed that my mom’s Hebrew name is Mazal Tov. Adam thought that was very funny. “How does she know if someone is congratulating her or calling her name?” he asked.

Read the complete story here.

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