I feel hesitant and self-conscious about sharing personal good news in the midst of all the collective shock, anger, sorrow, and grief out there right now. But I also believe it’s important to share the moments of light in these dark times. So here are a couple of recent stories of reconnection and reconciliation through the tracing of my roots.
I’ve been building my family tree online and made it public so that if any long lost relatives happen to search for common ancestors that we know of, they’ll find my tree and thus we find each other. Recently I was contacted, not by a relative, but by a professional genealogist who is helping a family find potential long lost relatives. Much, if not most, of the family members were murdered during the Holocaust and many of the child survivors lost connection with each other through the carnage and were unaware of each other’s existence in the aftermath. This genealogist identified two separate branches with the same last name that she suspected were related.
My father’s cousin, Shura, was suspected by this genealogist to be a member of one of these branches, related through her mother’s side (my relation with her is through her father’s side). The genealogist found her through the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial records. Her grandmother, with the same last name as those searching for potential surviving family, was not able to get out of Odessa and was murdered along with her husband in the Holocaust. The genealogist was searching for Shura in hopes that she had information that could confirm whether the separate branches were indeed related.
In searching for her, the researcher found my family tree online. So she contacted me explaining that she was looking for Shura’s contact info and why. I retrieved her number from my family and shared it with the genealogist. She made the call. They combined the information they had, connected the dots, and the missing link was found. The separate branches were indeed related! Shura was elated to learn she has other cousins she never before knew existed. She spoke on the phone with one who lives in Florida and another who lives in Italy. After seventy-five years of not knowing that each other existed, the surviving family members were reunited.
Another story: In the early stages of my personal genealogical research, a couple years ago, I learned through interviewing my mother that we have relatives potentially still in Novosibirsk, Russia (Siberia). My mother’s mother had three sisters. They were all extremely fortunate to be evacuated from Odessa to Uzbekistan before Odessa fell to the Nazis. Two of my grandmother’s sisters moved to Novosibirsk some time after the war. One had a son, Victor. They were in regular communication and made the occasional visit between Novosibirsk and Odessa where my grandmother eventually returned to with my WWII veteran grandfather after the war. When my parents, grandmother, and brother left the Soviet Union and took refuge in the U.S in 1979, they lost connection with the family in Novosibirsk because Victor was fearful of the authoritarian Soviet regime coming down on him as a “dissident” for communicating with “the enemy” (Americans), a very real danger at the time.
I had hopes to find Victor, or at least learn of his whereabouts, while stopping in Novosibirsk during the Russia portion of my journey. But I was unable to find him then. I found many Victors with matching last names on a Russian social networking site I learned about while I was in Russia. One of their profile photos popped out at me as the face in it reminded me of my grandmother’s. Similar eyes, nose, lips, chin, and overall face shape. I sent him a message. Asked if his mother’s name was Klava, if her parents were Hillel and Ida from Odessa. Because if so, we are relatives, and my grandmother, Nina, was his mother’s sister.
A couple weeks ago, I finally received a response: “Yes, that’s me!” He only very occasionally logs onto that online social network, so it took months for him to see my message. We began back and forth correspondence. He has two children: a son and daughter. My cousins. The son was born the exact same year as my older brother, and the daughter was born the exact same year as me. They’re all still in Novosibirsk. My mother is now back in communication with her cousin, after thirty eight years without any word or either knowing the whereabouts of the other.
Authoritarian regimes, their persecution, and their violence lead to disconnection and separation amidst all the carnage they cause. Muslim families in the U.S. are now beginning to experience this, with people returning home or trying to visit family living in the U.S. being detained at airports simply because of their religion and/or country of origin. Will those family members living in the U.S. eventually be labeled “political dissidents” simply for communicating with their family, who the authoritarian regime now in the White House has made the enemy? Is that the direction this regime is taking us?
My thoughts and prayers are with those families impacted by the immigration/refugee ban, and I hope their children don’t have to hire researchers and dig through archival records decades later in order to find each other and reunite. May we hold tight to each other, our family, our friends, and to our ancestors. The ancestors will guide us back to each other if we get lost.