24 May 2010

Roots Travel: A London success story

Afraid of reaching out via a cold phone call or email to a long-lost cousin in a distant location?

That "cold" call or tentative email just might result in a wonderful reunion and provide a memorable experience for all involved. It can also bring together family branches long separated for reasons unknown.

When Tracing the Tribe visited our TALALAY/TOLLIN cousins in Springfield, Massachusetts, many years ago, my visit prompted the reunion of several area branches who had not spoken for so long that no one knew why. They lived not far from each other and didn't know they were related, although they had the same rare surname.

We learned that the split had occured because an uncle's wife did not like the wives of her husband's two nephews. Although the branches did not attend the same weddings and bnai mitzvahs, they did attend the funerals.

When the International Conference on Jewish Genealogy was in Toronto awhile back, it was the perfect opportunity to meet my now-late cousin Victor Talalay, with whom I had worked long-distance for a long time on the family history. Victor even attended the conference, and it allowed attendees to see that there really was more than one TALALAY in the world! I later met Victor's brother Michael and family in London, and their uncle, Dr. Paul Talalay, in Baltimore.

My good friend Daniel Horowitz had a similar experience when he traveled to London to represent MyHeritage.com, where he is genealogy and translation manager, at the Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE family history fair in February.

Thanks to his visit (and those tentative emails and phone calls), several SINGER branches were able to meet once again. His SINGERs are from Czernovitz (was Austro-Hungary->Ukraine.

Born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela and now living in Israel, Daniel knew there were London branches but didn't know much about them, except that they didn't talk to each other. When Daniel's father's cousin Renee visited them in Israel, they talked about the family and Daniel's then-upcoming trip to the UK.

"Renee asked if I knew about our London cousins and, of course, I knew about our late uncle Lothar," says Daniel, who adds that "about 25% of my current family tree is due to Lothar's work in the early 1970s, when he compiled a complete tree for my father's mother's family."
However, Daniel didn't know about his sons and other descendants. He had once tried to contact Lothar's wife, but she wasn't very interested.

Renee reminded him about their other cousins in London, including the sons of Dorica (Lothar's cousin) and said she had met them when they visited the family in Israel a few times.

His information on the London relatives was limited to their names and a few dates, he says, but by the end of Renee's visit, he knew much more, including children and previous family contacts.

The critical information was that the two branches in London simply didn't talk to each other because of a problem their parents had experienced.

To genealogists, the opportunity to meet and bring together family is always a call to action! As Daniel told me, "This was the perfect trigger for a genealogy quest."

Renee provided the cousins' contact information. Daniel began contacting them, explaining why he was coming to London and that he really wanted to meet them.

Daniel said they were all cordial and, to his surprise, they agreed to a small family meeting. it took many emails and phone calls to schedule the meeting with as many cousins as possible at very short notice and with a hectic business schedule.
"The first thing I asked them was to bring as many old photos or documents they could find," said Daniel. "I gave them access to my MyHeritage.com family site, so they could see what I already had for them and they could add new information."
They did.

One cousin couldn't make the planned get-together, so Daniel met him a few nights earlier. Over dinner, they talked about their families, and updated each other with information covering 50 years.

"We had each heard the names before, but now I knew exactly what questions to ask. He told me about his father and the pre-WWII stories he had heard: How his father had been in the Russian Army and later with the partisans, how he had been involved in illegal immigration to Israel where he later moved, and how he got to London.

"My cousin found, in his parents' home, many photos with inscriptions on the reverse, along with a completely new family tree of which neither of us was aware. This was new information for me, and what you might call a moment of serendipity! It was the perfect preparation for our family meeting a few days from then."
The other cousins met at a Piccadilly Circus restaurant, and three were already there when Daniel arrived, and another arrived shortly after.

"I introduced myself and explained how we were related. They had brought photos and we began sharing information about our parents and grandparents.

These were cousins who had always lived in the same city and had lost contact for more than 20 years. Now reunited, they were beginning to recall their memories, sharing and comparing photos with each other. And I was there to hear all the stories."
In addition to learning about their childhoods, their visits to Israel and Brazil (that was a new lead for him!), there was also all the gossip and family secrets buried in their collective memory.

"Not everything was revealed that afternoon and, of course, nobody knew exactly why their parents had stopped the contact between them, but it wasn't really important any more.

"I now have contact with family of which I hadn't been aware, and this is just the beginning, thanks to my cousins in London."
When will you visit your family in other places?

Let me know about similar experiences you have had.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:41 AM

    I googled a name and found someone 60 years older than me; his grandmother and my gggrandmother were sisters. Everyone laughed at me, but we went out for dinner and took out envelopes with our family relics.

    We both had the same pictures of my gggggrandfather! Then he held out his hand: he was wearing my great-great-great-great-grandfathers wedding ring, bought in around 1830.